Welcome to My Home. Please Wait While I Finish Incinerating Dinner.

Let’s start with a picture, shall we? It’ll summarize the situation succinctly for us.

Seriously burned hot dogs. Not. One. Word. out of any of you.
Seriously burned hot dogs. Not. One. Word. out of any of you.

That, gentle reader, is supposed to be hot dogs on our grill last night. Every Wednesday night we host a small group at our house, which involves eating dinner together, shooting the breeze, and also studying the Bible.

The new churchly-correct term for this is joining in community.

Whatever. As long as someone shows up and feeds me chips and lets me hold a baby, I don’t care what we call it. And I did indeed get to eat chips and hold two babies, but before that I set fire to dinner.

Flames, people. Incineration.

You may remember last year when I melted the siding on our house. Same situation. I put the burgers on the grill, shut the cover, and went in the house for a plate. I came back out, smelled the charcoal that was supposed to be dinner, saw the flames leaping out the back and the smoke rolling out the front. I ran to the grill, possibly using an unChristlike word, and shut off the gas.

I was afeared to look.

But I had to look, because as this was occurring the small group members were pulling up to our house. Susannah and Nic made it in the door first, and when Susannah saw the carnage she said, very sweetly, “Nic and I could go get a pizza…”

In hindsight, we totally should have gone with the pizza. But I pulled the burned food off the grill and started with new burgers, because I’d had the foresight to buy two packages that afternoon. Dinner was late but it didn’t really matter because when you have three children under the age of 18 months in your small group, time is a relatively loose concept.

The food eventually made it to the table, we talked and ate and, truth be told, never actually got around to studying the Bible. We had to make plans for the next round of study, you see.

Here is my point: small groups are wonderful. Even if you burn the dinner, even if someone spends the evening chasing a toddler around the house and keeping the cat food out of her mouth, even if you have to buy paper plates because you can’t stand to wash all the dishes, small groups are wonderful. You should be in one. You should host one.

Church is well and good, but sharing in the lives of others happens in a different and beautiful way in a small group. Relaxed meals in t-shirts and flip flops open doors to conversations we might not have in high heels in the church building’s foyer. We really get a chance to talk. To share. To help. Just think of it– Jesus’ ministry was based on a small group format. Thirteen men, wandering around the countryside together. They shared life and weathered the storm together.

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t vacuumed your carpet or the shoe closet smells like a 9 year old’s feet. It doesn’t matter if you burn the dinner or spend an hour nursing a baby. Just give it a try. Invest in the lives of others with what paltry resources you have, and you might be shocked at the blessings you reap in return.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see to the grill. I fear there may be a layer of grease that will cause another fire, and I don’t think we ought to tempt fate a second time this summer.

And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

 

Where Do I Buy MuuMuus for Tweens? I Need One In Every Color.

I write to you from my daughter’s bedroom, where my eyeballs can personally see and count approximately 1,000 pieces of clothing.

auds-closetThree of these items fit.

At first I was suspicious of this suddenly useless wardrobe, because “this doesn’t fit” used to be code for “Mom, I hate this article of clothing and this is my polite way of informing you that I shan’t wear it again.” 

I made the child prove it. She wasn’t kidding; she’s really grown out of all of it. The bathing suit, the sparkly skirt, the plaid Bermuda shorts– things I swear we just bought a few months ago.

So. Off to the store we went. Her little brother was on the floor ready to remove an eyeball with his bare fingers by the time we left the fourth store, with nothing. No. Thing. We did not purchase the thing or the things.

We had to go back and try again another day, this time without the little brother. The days of simple shopping are done, and here’s why:

  1. Nothing on her 11 yr. old body is a standard size anymore. She has grown up arms and feet, the elbows of a 52-year-old man (just kidding, sweetie. Your elbows are perfect), the shoulders of a little girl, and the legs of a kid who’s been swimming all summer long. She’s taller than her grandma but shorter than I am; she’s too big to be a little girl and too small to be a full teenager. No clothing fits all the parts.
  2. She has very particular fashion preferences.
  3. None of her fashion preferences match mine. She stares at me in the dressing room with a dead look in her eye, clearly wondering “Where are my aunts when I need them?”
  4. In general, clothing manufacturers have confused our daughters for hookers and many items of clothing are specifically designed for dual wear– the street corner by night and the classroom by day. I am not amused.

Obviously it’s time to convince the girls to buy muumuus. Who wouldn’t love a muumuu? Take a minute and Google them if you aren’t familiar. I’ll wait.

Loose, baggy, easy. Long arms? No problem. Thick waist? Can’t even see it. Long legs? We’ll just add more fabric to the bottom there. Full-chested? The gathers are forgiving.

Parents, this is only going to work if we band together. We need to buy them all at once, force the children into the muumuus and then pray to the heavens that they see the wisdom of our ways. Who’s with me?

And if you’re not with me, where do you buy your daughters’ clothing?

 

tween-shopping

Well, It Is a Women’s Conference. We’ll Probably Need a Bird Cage or Fifty.

Hello, everyone! I’m back from She Speaks. We drove straight home from North Carolina yesterday, and by “straight home” I mean we stopped every 75 minutes to use the bathroom or buy candy or get coffee or find lunch or purchase gas. It only took us two extra hours, so not so bad.

Side note: Ohio is too long.

Side note 2: Truck stops terrify me even more than gas stations.

But this isn’t a post about the drive, this is a post about the decorations of She Speaks! Dear gentlemen, you can stop reading now. Go on to find something that doesn’t make your testosterone plummet. Ladies, get your Pinterest fingers ready. Here are some fabulous ideas for your next women’s event!

The decorators brought in fancy chairs for the lobby. Swoon.

Lobby decorations for She Speaks 2014
Lobby decorations for She Speaks 2014

Then they added a beat up old trunk and some fancies for our enjoyment.

Here, birdy birdy birdy.
Here, birdy birdy birdy.

These are the table decorations in the main conference area.

Something to talk about when you make polite conversation with 8 strangers at dinner.
Something to talk about when you make polite conversation with 8 strangers at dinner.

I don’t know where they found all those bird cages, nor what they’re planning to do with them now. Birds of Charlotte, beware. You might be caged up faster than you can tweet.

Now, this idea is pretty close to genius. I asked, and apparently this is made from old pallets and a reclaimed (junk) chandelier. Spray paint the chandelier purple and you’re in business. Assuming you can safely build something from pallets that won’t crash down on a passerby’s skull, of course. (Insert friend with carpentry skills here.)

I can afford this, and I can do this. So can you! (From the Fashion and Compassion booth).
I can afford this, and I can do this. So can you! (From the Fashion and Compassion booth).

And finally, my favorite. This is the prayer wall, which appears to be made of two 4X8 pieces of MDF. They split one down the middle longways, then hinged them together. Add chalkboard paint and hand the women a piece of chalk to add their own thoughts. Everyone helps decorate!

Plywood + chalkboard paint = perfect.
Plywood + chalkboard paint = perfect.

What other good ideas do you have for decorating for an event? What did we do before Pinterest? Perish the thought. I don’t ever want to live without that beautiful site again.

Ta-Da! Here’s the New Website for the Novel, If You’re Interested in Such a Thing

It’s been a blue moon since I’ve blogged.

But I have good reason! And now, if you’re willing, I could sort of use your help. I’ve been working on the manuscript for Dove and Lindy, a novel I’m taking to a writer’s conference next week. I’ll be pitching it to editors and agents and anyone who will sit still long enough to hear me yammer. 

Just kidding. Yammering at writer’s conferences is extremely bad form. You get three seconds and then the listener’s eyes glaze over and you’ve lost them.

Since you might have more than three seconds to spare on my behalf, could you do me a huge favor? Here’s the link to the book’s blog site, right below, in red. Can’t miss it.

Dove and Lindy: A Novel

Could you pop over there and give it a look? If you find writing errors or other glaring problems, please let me know. Just leave comments on the page where you find the problems. This link will take you to the sample chapters, but feel free to inspect the rest of it if you have the time. 

This will save me the keen embarrassment of an editor finding any mistakes next week, assuming he or she is interested and takes the time to visit the site. 

 dove and lindy: a novel

And if you’re a praying kind of a person, please keep the She Speaks conference in your prayers next week. Hundreds of emotionally overwrought women are headed to the same hotel in North Carolina. We’re going to make great connections and learn a lot, but we’re also going to be exhausted and overwhelmed about 10:37am on Friday. 

Don’t ask me how I know this.

Except maybe I skipped a few keynote speeches the last time I was there because I just. could. not. absorb. anymore. 

While I’m there I’ll also be networking for my real, actual, about-to-be-published book that comes out in the spring. Above all, I need to be focused on being a blessing to others, smiling, making them feel welcome, and getting over myself. Because there is no room for ego in this ministry, let me assure you. 

So pray my ego doesn’t get out of hand, I guess is what I’m asking. 

I’ll keep you updated with short blogs while I’m there. Heck, maybe even from the sessions if I get overwhelmed. Some of my funniest stuff comes from being stuck in uncomfortable meetings. You might be in for a treat!

After this conference is done, I fully expect to be back to blogging more than once every ten days/weeks/months. I hope you’re okay with that.

Readers, thanks so much for all you do. Thanks for reading and contributing, and now thank you for taking a crack at Dove and Lindy’s website. I couldn’t do any of this without you!

Jessie

What to Yell When Your Preacher Gets Sassy from the Pulpit

I was paying attention yesterday during the sermon, and it was a darn good thing. Because suddenly, without warning, I became a sermon illustration. The Holy Reverend (or Jason, as we call him) was talking about St. Peter and how he lets people in to heaven, or not.

(Please do not send me or Jason hate mail about the theological inaccuracies in the last sentence. We know, we know. He was proving a point. (Jason was proving the point, not St. Peter.))

Jason mentioned that Shirley’s kid will probably get into heaven because she’s so sweet. Then he added that probably St. Peter will not allow any kids of Jessie Clemence through the pearly gates because she smokes cigars.

(The cigar-thing is a very long story and we don’t have time to get into it here, but trust me– the church understood.)

And that’s when I started heckling the preacher from the back row, where I sit each week. I yelled some things, which means I totally ignored 1 Corinthians 14:34, which in the New Living Translation includes the following words: women, silent, submissive, and law. I’m not good at putting those four words together in any instance, let alone when the preacher is trying to get my goat somewhere in the middle of Galatians.

Jason shouting

And then Jason made another wisecrack and then I yelled “That’s tomorrow’s blog post, right there, bub.”

And he said, “You’re welcome.” Then he continued with the sermon. My husband was snorting in laughter from the sound booth and I don’t know where Jason’s wife was, but she was probably rolling her lovely eyes and smirking a little, somewhere near the front. Quietly.

I am not as holy as the minister’s wife. And I am okay with that.

I don’t feel bad at all about the verbal volleys with Jason, but I do sort of feel bad about using my blog as a weapon. Here’s the thing– bloggers make people very nervous. I get a lot of “Hey, watch what you say. We’ll be on the blog tomorrow.” or, “Oh, jeez. Now Jessie’s going to write about us.” And people shift nervously in their seats and refrain from adding any more to the conversation.

I’ve been trying to tell people they don’t have to fear what I write about them. I don’t want people to worry I’ll put their personal details or our conversations on the blog. But then I went and blew it all by using my blog as a way to silence a sassy preacher.

Sometimes my mouth works faster than my good intentions.

Can anyone else relate?

Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. James 3:2, NLT

 

By the End of Today We Will Own Two Spoons and a Toothbrush

As a wife, I have many irritating qualities. One of them is my tendency to read long passages of a book to my husband. I had no idea of how horrible this was until my own children started reading me long passages out of the books they were enjoying, and then suddenly I realized I’d been torturing my husband for more than a decade.

Sorry, dear. So sorry.

I’ve tried to get control of myself lately, but sometimes a book is so good or funny I can’t help myself. Sixteen pages into The Big Tiny I lost my resolve to keep my reading material to myself and started reading to Eric.

It might have been earlier, actually. Perhaps page 2. I’m hazy on the exact page.

But the book is just so good and funny that I can’t help myself. Dee Williams, the author of The Big Tiny, had a health emergency (a wonky heart), causing her to choose a new life path. She literally doesn’t know if she has a year left, a month, or an hour to live. (Neither do any of the rest of us, but at least she has one of her issues labeled by the medical community).

So, of course, she built an 84-square-foot house. By herself. With a wonky heart. 

Photo courtesy of yesmagazine.com
Photo courtesy of yesmagazine.com

She sold her big house and got rid of almost everything, from her beloved art to her extra soy sauce. Now she can work part time and spends her life investing in the people around her– caring for an elderly neighbor, playing games with the kids next door, and volunteering. Also watching a lot of crappy Netflix, just like the rest of us.

I picked up this book because I have this not-so-secret burning desire to get rid of everything and live in the simplest, least-chaotic way possible. I don’t want to have any bills to tie me down, I want insurance to be a thing other people need, and I don’t want to trip over 19 pairs of flip flops and a garden clog when I try to let the cat in each morning.

Nor do I want a cat. But we’ve already discussed this.

As I read this book I get lulled into Williams’ prose, then startled awake by conflicting thoughts: I can do this, too. Wait a minute, no I can’t. Then I go back to reading and find another paragraph like this, which makes me want to try anyway:

Moving was hard, but not impossibly horrid, and in fact, over the long haul I found it incredibly liberating. After a short bit of time it became more like stripping naked on the beach, kicking off your clunky shoes and pulling your shirt off while simultaneously using your foot like a hand to yank off your sock, preparing for the way the warm sea will feel against every dimple and fold of your body. Letting go of “stuff ” allowed the world to collapse behind me as I moved, so I became nothing more or less than who I simply was: Me. (The Big Tiny, pg. 175)

This sounds wonderful, but is this for me? More importantly, is this for us? I’m not operating in a vacuum, here. Dee’s circumstances (single/no kids) allowed her to shed her old life and then invest more in relationships and people. Her choices have enriched her loved ones. I’m afraid that if I did this I might traumatize my children and husband. They apparently have no interest in getting rid of everything except two spoons and a toothbrush, sharing a wheeled home so we can glean fruit and take it to the homeless shelter each week.

Is there a happy medium that works for families? What do you think? What burden or responsibility would you most like to shed, and what would you have to do to release it?

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

If This Small Group Gets Me Pregnant, All Heck Will Break Loose

On Saturday night, somewhere in the middle of a plate of tacos and a cup of frozen custard, I think I accidentally signed myself up for a truckload of trouble.

Pray for me.

It’s graduation season here in Michigan, which means that parents of high school seniors host large parties, feeding hordes of friends and family. Of course Eric and I wanted to wish Collin and Geoffrey well, but also (and this point cannot be understated) the food at these parties was going to be excellent. Collin’s mom is known far and wide as an excellent cook. Overheard repeatedly: “Did you taste the salsa?” “This is my third plate.” And “Wait a minute, where’d you get those beans?”

We left Collin’s party full and happy, and headed to Geoffrey’s party to eat more. Geoffrey’s dad is a part-owner of our favorite frozen custard joint and they had a sundae bar, thank you Lord. Overheard: “Congratulations-Geoffrey-holy-cow-did-you-see-they-have-peanut-butter-sauce!” 

So I may not have had my wits about me as I started talking to our minister. I was high on tacos, people. I can’t be held responsible. I may have asked Jason how things were going, and he may have mentioned we need more small groups at the church so we can get people plugged in. We have a lot of new people, but our congregation finds that small groups really help to build those relationships a healthy church needs.

So. Jason also mentioned one of the small groups needs a place to meet. And he may (again, due to my taco intake I don’t remember the specifics) have suggested our house because we have room. I sort of remember exclaiming, “That’s why we bought the house!” Which is true, because we made sure the new house would work for these sorts of things.

At some point in the conversation Jason pointed out a crucial fact: three couples are already actively involved in this group, and all three wives are pregnant. These are not good odds, and obviously there is something wrong with the air/water/food when these people get together.

His warning was clear. The small group is coming anyway, and we’re even thinking of inviting two other couples we know from outside the church who are also pregnant. I mean, why the heck not? Let’s up the ante.

The year? 2003, probably. I can't explain my bangs or why Eric's wearing a starfish on his shirt.
The year? 2003, probably. I can’t explain my bangs or why Eric’s wearing a starfish on his shirt.

I’m taking my chances because I remember those days of pregnancy and new babies all too well. They were exhausting and I was a basket case. I needed women to come alongside me with clear heads and patient words to keep me steady, to remind me a sense of humor might be the only thing to get me through the day, and– most importantly– to pray for me.

I hope it’s my turn to offer that to new families. Eric and I can be the ones a few steps ahead, taking babies out of tired arms and praying for people who haven’t had a whole night of sleep for months.

I’m hoping God isn’t using this experience to trick me into having another baby. Just in case, I’ll be drinking bottled water, wearing a mask, and bringing my own sealed food to all meetings.

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Genesis 18:13-14

(Lord, you proved your point with Sarah. I believe. I have learned her lesson, Father. Thank you and amen.)

Vote Here! (for the cover of my next book!)

cover contestThis might be the quickest post I ever do. Are you ready? Don’t blink.

But, super exciting news, DHP has two (two!) excellent choices for my next book’s cover. And we want you, my ever loyal readers, to weigh in on the tough decision.

Click here to go DHP’s Facebook page, where you’ll see the two covers. Leave a note in the comment section telling us which one you prefer and why. You might even win a copy of my first book, There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse.

Let me say thank you again for how wonderful all you readers are. It is a crazy, humbling, surreal experience to write a book and then to see the cover in full color. Without you, none of this would be possible. I appreciate each and every one of you!

Let the voting begin!

Jessaroo

 

How to Name Characters in Your Novel

Do you know how hard it is to name characters in a novel?

name characters, bad guys

As if it wasn’t hard enough to name actual children, now I need to name characters, a whole crew of imaginary friends who live in my head. It only took me a month or two to pick out names for the main characters. I could pick out a name, roll it around in my mind, and then accept or reject it based only on my gut feelings.

Then I moved on to secondary characters, which got a little trickier. Some of you will find your names in the book simply because you have good names and it’s easier to steal what your parents gave you than to think it up myself. But have no fear; your characters mostly just mull around, propping up the main characters. No reason to sue me.

Writers are always watching. Behave yourself.

Some of you are going to find yourself in the book, under cleverly disguised names. This is the hazard of knowing a writer, and I just can’t help it. Behave yourself and everything should turn out okay, but know I’m watching… (Insert sound of 300 people unfriending me on Facebook and leaving the church and uninviting me to the family reunion.)

But then, because this book is not written for six-year-old girls, we need a sprinkling of bad guys. And this became unexpectedly gut wrenching. The character development of the bad guys became dicey enough, because I don’t want any friends or family to feel like I secretly hate them and will express my disdain through the permanent, written word.

Trust me, if I’m mad at you, you’ll know long before you read the book.

Once I’d wrestled with the actual characters, I had to come up with names. First of all I have to use names that make sense for the audience, which will mostly be made up of people named Jennifer, Jessica, Sara, and Kris, because 90% of my friends have these four names. So the characters can’t be named Slate and Ember, no matter how cool that may be. The readers would be confused and wonder why I was naming full-grown characters after babies born yesterday. Babies born to people with highly developed imaginations, I might add.

Neither can the characters be named Gertrude or Mildred, Walter or Hubert. That would cause the reader to scratch her head and wonder why I’d used nursing home residents to fill the pages.

Here. Let me prove my point:

As the sun sank further over the edge of the lake, Gertrude and Mildred waited, and waited, on the dock. Their legs hung over the edge, dangling over the water. Gertrude’s shorts were short enough that through the frayed edges of the hem she could see the tattoo she must have gotten last night. Must have been a wild night, since she couldn’t remember anything after Hubert handed her that last Solo cup at the bonfire. She vaguely remembered a ride on the motorcycle through the dark streets, hanging on to him for dear life as they tore up one hill and down the other…but none of that explained why she now had a wolf tattooed to her left thigh.

Mildred caught her staring at the artwork. “Could be worse, Gertie.” She moaned and dropped her head into her hands like she’d been doing all day, since they’d woken up in sleeping bags in Mildred’s childhood treehouse.

“Tell me how this could be worse, Mil.”

“At least you didn’t get a tramp stamp. There’s no shame in a wolf on your thigh.”

“Shut up, Mildred.” The skin under the wolf burned like she’d spent the night with a thousand fire ants. What had she done?

You see the problem, yes? If I choose to name characters the wrong thing, the whole story becomes stupid. Even stupider than that example up there.

I can’t go too old, I can’t go too modern, which leaves a nice big swath of names in the middle. Names that are already attached to people I know. So the dufus who gets hit by a car? What am I supposed to name him?

Doug? No, I went to high school with a Doug.
Matt? No, I know at least two Matts and one of them is teaching my kid.
Cain? No, already been used.
Satan? Too obvious, and already in play.

Please, help me out. No explanations are necessary, but in the comments below throw out some names you’d like to name characters. But, you know, if the explanation is interesting, we all might like to hear the story…

A good name is more desirable than great reaches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22:1)

We’ve Had Green Plastic Monkeys in Our Purses All Year Long–Let’s Celebrate!

I dearly wish I had some cake right now, because we need to celebrate. Did you know that it’s been a whole year since There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse was published?

A publication date is very similar to a due date when you’re pregnant. You spend a lot of energy getting ready for the big day. There are long emails from the editing team, meetings with the marketing department, and phone conversations that require you to put on your big girl panties and act like a professional for consecutive minutes.

It’s not unlike those weeks that lead up to the part of pregnancy where the baby has to come out–lots of long conversations with your spouse, lots of planning sessions, and–if you’re lucky–a big party where everyone celebrates by feeding you cake and buying you gifts.

I can’t speak for all pregnant women, but when I was enormously with-child, both times I fixed my eyes on that due date and focused with all my strength. I added two weeks because babies are notoriously late in our family, begged the doctor to make sure the kid was out by my extended calculations, and then strained to make it.

I was focused on the delivery because that seemed like a good spot to end all that hard work and discomfort. What I did not understand was that the ending was really just another beginning. One kind of work was traded for another kind–the kind where you get to stay up all night rocking a tiny human who does not understand the concept of “night.”

Giving birth isn’t the only example. Weddings punctuate the end of months of planning, but are really just a way to celebrate a new beginning. Graduations are a way to applaud years of hard work at school, but they’re also a nice way to say “Hey, why don’t you go ahead and get a job now and then keep at it for sixty years?”

The publication date for Green Plastic Monkey was just the same. I thought the work was over, but I was wrong. Wrong like an exhausted woman covered in spit-up at 3:30 in the morning. It was just the beginning of connecting with readers, of getting used to reviews, and of marketing the book.

Did you know that marketing a book feels slightly like beggary and slightly like egocentrism, all bundled up together in a tidy 200 page volume? It’s delightful. (Insert eye roll and massive headache between eyebrows.)

It has, however, been a wonderful year, and I have you readers to thank for that. Thanks for the kind words, for buying the book, and recommending it to your friends. Did you know that word of mouth sells more books than any fancy marketing plan ever can? Donald Maass, a writer and literary agent, reports that a book sells when a friend grabs you by the elbow, drags you across the bookstore aisle, and says, “You have to read this book! It’s so good!”

Many of you have done that for Green Plastic Monkey, and I cannot thank you enough. Thanks for spreading the words God gave me to write. You play a key role in this ministry, and I appreciate you more than I can say.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, here’s where you can order it:

  • Click here to buy it directly from DHP, the ministry that publishes it
  • Click here to buy it from Amazon
  • Click here to buy it from Family Christian Stores.

If you have read the book, I’d dearly love it if you’d take a second to review it on Amazon or GoodReads. Thanks again!

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10)

Green Plastic Monkey's First Birthday

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