Easter

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It was 6:00 am, and my room was faintly lit with the promise of dawn. It’s been years since I’ve been to a sunrise service, but there was no getting out of this one. In this era of coronavirus, I feel obligated to snatch up every special opportunity that wanders past me, no matter how tired I feel.

I fluttered from my room to the bathroom to the kitchen, bumping into the family members that I bump into all the time: Mom, Dad, Jenny, and Amy. The only missing person was Steven, who had to work.

Then, with a long skirt over my sweatpants, I got into the car with my sisters and we drove past my Dad’s grass seed cleaning warehouse, and along the “back way,” the old farm road belonging to my Dad’s cousin Darrell who farms the original family farm. Along one bend we had an unbroken view of the foothills in the horizon, with one true-blue mountain peeking through. We got out of the car and set up camp chairs and blankets.

Mom and Dad arrived shortly after us. Then presently, another car drove up, and Ben and Matt stepped out. Ben lives in Corvallis, half an hour away, and I hadn’t seen him in person for three weeks. Matt lives in Houston, and it had been even longer since we’d seen him. But he’d flown back to Oregon just the night before, and was now living with Ben for the foreseeable future, in order to be closer to his family, and his fiancée, Phoebe.

And then the last car drove up, and there was Phoebe. We were all together at last.

I sat in a cluster with my parents and sisters, while Phoebe set her chair six feet from us, and Matt and Ben sat another six feet beyond her. We sang, and prayed, and watched the sun rise. Hallelujah, Christ is risen indeed!

We went back home, making Matt, Ben, and Phoebe stay outside. We take quarantine very seriously. The six of us that live in the house are the only people allowed in the house. Everyone else must stay outside and 6 feet away. But we didn’t stay indoors long, just long enough to make breakfast. Then we went outside, and we all sat around a campfire, eating and drinking hot drinks.

It had been a cold night. There was a layer of frost on the chairs, and Dad held one over the campfire to melt it off, which I happened to capture in an Instagram story that confused my followers. But the sun was bright and warm. And as we sat there, sun on our neck, fire warming our toes, I knew I was incredibly blessed.

Blessed to be quarantined with my family, whom I both love and like.

Blessed that Matt is home, and now my whole family is near.

Blessed with the sunshine, and the fire, and the food.

And blessed to live here, in the countryside, with extensive grounds and flowers and a creek and trees and neighbors who are relatives and don’t mind if you wander on their property to watch the sunrise.

But although I felt genuinely happy on Easter Sunday, the truth is, these days of quarantine have been difficult for me in deep ways that I truly don’t understand.

I mean, why is this hard? I’m not an extrovert. Even though I genuinely enjoy hanging out with friends, going to church, and attending parties, I always feel a little bit of dread at the thought of going, and if something comes up that prevents me from going, I always feel a weird thrill of joy. Quarantine should be a dream come true for me. I should be living my best life.

But I’m not.

For some reason, quarantine feels like a cheese grater slowly slicing slivers off of my sanity. I feel trapped, with no way to escape. I feel angry at people I see on the Internet who are spreading blatant misinformation. I feel fear whenever Corona comes too close, because my mother has terrible asthma, and I can’t bear the thought of her getting it. I feel annoyed at people who chirpily toss out-of-context Bible verses into the void of the Internet as a universal pat answer to all pain, all fear, all suffering.

Inch by inch my sanity erodes, and I find myself feeling all the things I don’t want to feel. Loneliness, mostly. I’ve tried so hard to not be lonely, and yet, here we are. It aches in my soul, and I feel not-okay for a while.

Then, I feel guilty. How can I be not-okay when I’m so blessed? When I have a family and flowers and health and food and so many things that so many people don’t have?

It’s hard for everyone right now. And I wish that knowledge would logic me out of my feelings. I wish that having a comparatively-easy quarantine would mean that I could stop feeling lonely, could stop feeling like my sanity was grated-down, and could stop feeling my feelings.

But that’s not how feelings work. When things are hard, they’re hard, no matter how much worse other people have it.

Giveaway Winner, Podcast Episode, and Mini Life Update

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Welcome to April 9! Or, unless you’re up late-ish and on the West Coast, April 10. Not that it matters. Let’s get to what you really came here to see.

On Friday I said that I was giving away a copy of Deborah Miller’s book Daughter: A Girl-to-Girl Conversation About What it Means to be One. And the winner is…(drumroll please…)

Shanna Miller!

Shanna, I sent you an email. Hopefully it comes through. Last time I emailed a winner who’d won a giveaway, I titled the email something like, “you’ve won!” And what do you know, it went straight to her spam folder. Ha. I guess “you’ve won!” is a pretty scam-y looking title.

In other news, Jenny and I did another podcast episode yesterday. It had been, like, a week since we’d last recorded, but it ended up being one of my favorite episodes yet. You can listen here, or you can find us on your favorite podcast app by searching for “Quarantined With Jenny and Emily.”

This episode is titled “Snail Mail and Snail Pets.” In it, Jenny and Emily discuss how to get books during quarantine, how to get someone to stop flirting with you and how to deal with disappointment. They also give some updates on their pets, both the cats and Jenny’s newest pets, snails!

 

Finally, I was going to end with a mini life update, but what even is there to update the world on? I’m just living life, serving Jesus, tucked away in a big white farmhouse in the Willamette Valley with a mother and a father and two sisters and one brother and innumerable cats that keep hiding their kittens.

Trying to do a million projects. Trying to Not Panic.

I have “sub for Chad” written across next week’s spread in my planner. But of course that’s not happening after all. Mr. Chad is no longer taking his trip, and I am no longer substitute teaching for him.

But I have taken on a funny little school-related project in the form of writing sentences for grammar class.

Dad continues to teach middle school grammar. I’m not sure how, but it involves YouTube videos and iPads. He wanted some extra sentences for the children to work on. They had to be simple sentences, with specific sentence patterns, and they all had to have prepositional phrases. This was harder than I thought it would be. The hardest part has been keeping the sentences simple (as opposed to compound or complex), and keeping out tricky things like gerunds and infinities.

But the most fun part is that I can make interesting sentences. Sentences about the students themselves, with their names in them.

Easter is coming up, and I think we may have a family sunrise service. What are your social distancing Easter plans? Anything fun/creative?

Take care, and stay safe and healthy!

Remember to check out the April Blogging Challenge posts Mom has been doing on her blog. She’ll post again tomorrow, and my next post will be on Monday, April 13.

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received

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In interviews, authors are often asked to give writing advice. And they always say the same thing. “Read a lot and write a lot.” I always feel frustrated by that answer. I mean yes, to be good at something you have to practice doing that thing. But that’s not real advice.

But every once in a while I find some writing advice that’s real, legitimately helpful advice. I collect it in the back of my brain, and today I’m going to share it with you.

1. Tell stories out loud, and pay attention to when people start to get bored.

I am sorry to say that I can’t remember where I picked up this gem. I know that a writer said it, and I know that as soon as I heard it I felt a rush of excitement that I was hearing something besides “read more and write more.”

But even better, I tried it, and it works.

When you tell a story out loud, you can watch when people’s eyes flicker with boredom. Those are the parts you should omit. Or maybe just switch to a different part of the story. If a dog was howling the whole time you had a funny conversation with a stranger, is it better to mention that fact at the beginning of the story, or the end? There’s only one way to find out: tell it to your mom one way and your brother the other way, and see who giggles more.

It’s easiest, of course, to use this strategy with actual stories that truly happened to you. But telling stories out loud and watching your audience carefully will help you hone better comedic timing in your fiction writing as well as your nonfiction. I mean, it gives you a better sense of timing in general. A better sense of what parts of the story to say when.

2. “That’s a Problem for Future You.”

This was the standout quote from Ally Carter’s book Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? I don’t remember the exact context of the quote, unfortunately. But essentially, as writers, we get hung up on a lot of “problems” that aren’t actually problems for “now” us, they’re problems for “future” us.

For instance: “Will a publisher take my book seriously?” If you haven’t even finished writing the book, that’s a problem for future you.

Or, “I have a wonderful idea, but I’m not sure if I should put it in my current mediocre project, or if I should save it for my future amazing project.” If you run out of wonderful ideas, that’s a problem for future you. Right now, use everything you have to make your current project as good as possible.

3. Practice your writing skills by blogging

This is the advice I always gave back when I was a teenage author and kept getting interviewed by random publications I’d never heard of and they always asked me what writing advice I had to offer their readers.

I still stand by it. Although now I’d modify it and say, write long Instagram captions. Or, post long status updates on Facebook. Pick your platform of choice, and get wordy.

The point is, this is the Internet. You will immediately know what resonates with people and what doesn’t. And that feedback will be incredibly helpful in honing your craft.

(Of course you may also pick up some bad writing habits, like making extremely short paragraphs, that will be hard to unlearn and will be exactly wrong for some types of writing, like academic papers. Oops. I definitely got called out for that one in college, multiple times, LOL.)

4. “You can make a career doing something even if you’re not the Brittany Spears of it.” 

This advice came from one of my favorite youtubers, Safiya Nygaard, in an interview with Philip DeFranco, another one of my favorite youtubers. She was talking about creative careers, and how we’re often cautioned against them, or told that it’s an unrealistic dream. But there are actually more opportunities for careers in those fields than you might think. They’re just not always super glamorous careers.

And I mean, writing is the perfect example of this. There are so many ways to work with words. You can do copy editing, or marketing writing, or you can write children’s plays, or be a journalist, or write songs, or do line edits, or write magazine articles. The opportunities are vast, and so, so many people make their living by writing.

Being a writer is not an impossible dream. It’s very attainable, actually, so long as you’re willing to be in the field even if you’re not the next Ted Dekker.

5. “It’s like Mom always says. If you get on the road, and keep driving and driving, eventually you’ll reach your destination.”

This is what my sister Amy said to me when I asked her how she managed to learn another language (Thai). But I think it’s applicable to writing, too, or any task which seems overwhelming and daunting. Actually, of all the advice I’ve given so far, this one is the most applicable to actually writing a whole book.

You just gotta get on the road, man. And every day, you have to commit to keep driving. Montana may feel like it never, ever, ever ends, but it does. Eventually. But only if you choose to keep driving.

Or, in the case of your book, keep writing it.

(I guess I like the analogy in particular because I’ve been on a lot of road trips that seemed like they would never end, and then they did end.)

That’s as much good writing advice as I’ve collected. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

P.S. Remember, Mom and I are currently doing the April Blogging Challenge, where we each post every other week day. Head over to Mom’s blog to read yesterday’s post about her writing cabin. She’ll post again tomorrow, and I’ll be back on Thursday.

Book Review (and giveaway): Daughter, by Deborah Miller

(This giveaway is now closed)

Happy day 3 of the April Blogging Challenge! Today I’m going to be talking about the book Daughter: A Girl-to-Girl Conversation About What it Means to be One, by Deborah Isabel Miller.

I first heard about this project a year and a half ago, before it was even written, when my friend Janessa started telling me about her new editing job. She said that a girl named Deborah Miller was writing a book about father-daughter relationships, and she’d hired Janessa as a developmental editor.

Deborah Miller…the name rang a faint bell. Hadn’t I hung out with her once? I searched my memory. It must have been 2012. I was in my early 20s, and Deborah was still a teenager. Her family sings together, and they’d come to Oregon on tour. I heard that she liked to read books, so I asked her if she wanted to hang out and come to a bookstore with me.

Of course that was years ago, and we’d never kept in touch.

A few weeks after I’d first heard about Deborah and the book she was writing, Janessa asked me if I’d be willing to do some editing on the project as well. Deborah, Janessa, and I all met up at the trendy coffee shop in New Holland PA to talk about Deborah’s vision for the project, and what my editing role would be. And when I walked in, Deborah greeted me like an old friend, even though it had been years.

Turns out, she remembered me taking her to the bookstore. And apparently I’d given her some writing advice way back then. I had no memory of this, but I was delighted because it was just so full-circle…I gave writing advice, she remembered it, and then here we meet again six years later, and she’s writing a book that I’m going to do line edits for.

(Although I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due: I only really went through the manuscript once, whereas Janessa was working with Deborah very closely, draft after draft after draft.)

Obviously, since I’ve spent so many hours in these pages, and since I’m friends with the author, this review may be a little biased. But here’s what you can expect from the book Daughter: A Girl-to-Girl Conversation About What it Means to be One. 

First, the tagline calls this book a “girl-to-girl conversation” because Deborah is in her mid-twenties, and only a few years older than her intended audience. In this way, the book isn’t condescending or preachy, but reads more like a conversation with a good friend. Even though Deborah has a beautiful relationship with her father, the father-daughter dynamic is not something she’s fully figured out, but rather something she’s still figuring out. She speaks from her own experience when she can, but she brings in a lot of other people’s experiences and expertise to round it out.

Second, the book is about father-daughter relationships, but there are two angles to this. First, of course, it’s about a daughter’s relationship with her human father. But second, it’s about her relationship with her heavenly father. These two themes are woven together throughout the book. They work hand-in hand. But the heavenly father relationship is, of course, prioritized.

However, while the book is absolutely coming from a Christian perspective, it’s not overtly coming from a Mennonite perspective. It’s meant to be applicable to any young woman of Christian faith.

The book is a mixture of stories and practical insight. But I’ll confess that sometimes as I read through it with a critical editor’s eye, I was so focused on switching up wording to make sentences flow well, adding paragraph breaks, and deleting repetition, that I’d miss the full impact of some of that insight. Sigh. Editor brain. Takes all the fun out of things.

Still, there was one passage in particular that broke through the editor brain and stopped me in my tracks with its insight. Here it is, from pages 143-144

In my relationships, I’m learning to give thanks for what is, instead of complaining about what isn’t. Affirm, bless, encourage, and give thanks in the areas where your dad is doing things well. Recognize the places he has taught you something valuable about God and life. For instance, my dad isn’t the best at initiating connection and conversation with me. He assumes that if I’m not asking to talk about something, everything is fine. Sometimes I’ve been hurt, feeling like I have to be the one to initiate connection between us.

I’ve had to learn to appreciate what my dad does do for connection. Even if my dad is a poor initiator, he is a great communicator when we do take time together. Instead of putting more pressure on him to initiate, it’s important for me to thank him and speak well of the way I can have healthy, understanding conversations with him.

Maybe your dad is a workaholic. That isn’t something to praise. But there’s a good chance that, even in this weakness, he has taught you attributes of diligence and hard work. You don’t have to mimic his obsession with work, but you can thank him and bless him for the positive life lessons he has taught in spite of his weakness.

Maybe your dad seems passive. This can make following his lead complicated. But there’s a good chance he has also shown you gentleness and patience through his quiet personality. Bless those attributes instead of criticizing the ways you wish he would lead.

I could see so many things like that in my own relationship with my dad–places where he had a weakness that had a corresponding strength. Like the way he never told me I was beautiful as I was growing up, because he didn’t want me to think that my worth came from my appearance. Honestly, I would have liked my father to call me beautiful. But I could criticize him for that, or I could choose to affirm and thank him for never making me feel like my worth was tied up in how I looked.

Now, I should add one caveat here: This book is helpful for girls whose fathers, while flawed, genuinely have good hearts and love their daughters. Obviously if your father is manipulative and abusive, or just straight-up absent, there’s no way to “fix it.” You can’t just ignore your father’s negative traits and try to find something positive to focus on. Deborah actually addresses this at the beginning of the book, but I just wanted to make a note of that here as well.

Anyway, if you want your very own copy of this delightful book, I’m giving one away! Just leave a comment either on this blog post or on my Facebook link. (If you leave a comment, I’ll assume you want to be entered, unless you explicitly state that you don’t want to be entered.)

The giveaway will close on Wednesday, April 8 at 11:59 pm PDT, and I’ll announce the winner on Thursday.

Finally, I’m sorry to say that this giveaway is only open to people with a USA mailing address. Sending books overseas is expensive, yo! However, if you live overseas I can always send it to a friend or family member for you, so long as they have a USA mailing address.

And if you’d like to buy a copy of Daughter for yourself, you can do so at this link.

I hope you’re having a relaxing quarantine. Remember to head over to Mom’s blog to see yesterday’s April Blogging Challenge post. She’ll post again on Monday, so stay tuned!

The 2020 April Blogging Challenge

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Congratulations, we survived March! What year is it? Where are we? Is it over yet?

For a few years, I’ve teamed up with various members of my family to do the April Blogging Challenge. Last year we took a break, and this year, none of my sisters were interested in taking on the challenge. But Mom was game. So for the month of April, you can expect a post every single weekday on either my blog or my mom’s blog. I’m posting today, tomorrow Mom will post on her blog, I’ll post again Friday, Mom will post on Monday, etc etc.

During this quarantine I’ve taken on so many new hobbies and projects that I don’t know how I can possibly keep up with everything. It was probably kind-of a dumb idea, because since I usually work from home I don’t even have that much more free time than I did before.

But, confession: I adore hobbies, and I adore projects. So I’ve been sewing things, learning French, making podcasts with Jenny, making videos, taking on more writing projects, reading more, trying to watch all the Marvel movies, playing more games and puzzles with my family, and cooking more often. Why am I doing this to myself? I’m baffled.

I say all this to warn you that this April Blogging Challenge, on my end, will probably be a bit more diverse and project-oriented than it has been in previous years. I’ll likely write about the projects I’m doing and the books I’m reading. I’ll post the podcast episodes, and if I can find the time to figure out the complicated open source video editing software I downloaded, I’ll post some YouTube videos.

Let me talk about the podcast a little bit:

Jenny and I thought it would be fun to record some silly rambling podcast episodes while we’re quarantined. We’ve been recording roughly every Tuesday and Saturday. The best way to listen to our episodes is by using a podcast app on your phone, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Google Podcasts, or PodBean. Up until now, I’ve been posting all the episodes on my blog as well. I will continue to do that, but because of the April Blogging Challenge, I won’t necessarily post the episodes here as soon as they come out. I might wait several days, and I might post several episodes at once.

That being said, here is our latest episode. In it, we talk about how we think this time of corona will change the world as we know it. We also brainstorm April Fools Day prank ideas.

 

I hope the April Blogging Challenge will help liven up your April! Remember to stop by Mom’s blog tomorrow for her first April Blogging Challenge 2020 post.

Quarantined with Jenny and Emily, Episode 4: How to be Attractive on Instagram

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I’ve been struggling to get into a good writing routine amid the chaos of COVID-19. That can partially explain the lack of blog posts. As to Patreon posts, they’re coming soon, but man it’s hard to write a Patreon post when the thing that consumes your mind (coronavirus) is the thing you don’t really want to write about.

Oh, but April is coming, and with that, Mom and I are planning to bring back the April Blogging Challenge! Hooray!

In the meantime, here’s another podcast episode for you to listen to. In this episode Jenny and I help out a listener who want’s to make his Instagram more attractive to the ladies, and then we discuss the most unique church services we’ve ever been to.

Enjoy!

Quarantined with Jenny and Emily: Episode 3

Episode 3 is here! “Quarantined with Jenny and Emily” should be available wherever you listen to podcasts. Or, you can listen right here on my blog.

In this episode, Jenny and I discuss all of the trends that have popped up on Instagram while everyone is bored at home. Then, we have an in-depth discussion of the new movie “Emma”, talking about what it does well and where it may fall short.