When the Going Gets Tough...

What do you do when the going gets tough? When the proverbial poop hits the fan, and emotions are strained from staying on high alert for days on end, and your steady spirit wanes, and the promised fountain appears to peter out? What happens when you can barely muster the energy to open your eyes—let alone crawl out of bed, suit up, and “once more into the fray…”

I haven’t deadened yet, but I’m stumbling through dark corridors. Arms in front, hands raised just in case. The wall is there somewhere, and I’d rather not meet it with my face.

I’m tired and scared.

And it’s a wacked out place to be. Think of the juxtaposition of two images. One picture is of a dimpled boy, appearing the picture of health as he sits outside with friends beneath a shade tree. And one picture is of a mom, gazing out the window at the boy as she calculates his electrolyte intake, his symptoms, amount of calories ingested that morning, and just how long she can leave him outside with his friends in the daunting summer heat of Nebraska before it begins to adversely affect him. No offense intended against those with more tender Christian sensibilities, but this sucks. Sucks. SUCKS!

Everyone suffers. The banner of Christ is no shield against the hardships of life. After all, we live together in a fallen world.

But what are my options as a believer when faced with pain or trauma or tragedy? If I believe in God and I believe in His promises, shall I dismiss James’s admonition to consider trials of every kind “pure joy” (James 1:2-4)? When faced with trouble, or distress, or persecution, or danger, or famine, or death, do I trust Paul when he promises that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39)? And dare I take faith a step further, and recognize that my suffering may feel like crap, but out of that crap good things can germinate and grow: endurance, character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).

There are days that I wail like Job, cry out like David, and doubt like Thomas. There are times that I’m bitter like Naomi, crushed like Elijah, and fearful as the eleven hidden in the inner room. And all of those responses are normal. Let me say it again, every single one of those feelings are normal responses to adverse stimuli. And, listen to this: Every single one of those people was acceptable to God—despite their less-than-stellar, not-so-spiritualgiantlike moments.

So, on days where the hot breath of fear warms my neck, or nights when tears are a constant threat, or whole seasons in which I stagger, punch-drunk with the weight of “what might be” on my shoulders—I will strive to find joy in my God as I lean into the strength of his love. And on days when I fail to get there, I’ll remember that a broken Chaka coated in crap is still acceptable to my Father in heaven.



Joy?? For this journey?

I have something to share with you. I want to explain my response to our most recent medical drama. To those who wonder how it’s possible to be upbeat when faced with challenging news. To those who wonder if I’m just out of touch with reality.

Our son Landen has long qt syndrome (lqts). Suffice it to say, his heart suffers from an electrical problem. This electrical problem can cause the heart to “go wonky”—it can cause the heartbeat to become so chaotic that it seizes and stops altogether. Or, if you’d rather. His heartbeat can degenerate into torsades de pointes, and further degenerate into ventricular fibrillation, and terminate in cardiac arrest. Let’s stick with wonky.

There are different types of the syndrome and some crossover with the specific triggers. For some types, the trigger is exercise, for still others, startle. Landen suffers from Type 3, and in almost every instance, his heart woes are triggered by unknown changes occurring in his heart during transitions between levels of sleep. So every time he lays down to rest, he is in danger of suffering a life threatening event. He does have a few other triggers—fever and overheating.

The severity of lqts varies. Some people live all their lives without a single symptom, and some people have breakthrough heart events even though they’re taking the appropriate medicine, and some people die. And there are all kinds of degrees in between. Landen is fragile. Unfortunately, he falls in the category of the more severe lqts sufferers. He has breakthrough events even on his medicine, and even when we’re being vigilant.

In my blog, I’ve tried to get away from talking about Landen. I thought that maybe it was time to move beyond his illness. I thought that maybe I was being self-indulgent. That by talking about it, I was staying in a familiar place. A place where I couldn’t be disappointed by more bad news. A place where I maintained a singular focus (my household) and ignored everything else. No plans, no dreams, no joy in the journey.

But after last week, I am convinced that our story and this journey is meant to be shared.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, of C.S. Lewis’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, the white witch has made it always winter in the land of Narnia and never Christmas. Aslan is the Christ-figure in the story, and he has been absent from Narnia for generations. But when the landscape thaws, and springtime emerges, the Beaver says (yes, the animals talk in Narnia), “They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps he has already landed.”

Our God is on the move and our story is meant to highlight that truth.

God moved in the guise of a tantrum that Landen had last Wednesday.

The propranolol he takes for his heart makes him subject to tantrums. After the fit passed, I heard him in his room berating himself. “I’m so stupid. I can’t even be good.” Things like that. I called him into my room, held him close, and told him what a gift he was. I said, “Do you know the miracle that you are? Do you know how much God rescued you from? Landen, God his incredible plans for you, you are so very precious to Him. When you say bad things about yourself, you’re insulting God because He made you and He loves you.”

After that little talk, I emailed our cardiologist, his nurse, and Dr. Ackerman of the Mayo Clinic. “We’ve got to do something about this propranolol,” I told them. Our cardiologist called back and talked me through the process of switching him to another beta blocker. The whole thing would put us in the hospital for several days.

God’s second movement was revealed through a prayer.

The same day as the tantrum, I prayed. For the past few months my prayer has been tied to Hillsong United’s song, “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail).” The song is a prayer to God, asking Him to “lead me where my trust is without borders.” In essence it says, lead me to a place where my faith is stretched, and I’m forced to rely on You. It says, I’m not content to live life safely on the shores, when the next place is so much closer to You, and I can only get there if I dare to cross the vast oceans between us. God honored my prayer earlier this summer by allowing me to step out on extreme faith and try this writing thing fulltime.

But, last Wednesday, I told God that I was starting to feel safe. I told Him that the shore was getting too close, and my faith wasn’t forcing me to reach out for His presence, or to reach out for His stalwart hand to support me. The waves had become eddies, and I was feeling like I could manage those on my own. My prayer went something like this: “God, I am not asking for anything bad to happen. I don’t want anything to happen to Landen. But you absolutely know what this family needs, and I want my circumstances to continue to call me toward You. There is so much more joy in the dangerous journey out here with You, than there was in the safety of the shore.”

The next morning, Landen shocked. And we began a new saga that will lead us again through the valley of fear.

But, I’m hopeful; and no, I’m not out of touch. Because, do you see it? My God is on the move, and He wants me to share that with you. The tantrum, the email, the phone call, the prayer…none of it was coincidence. Without my prayer, I’m convinced that the circumstances would be unchanged. Landen would still have shocked. But my response would have been very different. Usually, it’s only in hindsight that I see God’s hand, but because my focus was on my Father, I had a front row seat to notice that He was in motion. And my Father in motion is a marvelous thing to witness.

And that’s how we can face this next leg of our journey with peace and joy. It’s not because I’m awesome or Zen or out of touch with reality. It’s because my eyes are on God, and springtime’s coming ‘round again. Because my Father is on the move.


Day 4: How not to get an agent


Listen to what I’m going to tell you because it’s important. Turn down the noise and lean in close. Now read this next line carefully. Don’t skim. When you make an appointment with a literary agent at a conference, especially one you want to consider representing you…


Did you get that? I’m going to repeat it once more just in case the gist kind of went over your head. Do not make an appointment with a literary agent and then fail to show up. Especially, don’t do this when you paid that agent to critique your work. It’s more likely that they’ll remember your name if they took the time to read a portion of your manuscript, and spent more precious time taking notes.

And that is not the way you want to be remembered.

I can only plead mental instability brought on by exhaustion. Every day of the conference was filled with information. I had continuing sessions with Jeff Gerke. He was the guru of teaching how to master the craft of fiction, while valiantly bucking the trend to remove ‘ly’ words and keeping us laughing so we weren’t discouraged when we finally realized how much smarter he was than us. On top of that, there were meetings with agents, editors, and authors. And I was privileged to be involved in an Intensive Fiction Writing Clinic taught by Author Kim Woodhouse.

So, yeah. By day four, the rubber band holding my brain matter together had reached maximum capacity and it was on the verge of snapping.

Let me digress a moment. I’m a planner. As a control freak, I don’t like surprises. I like schedules. Schedules make me Gene Kelly “singing-in-the-rain” happy. I never set out from my room in the lodge each morning without quadruple-checking my schedule for the day, plotting my route, and doing my mental support exercises—You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Or something like that.

And Friday was no exception. I left the room with my mental guns locked and loaded. But I was tired.

By the time I made it to clinic, my brain was little more than gray putty, and I deviated from my itinerary. At the end of a few hours of learning how little I knew about the craft of writing—the rubber band snapped. Maybe it was the relative sanctuary of the cabin in the woods in which the clinic was held, or maybe it was the irresistible allure of picking Darcie Gudger’s brain with questions on editing. Whatever madness drove me to it…I stayed after class. It was 4:30. By the time I stumbled from the cabin, brain capacity maxed, it was 5:30.

I wandered back to the dining lodge, my mind full of self-doubt. Was it even possible for me to learn everything I needed to know to be good enough to find an agent? Why did it seem like everything was subject to the whims of the “gatekeepers of fiction” who might overlook six years of hard work on a manuscript if they ran out of coffee that morning? Why was I subjecting myself to this whole grueling process when I could be at home watching Star Trek?

In the grand scheme of the vast universe, I felt very small.

I stepped into the dining hall and looked at the time. And what was left of my confidence shattered into tiny, bite sized Chaka-fragments as it dawned on me that I’d missed an appointment at 4:45. An appointment with Jim Hart. An appointment with Jim Hart, a literary agent. An appointment with Jim Hart, a literary agent who I’d paid money to critique my manuscript.

In tears, I found a couple of friends I’d made over the course of the conference. Choking on embarrassment and mourning the incredible opportunity squandered, I told them the whole nightmare of how life itself unravels when you don’t stick to your schedule. And as I was weeping, the three of us noticed Jim Hart sitting at a table in the dining room.

Jim was in animated discussion with another agent. My friends urged me to go and talk to him. I wailed, bemoaning my own stupidity and my failure in not checking my itinerary a fifth time before venturing out that morning. Now I had definitive proof to show God that what I needed in my life was more control, not less as He seemed to suggest every time he wrested it from my grip.

And that is the story of how not to get an agent. If you make an appointment, you must show up. You will not get a literary agent if you don’t show up.

Nothing good can happen in your life if you don’t show up.

But if you’re human, and you make a mistake—pull on your “big girl” britches, walk over to that table looking like a hot mess, and apologize your little heart out.

Jim Hart accepted my apology, and graciously agreed to give me another chance the following morning. The meeting went well. Three weeks later, he offered me representation as my literary agent.

And that’s how not to get an agent—by yourself. My meticulous schedule keeping and my having it all together did not get me an agent. The “best laid plans” and all that jazz.

Sometimes it takes a few friends, a never-say-die spirit, and a laughing God who upends your schedule because he has a better idea.

And that’s how I didn’t get an agent, but ended up with one anyway.

What a gloriously bizarre trip.




Day 3: Awaken, Oh Spirit

May 13, 2016

I’m tired.

But what a glorious tired it is!

If you get a chance to go to a Christian writer’s conference—do it! If you can, go far away from home, and go alone. In the quiet before God, I have found peace and…confidence. The sweetness of this precious time clears the distractions, stills my soul, and allows my gaze to naturally lift heavenward.

This morning, Alan Arnold spoke a simple truth that illustrates my journey here: “A fantastical life chases dreams so big God has to show up.

Here, at the base of the rugged Rockies is my fantastical dream, and my Father has shown up in a grand way.

I had three meetings yesterday with two editors and an agent to pitch both my published book and my new manuscript. The positive responses amazed me and affirmed that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I am right where I belong.

Alan said something else that really resonated. “The story of the scripture is God awakening Orphans to their truer identity as his Sons and Daughters.”

One of the most encouraging parts of this adventure is the people I’ve met. People stepping out on faith to follow a dream bigger than themselves. People desiring to glorify God with the talents he’s given them. I bet these people daring to put their hearts on a platter and lift them high before God and other mortals, put a smile on their Father’s face. I can hear him say, “You are my child in whom I delight. I came to give you life to the full.”

There is so much in my heart to tell you, and it shames me as a writer to admit that I simply don’t have the words to describe the most important thing happening here. The change in me.

As a child, my sister and I once buried some action figures in my grandparent’s backyard in California. The next summer we searched and searched for those toys, but we never found them again. I was heartbroken—as only a child who has lost a toy or faced disappointment can truly understand. In life, I am still that child, disappointed at some pivotal, intangible thing lost. Mourning a hope, a dream, a fantasy that faded amid the necessary drudgeries of living. But here, at the foot of the mountains, alone in the presence of God, I feel that I’ve glimpsed it again.

And thus, the journey continues.

“A fantastical life chases dreams so big God has to show up.” Alan Arnold




Day 2: Navigating the Madness

May 12, 2016

It’s only one o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve already done more than I usually do in a week back at home. If you ever go to a writer’s conference, prepare to hit the ground running. Leave your timidity at the door and boldly put yourself out there. Be prepared to meet new people, listen to criticism, promote your work, sit with agents and editors at meals, and ask lots of questions.

The sight of my schedule today was absolutely overwhelming.

10:15 continuing session

11:00 one on one with an editor

11:15 critique with a literary agent

11:45 lunch

1:15 next session (which I’m presently skipping .to write this)

2:15 intensive fiction writing critique

4:45 critique with a literary agent

4:45 continuing session (that is not a typo, these two things are scheduled at the same time)

6:00 dinner

7:30 general session

9:30 meeting

And sometime after that, I will sleep.


I began this day in the first session with my usual doubts: What am I doing here among these people? Their experience, their worship music, and even their tastes in fiction are in stark contrast to my own. Did God really call me here or was I here of my own accord?

In our first session, Tim Shoemaker spoke about battling the discouragement and Peter Lundell spoke about writing from the heart. Their words were a balm that helped to ease the real fear behind my doubts. Am I good enough?

It helped to hear Lundell teach that writing as a Christian is about influence. Influence doesn’t necessarily mean impacting large numbers, sometimes it means impacting large people.

After the session, I stepped into a bathroom stall and prayed. Father, give me peace. Calm my spirit.

My day is not even close to being finished, but a spirit of excitement has replaced the spirit of doubt. I am here. I am called. And if I’m enough for the Creator of the universe, I am definitely enough for other mere mortals. I’m going to relax a little more, be myself, and enjoy this crazy pace for a little while longer.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Pablo Picasso