Empty Spaces (An Autobiography in Seven Parts)

8741278f18d44861b5beaa869293506eAs I mentioned earlier this week, I have a piece of creative non-fiction that was published on Altarwork.com. It’s titled “Empty Spaces (An Autobiography in Seven Parts).” Here’s the opening: 


He got the chairs. We got the sofa. After my father loaded them into the car trunk, strapped them down with cords and drove off, the living room had empty spaces.

I wasn’t there when he left. (Read the rest on Altarwork.com/empty-spaces. Be sure to check out some of the other work on the site.)

Don’t give up

f2927c549dfc4b7995379a47cec9f05fWell, it’s been a rough summer. I won’t bore you with the details. But I’ve had one very positive thing happen: a publication picked up a creative non-fiction piece of mine, and it will be published this coming Wednesday. 

This is a piece I wrote five years, two houses, and three manuscripts ago, intending it for an anthology. But the editor of the anthology turned it down. In retrospect, I’m glad. But at the time, I was miffed and hurt. It was good, right? I thought so. I couldn’t see how it could be improved. I submitted it to Ruminate. (I didn’t volunteer there at that time.) They, too, rejected it, though the editor said it was a strong piece and had made it to the final stages of being considered for publication. (Now I realize that means there were multiple people who had voted ‘yes’ on it.) Those words of encouragement, written years ago by a stranger, stayed in my mind. This was a good piece of writing. It needed to find a home.

But it was rejected again. And again. And again. And at some point, I think I gave up on it.

Then a few months ago, I posted a blog and another blogger–that would be you, Dyane!–told me that I needed to have it published. That hasn’t happened for that particular piece, but her words did make me reconsider my essay. Hmm.

I re-read it, and felt convinced that someone, somewhere, needed to read this. I don’t know who or where. So I began submitting it. And got more rejections.

This past week, @Altarwork began following me on Twitter. Naturally, I checked out their twitter feed and website, and I liked what I saw. (Go check them out and dig around on their site. It’s worth the time, I promise.) I also thought that maybe they would be interested in my writing. Checked their submission guidelines. Checked the piece for odd typos. Followed the guidelines. Clicked “submit.” And waited. And got the answer I’d been waiting for: yes.

(See how valuable words of encouragement are?)

Lesson to learn: don’t give up. That applies to more than writing and publishing; it applies to life. Recently, I attended the funeral of someone who ended her own life. I didn’t know her, but I saw the hopeless grief of the mourners, people I care for, and saw the bewilderment, the questions, the loss left in the wake of her death. I don’t know what she was thinking; no one does. My best guess, based on the times that I’ve been suicidal, is that despair overwhelmed her and she wanted to give up–and did.

There are some things that are valuable, far more valuable than an essay or novel. A person’s life, for one. So if you’re reading this, and you feel discouraged, overwhelmed, despairing, and want to give up, please don’t. Help is out there. You are valuable. You are unique. And you are loved by God. Keep going, my friend.  


When It Comes to Faith, Don’t Hedge Your Bets

This post was encouraging to me, and I hope it will be for you, too.

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

How about a cement wall with razor wire?

“I’m going to pray a hedge around you.”

I can’t remember who said it the first time I heard that, but I do remember thinking it was about the goofiest hing I’d ever heard. Apparently so did Tim Hawkins:

It turns out the hedge of protection is biblical:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (Job 1:8-10, emphasis added.)

Tim Hawkins was more right than he knew. Satan can’t get through the hedge.

The hedge goes both ways

Job saw the hedge from a different angle, though.

Why is life given…

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An epidemic of busyness…

This is the post that I referenced in my previous post. Enjoy!

Enough Light

There seems to be an epidemic of busyness. At least this is my experience in recent years. We have stages of life that are busier than others, and that is normal. But it seems everyone is now busy – even people not in a “busy stage” of life. What’s going on?

I’ll give a personal example. We know several couples from different areas of our life, who are either in early retirement or young empty nesters. They no longer have children at home. With the empty nest couples, one spouse works full time and the other spouse is part-time or not employed. These people, theoretically, should be in a less busy stage of life. Right?

Yet, when we attempted to get together with them for lunch or dinner, they were not able to “schedule us in” for 3 to 6 months. And when we did finally get together, it was…

View original post 616 more words

Being busy, rescue dogs, and hearing from God


b156b88d0b2e4bb0aac33bc1a7e8629aAll I was doing was sitting at Bruegger’s, reading a blog post. And choosing my top twenty short story contest selections. And eating lunch. That’s all I was doing.

Then I heard the woman in the booth next to me. As she talked on her cell phone, her voice was obviously upset. With my mind deep in my choosing and eating and reading (not to mention the clatter-chatter of employees and customers), I couldn’t hear all her words. What I did hear sounded ominous: death, casket. But the tone was clear. This woman was distraught.

That’s when the blog post I was reading slapped me upside the head. Not literally. Not even literarily. Laura Martin is a gracious writer. But she was writing about the epidemic of busyness that plagues our lives.  Everyone claims to be busy, some legitimately so, but some have become too busy doing unproductive-but-oh-so-important “stuff.”

Call it life clutter. It’s all the things we feel we must do to have a fulfilled life that really, from an eternal perspective, are time-sucking, energy-draining vampires. You know this vampire’s sunk its teeth in your neck if you have to pencil in a night with friends . . . six months from now. It may take the form of noble tasks (volunteer work) or inane time wasters (fill in the blank). But if you don’t have some room for other people, particularly when they are in need, then it’s time to rethink how many commitments you’ve taken.

By the time I finished my first comment on her post, I felt that kick in my heart. Go talk to this woman. I thought of all the reasons I shouldn’t, which amounted to she’ll think I’m creepy and don’t I have to finish painting that piece of furniture in the garage? Cue the eyeroll.

She finished the phone call. I finished my work. Do it, do it, don’t think about it too much—

I walked over and started talking to her.

She owns two rescue dogs, both large, exuberant animals who have become too much for her to handle on her own. “They’re man-dogs,” she said. “You know, the type that guys have in their truck when they go hunting and fishing.” They can knock her over, and as a middle-aged woman, she’s afraid that she’ll break a bone one of these days.

She’s cared for them, loved them, and tried to find new homes for both. She couldn’t bear to keep them at the humane society, where the conditions are so overcrowded that the previously no-kill shelter has started to euthanize healthy dogs. They’ve had their photos on the news, when the shelter pleaded for people to adopt some of these animals. She’s tried every animal rescue group in our area.

No one wanted these two big dogs.

Finally, she decided that the most humane thing would be to have them put down. Or thought she decided. As an animal lover, her heart was broken. She needed comfort and help deciding what was the right thing to do. The vet had said that he would do it, but he didn’t want to. It was her decision, and he needed to know by a certain time that afternoon if it was to happen that day.

I’m not an animal lover. I am allergic to dogs, as is my husband, and our yard isn’t large enough for these beloved animals. I don’t know anyone who wants a dog. So this was not a problem that I could solve.

But I could listen.

I listened. I did my best to show comfort. And even though she said she wasn’t religious or spiritual, when I asked if I could pray for her, she let me.

When we parted, forty-five minutes later, she still hadn’t decided what to do. I’m going to call her and see what she’s decided.


The obvious takeaway lesson should be this: God used this to remind me to take time for others! That’s the obvious one, and a reminder that I needed.

But the less obvious takeaway wasn’t a lesson at all. It was God’s reassurance that I’m still hearing him. I’m going through one of those moments in life when prayer feels like talking to a wall, the Bible feels like the most familiar thing I’ve ever read, and church feels like a time waster. (When you walk out of the sanctuary and think, I could’ve had a V8, then there’s a problem.) I don’t go to Sunday school anymore and I dread the worship service. It’s all the same old issues that I’ve blogged about, plus some.

It has the effect of making me think I’m never going to hear from God again. A lie, but  . . .

Go talk to her. That kick in my heart was so obviously God’s voice (to mix the metaphor) that I walked away feeling renewed.

At one point in our conversation, the woman looked at me. “I wonder if God or the universe or whoever sent you here to stop me from putting the dogs down?”

I don’t know.  But I know that God sent her to stop me from believing a lie. I’m still hearing from him.

Now I have to make time to listen. 




When evil appears to win

ab351a672de44766956840771490c1f5Don’t you hate it when evil wins?

Recently, I read a novel where the antagonists win in the end. Actually, scratch that. “Read” isn’t accurate. “Began to read but felt uneasy as certain themes developed, skipped to the end, read the conclusion, and thought, ‘What the–?’, then skimmed through the rest of the book to find that if I had actually read the book, the way the author intended me to read it, page-by-page, then I would have come to the unsettling conclusion that the antagonists win.” Now that’s accurate.

The antagonists–the very people the protagonists are fighting, the evil ones, the ones you are supposed to suspect and dislike–those people win.

And the protagonists–the leading couple, the parents of two children, the ones you were supposed to be cheering for–they not only lost, but they succumb to the evil forces themselves.

I wasn’t the only reader unsettled by the conclusion. Multiple reviewers on Goodreads mentioned the ending as problematic. Some felt that it was appropriate for this particular novel. Others believed the author wrote him/herself into a corner and saw no other ending. Still others wrote that they would never read another book by that author again.

Mind you, this wasn’t just an unhappy ending. My first novel has a bittersweet ending: the couple reconciles but their child still dies after a suicide attempt. Happy ending? No. But I tried to give this couple hope through both their faith in God and their love for their daughter’s newborn child. I think that’s a far cry from the bad-guys-defeat-good-guys ending.

I’ve read variations on the “evil wins” ending over the years, and I believe I understand why authors use it. They’re trying to reflect reality, and the reality is that human nature is evil. (So far, I agree.) Sometimes it appear that the ending of a life-story ends with evil (whatever form that takes) overcoming the good.

Again, I agree that sometimes in life, that’s how stories appear to end. Sometimes reconciliation doesn’t happen. Sometimes terrorists blow up a building and kill hundreds of people. Sometimes the justice system doesn’t work correctly and the murderer, the molester, the corrupt and unjust and predatory people in this world go unchallenged, undeterred, unpunished. And more people are hurt.

But appearances are deceptive. 

Here’s the reality: this world isn’t all there is. There is a world beyond this one. What appears to be the end in our world–death–is only a beginning there.

In The Last Battle, Aslan tells the children that in the Shadowlands, this world, they are dead. Now they will live in Aslan’s kingdom forever.

Lewis writes,

“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Does evil win on earth? Sometimes, yes. 

Does evil win in God’s kingdom? No. Emphatically, no. Those evils of this world–the injustices, the depravities, the sufferings–will be fully and justly dealt with there, regardless of whether they were here. God wins. Every. Single. Time.

We must continue to fight for justice here. That is right and good. Knowing that God will be triumphant doesn’t excuse us ignoring injustice in this world. But we can do so with the encouragement that we are not fighting in vain.

With God, there is always hope. The most realistic novels I’ve read, while they may have bittersweet or sad endings, also include some element of hope. It may be only a flicker of a candle on a starless night. But it is there.

A novel that ends without hope and with evil winning? Now, that’s unrealistic.



Eating my words

This is when I have to eat my words.

A few years ago, I ditched my Facebook and Twitter accounts because of their effect on my mental health. I wrote a few blog posts on the issue.

In December, I read a recent blog post by Kristen Oliphant titled Engaging Audiences Through Twitter in 15 Minutes a Day , and decided to give her suggestions a try. So, while I am definitely staying away from Facebook, I am on Twitter now. And if you happen to follow @tim_fall, you might already know that! (Thanks for the shout-out, Tim.)

You can follow me @LauraDroege. I’ll follow back. But I really will try to keep my time to 15 minutes a day, though, as I still have novels to write, blogs to post, and a life to live offline!