On My Way to Parts North…

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UpperFalls10 copyWe’ve hiked Pictured Rocks and Grand Sable Dunes. This year my sister Alison and I are headed up to Tahquamenon Falls, the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha.

“Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the Summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!”
Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gayly,
In the Moon of Leaves were singing,
And the sun, from sleep awaking,
Started up and said, “Behold me!
Gheezis, the great Sun, behold me!”
And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
“Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!”

I was beyond thrilled to see many maple trees already turning red and orange on my drive to Grand Rapids this morning, and I am hoping for at least a touch of color way up near the fabled shores of Gitche Gumee (that’s Lake Superior, in case you were unaware).

I can’t wait to get there and I can’t wait to share pictures with all of you.

Now Available in Paperback! The Intentional Writer

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If you’ve been waiting for the paperback edition of The Intentional Writer, this is your lucky day. If you don’t even know what I’m talking about (and you’re an aspiring author) this is still your lucky day. If you’re neither of these, indulge me a moment while I explain.

Intentional Writer CVR FINAL

The Intentional Writer is some of my best advice for beginning writers who wish they had more time, space, and inspiration for their writing. It offers lots of tips and tricks for carving out time to write, courting the muse to keep your ideas flowing, and prioritizing writing so that you can stop making excuses and start finishing things.

Every piece of insight I have to offer comes from my own experience as a writer looking for a sustainable writing rhythm that would keep me creating regularly, but wouldn’t saddle me with a load of guilt if I didn’t meet a certain word count every day.

As I formatted the paperback edition, I’ve added new content and updated existing content to reflect further developments in my own writing journey. I plan to update the Kindle edition soon to reflect those changes.

It is my hope that the things I’ve learned can help many other aspiring authors. Click here to purchase!

I’ll also take this chance to let you know that I will be speaking again at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference this year. Last year I spoke on the topic of finding your writing rhythm. This year I’ll be giving out great revision tips and advice to bring your writing to the next level. I would love to see you there! Check out the schedule of speakers and register for the conference on October 10-11.

Do We Worship at the Altar of Family?

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I count myself lucky to be close friends with Ted and Kristin Kluck. Ted is primarily a writer and professor, though he is also a football player and coach, a boxing coach, a concrete grinder, and someone who unloads cargo planes at four in the morning. Kristin is primarily a homemaker and caterer, but she is also a cookbook author, a marketing professional, a janitor, a gardener, and an all-around crafty person with a great sense of style. Household Gods is the first book on which Ted and Kristin have collaborated.

Long ago (in Internet Time) I fancied this blog as a place that I might review books about Michigan and by Michigan authors, though I have only reviewed a few. Then one Sunday afternoon I read this book in two sittings–interrupted by the need to make and consume quesadillas–and I felt compelled to share it with others.

51Y2CtLMMzLIn our age of over-programmed kids, obsessively crafting our persona on social media, and constant cultural messages to relentlessly improve our lives, our bodies, and our station in life, Household Gods is both a breath of fresh, unpretentious air and an uncomfortably honest mirror for us to look into–like one of those magnifying mirrors in some hotel bathrooms that shows us our every flaw. But, as with all Ted Kluck projects, there’s so much humor and so much of the author pointing to himself as the chief of all sinners that it never feels like a guilt trip.

The book begins as a call to examine our lives for idols that take the form of some very good things–family, children, spouse, success, money, ambition, work–and it doesn’t take long to realize that every good gift from our Father can easily be turned into an idol, something we serve ahead of or instead of our Creator. But as I read, I found that the book delved deeper than I expected.

Despite the fact that it is positioned as a book for families, I think this book is for every Christian, single or married, childless or parents, young or old. The stories that Ted and Kristin tell–with unflinching and sometimes painful honesty–are rooted in family, whether their family of origin, the one they created when they first married, or the one they have built through adoption. But no matter what stage of life you are in, you will find yourself in these pages. And it won’t necessarily be in the way you expected. I know I have not experienced the same struggles as my friends, but their struggles pointed me to mine. And now I’m left with the task of bringing my own idols to God, laying them at His feet, and asking for forgiveness and strength to resist them in the future.

I guarantee you that if you read Household Gods it will

1.) be the most honest book you have ever read–no sugarcoating, no excuses, no putting themselves in the best light possible, and no passes for the reader to do that either

2.) help you examine your life, relationships, job, hobbies, desires, and dreams to discover why you are motivated to pursue those things

3.) show you when your pursuit of success or praise crosses over into idolatry

4.) clearly show that God offers us grace in everything

5.) and motivate you to realign your priorities and model humility and grace in your relationships

Knowing Ted and Kristin as well as I do, there were still many moments when I realized that I didn’t know them as well as I thought. And that is an encouragement to me to offer my friends and family more grace than I do now, knowing that I can never truly know just what someone is going through under the surface that they allow the world to see. So not only will Household Gods help you to be a better mother, father, son, daughter, husband, or wife, it will help you be a better friend and a more faithful witness to the saving and sanctifying grace of the Savior.

** To my non-Christian readers, thanks for indulging this God-soaked post. While written for Christians, Household Gods would be an eye-opening read for anyone, I think. Perhaps you should check it out.

New Release! This Elegant Ruin…and other stories

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I’m so thrilled to tell you that This Elegant Ruin…and other stories is now available at Amazon! Click here to order.

For the uninitiated, in 2013 I challenged myself to write one short story each month. The twelve stories that make up this collection are the result of that challenge. I’m so thrilled to see them in book form with the incredibly beautiful cover my friend and colleague Heather created.

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Now that the kids are back in school, do something for you! Short stories make great reading material for when you just want a little down time (or when you are waiting in the pick-up lanes after school). I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

Here’s the back cover copy to give you a bit of the flavor of the writing:

 

Love and hate. Dreams and nightmares. Luck and misfortune.

In twelve engaging stories, the joys and sorrows of life glow against such varied backdrops as a snowy wood, a quaint country inn, a crumbling metropolis, the shore of Lake Superior, and a lonely country highway. A man in the twilight of his career falls in love with a young woman at the dawn of hers. A girl at the end of her rope finds an unexpected friend in an eccentric stranger. A young man haunted by memories finally gets a chance to forget his troubles. An artist takes stock of his life’s work and discovers an unwelcome truth.

With prose that evokes wonder and fear, regret and relief, Erin Bartels draws meaning from the small moments of life, challenging us to be still, to notice, to dream—and to hope.

August on My Mind

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It’s no secret that August has been an…interesting month. Volatile. Heartbreaking. Incomprehensible. Israel and Gaza. ISIS and extermination of Christians. Depression and suicide. Ice buckets and ALS. Clashes between police and community.

There are a lot of people out there saying and writing plenty about these things. I have little to nothing to add. In many cases I’m just not sure what to even think let alone what to say.

So this post isn’t really about any of those things. It’s about the times when we’re overwhelmed by the brokenness of this world, when we realize that no amount of awareness or legislation or fundraising or foreign policy can fix things. It’s about the moments we teeter on the edge of despair and wonder what it’s all for, when we want to escape into a book or a movie or our own little family circle and block out all the bad, but at the same time we feel guilty for doing it. It’s about wishing for another world. Waiting.

It’s about putting our hope in the promise of all things made new.

What I Learned from a Chatty Iraqi Woman at the Park

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Yesterday I met a woman from Iraq at an area playground. A teacher, she was there with a number of young girls and two other teachers. She has lived in the US for 6 years, coming here with her two young daughters after her husband was killed in the war. She was much more talkative than any other Muslim woman I’ve ever encountered, and I probably see Muslim women every other day in the Greater Lansing Area. It may be because she had been living in the US for so long and spoke such good English that there was no language barrier. We talked for perhaps twenty minutes, and in that short time frame she shared a number of interesting things with me.

First, she was compelled by one of her charges to go down a slide. Afterward, she came back to our bench and said, “I probably shouldn’t have done that. I may hurt my baby.” She shared that she was two months pregnant and that in Iraq, when a woman is pregnant, she basically does nothing but sit around all day. “We are afraid that the glue that holds the baby in will come loose. But American women do everything–they work, they run.” I told her that it was my understanding that as long as you had a normal healthy pregnancy, nothing much was forbidden by American doctors except flying in the last month of your term. She said her husband, who has lived in America for 18 years, told her the same thing. “He says, ‘Get out of the house. American women do not just sit around when they are pregnant.'”

Second, she said that her daughters, now both in high school, live with their grandmother rather than her and her new husband. He had proposed to her not long after she arrived in the US and she refused him because her daughters were “still missing their father.” But a few years later, when he proposed again, she accepted and the girls from her first marriage moved in with their grandmother. “I can tell my girls are sad without me, but it is hard for a new husband and wife to live with older children from another marriage.” I found this very interesting. At first, her focus was on her daughters who were grieving, but then they are sent out of her house, as high schoolers, so that she and her new husband can focus on their new relationship. I’m still not sure what I think of this method of not blending families. But apparently, that’s how it’s done back in Iraq.

Lastly, when I asked her if she liked living here she said yes. She mentioned that her neighborhood was very safe, but that she used to live in the area where two men were shot back in May (you may remember me blogging on that incident). Coming from a war-torn country, she was very concerned that she be somewhere safe. But even in her East Lansing neighborhood, she said, there had been a recent break-in and robbery. I told her that there really is nowhere that is safe from all crime and she seemed surprised by this. This seemed so odd to me since she has come out of a situation in which the worst of human nature is on display.

Soon my son retrieved me and I had to leave. I was reluctant to stop talking with this woman and we never even exchanged names. I don’t know that I will ever run into her again. But I wanted to share our conversation with you. She and I are of different origins and different faiths, but we came together on a bench, connecting first through the common subject of children. We chatted, told each other “it was nice talking to you,” and went our separate ways.

I see those “Coexist” bumper stickers all over town. I’m not a particularly big fan of them because they seem to imply to me that we should ignore all of our difference and leave each other alone. But I don’t want to ignore our differences. I want to discuss them, learn from them, and struggle with them–in a civil manner. And I don’t want to leave other people alone. I want to have conversations and strike up friendships.

My short time with this kind, thoughtful, and sweet-spirited Iraqi woman on a bench in an East Lansing park is what coexisting really looks like, and I’m so grateful that she struck up this conversation with me. I will (hopefully) never know the horrors she had to live through, but regardless of that, we had a lot in common. We both love our families. We worry a little about safety. And frankly, we think that perhaps the new equipment at this playground is a little on the dangerous side for small children.

Thinking of how often Muslims in the US probably encounter hostility from others, I hope that my friendly demeanor reinforced a positive view of this woman’s adopted country. After all, one of the foundational principles upon which this country was built was religious toleration (brought to you by the Baptists via Roger Williams…You’re welcome, America). Toleration doesn’t mean that you accept that the religious beliefs of others are correct or that you never debate about them. It means that you don’t let those differences cause you to persecute those not of your own faith. You live side by side in peace.

So who have you encountered lately that broadened your horizons?

Poison Ivy? Poison Ivy.

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Somewhere about July 14th I was trying to finish spreading my crazy enormous pile of mulch (like we’re talking 12-15 cubic yards). I had covered every square inch of the gardens and there was some leftover, so I decided to tackle the south side of my neighbor’s garage, which they ignore completely but which I must look at through the largest window in my house. Weed trees and belladonna and plantain (the weed, not the banana) and other weeds had run rampant. There was an elm that was already two stories high, which I decided to keep as a replacement for the giant sugar maple we had to cut down last year. There was a black walnut sapling that had to go. And the English Ivy was stretching and reaching across our driveway, intent on eating it on the way to our house.

ENOUGH!

If they won’t care for it, I will. So I starting to trim and pull and dig and lop and edge and mulch. And all was looking very nice. I got about halfway done when the manuscript I was listening to came to the end and I needed to get back to work inside.

The next day, I saw them. Angry red bumps that swiftly bloated to taut, bulbous blisters. I puzzled over this. There was no juniper in there (I’m allergic to juniper). There was the elm that I trimmed. Perhaps I was allergic to that? I’d seen elm on the list of things my son had recently been tested for allergies. Since we were off to camp later that week, I went to the urgent care.

“Were you in contact with poison ivy?”

“No. I haven’t been in the woods and my yard is all cultivated and I know exactly what’s in there and I don’t have poison ivy. There was my neighbor’s weedy area, but there’s no poison ivy in there.”

Steroids. Calamine lotion. And home to look up poison ivy.

Oh.

Yep. I was in contact with poison ivy. I’d never, in 34 years of romping through forests, encountered it. I thought the leaves were much smaller. But there it was.

So…three weeks later, I’m still itching and pretty miserable.

Do yourself a favor and avoid this:

Also, it feels like maybe there’s a lesson in here about minding my own business and not meddling and not needing everything outside to be perfect…

But there’s also a lesson for neglectful property owners in here about taking care of your yard and not exasperating and infecting your neighbor with poisonous weeds.

No place like it on earth…

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The photos I posted a couple days ago of some of the quieter moments of my time at Lake Louise are not entirely representative of my time there. THIS is what the week is all about:

Summer camp was not an experience I had as a child, but since my late teens I’ve had a connection to this amazing place, one of my top five favorite places on earth. At eighteen, I worked as resident staff for an entire summer, I’ve been a counselor a number of times, and I’ve had the privilege of accompanying my husband/camp pastor in a do-whatever-happens-to-need-to-be-done role since our son was born. I got engaged there, I was baptized as a believer there, my son first laughed there at six weeks old, he took his first steps there the next year. My Lake Louise friends are some of the most satisfying and helpful friendships I enjoy.

To me and so many others for more than seventy-five years, there’s no place like it on earth.

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