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A Reading Injury

There are acceptable and even awe-inspiring types of injuries. These are the injuries sustained
while sliding into home plate, landing the perfect vault, or defending the honor of a damsel in
distress. These are injuries of glory and achievement, ones where people pat your back and
then say “Well, at least you got hurt doing something epic.”


These are not the type of injuries my family is known for.

We get injured in the stupidest ways. There’s no honor in our injuries; there’s usually not even
a good reason for them. But this is not to say we are embarrassed by them. Oh no, we take
great pride and pleasure in the ridiculous circumstances of our wounds!


Ask my mom about her cheese-toast injuries and she will explain the burn marks up and down
her arms with a special twinkle in her eye.


Ask Kiana about the time she broke her arm during Sharing Time at church. I mean, how does
one even do that? But she did and there’s a story there.


Ask Sierra about her “Tip,” a nickname we lovingly gave to her scalp injury and consequential
disfigurement.


We also named my childhood dog’s dangling armpit tumor “The Kermit,” but since a tumor is
not really an injury, we will save the story and its accompanying photos (NSFW) for another
post.


My own favorite stupid injury happened to me while reading Pride and Prejudice. It was a
READING INJURY! How apt! How gleefully perfect! I know nary a soul who has achieved
something so ridiculous and so completely “on brand” but I did it! Me!

This is what went down:

I was in my early twenties, taking the semester off of college to teach English to kids in
Guatemala. Between classes, I’d sneak in a few chapters of Jane Austin’s best book. As the
school day came to close, I had just arrived at the chapter where Elizabeth Bennett toured
Pemberley and realized that Mr. Darcy is not the brute she’d imagined him to be, but an
honorable steward of his sprawling old-money estate.

Now, to someone who has not read the book, this hardly seems like edge-of-your-seat material.
But for someone who has read the book, YOU UNDERSTAND. This was possibly the most
romantic scene in all of literature.

It was the third time I’d read Pride and Prejudice, so it was not like I didn’t know what was
going to happen, but I was feeling all the feels. I could not bear to put the book down, even for
the 20 minutes it would take to walk from the school to the bus stop.


Now Guatemala is not known for its well-maintained streetways and I probably should have
been watching for cars, human traffickers, or other notable obstacles, but Elizabeth Bennet was
falling in love! So I sashayed down the road with “dreamy far-off look and a nose stuck in some
book” …. and then promptly stepped into a pothole and broke my ankle.


If breaking my ankle while reading Pride and Prejudice is not a love-letter to books, then I don’t know what is.

What is your most epically awesome or epically stupid injury? Do tell!

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On Writing a “Clean” Book

The bottom-side of my classroom desk was shingled in wads of old, chewed-up gum. The topside of the desk had cartoon illustrations of reproductive organs doing all of the things that reproductive organs tend to do. I’d put money on idea that the blossoming artist was a freshmen boy.

Do high school kids still do this? Or were these desk-e-crations (had to) isolated to Littleton, Colorado circa 1996?

Gen Z has far more compelling and far-reaching mediums for self-expression than sharpies and desks. Because of this, our kids are bombarded with more taboo words, images, and ideas than I ever had. Our kids also have more complicated choices. As parents all we can do is guide them through the muck the best we can.

When writing “Called Upon,” I decided to write it clean—meaning without profanities, illicit drug use, or sex-scenes. My reasoning for this was simple. Our kids deserve a little break from the heavy, oversexualized messages they receive every day on their phones and in the hallways at school.

But writing a clean book that is interesting and realistic is difficult to do because:

a) Sex is a relevant and interesting subject. Sex sells.

b) Teenagers swear. Sometimes they do drugs and mess around. Writing teens as if these are not their everyday issues can come across as inauthentic and doesn’t give teens enough credit for what deal with.

c) Sometimes I find that clean literature can get pretty cheesy, side-stepping important storylines because it is uncomfortable or unsavory.

d) I am sorry, but “Darn it” just doesn’t pack the punch of a solid “Damn it.” I, myself, enjoy an occasional, mild swear every here and again and I had to sit on my fingers to prevent myself from letting my characters do the same.

I find that the most successful clean books are the ones that I didn’t realize were clean until after I read it. This usually means that exclamations like “Oh my heck” and “Goodness gracious” are used sparingly. Plus, the romance has to be written so well that I didn’t notice that the love-birds didn’t consummate their relationship. Whether or not I did this successfully with “Called Upon” is up for discussion.

However, while avoiding explicit descriptions and vulgar word-choices, “Called Upon” does not skirt difficult issues. On the contrary, one of my main characters in an unwed teenage mother. If you find such a storyline problematic, “Called Upon” might not be for you.

Another trigger warning, “Called Upon” has a fair amount of violence and blood.

I do not glorify the hard issues—teen pregnancy, gun-violence, cyber-bullying—but I shine a light on them, hopefully causing the reader to think about problematic behaviors and their consequences, instead of pretending these issues do not exist.

What clean books have you read that did a good job with this balancing act?

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Imposter

When filling out an author questionnaire about myself for my publisher, I was asked about previous published works, awards, and speaking engagements. Well, I won the poetry competition in fourth grade for Reflections and got to read it out loud in front of the parents, but that’s my main claim-to-fame. That poem was, admittedly, rad.

My successes in life are most often quiet and understated. I am a loving and silly mother. I am a loyal friend and a supportive spouse. I am not coordinated, but I am very athletic. I am kind. I like sharing my stuff. Yesterday, I killed a black widow by stepping on it. I have recently mastered touching my toes from the standing position. I have outstanding lips.

I am proud of myself for these things, but I don’t require a lot of outside recognition for them.

While filling out the questionnaire about myself, however, I was overwhelmed with how little I have done, at least things that seemed relevant in the publishing world. There is no master’s degree in snuggling. There are no awards for sharing my tomato harvest or delivering plates of cookies to my neighbors. My life, which is beautiful and fulfilling, does not look that impressive on paper.

What business do I have being an author when I have never been an author? Why would someone read my book if only have a few hundred followers on Instagram? What if no one but my mom buys my book? And what if people do buy my book, but they think it is lame and they give it two stars on Goodreads? What business do I have parading around like an author when the biggest speaking engagement I have ever had was at the pulpit at church.

I vacillate between euphoria at fulfilling a life-long dream to humiliation for the failure I have not yet had. I have spent hours over my laptop crying, overwhelmed, and feeling like a complete poser. I feel more vulnerable than I ever have.

I posted a pretty pathetic picture of myself, but I am not throwing a pity party (haha, well maybe a little bit). While my feelings are big, they are also good. I am doing something scary and hard and exciting. I am shooting my shot, and maybe I will fail, but maybe I will succeed.

Have you ever felt like an imposter? How did you overcome those feelings?

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The Scarcity Mentality

In Ryan D. Lee’s defense, the whole world had also gone crazy.

In fact, I bet if YOU opened your linen closet right now, this very second, an avalanche of stockpiled toilet paper would bury you within seconds. That’s right; I see you.

But, being that the Lees already had months of emergency toilet paper and food stored in our basement, I was a little surprised when the Amazon Prime truck dropped off five huge cases of Scott toilet paper. My surprise turned to alarm when I realized that these rolls were… uh… large. I mean, even Shaquille O’Neal would feel daunted by them.

“Ryan, what-did-you-DO?!”

“What do you mean?” he joined me at the open box and peered down inside. “Oh… well, that was unexpected.”

Ryan had been expecting five cases of regular human toilet paper, not five cases of Megalodon toilet paper (for the sake of accuracy, these were actually tightly wound industrial paper towels, which have since come in handy, surprisingly. Just not on our bottoms).

Even though we’d been prepared for the Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020, the mass pilgrimage to the grocery stores left us feeling worried. What if there was no TP at the store ever again? What would we do? How could we survive?

The reality was that there was plenty of toilet paper in the world for everyone. And even if there wasn’t enough, it would be okay. We would innovate.However, it FELT like a major crisis. We were in scarcity. The more toilet paper other people had, the less confident we felt in our own supply. That’s when Ryan ordered “the rolls.”

We humans are predisposed to this scarcity mindset. We worry that the more someone else has, the less we will have. This is why we feel threatened by people who have money, cool talents, and own their own bidets.

“How can I be skinny when she is so much skinnier?”“I thought MY car was cool, but look at the rims on THAT Tesla.”

“That person’s faith is so solid. Why do I waver? What is wrong with me?”

This comparison game is brutal. We all do it.This new generation of teenagers plays an especially viscous match. Imagine dealing with all the typical teenage insecurities but adding social media into the mix. It would be like sinking chest-deep in quicksand and then someone handing you an iPad.

When I see those Junior High kids standing on the corner waiting for the school bus, being loud and obnoxious and toting their smartphones and Hydroflasks, my heart squeezes in my chest. These kids are fighting a billion battles a day, putting each other down, puffing their chests outward, trying to hoard all of the “coolness” because it feels like there is not enough to go around.

There is enough, kiddos! There is more than enough. You are enough.

My many years (LOL) have taught me that the less I compare myself to others, the less chance I have of suffocating in an avalanche of metaphorical toilet paper. When I celebrate others for their successes and celebrate myself for mine—not balancing the two on opposing sides of a scale—I find that I like everyone, especially myself, much better!

Ryan and I preach this concept to our kiddos every day, but we know they will only internalize this lesson when they get pummeled a little by the “scarcity” game. So I write them books with characters dealing with the same stuff, pray like it is nobody’s business, and love those little monsters unconditionally.

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The Art of Outside

I call panic attacks “Hulking.” If you have experienced a panic attack, you know why. When your anxiety is sky-high, your body produces adrenaline meant to give you super speed or mega strength if you need to run or fight. The result is a racing heart, labored breathing, nonsensical thoughts, stomach unrest, and every other badness that you could possibly imagine. You feel painfully out of control, like you are becoming a huge green monster.

I developed a hulking disorder a few years back. It was not a case of the blues, stress, or just anxiety. It was full blown panic ragers, one on top of the next, hours, then days, then weeks. I went for almost a week of zero sleep. I tried every western and eastern therapy and remedy available, and I’ll tell you what, some of that shiz got weird. But none of them could shrink me down to my rational, normal self. It was excruciating.

One thing I discussed with my mother-in-law/therapist is that once you are hulking, you can’t fight it. In fact, fighting panic is a sure way to give it wings. The best thing to do is to breathe and wait it out, engaging in calming and semi-distracting activities.

I finally found some relief in the dirt. Literally, the dirt. Somehow, in the early hours of the morning, while running my hands through the cold damp earth, my heart rate slowed. I could finally catch my breath, cry, and feel real emotions other than panic and fear. My garden became a gateway to healing.

I haven’t gone full-hulk in several years, a feat achieved at least an hour of outside time a day (and a little friend named Zoloft). My garden is my sanctuary, but really, any outside activity–preferably surrounded by mountains–will do the trick. Hiking, mountain biking, skiing, rain-smelling, porch-sitting… it is all medicine for my soul. Being outside grounds me in the present moment. Because, almost always, in the present moment everything is okay.

The mountains were a natural backdrop for my book, Called Upon, because I love them, but also because the mountains are a place of worship and revelation. The mountains area a place of healing and a fountain of peace. My girl, Kaitlin certainly finds healing there. And trouble. Plenty of trouble too. But between healing and trouble, she really finds her complete self there.

Like me.

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The Making Of Called Upon – Part 1- Bedtime

I have a rule about my kids’ bedtime. They can stay up as long as they want—weekends, school nights, whenever—as long as they are reading a book. Though my own parents didn’t spell out that rule to me when I was a child, it was intrinsically there. My mom was a voracious reader and taught me that reading was on the top shelf of priorities, wedged between food and caffeinated beverages. Obviously, sleep was on a lower shelf. I have countless memories of reading well into the middle of the night, fighting off sleep like a cancer.

“One more chapter. Just one. Okay, maybe another. Just another page. Well, ONE more…” Sometimes I’d fall asleep with an open book against my chest. Sometimes, especially after a few hours of R.L. Stein, I was certain that something slimy and weapon-yielding was lurking under my bed. Those nights I drifted off with the lights on because I couldn’t gather the courage to jump out of bed to hit the switch.

I liked ALL the books, classics like Anne of Green Gables and The Giver, as well as the Sweet Valley Twin varieties. To this day I bounce from genre to genre. Books like Cutting for Stone and Twilight have been known to touch each other on my nightstand.

Even as grownup(ish), I fight sleep to catch just one more chapter. I wear a headlamp now, because I am just THAT stylish, and also because my husband does not have the stay-up-as-late-as-you-want-as-long-as-you-are-reading rule. Bless ‘im.

One genre has always intrigued me most, though. It is the Sleepaway Summer Camp Fiasco genre.
Okay, I just made up that genre name, but I get to do that because I am an author now.

A remote and beautiful location, minimal adult supervision, prank wars, summer romances—this is the perfect backdrop for anything and everything to happen! I especially liked these stories as a young adult and I have ALWAYS known that I would one day write one such story. Called Upon is that story! I did it.

And not only does Called Upon have all of the crucial elements of a Sleepaway Summer Camp Fiasco, it’s got layers. Like, dark layers. Like mysterious layers. Like MURDER layers. This is the sort of book that you might just stay up way past your bedtime to read. This is the kind of story that will make you laugh out loud. It might gross you out a little, too. It is the book that might cause your 12-year-old to sleep with the lights on because there might be something slimy and weapon-yielding under his or her bed.

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Do You Like My Hat?

“Yes, I like it! I like your party hat!”

 

If you are a human person, it is highly likely you learned to read, or taught your children to read, by the book “Go Dog. Go!” By P.D. Eastman. For some reason, I could read this book over and over without wanting to gouge out my own eyeballs. Sorry, but some of those books for beginners can be hella-tedious (I am looking at you, Dr. Suess.) However, “Go Dog. Go!” somehow managed to cram a whole lot of whimsy into a handful of simple sentences.

One running storyline throughout the book is about Pink Poodle and her hat collection. Every time she wears a new hat, she excitedly approaches Yellow Dog and asks if he likes her hat. His answer is always “no” and Pink Poodle leaves him feeling dejected. This scenario plays out time and time again until the end of the book when the two meet up at a treetop dog party. Pink Poodle is wearing her most inventive hat yet, adorned with flowers, spiders, candy canes, a mop, a paper windmill, and basically every other knickknack one could find on the holiday shelf of the Dollar Tree. Once again, she poses the question to Yellow Dog, “Do you like my hat?” And he likes it! He likes her hat!

This part of the book always had me cheering. At last! At last he likes her hat! What a relief! Pink Poodle is also thrilled, finally receiving the validation she’d been wanting for years. Pink Poodle and Yellow Dog drive off into the sunset, probably to a lifetime of belly scratches and blimp tennis.

Only a few years ago, while reading this book for the hundredth time with my kindergartener, did I finally have the thought, “Wait-a-gosh-dern-minute….”

Why does it matter what yellow dog thinks of pink poodle’s hat? Did Pink Poodle like her hat? Why did she choose to live her happily-ever-after only when Yellow Dog gave her the thumbs up? Who the heck is this P.D. Eastman author anyway and why was THIS the moral to “Go Dog. Go!?”

Let’s set aside the misogynistic implications here and really zoom in on the issue of self-worth. Why did Pink Poodle only get her happy ending when someone else approved of her? It seems so silly when you think about it, but it took me years to even register this glaring problem with the book. And if it took so long to notice this in a book I’ve read a hundred times, am I failing to notice how I can be the Pink Poodle in the book “Go, Bethany. Go!?”

Ok. Truth moment. I actually am not the Pink Poodle in the book of my life. I understand my faults and foibles, and they are many, but I also know that I am a woman of worth. Whether you like my hat or “like” this post, it doesn’t change the fact that I am a daughter of a loving God. I cannot undo this love with sins, mistakes, or butt-ugly hats. My worth is set. And it is infinite.

And so is yours!

I have not always understood my worth. In fact, growing up I was about as insecure as I could be. I think that’s the case with so many young adults. Understanding self-worth is a lesson hard-won.

One of the main reasons I bring it up now is that my upcoming book’s underlying theme is that of self-worth. It is subtle, heavily shrouded in mystery and s’mores, but it is there. I put it in there because it is important.
Kaitlin, Called Upon’s protagonist, begins as a Pink Poodle in the book. How she realizes her worth is a key element of her journey. What she does with that knowledge is her personal triumph.