See you on the other side.

Lucy, a black LabThis is Lucy. Like many people’s pets, she has several names. She’s hardly ever called by her real name–unless she’s in trouble. Lucille (by me), Lulu Belle (by the kids), Visa (also by me, because she’s everywhere you want to be and I’m always tripping over her).

She’s also known as the Dumb Cat. We have two cats, so Lucy thinks she’s one of them. But you can tell when the cats look at her, they think she’s really dumb for a cat. For the record, Rocki is the Bad Cat because she wants to go outside just like the Dumb Cat. Lexi is the Scaredy Cat because, well, she’s scared of everyone but me.

More than anything, though, Lucy’s my husband’s dog. For his birthday, I got him a card that had an image of a man on a boat with a black Lab. It sits on his desk as Mike’s definition of a perfect day. Unfortunately, he sold his boat to put wood floors in our house.

And now, Lucy is also gone. She suffered from cancer of the mouth. And when a Lab is miserable, you know it’s bad.

We spent one last Sunday morning with her. Rocki was stalking her yarn ball as she does most mornings. Lucy thought, of course, that Rocki wanted to play with her, and so chased her under the Christmas tree, barking, completely confused as to why, once again, the other cats wouldn’t play with her.

And so she leaves us with one more memory to string on the chain of those she’s given us over the years. Goodbye, dear friend. See you on the other side.

Yes, I really wrote them (even if it took 15 years)!

Coming Home and Be MineI’ve had some wonderful conversations with friends over the past couple weekends, but one thing has become clear to me: people don’t realize that the books I’ve been talking about were actually written by me.

There’s a compliment in there. I do share and promote works by other authors and past editing clients. In my former working life, I was an editor. So it makes sense that people might not realize right away that I wrote these books. Which made me think that, as a storyteller, maybe I should tell the story of how these latest books came into being.

In 2003, I stood in a hotel room in Houston, wondering if I had made a complete mistake by coming to this writer’s conference. I didn’t know anyone; I had a two year old and five year old at home. And downstairs, when I had peeked in the conference room after registering, the chatter of voices made it seem like everyone already knew each other. I wondered if I could hide in my hotel room the whole the time. After all, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had any time alone.

But the trip had been expensive. And I had a book I had been writing. Finding time to write was hard with two little ones. Was it what I was supposed to be doing? I had prayed before I left for God to show me if He wanted me to continue.

I had always wanted to be a writer. The book I had been working on started as an AP English project in high school. I had written a whole 100 pages and transported my class back in time to 1881 Oregon. Nothing about that original story remained, other than the setting and a few characters’ names. But over the past few years, I had been writing and learning about writing. Now it was time to see if it had been wasted time.

I left my hotel room and continued through the conference. I met some other writers in the same boat I was: knowing no one and feeling alone. I attended my appointment with an editor from my dream publishing house. And she liked my story and wanted to see more of it. And another appointment garnered me a potential agent.

I heard God’s voice: write.

I arrived home with renewed desire to write and improve my craft. Those writers I met? They became critique partners and life-long friends. I was blessed doing what I loved with good friends along the journey.

And yet, my book didn’t get published. I wouldn’t get an agent for several more years. I kept coming close, but no publishing house would give me that coveted contract.

I kept writing. I kept going to writer’s conferences. I kept learning. I wrote other books.

And then I went through a divorce and became a single mom struggling with two special needs children and how to put food on the table. And writing slowly gave way to survival. For nine long years I wondered why God had led me so far just to have it come to nothing when I writing contract would go so far to helping provide for us.

I knew I had heard God’s voice before, but now it didn’t make any sense. I put my hopes and dreams on a shelf and wondered.

Finally, I got my dream job working as a managing editor for Zondervan. Most of my previous experience in publishing had been from the author’s point of view. Now I had a chance to see what it was like from the other side. I got to learn every aspect of publishing.

And when it was time to leave that job, I still wasn’t sure that writing books was in my future. I managed projects and edited and did graphic design.

Until God made it clear that it was time to get back to my books. As my rheumatoid arthritis grew worse, He started clearing my schedule and brought along friends who encouraged me. He helped me realize all my experience allowed me to understand the complete publishing process to get my books published. I had developed contacts in the publishing world who could help me with the parts of the process I could no longer do.

Most authors will tell you their books did not come overnight. And you might be surprised to find that some of them took as long as mine. And now that the first two are out, I’m hoping that the rest of my already-written books will join Coming Home and Be Mine on the shelves. Thank you for letting me share the journey with you.

A Little Grace with Your Thanksgiving

Fall leavesWe’re having 20 people here for Thanksgiving. We just bought a new-to-us house, and since we have the largest gathering space, we are now committed to having every family gathering here ad infinitum. Which is great for a few reasons (no, I’m not being sarcastic).

One, I’m gluten free, which means I get to make an entirely separate Thanksgiving meal for myself. Yay, more pie for me! But also, boo, because I have to be careful if I sample anyone else’s dishes. I don’t want to be sick for three days. It’s nice not to schlepp a whole meal over to someone else’s house and worry that someone will use the gluten-y knife to cut my gluten-free pie. If you have food allergies, you know what a minefield these kinds of gathering can be.

Two, I have a son with autism. With 20 people, even people he likes, it can be too much. Having his own space to retreat to when he’s feeling overwhelmed makes the situation easier on him, and me.

Everyone has their own memories, views, and expectations about holidays, especially one centered around food such as Thanksgiving. Special dishes, traditions, and memories infuse this holiday. But keep in mind that for people with any kind of special need–food, emotional, recent loss, far-away family–holidays can be a bit tough. Treat everyone with a bit of extra grace this time of year, because you never know who will need it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Little Bit of Gold

Runner lined up to race

During the Olympics, I have a strong sense of nostalgia. While the they are on, I have a compulsive need to have the TV on in the background, something I don’t normally do while I’m working. There is something different about hearing announcers calling events, learning about sports I barely knew existed, hearing stories of triumph, and cheering. No, they weren’t cheering for me, but for a moment, I could believe that someone saw the excellence in my carefully crafted paragraph or my page of edits and was cheering me on. Writing is a lonely occupation.

But I’ll be glad to switch my Pandora station back to cool jazz, spa music, or even nature sounds when I’m feeling particularly distracted. My house will go back to reflecting the fact that an adult works from home. I won’t feel pulled to glance over at the TV every few minutes.

There’s a sadness too. When I was a kid, the Olympics were IT. They were the highlight of human achievement. It was amazing to think how good those athletes were. It would inspire all of us kids in the neighborhood to mark out a distance and see how fast we could race it. My brothers and I would draw lines in the shag carpet and do the long jump. We’d make up races in the swimming pool and choreograph synchronized swimming routines.

At night, we would plop on that same green shag, to watch the big events: gymnastics, swimming, and track and field. The flickering TV provided the only light in the room. The swamp cooler would be shut off and front door opened, bringing in the faint smell of orange blossoms from the nearby groves to mix with the mustiness of the swamp cooler. Going back to school was just around the corner.

Each Olympic from my childhood holds a special memory for me. 1972 was Olga Korbut with her pigtails doing her famous move of laying prone on the balance beam and flopping her feet over her head. Something I discovered I could also do, as well as the splits and other moves that began my stint as a gymnast that would run until I was in high school and grew to be too tall. I only had fleeting images of men in masks and guns and their assault on the Israeli team.

Most people recall Nadia Comaneci appearing on the scene in 1976, giving gymnastics the modern visibility it has today. In 1980, we weren’t much into the winter Olympics, growing up in Southern California and not having a lot of familiarity with snow or ice. But we would tease each other about Lake Placid appearing on our French toast in the form of powdered sugar. And of course we were bitterly disappointed that President Carter chose to boycott the Moscow Olympics that year. I got into arguments with my friends over the choice to mix politics and sports. For many of these athletes that was their only shot. They had to make a living and couldn’t afford to dedicate another four years to their sport.

I was in heaven in 1984 when the Olympics came to Los Angeles. I was in high school and had great hopes that I would finally get to see the Olympics in person. No such luck, but it barely dimmed my enthusiasm since we had all Olympics all the time for two weeks.

But after I left high school, I had to do what grown-ups do: go to college and work. I didn’t have the luxury of watching the Olympics. When I first realized this, I was saddened. One more piece of my childhood slipped away.

So the luxury of having the Olympics on, if only in the background, brings back a bit of those childhood summers that stretched forever, where we were only limited by our imaginations, and we could still dream of futures where we would be amazing at something too.

I think I’ll hold onto that piece a little bit longer.

Fog over a field

By Faith

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. Hebrews 11:22 (NIV)

Joseph’s faith reminds me of Nancy. While I didn’t know Nancy, I’ve seen her faith. Nancy was dying of cancer when she felt God telling her to write. She didn’t know why, but she obeyed. After her death, her son found a wonderful legacy in her writings. They touched him so deeply that he shared them with others and had them published. Nancy never saw the fruit of her obedience in this life but her faithfulness has already touched many people.

Joseph was also dying. So at first it doesn’t seem remarkable that he gave instructions about what to do with his body after his death (Genesis 50:24, 25). But Joseph’s instructions spoke about an event that would take place 400 years in the future! The Israelites were still in Egypt, had no leader, and no plans to go to the Promised Land. Yet Joseph said that he wanted them to take his bones with them when they go. He knew that God had promised them this land and he held to that promise in faith, even though the circumstances did not remotely indicate that this promise was coming true any time soon.

After a life of difficulties and hardships, Joseph had risen to a high position in Egypt, even though he was a Hebrew. He could have regarded Egypt as his home and requested a large funeral and ornate tomb. But he remained a Hebrew at heart, taking God at His promise. By requesting a burial in the Promised Land, he was saying that even though he wouldn’t live to see it, he had absolute faith the Israelites would get there.

That is the kind of faith the writer of Hebrews wants us to have. Many believers, like Joseph and Nancy, didn’t see God’s promises fulfilled while they lived. Yet they were still faithful. God wants us to have faith in Him regardless of our circumstances. Just because we can’t see how a situation could possibly work out, doesn’t mean it won’t. God’s perspective is so much bigger than ours. Aren’t you glad it is? Ask God to show you where you need to step out in faith . . .and then do it!

Food pantry

The Locust Have Landed

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

We have a joke in our house about the locust descending. It’s whenever four boys sit down for a meal. I haven’t even settled my napkin in my lap and the serving dishes only contain crumbs. The girls and my husband and I sort of sit there in shock, wondering what happened.

But we’ve learned quickly. If you don’t grab your food first—and possibly keep one eye open during the blessing—there won’t be anything left. We’ve even resorted to hiding food in our room. I’ve heard of other folks doing this, so I don’t feel entirely crazy. But if we don’t dole out the chips a few days at a time, there won’t be any left for school lunches. If we don’t hide the Costco-sized cereal boxes in our bedroom closet, there’s no cereal in the house after two days. So now we put cereal in the cupboard on Wednesday and Saturday and there’s no more until the next distribution day.

I don’t know if locust have hygiene issues. But in our house this is the other big issue. Unless we prompt, remind, cajole, and threaten, the boys would never take a shower, brush their teeth, or change their clothes.

Normally I’m a big believer in natural consequences. You forget your lunch, you go hungry for a day kind of thing. So in this case the natural consequence would be that their peers would comment on their smell, the boys wouldn’t like it and would take showers. Apparently their peers don’t bathe either.

I can’t stand the smell long enough for the natural consequences to take place. This summer we had dirty sheets, dirty clothes, dirty shoes, and dirty boys all confined in the basement. I thought I was going to need a clothespin on my nose every time I went down there to do the laundry. In fact I’ve spent a significant amount of time on Pinterest finding natural, homemade air fresheners that won’t aggravate my allergies. Though I’m willing to risk it if the concoction will battle the smell.

At this stage in their lives, it’s hard to remember them as cute babies or toddlers with kissable cheeks and adorable toes. And on the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard to imagine them maturing enough to become husbands and fathers. But because of—or in spite of—our faithful parenting, they do eventually become less locust-like and more human. They become aware of other people. All of our lessons on serving and responsibility finally take root and produce fruit.

So during the locust years, we keep doing what we’ve been doing: stay on our knees in prayer for wisdom and safety, recognize the uniqueness of each child, and capitalize on the moments to have fun.

And hide your Hershey’s Kisses in your nightstand.

Sunset over California foothills

How To Deal With Loneliness

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10 (NIV)

Loneliness is one of the hardest things to endure. God made us to be social creatures. Not only were we designed to have a relationship with Him, but with others as well. When we are lacking those relationships, we feel the loss deeply. Yet most of us, if not all of us, have gone through periods of loneliness in our lives.

One of the times of greatest loneliness in my life was when I moved from my hometown. I left my job to make a career change and went back to college for another degree. I had no car, so I took the bus to school, went to class, and came home to study. I felt so lonely. I remember it as one of the dark days of my life. Yet I also remember it as one of the times of greatest spiritual growth. I was forced to rely on God. I learned about Him and myself and our relationship. I learned about my gifts. I learned to trust Him with my future, something I hadn’t really done before, even though I had been a Christian since I was a young child.

The Bible says we will have trials in our life (1 Peter 1:6-7). Perhaps loneliness is yours right now. When we go through tough times, God wants us to use them as opportunities to develop our faith in Him. Consider your time of loneliness as a time to refine yourself. Develop spiritual disciplines like spending time in the Word, memorizing Scripture, or deepening your prayer life.

Additionally, you can use this time to develop your God-given gifts. Volunteer for a ministry. Not only will you learn more about yourself, but you will help others. Seeing others’ needs often puts our own in perspective.

Finally, the hardest part is to learn to be content with where God has you now. Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” He knew this contentment didn’t come of his own abilities. He says later in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” We can do whatever God calls us to do because He will give us the strength.

Make a plan to deal with your loneliness. Study an area of Scripture you’ve always been curious about. Spend more time in prayer. God has something He wants you to learn during this time. Don’t miss out. He is trustworthy and He will never leave you.

 

 

Shadows holding hands

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 3

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

Our first two parts (Part 1 and Part 2) discussed getting and cooking food, activities that take up a large part of our over-stretched calendars and budgets. But today we’re talking about you.

As moms, we’re so busy taking care of our families that we routinely put ourselves last on the list. And that’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout. So here are three areas you need to nurture if you want to avoid that.

Time for yourself

I hear you saying, “What’s that? I never have that.” True. You have to make time for yourself. Get out your calendar and block off time for yourself. Whether it’s to do a hobby you love, work out, read, or just be where no one is calling your name. You cannot serve your family out of an empty well. You have got to take time to refill your well.

Time with your spouse

For those of you who are married, I you have to have time alone with your spouse. Regular date nights will feed your marriage. Someday all those little birds will fly the nest. It would be nice to still know the person you’re married to when it’s just the two of you.

Dates don’t have to be expensive. A cup of coffee, an ice cream, a walk all count as dates. What matters is that the two of you have time to connect. A strong marriage reassures your children and gives them comfort and security.

Time with God

Being a mom to boys is exhausting and difficult, fun and crazy. They are quite different creatures from girls. Being a mom to girls brings its own challenges with emotions and identity. We need to regularly go to God with our hopes, fears, dreams, and questions. He is their Maker. He gave them to us. And He loves them more than we do. Let Him refresh your soul and guide you in raising your children.

Hopefully, you’ve found a few useful ideas to try out during this series. Raising young men and women is an adventure, and we need all the help we can get from each other!

 

 

 

Cutting green onions

Survival Skills for Moms, Part 2

BY JENNIFER VANDER KLIPP

What’s for dinner?

Has that become a curse word in your house? In Part 1 we talked about grocery shopping, something that’s a huge part of our schedules as moms of teens. But once you get the food, you have to do something with it. You have to prepare it, cook it, and actually make meals out of it.

Trying to figure out what to have for dinner at four o’clock is a recipe for frustration and fast food. I know for me, when I don’t know what to cook and don’t have the energy or think about it, my default is to order out. If you’re trying to save money (kids are so expensive!) then that can be a budget buster. Thinking ahead about meals and doing some planning will save your sanity and budget. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Plan in advance

Planning and cooking in advance is one of the best solutions. Several places like, Emeals, have prepared menu plans you can purchase. Most are fairly inexpensive, have options for specialized diets and family size, and give you a grocery list. You’ll more than save what you spend on these plans by not running out for fast food because there’s nothing to eat.

When you choose one of these plans, look for sample menus. You’ll want the recipes to be easy to make without a lot of ingredients. They shouldn’t take too much time (generally under 30 minutes). The meals should generally fit into your family members’ tastes. And there should be a good variety so you don’t get bored.

What I like about having a weekly menu with recipes is that I post them on the refrigerator. Everyone knows what’s for dinner. And I can even get my children to start helping prep dinner because they know right where to look for all of the information. This also works if your husband gets home before you (or generally does the cooking) or if you have someone helping out in your house. Everyone can be on the same page.

Cooking in advance

Another one of my favorite cooking survival skills is cooking in advance. Pinterest has tons of recipes. I love the Occasional Cook by Cyndy Salzmann, but there are other resources. This may seem overwhelming at first but the rewards far outweigh the work. There’s something very satisfying about a freezer full of meals that only need to be pulled out and warmed up. It’s also great if you want to deliver a meal to a sick friend or someone with a new baby. You have meals already made and ready to go.

I eased into this. I started by making 7 meals, then 14, and finally 21. 21 meals aren’t that much more work than 7, and it’s so worth the effort.

My game plan usually looks like this. I find a day or two when I can shop and cook. I shop on day one, first looking at what I already have in the freezer, then hitting Costco because the large quantities will work really well in this situation. Finally, I go to my local grocery store. Back at home, I put on whatever needs to cook for a long time: stock, marinara sauce, meat.

The next day I follow the plan to start making the meals. While you’re out shopping, buy something for yourself for lunch. You’re not going to want to make a lunch in the middle of cooking.

Finally, I type up a list of the meals I made, the cooking and prep instructions for each meal, and any side dishes that go with them. I print this out and put it on the freezer or fridge. Then I can cross off each meal as we eat it, and I have a great idea of what I have left

When I do this, I make twenty-one meals in about seven hours. It’s tiring, but satisfying to be able to pull something out of the freezer and not have to cook for a month. Try doing it with a friend to make it more fun.

Use your slow cooker

This seems almost too simple to list, but I know I overlook it a lot. In the winter time it’s great to have something warm and yummy for dinner. But in the summer it can also be great if you don’t want to turn on the oven and heat up the kitchen. Pinterest, of course, has a ton of Crock Pot recipes. Many subscription meal plans include regular slow cooker meals.

Make your own meal plan

Another great option is to pick the top 15 or so meals that your family enjoys and you eat regularly. You can write out a standard shopping list based on those ingredients and then rotate through those meals every few weeks. This works great if you have picky eaters that only like a few things.

Get your kids to help

Sometimes it hardly seems worth the effort when you can just do it faster yourself. Your kids might not want to help. Or they may find that they really like cooking. Either way, you’re teaching your children valuable skills. Being able to make even a simple meal will make their diet—when they are on their own—consist of something beyond cereal, PopTarts, and pizza.

Plus, boys are more likely to talk when they are doing an activity. There’s a good chance you’ll learn more about their lives if you can get them to help in the kitchen. When my stepchildren come over for dinner, I leave the kitchen so they can have time cooking—and talking—with their dad.

We continue with one more part to this series on survival skills with the ultimate survival skill: time for yourself!

 

Note—I do not receive any compensation from any of the companies listed or linked to here. I’m just a mom sharing with other moms what has worked for me.