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Psalm 32 and Finding Your Voice

When I was in middle school, I quit talking.

This is how I start most conversations when people ask me to tell my story. I became a Christian at five years old, so I don’t have a crazy salvation story to share. I just have a story of hardship and God’s faithfulness, which one day turned into doubt and despair, and which ultimately reminds me that God is in the smallest of details even when I believe, “[God’s] hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer,” (Psalm 32:4).

Verse 3 of David’s psalm struck me as so succinctly encapsulating how it feels to stay silent. He says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long,” (Psalm 32: 3). Based on the rest of the passage, I believe David is speaking of staying silent instead of confessing his sin to God, because once he does, he says he is blessed. That said, I imagine David also had days when he stayed silent to other people because he felt afraid and sought shelter in God. He says, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance,” (Psalm 32:7). Staying silent from fear feels different from the silence of rebellion.

I spent the first part of eighth grade walking through fluorescent white hallways with my eyes trained on the speckled, white laminate below me. My brain only input as much information about avoid the black backpack, don’t run into the blue sweatshirt, and those guys are really loud as would get me through the halls with as little interpersonal contact as possible. I had refined the method over the span of four years, and I was pretty good at it. For some reason, though, a guy in my choir class couldn’t stand for the silence. He spent three minutes every other day walking me to computer class and alternating between asking me, “Why don’t you talk?” and “Can I wear blue socks with black shoes?” (He knew the second question almost got me to answer.) But at that point, I was so afraid of the words that might come out of my mouth, and that the words might end up hurting someone, that I refused to say anything at all. A dull, constant loneliness seemed less painful than the stabbing throb of knowing my words had cost me a friendship.

Eventually, I did speak to him. Then, I thought we had lost him. I spent a good week of my life thinking every time the phone rang, it would be my best friend’s mom calling to say the boy had killed himself. Thankfully, that call never came.

I didn’t learn to talk again immediately after that week, but I do think that week jolted me awake. That, and another boy in my gym class asking me how I could still smile when the other girls were so mean to me, and I was too shocked to say “Because Jesus” before he ran off to play basketball. I was learning that staying silent could cause as much pain as speaking.

I am thankful for God’s faithfulness during those years. He kept sending these boys I didn’t know to ask me random questions that stunned me speechless. And in the years since then, He has continued to send people who force me to speak, including my husband and some of my dearest friends. As David points out in verse 3, staying silent slowly eats away at your spirit until you feel dead inside. That’s why I’ve learned to pray for courage and speak up. I’ll mess up the words nine times out of ten, but it feels so much better to have the words out in the open instead of eating me up like a disease on the inside.

I’d like to end today’s memory with the praise at the end of the psalm. David gives us such a hopeful exhortation to leave with. I pray over you today, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). Shout for joy so those words don’t get trapped inside you. Someone just might need to hear them.

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Writing for Granna

We spent Thanksgiving lunch at my grandparents’ house for the first time I could remember since I was a child. For whatever reason, the holidays got celebrated in the days before or after the day marked on the calendar, or my grandparents would stop at our house on the way to see other family, or someone had moved or changed schools and it was easier not to leave town. This year, my mom and I really wanted to spend it further south, so we packed up our respective families (minus the cat) and drove two hours to the Quad Cities.

When I walked in my grandparents’ house, I didn’t remember the narrow galley kitchen being blue. I recognized the blue living room and den, but my mind expected the darker colors from twenty years ago. Both my mom and grandfather tilted their heads when I asked how long the kitchen had been blue. “It was all painted at the same time,” they said. “Granna turned on a light under the cabinet to make it brighter.”

I washed my hands in the kitchen sink and tilted my head to look through the window into the added-on sunroom. I remembered sitting on the couch with my brother and grandfather playing Spyro or Ratchet & Clank on the Playstation. Granna would be fixing sandwiches in the kitchen, or washing dishes, or frying chicken for our picnic supper, and she would lean through the window to tell us we were doing a great job or that food was ready. We would lean forward and wave, and sometimes I ran to the sink to imagine what the window looked like from Granna’s view.

Despite feeling like I was straddled two decades in a single moment, my brother and I laughed at the ceiling fan chain hitting us in our foreheads. We had been so proud to grow tall enough to reach it with the tops of our heads, and now we had to pay serious attention not to whack it when we walked through the middle of the room.

We finally all settled in front of the tv to drift off in a turkey-induced dream or zone out to the random and somewhat confusing movie on the screen. Granna sat at the dining room table and asked me across the room how my writing was going. I told her about my blog and how I was working on my book.

Granna smiled and nodded. “There’s a woman at church who writes books,” she said. I told her I remembered hearing about the author. “What I like about her books is the same thing I like about your writing. Your books aren’t over complicated or deep; I can relax when I read them. I can’t keep up with all those multiple storylines like I used to. I just want books I can relax to.”

Granna then told me the story of her struggles to learn to read in 1st grade and her transformation to a teacher when reading clicked. I nodded; I had heard the story before. More than this story, her earlier comment was circling in my head. I just want to read to relax. I had spent so many hours in college studying literature and feeling sheepish for writing simply that I never realized the reason I wrote that way in the first place. I wrote because I wanted to help people relax, to give them an escape where they could process emotions through catharsis and feel a little more hopeful when they finished.

Before we left, my grandfather ran to a shoe box and pulled out a handmade star ornament. “I want you to have this, an ornament for your first Christmas tree.” I held the slim piece of glass in my hands and felt my heart swell. I knew my grandfather had spent a lot of time choosing the best pieces of glasses and soldering the pieces together. I also knew I would be putting it at the top of my tree when I decorated the day after Thanksgiving.

As I held the ornament in my hands on the drive home, I decided I would no longer feel guilty for not writing complicated literature. I would write well, yes, and use all I knew to make the words true and round and engaging. But my Granna needed stories she could relax to, and so did someone else’s Granna or Meemaw or Grandma. I couldn’t fail these ladies who poured their hearts into teaching children to love reading, who still devoured books to cope, who read to keep their minds sharp. I love them too much not to write for them.

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Why I Write

It was our third science teacher of the year. We sat in the corner room with the door-size window that let in what hint of light a Tennessee-gray sky provided in March.

This teacher had grouped our desks into five sections around the room, as opposed to the rows our last teacher had instituted. She then passed out little quiz packets, but this time, the questions weren’t about the phases of the moon (praise God… we learned that chapter 3 times that year.) This quiz was a personality quiz, and we tallied up our answers on the last page to discover what type of “animal” we were.

“How many of you are lions?” the five-foot-tall teacher with spiky hair asked. Of the 30 kids in the class, 28 kids raised their hands.

I glanced a couple of chairs over to the only other kid in the class not raising his hand. He had skipped a grade to join our class of 6th graders, and his voice was so quiet when he told me about quantum mechanics that I could hardly hear him yell about the idiots believing something about atoms that went over my head.

“How many of you are otters?” the teacher asked. The quantum mechanics kid raised his hand.

“And how many of you are golden retrievers?” I raised my hand just next to my ear. I was the only one left, after all. I didn’t want the extra attention of my arm reaching closer to the ceiling than everybody else’s because of my extra height. I scrunched lower in my chair and wished I were reading the historical fiction novel in my backpack instead. The Redcoats in 1775 Boston had nothing on these middle schoolers.

I learned later that day that golden retriever was the most common personality type. “Yeah,” my lion-friend said, “you’re the most normal person in the class!” My other lion-friend nodded in agreement, but I had to admit, that emptiness in my chest sure didn’t make me feel like I was the normal one. As soon as I got home, I burrowed into the couch and dove into the Revolutionary War and a love story of two spies racing horses in the night to tell colonial militia about the British Army’s next move.

Books became my escape. My mom tried to pre-read all the grown-up novels I was reading in an attempt to challenge my vocabulary and comprehension, but she ran out of time between the dishes and driving us to baseball practices and drama rehearsals. So, I focused exclusively on the Christian Fiction genre, and even then, some of the books had scenes edging on topics too strong for my 12-year-old brain to handle. The school principal kept telling us on the morning announcements, “Be the best you can be. The choice [*pause for effect*] is yours,” and I suppose that daily brainwashing had an impact. I decided that I, with my pencil and dragonfly journal in hand, would write books to give girls hope that God had a plan and would use all things for good.

No question – I’m a dog person at heart.

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A Little About Me

Hello, everyone! Since I’ve revamped my blog and hope to see several new faces visiting in the near future, I thought it would be fun to fill out one of those cheesy getting to know you questionnaires we filled out as kids on the first day of school.

  • Favorite color: Green!
  • Favorite book: I have three favorites (give or take a few…): Emma by Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and the entire Mitford series by Jan Karon. After all, how many English majors can pick just one favorite book?
  • Favorite song: Currently, I love I Don’t Dance by Lee Brice because it is the song my husband played the first time he asked me to dance, and I love If We Have Each Other by Alec Benjamin because my brother sent it to me (cue the tears on verse 3…)
  • Favorite food: Pepperoni pizza or cheese tortellini with marinara sauce
  • Least favorite food: Mashed potatoes (and yes, I have been informed that is strange)
  • When I grow up, I want to be… an author of quality Christian Fiction books that are suitable for any age to read. Longer post coming on that next week!
  • My best friends are… My husband, Joe, and my brother, AJ. I don’t know what I would do without those goofballs!
  • My hero is… my mom, and she always has been. I think most people my age recognize our moms for the superheroes they were as they raised us in a really transitional season. I mean, flip phones were the coolest thing ever when I was 7! Now, I can post formatted articles with edited pictures and graphics all from my iPhone. It’s been a crazy world post-9/11, and it took a lot of guts and prayer from my mom to raise me right. I would also like to add my dad to the list. He works so hard to provide for my family, yet he still takes the time to send me a funny GIF every morning and make sure I’m always ok.
  • If I could go anywhere in the world, I would go to… Scotland and Ireland! I’ve always wanted to visit the land of the redheads.

Do we have any of the same answers? If you want to see more of these posts, leave suggestion questions in the comments below! Thanks for reading!