Monday Musings – I Miss Writing

I miss writing.

Over the years, a handful of worthwhile endeavors have quietly stolen time away from my true passion; endeavors like creating a nonprofit and renovating a farm for my disabled son or necessary obligations like marketing and social media, or fun “let’s stretch Jess a bit” type of activities such as hosting a podcast, speaking engagements, or creating a documentary. Good endeavors, life-giving endeavors, but not THE endeavor that makes my heart sing. Not writing.

I resigned from teaching for the same reason. Teaching was a stable, worthwhile endeavor but not my endeavor and teaching left little time for writing. Life is full of complicated choices that involve either this or that and the choice must be made because otherwise neither this nor that can be done very well.

All I ever wanted to be was an author. As a young girl, I poured over Hemingway, Faulkner, and Graham Greene while my friends competed in sports and played spin the bottle. I was always a bit of a complicated soul who resonated with the likes of Sylvia Plath or Emily Dickinson; tormented writers, although my life was far too normal and suburban to be all that tormented.

Instead of living vicariously through small squares on Instagram, I lived vicariously through characters. Books provided an education to my naïve homeschooled life; an education about the world and human behavior including intimacy, sex, and desire. Yes, mom, I read smut by the light of the moon.

I penned my first poem at age 9 entitled When God Created the World and wrote Missy May, my first work of fiction, around 11. I KNEW they were brilliant, but no one else seemed all that impressed. In fact, my younger brother, the one who would become an attorney, he received most of the accolades when it came to writing, or intelligence, for that matter.

I didn’t care. The misguided affections simply lent credence to my theory that I was a tormented writer whom no one understood.

In 1999 I excitedly enrolled in college eager to enter the world of higher education which I was sure would affirm my talent, and again, no one had much to say about what I wrote. My professors often stated something to the effect of “There is so much potential here; however, you need to slow down and develop the content.”

Slow down.

Develop the content.

The Devil, most certainly, is in the details.

I am very much a “good enough” person. Good enough has gotten me far enough in many situations, and good enough was good enough at that stage of my life. I enjoyed the free time that the Bs allotted. I enjoyed not having to work so hard for A’s, and then there came a day when I had to give a speech.

My first speech ever.

It was called “All of my Heroes have Died,” a story of courage and valor, a story that retold the Columbine tragedy which had occurred only a few months prior. I read detailed notes as I clutched the podium, and then as I read the last sentence, I exhaled to calm my racing heart. I lifted my head and nervously looked out onto the room and met the gaze of approximately 20 faces and saw that most of them were wiping away tears.

And then I understood. Storytelling just might be my sweet spot.

That’s where I did enjoy the details.

That same year I showed up at an ex-boyfriend’s house and flung a bunch of poems at him – poems sharing the agony of my broken heart, poems like a bird stuck in a cage and chewed up gum under my shoe, overly dramatic hormonal ridiculousness. There’s no other way to describe it, but I do experience a smidgin of glee when I let my imagination run wild and allow myself to become a New York Times best-selling author. I imagine that maybe he still has those poems, and I wonder what he’d do if he realized that I had become famous. Or as famous as an author can be.

Another time I shared my poetry with a skeezy older guy I met at the gym, and the next day he asked if I was ok. I said then, (as I say now) yes, I’m fine. The thing is, I’m observant. Most of what I write is not about me. Most…

After college, I married Jason, a man I met at that gym, and we built our dream house for our dream life which included a third-story attic (my dream) where I would pen the great American novel, or so I thought. I occasionally sauntered up the stairs to put pen to paper, but then the birth of babies and special needs and brain cancer took over, and my manuscript gathered dust. I did write late into the evenings as I shared personal stories on my blog while my husband labored to breathe in the next room over.

Jason died in 2010, and a year later I packed up that dream house that had been built for a dream life that was no longer viable. I stuffed a pile of notebooks with half-written stories into a crate and began a new dream with my husband Ryan and our 7 children. I resumed a graduate program that I had begun years earlier, and on the last day, I handed in my final assignment; a paper that had become intimately intertwined with my own grief. Day after day I listened as the discussion dissected the hardships that many of the characters had endured; eerily familiar hardships like mine. I whispered an opinion a time or two but slowly let my voice fade when it faltered and then resigned to simply listening. For the final assignment, I wrote The Whiteman Road, one of the most deeply personal essays I’ve ever written, and the feedback I received agreed, “this paper is easily among the best, if not the best, in the class.” This admission made my heart soar, and I realized I still had words to write.

Our crew eventually moved to rural TN where I lived many of my stories and where I was asked to write my first real book Sunlight Burning at Midnight! I almost DIED of joy – a publisher wanted my story! That book was released, and I was asked to write another on blended life which I did in the middle of a global pandemic and then a poem went viral and reached millions of people, and that’s when I understood that not everyone was going to appreciate what I had to say. In fact, my truth might trigger responses in somewhere they would wish me dead. That was a hard lesson to learn. But my skin toughened up, as most skins do with scars that eventually heal, and I was asked to write another book, a book on marriage, but a nonsugar-coated book, which was just my specialty. My philosophy is “tell the truth or don’t waste your breath.” Nobody’s life is changed by reading sugar-coated spam, and if I agreed to write a marriage book, it would expose our scars. Healed over scars but deeply forgiven wounds, nevertheless.

I wrote that book, Lovin’ with Grit & Grace, and now we wait.

Ryan and I expectedly await your reaction.

And as we wait, I return to my first joy, my passion, writing.

These shall be called my Monday Musings, and they will arrive in your inbox weekly. They will hopefully be spirit led but sometimes the ego gets in the way too – that’s how it is with these human suits of ours. Some musings might be brilliant and some might be “good enough” but I hope they inspire you to lean into life, love deeply, be present, face hard things, make changes when necessary, and pursue joy above all else.

Just keep livin.

Pre-order Lovin’ here.

A Resurrection Only Occurs After A Death.

When Ryan and I met in 2010 we were in a season of death with the passing of our spouses, & this death included a burial of lifelong dreams and expectations.

The next few years we enjoyed a resurrection as our lives merged and birthed new realities: our marriage & family, a simple life in rural America, the birth of a book, a teaching career, a non profit & another child. Lots of growth & beauty.

We now find ourselves back in a season of decay; broken bodies over the past year: Ryan’s, mine, and Luke’s; broken ideals and dreams as we restructure & determine how we’ll proceed, lots of unanswered questions and concerns & the burial of systems that no longer serve us emotionally or spiritually, and we wait because we know. We know because we’ve been here before – this is familiar soil, deep & dark & rich soil where we’ve been planted and now we await our reemergence into the light.

We wait for our resurrection.

And we are confident that it will arrive in due time because that’s how life works.

Everything remains in motion; a continuous movement of death and resurrection, waves upon waves washing away the brokenness and moving what remains to the shore – natural disasters and coronavirus and despair not excluded – it’s all involved, collectively and individually; ashes to beauty and back to ashes again, circular movements until the maestro sweeps his baton for the last time & bows his head in holy reverence, that moment when his beloved creation leans into the finality & releases a labored breath – bursting through the birth canal into an everlasting resurrection.

And until then?

We just keep livin.

A New Desk and A Podcast Debut

desk1Remember the old metal table I had my eye on in my husband’s junk pile

awhile back?

It’s not an old metal table anymore! Not only has he masterfully restored it to a beautiful new desk, but he’s also masterfully restored an old barn on our property into a quiet space for me to write and practice yoga.  Continue reading “A New Desk and A Podcast Debut”

Love and Loss {And a Giveaway!]

A baby gone too soon.
A beloved family member diagnosed with cancer.
A dear woman battles emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband.
Children beg for food in third world countries.
Ten year old girls lose their innocence and their humanity as they are sold as sex slaves.

It hurts like hell.
It stings
It all falls so painfully short of what we feel this life should be
It aches like betrayal on a massive scale
A world wide scale
And we, humanity, are the victims left in the wake.
A big joke played on all of us
by a bunch of pranksters residing in the Heavenlies.

And we numb the pain with drugs
With wine
With anger
And sleep
Or hurtful silences
Or busyness
Or denial
We numb our cells to the best of our ability
To avoid feeling
To avoid the reality
To avoid the ache
But when the numbing wears off
It still hurts
And we rage against our Creator
Our cells scream
We groan from the never lands
We weep for the lost tomorrows
And forgotten yesterdays
And the vacant presents
And there are still no answers
The Creator is silent.

The baby remains absent
And grandma starts chemotherapy
And the “C” word enters our children’s vocabulary once again
Along with the “D” word in regards to their unknown sibling

And our eyes spill in response to their tears
And children still starve
And that woman still aches for a loving spouse
And girls are raped again and again
And that is the reality of what we call life.
And that is why our hearts ache for something purer
And bigger
And more beautiful
We ache for more
We need more
We yearn for a hereafter
Where all the pain is gone
And every tear is wiped from our eyes
Our hearts scream for some sort of redemption
Something that makes it bearable again
All of creation grapples with the injustice we’ve been served
And we shake our fists in righteous indignation towards the pain we have endured in our fallen nature.
Our souls search through the fragility of our humanity for something deeper.

The “Whys?!” we scream
Why is a Godly woman ravaged by an insidious disease?
Why a baby, an innocent child who has harmed not one, taken so early?
Why!?!?
We scream to the Heavens
To anyone who will turn a listening ear towards our anguish

These were some of the words I wrote in response to losing my beloved baby in December of 2013 http://www.jessplusthemess.com/index.php/my-blog-old/entry/love-and-loss-and-bethlehem .  I felt so incredibly alone, lost, scared, fearful and full of despair and so I hid.  I hid behind words.  I hid in my house.  I hid behind a fake smile plastered across my face that told the world I was just fine.  But I wasn’t fine.  I thought I was being punished for some reason.  I could not understand why God couldn’t grant me the desire for a healthy baby – especially after all I had been through – especially after obeying what he had called me to in blending my family with another family and raising 7 beautiful children.  I deserved this baby!

In hindsight, God used the next 9 months of waiting to become pregnant again as an opportunity to birth something beautiful in my marriage and heart as Ryan and I gained a deeper intimacy through the pain and revelations that preceded the conception of our 8th child who would be our beautiful daughter Annabelle Ryan.  God is good. All the time, but man, sometimes it hurts like crazy to walk in obedience to his plan.

I was honored to be a part of the launch team for Sarah Philpott’s book Loved Baby.  In all honestly, I have never read a book on losing a baby that impacted me quite like this one did.  She is honest. She is vulnerable, and she is realistic in explaining step by step, what to expect, how to process all of the feelings, and how to slowly release the pain and agony to your Heavenly Father as you allow him to help carry your burden; as you choose joy over fear when you are blessed with another child, and it is a choice to be made – wishing “we could be filled to the brim with delight about the new life blooming in my womb. But the little thing called memory prevents us from pure elation,” and her wise counsel, “When fear seeps into our soul, let’s combat it with joy.”

This book will be such a blessing to your life and to anyone you may know who has walked through this difficult terrain, AND…. I have a copy to give away! Comment here (sorry, I know it’s a bit like Fort Knox to be allowed to comment on the blog – you can thank the trolls for that) or comment on Facebook or Instagram about why you would like to win a copy. I’ll draw a winner Sunday evening.

Just keep livin!