The Forest at the Edge of My Yard (or, whatever you’re asked to sacrifice will eventually be no sacrifice at all)

My past forests have been pathetic. In 2015 when we lived in Utah,  I wanted a real forest  even though we lived in a desert. I was in the middle of writing this series and it seemed wrong that I didn’t have a real Forest at the Edge of my yard.

side view of forest

This was it–our “huge” forest. (And the pine tree died the next year. Typical.)

So we created one that summer in the name of xeriscaping, and I documented it in a blog. I even slashed an aspen to see how the markings the Shins left in the forests might look, and I used that tree as the teaser for Book 6.

book 6 teaser front cover

See the lovely scars of black under the W?

Only two short years later I sold that house and mourned the loss of my little forest.

I didn’t realize that God would compensate my sacrifice, and in a grand manner. Now, this is the Forest at the Edge of My Yard in Maine:

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(Morning from the back porch.)

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(Sunset on aspens slightly larger than what I had in Utah.)

This compared to what I left behind last year? There’s no comparison.

We don’t own this land, but my husband’s job allows us to live here and wander in acres of old forests. I just need a geyser somewhere to make my life complete.

I write this as a witness to you that whatever God asks you to sacrifice, it will be only temporary. We’ve left homes we’ve built, we’ve said good-bye to friends and family, we’ve given up jobs and dreams.

Then we’ve been granted new homes, additional friends, ways to see our family, better jobs, and grander dreams.

In fact, if we hadn’t sacrificed what we thought was good, we never would have been granted what was far better. 

But first we had to be willing to give up what we didn’t want to, without knowing what might come later.

That’s immensely difficult: to have enough faith in a different future to walk away from a good present; to find enough hope to believe that what comes next will be worth the current loss. But as someone who has “given up” a few houses, a couple of careers, a lot of friends (but thanks to Facebook they’re not entirely gone), and some big dreams, I have seen–time and time again–that what I’m eventually given in return was well worth the sacrifice.

No real sacrifice HORIZONTAL

In fact, all of our sacrifices have turned out not to be sacrifices at all, but instead were the means to leading us to far richer lives.

“I won’t do it!” said another man in the crowd. “I won’t leave behind everything we’ve worked so hard to build. And not just for me, but for my congregation, my family, my neighbors—I can’t just abandon all that we have.”

“Why not?” Mahrree said.

A man in the middle shouted, “Why not? Do you have any idea how hard it is to start again?”

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Mahrree told him, and nearly grinned as she realized how perfectly the Creator had prepared her for this moment. “I know exactly what it’s like to leave a home I love, to leave books that I considered my closest friends, to say good-bye to memories, possessions, the graves of all those I loved, and to have nothing more than the clothing on my back to walk to a future that I knew nothing about.”

The crowd was silent as she continued. They’d heard her story before in her class, but not told quite like this. Today, it was more than just history.

“Twenty-seven years ago I came to Salem, nervous and at times terrified as to what I would find. All I knew was that the Creator told us to go, and in faith I went. Not blindly, because every previous time I followed His plan, He was right.

“I ran through the forest in the darkest night I’ve ever seen, with hazards on either side, the army right behind me, and a lightning storm before me. But I came out of it safely and my faith stronger than ever. And then I came to Salem, which was a far greater life than I could’ve ever imagined. Now, none of that would have happened if I had said to the Creator, ‘No thanks—I think I’ll just handle the army on my own.’ I realize you’re worried, but staying here and fighting is far more terrifying than trusting in the Creator!

“Soon I’ll be making that journey again,” Mahrree’s voice threatened to quaver but she held it strong. “But I know that whatever sacrifice the Creator asks of me, He will reward me again a hundred times over.

“So what if you lose your homes? Your flocks and property which you don’t even own? Isn’t the risk of losing your souls worse? There’s a saying in the world: It doesn’t matter how you begin the race but how you end it. How tragic it’d be if you’ve spent your entire lives living as the Creator wanted you to, then now, at the very end of the race, you jump off the path and ignore all that you’ve been taught? Why fail the Plan now?”

Mahrree knew she was saying the right things. Her chest burned and she felt such energy she could have flown right off the small tower. She watched their eyes as she spoke. So many were hardened and impenetrable, but others’ eyes were softening.

“How do you know this isn’t His plan?” one man demanded. “This can’t be it—”

“How can it NOT be it?” Mahrree shouted, throwing her hands in the air. “Have all of you missed the signs? Land tremors! Deceit awakened! Famine in the world! Now the army marching upon the Creator’s chosen? THIS IS IT, PEOPLE!”

~Book 8, The Last Day, available HERE on Amazon, or HERE as a pdf. download, or HERE on Smashwords.

Book 8 FRONT COVER

Yes, I know I’m writing these books wrong, but I don’t care. (plus a sneak peek to Book 8)

Over the years I’ve been told by critics that:

  • I wrote my books “wrong” (whatever that means);
  • That that my series wouldn’t be “successful” (by whose standards?) because it wasn’t like other people’s books series;
  • That if I really wanted to be popular (why would I want that much attention?!) I needed to change x, y, z and rewrite the whole thing;
  • And my biggest problem, I’ve been told by a few, is that my books don’t fit neatly into one particular genre. Didn’t I know I was supposed to write to conform to what’s already out there?

Yes, I knew I was doing it “wrong.”
But I didn’t care.

I wanted to write something that I wanted to read (selfish, yes—but it’s my time I’m investing in this project). I wanted to do something different, unpredictable, and not easily shoved into some neat little box.

Deciding not to conform is what made writing this series so much fun.

I took inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote a huge fantasy series when no one else was, and he didn’t even know if anyone would read it, but that was ok because he loved what he was doing.

I also took inspiration from Terry Pratchett whose Discworld doesn’t follow any order or even scientific laws, but he didn’t care because he loved what he was doing.

I certainly don’t class myself with those two, but I sit on the sidelines and point, saying, “See? They did what they wanted—so can I!”

And so can you.
Who cares what you’re “supposed” to do? It’s your life—try something different.

I’ve been at this book series for over eight years now: has it been “successful”?

Yes, because I’ve never had so much fun in my entire life! I’ve researched, studied, learned, developed, and accomplished more than I ever thought I could. That, I believe, is success.

Some want to measure success in money and numbers, but those are meaningless to me because I make my books as free as possible, and whatever revenue I do make each month I donate to charity. As for numbers, I don’t know how many books have been downloaded on other venues, but I know that on Amazon a couple of months ago it was around 70,000 downloads. Is that a “successful” number? I have no idea. I’ve never bothered to find out.

You’ve heard it a hundred times before: be yourself, don’t follow everyone else, be your own drummer, don’t copy everyone else . . .
But hear it one more time: noncomformity is too much fun to pass up.

“She always said exactly what she thought, and she didn’t care how others took it. She only wanted to say what she was sure was right, even if she might be wrong.”

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming summer 2018

BOOK 8 teaser HORIZONTAL say what you want

Does this look like failure to you?

Failure comes in many shapes and forms. Like this, for instance:

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Horrifying, right? Last Christmas I tried to make stuffed Chewbaccas for my family. In the past I’ve successfully made Totoros and Tribbles and Adipose, but last year? Not only once, but twice I failed to make anything not terrifying.

(Seriously, my four-year-old took a startled step back when I showed them to him. He made me hide them in the closet, where I found them again as I was reorganizing recently.)

I had carefully planned these Chewbaccas, bought the perfect furry fabric, drew up the patterns, cut and stitched, but when it came to stuffing them, bizarreness ensued.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, how it gets us to places where we didn’t expect to be. I love what J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, has said about failure:

 . . . Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

My botched Chewbaccas aren’t on the same level of disappointment as Ms. Rowling’s early career, but I’ve encountered failures myself, some quite epic, which I don’t feel the need to reveal here. But Rowling’s words are profound when she remarks that succeeding in one arena would have meant she wouldn’t have arrived where she really needed to be.

Think back to when you were in high school, or college: what dreams did you have? Are you anywhere near where you expected to be?

I’m not. I’m miles away.

And I’m glad of that.

To my high school self, who and where I am now would have been seen as a disappointment. But looking back, I realize that my younger self failed to see where I really should be, what I needed to accomplish.

Failure, to one person, may be a raving success to another. I’m grateful for maturity and wisdom that have helped me see that I don’t want certain “successes,” and that what seems like “failure” can actually be a profound achievement. It merely depends on our situations in life, our perspective, and what we think is important.

I’m reminded of the story of a successful scientist who created life-saving medical devices. When asked about his upbringing, he told the story of his impoverished parents, and how they encouraged him to get more than the 8th grade education they had. Someone commented that it must have been difficult to be raised by such failures. But the scientist was startled by that comment, and replied that his parents had been the greatest successes he’d ever known. Thrust into their difficult circumstances, they still raised confident, ambitious children who accomplished marvelous things. Had life been easier, he surmised, their family likely would have been very average. Their earlier “failures” paved the way for their children’s accomplishments.

Not every failure is a later success, though. And sometimes, success morphs into failure, like these recipes.

How did such dishes of terror and texture come to be? (Click here and here to see even more recipes just like Grandma used to make, if you dare.)
Realize that these combinations went through some kind of review or committee, that several people had to experiment, taste, and decide, “Yes, these are the winners! Photograph and publish them!”

Which goes to prove that even a group of people with power and authority can make horribly wrong judgments.

We now see these recipes and shudder with thoughts of, “What were they thinking?!”

Why was this considered a success back then, and an utter failure a few decades later? What set of circumstances led people with the same taste buds as us to believe that mayonnaise improves every dish, that Jell-O can be considered a salad with the right veggies thrown in, and that SPAM is edible?

For that matter, what raving “successes” do we consider now will be regarded as dismal failures in the future?

But, likewise, what catastrophes are we experiencing now will be later seen as the beginnings of marvelous triumphs?

Perhaps the message here is, don’t discount your failures too quickly. Don’t harp on yourself too much for the disappointments you encounter, or even cause. Who knows, they just may be getting you on the road to victory.

Unless it involves Jell-O, mayo, SPAM, or disfigured Chewbaccas. Sometimes, a failure is a failure.

But maybe not always.

Halloween’s coming up.

Whereas my Chewies failed as Christmas gifts, they’ll likely be fantastic as Halloween decorations.

Maybe it’s just all about timing.

     “Colonel Shin,” Captain Thorne started, “if they’re incapable of making intelligent choices—”
     “They can’t learn to make those choices if they aren’t given the opportunity, Thorne,” Perrin told him. “Give them the opportunity to learn.”
     “And fail?”
     “Failure is part of learning, Captain. It’s not to be shunned—it’s to be embraced and learned from. Would you really want someone making all your decisions for you?”
                                         ~Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn

Thanks, Etsy shoppers, for my inability to sleep!

Last year we were dragging ourselves out of a financial mess. After many months of being severely underemployed, our situation was slowing improving with new jobs. But we didn’t yet have any funds for Christmas. I wondered if I could generate a few dollars to provide Christmas for our family of eleven—nine children, plus an in-law and a grandchild. We’ve never spent a lot at Christmas—about $50 a person—but our budget by October was literally nothing. (Writing novels and giving them away for free doesn’t produce much income; go figure.)

I’ve always been crafty, had read about successes on Etsy, and wondered if I any success could be mine. So after several prototypes and a few failures, I came up with this:

House Elf (Dobby) Laundry Room Sign--A fun place to store those single socks

I liked it, wanted one, and hoped maybe someone else would, too. Nervously I put it up for sale.

About a week later someone bravely took a chance on my new shop and . . .

 . . . bought one!

In my head I thought, “That’s enough profit to buy one paperback for a child!”
Then another one sold.
“I can buy a used DVD!”
Then another, and another.
“A handful of matchbox cars! A Minion t-shirt!”

And then the avalanche hit, mid-November. One week, the payment that went into my bank account on Monday was in the triple digits—over $100.

I was ecstatic. And stunned. And overwhelmed. I needed to get cutting more wood and painting and packaging, quick! Get the kids to help—it’s their Christmas we’re buying, after all.

The avalanche grew, and by the second week of December I realized something astonishing: we had earned enough to have a regular Christmas.

I was both humbled and thrilled. My faith in the free market system was also restored as I realized that people all over America were buying my little sock holder, and giving my family a Christmas.

My oldest daughter, whose birthday was in December, said, “Mom, years ago you tried making a Harry Potter/Mrs. Weasly clock. I think you should try it again. I really want one for my birthday.”

I hesitated. What I had made as prototypes were beautiful, but since there were out of solid wood they were heavy, bulky, and ridiculously expensive.

“So try something else,” my daughter was persistent. (Oldest children tend to be the naggiest.) “See what’s out there now. I really want a Harry Potter clock for my apartment.”

My husband and I searched all the hobby stores looking for ideas, but nothing that was reasonably priced. Finally I decided to try a trick I’d done years ago for Mother’s Day gifts: I purchased a clock, dismantled it, made a new face, and reassembled it again. I showed the prototype to my daughter who said, “Very good. Now start selling these on Etsy.”

Harry Potter Clock, 8.75 inches

Why would anyone want this? I mean, I loved, loved coming up with the fonts, designing the face, creating the sayings, but would anyone want it?

I also made the Geek/Nerd clock for fun. For years I’d thought such a clock needed to exist, so I designed it and listed it just in case.

Geek Nerd Clock, 8.75 inches

I got an order here, another one there. But it was January, and things were normally slow. I ran into shipping problems, packaging problems, other worries, and stressed about my ability to make something consistently good enough. I almost, almost pulled the clocks from Etsy.

Why was I so arrogant as to assume someone would find my tinkering worth $21?

Someone was, in Australia. Would I ship a Harry Potter clock internationally? Uh, I guess I could . . . and I realized that international shipping wasn’t that tough.

I also hadn’t understood before the power of websites like Buzzfeed and ThinkGeek and other sites that stroll around the web looking for something mildly interesting, then posting about it.

Someone thought my Harry Potter clock was mildly interesting, put it on a piece about decorating with Harry Potter decor, and within one day I was sold out. An avalanche of orders and requests came, half of them internationally. Gee, people still love Harry Potter as much as we did?

The next month that happened again, with my Geek/Nerd clocks. Several websites picked those up, and in one day I had over 50 requests for those clocks. And the next day, and the next. Every time I opened my email I cringed in worry about how many more requests there would be. It took me three weeks to catch up to the demand. I’d never been afraid of my email before.

etsyshop header

(I realize the name of the shop isn’t too representative of what I sell. I initially was going to sell something completely different, for which the name made sense, but that didn’t pan out. With no idea of what else to name my shop, and not thinking I’d sell more than 30 items, I just kept the old name. In a way, it works. At least, that’s what I tell myself.)

Overwhelmed, I stared at my Etsy stats as they reached numbers I’d never seen before. And when a weekly payments went into my bank account that month sporting four figures, I could do nothing but stare at it.

The timing (ha!) was perfect. We had some major financial needs to fill, and the sales—and my working about 40 hours a week to make all of the products—filled it.

Then another website posted about my sock signs, and someone found out I made Star Wars key signs. More avalanches.

Star Wars key holder

By June my sales had leveled off, but I realized I could quit my part-time job and work from home, never leaving the house to earn money, but always being available for my kids. Another welcomed, wonderful miracle. Etsy buyers were consistently paying for our groceries each month. And for a family of eight, that’s a few dollars. I’ve added a Disc World clock (my personal favorite), a Lord of the Rings clock, a Disney Princess activity clock, and two Star Wars clocks–Light Side and Dark Side, whatever your preference may be.

Have I ever mentioned before that we’re a bit geeky at our house?

Now, a little over a year since I started, I’m once again overwhelmed—happily—with orders for Christmas. There’s no time to work on my books, or keep my blog updated (except for this). Our Christmas is already paid for this year, and now we’re hoping to pay for someone else’s. This bounty is also letting me donate $1 from every DiscWorld/Terry Pratchett clock I sell to the Alzheimer’s Association, and much of our proceeds from last week and this week will be donated to help the Syrian refugees via the LDS Church’s humanitarian organization.

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It’s tough to be three years old and see giant rolls of bubble wrap in your mom’s room, just waiting to be used. Even tougher when you sneak in her room and start popping the rolls when you think she can’t see you. Amazing how she still hears it, though . . .

A year ago, I never would have suspected I’d sell over one thousand products, a number I hit a week or so ago. I realize that for a lot of Etsy sellers that’s not a big number. But I’m not used to success. This feels huge! I’ve sold to every state in the union, and sent orders to a dozen other countries. My kids enjoy seeing the places where our little ditties fly off to.

But there are some disadvantages to working from home. Try this: go to your place of work or business, get your pillow and blanket, then have a good night’s sleep there.

Yeah, not too easy, is it? My storage and packaging room is also my bedroom. We have a small house and a large family, and while we’re down to only 5/6 kids (depending who’s home from college/army), every room is filled with kids, so my bedroom is also where I keep my orders chart, my shipping boxes, etc. When I lay down at night, I stare at the shelves crammed with work that needs to go out in the morning. Not the most restful.

Nor can I get away from it. When you work out of the house, you can leave your job and relax at home. But even as I sit here happily typing away and “relaxing”, I see out of the corner of my eye the stack of shipping labels that will be taped to packages tomorrow, and while I never work on Sundays (I desperately need a day of rest and renewal) my job sits there, watching me, waiting for early Monday morning . . .

But that’s ok—I don’t mind. I’m fine losing a bit of sleep because of success.
It’s a lot tougher to lose sleep because of failures.
I’ve been down that road.
This one’s a lot better. Thank you for this sleepless journey!