The Race Set Before Us

12765-young-woman-running-big_800w_tn“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

One of the great mysteries of life is that the people you expect to run with you sometimes don’t, and those you expect to drop out over the years because of distance or time . . . well, sometimes they keep right on running with you.

Case in point: a few weeks ago, my friend from college, Susie Pederson, visited me. She’s on missionary furlough as a translator for Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea.

Susie and I became friends because we were both resident assistants on the third floor for a freshman girls dorm. At first, I wasn’t quite sure how our friendship was going to work out.

I double majored in English and communication arts; she double majored in religion and chemistry (at least, I knew she could translate Hebrew and was in the science building a lot). I was a cheerleader, and she was the vice-president (and, later, president) of the Student Government Association.

However, these right-brain/left-brain differences converged after I came up with the idea of turning the names of the girls who were going to live on our floor into a Scrabble board to welcome them to their new dorm home.

The only problem was, I had no idea how to execute my plan.

Susie came to the rescue: brilliantly combining all 30+ names into a crossword puzzle, which I turned into the bulletin board.

Around this time’s when we realized we both had somewhat unusual childhoods (she was a missionary kid; I was a caretaker kid on a Christian camp); we both loved books and words (later reflected in our careers), and we were runners, even if we didn’t run every day.

I told Susie, while she was here, that we would have to go running, but an opportunity didn’t present itself until 9:30 at night. Thankfully, the stars were bright and moon nearly full when Susie tied her bandana over her short, strawberry-blond hair and pushed a button on her watch.

“You’re going to time us?” I asked, horrified, for it’d been ten years since we’d conquered those Kentucky back roads.

Susie shrugged and grinned, the moonlight reflecting off the lenses of her glasses, and we took off; my Great Pyrenees following at a leisurely trot.

We talked as we ran, which reveals how slowly we were going. We talked about our families and recalled the memories we shared.

The gravel covering the dirt road shone silver as it wove across the bean fields, the pods whispering as the wind tossed them, like the sea.

We reached the mile marker, and Susie pushed a button on her watch. “What’s our time?” I asked.

She looked down at it. “You don’t want to know.”

We continued running again, and she told me about the marathon she ran four years ago, in Texas.

“One couple stood out to me,” she began. “They were wearing bright clothing . . .”

That day, every hour of the six hours Susie ran, the couple in the bright clothing appeared. She had no idea who they were, but they were there as Susie ran beneath the hot sun, her fair-skin burning and blisters erupting on the soles of her feet.

When Susie crossed the finish line, they reappeared, cheering her on. She burst into tears, seeing them. But then they were gone. Susie was never able to thank them for what they did.

“They reminded me of the great cloud of witnesses,” she said. “Cheering me on in the race of life.” She cast a hand over the moonlit field, and I knew exactly what she meant.

Sometimes, we feel that we’re running this spiritual race alone—exposed to the elements of life with blisters of doubt erupting on our feet.

The news does not help matters.

Each day of every week there are headlines conveying the latest devastation: school shootings, hospital bombings, parents being forced to choose between their children as they attempt to flee their homelands, which have been overtaken.

It’s too much. Simply too much. But we are not alone in this. All around us, people are living in fear.

This morning, on our way to church, I asked my husband if the fear’s increasing or if this fear was around when I was a child, and I remained oblivious because I believed—for the most part, at least—that my parents would take care of me, no matter what.

“It’s some of both,” he said.

But then I thought about that couple in their bright clothing, cheering on my friend. At each portion of the journey, they were there for her—encouraging her to put one blistered foot in front of the other.

If people are willing to set aside six hours of their day to cheer on a stranger, how much more willing is our heavenly father to cheer us on, eager to see us continue making the tiny, painful steps in our faith journey and will one day meet us at the finish line, calling us his good and faithful servants, if we just continue to move forward while always trusting in him.

Do you see your physical journey as a reflection of your spiritual one?

A Lesson From Tolling Bells

Girona-Old-Church-BellI was in the park with my daughters this week when the courthouse bells chimed, announcing that it was twelve o’ clock. My heart constricted with a strange longing, and though I at first had no idea why, I soon understood.

In college, my ears were always tuned for the sound of the recorded chapel bells, heralding the fact that I had ten minutes to get to class, as I hustled across the viaduct connecting the residential to the academic portion of campus.

The morning sun would slant through the autumnal foliage clinging to the few old trees, which hadn’t been uprooted for the perennial construction, and cast a treasury of gold-toned coins across the sidewalk. The roots from those same trees slightly buckled the cement, so that you had to pay attention to your steps or else you—and your books—would go flying.

Those four years I lived in the mountains of Kentucky, absorbing and dissecting words and concepts taught to me by wonderful professors (who were all the more wondrous for their eccentricities), were some of the best of my life.

Therefore, seven years later, the sound of those recorded bells, tolling from a Wisconsin courthouse’s belfry, made me long to revisit a season already past rather than embrace the season I was in.

Before that moment, my spirit was effervescent with gratitude. My daughters—three-and-a-half and one—were both healthy and happy, laughing and kicking their feet as their fine hair fluttered and their starfish fingers grasped to clutch each other as their bodies passed in their separate swings.

Before that moment, I did not want to be anywhere else but there–in the park–and then that moment was stolen from me by the tolling bells. I fought to get it back, and I did, but for the next few days I paid attention to those metaphorical “tolling bells” that whisked me away from my present joy.

A picture posted on Facebook made me long to be in Dallas at a book event hosted by my publisher: an event which I turned down mostly because I didn’t feel released to leave my little family after our journey this past year. And then another picture (can you see a pattern?) made me long to be in Raleigh for another book event with my sisters from Southern Belle View.

(Um, Jolina? You cannot be in two places at once.)

The past year and a half, I have felt led to a quiet season. This could be out of fear that something will happen to my family if I leave them, or because God is simply teaching me to be content with being still in order to show me that dissatisfaction is at the crux of every human fault–exemplified from Adam and Eve to a Wisconsin stay-at-home mom.

Maybe it’s a mixture of both. But one thing I know for sure: I am not very good at quiet.

Quiet–in my mind, the equivalent of missing out–takes me back to the days when I was the only girl in a neighborhood full of rough-and-tumble boys, pedaling, pedaling—my hands braced on the shiny bike handles, my Velcro sneakers a whir of blue and pink—as I struggled to keep up with the cyclone of dust marking their path down those summer-scorched dirt roads.

As always (because, again, I’m not good at quiet), I told my husband about my struggle this week: at being torn between past and present, present and future, when I know one day I’m going to look back on these days—yes, even the ones when my girls are both crying because the couch supposedly “bit” the eldest and the youngest tripped on her skirt while crawling, and and they are patting each other with pasta-sauce hands and crying some more out of dramatic sympathy—and I will look back on these wild, simple days and see them as golden.

“I don’t want to know that these days are some of the best of my life only once they’re gone.”

My husband smiled. “You won’t,” he promised. “You already do.”

I looked down and wiped the countertop. “I do,” I murmured, eyes stinging. “I do.”

The next day–the day of the book event in Dallas and the book event in Raleigh–I helped my eldest daughter lead out a calf at the county fair.

She held onto my hand, refusing to let go, and watched my eyes as I helped her introduce herself and tell the MC her favorite thing about the event (ice-cream). Watching those brown eyes locked on mine–searching for strength and encouragement–my whirring heart stilled, and I found myself fully embracing this season that is a celebration of everyday motherhood . . . of quiet journeys . . . of the unassuming beauty of us.

Have you ever felt led to a “quiet” season? Did you embrace it willingly or struggle with it as I do?

A Gift, Restored

watermelonIt started out, as in all things in this present age, with a YouTube video. I was folding a pile of whites when my husband beckoned me over to his computer and said, “I’d like to do this one day.”

A woman was turning a watermelon into a cake, covering the chilled fruit with a scrim of icing and festooning the top with fresh berries and chocolate sprinkles.

Of course, this made us hungry for watermelon.

I said, “There’s some in the garden.”

“They’re probably not ready yet.”

“We could check.”

Salivating, we stared at the video and then got up and put on our shoes. My husband used the light on his phone to guide us across the wet yard, but the stars were so clear overhead that they shone like miniature beacons.

In the garden, we worked our way around the sprawling vines, touching the dark-green skin of the round sugar babies, the striped, oblong North Carolinas, the other varieties whose names we forgot to jot down on the pieces of wood wedged down into the soil next to the plants.

We selected the largest North Carolina. My husband twisted it off the vine and then dropped it. The fruit tumbled downhill, and we laughed like teenagers—carefree and intoxicated by the promise of a simple wish, fulfilled.

He gathered the watermelon again, and we trudged back up to the farmhouse. Everything dark and silent, our girls asleep.

We kicked off our muddy shoes at the door and walked into the kitchen. My husband withdrew a knife from the stand and sank it into the rind. It didn’t split with a satisfying pop.

Instead, the watermelon gradually broke open, and we could see the soft pink flesh stippled with black seeds. We smiled at each other as the sticky juice covered the countertop. I took half of the watermelon and used a spoon to eat the heart. He took a spoon and ate the heart out of his.

It wasn’t ripe. It was barely even sweet. But it didn’t matter. The magic wasn’t in the acquiring but in that moment. That togetherness. Each second, each minute, each hour was a gift that was almost stolen from us, and from our girls, and so cherished all the more for its sacred restoration.

Standing there, I recalled similar moments this summer: when my husband called me outside to help him chase night-crawlers for his trout fishing trip. How they shot across the ground like lightning when the flashlight beam landed on their slithering, silver-pink backs. How the mud clung to my boots and patterned the hem of my prairie skirt.

I recalled the night when we walked across the farm, and my husband showed me the projects he had accomplished: new barn boards, a chicken-butchering station, the raised beds of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, the wall cut into the earth for our greenhouse, the wildflowers growing out of the pillow of moldering hay, and how their vibrant faces were turned up toward the waxing moon.

In the kitchen, my husband and I wiped the juice from our mouths, and I gathered the watermelon pieces and stacked them against my chest. I put on my shoes again, crossed the yard, and walked down to the chicken coop.

I opened the gate and set the watermelon in the run, a treat for my ornery chickens in the morning. And then I walked back up to the darkened farmhouse, where my two young daughters were sleeping and my husband would sleep soon, next to me.

My eyes brimmed with gratitude, and I prayed that I would hold each moment in my hands and in my heart, never forgetting, always remembering, that each second is a gift, restored, pouring through the hourglass of this blessed, fleeting life.

How about you? Have you had any moments this summer that made your heart stay still, trying to absorb the simple beauty of life?

Torn Between The Seasons — New Vlog

What Happens One Hour Before Putting Kids To Bed

Last night was a doozie.

The kind of night where my husband and I came downstairs and just looked at each other with wide eyes and then grinned, as if shocked that we’d somehow made it through the Apocalypse (otherwise known as bedtime), alive.

So I sat down on the couch, not sure if 1. I wanted to eat chocolate-chip zucchini bread (the only chocolate left in the house), 2. watch Netflix, or 3. write to process my angst, thinking that surely we’re not the only parents in the world who experience a level of madness unparalleled in parenting history, night after night, for the last sixty minutes before bedtime.

And, thus, my parody on “What Happens One Hour After Drinking a Can of Coke” was born:

Click to read.

Click to read before reading blog post.

What Happens One Hour Before Putting Kids To Bed

Fifty Minutes Before Bedtime:

10 quarts of adrenaline pump into your bloodstream as you take in the dirty floor, dirty dishes, and dirty children that all need to be respectively swept and/or washed and/or dried before bed.

You don’t immediately vomit from this overwhelming task because you know that if you can get through the next fifty minutes, you will be able to come downstairs to a quiet house and sit on the couch work out while watching whatever brain-fluff is being offered by Netflix.

Forty Minutes Before Bedtime:

Your blood sugar dips as you clean as fast as your body (and/or baby strapped to your back and/or toddler strapped to your ankles) will allow. You weren’t able to consume enough calories during supper because all your children wanted whatever tiny morsel you managed to sneak on your plate (except for green beans; they let you have those).

You combat this sugar dip by scrounging into a Tupperware container of emergency brownies you stash in the freezer, telling your three-year-old (who catches you, brownie-in-hand) she will break her teeth if she eats one.

(Marathon running and/or Paleo diet and/or DIY body wraps start tomorrow.)

Thirty Minutes Before Bedtime:

Spazz mode is complete. Your pupils dilate, blood pressure rises, in response your children run through the dirt pile you swept in the kitchen, screaming like banshees, because they get a great kick (pun!) out of seeing you mad. The calming receptors in your brain are now blocked, causing your voice to shatter glass grow shrill.

Twenty Minutes Before Bedtime:

Your body ups your dopamine level, effectively stimulating the this-is-your-spawn mode in your brain, because otherwise you might send the whole troupe packing with little sticks and checked handkerchiefs, carrying all their worldly goods, à la Huckleberry Finn.

This is how coffee works in the morning, by the way.

Ten Minutes Before Bedtime:

The sugar in the brownies binds with the organic, free-range chicken nugget you had for supper, providing a further boost in metabolism that helps you have the energy to scrub your children down with the efficiency of a pit crew.

Five Minutes Before Bedtime:

A heady mix of post-clean euphoria and I-love-my-spawn dopamine crashes together, meaning that—rather than just dumping your kids in their respective beds and slamming the door—you find yourself slowing down and breathing, brushing damp hair back from shining foreheads and reading another book . . . or two.

One Minute After Bedtime:

As the hormonal, maternal rave inside you dies down, you’ll start to have an exhaustion crash. You may become irritable and/or sluggish and/or catatonic. You’ve also now, literally, used up every ounce of strength you had left on getting your children in bed, which you were planning on using to write a screenplay and/or paint the guest room with teal and gray stripes (curse you, Pinterest!).

But, as you collapse on the couch (and then pull from beneath your backside a yard sale’s worth of stuffed animals), you realize that one day you can sit in your spotless house, watch all the Gilmore Girls reruns until your heart’s content, while your children are wearing themselves out like a freezer brownie-fueled bedtime pit-crew, just trying to put your grandchildren to bed, and—as crazy as it sounds—you will miss it.

At least for a minute or two. Pass the coffee and/or brownies.

How ’bout you? Have you ever survived the bedtime Apocalypse? 😉

The Ones Who Make It Home

14245473056_704c2f4db3_oLast night, I was sitting in the field beside our house. The hay had just been cut and rolled into bales. The clouds were dark and rippling behind the tree tops; fireflies floated above the shorn grass.

My dog was beside me, wagging her tail. I could see my cat’s panther-black body slinking down the path. My hair in a ponytail, still wearing my gardening gloves and galoshes, I drew my knees up to my chest and looked around, feeling as carefree and euphoric as someone half my age.

That is when I realized that fourteen years ago this summer, exactly half my lifetime ago, my family and I were moving away from the camp where I’d lived for eight years. The night before we left, I sat on a flat, white rock in the middle of a hayfield, my legs drawn up to my chest, and wept over that property like I was mourning the death of a friend.

I couldn’t believe I would love a piece of land like I loved that land. I couldn’t believe that life would be good again. That my family would be all right again.

In many ways, that fourteen-year-old summer was my first heartache. But for the first time last night, I saw my life divided into two sections: those first fourteen years, the majority of which I spent on the camp, and the fourteen years that have passed.

I have experienced my share of loss and heartache in these latter fourteen years, but the majority of what I remember is joy. In college, writing and reading in Boswell Park on a faux mink blanket, traveling and absorbing new cultures, marrying my husband, building our home, giving birth to our girls, moving somewhere new, and building life—and love—all over again after my husband’s craniotomy, which served as our wake-up call to embrace every day with eyes and arms and hearts wide open.

And that’s when I understood that a lifespan is not defined by what patches of ground are beneath our feet while we live it; it’s defined by the ones who live that life with us. The ones who are working the ground side by side with us, through both drought and harvest, winter and spring.

The ones who claim our hearts are the ones who make it home.

As a child, were you ever attached to a piece of land or home?

Photo credit: Malcolm Carlow

Just As You Are

4346024348_dda6963301_oIn the car, I read from the Bible, merely because I felt like I needed some biblical refreshment before I duct-taped my husband to the driver’s seat.

Ten minutes later, I breathed deep, looked over, and said, “It would have all been diffused this morning if you’d said, ‘Honey, don’t you look nice!’ instead of saying, ‘Can you walk in those things?’”

He refuted, “But I’m a practical guy! I don’t ‘get’ high heels! What if had a pair of those? Wouldn’t you wonder if I could walk in those things?”

I tried not to laugh at the image. “You would never wear high heels.”

He said, “How about a pink wool sweater, then. If I came out in a pink sweater, wouldn’t you worry that I’d be uncomfortable?”

I quipped, “No doubt.”

A horse and buggy paused at the intersection, and we drove past. My husband nodded at the driver, wearing a straw hat with a black band, a plain black suit with a blue-green dress shirt beneath. Behind him, and beside him, was his family, all decked out in cape dresses and kapps.

My husband said, “Bet they don’t fight about high heels.”

I slapped the Bible closed. “Now you want me to wear a cape dress! You’d be perfectly delighted if I wore a prairie skirt with hair down to my waist and no makeup!”

“You’ve got to stop putting words in my mouth!” he said. “All I’m saying is that I think you’re pretty without that stuff.”

“What ‘stuff’?” I fumed.

“Makeup and jewelry and heels.”

“You sure didn’t mind all that ‘stuff’ when you first met me at church!”

He looked over, jaw tight, hazel eyes gleaming. “I wouldn’t have cared a lick if you were wearing a cape dress when I met you. I wasn’t attracted to your makeup or your jewelry. I was attracted to who you were.”

Just like that, I started crying. I flipped the air conditioner vent toward my face and fanned my cheeks, but I couldn’t stop. Tears streamed.

My husband reached for my hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should try harder to build you up.”

“I should try harder to build you up, too.”

“You do a fine job of that,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need it.”

But then why do I feel like I do?

This unspoken question wasn’t answered in the car, as we were pulling into the parking lot of the church and I was desperately trying to hide any hint of crying, lest someone should perceive that I was hiding behind my got-it-all-together façade.

This question wasn’t answered that day, or the next, and yet I continued to contemplate it throughout the week, and then slowly but surely the answer came:

All adornment and abuse of the flesh stems from our souls’ desperation for love.

No one on this earth is spawned from a perfect union; therefore, at some point in our lives, man is going to fail us. I am not an exception. And neither are you. Neither are my children.

It hurts my heart to type that, but it’s true.

The only true perfection comes from the only One who is perfect, who is without sin, and loves us perfectly. When we don’t press in to Him, the failure of man becomes obvious to us. Our failures, but – far more obviously – the failures of our spouses, our parents, our children.

We no longer see our loved ones as souls but as flesh. And flesh stinks.

That was evident that morning as I preened, waiting for my husband to patch a longing in my heart that only God could fill.

That was evident when I told my husband that I wasn’t going to church because I wanted to punish him for not loving me perfectly.

That was evident when my heart cracked open and tears poured down my face when my husband reassured me that, yes, I was loved; yes, I was wanted; yes, I was treasured for who I am.

How humiliating. How beautiful. How true of all of us.

I began crying—not only because my husband reassured me of all those things, but because I felt that God was using my other half to reveal to me His face.

I am loved. I am wanted. I am treasured for who I am.

I do not have to adorn my flesh to come before Him, imperfect and desperate for fill, for He loves me perfectly. I do not have to parade before Him in my best thrift store finds, for He sees beyond this imperfect, earthen shell to my soul.

I am not giving up my high heels, my jewelry, my makeup, and my perfume, but I know that my husband does not love me for these adornments.

He loves me for my soul, as I love him for his.

And therefore, I will also come before my Maker even if I have no adornment—if I haven’t prayed or pressed in for days or weeks and am at war with my own stinking flesh.

For He loves me for me. Just as He loves you for you.

He will fill up our broken places if we come, just as we are.

Have you ever felt God fill up your broken places?

Photo credit: “Heart” by USW-UniLife

What God Taught Me Through a Chicken Coop

5513731600_f97ce5c8d6_bI still do not entirely comprehend how our souls will one day pass from life to death and life again.

But I do know that this life I love—with its exquisite everyday occurrences: cuddling my daughters in bed in the morning, eating peanut butter ice-cream under the hot July sun, harvesting a bounty of vegetables while my family sleeps—is only a dim little coop compared to the splendor of heaven that exists beyond it….

Read more on Southern Belle View Daily.

An Attitude of Gratitude

3845163122_a5a5687505_oLast night, after a romantic date consisting of pizza, groceries, and a car wash—all of which we had two kids along for the ride—we tucked said kids in bed and my husband and I sat down in the living room.

I picked up a book on the coffee table and looked at the date it was published. 1998 didn’t seem like that long ago, until my right brain-self stumbled through the math.

I held up the book. “This was published almost twenty years ago!” My husband looked at me, patiently waiting for the punchline. I declared, “We’re getting old!”

He shrugged. “That’s okay.”

I tossed the book back on the coffee table. “But I want to drink the marrow from the years!”

Accustomed to my dramatic turns of phrase, my husband just smiled. “We are. There’s nothing I would change.”

Those words an example of his effortless balance of me that just slays my heart. I got up from the chair and smothered him on the couch. I touched his brown hair and said, “What should I blog about this week? The skunks or the chicken coop as a metaphor for heaven?”

He paused. “Well, I was going to say definitely not the first one, but now . . . I’m not so sure.”

“Maybe I should study more about heaven before I compare it to a coop.”

“Maybe so.”

I sighed and looked around. “I like our little house. It’s perfect for our family.”

“I like the floor,” he said. “I bet we’d be shocked if we saw the old one.”

“Crazy how I sweep it without seeing it, and when you first put it down, I couldn’t get over how pretty it was.”

That’s when I knew what I would blog about this week.

After my husband’s brain surgery, I promised God that, if He would just grant my husband his health, then I would never get dissatisfied with anything again.

That I would delight in finding my husband’s damp towel tangled up in the drawer of the bathroom cabinet, where it would begin to mold until I happened upon it while looking for toilet paper.

That I would never become impatient when something like a bathroom remodel took second fiddle to building a chicken-killing station in the barnyard.

That wasn’t the case.

Soon after the Mayo neurosurgeon told my husband his MRI and CAT scans were clear, I began to go back to my old normal. I forgot to hug him so tightly each morning that I could feel his once-sizable space bubble pop.

I forgot what it was like to stand in front of the window, watching my husband walking carefully around in the snow, terrified he would fall but more terrified of stripping him of his independence by making him come inside.

I forgot what it was like to stand in the kitchen—my knife poised on the chopping board—and hear him chopping wood for the first time after surgery, a staccato lullaby.

Instead, I began offering suggestions when my husband sipped his coffee in the morning and asked the question, which I pretended wasn’t rhetorical, “What should I tackle today?”

Time had passed—the danger had passed—and I forgot to cherish the miracle of my husband’s life. I forgot and began tromping across the new floor of our marriage without remembering how the old one had looked before emergency surgery gutted us down to our foundational bricks.

Then I happened upon a social media post asking for prayer for a beautiful woman, who was preparing for an incredible battle that our battle this winter could barely touch.

I felt physically ill. I almost wept while hanging clothes on the line, praying for this stranger without words—my spirit humming inside me like an electrical current.

How could I go back so quickly? How could I take my husband for granted, when I could be a widow right now? When my daughters could be fatherless?

I prayed for that couple—for that wife, her husband, and their precious, special needs child—and I thanked God for listening to my prayer and giving me back my husband. I then hung a towel on the line and recognized it as the one I had pulled, musty and damp, from the bathroom drawer two days ago.

I pressed the scratchy cotton to my face and declared in my heart that I would not forget to be grateful. To be satisfied with this simple, beautiful life. That I would drink the proverbial marrow from the year’s bones, even if that meant something as simple as snuggling my husband on the couch while our children sleep. Even if that meant being content when his to-do list does not coincide with mine.

For life is not a to-do list to be conquered but an imperfect journey to be shared, hand in hand.

How do you maintain an ‘attitude of gratitude’?

Photo credit: Roger S. Hart

Finding Creativity On Prince Edward Island

11054790_699214423002_3522311086766529078_nOur third day on Prince Edward Island, when I spilled water in our rental car, my husband mopped it up with a napkin and asked, “Your creative juices overflowing again?”

I’d spent the last few hours, as we drove along the coast, running my next plot synopsis by him at break-neck speed.
Everywhere, it seemed, was a source of inspiration: tired lighthouses with paint-chipped facades, an uncut clover field being grazed by Clydesdales, bouquets of pink and purple lupine bordering jagged, red stone cliffs.

Later, as I walked the deserted beach at Dalvay by the Sea while my husband napped (our compromise for a happy marriage), I mulled over my main character’s motivation, who was inspired by a young woman I encountered during our plane ride from Halifax to Charlottetown and was only spending one day on the island. (How could she only spend one day? Why was she alone? Why did she look so solemn as she stared out the window at the rain-streaked clouds?)

Her motivation hit me like a piano from the sky, and I cried out with joy. Lest you think I am always slightly eccentric (okay, I am always slightly eccentric), you should also know that it was unbelievably refreshing to feel my synapses firing as the pieces of this unique plot structure slid into place.

1467357_699255610462_8810573242642446671_nWe returned to the beautiful Inn at Dalvay by the Sea for dessert (my cargo pants wet from ocean water and my sandals trailing granules of sand throughout the lobby). My quiet husband, bless him, again listened while I babbled my way through the story and developed the plot hook.

Back in the rental car, I kicked my shoes off and grabbed a pad and pencil I’d swiped from our inn and began jotting down notes. During our flight from Charlottetown to Toronto, I powered on my laptop and turned these notes into a synopsis, so I wouldn’t forget the story once I returned to the real world, where my creative juices are oftentimes negated by everyday life.

10156088_699726601592_7818265690621570322_nWe are experiencing everyday life right this moment, as our minivan’s silver nose points North. I have just returned to the passenger side after feeding our youngest puffies and our oldest lentil chips.

While I was back there, trying to keep our girls happy, my husband looked at me in the rearview mirror. “How’s your creative juice flowing now?”

I rolled my eyes but smiled as I popped another puffy into our nine-month-old’s mouth. “Pretty dried up.”

“But then they’ll grow up, and it’ll flow again.” He paused. “Not only that: then they’ll be your friends.”

10348535_699401932232_1795282034488265931_nAnd that was the truth of it: I might not have hours and hours to myself, walking beaches and constructing plot points as my synapses fire as if from a tommy gun.

Instead, I spend these hours pouring my creative energy into two little people, who are oblivious to the fact that I might not want to read a book about a mischievous monkey and a man in a yellow suit.

However, these little people are also making me a better writer and a better human being.

It might be a few years until I am able to apply what I have learned to the page, but it will be worth the sacrifice when I reach the end . . . of both my life and my story.

How do you keep your creative juices flowing during everyday life?