Guest blogging

I’ve spent more time on other blogs than my own lately. But I’ve been enjoying writing for other folks about fairy tales, children’s literature, and Madeleine L’Engle.

And another post on Art House America about the importance of fairy tales; instead of viewing them as escaping reality, they actually point to a deeper reality that is beyond our limited understanding: http://www.arthouseamerica.com/blog/eliminating-the-darkness.html

Check out my post at DL Mayfield’s blog on the book that changed my life (Madeleine L’Engle, hint hint).
While you’re there, read some other great posts about life-changing books.

Round-Robin Blogging

I have always hated chain-mail (not the kind knights wore during the Crusades though I imagine it was quite heavy and itchy). The kind I’m talking about is what used to be passed around in the back of Jr. high classrooms on lined paper (yes, I’m old), and then got its foothold during the rise of the email (yes, I said “the” email…that’s how it felt when it first started). Now it’s kind of a joke or can be debunked by snopes.com but you still sort of like to read it to know what exactly will make you die and/or lose everything in epic Job-style if you don’t pass it on.

This is not that kind of chain-mail.

My friend and fellow writer, Amy Peterson, recently tagged me in this uplifting “round robin blogging tour” prompt. This is fun. And you won’t die from it. At least not directly.

Below, I will answer a few questions about my writing process. It makes me sound like a fancy writer. So I like it.

But before you read my answers, check out Amy Peterson’s blog about her writing process. She is writing a book. I’ve already read some of it and it’s going to be awesome.

1. What are you working on?

Well, my body is currently in the process of creating a human person. What more do you expect from me?

Seriously, though, the muse flits about where it wills-between poetry, YA fiction, music, and essays. Which is probably why it’s been a while since I’ve written anything longer than 2,000 words. Recently, though, I’ve forced the muse into a computer screen hoping it will inspire me as I write a non-fiction memoir  about spiritual lessons I’ve learned since moving to an intentional community on a farm five years ago.

I’ve started with lessons about death.

Nowhere to go from here but up.

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

Truthfully, I’m not sure yet what genre I’m writing in: spiritual memoir, Christian non-fiction, fantasy with undertones of reality…

I do think that what makes my current project unique is that it’s set on a farm and an intentional community. There are lots of farming memoirs, a few even in the Christian genre. But I’ve seen very few authored by women and even fewer that include the crazy element of intentional community.

I’m hoping the craziness works in my favor. Or else putting up with it for five years will have been worth nothing.

Kidding. I love my neighbors.

3. Why do you write what you do?

In general, I write to articulate meaning. Through writing, I am able to better understand my own narrative and the stories of others.

I write poetry because it’s like prayer for me. There’s a special inner focus, a meditative sort of streamlining that happens when I start to write a poem. Hearing the sounds of the earth, seeing the differing shades of green in spring, watching my children learn the world…that is a focus that helps me remember our Creator and be thankful for all the beauty and messiness of the world.

I write music mostly for worship with our small band of brothers and sisters in community. I am on the music team and I’ve been able to teach some of my songs to the congregation. This, for me, is the most selfless form of my writing because it is for the church and all the pleasure I get from it comes when we sing the songs together in worship.

That’s not totally true, though, because I would like to be a famous folks singer ala Joni Mitchell. But only if I don’t have to perform onstage.

Fiction for young adults is my first writing love. My novel Rising Star is set in a small Texas town where the children can fly. To tell you anymore would be spoiling…unless you are an agent or publisher. In that case, you can email me at christiananoelwrites@gmail.com and I’ll tell you all about it. I’ve written 2.5 novels in the genre (I will finish the .5 novel when the first one in the series is published and they beg me for the sequel…still waiting).

As for the current non-fiction memoir, I’ve been writing about life in our community ever since we moved but I didn’t get the sharp focus for this book until I began to face my own spiritual understandings of death.

4. How does your writing process work?

This is different with everything I write. When I was writing my first YA novel, I was single and living overseas. My life is very different now. To actually get pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, I have to steal moments when the kids are outside, during nap time, or hire a babysitter to get writing done.

My process for poetry usually begins with an image or metaphor. The image can appear when I’m at the creek with my kids, lying on the grass under the maple tree, or differentiating bird calls. This word-picture is the beginning of a poem and I write it whenever I have paper nearby. Then I edit and edit and edit.

Writing music is similar except sometimes it begins with a short set of notes hummed together that become a song with paper, a guitar, and the right key.

As for writing longer pieces, it’s mostly about reading the smart things other people say, then sitting my backside down in front of the computer and writing until something relatively good comes out.

The current manifestation of this non-fiction book I’m writing is due in large part to the encouragement of the ladies of my amazing writer’s group and the inspiration they gave me recently at a writer’s conference. Having writerly friends has been essential for the days when you feel like lying back on the couch and watching hulu instead. Just reading their words and hearing them speak not only about the writing process but about their lives encourages me to keep at it.

Also, my husband and family believe in me. So that helps.

And here goes the final part: the chain. I’m tagging two writer friends so they can also answer these questions and populate the world with more art and beautiful words.

D. L. Mayfield is an inspiring writer and friend whom I am so glad to know. She and her family recently joined a Christian order amongst the poor in the Midwest. Check out her blog where she writes about refugees, theology, gentrification, and Oprah. She has also written for McSweeneys, Geez, Curator, and Conspire! and most recently, Christianity Today.

Kelley Nikondeha is a writer, reader, and deep thinker. I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting her and talking about recipes, Walter Brueggemann, chickens, and the song “How I love a rainy night.” With her unique perspective as a woman who has been adopted and has herself adopted two children, Kelley is writing an upcoming book about the theology of adoption. She is a SheLoves and Deeper Story contributor.

 

 

The Farmer’s Lot

The farmer’s hands-
grease-blackened,
deep cracked splits
running
with dirt, blood and rain-
unclog irrigation pipes
caked with the muddy detritus
of the flood’s reign.

He trails the field
with the weight of his shovel
dressed in Sunday best
longing to cradle
the emerging,
beating
fruit of life
to his chest.

Digging in with dirty hands
he feels when the soil
is dry
and for all the sweating
and waiting
for spring
new life emerges
with a sigh.

Today I’m joining a Lenten poetry link-up at my friend Amy Peterson’s blog. Check out the other poems and add your own!

Gorgeous violence

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There is a gorgeous violence to farm life.

Imagine a five-year-old witnessing with enthusiasm the full-scale butchering of three dozen geese in one day. It’s enough to make PETA hunt us down with truckloads of paint.

You would think a child fascinated by such gruesomeness would become a serial killer one day.

But that’s the strange beauty of farm life. This same child raises ducklings, chicks, and geese as if they were her darling babies. She sings to her new ducklings, telling her father that these are not to be butchered. They are hers.

She will spend hours in the basement with them, teaching the yellow tufts to follow her.

Though seemingly incongruent, perhaps it’s these things she experiences in farm life that teach her that we must cycle through the dirty, muddy, mucky, painful, violent parts of life along with the joys, nurturing, and love. It’s an introduction more profound and approachable than a violent movie or video game. It’s something she can handle.

I recently read an interview with Joel Salatin at motherearthnews.com, a celebrity in the organic farming world (don’t laugh, we do have celebrities) who describes himself as “a third generation-Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist lunatic.” Salatin’s version of farm life, where he raises, butchers, and sells pork, beef, and chicken in a manner that he calls “beyond organic” is actually therapeutic: “In a word, this is all about healing: healing our bodies, healing our economies, healing our communities, healing our families, healing the landscape, healing the earthworms. If it’s not healing, it’s not appropriate.”

Salatin doesn’t mince words. He believes that children can handle this kind of gorgeous violence better than adults:

“This is why we enjoy having our patrons come out and see the animals slaughtered. Actually, the 7- to 12-year old children have no problem slitting throats while their parents cower inside their Prius listening to “All Things Considered.” Who is really facing life here? The chickens don’t talk or sign petitions. We honor them in life, which is the only way we earn the right to ask them to feed us — like the mutual respect that occurs between the cape buffalo and the lion.”

Maybe one day when creation is made new, the lion will make friends with the lamb and the farmer will no longer need to slaughter her animals. But wouldn’t it be amazing (and perhaps ironic) if this new kingdom came just a little bit more by the healing farming practices of those who respect death just as much as they respect life.

How can I keep from singing

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I’m not going to lie.

It’s been a rough winter.

From dog bites to anxiety attacks to the harshest winter anyone can remember (seriously, the farmers whose ancestors immigrated here from the northern parts of Scandinavia are sick of this winter), I have found myself wallowing in the darkness, wandering in cold places, lost in the wilderness.

My husband did a sermon recently on the temptation of Jesus. He noted that Jesus didn’t choose to go into the wilderness, he was lead there (I would venture to guess he might’ve been dragged). For some reason, the knowledge of Jesus’ unchosen time in the wilderness was a comfort. That he didn’t desire any of this death or pain and that he understood my own little version of wilderness because he’d been through it, big time.

When my five-year-old came inside today from playing in the melting snow (more like mud, really), she was gloriously happy, red-cheeked and dirty, making her mother breathless by talking a mile a minute about how she’d collected rotten vegetables to feed the bugs in her ant house, how she’d helped Daddy fix the tractor.

After she ran back outside, she left some of her spring behind.

For months, I’ve been begging for life, crying out for spring, searching for one bright spot of green poking through the wintered earth.

My daughter brought life right to me. Her hands were filthy with it, her eyes sparkling with it, her voice a song to life anew.

I felt so grateful. And I began to sing and cry because I couldn’t help it:

“No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging; since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?*
*I used to think this was an Enya song. But then I discovered that it’s actually an old Quaker hymn. And Love is Christ the Lord. Beautiful!

Top eleven signs that the polar vortex is driving our family crazy

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1. After reading a kid’s book about it, my five year old daughter wants to talk about Hawaii…a lot. I think it’s in her dreams.

2. I heard myself say (and kind of mean it), “Wow, it’s a balmy 18 degrees outside.”

3. My three year old son nearly tears up when I start describing spring.

4. When I go to scrape the ice off my car, I’m confused when it won’t come off. And then I realize that the ice is on the inside.

5. I encourage my friend who is visiting California to describe the weather. In detail. For as long as she wants.

6. I start missing Texas summers.

7.  Even though they are outside in the barn and I have to layer up like I live in Alaska, I volunteer to do the chicken chores at night…just so I can get out of the house.

8. I spend most of the movie Frozen wondering why Anna and Elsa aren’t dressed more warmly.

9. My husband spent his birthday money on snowshoes.

10. I can’t wait to see what my buddies all think of me…when I finally do what frozen things do in summer.

11. My five year old takes a lot of selfies

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Texas and Oil Paintings: I Am From

My grandmother's painting

I am from Nana’s oil paintings imitating the Impressionist masters
from Russian matryoshka nested dolls and Great Aunt Laverne’s tea cup collection

I am from a house atop Cat Mountain with the best sunsets
and the sound of cars on the highway below lulling me to sleep at
night

I am from the Hill Country and roads cut through limestone
populated with cedar trees whose bark peels off like an old skin

I’m from eccentric introverts and too many gifts at Christmas
from Heatherly and Elena who made me the middle sister
from dad traveling overseas too much doing lots of good things for other people.

I’m from “this too shall pass” and “we have not earned any of the things we have” and
“if the Lord wills and you see me again” before every parting
From “Where are you going my little one” sung every night by Mama before bed til I cried
from the grief of leaving her one day.

I’m from every song, even commercial jingles, sung together in tight harmonies

I’m from Connecticut and Scotland but not really because I’m from Texas Texas Texas
down to great and greater grandparents  who gave birth in one room houses in Cleburne
and made sweet potato biscuits and black eyed peas at New Years.

From Anna Christie’s drowned husband and
Otis from Sweden whom she raised as her own when his mother died in childbirth
From Papa who left home at fourteen, spent three years as a POW in Java
and went back to Japan after the war to be a missionary

From diaries written with pre-teen tears about how I’m too fat, fears of death, glass miniature bric-a-brac, rock and shell collections displayed in wooden cubby shelves on my bedroom wall,
from the only time I ignore Mama’s call for dinner or food on any kind is when I’m reading in bed

Now I am from uncaulked baseboards, grimy from years of bringing the outside in
from the smell of fertilizer and fish immulsion mixed with cooking tomatoes
Now I am from the maple trees tapped every year for syrup and boiled down in a black
cauldron in the white winter woods
from poems written at the narrow creek that bends
round from here to the wider streams

Now I am from a tanned farmer whose tender loving hands are often cracked and running
with dirt, blood and rain
from a fairy who feeds the chickens in her princess dress and muck boots
from a cuddly Tom Sawyer who waves at Daddy driving by in the tractor
while holding his dinosaur to his chest

Now I am from a community of idealists, hippies, peace-loving Mennonites
And I am not one of them but I am
because
I am also from Jesus. And he has been there from the beginning.

I am synchroblogging with SheLoves Magazine today with their series on “I am From.” You can read more or link up here.

Poetry as prayer

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I love being able to stay at home with my kids. It’s a gift I try not to take for granted.

But the downside of being engaged with them all day is that I don’t often get time for personal reflection. Even in the stillest moments, my mind feels fragmented into the pieces of my life all around me: meals, laundry, gardening, dishes, potty-training, exercise, reading time, church stuff.  There is so much to keep track of that my lack of peace-time can begin to take it’s toll.

A friend lent me a book called Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, and I searched through it to find something that might help me focus on Christ, even in those tiny quiet moments. I came across two that have given me some lightness, some extra joyful oomph to get me through the day.

The first is the Prayer of Recollection. It’s desire is “to rest in God…to calm and heal my fragmented and distracted self.” The way I approached this was in a sort of meditative, yoga pose in which I recited Psalm 116:7: “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”

The first few times I did this, I tried to recognize what kinds of things popped up in my mind during this time, noticing and noting the mental distractions that can hinder me from stillness. It has really helped to center me either at the beginning or the end of the day.

But the second discipline has been revelatory for me not because it is something new but because it is the very thing I haven’t had time for:

Contemplation.

The desire here is “to wake up to the presence of God in all things.” It talks of walking, observing, listening, recognizing the presence of Jesus all around.

This is when I realized that the poetry I write is a way of finding the presence of God.

My routine for writing poetry usually involves taking a walk outside and simply listening for a sound in the stillness or watching for something that I’ve never noticed before.  When I have time to write poetry, I feel such a sense of rightness inside myself, a sense of centeredness and joy.
I think this is what I miss when I don’t have time for personal reflection or writing. I miss seeking the light and handiwork of God.

Because poetry is my prayer.

Even when there is chaos or pain or just simply busyness all around, when I listen or watch for a word or metaphor to describe what I witness in the quietness of my mind, I am seeking God.

 

What are disciplines you’ve found that help you seek God amidst the busyness of life?