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

Book 7 Teaser: Tell God what you want!

“Your problem is that you haven’t told God that you need a miracle. Tell him! Demand a miracle!” That was the advice my friend gave me when, seventeen years ago, we were drowning.

I was pregnant with my 6th, my husband had lost his job and the part-time job he had in the meantime wasn’t paying, and my adjunct contract wasn’t going to be renewed because of budget cuts. We were falling behind in our mortgage payments and our savings were gone. Very soon we’d be in very dire circumstances.

“Tell God exactly what you need and get that miracle!” my friend insisted.

So I prayed—earnestly and daily—telling God what I wanted: a good-paying job for my husband so that we could meet our financial obligations, and the ability to keep the house we’d built so our family could be raised in a great neighborhood.

Not much—just what all of our other friends and family had. Not a fancy car, not a dream vacation, not a huge house—just the bare necessities.

Others also prayed in our behalf—intently and constantly—until finally the miracle came: my husband got a job.

But the not-so-miraculous part was that it was 2,000 miles away from that great neighborhood and my family.

And it wasn’t going to pay enough.

And we’d have to leave our house.

But maybe, just maybe—it’d be ok?

With enormous reluctance and huge tears, we moved our family cross county, put our house up for sale, and waited for the next miracles.

But they didn’t come as I demanded. Where we’d moved was outrageously expensive, and my husband’s education-based income would never cover rent, so he found yet another job, this one a couple hundred miles away, leaving me and our six children to mooch off of his family for several months.

The sale of our house fell through—four times—and because we couldn’t get caught up on the payments during those eight months, it was going into foreclosure with letters sent to us almost daily from lawyers and banks.

I was so humiliated and depressed, alone and still drowning. Did we not have enough faith to make those miracles happen? What more was I supposed to do to get my prayers answered? What did I still lack? Why wouldn’t God give me what I needed and what our family deserved?

I began to realize something: demanding miracles from God wasn’t how it was supposed to work. God is not, as Harry Emerson Fosdick once quipped, “a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button and get things done.”

Maybe I wasn’t praying for the right things. Maybe I didn’t even know what those “right things” were?

So I stopped telling God what I wanted and needed, and started asking Him to help me understand. I asked Him to change my heart to be submissive, to meekly take whatever was thrown at us. I was so low anyway, I didn’t have anything else to lose. I was hopeless, in heart and spirit.

I was broken. That’s what God was waiting for.

That’s when miracles began.

Miracle #1–We found a house to rent across the street from my husband’s new job. It was condemned and would be torn down in six months, had mice and skunks (in the cellar) and roaches, but we could live there for $350/month and be a family again for a while. The fact that I was grateful for such accommodations after living apart for eight months? Miraculous. (I’ve written about this house before here.)

virginia house

And when it rained, water poured in on all the edges where the walls met the ceiling. But that was ok, because the vines growing in the house needed to be watered.

Miracle #2–We finally found a buyer for our old house, and the day before it was to be sold at auction we closed on it and were able to negotiate payments for the second mortgage, which wasn’t covered, down to a reasonable rate. We paid it off five years later.

Miracle #3–Astonishingly, the mortgage company hadn’t reported our delinquency properly, and on our credit report was only that we’d missed one monthly payment. Our credit rating fell a bit, but three months later we were in a position to buy a brand new house at $600/month.

A full year after I TOLD God what I wanted, I realized I was in a completely different situation than I’d ever imagined but . . . I liked it!

Our new life was giving us experiences that we never could have had any other way. Our kids were flourishing, our new house was adorable, my husband loved his job, and I had work as well.

And I was very glad that God did NOT listen to my demands.

A couple years ago we drove through our old neighborhood to see the dream house we had left and lost in 2000. I was so grateful that we did NOT raise our kids there. Not that there was anything wrong with the neighborhood, but I realized how limited and narrow our lives would have been had we never left, instead of the wealth of experiences God gave us instead by forcing us away.

He knew what we really wanted, rather than what we thought we should have.

The real problem, it turned out, wasn’t that I needed to demand a miracle and insist on my ways, but that I needed to ask God what His ways were for us. And His ways have always been far, far better.

     With growing despair, he sat back on his heels. It was time to send the general a message.

    “It’s the right thing to do, right, Puggah?” he whispered.

     It’s an intriguing idea, Young Pere. But is it the right idea?

     “Well, you did it! At least, you were trying to do it, then did it in another way—”

      Young Pere, think about that—I tried to do it but failed. It wasn’t meant to be. It isn’t meant to be with you, either. 

     He scoffed. “But you just said it was intriguing!”

     Yes it is. But just because it’s an intriguing idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. Especially when the Creator has something much better in mind. 

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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What if we just quit bothering with the world? The easiness of essentialism.

What if, instead of worrying about the world and its expectations, we focused on only a couple of key items and let the rest of world just . . . go on its way?

Think about that: maybe there’s only a handful of things we really need to worry about, and as for the millions of other demands the world makes upon us we just ignore them.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

My friend clued me into “Essentialism,” which redefines minimalism and suggests that we should “discern what is absolutely essential, then eliminate everything that is not.” Greg McKeon argues that we get too caught up in the non-essentials: “non-essentialism is this idea that everything has to be done and that you have to do it all. Everything is equally important so therefore I have to try to do it all. That’s an idea — if I can do it all, I can have it all.”

But what if we don’t bother with doing it all? Why would we want it all anyway?

What if we quit following every news outlet, every fashion, every new-and-latest thing, every competition and demand for our attention, and focus instead on only a few ESSENTIAL points?

We’d be a heckuva lot happier!

Consider how simpler life would be if we:

  • stopped fretting that our houses aren’t up to date (no, you don’t have to put shiplap on every wall),
  • that our kids aren’t excelling in every sport/musical instrument/dance/karate/theatrical production (freeing up afternoons and weekends),
  • that we’re not on top of every trend (anyone remember how fast Pokemon Go came and went? Men’s rompers will go the same way, so don’t give them another thought). 
  • And what if we let the world go on its way . . . without us?

I think about life in the 1800s, how people focused on survival, their immediate family and neighbors, their little communities, and had no idea what the gossip was on the other side of the state or the world. They could think about real things, urgent things, important things.

Whereas we think about silly, petty, and divisive things.

But we don’t have to. We can center our lives on very few priorities and shut out everything else.

So what would those priorities be? How about the only thing that really matters: developing Christlike attributes.

To become like Him is the main reason we’re on this earth, going through this trial of life to see what our hearts really want, and to see how we can become more like Him. And you know what? I’m thinking more and more that being like Christ is the best and only worry I need.

And that “worry” isn’t even a concern. Look what He said in Matthew 11:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor [to keep up with the demands of the world] and are heavy laden [with the world’s expectations], and I will give you rest [because we set that all aside].

29 Take my yoke upon you [and throw off what the world expects of you], and learn of me [instead of the world]; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [because I teach the peaceable things of the kingdom].

30 For my yoke is easy [way easier than anything the world demands], and my burden is light [lighter than anything the world shoves upon you].

Matthew 11:28, We find rest in Christ

And that’s all there is to it.

People assume that because I have nine kids I’m constantly busy and harried. But the truth is–and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it–I’m not. Quite often I can spend hours each day in pursuits I enjoy–writing, reading, researching–because we don’t bother with the non-essentials.

My kids aren’t involved in many activities; we don’t run around endlessly every afternoon from one thing to another–I let them entertain themselves like some 1970s throwback mom. I don’t demand perfect grades from them (grades aren’t an indicator of future success anyway), but I let them push themselves, which they do.

My house isn’t spotless or trendy (I’ve got better things to do), I make simple meals for dinner, and, frankly, I’m pretty relaxed most of the time. I almost feel guilty about that . . . but then I decide I don’t need to bother with worldly guilt, either, and let the feeling go.

We take care of each other, study the gospel, go to church, play together, educate each other and . . . that’s about it. Easy.

I am, however, trying to increase the amount of time I spend on others, trying to find additional ways we can be of service, because that’s really the purpose of life: taking care of others as Christ did.

The apostle James put it in simple terms:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [taking care of the vulnerable and needy around us], and to keep himself unspotted from the world [ignore the world].  ~ James 1:27

That’s it. Only two things, just like Christ said to the lawyer in Matthew 22:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [not giving any of your heart, soul, or mind to the world which will treat you cruelly].

38 This is the first and great commandment [which will keep you unspotted and unburdened by the world].

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [by taking care of the vulnerable and needy].

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets [and you need not bother about anything else].

Simple, sweet, and satisfying! (Unlike the world.)

We can do that. Anyone can do that.

And we should, because consider these words of Christ:

36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall again the whole world [be accepted by it, follow its trends and demands religiously], and lose his own soul? [Worldliness kills the soul—simple as that.]  ~Mark 8:36

I’m not saying it’s easy to shut out the world. I’ve been working on doing that for quite some time now, trying to cut off more and more connections to it, especially through social media. Our family quit TV and radio some years ago (just getting rid of advertisements significantly increased peace in our lives). There are still many aspects I struggle with, and likely will my entire life. It’s hard to live in the world and not have some of it rub off on you, like trying to squeeze between muddy elephants without getting dirty.Image result for herd of muddy elephants

Purposely not doing what everyone else around you is can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I suffer from FOMO: fear of missing out. But just because the crowd is insistent, just because you feel the need to be like everyone else, you don’t have to be. This image, which I ran across many years ago, has seared deeply into my soul. I want to be that guy.

Image result for man in crowd not heil hitler

I’m discovering that when I ask God how I can step further away from the world so that I can be closer to Him, He gives me ideas, nudges me away from distractions and gently prods me toward more important activities. He wants me and my family to be unspotted, and He wants to ease our burdens. I have full confidence that He can get us all the way where we need—and want—to be, because, awesomely, He’s already done it himself:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace [because haven’t you grown weary of keeping up with the world yet?]. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [and so can you].”  ~John 16:3

     “You look so tired, Young Pere. So weary, my sweet boy. Did you ever have a day of peace in the world?”
     “No,” he sighed. “Not that I remember.”
     “Then isn’t it time to let go of the world?”
     ~Book 8 (Yes, there’s a book 8!)

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