But That's Not What I Was Expecting

Wildest dreams seldom compare with the sunshiny, blissful, sometimes all-too-dreadful reality of real life.

When I imagined moving from Chicago, I saw friends and family lining the curb and waving to us as we embarked on our next adventure. Instead, Curtis and I alone pack-horsed a bunch of suitcases across a few city blocks, crammed our tiny Ford Fiesta full of stuff (wishing at that moment we’d just torched the whole lot and started from scratch), and drove out of the city in a June hailstorm. Well, that’s not how I pictured it happening.

We knew where we were headed, but we didn’t have a home to go to—so when we arrived at our tiny town in northern-ish Michigan late that night, we pulled into the driveway of a house we’d never seen to stay with people we’d only met briefly. This wasn’t exactly how I thought relocating would look.

Shortly after arriving in Michigan, we discovered it was going to take longer to close on our house than we thought. In the exactly 2 months during which we didn’t have a home of our own, we stayed in six different places. I feel like starting out a new life isn’t supposed to be like this.

The brakes on our car went out. We spent a lot of Sunday afternoons sitting in the driveway of the house, looking at it wishfully and praying about maybe someday owning it. I biked a lot, got a flat tire, got it fixed, biked some more. I started a new job. We were farm animals (sheep and donkey) in the local Fourth of July parade. We spent lots of Saturday afternoons at the beach of Lake Michigan. Most of our meals were eaten in the church kitchen. I took naps on the floor of Curtis’s office. Somehow I don’t feel very much like an adult.

On July 17, exactly two months after Curtis graduated with his MA and we moved out of our apartment in Chicago, we closed on a house in Michigan. It had been owned by an older gentleman who now lives with his son near Detroit. He left the house abruptly two years ago, so it was still full of all his belongings. Including lots of deer skulls. And 11 vacuums. Seven mattresses. Hunter orange countertops in the kitchen, yards and yards of retro wallpaper, and even some schnazzy camouflage carpet. A few acres. An apple orchard, grape arbor, and a semi-trailer container buried in the back yard. I guess this sort of qualifies as move-in ready.

Sweat equity is a gentle way to describe the amount of work we’ve put into the house in the past month, and it still feels a little like it’s just the beginning. Somewhere in there we acquired kitties. A hot water heater. A water pressure tank. A new well screen. A half dozen gallons of paint. Home ownership doesn’t feel very much like Pinterest makes it look.

Exactly a month after closing, last weekend we got the rest of our belongings from a storage unit in Indiana, where we kept them all summer long. Our furniture didn’t fare too well, but to my great ecstasy all my books are back with me. This is definitely not what I had planned.

Nothing about the process has happened the way I expected it to. It has taken longer. Been more expensive. Required more sweat, more patience, more creative problem solving. Between full-time jobs and house renovations, we’ve put in a few 70-hour weeks. In every way it has challenged my idyllic expectations of Our First House Together.

And in every way, it has been better.

Not because it’s been more pleasant—a few times, it’s been just the opposite. But because I know a few key truths:

Our house and everything in it is a gift from God. How could two poor college-students-turned-adults afford enough furniture for a whole house unless God gave it to them?

I get to take this adventure with my best friend. Curtis (he’s very wonderful).

We are not alone. We’ve entered into a community that loves us generously, serves us tirelessly, and can’t wait to do life with us.

Life will continue to be one thing after another that is different from my expectations. But I am learning that’s going to be okay.

Our new house!

It's Good for You

I believe in the Scottish proverb, ‘Hard work never killed a man.” Men die of boredom. They do not die of hard work.—David Ogilvy

When my siblings and I were kids, we took piano lessons from a lady who lived two miles away. My mother, eager to raise us with an appreciation for physical activity, encouraged (it wasn’t really voluntary) us to ride our bikes to our weekly lessons.

As often happens to children on those dirt country roads, both the way to the lesson and the way home was completely uphill, often both pedals fell off our bikes, and some strange magical transformation always turned our tires to squares ten minutes before departure time*.

Every week on lesson day, we worked hard to convince our mom that she should bring us in the car. We’d often contract high invisible fevers right after lunch, or spot some wispy cloud on the horizon that “LOOKS LIKE A TORNADO!” One time out of fifteen, she’d buy . . .

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Goodbye, Jenkins 8T

Almost three years ago, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I moved into Jenkins 8T. It’s a small apartment on the eighth floor of a building in downtown Chicago. It was empty and bare, the windows were permanently fogged, and the faded carpet was probably a charming brown twenty years ago.

A lot happened in that apartment. A few days after our first Thanksgiving, the sprinklers exploded and ruined many (most) of our belongings (and the carpet and walls). We got our first . . .

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The Satisfaction of . . . Well. You Know.

Most kids become shrewd entrepreneurs at a young age—I was no exception. I learned young that bargaining my way out of things seldom worked, but it didn’t hurt to see if I could get a reward for completing the assigned task.

Can you husk the corn for dinner?
Write a history paper about the pilgrims.
Will you go cut the grass?

Inevitably, my reply was something along the lines of, “What do I get if I do?” It’s humbling (and slightly mortifying) to admit my attitude of entitlement, even as a child. Thankfully, my wise mother was not easily susceptible to the old pull-the-wool-over-her-eyes-with-a-desperate-hungry-look trick. One time out of 50, she would grant me some incentive—which apparently gave me hope to keep asking—but the other 49 times, her answer to my, “What do I get if I do this?” was always the same.

The satisfaction of a job well done.

Young, ignorant, and more interested in material gain than building character, I didn’t usually appreciate that reply. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to understand the value of this perspective.

It’s very easy or do well on something when the reward is tangible. Every bride diets before her wedding, because she’s rewarded by fitting into her dress extra-nicely. Star athletes play well so they can sign multi-million dollar contracts. Ballerinas practice hard so they don’t trip and fall over during the performance when 2,000 people are watching.

But what about those things that no one sees? What if I’m committed to working hard on something for days and weeks and years and it never seems to matter and no one seems to notice? What’s in it for me when I do my best then?

The satisfaction of a job well done.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well whether you get rewarded or not. Recognition and incentive aren’t the only rewards. There’s also experience and character.

If it’s worth doing, it doesn’t matter who notices it’s good or even if it makes you rich. Maybe you’ll be the only one who notices and you’ll be broke till you die. But you’ll know that it was really good, and it’s better to die content with your work than chafing because you didn’t try.

And if it’s worth doing, you might as well do your best at it—because if you’re going to do it either way, why not make it great? Then maybe, just maybe, if you’re very lucky, someday someone might stumble across your painting or your book or your innovative plumbing methods, and you might strike it rich and famous.

But they probably won’t—and maybe that’s okay too. Because you’ll still have the satisfaction of . . . well. You know.

5 Ways to Survive a Job You Love

The complex challenge and delight of doing something you love for work is that you’re doing something you love . . . for work.

Firefighters don’t spend their off hours putting out blazes (unless spouse is not a great cook), and cashiers at walmart don’t go home and continue swiping items over the scanner (maybe just in their dreams).

After scribbling words and ideas for hours in a chair at a desk for a deadline and a client, writing for fun in my free time feels utterly unappealing. Crafting beauty no longer feels like a joy—it feels like responsibility, another item to check off a to-do list. But indulging the laziness and not writing introduces the creeping chill that if I don’t write, I’ll lose the ability. And that would be far worse than sitting down to write for an hour or two when I don’t feel like it.

There are plenty of variations to this.

• Maybe you do a job you don’t like and you’re struggling to get out of bed to go every morning
• Maybe you used to be passionate about your work but you’ve lost the spark
• Maybe you’re waiting for another opportunity or recognition and nothing has come along

It all begs the obvious question that has no obvious answer:

What in the world am I supposed to do now?

Though I have no really obvious pie-in-the-face answers, I have a few ideas.

1) Quit. Artists, don’t want to paint for salary? Trader Joe’s is always hiring—hawaiian shirts and hand lettered signs are just a two-weeks notice away. Or you could storm off and flip some tables, and they’re just a day away.

2) Persevere. When the going gets tough, that’s when it really matters to stick it out. There’s an uphill and a downhill to every mountain hike (unless you build a house at the top and never leave). It might just get easier if you don’t give up now.

3) Hold open hands. Remember that your job isn’t your life, and none of your personal value actually comes from working it. Don’t find your worth in client, coworker, or boss comments, or you’ll be riding the ever fluctuating roller coaster of compliments and criticisms and compliments and criticisms and compliments and criticisms and . . . Bonus tip: Ask your three-year-old if they care that you’re the CEO of your company, and odds are they’ll care a lot more that you’re their parent.

4) Nourish your passion. Reserve time and space to do what you love just for yourself, just because you love it. And if sometimes you end up spending all four hours staring at a blank canvas with a paintbrush in hand, don’t regret it. Just do it again next week. And if the same thing happens week after week, month after month, strongly consider 1).

5) Find a like-minded community. Even for the hermit-est introvert, there’s undeniable synergy in finding someone else who loves to do the exact same thing.

At the end of the day, there’s no hard and fast solution—you have to figure out what works for you. One word of hopeful advice: making a living is not worth losing your passion. There are other jobs in the world.

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

Most classic bloggers (and arguably, all the successful ones) have a theme and style and they don’t deviate from it. Mothers of young children write about their children’s antics. Lifestyle bloggers post articles about home decor, fashion, and occasionally makeup. Exercise-y type of people write about eating healthy, working out, and making good choices about how you treat your body.

The rationale is that developing your voice on a specific topic builds your audience. Faithful readers that consider you an expert will turn to you for advice and information. When you’ve built up enough credibility and readers know they like you, they’ll come out of habit (you kindly read my stuff because . . . maybe out of pity? for whyever you bless me in this way, thank you so much).

All the hottest research articles about blogs swear by this method. Stick to a subject, get good and become recognized, and build your platform on it.

Enter young writer with no audience or soapbox.

Anything you start takes time. Credibility doesn’t sprout up overnight. It takes months, even years of consistency. A thousand people won’t subscribe to you the day after you start (unless you’re already famous for a different reason—unfortunately, in my case, turning flaming red when you’re embarrassed doesn’t actually get you measurable fame). Your mom and grandma will always read your stuff even if it’s a spluttering mess (thanks, guys), but writing for the general public necessitates at least half an ounce of coherence (unless your mantra is unclear illegibility. You do your thing, just please don’t make me try to understand it).

It’s pretty much an uphill battle, and I haven’t even touched on how to choose an area of expertise or anything else that has to do with marketing yourself as a writer.

I don’t have clever wrapping or a neat bow with which to conclude this post, because I’m not really sure where it goes from here or what to do next, besides working hard and doing more of the same.

If I figure it out, I’ll write another post about it and link to it here.

In the meantime, share my blog with everyone you know and I’ll keep editing my next book and doing the writing thing, etc. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How to Do What You . . . Love?

One of these days, I’ll start writing my posts in Word. That way, when my computer crashes (which is does at least once a night, maybe twice) or I accidentally press the wrong button and delete 45 minutes of work *cringe and sigh*, it won’t be lost forever.

Until then, I’ll just be learning patience and mourning over the nice things I say that you never get to read (and you’re breathing a sigh of relief, thinking, I didn’t really have time today to read something that took 45 minutes to write).

So, the gist of it . . .

Do something you love for work? Having trouble staying motivated to do it for yourself? Follow this list when the potato chips and Amazing Race reruns are looking particularly irresistible, compared to practicing your talent for yourself.

  • Do a personal project that you love. Then you’ll want to work on it.

  • Schedule time to work on it. Because time is a sneaky little booger that slips through the crevices of the day if you’re not careful.

  • And to not work on it. Rest and physical activity reinvigorates the mind.

  • When you get discouraged, definitely don’t quit. ‘Nuff said.

  • Join a group of people with common interests. Peer pressure and synergy go a long way.

  • Build careful boundaries around your relationship with work. It’s a job. Not your identity.

The post I just accidentally deleted (yes, go ahead and ask yourself how I can be a millennial in the 21st century and still be so bad at technology) had lots more words, but maybe it wasn’t really any better.

Because what do I really know? I’m just trying to figure it out myself.

You Gotta Keep at It

A basic truth about creating (or teaching or nursing or painting) is that you'll only get better if you keep at it. Longterm practice breeds longterm expertise.

It's unfortunate for twelve-year-olds learning to play the piano and seventy-year-olds who've never thrown a baseball—but it's true. You don't get to be an expert without perseverance, and hours and hours of saying no to EVERYTHING so you can get good at one thing.

This ability to keep going requires keeping your mentality healthy, which takes intentionality and grit.

What if someone tells you that you're not really great at this, you're not going to make a longterm difference, and your best work is something else—like labelling cans?

There's a whole lot of things you can do: weep, yell, slam doors, break bottles, lock yourself in your room, mope, try harder, got more opinions, set the painting on fire and try again.

But you must not stop trying.

Because if you do, your work won't make a difference.

Because nobody ever changed anything by quitting.


The Dawg Ayt My Homwerk . . . ?

Plausible excuses become more rare the older you become.

Teachers snap photos of your note in kindergarten when it reads, "The dawg ayt my homwerk." They send it to family and friends because it's cute. They may even laugh a little. Perhaps a more demanding teacher would dock you a few points and tell you to make sure to finish everything tomorrow.

Fast forward twenty years and try saying, "The monster ate my desk," when you didn't finish that high profile project. You'll be lucky if all you get is a raised eyebrow.

Guess that means it's time to stop making excuses and really get to work—and that goes for you too, kindergarteners.

Monster Desk

I Officially Can't Hail Taxis

This week I went to the doctor on my first day of being sick.

Please understand: this is shocking. I usually refuse to visit the doctor until I've been hanging onto life by a thread for over a week. Curtis (he's very wonderful) tells me more than a dozen times I should go, and I come up with more than a dozen excuses. When I get discouraged beyond hopelessness, I cave, gather my wits and tissues, and go.

This time was different. A good friend who visited our tiny home last weekend was diagnosed with strep on Wednesday. I don't have time to be sick for more than a weekend, and strep can beat you into the ground for a lot longer than that. Ain't nobody got time for that. There's too much summer happening everywhere.

I knew I was getting sick the night before because THOUSANDS of tiny gnomes were marching across the back of my throat wearing hobnail boots (the real kind, you know, the ones with NAILS STICKING OUT OF THE SOLES). The next morning, each one of the the thousand gnomes had invited ten of their friends—so 11,000 gnomes, each with multiple nails in their boots, were wreaking havoc on my throat. You get the idea. So, I hauled myself to the doctor's office. 

I walked there because I'm too timid to hail a taxi.

Every movie ever features the classic 3-second taxi call. Not so in today's film, featuring sick Anneliese. After half a dozen attempts, I gave up and decided a mile and a half isn't really that far to walk. Basic conceptual problem highlighting my inability to stick something out? Maybe.

Got to the clinic and made friends with the nurse who took my vitals and also doesn't own a scale or know how much she weighs. The doctor came in eventually, did all the things doctors do, and eventually told me I didn't have strep. She gave me somewhere between 5 and 100 pieces of paper about the common cold, told me it was going to be painful for a couple of days, and sent me home.

I walked home too. Maybe if I'd been diagnosed with strep I would've taken a cab—but I couldn't justify spending the money now that I knew I really wasn't at death's door.

Anyways, for the past three days I've sat on the couch sneezing and honking and watching the world go by for three of the warmest, sunniest, cheeriest Chicago summer days this year. It felt hopeless. I missed watching Curtis (he's very wonderful) hit a home run at the softball game on Saturday. I missed meeting my brand new nephew (I'm assured he's very cute, but pictures just aren't the same). I missed going out for pizza with everyone, and sat at home blowing through boxes of tissues, reading Louis L'Amour, drawing, and watching a British cooking show (I quote Curtis: What is it with you only watching cooking shows?). The list of things I missed felt long, as did my face and soul on Saturday morning.

Then, somewhere on Saturday afternoon, I remembered that for weeks I've been complaining to myself because I want to finish the sequel to The Cup but I never have time. And God gave me three perfect days with nothing to do but finish it. And I got over moping because even though I couldn't swim in the lake and throw the softball and eat ice cream—I could stay home and write. Being sick is being sick, but now it feels more like a blessing.

God doesn’t always give us what we want. But He always gives us what’s best for us.