January 28, 2015

Lauren Muzyka: Our Story's Glue

Meet my friend Lauren Muzyka!

Lauren Muzyka and me in Texas, summer 2013

She may not like being called "glue," but when it came to pulling together the book, "Redeemed by Grace," there's no way around it. Lauren = glue!

Lauren paid a pivotal role in Ramona's conversion story, and helped her make the potentially treacherous jump over to the pro-life side of the world from a place of darkness. When Ramona felt uncertain, Lauren assured her she was not alone.

After Ramona made her brave, life-changing decision, and when she began quietly sharing her story with a few others, and one suggested her story was book-worthy, Ramona looked around for the support she knew she would need to push forward on such a project. Because let's face it. Many people think of writing a book, but few actually do it.

Lauren was the voice of optimism that said to Ramona, "I'm coming with you on this journey. Let's figure this out together." It was Lauren who talked to someone who talked to someone else who ultimately talked to me about working on this project.

And through that process of collaboratively writing Ramona's story, Lauren was there in the background and, if needed, the foreground, too, to rally the troops and keep us both inspired and excited.

It's true that it takes a team of people to bring a book to fruition. But in the case of "Redeemed by Grace," I can honestly say it would not have happened if not for this positive, spirit-filled person of Lauren Muzyka, who helped keep our fires lit over and over again.

And in the middle of it all, Lauren founded a new non-profit organization to help people praying at abortion facilities to better respond to the women and men who are going in with the intention of ending their baby's life.

Sidewalk Advocates for Life is filling a needed niche, compassionately, and saving lives in the process. Not surprisingly, it's an effort that is growing by leaps and bounds, though its goal is to someday not be needed at all.

I had a chance to meet up with Lauren recently again in D.C., where she was part of the pro-life entourage. Lauren waited with me and others at the EWTN tent the morning of the March, hoping with me we'd get our turn to share about this project. When that chance slipped away, she immediately thought of positive responses.


The next day, I got to see Lauren again at the Students for Life of America conference, where she set up an informational booth about her organization and shared with the young people in attendance  how they might make a difference by standing on the sidewalks and, prayerfully, being advocates for love and life.

Lauren indirectly played a role in our book coming together in a variety of ways, but she also played a direct role, including through writing the foreword. It is Lauren's voice the reader will first "hear" as she introduces her friend Ramona, and in a most beautiful way.

Along with the rest of this story, I am excited to share Lauren with you, and allow you to see how God has pulled together so many incredible souls to bring this story forward!

Q4U: Who is a bright light in your life this week?

January 14, 2015

Birth of a Book: First Reactions

Christmas came early this year when, more quickly than anticipated, I received notice that the book I'd been working on for nearly three years was not only going to be published a little ahead of what we'd thought, but that some of the early endorsements were in.

The book, "Redeemed by Grace," a conversion story, will be officially "out there" the middle of next month. The Christmas season set it back slightly from its Feb. 3 "due date." But the marketing of the story is well underway now.

I can honestly say that reading those first reactions was one of the biggest thrills of my life. After keeping this story close to our hearts for what felt like a very long time, Ramona (the subject of the book) and I had the privilege of taking a peek at first reactions. Reading them, I was filled with such excitement, even elation, because of all this story has come to mean to me and the gift I believe it will be to many.

Here are some snippets:

It is a very special thing to be part of a project that has the potential to bless so many people. I want the work I do to make a difference, and from the start, I knew this project had that potential.

I also expect some will be challenged by the book. One of our endorsers even used that word, "challenging," to describe her reaction. And that's okay. I would hope any story would be challenging on some level. That's how we grow. But I also love her conclusion:

I can't help but think of Flannery O'Connor's comment at this juncture in her own book-writing:

"I am about convinced now that my novel is finished. It has reached the stage where it is a pleasure for me to type it so I presume it is done....This is the best stage -- before it is published and begins to be misunderstood." (The Habit of Being)

It's going to be awfully hard to misunderstand Ramona's story, however. Rather than a work of fiction with all the intricacies that entails, it's very plainly drawn, a journey of a soul, and it's hard to argue that. In sharing her story, Ramona has agreed to turn her soul inside-out because she believes that doing so will make a difference. Maybe it will spare others the anguish she endured. And if not, it should leave people with a sense of hope, as Lisa said. We both want this, and our publisher does, too, or they would not have taken the chance on it that they have.

So, here we are. We are close now to the day when we can share this story with others. It's an exciting time for us and we are praying that all who read this work will be blessed in some way.

It's not my story, but I believe in it, and I look forward to helping set it free. I am grateful for these first reactions, which come from such good hearts -- some of whom I know personally and others, more on the periphery. Either way, we are grateful for such beautiful, hopeful, positive words as we work to get this project off the press and into your hands.

Q4U: When has a first reaction been a gift to you?

January 7, 2015

Birth of a Book: Peeling the Onion

Last week, within my annual "One Word for the New Year" post, I tucked in a very important mention of why my 2015 holds so much promise. It has to do with a book that is coming; one that will contain, somewhere on its cover, my byline.

There's so much to share about this incredible project, but I don't know how else to do so except by, like peeling an onion, layer by layer.

And so I've decided to go about it by carving out some space on Peace Garden Writer this month, in these remaining weeks proceeding the launch, post by post so as as not to overwhelm anyone -- myself included.

I can really blame my mother-in-law. She's known about this journey from the start, but it's come in bits and pieces. Recently, she was trying to grasp it all and asked me, by email, if I could write a detailed account of how this all came to be. Could I remind her of the journey? What was it that started the whole thing again? It's been almost three years in the making, so a lot of the details have gotten lost in the shuffle of life.

So let me start slowly, at the beginning, to help answer the question: How was it that I ended up being part of a book project that, as it turns out, was picked up and is being published by a major religious publisher

Let's see, how did it begin? How did this little strip come to be?

I remember getting an email from a friend of mine -- someone who is prominent in the world of Catholic communicators. She said she'd been tapped by a prominent Catholic radio host, who'd been approached by someone connected with a very influential pro-life organization with a connection to a story that begged to be shared.

The friend who came to me said that when the project was proposed to her, she thought immediately of me as a prospective writer. We've known each other for years and in that time, she'd become very aware of both my potential and passion. She knew I was very busy, in transition in fact in my career, but she had to follow up on what she felt was a Holy Spirit sort of prompting.

When I take a step back, it is rather incredible to me how it all came to be, and how I ultimately was connected with a Catholic mother in Texas who has since become a very precious friend. This friend, Ramona, experienced a profound conversion around Easter in 2011, and, after much prayer, was considering sharing her story in the hopes it might benefit others, especially through relaying how deeply God had touched her life.

These things tend to tug and burn on our hearts. God prompts us, and we are obliged to respond in some way.

So Ramona responded, and through a series of interesting events, I was tapped. Let me just say this: the line from Fargo to Texas has been well-worn these past three years. Not only have I spent time with Ramona in person on three different occasions, but I've met her family and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning with her pondering the important things in life.

When I agreed to help write a book, I didn't know all that that would come to mean, but in the process I've gained a very precious friend. And not just one friend, but several, because one of the people who played a role in Ramona's conversion, and consequently wrote the foreword for the book, has become a friend as well.

So when did I enter in? It was in the spring of 2012 -- a year after Ramona's conversion -- when the email first popped into my inbox. Within a short amount of time, I was involved in a three-way conference call, and it didn't take long from there for things to unfold.

In the end, we are convinced that the Holy Spirit had something to do with the merging, and that, for us personally, the collaboration has been about more than just a book all along.

Don't get me wrong. This story alone would have been worth setting aside what seemed like hundreds of Saturdays (thanks to my dear hubby) in order to arrive at the finish line. But the relationships that have formed as a result have convinced me all the more of God's love for me. Ramona is a gem and we have complemented each other quite well along this road and learned so much in our spiritual and familial travels together.

I can't wait to share more, but I must not rush things. The layers cannot be stripped away in haste or some of the flavor will be lost. But I will share more a week from today. In the meantime, there's a little more here.

I promise you that the layers will not be bitter like an onion; not even close. Unless you're talking about a sweet onion -- maybe then, yes.

Q4U: What news have you had to peel like an onion, one layer at a time?

December 31, 2014

One Word for 2015: Receive

When the word showed up, it was love at first sight. I knew without a doubt it was "the one" -- my word for 2015!

As in, "Let earth, receive, her king" on a wider level. And on a more personal one, "May Roxane receive (and recognize) the blessings that are on their way."

The above photo exemplifies the word well to me. I see the best things in life in terms of light. The good, honorable, beautiful things. In the photo I also see my daughter, second from left. What does the light these young people hold beckon? What will it bring?

To me, this word implies so much more than what one might perceive at first glance. It is a word that indicates much has come before. Preparations have been made, prayers have been said, all that is left is the willing reception. Perhaps that's the key: willing. Am I? I want to be!

Right now, I feel less pursuer (my word from a couple years ago -- see other words of the year here, here and here) and more being in a place of openness to the good things about to be laid in my life.

2014 ended with a truly beautiful Christmas.

There was so much receiving going on through these sacred gifts.

Nothing says reception like this:

Sometimes, though, what is received may be a little hard initially, like the visit to my father's grave. But had my sister not suggested it, and I not been open, I would have missed the opportunity to see what the Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Mandan, N.D., does for their heroes at year's end. I am grateful we took the time to go. The hundreds of wreaths with their red bows made my heart feel so peaceful.

Even this day, as my mother and I bent down to read what the tag on the wreath said...

...the reception was already in motion. I was already receiving, in this case, solace that my father, who died Jan. 11, 2013, is just as much a part of our lives as ever. My grief has fallen to a place of receptivity to how I might honor him best in the time I have left on this good earth, rather than wishing for something that can not be. I accept, and in turn, I am open to receiving.

Mind you, in some ways "receive" can be a scary word, but only in the absence of trust. Because I want to work on trust in 2015 -- full trust in God -- "receive" is well fit, since these two are an appropriate pairing. In fact, "trust" makes a perfect secondary word for 2015.

I can only begin to make out what my 2015 reception will be, but I've got a few heads-ups in the immediate future. Right away at the top of the year, I will travel to D.C. with my youngest daughter to take in the March for Life -- my second such trip -- and be part of the reception by our school of the event's lead banner, which we will carry proudly.

Just beyond that, another truly magnificent gift is on its way that I will gladly and gratefully receive. It's the gift of the completion of a project, which started several years ago, and ended in a beautiful friendship with this gorgeous girl, Ramona Trevino.

Roxane, Ramona, Receive, and the title of our book, "Redeemed by Grace." Now that's a lot of R's! For a peek of what's to come, go here. At the bottom, a link will take you to further information about our forthcoming gift.

I'm ready, humbly so, for I know that God is the author of my life, and with the goal of trust in my heart, receive should be achievable. I desire to be willing to receive whatever comes, with trust that God loves me and my family so much that wherever we are led, it will be for His glory. There's no greater feeling than knowing you are in safe and loving hands, and if I can live this attitude out the whole of 2015, the year will end with gratitude.

The clean, fresh slate is always wondrous, always new, always hopeful. Let the reception of all that is good (and then some) begin!

By the way, if you're one of those people who is into saints like I am, you might find this "patron saint for 2015" generator by Jennifer Fulwiler a fun exercise. There are so many saints we can learn about and lean on. Who will your patron saint for 2015 be?

Q4U: What is your one word for 2015? Go ahead. Dare to choose one. It's a fun exercise in both anticipating and navigating the year ahead.

December 17, 2014

Introversion Series: Technoverts?

This is the way we introverts roll.

The other night, I had an hour to kill while waiting for my boys to finish their piano-lesson session. My "to do" list growing by the day, I knew the most efficient use of my time from the outsider's perspective would have been to head to the supermarket nearby and check a few more items off my Christmas list. And I was tempted.

The last couple times I've been in said supermarket, however, it has taken me far too long to get out of there. The check-out aisles are narrow, and there never seems to be enough help, so the lines are long. You think you're done and out of there, but you end up standing in line...and waiting...and waiting...and before you know it, the hour's up.

And what's more, I'd had a really emotional day, so my tank was, well, about to tank out. That hour might well have gotten me further down on my list in the short haul, but I knew I'd pay the price later. So I did what would seem unwise from the exterior.

Instead of turning right, into the supermarket parking lot, I hung a left in search of a quiet little coffee shop where I could stop...and sit...and have a little something warm to drink...and open my Christmas cards, which I'd been saving for such a moment. I needed that pause like nothing else.

One of my quiet places...

That hour in a corner of a coffee shop saved me. I could feel myself coming back to life. One hour spent decompressing bought me several more of productivity on a jam-packed night. If I'd gone right instead of left, I never would have made it through.

So what about the technovert? Thanks for your patience. I'm almost there!

According to Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book on introversion, "Quiet" and highlighted interviewee of the Readers Digest article I've been referencing the last several weeks, introverts prefer communicating electronically rather than by phone, for the same reason I went left instead of right.

It's because, as she noted, "sending a text is far less stimulating than having a conversation with someone. It allows us to connect without having to be so 'on.'"

Introvert alert: you get it don't you? Yep, I thought so.

A corner in the coffee shop reading Christmas cards was like a text. It allowed me to deal with life at my own pace. The busy supermarket with few hiding places would have been like a phone conversation. And it would have taken from me what I did not have left to give.

In the same interview, the questioner also noted that texting and emailing allow communication on one's own time frame, which seems to fit the introverted among us. "I'm an introvert," she said "and when email was invented, it was the best day of my life."

To which Cain responded, "I felt that way, too. Introverts want to process things before they articulate them, and when you're having a (phone or in-person) conversation, you can't do that."

Bingo! I could share so many examples to illustrate this very point. But if you're an introvert, you don't really need me to. You just know.

So what about you? Do you tend to screen phone calls, and fall on texts and email as your main modes of communication? If so, it's likely you're an introvert.

Given all this, it's plain to see we introverts live in a time that suits us well. With technology at our disposal, and our preferred method of communication, we're set. As usual, we just need to make sure we balance that out with real-life interactions.

Fellow introverts, I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I just want to remind you that you're not alone.

Q4U: Email or phone call? 

December 10, 2014

Introversion Series: Holidays Pacing

As a sprinter who eventually found her happy place in middle distance, I was forced to learn the fine art of pacing as a runner. My inclination was to go all out in the first 100 yards (as it was when I first began), but I soon learned better. Each leg needed to have my best, not just the first.

The need for this is no less important for the introvert during the holidays. I was just sharing with my Bible study today how many community offerings woo me this time of year; everything from my kids' Advent and Christmas programs to college presentations of the Nutcracker and other annual delights.

"If we wanted to, we could be busy with holiday events every single night," a friend said, and it's true.

But is that a good idea? In a recent Reader's Digest interview, Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book on introversion, "Quiet," said that introverts shouldn't accept all the invitations they may receive during this time of year. "Give yourself a social quota; decide how many functions to attend, and offer your regrets with regard to the others."

For the ones you do accept, she said, if needed, you can plan an early exit. "You don't have to stay for the whole thing," she said. "I have a friend who always leaves after an hour and 35 minutes."

And that's okay. It really is. Because, after all, this time of year is all about what I call the "white spaces." Without them, we can easily drown. Filling up the blank slates of our lives each day with only black marks of busy will bring us introverts to the brink. It's tempting, but resist the urge to say yes to every star-light invitation that comes your way.

I've had to say no to a few things already this season, and while I do admit to feeling a tinge of guilt, in the end, it felt so right to prioritize holiday events. One way that helped narrow it down was realizing that our children right now keep us plenty busy with holiday events that bring precious warmth to my heart. So as long as I have children who are involved in these productions, I'm going to focus on their events for now. Soon enough, they'll be out of the nest, and I'll be yearning for a Christmas play or concert somewhere, but focusing on our small circle really works quite well at this phase, and makes logical sense, too.

Q4U: Are you strong enough to say "No" to some of the holiday invitations the might come your way so you can say "Yes" to the ones that matter most?

December 3, 2014

Introversion Series: 'Quiet Little Corners'

What is the deal with those introverts anyway? Why do they -- ahem, why do WE -- seem to always be running off into a quiet little corner somewhere?

It might surprise you to find out the real reason why. Because, truth be told, we're not trying to be evasive. We introverts need other people as much as anyone. But as Susan Cain (of the bestselling "Quiet" book) mentioned in a recent Reader's Digest interview, many introverts are highly creative individuals, and creativity usually involves being by oneself.

But why? I found Susan's answer intriguing. In order to access original ideas.

Think about it. How easy is it to access original ideas in the middle of a bustling party? Nearly impossible, right? I'm not saying it can't be done, and I know some people work best with lots of noise all around. But to be truly creative and go to the depths enough to reach those original thoughts, such as that which might be required to craft a story, a person needs to fall into some kind of hole; they need to insulate themselves somehow.

I've been fascinated by a book I stumbled upon recently that offers, in my humble opinion, an extraordinary glimpse of the Holocaust. Now, I know that typically, studying this unfortunate time in our history can be downright depressing. But in the case of Etty Hillesum's diaries, "An Interrupted Life," and the followup, "Letters from Westerbork," the depressive element was constantly tempered, page after page, with incredible insight.

Much of her illuminations were spiritual in nature, but some had to do with more ordinary things -- the pursuit of writing, for example. Not that writing can't be a spiritual exercise -- I find it often is. But for Etty and many of us, it also fills a mental need, as well as an almost physical need to get what's in our heads out and onto paper.

I was transfixed reading about Etty's departure from Amsterdam, where she enjoyed daily sessions at her beloved writing desk, to the concentration camp where, initially, she worked for the Jewish Council, and then later, became an "inmate." Through all of that, the quest for a quiet place to write, with some sort of writing tools at hand, became a regular pursuit -- almost as much so as finding the next meal.

At one point, Etty describes it this way (p.326):

"In the mornings when I wake up, I lie cocooned in these stories; it is a rich awakening, you know. But then I get twinges of pain; the ideas and images simply demand to be written down, but there is nowhere for me to sit in peace."

Sometimes, she said, she would "walk around for hours looking for a quiet little corner."

"Once a stray cat came in during the night," she continued. "We put a hatbox for it on the WC, and it had kittens inside. I sometimes feel like a  stray cat without a hatbox." (my emphasis)

Did that image ever hit home for me. How often have I searched for a quiet little corner to write, and with not much luck? My life is often about this very thing!

A short time later, just a few paragraphs away in fact, she writes of finding a newly discovered corner in a wing of a hospital canteen, "a place to which I shall be able to withdraw now and then for a little while."

But then, just a few sentences later: "Well dear Lord, I thought I had found a quiet little spot but it is suddenly full of kitchen staff with clattering pans of stew and hospital staff settling down around the trestle tables to eat."

How I feel for Etty. And how I would have liked to provide for her a quiet corner where she could have found respite to write even more of her beautiful words.

We all need that at certain times, but Etty needed it as much as food almost. She had a hunger to record her thoughts, even in those circumstances -- especially in them -- and in order to access her original ideas, she simply had to find a place away from the noisy, crowded barracks.

I have gone on too long about this, I'm afraid, but but Susan Cain and Etty Hillesum converged in my mind tonight, and I thought Etty's descriptions too beautiful not to include. Reading about her predicament made me appreciate not only the need for those quiet little corners, but also the fact that, despite them being elusive at times, they are necessary to us writers, and introverts in general. Without them, we cannot think, and without the chance to think and process, we can easily find life nearly unbearable.

At some point, Etty lost her quiet little corners altogether as she left with her mother, father and brother on a transport train heading to their final destination of Auschwitz, Poland. I ache to think of it, and yet perhaps I can do something, even now. So, in her honor, I commit to using the corners I have at my disposal as well and wisely as possible from here on out. Won't you consider the same?

Q4U: Where are your quiet little corners?