The Awkward Hello (after a long, long time away)

the awkward hello

Um. Hello.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything at all on this blog, and I’ve had a growing sense of awkwardness about what I might say when we saw each other again. A lot like some friendships, I suppose, when it’s been a while and you both know—as social media makes painfully clear—that Things Have Been Happening but you Haven’t Been Talking and so you’re just not sure where to start. And so, too often, you just don’t. You don’t send the text. You don’t write the email. You feel awkward about the distance and, at a loss for how to close it with the perfect “opening line”, you increase it.

I’ve been in that space for a few weeks: feeling like I needed to write a smashing blog post: a virtual Ta-DAAAA! to announce that summer was over and I’m back. (insert jazz hands here) But instead, I’ve opened up this page a half dozen times and stared at the cursor. Actually, last week I was cracking myself up (yes, I laugh at my own jokes) at a thought and I desperately wanted to turn it into a blog post but it turned out I was exactly three hundred and forty percent less technologically capable than I needed to be to pull it off.  The end result? More silence.

It has been a long, long silence. This summer was mostly spent with my kids swimming and reading library books (not at the same time, though), with a smattering of Vacation Bible School thrown in… ELEVEN WEEKS of ELEVEN HOUR DAYS of me and the kids. At home. In triple digit heat. (We ate a lot of ice-cream. We watched the Star Wars Trilogy. The real one. Don’t even start with the Clone Wars.) But in the midst of all this at-homeness and mothering-ness, I had one unapologetically girlie night and got to see Adele in concert. It was fabulous. No opening act: just her, in all her vocal glory. No dancers. No gimmicks. In an age where I feel like every news story has spin and every pop star is a carefully curated package, Adele is so refreshing. Listening to her sing is like bearing witness to the Redemption of Talent.

But we waited a long, long time before she came onstage. We got snacks. We had a drink. We told stories. We took Adele-Like extreme close-up eye-selfies:

But she did finally come on stage, and (of course), her first words were:

Hello. It’s me.

In the absence of a so-fantastic-it-must-certainly-go-viral blog post to break the silence, I thought I’d take a cue from Adele, and just say: Hello. It’s me. Because sometimes that’s all it takes just to get things going again, doesn’t it? After months of silence, we can pick up the phone, or send a text, or draft an email, or turn up on a doorstep with a cup of coffee and say: Hello.

In my experience, awkwardness doesn’t dissolve over time. Awkwardness in relationships is like awkwardness in dancing: it’s not being sure where to step so that you don’t step on someone’s toes. It’s uncertainty and fear of rejection and nervousness about whether your breath smells and whether they’d say something if it did.

But no-one ever became a better dancer by not dancing for a little while longer. And no one ever fixed an awkward friendship by prolonging a deafening silence. And, if that is true, no blogger ever got back in the game by waiting until she had the perfect post to share with you all.

So I’ll share an awkward selfie and just say “hello”. It’s nice to be back. I missed you.

Writer Mom Haiku

haiku

Writer Mom Haiku 

Dishwasher running
Washing machine laundering
Cursor blinking, waits

by Ellen Mandeville, illustrated by Corrie Haffly

If you’re just joining me on my Conquer-My-Fear-Of-Poetry month adventure, welcome and a very happy Sunday to you.

After yesterday’s heart-stabbingly beautiful love poem (ah! Neruda!), today seemed a good day for something simpler, but no less profound. This, from Ellen Mandeville, is 100% true, and is expressed in one of my favorite little poetic forms: the haiku.

10 Tips For Making The Most of Twitter

When I have a question about Twitter, I ask Aleah Marsden. As it turns out, I’m not alone with my questions about the why, how, and what-the-heck of Twitter, so I asked Aleah to please write us newbies a post. Enjoy, and tweet it to a friend!

Top 10 Twitter Tips

I get comments from people occasionally wondering why Twitter is my hands-down absolute favorite social media platform.

I tell them it’s because there are people there.

Real people with real lives who, if they are using it well, are also looking to interact. I don’t think any other social media platform offers that as simply and effectively as Twitter. Facebook comes with a lot baggage; some people would be better off limited to 140 magical characters. Instagram is visually stunning, though I find its lack of links and difficulty sharing stunt its ability for deeper connection. Pinterest—my least favorite platform—is just flat-out void of people. It feels like I’m walking into a museum alone and I’m looking for someone to discuss the art with and all I can find is more art.

Now, to be sure, being a writer and lover of words, I am biased. Still, wasn’t the original point of social media to connect with, well, people? My biggest writing opportunities have ALL been somehow related to Twitter. I have made friends and connections with people that, frankly, I shouldn’t even know.

As a means of publicly declaring my Twitter devotion (and having a convenient link to send to the person who weekly contacts me about my “Twitter strategy”), I’ve made a list of my Ten Twitter Tips for you to get the most out of this platform:

1. Don’t act like a celebrity. Stop and consider your motives. For many of us a reality of our Twitter use is to increase our social media presence for our platform. I do not have a problem with this, up to a point. However, a trap I fell in when I first began tweeting was being overly concerned with my follower ratio. I wanted to make sure I always had more followers than people I was following because I wanted to look popular. I was the queen of my tiny Twitter-kingdom, and you know what? It ended up stunting my overall growth. This is Twitter people, not prom.

2. Follow-back real people. My general rule: if they have less than five thousand followers and seem to be interested in interaction, or I perceive them as being in my target audience for my writing, then I follow back. There are always exceptions, but I’ve found this to be effective. This does take about half a minute of actual research; clicking on someone’s profile to see what they’re about. But if you’re here for connecting with people and not just looking like a celebrity, then it’s more than worth your time. Often, not always, I’ll use the first profile look to engage someone: I notice you have a lot of kids and like coffee: me too! Or, reading anything awesome right now? Following back is probably the number one way to show you value people above your platform. It says I see you and I care about what you have to say.

3. Invest in slow, sustainable growth. Yes, many of us are here to cultivate a platform. Personally, I do this by daily following a handful of people that I think would benefit from my message, instead of following a thousand people per week who are also just looking to gain followers. I do this by following people who follow people with similar interests. For example, I know that a lot of women who follow the Redbud Writers Guild account (@redbudwriters) are looking to connect with Christian women who are influencing culture. I fit that category, too. I know that women who follow Christianity Today’smeneutics blog (@CT_women) enjoy news and cultural analysis from a feminine evangelical perspective; I want to know what these women have to say. People who follow IF:Gathering (@IFgathering) or Propel (@PropelWomen) are looking to empower women in leadership; I’m interested in that, too. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to follow people, just be genuine in how you go about it. Your numbers will increase more slowly, but you’ll have built an affinity group that actually cares about your message.

4. Be genuine. You should be the same person offline that you are online, and that goes for any social media platform. This does not mean you need to tweet your deepest, most private thoughts. I think of Twitter as a virtual work cocktail party. Would you walk into the room and loudly begin reading your diary? Now, I think there is a place for transparency in any relationship, but I also think in our culture of praising the “brave” and “vulnerable” that we need to consider whether we are sharing to encourage others or to get attention. Figure out where you draw the line between being genuine and over-sharing.

5. Be quick to listen, slow to tweet. One of the coolest things about Twitter is that you can listen in on conversations people are having. I love watching people I admire interacting and engaging difficult topics. It’s not every day (or ever) that I can sit in on a conversation about current events with such a broad scope of voices represented. Twitter can be an excellent tool for better understanding where people are coming from on all sorts of issues. Here’s the thing: YOU DON’T HAVE TO INSERT YOUR OPINION. I mean, if you have something constructive worth mentioning, by all means jump in! Unfortunately, what I usually see happening is a lot of people who feel they need to declare what side they are on as if we’re choosing teams. Tweet-debate is not a team sport.

6. Don’t feed the trolls. There are always those people who struggle with number four. These people are not only looking to join a team, but they’re trying to become team captain. Your best strategy is to ignore them. If they’re particularly bothersome utilize the mute or, as a final resort, block feature. Be aware, though, that just because someone doesn’t agree with your opinion, this does not make them a troll. Twitter is a great place to gain a diverse understanding of issues, so follow people who don’t see the world as you do, but be humble enough to listen without provocation.

7. Love your Twitter neighbor as yourself. I have had numerous people ask me what the secret is to get people to interact with you. Well, if you want people to tweet you, why don’t you start by tweeting them? I set a goal of interacting with five people every time I log on. Do you want people to retweet your posts? Well, go ahead and do some reading and comment and retweet other people’s work. You want someone to tweet about your book? You get the picture.

8. Don’t be a link or retweet spammer. While I appreciate when people share their own or other people’s work, this should not make up the bulk of your tweets. I follow you because I genuinely want to know what you have to say. Please don’t add to my already congested feed by auto-tweeting a link to your most recent post hourly for a week. Certainly do not be one of those people who have a Twitter account for that sole purpose. If you want to promote your work without interaction a better platform choice would be Pinterest.

9. For the love of hashtags. A lot of people hate on hashtags or the newly coined hashtag-activism. Hashtagtivism. Like all of Twitter, I think this has potential for good or evil Personally, I’m a fan of the witty hashtag at the end of a tweet. #thestruggleisreal #hatersgonnahate #procrastinatorsgonnaprocrastinate Some people find them annoying, especially long ones, so use them sparingly. #itshouldnotakeyoufiveminutestodecipherasinglehastagthatisridiculousyouonlyhaveonehundredandfortycharacters. In theory, the purpose of hastags are to gather like content into one place. An especially practical way I’ve seen this used if for book launches. A unique hashtag of your title can help create buzz. (Be sure to check your hashtag before using, though. You wouldn’t want to be linking your work to something sketchy). Also, there is something to be said for hashtagtivism getting a powerful message out, ex: #blacklivesmatter. This is also another way to find people of similar (or respectfully dissimilar) opinions. There are even some excellent communities that gather around hashtags, check out: #amwriting #wholemama #fmfparty.

10. NEVER EVER AUTO-DIRECT MESSAGE This is one of my biggest pet peeves. You follow someone and whatever app they use to manage their account automatically sends a generic direct message. This is a surefire way for me to immediately unfollow or mute you. I don’t know what social media guru teaches people this is the way to go, but if you want people to engage with you, act like a person and personally tweet them. To me this is akin to being handed a gospel-tract from a stranger. Sure, it can sometimes be effective, but I’m much more likely to take an interest in your message or ministry if I have a relationship with you.

Oh, Twitter.

How do I love you? Let me count the ways.

I love you on your very best,

And very worst of days.

This is a somewhat adapted version of one of my sons’ favorite board books How Do I Love You? By P.K. Hallinan. The premise is that a parent steadfastly loves his or her unruly son, no matter what he does; be it coloring on the walls or playing contentedly.

And that pretty much sums up my Twitter experience, as well. For everything wonderful and exciting about this platform, it certainly has its petulant toddlerish side as well, but, oh how I love it!

Yes, for every genuine connection there is an exponential number of trolls and bots, but I believe if you have a heart for connecting with people, then it’s well worth the investment.

Aleah Marsden is a writer, editor, and Social Media and Communications Manager for Redbud Writers Guild. She blogs at DepthoftheRiches.com about life, faith, and Bible study. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

 

A Brave Pen-light in a Dark World

This is one of the few (ever) guest posts that left me in broken, hopeful tears. After reading it I emailed Aleah and said, “dang it girl. dang.”  Aleah Marsden is my writing BFF, but even if I didn’t have the extraordinary privilege of being able to say those things I would still say this: she is an incredible writer. This piece is about how scary it is to write, or to do anything, for that matter, when our contribution is so small and scared, while the world out there is so big and scary. 

God uses our stones, you know. And our

My seven year old son sits before the homework page: knees up, heels resting on the seat of the chair, arms wrapped around his legs, and dark brown, nearly black, eyes staring over his folded arms. Brooding. On the verge of tears. One hundred math facts: ten rows of ten facts, daunting. Overwhelmed and paralyzed, he fights the battle raging in his mind for a place to start. For a foothold. Maybe if he stares at it long enough, looking pathetic enough, I will have pity and excuse him from the work. Or do it for him.

My empathy is touched, but not pushed to interference. This scene plays out at least once a week, whenever the dreaded hundred-fact sheet is pulled out of his folder. He is excellent at math. Rarely do I need to correct his answers, though his spelling is another story. I know he can do this and do it well. I have witnessed him do it before.

However, I know how it feels to be overwhelmed and so stuck up-in-your-head that you can’t take the next step—even and especially the first faltering step.

I look adoringly from my book proposal, that sweet bundle of hope and pixels, to my phone: a picture of 21 brothers on a beach who I will see in martyr’s robes on the last day. I look into the eyes I can see because I want to be sure I recognize them. Oh, God, for the women and children left behind!

I excitedly check Twitter to see if today will be the day I break the magical 1,000 followers mark. I’m far from the majestic blue-check stamp of approval, but still eagerly anticipating this next milestone. Then I click a link and read about human trafficking in such beyond-the-numbers human terms that I’m sick to my stomach. Oh, baby girl. No, Lord, no!

I pray over my possibilities and share my life-giving stories of IF:Gathering last weekend. Of the power of women (and a few brave men) contained around tables in the theater and at restaurants all over downtown Austin. I am challenged to stop insulating myself from the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. To stop counting the cost, as I consider the cost of a little more than a dollar a day to Feed the Children. And I can’t. Because right now that dollar a day feeds my people and it tears me apart with longing for more. I vow to be generous with what I have and not what I haven’t.

I stand in the field, tall grass tickling my exposed calves, with my stone in my sling facing the Giant.

I walk my sixth lap around a fortress fortified up to Heaven and wonder if the marching is making any difference at all.

I look into the face of the Man calling me to drop everything and follow Him, heart beating in my throat.

In reality, I smoosh the words around the screen with the skill of a finger-painting preschooler and a fraction of the confidence. I point my laptop in the direction of the void of cybernetic space and fire off another bundle of words into the darkness.

There is so much more I want to do. If only I had heavier artillery to bring to this battle. I see my brother-martyrs, my sister-victims, our hungry kids and I point a blue ballpoint in my trembling right hand. I thrust it out before my chest against the swords and darkness; impotent iPhone in my back pocket.

My hope looks insignificant, selfish, against this wave. I am swept up in the rush of urgency down the social media rapids, overwhelmed and pulled under the whirlpool of information until I’m washed out on the shore panting, crying, praying. It’s too much. It’s too big.

How simple, how stupid, how selfish, how small this art feels against the looming dark.

I trudge out back to water the damn platform again, wondering as I do if it will ever be tall enough for anyone to find relief under its branches. If it even matters, or if it will just a die a slow death like every other green thing ever entrusted to my care. Truth is, though I sometimes fantasize about uprooting the thing and feeding it to the wood chipper, I believe it contains potential to grow into something beautiful, flourishing, and a tree of blessing for others.

Even though my words possess some intrinsic value scribbled in the margins of my personal space: they have no impact unless I have the courage to fling them. Maybe it’s more selfish to hoard them. I put my whole self of force behind them, trusting the I AM within to provide spark and trajectory for my small stones. God uses our stones, you know. And our steps, our pieces, our art to sum greater than their parts. Every time. He is our only hope against the too much, too big dark because He is the greatest much, the greatest big light. Against Him no darkness can stand.

My sweet boy sits staring. Even this small battle of overcoming addition holds incredible kingdom implications. You can do this. You are enough. You have what it takes. I breathe into the top of his soft dark hair. Start. Just pick one and do it. Then do another. And another. And one more little piece until it somehow in the mystery and solidness of mathematics makes a hundred.

I’ll keep flinging my words. Keep watering and pruning the brambly platform out back. Keep forcing myself to find human faces in the information overload out there. One more post, one more stone, one more submission, one more lap.

One more step forward pointing my pen-light into the darkness.

profile picAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She blogs about life, faith, and studying the Bible at DepthOfTheRiches.com. Member of Redbud Writers Guild. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

 

Photo credit: Einherjan2k8 – Overgrown Path in the early evening sun (Flickr Creative Commons) / edited by Bronwyn Lea

The Blogger’s Husband (and other naming dilemmas)

So, here’s a question: how should I refer to my husband online?

Some of the bloggers I read have invited me right into their homes and introduced us to their family by name: Rachel Held Evans has her Dan (Go, Team Dan and Rachel!) Kristen Howerton has a feisty daughter named India: I would recognize her spunk at 100 paces, even if she wasn’t wearing rompers. Ashleigh Slater goes with Ted. Glennon Melton has her Craig, Chase, Tish and Amma. And I know Jen Hatmaker has Brendon, Remy, Sydney, Gavin, Ben and another kid whose name I don’t know so they must be either very private or very boring (who am I kidding: clearly the answer is private. Boring is not an option if you are a Hatmaker.)

Others are more cryptic. I know Sarah Bessey has an “Anne with an -e” (of course!), but usually she calls them her ‘tinies’. Parenting forums use the ubiquitous “DH” for “darling husband”, which I find more than a little cheesy. My friend Jen opted for MOTH: the Man of the House – sheer genius!  My friend Cara calls her beloved “HBH”, Hot Black Husband, a most awesome combination of privacy and flattery.

I am choosing the more private route. While I am willing to bare my own soul on this blog, my husband would rather have root canal than talk about his feelings. His trust has been long-won, and I work hard to walk the line between being honest about my life while not sharing about his. My children are in the same boat.  So while they do make appearances, I don’t post pictures of their faces or their names on this blog. But what, then, to call them? And in particular, what to call my husband?

Ann Voskamp loves her Farmer. And Ree Drummond has MarlboroMan (and honestly – who can not vicariously love a man like that?) But my husband is not a Man of the Earth, who spends his days doing manly things in manly ways, sweating manly sweat and wiping his brow on his rugged plaid shirtsleeves. He is an engineer, and an excellent one at that. But I can’t call him The Engineer. It’s altogether too Dilbert-like, and I ain’t anyone’s pointy haired woman.

And so, I call him “my husband”. Accurate, but not exactly catchy or endearing.

So I’m wondering: Do you have any suggestions? How would YOU refer to your family?

 

When pajamas and an iPad are the tools of the trade

Today's Writing Station - Thord Daniel Hedengren (Flickr Creative Commons)

Today’s Writing Station – Thord Daniel Hedengren (Flickr Creative Commons)

My thoughtful blogging friend Jody Louise invited me to participate in a ‘blog hop’: a pyramid scheme of the very nicest kind. In it, we get to answer a few questions about the how and why of writing, and I also get to introduce you to three writers who I enjoy reading. I LOVE recommending other writers, so how could I turn this down?

I must confess that I found the questions a little intimidating: they seemed formulated for people who were much more intentional and organized in their writing than I am. However, the process of thinking through the questions was worthy in itself, and I hope that the answers about me, as a haphazard writer, are interesting for you, gentle reader 🙂

(So without further ado, here is a drumroll….)

What am I writing or working on?

I do not plan very far ahead in my writing (see question 4 on the writing process). I do not have a writing plan for next week, or next month. But I do have a few ideas I am rolling around with: I have an “ask me anything” question I’m mulling over before I answer, and two pieces I am working on for other publications.

After I wrote the Screwtape Letter after the World Vision fiasco, a friend suggested I should write a sequel in the Screwtape/Wormwood genre, focused on some of the lies that women believe. I love this idea and have been thinking over it and reading about it, but I have yet to write a single word on it.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Hmmm. This question assumes I know what genre my writing is. I find it hard to categorize: my “genre” is really whatever I am thinking about/talking about on any given day – which means my blog covers a gamut of things that make me laugh and things that make me think. Sometimes it’s parenting, or body image, or theology, or literature. Sometimes it’s a hot topic, sometimes it’s just something I thought was funny. Certainly my most widely read genre are the things I have written about marriage. I find this astounding: I would NOT consider myself to be a marriage expert. We have more than our share of struggles, and yet it seems that being willing to share what I am struggling with and learning in the process has found something of a niche.

One thing I have found as I have been writing is that I am not really a lifestyle or mommy blogger, which I thought at first I might be. As it turns out, my writing has much more spiritual content than I expected it would. It kind of surprised me how, when I started to dig deeper on any given topic, there was almost always a faith-root exposed.

Why do I write what I do?

Because it’s what I am thinking about and talking about anyway.

Because I like the process of writing. (And it’s a ministry I can do in my pajamas with an iPad at home.)

Because people tell me I’m good at it.

But mostly because I hope that somewhere out there, the words I write might have a positive effect on someone: whether to make them smile, feel understood, or to understand something a little better. I write to bless.

How does my writing process work?

I am a post-by-post, article-by-article kind of writer. In general, I am fairly haphazard: I write about what I feel like writing. I think about it, and then I download it into a blogpost and hit publish. I was quite mortified when I attended the writing festival in April and discovered that the norm in writing is to write drafts and to edit one’s work… oh yikes. I am so much more impulsive than that.

However, I’m trying to build a little more discipline into writing and take this seriously, as it does seem something that I feel a modicum of ‘calling’ to do right now. To that end, I’m waking up 1-2 hrs before my children to read, pray (and write, if I get to it) in the morning. Some nights, I put an hour in too. But the rest of the time, I’m a full-time-mommy, and the writing thoughts congregate and coagulate in my head until I find the time to try and force them into more concrete, wordy shapes.

Which other writers would I like to introduce you to?

Gosh! I’m so glad you asked 🙂 Readers, I’m thrilled to introduce 3 bloggers to you – maybe they’re a voice you’ve been missing all along!

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Profile pic 05.14 Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African pastor and spends her days relying on the Lord’s grace (and plenty of chocolate) to homeschool their three children by day, and freelance by night. Kate writes for iBelieve.com and Ungrind Webzine, and has contributed to several other publications including (in)courage, Start Marriage Right, Thriving Family, MOPS, Radiant Magazine and Young Disciple. You can read more from Kate at her blog, Heading Home, or on Twitter @k8motaung.

I knew Kate long before either of us started writing, and it has been so wonderful to be on this writing journey with her. Kate wrote a fabulous guest post for this blog here.

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1424377_2486623925114_1440151646_nBriana Meade is a millennial writer and blogger. You can read her millennial-focused blog here or follow her on Twitter @BrianaMeade. She has published online at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, The Christian Post, and Forbes and is currently working on her first book, Love In Fast Cars, which explores the heartbreak and nostalgia of growing up–a book about millennials and for millennials.

I got to meet Briana in person at the Writing Festival in April, and liked her 1000% from the word go. Briana guest posted in the Words that Changed my World series with Running in the Rain (ICYMI – read it!)

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SarahBWCloseLaughSarah Siders is a social-working writer and church planter with her husband in a Midwestern college town. She is working on her book, Dream or Die, a primer on recovering dreams and vision for our lives, which will release this year. She laughs and thinks out loud on dreaming, relationships and the hilarity of parenthood at her blog home, www.sarahsiders.com, or you can find her on Twitter: @sarahsiders.

Sarah and I both write for Start Marriage Right, but we really got chatting one day on Twitter when we were comparing notes about who the worst potty trainer in the world was (I maintain I am worse. Sorry, Sarah). We got to follow up with a lengthy and hilarious skype meeting, and I for one was cheering for her this week as she had to return to work after the birth of her second kiddo. Read her lovely post about that here.

Happy Bloggity Birthday

A yeIMG_0185ar ago, I nervously took a risk. After an invitation to guest post over at Tim’s blog, I decided to collect a few of my thoughts and start a new blog of my own – and Bronwyn’s Corner was born.

Friends – I had NO IDEA what was coming. No idea that people would actually read my stuff. No idea that I would land up joining (and loving!) a most wonderful Writer’s Guild. No idea that I would start writing for other online publications.

I had never had any ambitions to be a “writer” – and so this past year has been one long, constant surprise. It has amazed me how much I’ve enjoyed it: writing feels like talking to friends and turning thoughts about life over with them as if we were drinking coffee together. I love that: it reminds me of my favorite parts of ministry.

Also – I had no idea how many online friends I would meet, and that some of them would turn into real life friends. I had no idea that I would get letters from readers saying “thanks, that’s just what I needed today.” Every time I get an email like that, it still amazes me.

And happy birthday to my little blog 🙂 For its birthday, my awesome friend Corrie helped me give it a make-over. Cute, don’t you think?

So thank you, friends – for reading and encouraging me to keep writing. Thanks for sharing my posts and telling friends about it. Thanks for leaving comments. Thanks for making this little corner of the internet feel, to me, like an extension of my living room: a place for grace, caffeine and laughter.

I am so grateful for you all.