Guest Post | Love Showed Up

Today I’m over at my friend Leanne Penny’s blog with a contribution to her Love Showed Up series. If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one(s), then you know that faith and hope are hard to come by, but that Love always shows up right when you need it most. I have loved reading the stories in Leanne’s series, so I’m honored to contribute today with one of my own about the community that carried my family and I through my mother’s illness and death. I hope you’ll read it, and that you’ll read the others listed in the series because they’re incredible.

I have a hard time believing in miracles. It’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus really performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels. It’s just that my own story is marked by the miracle that never came: my mother’s healing. (Read more here.)

We’re Moving.

I have some kind of really big news to share with you today, dear readers…

Hubs and I are moving. To Nashville, Tennessee. In July.

Many of our close friends and family already know this, but at long last we’re finally ready to make it public. We’ve had this goal in mind for a long time, but the plans are finally starting to fall into place. Matt has found a job, I’ve found some freelance writing work. I’m currently looking for a part-time job to fill in the gaps in our income as we make this transition. We think we’ve found a place to live, and hopefully we’ll sign a lease when we go back to visit the second weekend in June. Our tentative moving date is July 3.

Here’s the long and short of it of why we’re moving :

We need to thrive as creative people.

I have lived in Chicago for close to ten years (!), and Matt grew up here. We have loved this place. And though we’ve always lived in the suburbs, it is the city of Chicago that has anchored me in this stage of life as I’ve grown into my adult self. Its culture – the art! the music! the food! the sports! – has enriched my life in a thousand ways. Its sweeping skyline and glimmering lakeshore have welcomed me home as a pair of open arms. Chicago is as much a part of my identity as the rural Michigan farm town where I was raised.

But as much as we’ve loved living here, we’ve slowly recognized that we’re not really thriving. Chicago’s cost of living is one of the highest in the country, and this is a harsh economic environment for artists to succeed in. We’ve found ourselves pouring all of our energy and resources into surviving, with little left to put toward our creative endeavors. We’re finding, at this stage of life, that we need to live in an area that fosters creative community, mostly through a lower cost of living.

We have several friends that have moved to Nashville for these same reasons, and once we visited we fell in love with it too. It’s a beautiful, affordable city with a thriving creative community. (And the warm weather doesn’t hurt either.)

In the coming months I’ll share more posts with you about this move, but for now, I just want to say thank you to everyone that’s supported us through this process.

We have not made this decision lightly. It has been difficult to come to terms with, difficult to explain to our loved ones. Not everyone shares our priorities and dreams, and we respect that, but this decision is the right one for us right now.

Keep us in your thoughts and prayers, friends. We’ll need them as we plant new roots.

Much love,

Bethany & Matthew.

Guest Post | Love Letters Series

Today I’m sharing a few words over at my friend Ben Moberg’s blog, Registered Runaway. I’ve been reading Ben for over a year and I feel a deep debt of gratitude to him for opening my eyes to the LGB experience. Today I’m honored to contribute to his Love Letters series with a message of reconciliation and love for my LGBTQ friends. This post is incredibly important to me, because I wasn’t always affirming of the LGBTQ community, and because I’m sharing a story that has grieved me deeply for more than 10 years. Writing this post was the first time I really allowed myself to confront my regret. I hope you’ll read it, and I hope that you’ll offer kindness and respect in the comments.

“Dear Friend,

A few nights ago I was fiddling around on my phone as I waited for my husband to get home from work when I found a message. It was from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. We don’t know each other well anymore, but we catch glimpses of one another’s lives through links and statuses and photos. I was surprised to see she had contacted me directly, and even more surprised by what she said …” (Read more here.)

What Creativity Really Demands.

My senior year of college I had to hide away in the bedroom of my dorm apartment to study. My three roommates and I had arranged our desks in the living room, right next to our couch and television because it was all the room we had. But as the semester wore on, my desk sat vacant. I found that my best work happened in that little red armchair in the corner of our bedroom with the door shut. I just couldn’t crank out 15-page papers with Flava Flave and roomie chatter as my background noise. I even swore off social media that spring so that I could ace my 40-page capstone research paper. (It worked.)

Today my writing requires that same level of discipline: a quiet space, no distractions. I have a full-time job and for the last year I’ve been working on my memoir proposal. I sacrifice free evenings and weekends, I wake myself up earlier than I want to. My bedroom is my makeshift office. I shove my phone in my nightstand drawer, perch my laptop on my legs as I sit on my bed, and eventually the words come.

If I want to write, I have to accept the fact that these scraps of space and spare time are all I have to work with.

I thought that was hard enough, but then my laptop display light died last week. You can imagine my horror. The screen went dark and I was absolutely sure that my career as a writer was snuffed out with it. I took it to a techy friend who confirmed that yes, my trusty old 2007 Macbook was finally showing its age, and no, it can’t be repaired. My only option was to buy a $20 adaptor to hook it up to a PC monitor and use it as a desktop. So that’s where I write to you now : not in my cozy, quiet office/bedroom, but in my living room/dining room/kitchen/office (bless the open floor plan). My husband is watching a movie 10 feet away from me and I’m trying to ignore the siren song of that last slice of blackberry pie in my fridge.

Last week a famous author who has been hugely influential in my work wrote a blog post about what writing a book really requires. He told the story of having to spend a week away at a cabin in the woods recently in order to finish his next book. You have to live inside it, he said. You have to go to the cabin; a book will demand your all that way. Think you can’t afford the luxury of time away in a cabin to write your book? That makes me sad, he said, because it probably isn’t true.

Truthfully, his words really stung. Not because I’m opposed to the idea that writing a book takes sacrifice, but because his post implied that the sacrifices I am already making are not enough. I read those words and sat there thinking to myself about my Macbook’s failing health. What I wouldn’t give for a new computer, let alone a cabin in the woods, amiright?! And yet even I enjoy certain privileges that others don’t have : I have a job that pays the bills, I am child-free, I have a spouse that will pick up my slack when I need an extra hour to write, I have a roof over my head; I have a computer that, despite its issues, still works.

I’m not writing this post today to attack that writer for his post, or even the idea that writing a book takes sacrifice. He’s not the first famous author to talk about isolating oneself with their work. He’s not even the first to evoke the cabin in the woods. In fact, this idea isn’t even limited to writing, but applies to nearly every form of creativity. It would be fine, perhaps even challenging, if it were just a metaphor. But when it’s not just a metaphor, when it’s a literal prescription that everyone has to live up to if they want to “make it” as a writer or an artist, then it becomes a classist ideal meant to prop up one’s own elitism. What was meant to challenge and encourage writers to be faithful to their work becomes a discouragement because they can’t afford the cabin.

I’m writing this post today because I want to call this idea what it is : scarcity.

Scarcity says that without the cabin, we’ll never be a published writer.

Scarcity says that our story, our words, our resources, our daily lives are not enough.

Scarcity keeps us from starting where we are, because we can’t afford the perfect writing conditions – total isolation, total freedom, total separation from our daily responsibilities.

Scarcity demands perfection and privilege, and those will kill creativity. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, says Anne Lamott, and she’s right – I can’t write with those voices in my head, telling me that I’m not enough.

So what does creativity really require of us, then? Abundance. Faithfulness.

And that looks different for everyone. For some, it’s a cabin in the woods. For others, it’s late nights and early mornings and spare moments.

A very wise – and I should say published – friend said a few days ago that writing is like the loaves and fishes. What we have to offer seems so meager and inadequate, but we give it anyway, and somehow it multiplies. It becomes more than enough.

So from one artist to another, from one Macbook-turned-makeshift desktop to another, I want to offer you abundance today.

You have permission to write in the imperfect, un-isolated insanity of your life right now. If you’re writing on the margins of your life because it’s all you can afford, if you’re writing in the middle of the night while your kids and partners are sleeping, if you’re writing in the early morning hours before you go to work, if you’re writing in between half-a-dozen part time jobs, if you’re writing from the basement of your parents’ house, if you’re writing in a scrappy little notebook on your lunch hour (or during a boring-as-hell staff meeting), if you’re writing in the bathtub with the doors locked because it’s the only place where you can get some peace and quiet, I want you to know :

Your story still matters. Your words still matter. Your dream is still worthy, still possible, still real. You are no more lazy or less dedicated than me or the New York Times Bestseller hangin’ out in a cabin in the woods.

May we be artists that acknowledge our privilege.

May we be artists that honor one another’s creative processes, even when they are vastly different from our own.

May we be artists that start where we are, rather than sacrificing our work at the altar of perfectionism and elitism.

May we be artists that are faithful with our work, faithful to the daily miracle of creativity.

May we be artists that work from a place of abundance.

A Mother’s Day Card for My Internet Sisterhood.

Two years and five months ago, my mom died. I thought then that I was motherless. Some days I still feel that way. And being the only woman in a family of men now without mom, some days I feel sisterless too. A girl alone in the world.

There’s a void for words of wisdom, for nurturing spirits, for safe relationships. I know I can never really fill it. I know she can’t be replaced. But it is because of that deep need that I look carefully for women evoke the kind of life and joy that my mother did. In the face of death, I’ve begun to search for life. And when I notice a loving, nurturing, wise spirit I am drawn to it like a flower lifting its face to a sunbeam. I bask in it. I soak it up.

I have those women in my day-to-day life, my aunts, my grandmother, my best friends. But I also have them in that little digital window of the internet. At the Festival of Faith & Writing a few weeks ago, I connected with so many friends I know online, most of them women. I know from the words they write that they are kindred spirits, but meeting them in person, spending time with them around tables and conference sessions and hotel pools, gave me something more. They were there with a warm hand on my shoulder, they were there with twinkling eyes and howls of laughter, they were there with their tears and looks of understanding. Their presence reminded me in every tangible way that I am not motherless or sisterless.

So this post is a Mother’s Day card for my internet sisterhood, the nurturing women that surround me with their words of hope and kind hearts.

Women like Sarah Joslyn and Kelli Woodford and Cara Strickland, women like Emily Maynard and Danielle Vermeer and Abi Betchel, women like Tammy Perlmutter and Brenna D’Ambrosio and Kristin Tennant, women like Emily Miller and Elora Nicole and Abby Norman and Leanne Penny, women like Grace Sandra and Natalie Trust and Tamara Barrack Rice and Leigh Kramer and Alece Ronzino, women like Idelette McVicker and Tina Francis and Holly Grantham, women like Addie Zierman and Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey.

I want you to know that you have enriched my life in every way – in my faith, in my writing, in my marriage, in my hope and in my grief.

I want you to know that I bask in your wisdom and companionship.

I want you to know that you remind me every day that sisterhood is about encouragement, not competition.

I want you to know that your words and your stories are sacred to me.

I want you to know that I see you, and you are faithful. You are true. You are beautiful. You are brave.

I want you to know that you embody grace for me.

Thank you. Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.