Seeking Representation

I’m putting this blog on hold indefinitely while I focus on my fiction projects. I’m currently working on a number of short stories, one or more of which will most likely reveal to me that it really wants to be a novel when it grows up. And who am I to deny such a delightful little story its lifelong dream?

In the meantime, I’m also seeking representation for my novel Virtuous Women. If you happen to be an agent (or if you know one and would like to help a writer out), I have included the first two chapters below. Interested parties may contact me at my KarenGoltz gmail account.

Virtuous Women

By Karen Goltz

Part One

“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”

 –Psalm 127:3-5

Chapter One

The screaming began just before dawn. Hope burrowed deeper into her covers and pulled the pillow over her head, trying to stay asleep, but the sound pursued her and forced her into consciousness.

She reached out her hand to turn on a light. If her mother’s cries woke her up, they probably woke her siblings up, too. The thick yellow shade of the lamp bathed her room in its customary jaundiced tint, and Hope got out of bed, pulled on her shapeless, oversized bathrobe, and walked past the empty crib. Light from her bedroom spilled into the dark hallway as she opened the door.

Her parents’ bedroom door was open, making its own pool of light, and her father met her at the doorway when he saw Hope peeking in. Her mother lay on the bed behind him, bathed in sweat, her enormous belly pinning her to the mattress.

“She’s been laboring all night,” Michael told her wearily. “And there doesn’t seem to be much progress. I’m calling Aunt Libby soon.”

“OK,” Hope said. “Can I help?”

“We’ll see. Grandma can help with things downstairs, but there’s only so much she can do. If it works out that you can get away from your other duties for a little while, then maybe Aunt Libby can start training you in midwifery. But right now your duty is to your siblings.”

“Yes, Papa.” Hope tried to hide her disappointment. She always had ‘other duties’ interfering with what she wanted to do.

“Oh, and go make sure your grandmother’s not trying to get up those stairs to see what’s going on. Just tell her it’s your mother’s time and there’s nothing to worry about.” Hope nodded, and her father closed the door, wiping the puddle of light from the hallway floor.

She could hear sobbing coming from her sisters’ room, so she went to check on them first. When she opened the door she found the three of them huddled together in the darkness on Faith’s bed, Grace crying openly with her head buried in the six-year-old’s neck. Hope’s eyes had adjusted to the gloom enough for her to see that Faith was trying to appear brave, though her glassy eyes and wet cheeks belied her charade. Joy’s face was expressionless, her eyes dry.

“Are you three OK?” Hope asked, switching on the overhead light.

At the sound of Hope’s voice Grace lifted her head, squinting in the sudden brightness, and jumped off Faith’s lap. In an instant she was in her big sister’s arms, wetting the collar of her bathrobe with her tears.

Before either of the older two had a chance to answer her question, a piercing wail rose from their parents’ bedroom, then choked off into panting sobs.

“Is Mama OK?” Joy asked.

Hope shrugged. “Childbirth is never easy, and the last few have been harder and harder on her,” she answered. “This is the price we women have to pay for Eve’s transgression, and God will get her through it.” It felt odd referring to her sisters and herself as ‘we women;’ at fifteen Hope was barely deserving of the moniker, and Joy, the oldest of her sisters, was only seven.

“I didn’t ask about Eve,” Joy spat. “I asked about Mama!”

Hope took a deep breath, biting back her sharp retort. She tried to see the situation from Joy’s perspective, just as her mother had taught her.

“I know you’re worried about Mama,” Hope said, stroking Grace’s hair. The toddler’s crying had subsided, and her breathing was even and slow. “I know it’s scary being woken up by Mama’s screaming. But she’s being as brave as she can, and even though it hurts her, Mama’s happy to accept this pain because it means she gets to help God bring another blessing into the world. She hurts right now, but soon she’ll be holding a new baby—a new life—in her arms, and everything will be OK.”

Faith’s tears had stopped, and she smiled weakly. “You sound like Mama,” she said.

Hope beamed at the compliment. “Thank you.”

“I hope it’s over soon,” Joy grumbled.

Hope walked over to the bed and tried to take Joy’s hand, but she pulled away, out of reach. “So do I, for Mama’s sake.” She moved her hand to Faith, who grasped it with both of hers. After a minute Hope freed herself, carried her youngest sister to her bed against the far wall, and tucked her in. Grace didn’t stir. Hope went back to the door and put her finger on the light switch.

“Try to get a little more sleep, if you can,” she told them. “It’s going to be a busy day, and Grandma’s going to need our help.”

Faith nodded, and Hope turned off the light. She pretended not to hear Joy’s put-upon sigh as she climbed up the ladder to her own bed.

Hope’s six brothers shared the room next door. She hovered for a moment, listening. Hearing nothing, she went to the stairs and was horrified to find her grandmother nearly a third of the way up. Hope silently cursed herself for not obeying her father immediately, the way she was supposed to.

“Grandma, you don’t need to come up here!”

Her grandmother squinted up at her. “I heard your mother screaming,” she said.

“It’s just labor pains,” Hope explained. “Her time has come.”

As if to punctuate her remark, another anguished shriek filled the hallway then trailed off.

“Does she have a bag packed for the hospital?”

Hope descended to where her grandmother stood. “You know we don’t do that, Grandma. Aunt Libby always delivers us at home.” She held out an arm to steady her grandmother as the frail woman turned and stepped down.

“Libby’s had no formal training,” she complained.

“Aunt Libby caught all ten of us without a problem, and dozens of other babies, too.”

Clara grunted, but said nothing as she concentrated on making it to the bottom stair.

“Do you want me to help you back to Papa’s office so you can go back to bed?”

Her grandmother stepped away from Hope and stood as tall as her stooped back would allow. “I admit that I have trouble with stairs,” she said. “But I can get around just fine by myself otherwise. I came here to help, and that’s what I’m going to do. You go back to bed. I’ll start breakfast.”

Hope smiled. “Let me get dressed and gather the eggs, at least.” It was kind of her grandmother to come and help while her mother was bedridden, but it wasn’t necessary. Hope knew how to cook breakfast and make sure everyone did their chores. She even knew how to put together a few suppers. Certainly enough to keep them fed until her mother recovered enough to come down and direct her efforts.

“I know how to gather eggs,” Clara protested. “I’ve lived my whole life on a farm, Hope. You think a few chickens are too much for me?”

Hope didn’t want her grandmother to feel useless, but she didn’t want to disobey her father, either. He’d only agreed to this visit out of respect for his mother, but he made it clear that she was to be treated as a guest, not an extra hand for chores. Clara had a different view of her role.

“I know you can get the eggs, Grandma,” Hope said. “But there’s that step off the back porch, and the hen house is on really uneven ground.” Her grandmother opened her mouth, but Hope forestalled her protest by laying a gentle hand on her arm. She glanced up the stairs and lowered her voice. “I know that wouldn’t stop you, and you’d be fine. But Papa would be furious with me if he found out I let you do that.”

Her grandmother pursed her lips and huffed.

“Please, Grandma?” Hope pleaded. “I’ll just get the eggs. You can do everything else. I promise.”

“Alright, Hope.” She smiled. “But you promised. I do everything else.” She began to make her way toward the kitchen.

“For breakfast!” Hope clarified, but her grandmother kept walking as though she hadn’t heard, her cane thumping on the wooden floor.

Once she had dressed and twisted her long brown hair up in its usual bun, Hope returned to the kitchen to see what her grandmother was up to. She found her cutting butter into a bowl of flour, a pot of coffee brewing on the counter behind her. Relieved, Hope stepped through the kitchen door into the cool autumn air to gather the eggs. Birds chirped in the trees around the house and yard, and a hawk screeched from deeper in the woods. The chickens clucked at her as she absconded with their eggs.

“Here, Grandma,” she said. “I’ll put a few aside for baking later, but you should probably scramble the rest.”

Her grandmother nodded as she poured last night’s goat milk into the batter, reminding Hope of another chore that she thought best not to mention aloud. But she decided to bring her father a cup of coffee before she saw to that. Being careful not to spill the steaming liquid or burn her hands on the hot ceramic, Hope carried her father’s large navy blue mug up the stairs to her parents’ closed bedroom door. Hearing nothing on the other side, she knocked as quietly as she could.

A moment later Michael opened the door with a scowl on his face. “What do you want?” he hissed. “You mother’s finally getting some sleep!”

Hope looked down in shame and held up the mug with both hands like a sacrificial offering. “I’m sorry, Papa,” she whispered. “I thought you’d want your coffee.”

He took the cup from her and put his calloused palm on her cheek. Hope looked up, surprised.

“I’m sorry, Hope,” he murmured. “It’s been a rough night. You’re a good girl. Thank you for my coffee.”

“You’re welcome, Papa,” Hope said, her voice hardly above a whisper. She didn’t want to disturb her mother. “Breakfast will be ready soon. Do you want me to bring it up to you?”

He removed his hand from her face and took a sip of the hot, dark liquid. “Thanks, but I’m not hungry right now. Save some for me, and maybe I’ll have it later.”

“OK.”  She turned to leave, but Michael grabbed her arm to stop her.

“I’ve called your Aunt Libby, and she should be here soon. Watch for her so she won’t ring the bell, alright?”

“Sure,” she said.

“You may as well get your brothers and sisters up now. I’m not sure what today’s going to look like. I know your Aunt Libby can handle this—she’s been doing this for a long time—but I—I think I need to stay home today. I think your mother needs me.”

“OK, Papa,” Hope said, and he went back into the bedroom and closed the door, sipping his coffee. She headed toward her sisters’ room, a cold ball of fear growing in the pit of her stomach.

Just enough sunlight filtered through the pink-curtained windows for Hope to see that all three were still in their beds. Faith sat up as soon as the door opened. Neither Grace nor Joy stirred. Hope was pretty sure Grace was genuinely asleep, and Joy was faking.

“It’s time to get up,” Hope told the room in general. Faith tossed back her covers and stood up.

“Come on, Joy,” she said to the lump in the bunk just above her forehead. The lump groaned and rolled away towards the back wall, out of Faith’s sight but still in Hope’s view.

“Get up, Joy,” Hope commanded. “I have to milk the goats, so you two need to get Grace and Paul ready.”

The lump sat up and threw off her blankets. “Don’t tell me what to do!” she yelled. “It’s not my job to get the babies ready! It’s yours!”

Hope shut the door behind her, hoping her father hadn’t heard Joy’s outburst. “Be quiet, Mama’s sleeping!” she hissed. “She’s having a really hard time, and Papa’s staying home from work to stay with her. You know he’s never done that before! As for whose job it is, yes, it’s mine. But milking the goats in the morning is supposed to be Mama’s job, and she can’t do it so I am. We all have to help each other out because that’s what families do!”

Hope hadn’t realized her voice had risen from a hiss to a yell louder than Joy’s until she heard footsteps in the hall and a sharp rap on the door. Filled with dread, Hope opened it.

Michael stood on the other side. “Is there a problem in here?” His voice was soft and dangerously calm.

“I’m sorry, Papa,” Hope mumbled. Joy and Faith did too, though Faith had done nothing wrong. Grace was awake but lying very still, her eyes wide, watching the scene before her. Though hardly more than a baby, she knew what that tone of voice meant just as well as any of them.

Michael looked at Hope. “Your mother’s awake,” he said, and guilt washed over her. He took a step closer to Joy’s bed. “You will do what your sister tells you to do because she is in charge while your mother’s sick. You will not argue; you will not hesitate. You will do what she says when she says it. Do you understand?” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes, Papa,” Joy whispered.

All four of the girls studied the floor, unable to meet their father’s gaze, until he turned and left without another word. Joy and Hope glared at each other for a moment before Hope left to wake up her brothers, if they had somehow managed to sleep through all that.

They hadn’t.

Joshua, the oldest, opened his door a crack before his sister could knock. Seeing her in the hallway, he opened it further. “What did Papa say?”

Hope looked down at his feet. “I’m in charge while Mama’s sick.” The authority she had been given over her siblings sat heavily on her shoulders and bore a pain into her neck. “It’s time to get up.”

“I’ll get Paul,” he said, turning.

“Send him into the girls’ room, they’ll get him ready. I have to milk the goats.”

“OK.”

Hope went back downstairs, tears burning her eyes. How could she have been so stupid as to yell at Joy? She knew Mama needed her sleep! Disgusted by her own sinfulness and ashamed of the way she’d allowed the devil to incite her to anger so easily, she vowed to pray more.

But not right now. Right now she had to milk some goats.

Libby arrived just as Hope’s siblings were coming downstairs for breakfast. She didn’t stop to greet her nieces and nephews, or even her mother. Instead she went straight up the stairs to Michael and Lucy’s bedroom. Whether it was something Michael said on the phone or how he said it, Hope could see that Libby was concerned. Her stomach churned with worry, and she couldn’t eat the biscuits and eggs her grandmother had prepared.

Clara exploited Hope’s promise that she could do everything else, announcing that she had made up a chore schedule and would put together some lessons for homeschool. Rather than fight her on it, Hope let her. It occurred to her that this meant her ever-present ‘other duties’ were under control, and she could go upstairs and start learning midwifery from her aunt.

Michael sat slumped in the nursing chair on the far side of the room, dozing. Libby had pulled a folding chair next to the bed, and she sat leaning over her sister-in-law, bathing her forehead with a wet washcloth and murmuring encouragement. Lucy’s eyes were dark shadows in her pale face, her lips as white as her skin. She was panting out rasping breaths that were slowing as her contraction ended.

“Can I help?” Hope whispered to her aunt.

Libby looked up. “Yes, actually. Your mother’s getting close now, but she’s holding steady. Just hold her hand and wipe her forehead with a damp cloth for a few minutes while I take a break and get something to eat.”

“OK.”  Hope took the seat her aunt vacated, grasped her mother’s hand, and replaced the washcloth on her forehead. The woman on the bed didn’t notice the change.

“It’s OK, Mama,” Hope whispered. “You’re going to be OK.”

Lucy didn’t respond. She just lay there, tears running down the side of her face and into her dark hair. Hope dipped the washcloth in the plastic bowl on the nightstand, wrung it out, and wiped her mother’s eyes and cheeks. “It’ll all be over soon,” Hope said.

“I know,” Lucy murmured. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK, Mama,” Hope assured her. “The kids are fine. Grandma and I have everything under control, and nothing’s getting missed.”

Lucy raised a hand toward Hope’s cheek. It wavered as her strength began to fail, and Hope took it and gently pulled it the rest of the way.

“My Hope,” Lucy said. “So young.” She grimaced and gasped in pain. “I’m sorry!” She pulled her hand from Hope’s face, grasped the sheet, and began to pant again. Only this time instead of exhaling raspy breaths, her gasps were punctuated by cries.

Michael jumped from his chair, and Libby’s footsteps pounded up the stairs. She burst through the door and pushed Hope out of the way.

“Stay here but step back!” she ordered. “I might need you to fetch things!”

“Oh God, Michael! Help me!” Lucy howled from the bed. Hope backed against the wall, horrorstruck. In all the homebirths she could remember, Hope had never heard her mother utter those words, or cry out in such despair.

Michael knelt beside her, gripped her hand, and began praying in a low voice. Several times Libby demanded more rags. When they ran out of clean ones, she handed Hope a bowl of dirty ones to rinse out. There wasn’t time to wash them properly in the washing machine. She tried not to notice how red the water was as she dumped them into the bathroom sink and turned on the faucet. There hadn’t been this much blood at the other homebirths.

Hope had no idea how long it went on. Was the time that she ran back and forth between the bedroom and bathroom measured in minutes or hours? She didn’t know. She only knew that she couldn’t stop her mother’s pain or escape the sounds of her screams, but she could rinse out bloody rags.

“Hope, replace these with the cleaner ones!” Libby snapped. Hope stepped forward, grabbed the bowl, and almost collided with her grandmother as she ran out the door.

“Grandma! What are you doing up here?”

Libby didn’t look up from her work, but Michael lifted his head.

“Momma, you shouldn’t have come up here!”

“Michael, she’s in trouble! Call an ambulance!”

“Hope, I need those rags!” Libby yelled, her voice carrying above Lucy’s wails.

Hope dashed to the closest bathroom, dumped the bloody rags in the basin of clean water she’d prepared last time, and grabbed the rags that were drying over the shower rod. She returned to the room to find Michael standing in front of his mother, towering over her. Hope squeezed around them and returned the bowl to her aunt.

“Faith in God is fine, Michael, but Lucy’s life at stake! You need to get her to a hospital!”

Libby raised her voice, still not taking her attention away from Lucy’s bent and spread legs. “Women have been delivering babies since the beginning of time without hospitals, Momma. I can catch this baby just as well as any doctor.” Lucy grunted out her pain between gasping breaths.

Clara took a step back. “I saw the telephone in your office,” she told Michael. “I’m calling 911.”

“Momma, don’t do that! My faith is in God, not in hospitals!”

“Is your faith more important than Lucy’s life?”

Michael’s mouth worked, but no sound came out.

“No hospital!” Lucy gasped from the bed. “Don’t interfere with God’s will!”

Michael turned away from his mother and resumed his place at his wife’s side.

“God’s will be done,” he said to her, and she smiled.

Clara took another step back. “You’re crazy,” she said, tears leaking out of her wide eyes. “You’re all crazy.”

“Hope, help your grandmother downstairs,” Michael ordered. “And see that she respects your mother’s decision. I’ll rinse out the rags.”

Hope didn’t want to leave her mother, and she certainly didn’t want to babysit her grandmother. But her father was to be obeyed, promptly and cheerfully. She couldn’t manage to be cheerful right now, but she could at least be prompt.

“Come on, Grandma,” Hope said, leading her grandmother out the door. “I’ll help you down the stairs.”

Lucy’s cries followed them down the stairs and filled Hope’s ears. The air on the first floor was surprisingly fresh compared to the stench of sweat and blood that had permeated her parents’ bedroom. The shock and terror she hadn’t allowed herself to feel before gripped her now, and she slid to the ground and wept.

Her grandmother leaned heavily on her cane and lowered herself until she could sit on the bottom step. She put a bony arm around Hope’s shoulders and pulled her close.

The two sat clutching each other in the silent downstairs, listening to the agony on the second floor.

“Where is everybody?” Hope hiccupped.

“I sent them all outside to play,” her grandmother answered.

Hope nodded and said nothing more as Lucy’s gasping cries continued to punctuate the air.

Suddenly there was one long, guttural groan, followed by a baby’s cry. The groan faded out, then a brief silence, then Michael’s anguished, “Lucy, no! Lucy!”

“Stay with me,” Libby yelled. “You did it! The hard part’s over! Just stay with me, Lucy. Stay with me!”

The baby’s cry continued, and Clara lowered her head.

Time ceased to exist as Hope listened to her aunt try to coax her mother back to consciousness. Then there was only the sound of the baby’s cry. Finally the door opened and Libby called down to Hope. Sobbing, Hope met her at the top of the stairs. Clara stood and watched from the bottom, though Libby was careful to not look down at her. Her eyes were red and tired as she handed the fifteen-year-old the tiny bundle wrapped in a towel. “Your mother’s gone home to receive her reward,” she said quietly. “It’s up to you now.”

 

Chapter Two

The day was too pretty for a funeral. The thick cover of green over north central Massachusetts was beginning to yield to orange and gold, shifting and swaying in the cool breeze but not yet falling. The sun filtered through the foliage, making patterns like lace on the church lawn.

Inside the restored classic New England church, Hope saw several women who had brought covered dishes and loaves of fresh-baked bread to their house in the days following Lucy’s death, feeding the family with their kindness and generosity. Her grandmother had been grateful to have fewer meals to cook, and Hope was too busy caring for her new brother, Benjamin, to help. Her younger sisters hadn’t yet learned.

Once seated, Michael reached over to take Benjamin from his eldest daughter. He’d never shown much interest in the babies before, preferring to wait until his sons were old enough for him to teach them how to be men, but he couldn’t get enough of Benjamin. It was as though he was trying to hold onto his wife through the life she had given up her own to bring forth. The infant stirred slightly as he was passed from one set of arms to another, then sighed and settled his head against Michael’s elbow. He had a thick shock of brown hair the exact shade of Lucy’s.

Hope sat at one end of the pew, her grandmother and father at the other, with the rest of her siblings in between. There were the toddlers, Grace, Timothy, and Paul, being watched over by six-year-old Faith and seven-year-old Joy. The younger boys were usually well behaved, depending on which older brother they emulated that day. Nine-year-old Amos and eleven-year-old Samuel didn’t often set a good example, though John and Joshua, both in their early teens, worked hard to follow their father’s lead. Lucy used to sit between Michael and Joshua, and the twelve of them filled the pew completely. Just last week Amos had joked that there wouldn’t be room for the new baby, and the memory of that quip made Hope sick to her stomach.

Grace saw that Hope’s lap was free, and she wiggled away from Faith and ran over to her biggest sister. Hope picked her up, looked at the sister Grace had just abandoned, and motioned Faith over, too. Joy remained where she was, sitting just as stoically as her older brothers. Faith rested her head on Hope’s shoulder and let the tears flow. Hope put an arm around her, but didn’t try to shush her. She wished that she could cry that freely, too.

Instead, Hope stared straight ahead at the open casket that sat in the front of the church. What she saw frightened her. Hope had been taught that death was God calling his people home to their reward, and for the faithful like them it was a beautiful and peaceful experience. Yet she couldn’t help but remember her mother’s screaming before she died, how sick and miserable she’d been on that last day, and now how fake she looked in her coffin. Michael had given the funeral home Lucy’s best floral dress and white lace head covering, but they had curled her hair and left it down resting on her shoulders, not tied up in her customary bun. Her cheeks were artificially rosy, her lips an unnatural shade of pink that matched the nail polish gleaming from her folded hands. Her closed eyelids clearly displayed eye shadow and mascara. Hope had never seen her mother wear make-up in life, and wearing it in death only emphasized that she was really gone. Mama would never allow herself to be made up like that. Mama wasn’t there to stop it.

The rustling of bodies, the whispers of families, and the sniffling of those who were already crying became more pronounced as the pews filled in behind them. Hope’s Uncle Joseph arrived and sat next to Clara, Michael and the children pressing against each other to make room in the already crowded pew. Paul got squeezed out and Joy grudgingly took him on her lap, glowering at Faith, Hope, and Grace as she did so.

Pastor Kinsley walked out to stand in front of the casket. The sounds of the congregation quieted down immediately, except for the sniffling.

He opened his Bible and began to read the familiar words of Proverbs 31:10-31. “‘Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.’” Hope knew it by heart, and silently recited it along with him, all the way to the end. “‘She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.’”

Hope took a deep breath, missing her mother, as Pastor Kinsley continued. “Our brother Michael was blessed to find a virtuous woman. Though not raised to know the ways of Christ, God led her to a righteous man who showed her the path of salvation. Lucy accepted Jesus as her Lord and Michael as her head, and embraced her God-given calling of helpmeet and mother.

“When Faith Fellowship held its first service sixteen years ago, Michael and Lucy Wagner were one of only four families in attendance. It’s partially through their efforts that this church has grown into what we are today. Michael is a capable elder and a solid example of godly living, and under his guidance Lucy was an inspiration for the other ladies of this church. She embodied the image of the virtuous woman we read about in Proverbs 31, committing her life to Christ by showing obedience to her husband. She excelled at being a helpmeet, encouraging her husband in his work and providing a clean, happy home full of the blessings of children, raising them all to be arrows for Christ, fighting to establish God’s kingdom on earth.

“It was in the bringing forth of one of these blessings that God saw fit to end Lucy’s time with us and bring her home. It’s not our right to question God’s reasons, and perhaps there’s a lesson we need to learn from this. Maybe God is testing someone’s faith, like Job. Or maybe there’s another reason entirely, and we’re simply not meant to understand the will of Almighty God.

“In any case, all we can do is trust in His goodness and rejoice in the time we had with Lucy. Her work will continue through her children, as they honor their mother’s memory through obedience to their father, and commit themselves to the tasks God has ordained for them.”

Hope let the rest of the service wash over her, numb even to the heavy softness of Grace on her lap and the wetness of Faith’s tears on her neck. All she could think about was what Pastor Kinsley had said about God taking her mother to test someone’s faith. She called to mind all the grumbling and complaining she’d done. Even on the day her mother died she’d grumbled to God about her ‘other duties’ standing in the way of her midwife training. She remembered how much she envied the time her mother spent helping some of the younger children while expecting Hope to do her chores without assistance. She thought of her resentment at having so many responsibilities and so little time to explore her own interests or be a child herself.

As Pastor Kinsley wrapped up the service Hope was certain that God had taken Lucy to test her faith, and she was failing that test.

*  *  *  *  *

A sleek hearse led the procession to the cemetery, followed by over a dozen twelve- or fifteen-passenger vans of varying vintage, and a few minivans and station wagons peppered throughout the larger array. Large families were common at Faith Fellowship—five to ten children were the norm, with a few families stretching up toward fifteen.

Many of those vans were empty but for the drivers. The men of the church were there to support Michael, along with a few women who had been particularly close to Lucy. The rest of the women had stayed behind to prepare the luncheon and watch the younger children. Only the Wagner family was there in its entirety. Hope was glad she didn’t have to stay behind and help with the lunch this time. She wanted to stay with her mother.

But all too soon the prayers were said, the casket was lowered into the ground, and it was time to go. Hope stood staring at the gleaming wood surrounded by dirt as the small crowd meandered back to their vehicles, Benjamin in her arms, Grace hugging her leg, Hope alone with her grief.

Her father touched her shoulder. “It’s time to go, Hope.”

“I’m not ready,” she whispered.

“Trust in God. He’ll see you through it. There’s nothing more to be done here.”

Hope cursed her weak faith. How could God see her through this?

Michael’s hand tightened painfully on her shoulder. “You need to obey me, Hope, especially today. Go get in the van.”

Hope’s eyes stung with unshed tears as she looked one last time at her mother’s casket lying in the cold earth. “Yes, Papa,” she said, and turned toward the dwindling row of vehicles parked along the lane. They walked back to the van silently, Grace never letting go of her skirt.

Lunch was ready when they returned to the church. They settled themselves at a table and, after Pastor Kinsley had offered a lengthy prayer of thanksgiving, were allowed to fill their plates first. For Hope that meant handing Benjamin off to one of the many sets of eagerly waiting arms belonging to the older ladies of the church while she went and filled plates with carefully selected items for Grace, Paul, and Timothy. Once they were settled Benjamin got fussy, so she prepared a bottle for him using some of the donated breast milk she kept in an insulated package in her diaper bag. She could do a lot of things for her mother’s children, but she couldn’t breastfeed them. Fortunately there were always a number of nursing mothers in the congregation, and they considered it a privilege to serve God by using their bodies to feed a motherless child.

Hope’s stomach rumbled while she fed Benjamin and her family ate around her. She tried to ignore it and instead remembered how many times her mother had suffered want for her sake, and how in her sinfulness Hope had never thanked her for it.

“I want more bread, please,” Timothy announced.

“I want mo’ bread, peez,” Paul repeated.

“Mo’ bed!” Grace echoed.

“You’re just going to have to wait,” Hope told them. “I have to finish feeding Benjamin.”

“I’ll get it,” said a kind voice behind Hope. “Did you want rolls or sliced bread?”

Hope looked up into the sympathetic face of another teenaged girl. She was holding a plate full of Hope’s favorite sandwiches, salads, and breads, which she put down in front of her. “I got you this before all the good stuff’s gone,” Carolyn said quietly.

“Thank you,” Hope said, her eyes beginning to leak again. With the baby in her arms she was powerless to stop them.

Carolyn picked up a paper napkin and gently wiped Hope’s tears. “I’ll go get them their rolls,” she said.

She returned a few minutes later and put the fresh rolls on Hope’s plate, replacing the ones Hope’s younger siblings had liberated in her absence. Several people around them had finished eating and were getting up. Carolyn grabbed a recently vacated chair and pulled it to the corner of their table, next to Hope.

“It looks like he’s done,” she said, reaching for Benjamin. “Let me burp him while you eat.”

Hope put the nearly empty bottle on the table and handed over her baby brother. Carolyn began burping him with a skill that came from much practice. Like Hope, Carolyn was fifteen and the eldest daughter in her family. She had one brother who was three years older, and five younger siblings between the ages of two and seven. Though Ted and Stacy Cook had planned to have only two children, they discovered shortly after they began attending Faith Fellowship that God had a different plan. Carolyn’s mother was pregnant with her eighth, and was one of the women serving as a wet nurse. The Cooks and the Wagners had been friends ever since Carolyn’s parents joined the church.

The girls sat in silence as Carolyn burped then rocked Benjamin and Hope wolfed down her sandwiches. All around them people were getting up from the tables, already finished with their food.

Carolyn’s four youngest siblings came over to their sister, petitioning to join the older children outside. Timothy, Paul, and Grace echoed the sentiment, adding their voices to a cacophony that grated on Hope’s raw nerves until she wanted to scream at them to shut up.

She pushed that thought down roughly. They’re just kids, she admonished herself. No wonder God had to take Mama to get me to see my sin! Hope contemplated whether or not a selfish, terrible person like her was already beyond redemption. She hoped not.

She stood up and forced herself to smile at the hopeful children. “I’m done eating,” she lied. “We can go outside and play now.”

Carolyn handed Benjamin back to her. “I’ll bring your plate to the kitchen and meet you out there.”

Hope nodded and led the seven young children out to the church’s large side lawn.

She sat on the grass with half a dozen other girls ranging in age from thirteen to their early twenties, some caring for infants or very young toddlers, all with half an eye on the chaotic mass of children running and playing in front of them. A few smiled at her weakly then looked away, embarrassed. No one knew what to say.

Hope watched the children as they played, envious of their ability to laugh and enjoy themselves. Her youngest siblings seemed to have forgotten why they were at the church that day. Even Joy and Faith had smiles on their faces, the first Hope had seen on them since their mother died. Being surrounded by the energy of their young peers in the fresh fall air had provided a healing balm not obtainable in their house of mourning. Children truly are a blessing from the Lord, she thought. Not just to their fathers, but to each other.

Carolyn came and sat down on the grass next to Hope.

“You’re going to be OK,” she said.

Hope nodded because she was supposed to, and was grateful when Carolyn didn’t say anything else.

Writing Prompt – February 2019

A regular feature of this blog is going to be a writing prompt. On the fourth Friday of each month, I’ll post whatever I came up with as a result of the previous month’s prompt. I’ll also supply a new writing prompt for the upcoming month. I encourage you to write your own piece and either post it in the comments, or, if you have your own blog (even better), post a link.

Terrible first drafts are welcome. So are unfinished pieces. It’s also OK if you end up not quite following the prompt and going in a different direction, instead. This is not a literary contest or journal, and the purpose of this exercise is to get you (and me) writing.

I’m going to pretend there was a writing prompt last month. I found this one on WritingPrompts.com and ran with it.

“Your character is going on a trip to ———– . What is s/he packing?”

The following short story was inspired by the prompt above. It is a rough draft, and it’s unfinished.

 

Packing

by Karen Goltz

Tina grabbed the largest suitcase in the closet, but she would still need to be careful how she packed. One suitcase wasn’t much, no matter how big it was.

She wanted to rip the clothes off their hangers and just shove them in her luggage, but she couldn’t do that. Not only was there a space constraint, he was watching her. Tina ignored her headache and forced her expression into one of disinterested neutrality as she tried to figure out what to bring and what to leave.

The closet was a walk-in, though a smallish one. Tina faced the side that contained her wardrobe, her shirts to the left and her pants, skirts, and dresses to the right. Steve’s clothes hung behind her, mocking her in their neat array. How many of her husband’s shirts had Tina hung up over the years? How many pairs of pants, taking care to hang them the way he’d shown her, so that the creases lined up? She grabbed a pair of her own pants, hung the way she preferred—folded in half longways so the butt-cheeks were stacked on top of each other, then threaded onto the hanger. Simple, quick, and done, not like the multi-step process Steve insisted upon. None of her pants needed the creases preserved, and honestly, you couldn’t see the creases in Steve’s pants when he wore them, either.

Tina grabbed the next pair in line, then the next, then paused. Capris. It was January, much too cold for capris. Would she be back by the time the weather had warmed enough to wear them? Would she ever be back?

She turned away from the offending pants and stomped over to the bed. Her suitcase lay open, its cavernous interior defining her near-future life in cubic inches. Tina lined the bottom of it with the two pairs of pants.

“You want to put your shoes in first,” Steve offered. “So the soles don’t get your clothes dirty.”

“Don’t tell me what I want to do.” Tina’s voice was low and controlled, and she refused to look at her husband. The fact that he was right only made her discomfort worse. She knew how to pack a suitcase. This whole situation had her so discombobulated that she couldn’t think straight. She was beginning to feel a bit queasy, as well. Tina left the pants where they were and went back to the closet.

She shoved the capris aside and plucked a few pairs of dressier pants than she usually wore from their hangers. Then a couple of comfortable long skirts and her suit. The dresses were all for summer, so she left those.

A few more trips between the closet and the bed, and Tina’s side of the closet was still lined with clothing. Some of it was summer-wear, but most of it didn’t fit her anymore. She hadn’t realized how many of her clothes she’d outgrown.

Outgrown? Who was she kidding? Thirty-seven-year-old women didn’t outgrow their clothes. They got fat.

“The shoes?” Steve prompted. Tina ignored him as she ignored the heat that had risen to her cheeks. Her suitcase contained less than a week’s worth of clothes. Where were the rest of them?

Right.

She began picking through the hamper, dropping Steve’s clothes on the floor and shaking out and folding her own. Those she added to the suitcase. Steve’s remained on the floor.

The suitcase was filling up, and the anger that had been energizing her began to wane. Once her suitcase was full, then what? Tina’s head pounded and her stomach churned. She needed ibuprophen. Or—something.

The tiny master bathroom was next anyway, so she swallowed four ibuprophen dry before tossing the whole bottle into her suitcase. She tried to avoid looking at her reflection in the mirror before opening the medicine cabinet, but she caught a glimpse of flat, greasy hair, pallid skin, and glassy eyes. Her stomach roiled.

Tina took the bottles she wanted and added them to her suitcase. She left the medicine cabinet open so she wouldn’t have to risk seeing her reflection again. It was easier to pretend she was the innocent victim of Steve’s injustice if she could imagine herself beautiful and fragile. It would help if he would be more of a jerk, too. Why couldn’t he yell at her or insult her instead of giving her helpful advice about packing and calmly depositing his dirty clothes back into the hamper?

She had little warning that her stomach was going to rebel before she found herself on the floor in front of the toilet, spewing yellowish liquid and four brownish-red ibuprophen pills into the bowl. Nothing solid. When had she last eaten? Her stomach roiled again, and Tina decided not to think about that right now.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me when I’m sick.” She hadn’t been aware of the thought forming until she uttered the statement in a thick voice. It felt right.

Steve said nothing.

Tina wiped her mouth with a tissue and flushed it along with the paltry contents of her stomach. She grabbed her hairbrush from the counter and her bag of hair accessories from the top drawer and returned to the bedroom. Steve stood near the hamper, staring at the floor.

“I said I can’t believe you’re doing this to me when I’m sick,” she repeated.

“You’re not sick,” he mumbled, not looking up. “And you did this to yourself.”

Tina couldn’t believe she’d married such an idiot. “I am sick, Steve. I just threw up!” Let him yell at me, she thought. It would be so much easier to hate him if he would fight with her.

Steve raised his head and met her gaze, and Tina wished he’d continued to stare at the floor. His face was anguished, not angry.

“You threw up because you’re hung over.” His voice was steady, but it cracked. “You are sick, in a way. And you need help. And I can’t help you.” He took a deep breath. “Don’t forget your underwear and socks. And pajamas.”

Tina sank onto the bed. There had been two weekends when they’d gone away together and she’d forgotten to pack her underwear and socks, and one when she’d forgotten her pajamas. Back when they used to go away together. Back when they were good together. How could he bring that up now?

Steve walked over to the dresser, opened her drawer, and stepped back. “I’m not going to pack for you. And you need to leave.”

“Mommy, where are you going?” asked a small voice from the doorway.

Tina felt sick again, and glared at Steve. “You didn’t tell her?”

Not looking at his wife, Steve walked to the doorway to meet their daughter and knelt before her. “What are you doing up, Rosie? I told you to keep your feet up and rest.”

“My show’s over and I couldn’t reach the remote,” the six-year-old answered. She peered at the suitcase on the bed and her mother sitting next to it. “Mommy, where are you going?”

Tina kept her gaze on the man on the floor. “Daddy’s making me go away.”

“Tina!” Steve turned on his knees, outrage making his face look almost comical. Tina was glad to finally have a target.

“Well you are,” she insisted. “I don’t want to pack this suitcase and go away from my family! What was it you just said to me? ‘I’m not going to pack for you, and you need to leave.’ Wasn’t that it?”

Rosie looked at her father in horror. “Daddy, please don’t make Mommy go away! I’ll be good, I promise!”

Steve hugged his daughter, being careful not to touch her legs. Below her shorts, her feet and shins were wrapped in gauze shiny from the burn ointment underneath. “You are good, Sweetie. This isn’t your fault.”

Tina sat silent on the bed, wondering if she was going to throw up again. Was this her family now? Father and daughter embracing in their shared guilt and misery, while she wallowed in her own alone? She wished the room would stop lurching.

“Tell her it’s not her fault, Tina.” Steve’s voice was hard.

“It’s not your fault, Rosie.” Tina couldn’t muster any emotion to put behind her words, and Rosie heard blame. The little girl disentangled herself from her father and waddled over to her mother. Tears trickled down her cheeks and dropped off her chin.

“I’m sorry I got you in trouble, Mommy. I’ll be more careful next time. I’ll use the teapot instead of a pan. I’ll make your coffee right! Just don’t go!”

Tina knew she should feel tenderness towards this poor, injured child, but she couldn’t feel much of anything beyond a sense of total wrongness. She felt wrong. The situation was wrong. There was only one thing she knew of that could bring rightness back, but she didn’t have access to it right now.

“It’s not up to me,” she said.

Rosie waddled back to her father. “Say she doesn’t have to go, Daddy! Say she can stay!”

Steve sat on the ground and pulled his daughter into his lap. “Do your legs hurt?” he asked.

The child shrugged in non-answer.

“Your legs hurt because you dropped a pan of boiling water on the floor and it splashed on you—“

“I said I was sorry, and I’ll do better next time!”

“You never should have been boiling water, Rosie. Mommy should never have let that happen.”

“Mommy was sick again and needed her coffee. I’ve seen her make it, and I wanted to help.”

“I know you did. But Mommy wasn’t really sick. She drank—something—that made her sick, and made her not really know what was happening. She should have been taking care of you, not the other way around.”

Rosie dissolved into tears. “But Mommy took so much care of me when I was little, and it’s time I started taking care of her.”

Tina looked away from the pair on the floor so she wouldn’t see Steve’s accusative glare. She had told Rosie that. It had made sense at the time, but now it seemed a bit ridiculous. The girl was only six. But still, there was nothing wrong with a six-year-old making a cup of coffee with a French press. Isn’t that what they called independence?

[UNFINISHED]

The prompt for next month is also from WritingPrompts.com:

“Write a horror story in which one character is an architect. Include a steak somewhere in the story.”

I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

 

Discovering My Real Genre Problem

My Original Genre Problem

Way back in 2011 when I first developed the concept for my novel Virtuous Women, I thought it had a genre problem that would render it unpublishable by traditional publishers. It’s set in a Christian subculture, with that theology and worldview permeating the book. That would make it Christian Fiction, right? But the point is to reveal the toxicity and danger of that theology and worldview, so no Christian bookstore in the world would have it on its shelves. General Fiction? Maybe. But there’s so much religion, it might turn off secular readers. That was the genre problem I thought I had eight years ago.

But a lot has changed in the last eight years. Over the course of the last few elections Christian patriarchy has shown itself to be much closer to mainstream society than people realized in 2011. Some of our highest elected and appointed officials adhere to a strict Christian patriarchal philosophy. Public policy is being based on it. The success of Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has drawn sharp attention to this reality. What once seemed like a quaint belief system held by a powerless minority is now recognized as an inherent threat to American democracy and the civil rights of women, non-Christians, and many others.

Despite its Christian setting, my book is now firmly mainstream. My genre problem of 2011 is not a genre problem in 2019.

My Actual Genre Problem

But I still have a genre problem.

I’m participating in the Women Fiction Writers Association Pitch Event, where I get to have my 50-word pitch and the first 250 words of my first chapter reviewed by a number of agents. I posted my entry shortly after the window opened.

Fifteen-year-old Hope never questions the strict patriarchy of her upbringing, even when her mother dies in childbirth leaving her to care for ten younger siblings. But her family’s gradual disintegration on the altar of faith compels her to escape, and Hope must overcome a life of submission to achieve independence.

And thus began my genre problem.

One of the WFWA volunteers sent me an email asking who my protagonist was, and how old she was for most of the book. Stating that Hope was fifteen triggered the Young Adult warning flag. In order it to be considered Women’s Fiction, my protagonist needs to be at least nineteen years old for the majority of the book.

Virtuous Women is not Young Adult. It spans a seventeen-year period, with a thirty-two-year-old Hope at the end of it. But the book is divided into two parts, with the first part taking place during Hope’s adolescence. As I explained to the volunteer, Hope is 15-17 for the first 25% of the book, 18-19 for the second 25% of the book, and 26-32 for the last 50% of the book. So yes, technically she is the age of a Young Adult protagonist for nearly half the book, but the story is not about her journey from adolescence to adulthood; it’s about her journey from submissive helpmeet to independent-person-in-her-own-right.

Is It Really a Problem?

Do adults want to read a book about a teenager?

I think they may, if the teenager is dealing with themes still relevant to adult women. I’ve found this with other books that deal with teenagers forced to grow up too quickly. The first (and probably best) example that comes to mind is White Oleander by Janet Fitch. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It follows the story of Astrid, a young girl forced to navigate the Los Angeles foster care system after her mother is arrested for murder. Astrid is an adolescent for the entire book, with the possible exception of the epilogue, when she’s finally aged out of the system. I first read it when I was around 30 years old, and my teen-angst years were well behind me. I loved it. More to the point, my city’s public library has the book shelved under ‘Adult Fiction.’ So does the Boston Public Library. It’s got a teen protagonist, but it’s not Young Adult.

In the world of Virtuous Women, girls begin practicing how to be helpmeets at an early age. Many teenagers, including my protagonist, are expected to raise and even homeschool younger siblings while managing some or all of the household chores. In these circles it’s not uncommon for girls to marry in their late teens (or younger). The issues that Hope is dealing with are not those of adolescence, but of identity–as a woman and as a person.

Problem Resolved?

After going back and forth a bit with the WFWA volunteer, she agreed that my book probably qualifies as Women’s Fiction, but I should remove the red flag from the pitch. I changed it from “Fifteen-year-old Hope…” to “Hope Wagner…” She still needed to get approval from the other judges, and I haven’t heard back. I’m hoping that her silence means there are no further issues. Agents will begin looking at the entries a week from now.

I’ve considered restructuring my book as a result of this situation. Right now it follows a linear timeline. Perhaps I should begin in her adulthood and relate the events of her teen years through flashbacks. But I don’t think that would work well for this story. Hope’s life and attitudes as an adult make no sense without the knowledge of what she’s already been through, and there’s too much to tell through flashbacks.

I can only hope that I find an agent who will look past Hope’s age and see the story instead. When it’s time to write a back-of-the-book blurb, I’ll keep this issue in mind. As long as I emphasize Hope’s emotional journey rather than her age, I should be OK.

And maybe I’ll take a cue from Janet Fitch. The blurb on the back cover of her book states, “White Oleander tells the unforgettable story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid…” I find this a bit sneaky, because Ingrid is a secondary character. An important one, but this book is Astrid’s story, which Ingrid helps to shape. The rest of the blurb outlines Astrid’s experiences, not Ingrid’s. But if this is what will keep my book off the Young Adult shelves, then I’ve got a couple of important secondary characters to highlight, as well.

What Do You Think?

Do you think books about adolescents are, by definition, Young Adult? Let me know in the comments, and please list any books you’ve read about children or teenagers that you think adults would enjoy. I’m always looking for suggestions for good books!

Rethinking My D&D Inspired Writing Project

In my last post I announced my intention to embark on a D&D inspired writing project as my next book. I was leading a D&D adventure for my kids’ homeschool coop, and I knew I’d have to engage in some serious worldbuilding. It seemed logical that I could build a D&D inspired writing project around that.

And it was logical…to a completely inexperienced Dungeon Master.

Problems with Writing a Novel While Running a D&D Adventure

The first problem I encountered was the fact that I was a completely inexperienced Dungeon Master. I had to learn everything from the basic rules of the game to how to run an adventure.

The second problem I encountered was the fact that most of my players were just as inexperienced as I was, and I had to guide them more than is typical for a DM. This was, after all, a homeschool study group, and I was the study group leader as well as DM. I was, by design, teaching the game in addition to leading the adventure. This took up a lot more time than I realized.

I watched a lot of YouTube when learning how to play and, more specifically, how to run an adventure. There I stumbled across Mark Hulmes, host of the High Rollers D&D and Tabletop Weekly YouTube Channels. In addition to his excellent tutorial series on how to fill out a character sheet, he also had a series called DM 101, which is a crash course on how to be a Dungeon Master.

In one of those episodes Hulmes made the valid point that DMs who try to use their adventures to write a novel will invariably become frustrated when their characters don’t behave in accordance with the DM’s vision. He said, “If you want to write a novel, just write a novel.” It’s a valid point, which I took to heart. And to be honest, I didn’t have the time to be developing a novel in the middle of all this learning and teaching anyway.

There’s Still Writing Involved

That’s not to say I didn’t do any D&D inspired writing. I took care to write detailed descriptions of my characters’ surroundings, and I enjoyed specifying exactly what happened in their combat encounters. At one point my players were battling a Black Pudding Ooze while completely blind in a magical mist. When one character tried to throw a small stone at it and rolled extremely low on her attack, I described how she’d lost her bearings and threw the rock in the wrong direction entirely. Another player tried to hurl a larger boulder at the creature, but a previous minor injury from a fall caused his knee to buckle at the wrong time, and he dropped the rock on his own foot. Everyone loved that one.

I also wrote a lot of lore and history that made up the world I’d created. And that’s where I found the real value in DM-ing as a writing exercise. The ultimate purpose of running an adventure is enabling your players to have fun. As characters, they’re going to do what they’re going to do and it’s the DM’s job to create an adventure they’ll enjoy. But they’ll need a world in which to have that adventure, and worldbuilding involves ample opportunities for creative writing. Sure, there are plenty of worlds already written and available for Dungeon Masters to use; you don’t have to create a new world from scratch every time (or ever, for that matter). But that’s not my style.

So How Does My D&D Inspired Writing Help Me Grow as a Writer?

I’ve never written fantasy or speculative fiction before; all of my fiction takes place in the world as it exists. I might focus on a somewhat obscure subculture, such as the world of extreme Christian patriarchy in Virtuous Women, but I built that world through research, not imagination.

Through my experience DM-ing, I’ve found that I love worldbuilding. I plan to convert some of my lore and histories into short stories, some of which I may publish on this blog and some of which I’ll submit to magazines. Maybe someday I’ll write a full-length fantasy adventure novel based in my D&D world, but that’s something much farther down the line.

In the meantime, I have my work cut out for me. Of my group of ten players last term, seven of them are returning in the spring. Two brand new players have also registered, along with a nominally experienced player new to our coop day. Fortunately, one of my returning players is ready to try her hand at being Dungeon Master, so I’ll be able to split into two groups. However, my own kids are now going to be attending two days, not one, and I’ve been asked to run a group on our second day, as well. There are already six people registered for that group, with more likely. And three of those six also attend the first day, so I can’t just reuse the same adventure.

I have begun work on a new novel in the Women’s Fiction genre, but I don’t see me spending a lot of time on that right now. But that’s OK. It’s not the D&D inspired writing project I’d envisioned, but I’m definitely honing my craft by running these groups.

And I’m having a hell of a lot of fun in the process!

What’s My Next Writing Project?

It’s time to start thinking about my next writing project. The novel I’m querying (working title: Virtuous Women) has been such a big part of my life for so long, it’s difficult to think about something else taking its place. But it’s time. Until an agent or an editor comes back with suggestions, Virtuous Women is as complete as I can make it, and I need to move on to my next writing project.

Glimpses of Ideas

I’ve had a number of ideas percolating for a while. Please forgive me for being vague in my descriptions, but I don’t want to give away all my book ideas. I may end up writing some or all of these at some point in the future.

The one I’ve been thinking about for the longest I’ve ruled out because a core plot device is too similar to the one underpins Virtuous Women. It involves a teenager taking on a parental role for a younger sibling. Everything else is different, but both stories center on that theme. I’ll write it someday, but for now I don’t want to come across as too narrow in my focus. So that one can continue to percolate for a while.

I have another idea that I think speaks to the current political environment. It explores how certain policy decisions impact people’s lives in profound ways. There’s the potential for it to spark conversation on some very timely issues, not to mention the depth and richness of the stories I could tell. But it also runs the risk of becoming too dated too quickly, especially with the pace of publishing these days. That one might be better as a series of short stories that could later be gathered into an anthology. (I didn’t actually think of that until I just typed it, and now I really like that idea!)

There’s another that explores family dynamics that are completely different from those featured in Virtuous Women. It’s dark, though. Really really dark. It involves human sex trafficking. I would need to do a lot of research on that, and I’m not sure I can immerse myself in that world right now and still function well enough to care for my family and do all the other things I need to do. So that one’s on hold, too.

The last one that fits in the genre of Women’s Fiction (which, I’ve realized, is where my passion lies) was inspired by a viewing of “A Christmas Carol” last year (Patrick Stewart version). I can’t say much without giving away the entire plot, but it focuses heavily on the dynamics between two sisters. It’s strange that I keep coming back to that, since I’m an only child.

Challenges

The problem is time. I’m homeschooling two children who have different interests and are at different academic levels. I lead a study group at their weekly homeschool co-op. I’m Treasurer of that same co-op. I volunteer at my church. I’m an oblate at a Benedictine monastery 70 miles from my house on the other side of Boston. I manage our household finances. And then there are all the other, standard mom-things: grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, keeping the house (sort of) picked up, etc. Oh, yes, and that guy I married and made kids with? We still like to spend some time together as a couple.

Finding time in all that for my next writing project is, to say the least, a challenge.

But I think I’ve found a way to economize. The study group I’m leading at my kids’ homeschool co-op is a Dungeons & Dragons group. I’m the Dungeon Master (DM). And many DMs have gone on to become writers. As DM, it’s my responsibility to create a world for the players to inhabit. (There are some existing worlds I could use, but I’d rather just make up my own.) It’s my responsibility to create a plot, and keep the characters moving along in some sort of story, even if it’s not the one I’d intended. Dungeons and Dragons is the ultimate in having your characters come to life and telling you how the story goes.

So I think my next writing project is going to be a fantasy adventure novel. I’ll have to work on it every week, just to keep up with the study group. I realize the novel may end up being quite different from our game, and I’ll probably have to tweak the characters a bit, but I see real potential here.

It’s not Women’s Fiction, but my group consists of four boys and six girls,* and everyone has chosen a character reflective of their own gender. There will be some strong female characters, including a Dwarf Monk who kicks butt, a High Elf Wizard, a Human Cleric, and a Wood Elf Ranger who won’t be outdone by her two male High Elf Ranger companions (that would be my daughter). It will be interesting to see what these girls do with these characters.

So that’s my plan for my next writing project: A D&D-inspired fantasy adventure. I’ll miss my characters from Virtuous Women, but I think it’ll be refreshing to immerse myself in something entirely different from their world.

I hope you’ll stick around and follow the adventure!

*I know ten adventurers is way too big a group, but there was a lot of interest, and I didn’t want to turn anyone away. Hopefully by next term one of these players will ready to be a DM, and we can split into two groups. Until then, chaos reigns!

My next writing project will involve this book.

Let the Querying Begin!

I’m Querying!

I’ve finally begun querying agents, having done everything I possibly can to perfect my novel. This is the novel I began writing in 2011, finished in 2016, and have been editing and rewriting for over two years. It’s been through five beta readers and three rewrites. And now it’s ready to go out.

This is the hard part. Querying is a daunting task. First you have to write the query letter, and good luck finding consistent advice on what to include and in what order! Some sources suggest opening with an introduction, including the title, genre, and word count of your book. Others suggest diving right in there with a hook. Some emphasize the importance of listing “comps,” meaning comparable titles. This is supposed to help the potential agent or publisher identify the marketability of your book based on the success of similar stories. Others say comps aren’t that important.

I chose to dive right in with a hook. I begin with a provocative question (which is really a Bible quote), then continue with two paragraphs summarizing the plot. My third paragraph gives the title and word count. The fourth paragraph includes a brief bio and my publication credits. I end with common courtesy.

I decided to do it this way after reading a number of examples of query letters that worked. I’m a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and they have a section that helps aspiring authors. It includes advice on querying, pitching, even suggesting some agents. And they provided examples of query letters that worked for some of their members.

My Query Letter

Dear [Agent,]

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. That’s what Hope was taught to believe, anyway. But when her mother dies in childbirth, fifteen-year-old Hope must take over raising and homeschooling her ten younger siblings while keeping her father’s house. Her family’s religion teaches that women are happy and fulfilled as helpmeets and mothers, but all Hope feels is exhaustion, frustration, and despair. Her only chance for escape is courtship and becoming a helpmeet in her own right.

But after her father’s disastrous second marriage ends in divorce, Hope is forced to give up her dreams of having her own family and remain under her father’s authority, instead. As she and her siblings grow into adulthood, Hope watches her family disintegrate on the altar of faith. By the time she’s ready to abandon her father’s religion, however, she discovers that a lifetime of submission has compromised her ability to claim independence.

Told from the perspective of Hope, her father, and the woman who becomes her stepmother for a short time, Virtuous Women reveals the darker side of patriarchal Christianity and the high price paid by women who have no choice but to be virtuous. It is complete at 109,000 words.

I am a former parish pastor and have served congregations in four states. Several of my sermons have been published on DesperatePreacher.com, and I’ve had an essay published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen (2014). Last year I self-published a nonfiction book entitled Luther’s Catechism: A Modern Reflection. I also homeschool my two children. Between homeschooling and my ministry background, I’ve had several interactions with the patriarchal Christian community I depict in my book.

Per your submission guidelines I have attached [whatever you asked for.] My sincere thanks for your time and consideration.

Regards,

Karen Goltz

Choices

One of the reasons I started with the hook is because my wordcount is higher than recommended for a debut novel. The magic number is usually around 80,000. At 109,000 I’m definitely pushing it. But my first draft totaled nearly 140,000, so I have cut a lot. I wanted to get the agent interested in the story before she ruled it out on a technicality.

The bio is less important for fiction writers than nonfiction writers, but I wanted to highlight my personal connection to the material. My novel is steeped in religion, which is something a lot of writers get wrong. I needed to explain why I felt I could do it justice.

I left out comps because I can’t really find any. Aside from the The Handmaid’s Tale there hasn’t been a lot of popular fiction written about Christian patriarchy. And I’m not about to claim I’ve written the next Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course, this letter is only a template. I’m personalizing each letter a bit, but not much beyond the agent’s name and particular submission requirements. Although I did submit to one yesterday who specified he wanted a single page letter in a specific format. The first paragraph had to justify what was so great about my book, the second paragraph had to summarize the plot, and the third paragraph had to explain why I was the right person to write it. I tailored my query letter according to his specifications. In that one I did mention the success of Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale as being one of the reasons why this book is so timely. Rather than a possible dystopian near-future, my book is about the living reality of many women today, and it’s not that different. We’ll see if he requests more.

Cautiously Optimistic

Yesterday I sent out two query letters before I ran out of time, and I planned to do more querying today. This morning one of yesterday’s agents emailed a request for the full manuscript and a synopsis. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but it’s hard. If this agent doesn’t offer to represent me, I hope she’ll be able to give me some feedback I can incorporate going forward.

At any rate, at least I know my first attempt at a query letter isn’t totally off the mark!

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The God You Perceive

I listen to a podcast called Holy Heretics, hosted by a former Evangelical pastor named Jon Scott. In a recent episode he stated, “The God you perceive is the God you receive, and the God you receive is the God you project.”

Wow.

Think about that. What God do you perceive? The Christian tradition only recognizes one God, but there are countless different perceptions of that God within Christianity. High church traditions emphasize God’s holiness while low church traditions emphasize God’s accessibility. Liberal Christians proclaim the transformative power of God’s grace while conservative Christians proclaim the transformative power of God’s grace. Some people are drawn to God’s love and acceptance while others are repelled by God’s judgment against sin. The Son’s death on the cross is an act of supreme love and sacrifice or a heinous example of child abuse, depending on how you look at it.

The God you perceive is the God you receive, and the God you receive is the God you project.

Today is the beginning of Lent, and I invite you to use this season to reflect on Jon Scott’s statement. The answer’s not as straightforward as you might think.

How do you perceive God?

A lot of people don’t really give this question much thought; God is God. Maybe you learned about God in church or from your family, and you’ve never really questioned those teachings. I invite you to question them. Not in order to cast doubt on your beliefs, but in order to better understand what you believe. Who is this God you worship? Or, if you don’t worship God but are brave enough and open enough to consider the question, who is this God you don’t worship or believe in? What does the bible say about God? How has God acted (or not acted) in human history, and what does that tell you about God’s character? Spend some time in the bible with an eye toward who God is, what God has done, and why. Look at your favorite go-to verses but also look beyond them. Anyone can cherry-pick through the bible and see what they want to see, but I encourage you to look at other verses, as well. And not just the verses, but entire passages, chapters, even books. What is the context of these verses? What was going on? Who was involved, and how?

If you’re not all that familiar with the bible, or even if you are, I suggest starting with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Read them in any order you wish. Those four books focus on explaining who Jesus is and why he came, and the entire Christian tradition centers on those questions. You might want to read the Acts of the Apostles immediately after Luke, as the book of Acts is written by the same author as Luke and continues the narrative beyond Jesus’ death and resurrection, showing how his followers responded to those events in the months and years following them. And that should be more than enough to keep you busy during the six weeks of Lent.

How do you receive God?

Once you have a better idea of what you believe about God, consider how that belief affects you. Does it affect you? Does your understanding of who God is inform the way you live your life? Maybe it only impacts some aspects of your life and not others. Consider whether or not there are areas of your life that you believe God doesn’t apply or belong. There’s an old story that claims a Roman emperor had his legions of soldiers baptized en masse, but they all kept their sword hands out of the water. The common interpretation is that we all keep something back in our lives that we won’t give over to the lordship of Christ. Is there something in your life that you intentionally keep separate from your life of faith? Why? How does that fit in with how you understand your faith and what you believe about God?

Consider your feelings about God. Do thoughts of God invoke fear? Love? Admiration? Respect? Loathing? Really think about that and reflect on it. It’s not navel-gazing unless you never move beyond it, but it’s a valuable question to ask as part of an overall process.

How do you reflect God?

Once you’ve articulated to yourself who God is and how you have received God into your life, think about how others might perceive God through your words and actions. Be careful here: there’s a profound difference between what we want people to see in us and what people actually see in us. Try to step outside yourself and look at yourself with someone else’s eyes. Imagine you’re someone who knows nothing about the Christian understanding of God. Look at your social media posts. Think back on conversations you’ve had. Examine your calendar and your credit card statement. How do you spend your time and money, and what values do they reflect?

You might notice a disconnect here. Don’t be afraid of it. Describe how someone might see God if they had only your words and actions to go by. Write it down or say it out loud, to yourself or to someone you trust. Be honest. Does that description match the God you worship? If not, take another look at your beliefs about God. Are they really what you say they are?

The God you perceive is the God you receive, and the God you receive is the God you project.

Who is God to you?

What Do You Want from Me?

What do you want from me?

This is a real question. I’ve been writing this blog off and on for almost seven years, and I have no idea what I’m doing. First I wrote reflections on things in the news that caught my attention, as well as observations about what it’s like to live life as me. Then I got into some theology, followed by writing, peppered with homeschooling insights and experiences. I’ve begun series and abandoned them (not to mention other entire blogs I’ve launched then quit). I wrote on politics during the 2012 presidential campaign, but remained mostly silent during the atrocity that was 2016. I just couldn’t write intelligent commentary on that whole farce.

After years of no coherent theme, inconsistent postings, and broken promises, I really want to get this right. So I’m asking: What do you want from me?

Of course, the biggest problem with me asking this question is the fact that I have no subscribers. None. Zero. Will anyone actually answer me? I’ll post this on Facebook, where I might get a response from a couple of friends, and Twitter, where it will be ignored, and that’s it. But it’s a question I need answered.

If you’ve read this far, do me a favor. Two favors, actually. First, answer the question in the comments here or on whatever social media you saw this. Second, share this on your own newsfeed with a personal request that people read and answer this.

Some of you have been reading off and on for years. Thank you. You know which of my posts have had the most impact on you. Tell me.

If you’ve read this far and have no clue who I am, THANK YOU!!! I want your opinion, too. I’m not going to ask you to read through six and a half years of blog posts to decide what you like best, so I’ve included links below to some of my old stuff that I think gives a pretty good representation of what I’ve done. If a title interests you, read it. Or click through the category cloud to the right. Let me know what speaks to you.

And if most of you tell me to shut up and go away, I’ll take that under advisement. But I make no promises.

So take a look at some of my old stuff, or read the ‘About Me’ section and just tell me what you’d like me to post about, and how often. And thank you for your time and your engagement.

2017

Repeal and Replace – Words Matter

Will God Fix Climate Change?

2016

Middle Aged and Frumpy

I’m Not That Mom

2015

Biblical Marriage, Gay Marriage, and Scare Tactics

The Fallacy of Biblical Inerrancy

2014

Endings and Beginnings – A Poem

Income Inequality and the Myth of Redistribution

2013

Click “Like” If You Agree

Whose Christianity?

2012

Todd Akin and His Mission from God

Dear Real Estate Industry

2011

Do College Students Have Justification for Joining the ‘Occupy’ Movement?

Identifying with the Church-Harmed

A Modern Magnificat

The Original Magnificat

 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

 

A couple of weeks ago Father James Martin, SJ posted this on Twitter:

 

It’s been bugging me ever since.

I don’t have a problem with the idea of writing my own song of praise to God; I think that’s actually a really good exercise for all practicing Christians. But a song of praise in the style of the Magnificat is something entirely different.

Let’s look at some of the more popular praise songs in the current hymnal for the ELCA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Most of them fall in one of three categories: call to praise, expectation based on who God is as revealed in the bible, and personal response.

Call to Praise

These hymns encourage (or command) people to praise the Lord, usually by repeating the same phrase over and over again. #819 Come, All You People exhorts us, “Come, all you people, come and praise…” throughout its three verses. #853 When Morning Gilds the Sky repeats “Jesus Christ be praised” twice in each of its five verses. #872 Praise Ye the Lord has four verses giving a variety of ways in which we should “Praise God.”

Expectation Based on Who God Is and What He Has Done

This was the most common type of praise song in the hymnal. They include such favorites as This Is My Father’s World (#824), The God of Abraham Praise (#831), Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (#834), Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (#836), Beautiful Savior (#838), Crown Him With Many Crowns (#855), and How Great Thou Art (#856). Each of these hymns tells about the wonderful things God has already done in the world (the beauty of creation is a popular theme, as is God’s faithfulness to Israel and the atoning sacrifice of God’s only Son), and how we can continue to expect God’s merciful and redeeming activity.

Personal Response

Finally we have those songs which describe one’s personal response to God’s grace and salvation. These include Shout to the Lord (#821), Lord, I Lift Your Name on High (#857), and I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me (#860). While I appreciate the sentiment behind each of these songs and I recognize that they are, in a way, witnessing to what God has accomplished in an individual’s life, I truly detest singing these songs in a worship setting. There’s more of an emphasis on our response than on what God has done, and it feels like we’re singing praises to our own piety and worship.

 

But I digress, because none of this has anything to do with why I struggle with the Magnificat.

There’s no call to praise in the Magnificat. It begins with Mary’s personal response to God (verses 46-49), and then quickly moves into what God has done to cause that response (verses 50-55). And that’s where I struggle.

Mary was a young Jewish girl in ancient Palestine, engaged to be married, who was told by the angel Gabriel that she would be overshadowed by the power of the Most High. As a result she would become pregnant and bear a child who would be the Son of God. Shortly afterwards, the newly pregnant Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also miraculously pregnant with a child heralded by Gabriel. And when the two women greeted each other Mary burst out in the song we call the Magnificat, in which she praises the God of Israel for fulfilling the promise he’d made so long ago.

But at this point in the narrative, God hadn’t done any of those things yet. The infant Jesus was barely formed in Mary’s womb; he was months away from even being born. The proud had not yet been scattered; the powerful were still on their thrones and the lowly were still low. The hungry were still hungry, and the rich were still rich. His servant Israel was living under Roman rule. How could Mary sing praise for things God hadn’t yet accomplished as though they were her current reality?

The answer is hope. Mary had hope. And hope is what I struggle with. I look at the world as it is, and my hope withers and begins to die.

That’s why I’m not blogging much, despite my best intentions. I can’t comment on what’s going on in the world right now, because it’s too painful. I follow the news much less closely than I used to, and rather than informing me, I find it’s building my prayer list. All I’m learning from the news is who else needs prayers.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Prayers are good. It helps to bring us closer to people we don’t know, who are suffering in ways we haven’t experienced. But to proclaim Christ’s victory as already accomplished? In a metaphysical sense, I’m fine with that. But in an experiential sense, I just can’t go there.

And that’s exactly where Mary went. She had hope that the child God had put in her womb would scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly, fill the hungry, and send the rich away empty, and so she lived with the expectation that those things were already accomplished. And it was also with that expectation that she raised her son. His work is not yet finished, but he certainly began it, and it has continued throughout two millennia.

We’re still not there. The proud still stick together and look out for their own interests with the help of their powerful friends. The lowly are still low, the hungry are still hungry, and the rich are becoming richer. But to give up on hope, to not hold onto the expectation that those things will change, is to accept that that reality is here to stay. And once we accept it, then we approve it.

I cannot give the status quo my approval. I have to believe that there is a better way. And I believe that that better way is through Christ. So here is my Magnificat, created out of hope and desperation:

My Magnificat

My soul clings to the Lord,
and my spirit depends on God my Savior,
for he sees the struggles of his people
and strengthens their resolve for justice.
For the Mighty One has supplied his creation with abundant resources,
graciously ensuring that no one need experience want,
and his mercy inspires many to share what they have.
He has endured throughout the years, undefeated by tyrants as the lowly continue to
resist.
God’s love and compassion have brought down the regimes of those who cultivate
hate and fear
and he has enabled us to see the other as ourselves.
His Spirit works in those who love peace to speak truth to power,
and sacrifice comfort and convenience for justice and equity,
continuing to insist upon the reality that all people are created in God’s own image
and his mercy, compassion, dignity, and love will ultimately rule the world.

Finding Balance

Well it didn’t take long for this post to become necessary. Six weeks ago I announced the resurrection of my writing and publishing activities. I noted how I was almost finished publishing my first book through Quiet Publications (now done), how I needed to update the Quiet Publications website (still in progress), and how I was bringing back Quiet Devotions (still on schedule to begin on November 30). I also noted that I was working on the final edit of my novel before I begin searching for representation (still editing), and that I would publish on this blog weekly.

A week later I did publish another post on this blog. My next post appeared two weeks and one day later. That was three weeks ago. Do you notice a pattern here?

Once again I’ve overestimated my abilities. If I could write full time, I could probably do what I said I’d do in that first post. But I can’t. In addition to writing, I raise and homeschool two children. I run all of the administrative aspects of my husband’s software consulting business, including payroll. (And by that I mean I actually do the payroll myself, not just send the information to ADP or some other payroll processing company.) I’ve stepped up my volunteering commitments at my church and at my kids’ homeschool co-op. And I’m still doing the whole stay-at-home wife and mother thing, which, while often considered less demanding than “real” work, takes a fair amount of time and energy. In addition to all that, I feel I need to pay more attention to my overall health and wellbeing, which also takes time and energy.

What I’m doing isn’t working, so I’m trying to find balance in my life.

In January of 2012 I published a post about following a New Year’s Rule of Life instead of making new year’s resolutions. The rule of life is based on the four categories in Jesus’ greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” I wrote that almost six years ago. Finding balance is clearly an ongoing theme for me. Even though we’re still more than a month away from the new year, I think it would be beneficial for me to give this some thought now. After all, January 1 is an arbitrary date, and there’s no sense in putting off something beneficial (hopefully) because the calendar says it isn’t time yet.

So here’s how I hope to find balance in my life moving forward:

Heart: I define this as the ways in which I nurture the important relationships in my life. The most important relationships I have are with my husband and with my children. Tom and I are already taking time every evening and some mornings to focus on each other, plus we go on a biweekly date night. As two busy parents of two active children, this is the best we can do right now. But we are taking time for each other every day, which is important. Figuring out how I’m nurturing my relationship with my children is more difficult. So much of what I do is for their development, education, or wellbeing, which are important, but don’t necessarily nurture our relationship. I guess the “heart” things I’m doing for them include regular cuddle times (I’m thrilled that they haven’t outgrown this yet, even though they’re 8 and 9) and occasional surprises like movies together or ice cream.

Soul: This past September I became a Benedictine Oblate at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts. When I did so, I vowed to practice Benedictine spirituality to the best of my ability in my own life situation. I can’t pray all the daily offices (much as I’d like to), but I can get up a little earlier than everyone else in my house so I have some quiet time to focus my thoughts and prayers on God. Ideally I’d like to practice Lectio Divina every morning, but the reality of my life situation is that I can’t, and I’ve given myself permission to not feel guilty on those days when my quiet prayer time is shortened because of health or family obligations. Saint Benedict was serious about balance and dealing with life’s realities, and there’s room in his Order for local and situational adjustments. I just need to take care that those adjustments truly are necessary, and not excuses. (That’s why I’ve removed GardenScapes from my phone and try not to check email, news, or Facebook before my prayer time. Emphasis on try.)

Mind: I think my writing falls into this category. All of my fiction, nonfiction, blogging, and publishing activities have to share this space, and that means I can’t do as much of it as I might like. I have to prioritize. For the short term, my top priority is updating Quiet Publications to handle online orders and setting up the first few weeks of Quiet Devotions. After that I need to finish editing my novel and querying agents. For the moderate term my priority will be keeping Quiet Devotions up to date, while also getting started on my next nonfiction book. My long term plans will depend on how successful I am with my short and moderate term plans, so I’ll hold off identifying those just now. Posting to this blog is part of my ongoing plan, but at the bottom of the priority list. If something’s going to get missed, this is it. (Please subscribe so you don’t miss any of my erratic posts!)

Strength: As has been true for most of my life, I need to lose weight. But losing weight is not one of my goals right now. This category is called “strength,” and strength is what I need. Once again my family is without health insurance, and my margin for error is shrinking in regards to my health. My diet and exercise programs are focused not on weight loss, but on building physical strength and improving my overall health. I choose my food based on its nutritional benefits to my body (most of the time), and I’m trying to include cardio, strength training, and yoga in my regular routine. I’ve finally accepted the truth that there are a lot of good reasons to exercise, but weight loss is not one of them. My weight is determined in part by genetics (which I can’t control) and in part by my diet (which I can). So my focus is on my overall health, and if I happen to lose weight in the process, great.

As much as I would like to take those four categories and call it done, I can’t. Grocery shopping doesn’t fall into any of those categories. Neither does managing the household finances, or doing laundry, or working for my husband’s company, or even homeschooling my children. All of those things go to support my family, but none of them really nurture relationships or benefit me spiritually, mentally, or physically. But they are all necessary. So I have to add a fifth category: Necessities of Life. This one is tricky, because it’s difficult to determine what is truly necessary and what only feels necessary. I can only do the best I can, and keep reassessing my choices.

Then there’s the fact that I look at these priorities, and they’re all about me. My health, my family, my wellbeing. One thing that really got drilled into me at seminary is: It’s not about you. To a point that’s good advice, but taken too far it becomes toxic. (Hence the number of pastoral burnouts and broken marriages.) But without some focus outside of yourself, you become completely self-centered and self-serving. That’s not how I understand myself as a Christian, and it’s not how I want to live as a human being. So I have to add a sixth category called Giving Back. That’s where I put my volunteering for church and homeschool co-op. I need to be careful not to take on too much, though. It’s too easy to get sucked into the service vortex, where it’s almost impossible to say ‘no’ to others’ legitimate needs. But those needs are endless, and one person can only do so much. Even Jesus turned his back on people who came to him for healing, because he had other things he needed to attend to. (Mark 1:32-39)

Finding balance isn’t easy, and I won’t always be able to dedicate equal time to each of these categories. But this at least gives me a framework.

I will blog here as I can, hopefully at least every other week. But there will be times when I have to let this go, and I hope you’ll understand. And I wish you luck in finding balance in your own life, too.