Monthly Archives: October 2012

Women in the Trenches — Susan Meissner

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Periodically, I’m going to introduce you to an AMAZING woman in our ongoing series, “Women in the Trenches.” I started this series as a way to highlight women I admire, am inspired by, want to learn a bit about life from. These are women I want to sit down to coffee with and ask them how they’re doing it. So, virtually, I did, and I thought you might want to listen in. They are in the trenches of life, family, faith, art, love, community . . . and they’re participating in life in their own ways. Beautifully.

If you haven’t already read the interviews by Rickelle Smyth Hicks, Elaine Hamilton, Rachel Held Evans, and Erin Grayson, please check them out. Each and every one of them so unique and so good.

Today’s guest is Susan Meissner, a beautiful and gentle woman who I got to know when we were living in San Diego. She’s a seasoned author, mother, military wife, has been working in church ministry, and is still a kind and generous person on top of all that. Let’s hear how Susan does it . . .

Age?

I’m 51.

How long have you been married?

Thirty-two years this December!

What are your kids names and ages?

Stephane is 27, Josh is 25, Justin is 22, and Eric will be 20 before the year ends.

Where do you live?

I live in San Diego.

What’s great about where you live?

San Diego has a very unpretentious way about her. She is very generous with sunshine and easy temperatures. You can grow flowers year round, eat avocados in December, and you can watch the sun rise in the Laguna Mountains where it snows or at the Anza Borrego desert where it doesn’t and be at the beach later that same day to watch the sun set while walking barefoot in the sand. The secret is out about that climate, though. Can be a little spendy to live here!

What is your job and why were you drawn to that particular field?

Until just recently I was the small groups director at my local church but I will be finishing up there at the end of November to concentrate solely on my writing career. Doing both for the last five years was a delicate dance of details and I tripped over my own two busy feet often. Being singularly focused on one career will be good for me. Sometimes you have to trim good things to concentrate on one best thing. I enjoyed seeing people get connected into small groups because I know we do our best spiritual growth when we are in close community with other believers. But I truly love the power of story to communicate truth. That’s what drives me to write fiction. Story reveals truth in a way that is often more powerful than exposition.

Your 14th (!) novel, The Girl in the Glass, just released in September. Publishers Weekly calls it a “delightful tale” that is “sure to enchant readers.” AMAZING. Can you tell us a little bit about the story and what led you to write it?

The story in a nutshell is this: Meg Pomeroy is a disenchanted travel book editor unsure of her father’s love, still smarting from a broken engagement, and whose normally cautious mother is suddenly dating a much younger man. Her perspective on everything that matters is skewed. She escapes to Florence, Italy, on a long-promised trip, believing her father will meet her there. True to form, he’s a no-show, but the trip allows her to connect with Lorenzo DiSantis, a writer she’s met only via Skype and e-mail, and Sofia Borelli, a tour guide and aspiring writer who claims she’s one of the last Medici, and that a sixteenth-century Medici granddaughter, Nora Orsini, speaks to her through Florence’s amazing statues and paintings. When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives are indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what it has to be?

The idea for this book was born out of a trip to Florence. For our 25th wedding anniversary a few years ago my husband and I took a much-anticipated eight-day Mediterranean cruise. One of the ports of call on the Italy side was close enough to Florence to hop on a bus and spend the day there. When I stepped onto Florentine pavement I fell head over heels in love. No joke. There is something magical about Florence that I didn’t see in Rome, or even Paris if you can believe that. The beauty created by the masters of the Italian Renaissance is jaw-dropping and it meets your eye no matter which direction your turn. Florence was the perfect place to bring a disillusioned present-day character who needs to re-invent her life. That’s what Renaissance means: rebirth.

You are a military wife, mother, writer, and you work in church ministry. WOW. Can you give us some secrets on time management, priorities, how to keep it all going, and make it all work?

You know, there really is no secret to managing many spinning plates. We really can only spin as many as we are wired to spin. Some people can spin a lot of plates, some not so much. And sooner or later we all take on one too many. We usually know when we’ve done that. There is some crashing and mess and clean-up, and then we learn from that experience (hopefully) so that we can better function within the limitations God has imposed on us. I really don’t think He wants us (me) to be as over-committed as most of us are. As I am. Jesus never left that as an example for us. In fact, He often secluded Himself when His day got too busy and was the first to say “It’s time to rest.” I think it’s safe to say that there is no secret to making it work, the secret we need to discover is making it rest! We are poor resters. We need to slow down, say no more often, feel less guilt about it, and learn to rest like Jesus did.

What’s the best piece of parenting advice you can give us?

Remember your kids are loved by God and are more precious to Him than they are to you. Treat them with dignity and respect and humility. Be their champion as well as their guide and mentor. Never say to your child what you wouldn’t say to someone else’s child. They are on loan to you by God. It is hard work to parent a child; and we make mistakes. But kids are for the most part forgiving; they want to be accepted and loved and treasured by you. Apologize when you are wrong, discipline in love when they are wrong. Catch them doing right and praise them when they do.

What’s one thing that has helped you stay married?

Don’t hang onto anger and bitterness. There is a reason why we’re told not to let the sun go down on our anger. My husband and I have made it a commitment to never go to bed ticked off at each other. Sometimes that means staying up late and talking it out, and even then it might mean going to bed with a lot still on your mind, but don’t let anger be one of them. Anger doesn’t usually motivate change. Love always does.

Looking back on the season when your kids were young, is there anything you’d do differently?

I loved those years. I suppose it can always be said that we might’ve had more fun with less TV but even some of our best memories include watching Sponge Bob and Rugrats and The Fairly Odd Parents with our kids. I do wish I had spent more time praying WITH them. I prayed a lot for them. But more prayers with them would’ve been a great way to build up their faith and dependence on God.

How did you get into writing?

There wasn’t a time when I realized I wanted to be a writer, I just realized I already was one. I itched to write, all the time, from the time I first learned to make letters on paper. God planted the desire in me, I think, and He’s made me restless to be about it. I’ve been writing since I learned to write the alphabet!

How did you get your first book published?

God was just nice to me. I didn’t have any connections; I hadn’t been to any writers conferences. I knew no one. And I didn’t have an agent. I posted a proposal for my book, which I had completed six months earlier, on an online site that Harvest House Publishers happened to check out one day. An assistant editor happened across it, and mentioned it to an acquiring editor there. They liked what they saw and asked to see the full. I am amazed every time I think about how that all came about.

How do you nurture a writing life in the midst of the rest of life?

It has been said that you can’t make more time, but you can make decisions on how to spend the time you are given. Everyone gets the same 24 hours a day. We all get to choose how we spend them. Writing is a time-consumer just like anything else. If I want to nurture my writing life I have endow it with some of that time. And then keep doing that consistently. You always have time to do what you really want to do.  Even if it’s just half an hour.

What is one product or item that you can’t live without that you think everyone should know about?

Ha! Arugula. I am in love with arugula. It’s the most amazing leafy vegetable. I eat it all the time. You simply must try it. In a salad. Or put pasta on top of it. Or a grilled chicken breast. Or grilled vegetables. Love it!

What is your one wardrobe staple?

Flannel PJs!

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braveheart

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Last week, I wrote to you about making a manageable commitment to ourselves and then following through. As we make good on these commitments, we learn to trust ourselves again. We send the message to ourselves that we’re worth fighting for, our projects matter, our contribution counts. We treat ourselves as we would a friend instead of an enemy, which is the most important part.

One of the things that gets all tangled up in this “making a commitment to ourselves and following through” business is our fear.

What if it doesn’t turn out perfectly?
What if I fail?
What if no one notices?
What if it’s hard?
What if I don’t have any support?
What if people don’t get it?
What if I suck?
What if _________ could do it better?
What if I work so so so hard and it doesn’t end up mattering anyway?
What if I’m disappointed?
What if I end up with regrets?
What if . . .

I rehearse these “what ifs” all the time with my writing. What if, what if, what if . . . because writing well takes time and energy and vulnerability. And, well, what if it’s not worth it? What if it never amounts to anything? What if no one gets it? These are the days when I’m stuck in my own loops of fear, believing (erroneously) that life is only all about the product, when I have come to realize that life is actually so much more about the process.

Entering into the process is nearly always a mess. We will never be able to do things perfectly and glamorously all the time. Tragic, I know. What we’re talking about here is walking into the mess and being gentle with ourselves as we do so. That’s the miracle. That’s the thing that matters.

Making manageable commitments to ourselves and following through is about so much more than getting things done. It’s about walking with ourselves into imperfection and, in the face of fear, participating in life. This is tough stuff. And, also, the most rewarding. It’s called BEING BRAVE.

What fears are you facing today? Just remember, you’re not alone.

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worth fighting for

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Many of us are trying to do really important things: get a book written, get healthier, get some kids raised, get a business launched.

These are big-time tasks that aren’t accomplished overnight. Changing mindsets. Changing habits. Changing schedules. Changing priorities. Easy to get overwhelmed. Easy to get sidetracked. Easy to get discouraged. Easy to self-sabotage.

One of the things I’ve tried to focus on lately in my writing is to make a commitment to  myself and follow through. This means that I make a commitment to myself to write a certain amount every day, blog a certain amount every week, hit certain deadlines I’ve given myself. No one is going to swoop down out of the sky and get this done for me. I have to make a commitment and follow through.

This is not revolutionary. This is simply how things get done. What is revolutionary is what I’ve noticed happening inside me when I make manageable commitments to myself and follow through: I am treating myself like a friend instead of an enemy. And this is something, if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know I’m focusing on. To be a companion to myself instead of an A#1 critic.

If we made a commitment to a friend, we would do our best to make good on it. We would honor what we set out to do because we care about our relationship with that person.

We treat ourselves badly when we make commitments to ourselves that we don’t honor. We’re sending the message to ourselves that we don’t actually value what we’re working on and it doesn’t really matter that much anyway. So, why not be flakey. We’re sending the message to ourselves that we’re not worth the follow through. This is a real problem.

But when we make a commitment and follow through, we see that we can trust ourselves and we can build on that trust. For so many of us, this is a huge issue. We’ve self-sabotaged SO MANY times that we’ve lost trust in ourselves. Making one small manageable commitment and following through can be a huge olive branch we extend to ourselves and a foundation from which to build.

Are you working on something big? Needing some momentum (or “traction” as Stephen Pressfield brilliantly wrote about on his blog recently)? Why not start with one small, manageable commitment. Don’t be crazy about it. Not like, I’m going to stop sleeping for the next week so I can get my word count done. Or, I’m going to walk the 20 miles each way to work in order to lose this weight. NOT THAT.

Hear me when I say that this is not one more way we heap shame on ourselves. Just the opposite, actually. This is a way we learn to trust ourselves, believe in ourselves, again.

One manageable commitment. Something you know you can get done. And then follow through. Do it. And then celebrate the doing of it. You wrote for a half hour this morning? You took the baby out for a walk? You wrote that difficult email? You stayed away from dessert today? You finally planted those herbs? You made something with your own two hands? Well, break out the champagne! You’ve got a little MO to work off of. And that’s really something!

Most importantly, you’ve told yourself that you’re worth fighting for, that your projects matter, and that your contribution to this world counts.

Make a commitment to yourself and follow through. Then celebrate the heck out of it!

What’s something you’d like to commit to doing? Something you’d like to follow through on as a way to honor yourself?

Remember, I believe in you!!!!!!

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more gloriously human

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Sometimes we believe it’s all up to us.

Perhaps we haven’t bought off on this thinking overtly, but it’s in there. And it leaks out every which way. This subtle pressure to make the world turn.

Solving the problem. Making others happy. Controlling an outcome. Overworking ourselves. Overcommitting ourselves. Fretting. It’s all up to me.

Here’s a powerful thought:

“Resigning as “Master of the Universe” was a relief and a weight off my shoulders. The world can actually revolve without me. Now I can concentrate on the people around me. Instead of doing all the talking, I can do more listening. Instead of giving orders, I can ask for other people’s opinions on how things should be done. Well, God, it’s all Yours. Isn’t that a simple way to handle a difficult problem? If I can’t handle it, God can, if I just ask.”*

When we turn the God-stuff over to God, we are creating space in our lives for the us-stuff. Stuff like rolling up our sleeves and participating in life.

When was the last time you got some life under your nails? Painted. Cooked. Gardened. Sewed. Glued. Sanded. Designed. Drew. Mixed. I am so hungry for this kind of living–the freedom to enjoy instead of agonize.

I have a friend who has a home brewery.

I have a friend who makes the most gorgeous collages in a journal.

I have a friend who tends a square foot garden right in the middle of the city.

I have a friend who makes felt flower hair clips for her daughters.

I have a friend who writes on a blog.

I have a friend who takes full-of-life pictures.

This isn’t about doing more. No, not at all. This is about letting go of some things that we need to let go of so we have space to be more gloriously human. We have more capacity to be in the gray fray of life and not just in the safety of black and white.

Here’s my theory: it’s far safer to feel like we’re in control. It’s far safer to believe we are the ones calling the shots. It’s far safer to believe we are God. It’s far safer to live at a ridiculous pace. It’s far safer to believe we are right. But it’s also very stressful. Mainly because we were never really meant to be God.

It’s vulnerable and scary to believe that it’s not all up to us, to hit up against our own perfectionism, to be human.

Today, on this Sunday, let’s practice Sabbath rest by turning the God-stuff over to God and focusing on what it means to be fully human. Alive and awake and wild with possibilities. Life under our nails. Allowing space for imperfection.

Once we were paralyzed with the weight of figuring it all out. Now that we’ve said – Well, God, it’s all Yours – we are freed.

*From Today, a publication of Emotions Anonymous.
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the doors

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Is the ground under you a bit shaky today? Not feeling as sure-footed as you’d like? Is uncertainty the path you’re walking on right now? Are the plates shifting?

If so, I’m with you.

Uncertainty creates an energy that we have to address. Otherwise, that energy takes on forms that aren’t always so helpful. Grasps at any kind of control. Plunging lunges at anything and everything we think will make us feel safer. Pulling up a chair to the refrigerator. Manic cleaning. Blaming the husband, loudly. (You know, so I’ve heard.)

As a Navy family, we have been through more uncertainty than certainty. And, after some quiet time here in the Middle East, it seems as though the winds are shifting toward uncertainty again.

So I’m trying to remember some truth that has come to me recently . . .

I’m more and more convinced that there are only a few things in life we can really control:
How we treat ourselves
How we love each other
How much we let God in

I’m going to take all the sideways energy that’s sitting right under the surface, and I’m going to try to focus it on one of the above three.

I’m going to try to be a companion to myself instead of a critic. I’m going to try to offer myself the kind of care I would offer a dear friend.

I’m going to try to channel that anxious energy into playing with my kids. Focus on small kindnesses for my husband. Call a friend for a fun outing.

Most of all, I’m going to try to stop—especially when I feel squeezed—and ask God to sit with me in the squeeze and bring a bit of breathing room to the situation. A bit of spaciousness.

I’m going to fail at all this. Obviously. So then, I’m going to get up and try again. Not in a striving-got-to-be-a-better-person way. In a breathe-in-and-out way. Because I have been offered such broad grace. Because I can choose to walk in that broad grace instead of the herky-jerky.

This is how we will get through.

After all, you never really know what’s behind those doors you’ve become so worried about. Sometimes the thing we feared the most was actually a portal to a whole new world.

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scrappy gal

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Every week, I drive by this alley with the same housedresses drying on the line. Bright florals gracing an otherwise run-down neighborhood. A dark area of town, to be honest.

In fact, this neighborhood is consistently the site of burning tires and violence. A volatile little pocket that gets covered in graffiti night after night. We don’t go down there after sunset, it goes without saying.

So it was especially stunning to see these festive flags flapping in the breeze when I drove by the other day. Right next to scorched concrete. Right next to angry graffiti. Pretty pinks. Bright turquoise. Greens. Browns like rich earth. Absolute poetry. I just had to stop and get a record of the goodness.

I made the picture my new cover photo on my personal FB page, and promptly became obsessed with it.

Here’s why . . . if you’ll recall from the Introduction of Found Art, I wrote about the beginnings of the genre found art, credited to a man in New York in 1917. He purchased a urinal from a hardware store and turned it onto its side and named it “Fountain.” So began found art or using found objects as art.

Could this be more perfect?

I know you’ve heard me say this one hundred thousand times, but I’m going to say it again. Because I need to hear it today. Because you might need to hear it today, too.

Sometimes life is a urinal. And, miraculously, in time, we see that a fountain existed in that urinal—against all odds.

Sometimes life is a terrorized alley of burning tires and graffiti and fear. And then we see—against all odds—a row of humble housedresses rebelliously waving in the face of the darkness. And we laugh. Because we know that Beauty is a fighter, a scrappy gal who can’t be run out of town by bullies or hooligans.

So fight for the Beauty today. Fight to see it. Fight to recognize it. Fight to believe it’s just around the next corner. Just down that dark alley. And if you see it–even just the faintest glimpse–get a record of the goodness. Put it somewhere to remind you.

And then, when your hope is waning, you can pull up the picture of the housedresses (or whatever your picture is) and remember that sometimes Beauty’s a butt-kicker, and she’s at her best when everything else is at its worst.

Keep the faith, my friends,
Leeana
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plenty

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Sitting at a red light this morning, literally in the shadow of the Grand Mosque here in Bahrain, the following words were playing in my car:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Behind the voice … a single violin … with its thin cry.

Aren’t these the most important words? The words that put it all in perspective. The words that remind us to return to Jesus. To turn toward him. Again and again.

We are forever fretting over enough. Is there enough time? Is there enough money? Is there enough of me to go around? Is there enough God for my troubles? Is there enough compassion for my pain? Is there enough inside me?

When we turn our eyes on Jesus, we see something staggering: actually, there is plenty. There is plenty of God for my need. Plenty.

I know it rarely feels this way. It typically feels a little panicky. With a side of no-time-to-shave-my-legs. I know.

But when we look back, we see that even in some of our worst deficits, Beauty arrived. Strangely. Through the side door, of course. Never how we imagined.

So, today, let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus. Expectantly. And see what he might do. And then let’s decide to get up tomorrow and do it again. Daring him to blow us away with the light of his glory and grace. Amen.

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church

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I so appreciated Rachel taking the time to give us some of her insight on Sunday. Her comments about the Church really stuck with me. How difficult it can be for so many of us to find a church where we feel as though we really fit. I appreciated that Rachel took some personal responsibility in that struggle as well as challenging the Church, too. It’s usually a both/and, isn’t it. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves and we also need to take a long hard look at the Church and, hopefully, be agents of reconciliation, most of all.

It’s all very complicated, though. Church can jade you like no other place in the world. Am I right? Somehow, when we walk inside we secretly hope that the very-flawed-humans all around us will somehow put their flawed-ness on hold because we’re in church. And when that doesn’t happen, it’s painful. Man, it’s really really painful.

I’ve had some interesting “church” experiences over the last few years:

When we were living back in the States, I used to host found art workshops. I’ve written about them before on the blog. Some of you attended them way back when. I would gather and scrounge and collect all kinds of bits of salvaged materials and bring them to our church offices and invite women to come. I’d read to them, pray, invite them to write, invite them to talk. And the room would fill with the sound of women’s voices—laughing, crying, laugh-crying. And then we’d make some kind of collage or sculpture—an icon—from everything inside that came tumbling out.

Sometimes during those workshops, I would look around the room and I would see all these women. All different colors. All different shapes. All different ages. All different stories. And yet, we all came together for an evening and became newly washed in grace.

I used to walk around the room and watch the women talk to each other or watch the women paint or watch them glue down and hammer and sweat and get a little life under their nails. And I used to think to myself, this is church.

I’ve been to 12-step meetings that felt like the closest thing to church I had ever experienced. People listening to other people share something deeply personal. People pointing others to their Higher Power. People loving and accepting and not needing to advise or correct. People gathered together to share about their brokenness. People encouraging each other on the road to recovery. People wanting to change. Leaves you thinking, this is church.

I’ve been to the showiest churches you can imagine, and I’ve been to the most humble (people leading worship in camouflaged uniforms). What makes a church work and what makes a church repellant?

The very hard balance is searching ourselves for pride and contempt and anger and being willing to make amends with “the Church” in general, and also being voices that call for change where change is needed. We’d like to think all this can be done gracefully. I’m sure it can, but I’m also sure it’s a mess.

So where is your relationship with the Church? What is meaningful church to you? What are some non-negotiables of church? What’s something unconventional that has become church for you?


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“the job of every writer,” an interview with rachel held evans

I’m excited to introduce you to yet another amazing woman from our “Women in the Trenches” series, a look at inspiring women in the trenches of art, family, ministry, becoming . . . real living. Over the summer, you heard from Rickelle Hicks, Elaine Hamilton, and Erin Grayson. Do yourself a favor and go back and check out these interviews if you haven’t read them already. Beautiful, soulful, life-traveled woman. All of them. Their words will help you journey.

Today, is no different. I first met Rachel Held Evans at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing in 2010. Her debut book, Evolving in Monkey Town, was just about to release. We were fellow Zondervan writers, introduced by our amazing editor-in-common, and I so appreciated Rachel’s not-taking-herself-too-seriously sense of humor and yet . . . YET, her sharp insight and intelligence AND her willingness to tackle very difficult topics with grace and wisdom. Hers is an important voice, so I wanted you to get to know her!!

I have been so challenged by her blog, www.rachelheldevans.com and am especially looking forward to the release of her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, based on an incredible project which she will talk more about in the interview. Available for pre-order here.

I invited Rachel to talk to us about blogging, writing, the Church, and so much more. Here’s Rachel . . .

Age: 31

How long have you been married? 9 years

Where do you live? What’s great about where you live? Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 and the best place in the world to get fresh strawberries in the spring.

What is your job and why were you drawn to that particular field? I’m a full-time writer, working from my dining room table and the occasional coffee shop. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little girl, and in fact dressed up as an author for career day in third grade. I wore a little suit jacket and fake glasses, with a bun in my hair and a legal pad under my arm. Of course, had I known the actual professional attire of a writer, I would have simply gone to school in my pajamas! So this has been a dream of mine for a long time.

You dive into difficult subjects on your blog, and sometimes take some heat for it. Takes guts! What do you hope to accomplish through your work? My goal is always to engage in meaningful conversations with my readers, to speak with them honestly and with vulnerability, and to listen to their own stories, questions and ideas. This is what I love about blogging. It keeps me in constant communication with my readers so I know what inspires and intrigues them. This helps me become a better writer. Ultimately, I hope my work helps people see the world in new ways. I hope it helps them pay attention. That’s the job of every writer I think.

When you write about theology, the Church, faith, doubt, and what it means to be a woman of faith in our culture, you’re inevitably going to wander into some controversial territory. I’m fine with that. There are injustices around the world and in the Church that we have to confront with courage. But I hope that I do so in a way that is civil, constructive, and in the spirit of grace. My readers help keep me accountable in that, and I am grateful to them for making our little community one of the most diverse, yet respectful, you will find online.

I appreciate your honest struggle with Church. Where is your relationship with Church now and where do you see your relationship with Church going? I love the Church so much, and I especially love the diversity of faith expressions that we see within her—from Orthodox, to Catholic, to evangelical, to Mennonite, to Anglican, to Quaker, to Lutheran, to Methodist. There are things I profoundly admire about each of these traditions. And yet I struggle to find my place in the Church, a place where I fit. Part of this is just a consequence of living in a small rural town where there aren’t many options.  Part of it is my own selfishness and pride in seeking out a church that “meets” my own needs. And part of it is systemic problems within a lot of church cultures that restrict opportunities for women, excludes certain groups of people, and creates a fearful atmosphere that isn’t friendly to folks like me who ask questions and occasionally doubt.

My husband and I were part of a wonderful little church plant here in Dayton that ultimately failed due to lack of finances. Since that fell apart, we’ve been searching for a local church home. That has been a journey, but it’s one that is strengthening my faith and challenging some of my old attitudes and presuppositions…in a good way.

How do you schedule writing time, blogging time, other social media time? I’m pretty terrible at time management. (See Mike Hyatt’s blog for information that might actually be helpful!) But I’ve found that, in some ways, it’s easier to do something every day than it is to do something every once in a while. And so I try to post a blog every day, and have gotten in a good habit of knocking out a post or two in the morning before dealing with the onslaught of email, interviews, social media, conference calls, etc. for the rest of the day. If I’m working on a major project, like a book, I go into recluse mode and focus almost exclusively on that.

What are a few keys to creating a meaningful blog that also has longevity?

1. Write about things you care about. Don’t lock yourself into a single topic out of obligation, but give yourself room to change and grow. Most of your readers will follow.

2. Share your platform with others. Invite people to guest post, review other people’s books, conduct interviews. This not only brings new voices and perspectives to your blog, but also gives you a break from time to time!

3. Don’t obsess over stats. I used to check my Google Analytics every single day and then, when Google released a version that included real-time tracking, I realized I had to quit or else I’d get addicted and my self-esteem would rise and fall with every hourly rise and fall of pageviews. Now I check a couple of times a month and am much happier!

What voices are influencing you right now? Lately I’ve been returning to some old favorites from Barbara Brown Taylor, Madeleine L’Engle, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, and Lauren Winner. When I’m feeling dried up creatively, the words of these ladies are like rain.

Your second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, releases this fall. Briefly describe the project you did for this book. How has that project changed you? My next book describes a project I undertook about a year ago in which I followed all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.  So I had to grow out my hair, cover my head whenever I prayed, remain silent in church, nurture a “gentle and quiet spirit,” observe the Levitical purity codes that made me ceremonially impure during my period, observe the Jewish holidays, and much more. (I even called my husband “master” for a week!)

Some of these experiences were funny (in deference to Proverbs 31:23, I literally praised my husband at the city gate with a homemade sign), others were rewarding (I learned a lot about contemplative prayer when I visited a Benedictine monastery one month), and others were terrible (I ordered and cared for a computerized baby named Chip, and he was a nightmare!).  I got to interview all kinds of interesting women—from an Orthodox Jew to an Amish housewife, to a polygamist, to a woman pastor. And in the book, I also feature the stories of women from the Bible—Huldah, Jael, Deborah, Ruth, Vashti, Sarah, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe—each of whom honored and glorified God in her own unique way.

The point, of course, is to show that any time we talk about something like “biblical womanhood,” we are being selective. None of us are practicing “biblical womanhood” comprehensively, and like the women from Scripture, we are each called to honor God through the unique gifts he has given us. My hope is that the book will help liberate women from the notion that there is just one right way to be a woman of faith. It’s not about sticking to a list of rules or roles; it’s about living with character. It’s about becoming, as my Jewish friend Ahava likes to say, a woman of valor.

Any secrets for making time to fit all of life in? How do you order your life for work, play, rest, family time, exercise, etc? If I knew, I would write a book about it and make a gazillion dollars!

What fills you up or inspires you? Unplugging for a few days, road trips, the writings of saints from long ago, liturgy, football, fall weather, baked things, silence.

Where do you find God? In silence.

What is one product or item you use all the time that you love and think everyone should know about? I do enjoy my Kindle—not for every book (some you just have to be able to hold in your hands to revisit and underline and finger through) but for checking out new releases and talked-about books. Great for traveling.

What is your favorite book and why? I could never choose! But if I absolutely had to—To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

What is your one wardrobe staple? A good pair of dressy flats….for running through the airport, giving a presentation, or slipping on with your sweatpants to go check the mail.

<<What’s something from Rachel’s interview that inspired, challenged, or informed you?>>

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