Discovering and playing and building in this little corner of the world to document my writing life. I'm glad you're here. {If you want to receive updates via email, sign up below.}

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Love is a Choice

This necklace from Elsie serves as a reminder to choose love.

Love is a choice.

There are days when the choice to love is much more difficult (and a whole lot less appealing) than the choice to be annoyed or turn my back or just give up. Sometimes the choice to love is the harder choice.

Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil.
Cling fast to what is good.

Paul inked these sacred words in Romans 12. The truth of the matter is genuine love is hard. It's a breathe in and breathe out choice over and over and over. But the rest of the truth is I am never, not-ever, sorry when I choose love.

I think Paul was talking about celebration when he wrote, Cling fast to what is good. It's about holding tight to the good -- finding the celebration in the thick of the trouble -- and clinging fast, with white knuckles.

It's celebration that saves.

Chances are, right now there's a relationship in your life that's hard. We're human and it's inevitable that there is a person (maybe a spouse or maybe a daughter or maybe a friend or maybe someone else) who is hard to love. There's someone like that right now in my life. And tomorrow there will be someone and next week there will be someone. We are called to love. If I let love be genuine, then I find the celebrations...

And I cling fast to what is good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living with a Radical Faith

I earned myself a speeding ticket yesterday.

Zipping along a beautiful stretch of road that winds between two lakes, there's a small town with a bait shop, a church, and a speed trap. As I'm reciting the scripture I'm trying to memorize and admiring the crisp sky, I spot a state trooper in the church parking lot.

I hit my brakes, glance at my speedometer, and pull over at the same time he pulls out and turns on his swirly lights.

He didn't say hello, even though I did. I handed over my license and registration. He turned on his heel and headed back to his car.

Five years ago I got a ticket in this exact same spot. I know better.

And yet, there I was in the exact same place.

When the officer returned with the ticket, I made sure to look him in the eyes. He told me the speed he clocked me at, and I tipped my head, drawing my eyebrows together. He wasn't correct. I was going at least 10 miles faster. It still was 19 miles over the posted speed.

I nodded, acknowledging his directions, and said, "Thank you."

I opened my wallet to return my driver's licensed and added, "Have a good afternoon."

The words were genuine, but I doubt he heard them. He was already walking back to his car. I couldn't stop myself from thinking how he was one grumpy officer.

Circumstances shouldn't have led me to be the kind one in this exchange. After all, it wasn't like he was the one who now had to pay a ticket instead of buying a new pair of cute boots.

Maybe I wasn't in the exact same place after all.

As I relayed the story to a friend, she said, "Wow! What a nice police officer. Over 20 would have led you to more points on your license and been a big deal to insurance. You're really lucky."

Her perspective helped turn mine.

Paul writes: For God works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing... This is the scripture I was learning to memorize when I was pulled over.

I could see the irony, rolling my eyes: Now do this one thing without grumbling.

The ticket is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. My response, however, holds great purpose. I might have been the only person, all day, all week, all month, who said thank you. I may have been the first one in a long time to look him in the eyes.

If I've decided to live this life for all I'm worth with a radical faith, then it's these moments of irony that give me a chance to live out my beliefs.  Just because it was rotten to be caught in a speed trap, doesn't mean that I can't still be used to make the world a better place.

(I just won't be doing it with new boots!)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Love Not Control

When I was an undergrad, I had a professor who encouraged us to use positive reinforcement for classroom management. He suggested to look for a student who was doing the right thing and say, "I like how Johnny is standing in line," or "I like the way Johnny is sitting quietly," or "Thank you, Johnny, for keeping your hands to yourself."

I piped up (it was before my filter was securely in place like it is most of the time now) and said, "Yeah and then everyone wants to beat up Johnny."

I remember the professor paused and then asked me if I'd "say more about that."

I glanced up from the doodles in the margin of my notebook. I didn't realize I said anything interesting. The professor wasn't mad or offended, rather, he appeared curious.

I went on to explain how there are more important things to do in a day than to control behavior. By using sound instructional practices, building respectful relationships with students, and focusing on purposeful and worthwhile experiences students will be engaged. As engagement and respect increase discipline issues decrease. Then we don't have to manipulate or shame students into behaving.

"You're right," he said.

I adjusted my rose colored glasses. A few months later I stood in my own classroom. Although I made more than my share of mistakes that year, I'm grateful a public penal discipline system wasn't among them.

Although my filter is now secure, my convictions are not any less than they were all those years ago in undergrad. I like to think we've evolved as educators. Sixteen years later I shouldn't be fighting the battle of public discipline systems. (And just because they're on a SmartBoard doesn't make them any better.)

I have four children. Collectively, they have been subjected to 18 public penal discipline systems. They have fallen off of apple trees, moved down stoplights, pulled sticks, flipped cards, dropped stars, and lost maps. They have dealt with collecting cones and avoiding alligators.

I think it is also safe to say in our house we deal with behaviors that are a tad more drastic than other families. This is part of life when you have children who have hard histories without you. The thing is we've never asked our children to chart their choices or pull a stick.

Yet, they've unlearned severe behaviors and have relearned appropriate and courteous behaviors. They've maintained (and even regained) their dignity. We made a choice to help our kids find intrinsic motivation for doing the right thing rather than being manipulated into compliance.

That's not to say there aren't consequences. There are. Just ask any of them. They'll tell you: "All choices have consequences. When you make a pleasant choice, pleasant things come your way. If you don't, then it's not fun."

Controlling behavior wasn't the most important thing we did when we adopted our older children. Loving them was. We didn't want them to behave out of fear or shame. We wanted them to behave because it was worth it, because they made the choice to do the right thing. They learned to behave because they learned we loved them.

They tested our love. You don't need to know the gory details of the tests. Let's just suffice it to say that I know hard behaviors. I also know behavior can be relearned. New habits can form.

Our kids learned to control their own behavior because they were respected and trusted.

They are still learning. (Aren't we all?)

I just wish they were given the dignity in their classrooms that they've been given at home. I can't help to think of all of the kids who aren't given dignity at home. Shouldn't school be a place every child is treated with dignity? This will happen when all teachers trust and respect kids to do the right thing, rather than humiliating them into compliance.

I wish all children were loved more the controlled. This is how we change the world.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Personal Landmarks

Last month I listened to Beth Moore speak. She anchored our day with a word:

It was her expectation for the day to be a landmark in each person's life. It would be a point we would define as significant.

This was true for me. I felt commissioned to connect women of all ages and stories to one another so they could strive side by side for the faith of the gospel. Although a little unsure what that might look like, the work before me has become more clear. With the help of many, we have started a women's bible study in my town. I am leading the Fall round of Sunathleo (a Greek word meaning to strive side by side) as we study Philippians.

October 18th was another Landmark

I presented alongside Bill Bass, Colby Sharp, and Franki Sibberson. Going into the day I felt tattered and worn. I wondered if I even belonged.

Click here to see our work together.

I've been lost in my writing life. Rather than thinking of myself as lost, perhaps I should just think of it as being on a journey to find my identity as a writer. It's been a journey through dark woods and towering trees. There were patches of cold twisting through even darker and scarier trees. Dense vegetation and thick fog crept in, nearly suffocating me. It hasn't been a fun journey.

But today, presenting with people who believe in me and an audience filled with colleagues and friends who inspire me, the fog lifted a little. During dinner with Christy, she helped me see things more accurately. 

Even Andy noticed. When he asked me what I planned to do with Saturday night, I didn't groan or grumble. I smiled and said, "Write."

"Have you written three nights in a row?"

I nodded. "Tonight will make four."

"Does it feel good to be writing again?"


It feels good to be found, to step out of the dark fog and to see a little more clearly. It feels good to notice what has hindered me, to extend a little grace to my writer self, and to define my next steps.

I am a writer because I put words on the page. When I don't write, I'm not anchored and drift away. Those woods are still too close. They will gladly swallow up my story.

I'm a writer who writes --
  • 15 minutes each day on her current story.
  • Blog posts about gritty celebration.
  • Articles about teaching writers.
  • And, just maybe, chapters about enticing writers.
September 13th is a landmark that will define the point when I realized my purpose (for this leg of the journey) is to connect women from all ages and stories so they can strive side by side and celebrate. 

October 18th is a landmark that will forever reminded me that writing is nonnegotiable. My story matters, whether it comes in the canister of being a teacher of writers or in some other identity. Either way, it matters.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I'm glad you are here to celebrate! Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter.
Today I get to work alongside Bill Bass, Colby Sharp, and Franki Sibberson as we share our current thinking about teaching readers and writers. I barely slept last night; I'm so excited. 
I hope you will join the conversation too! Follow #allwrite14 on Twitter.

For the link-up today, please add your link in the comments.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


I'm glad you are here to celebrate! Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter.
I celebrate slowing down. The world likes to tell me that I should do more. I'm learning this isn't always a Truth. The world likes to tell me if I'm not doing everything, then I'm not enough.

As a mother to four children, a wife, and an educator there is always more to do. There is always something I should have, need to, or gotta do.

I'm celebrating the Truth that it is okay to slow down.

Our slowing down looks like:
13 year old slumber party.
10 year old sleep over at Mimi & Papa's house.
The girls volunteering all day on Saturday with Mimi and Papa at their church.
The boys going to their first cub scout camp out.
A visit with a friend.
Teaching Sunday School.
Peewee football.
A visit with another friend.

And me, well, I took a nap.

It's true. I had 45 minutes alone in the house. It was earmarked for writing and instead, I napped.

I am a terrible napper. Terrible.

But, this was restoration. It was a gift, a reminder that it is okay to slow down.

And for this, I celebrate.

Share yours below!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Ketchup Incident

You have enough time. I have to remind myself of this often. I constantly fight the lie of the world that says there is not enough time.

Because there is.

When I was Hannah's age, 13, I started a quote book. One quote that I penned decades ago has been pricking at my mind and tonight I flipped through the yellow-edged pages just to find this:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time to change the world. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Gandhi, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci and Jesus Christ.” --- Shannon L. Adler

These words have been rattling around inside my mind, bumping into that quote about enough hours in the day:
"Live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ." --- Paul, Philippians 1:27
What is a life worthy?

It's the ketchup incident. 

Sam asked me, "Mom, did you hear about the ketchup incident?"

"No. What's the ketchup incident?" I asked, pausing as I chopped the onion to start dinner.

"You've gotta hear this. Today I was opening one of those ketchup packets, you know the kind that say, 'tear here then squeeze'?"

I nod, a smile tugging at the corner of my mouth.

"Well, I had to get ketchup for my hamburger, which I had to eat because you forgot to pack my lunch because Dad went to work early, but that's okay because it turns out I like school hamburgers. That's not the ketchup incident, but that's an aside to the story. Teachers don't like asides, but I think sometimes they make the best part of stories. But not this story. This story is good on its own."

"So, the ketchup incident," I redirect him.

"Yeah. I tore the corner off at 'tear here then squeeze' and I was squeezin', but nothing was coming out. It was stuck. So I squeezed harder and just like that, the whole back of the packet burst open and ketchup came flying past my ear and hit my friend -- splat -- right in his face!"

Sam's eyes were wide as he retold the story. "We were both laughing, because it's not like anyone can ever plan for a ketchup packet to burst open on the wrong end. Except some of it went past his face and hit the grouchiest teacher in the school."

Sam snickered.

"What happened?" I asked.

"We tried not to laugh, but I still got 5 minutes on the wall at recess. It's not a big deal, though. I know there are some people who just don't understand ketchup incidents."

I laughed at his story and the sincerity in which he told it. Sam returned to building Lego creations. I went back to building dinner. His words hung in the air. Some people just don't understand ketchup incidents.

Finally I asked, "What do you mean some people don't understand ketchup incidents?"

He snapped another brick into place. "Oh, you know, Mom. Sometimes people forget how rare it is for a ketchup packet to burst from the back. And what are the chances it whizzes past my ear, but hits my friend? And he thought it was funny! It's not everyday that happens."

"So ketchup incidents are the things that don't happen every day?"

"You got it. I like those stories."

"But not everyone does."

"No kidding. That's why I ended up on the wall, but all I did was replayed the ketchup incident in my brain movie."

He snickered again as he searched for a Lego piece.

He's right. It's the ketchup incidents that make life worthy. It's about the things we chose to pay attention to, the stories we deem important enough to replay in our brain movies and tell again and again. It's about accepting life as it's given and to recognize that even if there are some bumps (like spending time on the wall), it is still worth it to accept the ketchup incidents as they happen.

Helen Keller put her hand under a stream of water.
As a young boy, Gandhi was so shy he ran home from school so he wouldn't have to talk to anyone.
Michelangelo didn't want anything to do with painting the Sistine Chapel.

Mother Teresa questioned her faith at times.
Leonardo da Vinci had a reputation for not finishing the things he started.
Jesus turned water into wine.

Small stories that may seem insignificant. But they are not. They offer proof of perseverance, evidence of transformation. People who had enough time.

Here's to living a life filled with recognizing it is the the ketchup incidents that make a life worthy. And to remembering we do, in fact, have enough time.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


I'm glad you are here to celebrate! Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter.
I'm wrapped in my pirate quilt with a steaming cup of coffee next to me. I'm next to the fireplace. It is beckoning for a spark to crackle into flames.

It is almost-still, but not quite. Hannah is up, getting ready for her final race of the season. Andy is up, making her breakfast, making me coffee.

The wind whistles and I imagine a cyclone of citrus-colored leaves scattering outside.

It is my favorite time of year. I'm clomping words onto the page. This is a celebration.

I wonder if part of my writing process is feeling lost. Trying to write my way through, only to wonder if any of the words matter. My writing territory is changing.

My living-territory is changing too. This week was a landmark -- a point that I will look back to and say, There. Right there, is when life changed. This week 17 women gathered in my living room to dream and pray about a community-wide women's ministry. The Fall bible study begins next Thursday and I will be leading it on the topic of friendship.

I'm excited about this unexpected movement in my life. I'm excited how my passion for story and love for scripture and knowledge of teaching are all coming together in a new way. Yet, I'm stunted in my writing.

Christy gave me wise words this week: Write for yourself.

For me?

The way her advice prompted this response in my heart made it clear that I'm in the way of my writing. When did I stop writing the story I wanted to write? When did I quit writing the story that's banging around in my bones?

Under my nightstand sits a basket. In the basket are all kinds of writer-things. I pulled out an oversize legal tablet and unwrapped a brand-new favorite pen. Then I started marking-up the page, filling it with words, words that begged to be written, because they are my story. The story only I can write.

I wrote every day this week. This isn't a celebration. This is expected. The celebration is I wrote everyday this week for me. I filled 19 pages on that oversize legal tablet. 

And I remembered.

I remembered that when I'm writing for me, it's a little scary to share the words with the world. It takes a lot of courage to be a writer.

It might take even more courage for a writer to shift her territory.

Here's to being brave and following the words where they take us. This is always a celebration.


I'm celebrating that you took the time today to write courageously and link your celebrations today. It is really a favorite part of my Saturdays.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Teaching Paragraphing

Last night Annabel Hurlburt and I were talking about helping fourth grade writers organize their narratives with paragraphs. Annabel has done an incredible job of helping her students think in scenes and craft a story. As we were looking at some drafts, we realized starting new paragraphs wasn't automatic for most writers in the room.

I was reminded of the tricky nature of knowing when to start a new paragraph. Several years ago, I posed the question to Two Writing Teacher readers: How do you know when to start a new paragraph?

The responses led me to accepting this truth: Knowing when to start a new paragraph is more art than science.

Below is a repost of the original, along with an image of the chart. For most elementary classrooms, we wouldn't teach all of these at the same time, but rather select a few that go along with the learning that is already happening. Then we could offer the invitation to students to notice other times authors start new paragraphs and add to the chart as we go through the school year.

One more thing, if you have a few extra minutes (and even if you don't), I highly recommend this post from Annabel about what she believes when it comes to teaching writers. I find it both inspiring.


I took your wise words and put them together in a chart. It’s hanging in my office because I love how it is a reminder of the power of collaboration. It also restores my faith in our ability to teach conventions through writing workshop. I love (and I mean lovelovelove) that no one offered a sentence number as a means of knowing when to start a new paragraph. I’m sure we’ve all met our share of students who count sentences and then start a new paragraph. 


As many of you know, I’m a big believer in the power of art. I’m working to create charts with a strong visual presence with the intent of helping students retain their learning through the visual stores in their brains. Creating this chart reaffirmed to me the importance of first collecting ideas and then organizing them on a chart.

So my thoughts on paragraphing…

As Liza Lee Miller said in the comments, “It is an art.” I’ve been paying close attention to my own work with paragraphs and I’ve realized it is truly more art than science. Tara’s comparison resonated with me — knowing where a paragraph starts is like knowing when to shift the gears of a manual transmission. There is an element of “feeling” the paragraph shift while writing. Of course there are the nonnegotiables: new speaker, new time, new setting, new idea. These just aren’t enough, though. There are many other times when a new paragraph begins. Outside of school assignments, I’ve never made a paragraph shift based on the number of sentences.

In addition, I find it unrealistic to set paragraph limits for different genres. For instance, who’s to say how many paragraphs will make up a short story? It depends on dialogue, setting changes, and lines that need emphasized. Instead of thinking in paragraphs, I’ve shifted my thinking to considering parts. It is realistic to say  a short story for a seventh grade writer will have 4-6 scenes. Paragraphs? I’m not even going to try to touch that.

Sometimes I think teachers set sentence limits and paragraph requirements with the good intentions of helping students elaborate. Rather than demanding more details, I make an effort to help students learn ways to elaborate. In Shelley Kunkle’s short story unit, we’ve taught students to build scenes not with 5 sentence paragraphs, but with snapshots and thought shots (a la Barry Lane), character action, dialogue, object description, character description, flash backs, and incorporating another genre such as a letter or poem. (There’s another post all about how everything from object description on in this list came from students during share sessions.)  They are elaborating with intent and their writing is strong.

Today we talked about paragraphing. Because Shelley and I have extended their repertoire of elaboration tools, students were able to feel the “shift” when it was time to start new paragraphs. I shared my notebook with students, my messy collections of words, and asked students to notice the way I use paragraphs, even in my private notebook writing. It’s a habit I’ve established and a habit I hope for students. Today they were intentional about using paragraphs as they drafted.
In another post, I hope to reflect on the way paragraphing decisions influences my revision work much more than my editing process. But that will have to wait for another day. Until then, thank you for joining this conversation and pushing my thinking when it comes to conventions in writing workshop.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


I'm glad you are here to celebrate! Share a link to your blog post below and/or use #celebratelu to share celebrations on Twitter.

Link-up with your celebrations. Make sure to check out other celebrations and leave some comment-love. The best part of celebrating on Saturdays is it becomes contagious!