Driving from Kansas to Oregon to Surprise my Family

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I hatched a wild plan to drive to Oregon with my brother Ben, hide in the cupboard while my family was at church, and surprise them all. Would I succeed? Watch to find out!

So yes, this means that just like that, my year of travel is over! Hopefully in the next few blog posts I’ll process how the trip as a whole went for me and meant to me.

 

What I’ve Been Reading This Month

I’ve consumed heaps of books this last month. A lot of stuff that’s more “fun” than “thoughtful,” if I’m gonna be honest, but hey, better than scrolling through Instagram, right?

Here’s a blurry picture of all of them lined up on my vanity:

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1. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

I thought I had read Sense and Sensibility, but in reality I’d just watched multiple movie versions. Haha. Time to read it for real.

Current Status: Halfway through

Verdict: Delightful. Not, however, one of Austen’s best. We don’t burrow as neatly into the character’s heads as we do in some of her other books. Elinor falls in love, but the audience is informed of this from the perspective of a watchful outsider, instead of from the perspective of the inside of her head. We don’t know how she’s feeling, really.

Because of this, Sense and Sensibility is, along with Mansfield Park, at the bottom of my list of favorite Austen novels. (Emma is at the top for me, with Pride and Prejudice a close second.) Which is interesting, as it’s the second-most-popular Austen book when it comes to movies and plays. I think that’s because it really is a good story. My issue, of not being able to see into the characters’ heads, really isn’t an issue in movies and plays where you never get to see into any character’s head.

2. Hopeless Savages, by Jen Van Meter

I picked this up at the library because I do enjoy a good graphic novel every now and then. A family of punk rock stars? That looked like a fun, interesting read.

Current Status: Read two chapters.

Verdict: Boring. Will not finish.

3. The Girl from Paris, by Joan Aiken

I did this fun thing where I went to the first shelf of the fiction section of the library and read every book title until I found something that looked interesting.

This one looked interesting.

Current Status: Read the whole thing.

Verdict: This was a story about a young woman who went to be a governess for a strange family in Paris, and then later went home to England to take care of her own younger half-sister.

I found it rather interesting, although there were some odd parts, like a really rushed romance, and the abrupt location change mid-book. About 2/3’ds of the way through I realized it must be the second or third book in a series.

I looked it up online later, and yes, it was third in a series. LOL. Reviewers on goodreads were very annoyed at it for not living up to the standard of the first two books. While I agreed with all their criticisms, the truth is I still found the book rather fun.

After all, it contained two random things that I happen to love in books.

  1. A sensible main character
  2. Close, and perhaps rather strange, male-female relationships that are not quite romance.

As far as #2 goes, I’m not sure why I enjoy this so much in fiction when it often turns out disastrous in real life, LOL.

4. Spoiled, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Way back in the day, the teen YouTubers were all reading this book. When I saw it on the library shelf, I flipped to the back cover and saw that it was about a girl who finds out that her dad is actually a famous movie star. Hee hee. Who could resist a plot like that?

Status: Finished

Verdict: If you’re into fluffy YA that’s pretty clean you’ll enjoy it, but probably will never re-read it, haha. It does have an interesting subtext about family relationships, both father-daughter and sister-sister.

But what’s really delightful, for me, are the masses of 2011 pop culture references. I was actually really into pop culture in 2011, so it feels nostalgic.

5. Drowned Ammet (not pictured) and The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones

These are books 2 and 3 in a series. I read the first book in Tennessee, and was delighted to see that the library here carried the rest of the series.

Current Status: Finished

Verdict: I love it, but then again, I love everything Diana Wynne Jones writes, so there’s that. It’s middle grade fantasy with a sense of humor, as all her books are. This particular series, The Dalemark Quartet, has the best world-building I’ve ever seen from her. It’s a bit darker than some, with war as a central theme.

I don’t know what else to say. I really feel like my readers probably won’t like this book, so there’s probably no sense in recommending it, haha.

Here’s what I’l say: If you’re thinking of getting into Diana Wynne Jones, start with Howl’s Moving Castle. If you happen to love it, then branch out into some of her other books. Maybe the Chrestomanci series. And if you love those too, maybe then give The Dalemark Quartet a try.

6. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

Esta thought I would like this book, and then mailed it to me. Aww! #bestfriendoftheyearaward

Status: Finished

Verdict: Absolutely delightful. I’d say this is the most universally appealing book on this whole pile. Just a happy, satisfying book in the vein of The Blue Castle, or The Enchanted April.

However, I should note that it does have a few problematic moments. Particularly when the main character makes this derogatory, passing comment about how it’s best for an English person to marry someone who’s fully their own race, and that it might not be the best to marry someone with Jewish blood.

Also, the main character, in “living for a day,” rubs shoulders with people who have somewhat loose morals.

7. Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnum

This book also came from Esta. I wanted to read it because it’s by the same lady who wrote The Enchanted April. And while the charm did not live up to The Enchanted April, it was, in fact, quite charming.

It’s actually more of a memoir of Von Arnum herself, and her absolute delight in her garden. It’s just a happy little book about the joys of gardening, and about her three babies called “April Baby” and “June Baby” and “May Baby” according to the months in which they were born.

I liked that she had a sense of humor, but at times I thought she was a bit unfair in the way she made fun of her guests. And her husband went on the oddest rants about how women are inferior to men. I think he was meant to be laughed at by the reader, but I’m not quite sure.

But anyway. It was charming and delightful, nonetheless.

8. The Way of a Bride with her Groom, by Earnest Witmer

I picked this book up because I know/know of the author. I’d heard that it was the story of himself and his wife, Rachel, who was killed in a car crash six or seven years ago.

Status: Read the story parts, skimmed/skipped the marriage advice parts. (To be honest, I almost never read nonfiction books. I do enjoy a good memoir and the occasional writing advice book. Other than that, I’m a nonfiction article reader, but for books I stick to fiction.)

Verdict: I found the story parts very interesting, but I feel I’m somewhat biased because I know the author somewhat. And also biased because I take great delight in hearing people’s romantic stories, heehee.

I think my favorite scene was this one where Earnest asked Rachel out, and she turned him down, but he still felt honored, and like it wasn’t shameful or embarrassing that he’d asked. Personally, I wish I’d received more training on how to turn a guy down in an honoring way. I have this hypothesis that if girls were better at turning guys down, guys wouldn’t be so nervous to keep asking girls out even if they’d gotten a lot of rejections, and so everyone would have better odds at finding a life partner.

Of course, that hypothesis remains untested. Feel free to pull it apart as much as you desire.

9. Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? By Ally Carter

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This book was displayed in the teen section during the same library run in which I picked up Spoiled. I snatched it up because I often ask that very question. How do I write a book?

Status: 1/3 of the way through.

Verdict: Fantastic. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know how to write a novel. Here are the things I’ve loved so far about this particular book, as opposed to other books on writing I’ve read (or skimmed.)

  1. The book has a concise, narrow focus. It is about how to write a novel, and does not veer off into general musings on writing.
  2. The book is aimed at teens, but doesn’t talk down to teens, which I really appreciate as a former teenage writer of books.
  3. Also, maybe because of teenage focus, Carter writes in a very interesting, engaging, concise way.
  4. She also answers all the random questions I’ve always worried about, but never got good advice about. Like, “how many words should my novel be?”
  5. Also, she gives specific answers to even the most squishy questions. Most authors, when giving advice on something like word count, will say something like “that depends on the book.”
    Carter says, “that depends on the book,” but then she provides a full page spread of authors listing the word count of their shortest book, and the word count of their longest book.

10. Lady in Waiting, by Debby Jones and Jackie Kendall

I was writing a play on the book of Ruth, and was amused by the way that Ruth asked Boaz to marry her. This prompted me to write on Facebook, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a Christian dating advice book based on the story of Ruth? Ladies, find a rich guy, sneak up to him while he’s sleeping, and ask him to marry you.”

Well, I was quickly informed that there was a dating advice book called Lady in Waiting which was based on Ruth. Then my roommate told me she owned a copy.

Status: Skimmed.

Verdict: Um….let’s just say, Lady in Waiting draws some very strange conclusions from the book of Ruth. How do you get “Don’t chase boys! Wait for the right man to come along and sweep you off your feet!” from a Bible story in which the woman asks the man to marry her?

In fact, I was so irritated that I wrote a whole bonus blog post titled “Five Actual Romantic Lessons from the Life of Ruth.” It’s available now on my Patreon page, for those who subscribe for $1 or more per month.

So those are the books I’ve been into for the last month. What have you been reading lately?

Notes on Kansas

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

It was 1:30 am, and I was eating donuts and pretending I was still a teenager. It was a funny little donut shop. With its outdated wallpaper, random mugs hanging on the wall, and old paneling, it reminded me of somebody’s basement, mostly finished back in the ’70s, and then forgotten.

Apparently the place doesn’t even open until 11 pm.

I was hanging out with my roommate Kim’s youth group, and when they suggested a donut run, I couldn’t resist the enchanting allure of midnight donuts. But then, after those midnight donuts were ingested, there were storm warnings and we all got worried and scuttled off towards home.

Thankfully I wasn’t driving, because there were warnings of hail and severe winds and all sorts of frightening things. We drove straight into the storm, and I sat in the back seat, mesmerized by the purple. It was everywhere, in bursts of lighting that lit the entire sky.

I’m remembering, now. If you want to be awed by mountains or oceans you go to Oregon, but if you want to be awed by the weather, you to to the Midwest.

One Oregon night a few years ago there was intense, sky-splitting lightening, and no one in my family could sleep. We all ended up on the front porch in the middle of the night, watching it together. And yet that lightning was perhaps only half as intense as this stuff.

For some reason I ended up in either the East or the South this entire year, so I’m glad I decided to get a small taste of the Midwest before heading home.

Wait…what all states are considered to be “Midwest?” I just googled. Ohio is part of the Midwest? How?

In my brain, the Midwest ends with Illinois. In my brain, the Midwest is where land is flat and roads are straight and everyone waves at everyone and you say “hi” to every Mennonite you see and folks are chill and the weather in the spring is absolutely crazy. Where Mennonite communities are not so isolated as they are in the West, but they’re not piled up on top of each other either.

If you are from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, etc, do you think of Ohio as part of your Midwestern culture? I’m just an ignorant Oregonian who knows nothing about this.

I’ve been here for two weeks, and it’s been absolutely magical. Not because of the weather or the people or the midnight donuts, but because I’ve felt so healthy. 

Health is such a funny thing. All of the things I dislike about life–all my feelings of incompetence, or loneliness, or the burden of having a to-do list that I can never possibly finish–seem to quietly become not-big-deals if I’m feeling healthy.

Maybe Kansas has a magical climate that is perfectly suited to my health.

Although, after experimenting with so many climates and houses this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my health woes are probably not related to climates and mold and things external to me.

I think–sad as this sounds–I think that my body is just not suited to the nomadic life I crave.

Stress makes me sick. It has, ever since my West Nile days.

My last week in Lancaster I got horribly sick–the worst of this whole trip–but I felt a strong conviction that after I recovered I was going to have a time of wellness.

That’s what I’ve had, so far, in Kansas. The sort of wellness that allows me to eat donuts with teenagers at 1:30 am.

What I really mean when I say I’m “working on a book.”

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I walked into the Hutchinson Starbucks, and there was Sarah. Oh! I know her! My first random connection in Kansas. We began to chat.

“Are you just about finished with your book by now?” she asked me.

“No, I’m just plodding along with it slowly,” I said. Because right now I’m only about 1/3 of the way through my first draft.

But then, after I got my tea and sat down to write, I realized that the “book” of her question was a completely different book than the “book” of my answer.

When I drove through Kansas in September, which was the last time I saw Sarah, I was working on Book A.

Book A was a middle grade novel. Fantasy, but with no actual magic in it. I was trying really hard to finish something, even if it turned out terrible.

But when I was in Ohio, I gave up on Book A. Something just was not working. I couldn’t place my figure on what. The plot, probably. Plots have never been my strong point.

I was determined to fix my plot issues. In Delaware, I used my Ohio library card to borrow an e-book called “No Plot? No Problem!” The book wasn’t remotely helpful, so I went to the Delaware library and borrowed real books and took notes.

Notes in hand, I spend my week-and-a-half in Washington DC working on Book B.

Book B was a project I’d first worked on in the summer of 2016. Unlike Book A, it had a strong plot idea, and seemed like a good candidate for plot practice. I didn’t even write more chapters, I just sat in coffee shops with a notebook and tried to trace the story arc and resolution for each character.

And it was good practice. But then I got busy and stopped working on it. Book B is a strange story–not really marketable–so probably not a good time investment right now.

In Florida I had no wifi and no library card and one afternoon I was bored. I opened my laptop to see if I had any books downloaded on my Kindle app. Oh! There was my copy of “No Plot? No Problem!” that I’d borrowed in Delaware. The lack of Internet had prevented it from automatically returning.

So I read it.

“No Plot? No Problem!” wasn’t a book about plots, it was a book about how to write a novel in a month. And as I read, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write a novel in a month.

So I began Book C.

Book C came from a fun idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for years. Writing it was fun at first, but eventually I began to hate the book. I mean, I loathed that thing.

Something was not working, and it was more than just the plot.

I was driving down the 501 when it struck me. The Big Problem with Book C, and also, coincidentally, the Big Problem with Book A, and the Big Problem with most novels I’ve attempted in the last five or so years. It’s not the plot that trips me up. It’s the lack of humor.

I don’t enjoy reading books without humor, or reading poetry without humor, so why would I enjoy writing without humor? No wonder I started writing books and then ended up hating them!

In any case, I gave up on fiction for a bit, and instead started working on Book D. Book D is a memoir, the story of this year. Nonfiction feels easy after struggling along with fiction for so long. You don’t have to worry about plot. You just write down what happened. And humor nestles naturally into my nonfiction.

However, this was not the end of my fiction journey. There was, and by “was” I mean “is,” a Book E.

Book E happened because one day as I was walking along the streets of Lancaster, I came across a little free library, and found a book called Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar.

It was a book I knew I liked, and I knew I didn’t own a copy of it, so I took it home with me. And I began re-reading it carefully. And I began noticing things.

First, Sachar doesn’t really have a plot in the book, but rather writes individual stories based on different characters. The book is held together by repeating characters, incidents, and random elements paced throughout.

Second, the entire book is filled with humor. It’s a humor based on repetition and silliness, and it reminded me of an unfinished children’s book I’d started over ten years ago. I dug up my old manuscript, and started reading.

The first three chapters were written when I was seventeen, and they were fantastic. Very similar to Wayside School, full of silliness and repetition and fun times.

The last half-chapter was written when I was 25. It was awful. I was desperately trying to contrive a plot to tie the whole book together, and all the humor was gone.

I started working on Book E again, determined to channel the humor and silliness and repetition, heedless of plot, that somehow came naturally to me when I was seventeen.

Of course it’s taking a back seat to Book D, but right now, if you asked me, I’d say I’m working on two books.

If you’re wondering why I stopped putting humor into my fiction, well, you tell me and  we’ll both know. Was it a result of the the humorless literary fiction of my writing classes? Was I focusing so much on plots that I forgot all about humor? Was I putting myself under too much pressure to reach a word count, leaving myself no time to contrive good jokes?

As to the haphazard way I keep starting books but not finishing them, I’ve ceased to let this bother me. When I was young I thought my unfinished books were all going to waste. But now, I’m always taking that old manuscript from four years ago and finding the perfect new twist to keep it going. And if it dies, well, perhaps I’ll revive it again in another four years.

But Book D, the memoir about this year, is in very little danger of being abandoned. And that’s what I mean, right now, when I say I’m working on a book.

Note: I now have a Patreon page, where you can get bonus blog posts by subscribing for $1 or more a month. My latest post is titled, “How Mennonites Set Women Up to Reject the Head Covering.

 

Why Do So Many People Hate Lancaster? My Top Three Ideas

 

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Meme credit: @memesbymennos

I’ve been in Pennsylvania for a long time now. There was that month-and-a-half in Myerstown, a week in Philadelphia, a month in Lancaster City, and now another week in Philadelphia. This Friday I’ll bip back to Lancaster for the weekend before driving to Kansas.

There’s a large difference, I’ve noticed, between being in the middle of an Anabaptist culture and being on the edge of an Anabaptist culture.

I first noticed this in Florida. I didn’t think living a short distance from Pinecraft would be much different than living in Pinecraft, but it was. I always felt on the outskirts. I’d heard all these stories. “What happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft!”

And then I’d go to a pie-baking contest or whatever, and look around trying to find someone doing something scandalous, but it was just a bunch of ordinary Anabaptists who liked pie.

Pennsylvania has been the same way. It turns out that living in Myerstown isn’t considered living in “Lancaster County,” and Lancaster City honestly isn’t really either. In much the same way that I never saw anything scandalous in Pinecraft, I never was able to see what was so terrible about Lancaster County.

I mean, I’ve heard so many people say they would never live in Lancaster County, and honestly I still don’t feel like I’ve exactly figured out why it has such a negative reputation.

However, I do have some ideas. These are the top three contenders.

Idea #1: The “Uncool Mennonite” Hypothesis

I feel like in a lot of Mennonite circles, embracing your heritage is considered “uncool.” It feels very on-trend right now (among Mennonites) to try to distance yourself from the “Mennonite” label, even if you are essentially still Mennonite.

Lancaster County, as the epicenter of Mennoniteness, is thus “uncool” simply because it’s so Mennonite.

(The irony of course is that in the secular world, being Mennonite is what makes you unique and interesting.)

Idea # 2: The “Unfriendly Mennonites” Hypothesis

This is a critique of Lancaster County that I’ve heard often. Personally, I never felt like anyone here snubbed me or was unfriendly to me. But I think I’ve figured out where this stereotype comes from.

To unpack this, though, I’m going to take a memory-lane trip back to Florida for a bit.

In Florida, I wrote that people were unfriendly to me. I received some backlash for this. First, because I insinuated that everyone was unfriendly, which wasn’t true. Some people were extremely kind. 

But the second reason for the backlash was something I’ve heard over and over again: In big Mennonite communities, you don’t just say “hi” to every Mennonite you see in the grocery store. There are just way too many.

And I get that. I really do. I promise I didn’t come to Pennsylvania thinking that every Mennonite would say “hi” to me. But my expectations in Florida were a little different. I thought that since everyone was on vacation, everyone would be strangers to everyone, and thus eager to make friends with the other Mennonites who happened to be on the beach. Clearly, I was wrong.

So after that little lesson, I was fine with not being acknowledged by, say, the random Mennonites who passed in and out of Starbucks as I sat writing.

But I still firmly stand by my statement that the Florida Mennonites were not as friendly as they should have been, and I’m basing this on the two times that I actually went to Pinecraft for an event. First it was a pie baking contest, and second it was a concert in the park. At both events, I sat or stood completely alone, and no one around me talked to me. When I tried to talk to them, they looked extremely uncomfortable.

Two people were friendly to me: A woman who was friends with my mom that I sought out and talked to, and a woman who knew who I was from my mom’s writings and sought me to talk to me. I’m sure that Florida contains more gems like them.

But the truth still stands. If someone is next to you at an event, standing alone, you should be friendly to them. This has nothing to do with the “I literally have no time to talk to every Mennonite in the grocery store” excuse. This isn’t a grocery store, and this isn’t an endless list of people. This is one lonely person.

Now as I said before, I really was not on the cusp of Lancaster County culture, so I can neither accuse nor acquit them of this charge. Personally, I only ever encountered friendliness here. But after hearing that Lancaster County is accused of unfriendliness, and experiencing Florida, I can’t help but wonder if the same thing happens here.

Idea #3: The “Clique-ish Mennonites” Hypothesis

The most unique phenomenon I’ve discovered in Lancaster County is that most people have a “group” that has nothing to do with what church they go to. It’s more about who is exactly like you. Like, if you’re a single school teacher in your upper-20s, you hang out with other single school teachers in their upper-20s.

It’s really fascinating, and I feel like I just barely understand it. However, my hypothesis is that if you have a group disconnected from a particular church, someone is going to feel left out.

If a group is based on a church, that provides natural boundaries. A lady who attends Riverside won’t be offended if she doesn’t get invited to the Brownsville ladies retreat. But if the group is just a group of single Mennonites in their upper 20s, there are still so many single Mennonites in their upper 20s in Lancaster County that you can’t possibly invite them all.

So some people feel left out.

Conversely, some people might have a group but wish they were part of an even cooler group, and, out of envy, dub the cooler group “clique-ish.”

Or maybe the cooler group is “clique-ish.”

This is, of course, just a hypothesis, as I still don’t remotely understand the social hierarchy of Lancaster County. I know that some people are cooler than other people, but I’m just not on the social pulse at all, and have no clue which ones are cool and what makes them cool.

Part of me wishes I could spend another month here, in…I don’t know, like Ephrata or something. Some place that’s much more central to the culture.

But no. It’s time for me to move on, it really is.

But please, if you have opinions on Lancaster County, let me know what you think of my hypotheses.

Note: I now have a Patreon, where you can get bonus blog posts by subscribing for $1 or more a month. My latest post is about the concept of “toxic masculinity.” Later this week I’ll be posting about how I think Mennonites set women up to eventually reject the head covering. 

Blog Changes?

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I’m starting what could be considered a “bonus blog.” It will feature more controversial/opinionated topics than I typically post on here, but you won’t be able to access them unless you become a “patron” or supporter of my blog on my new Patreon page, for $1 or more per month.

If that doesn’t sound like your jam, no worries! Things here at The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots will carry on as before, completely free.

Over the years, I’ve stopped blogging about a lot of my more opinionated ideas. I’m not as thick-skinned as I like to think I am. “Viral” posts attract readers who have no idea who I am, no need to spare my feelings, and no qualms about arguing with each other in my comments.

My hope is that putting these posts behind a paywall, even an extremely cheap paywall, will prevent them from going viral. Any feedback, corrections, and disagreements will come from people who are at least a little bit invested in me already.

Currently I don’t earn a dime from blogging, which was never an issue to me until this year. I didn’t really see blogging as a “business.” I still don’t, really, but now spending time to blog is actually taking time away from my other writing business ventures. And I’d like to have some blogging money to invest back into the blog.

(Besides normal stuff like doing giveaways and paying for my domain name, I’d love to buy a camera and expand into video content. We’ll see!)

Anyway, for these reasons, I set up a Patreon account. Patreon is a way for fans to directly support Internet content creators. It operates like a monthly subscription, only you choose how much you want to pay every month. $1 a month is the lowest Patreon allows me to charge, so I have one $1 a month tier. You can pay more if you like, or just give the $1…it’s totally up to you.

In return, you’ll get access to the opinionated/controversial posts. I’ll post at least one per month, hopefully two.

My first Patreon blog post is titled “Is Toxic Masculinity a Thing?” In that post I explore the term “Toxic Masculinity,” talking about why the term exists, if it’s a real phenomenon, if there’s such a thing as “Toxic Femininity,” and, most fun of all…my opinions!

Sound interesting? Head over to https://www.patreon.com/emilysmucker and click the red “become a Patron” button.

 

Learning to Not Be the Star of the Show

This is a picture of me twelve years ago, standing in front of Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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This is a picture of me last night, trying to re-create the first picture. I once again visited Sight and Sound, for free this time, thanks to a miracle in a theater two weeks ago.

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In the first picture, I was barely seventeen years old. I didn’t know that my life would, within a month or so, crash down around my ears as I battled West Nile virus. I was just about to start my senior year of high school, and was already dreaming of the great things I would do with my life.

Back then, I adored acting. I kept roping my friends into doing silly skits with me. But I almost never got the chance to see a “real” theater production, and knew very little about the acting world in general. I didn’t know if acting was an attainable dream.

Yet here I was, experiencing the most breathtaking play imaginable. The story of Creation and the Fall, brought to life in brilliant detail. And it was a Christian production. I knew that acting in a play like this would not go against my values.

I imagined myself as the star of the show.

Twelve years later, as I watched the story of Jesus unfold on stage, I again felt my imagination take flight. But this time, there was a subtle difference.

I didn’t imagine myself as the star of the show. I imagined myself writing and producing plays that could bless people, the way I was blessed that night.

I found this shift in my thinking interesting, because it reflects an enormous shift in the way I’ve learned to view myself in those twelve years between those two pictures.

I’ve always loved being the center of attention and the star of the show. You may notice this even if you read my old blog posts that sometimes get recommended at the bottom of my current posts, or if you read the book I wrote ten years ago. I was forever more trying to sound as interesting and unique as possible.

One of the hardest but most necessary life lessons I’ve had to learn since then is, you’re not actually that special. You’re not actually that unique. 

Coming to terms with not being special is life-changing.

When I didn’t have to be special, I didn’t have to tell my unique and interesting stories, which meant I had time to hear other people’s interesting and unique stories. I got to watch them be special for a change.

Learning to step aside and let other people be special eventually bled into my acting work as well.

Besides a little bit of “real theater” in college, most of my experience with acting comes from someone–a school teacher, a VBS superintendent, a Kid’s Bible Club coordinator–wanting some sort of drama produced and happily handing the reigns of the project over to me if I wanted to take them.

I love every step of the process, from writing plays to crafting costumes and sets out of cast-off items to, of course, acting. I’ve been doing this kind of thing ever since I was about fifteen, and of course, in the beginning I often played a starring role. Usually the bad guy, actually. I was Goliath, with throw pillows from the nursery padding my shoulders under my Biblical robes. I was the wicked stepmother when my friends and I did Cinderella for Sharon Coblentz’s birthday party.

Now, though, I’m rarely even in the plays. I’ll step in if we need another actor, but I’ll play a minor character.

Because I discovered that shining a spotlight on myself feels great in the moment, but it’s nothing compared to the quiet satisfaction of creating a spotlight for someone else. Someone who wouldn’t normally see themselves as a star of a show, but who shines in the role.

Given the chance, the father of 6 from your church might pull out a winning performance as Nebuchadnezzar that leaves the audience in stitches.

The energetic troublemaker kid, when suckered into playing Jesus, might make you re-think your entire conception of who Jesus was. Maybe Jesus was funny and energetic with a wide grin on his face. Why do we always imagine Jesus so stoic?

Right now, just like twelve years ago, the world seems full of exciting possibilities. I dearly hope I’ll figure out how to incorporate writing, producing, and/or directing plays into my future.

But one big thing has changed: I no longer dream of being the star of the show.

P.S. I’ll have an announcement on Tuesday about some changes coming to my blog. Stay tuned!