Bless this Hizzy fo Shizzy; My new office interior on a dime.

Remember how El Chupacabra built me my very own office out of sweat and blood and a shed kit from Costco? 

Me, too.

In fact, I'm sitting in it right now - basking in the glory of a perfectly silent space that is all my own. And I've gotta say, it's a big improvement over my previous writing stations; perched on my bed next to an ever-present, always massive pile of laundry waiting to be folded and put away, or sitting cross-legged on the sofa with the loud swish swooshing of the dishwasher to remind there are other things I could be doing that aren't writing. Things like cleaning or cooking or plucking my eyebrows.

But no more. 

The days of putting off words that are begging to be written and thoughts that are aching to escape are behind me. When I walk through my office door, there's only one thing to do, because under this precious roof I have only one purpose. 

This is where I write. 
That's it and that's all.

But before I could really start writing in here, I needed a place to sit. I had this beautiful blank slate, a creative space to fill to my hearts desire... and zero dollars to fill it with. For the most part, I would have to make due with what we had on hand, so I set about the house stealing furniture, blankets, baskets, art, and office supplies until the tiny house in my backyard felt like a tiny 2nd home. 

I wanted color, I wanted whimsey, and I wanted it to be free. And I knew the easiest way to pull that off would be to go "Shabby Chic". (Which we all know is just a nice way of saying "Shitty Cheap".)

So I started by jacking this little desk I snagged at a garage sale for like 10 bucks two years ago and painting it.


It was perfect paired with this kickass vintage chair and gray chevron upholstery. (A gift from my incredibly thoughtful sister-in-law!)

But a writer also needs a cozy corner...NEEDS... So I took an Ikea cane chair and a fuzzy wool throw right out of the living room as if no one would notice they were missing. 
Kids: "Wasn't there a chair here?"
Me: "...Uh....I don't think so."

And for a side table, I used these two stumps I had from last winter, when I made my husband and son pick them up off the side of the road after a tree near our house was hit by lightning and took out some power lines and the city had to cut it down. I chiseled the bark off of one and left other intact and I love the color and texture and insects they bring to the room. (This is a work in progress - I have bigger plans for these guys. Check back in 11 years or so.)

For a bookshelf, I took the unused hutch from the sideboard in our dining room (which has been sitting in our garage for 3 years), flipped it over, stuck a board across the top and painted the whole thing with leftover semigloss paint from the office trim. Boom. Free.

It used to be black. 
When I was priming and painting it, I had serious reservations about how it would turn out, but after a third coat and with the addition of a couple of itty bitty crystal knobs, I think it works.
 But whatever. It was free. 

Topped with one of my Grandmother's oil paintings, a repurposed picture frame,
 and office doodads in adorable jars? 
Love is in the details. 

On the shelves you'll find things I like from people I adore. Custom paper clips and a big jar of pencils (also a gift from the sis-in-law!), my favorite old and new books, a couple of photo albums (remember those?!). And the best? Art and notes and poems and pics from my kids; things I have gathered and saved for the day when I could look up from my own work and be inspired by theirs. 

I think, in the end, the inside of my little office is exactly what I needed it to be:

Quietly reflective and personally inspiring. 
And basically free. 

Knives isn't really feeling it, but screw him. 

My little retreat. My still refuge. My home not far from home.

I call it Sanctuary.

And I pray God dwells here, too.

Bless this Hizzy fo Shizzy, indeed. 


What if Mother Teresa hated her thighs?

So, I recently posted this to my Facebook page:

I saw it in a friend's Instagram feed and I had to share it because it's so funny and true, right?!

But as the likes rolled in and the shares stack up, I started to wonder if it was actually true. I mean, did Mother Teresa complain about her thighs? Did she ever wish she was taller? That she had a smaller nose? Or a longer neck? Or bigger eyes, or whatever? Did she ever lament, even a little teeny bit, the lines on her face growing deeper, or the skin on the backs of her hands turning paper thin?

Yeah. I doubt it, too. 

Given the nature and scope of her work, I think the meme is probably based in truth. Her life is so well documented, we can say with integrity that Mother Teresa wasn't much of a complainer. We know she wasn't distracted by silly, frivolous things, like outward appearances, and she didn't believe in the accumulation of personal wealth or material possessions. So, I think we can safely assume she didn't lay in bed at night reading magazine articles about eyebrow shaping and body hair removal. Plus, to be blunt, when you live among the starving and the dying, "thigh gap" means something completely different.

But part of me kind of hopes that, at least once in a while, she sat around with the other nuns after dinner or between vespers or whatever nuns do, remarking about the way human flesh turns to turkey skin in our old age, or comparing leg hair length, or standing side by side, wrapped in their matching cotton saris, for a friendly round of "Who Wore it Better?"  -- I love the idea mostly because it would be funny, but also because that's what I would do.

I don't think she did, but what if Mother Teresa hated her thighs? Would her good work be any less good? I guess I'd just like to believe it's possible that that heroic, saintly lady and I could share this common thread of womanhood. Because I hate my thighs, I really do, and I don't see that changing any time soon, but I want to get shit done. 

Mother Teresa was a woman consumed by things that matter. And she got shit done.

I am a woman consumed by a contradictory mess of things (from unicorn poop to sex-trafficking, from materialistic wants to felt needs, from what is social to what is spiritual, from Instagram to the impoverished to Instagraming the impoverished. I can go from crying over our messy world to worrying over a messy bun in .02 seconds flat). And I'm getting almost zero shit done.

But maybe there's still hope for a shallow, flippant, wannabe world-changer, like me. Because, while I believe that as a very young woman Mama T was consumed to the point of action, I wonder if maybe I could act to the point of consumption. Like, maybe for a while I can get shit done AND want to look good doing it. And maybe as I invest myself in what matters most, what matters most will intertwine itself in me. I've wasted too much time already being the chick who thinks she's not worthy to do good work until she quits complaining about her thighs. So maybe it's time for me to say "Fuck it. I've got shit to do", and then go shave my legs, put on some makeup, blow dry my hair, change clothes three times, and get out there to serve. 

My meme certainly won't be as impressive or inspiring, but if I can help the next insecure, self-absorbed, easily distracted person get up, get fabulous, and get to work on making the world a better place, then my job here is done.


How to Build an Affordable Shed-Office in 18 Easy... Months.

Whenever the subject of pregnancy, labor, and delivery comes up, my husband likes to say, "It was a piece of cake!" He loves this joke. He thinks it's funny. Get it??? Because I did all the work. I put in the months of carrying, I gave up the sweat, blood, and tears, and I felt the pain - while he just sat there and watched. Piece of cake.

Well, now it's my turn. I can't wait for people to see the beautiful office El Chupacabra built in our backyard. They will undoubtedly look it over with admiration and inevitably ask if it was hard to do, and I will cut into the conversation to say, "IT WAS A PIECE OF CAKE!" 

Every time. 

I cannot wait. 

It will be so good. 

Because, get it??? He put in the months of work, and there was a lot of sweat, and also some blood, and probably a few tears. He felt the pain and angst and frustration of bringing something new into the word. And I just sat there and watched. Piece of cake!

But, I have to admit, unlike bringing forth tiny humans, where after the initial act of conception I had very little choice in the matter - the babies grew, labor started, delivery happened - he had to make a conscious effort to bring forth this office. And he did. For me. He built me an office from the ground up, and he did it in spare minutes and slivers of free time and occasional hours that were salvaged, snuck, and carved away from the busy, busy life of a Pastor/Father/Son/Friend/Husband/Brother/Neighbor.

And it was not a piece of cake.

We aren't people of great financial means, so when I asked him if we could put a "writers shed" in our tiny backyard, I thought I was asking if I could piece together some tin and and particle board and 2x4s to hide in when I needed a quite space to write. The kind of writer's shed I had envisioned is usually filled with rusty bikes and lawnmowers and black widows; a squatty, dilapidated, little building where people throw shit they don't want to look at and rats multiply in the night. I thought we'd buy something off Craigslist, haul it home, spray it out with a garden hose and VIOLA-- Jamie's Home Office!

This was the office of my dreams? 

But when I cast the vision for a crappy little shed to write in, El Chupacabra shook his head and said we could do better. He told me to buy a brand new shed, and when we found the perfect thing on sale at Costco for $999, I thought I'd hit the jackpot. I never expected to have such a nice crappy shed to hide in! So we bought it and had it delivered to our house on a pallet in 10,000 pieces with no instructions on a cool October morning. 

And then El Chupacabra went to work on it!

Just kidding.

Then the shed sat on a pallet in 10,000 pieces in the garage for six months because homeownership can be a real son of bitch and it took a long, long time for "build a shed" to make it's way to the tippity top of the long, long list of things that need to be done around our house. 

It sat for six months. And then El Chupacabra went to work on it.

This is the part where I wish I could convey how busy this man is so you would know exactly what a big deal this is. He is THE BUSIEST. But he's not like a neglectful, workaholic, wheel spinning kind of busy - he's like a community building, child rearing, neighbor loving, people serving, bread breaking, beer toasting kind of busy. He loves and he is loved and that's not a bad thing. I could never complain about that! But it did mean that building a shed would have to be done in a series of tiny movements; an hour here, an evening there, one Sunday afternoon every couple of months, several late nights - until it was done. Fortunately, this perfectly matched the slow pace of our itty bitty budget, giving us time to collect and count our nickels and dimes for things like shingles and windows and drywall.

So that's why it took another year, but he got it done

The walls went up on July 19th, 2014, which sounds like a long time ago, but, you guys... 


....September 9th, 14th, 15th he worked... And he reengineered things along the way, adding 3 feet in height to make it less sheddy and more cottagey, putting in two little windows to make it less cavey and more homey (even though I told him he didn't have to add anything, I would be fine with a writing cave; I would call it "The Batshit Cave")...


...and then...October 5th, 13th, 23rd...He gave me a water tight roof and french doors, ooh la la, and with the exterior finally finished, on the inside he let there be light, and then he began the process of installing insulation and drywall, and I got very, very excited, because when the walls went up, it felt like I was actually, for real, totally gonna have an office someday!...

...and then the Holidays came and made him even busier... but he was back at it January 14th and February 11th and April 19th, still working whenever he could, and then there was a ceiling and one day it was stained, and on May 3rd, trim showed up around the windows and on the 30th the floor appeared... 

...And on June 1st, 2015, without ceremony, El Chupacabra quietly welcomed me in to the MOST DREAMY SPACE you could ever imagine and then he gave me a look that said, "Now write." 

So I am.

I asked my husband for a crappy shed to hide in and he gave me a tiny house to shine in. And it's even more significant to me that this incredible gift didn't come out his full days and great fortunes, but it was built with precious seconds and bought in spare change, created from the leftovers of the day... and I think that's maybe what love really looks like for us; It looks like a little cottage, built with fleeting moments and pinched pennies and big dreams. 

And soon it will look like the dedication page of a book that says, "For the Love of my life, who built me an office. Even though it was a piece of cake."


In case you're interested in the more practical details: 

A friend of mine just told me she was going to pay $10,000 for an unfinished prefab office - my finished office cost A THIRD of that. Sooooo, yeah. 

Overall, we spent about $3500 for the entire project: Shed kit (costco.com), foundation, subfloor, shingles, windows (discounted at a Home Depot clearance wherehouse), insulation (to save money, he brought home giant sheets of styrofoam left over after our church's VBS program), electrical everything (fuse box, ground rod, wire, outlets, switches, faceplates), drywall/compound/plaster, pre-hung doors (around $360 at Lowes), trim/baseboard, interior and exterior primer/paint, flooring (to keep costs down, we used a click and lock vinyl "wood" plank floor, and can't even believe how good it looks!), and a keyed entry doorknob/deadbolt. 

 $3500 for the whole dang thing. His spending is frugal. 

His tools are basic: a drill, a power saw, a nail gun, and his bare freaking hands.

His skills are mad. 
If you have specific questions about El Chupacabra's kickass shed-into-office process, feel free to ask. I'm sure he'd be happy to pop in with answers. 

But please - If you're planning on paying $10,000 for a prefab shed/office, El Chupacabra would be happy to offer his services. I am not even kidding. A dedicated backyard build would take him like 2 weeks. For real. He's available for hire and he would be happy to build you the sheddy office of your dreams. No, seriously...


When the Very Best Missionary isn't a Missionary at all...

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You know when you see a movie and you sort of like it, but you're also kind of bothered by it, so you can't stop thinking about it? Yeah. NOBLE is doing that to me.

NOBLE tells the true story of non-pofit founder, Christina Noble, and how her impoverished childhood, stolen youth, and abusive marriage eventually led her from her home country of Ireland to Viet Nam, in 1989, where she created a foundation that has since fed, clothed, educated, and protected thousands of orphans and street children. In short, it's an inspiring story of an ordinary woman who goes on a mission to serve the poor and vulnerable.

Except she's not a missionary.

And she's not that ordinary.

People are always asking me for advice about how to become a missionary, and, I've gotta admit, it always makes me cringe a little on the inside (and probably also on the outside, because I have a cringey kind of face). It's just that I don't want to dash anybody's passionate dreams of flying off to a foreign land where they'll walk the dusty streets hand in hand with a couple of dirt-covered brown kids they plucked from a trash heap. But also? I do. I do want to dash their dreams. I want to tell them they're delusional if they think that's how the world works.

Yyyeeaah. No

When people ask me how to get involved in aftercare for girls who have been rescued from sex-trafficking in South East Asia, I know what they're hoping I'll say is that all those girls need is for someone to “show up” and “love on them”. You should see the looks of dismay and disappointment when I give them my honest opinion, which is that they should go to school and maybe study therapy and social work, and then perhaps work in those fields for awhile, and then seek an organization overseas that needs a therapist or social worker and apply for a job with them – which, ideally, would be to train and equip nationals to offer therapy and social work for victims of sex-trafficking.

If you tell me you want to end slavery, I'll tell you to go out, into the world, and... study Economics! *womp womp* 
If you tell me you want to hold orphans in Africa, I'll tell you to stick around and study early childhood development.
If you tell me you want to bathe street kids in Juarez, I'll tell you I'll be watching, and if you dare touch a single child inappropriately, I will call the cops on your perv ass so fast, you'll be in a Mexican prison before you can say, “Our special hug was supposed to be a secret!”

Just call me Dream Crusher.

Can I be totally honest here? I don't think the world needs anymore social justice missionaries. We've had our fill of well-intentioned, but ill-equipped volunteers. Over the last 20 years, our sincere and valiant efforts to love mankind have wasted enough money, disenfranchised enough people, and created enough dependency to last a lifetime. Retrospect has shown us we can do better. We don't need anymore missionaries. We need actual teachers, and social workers, and business wo/men, and midwives, and therapists, and pastors, and farmers, and caregivers, and on and on and on... Because we have the greatest impact when we, specifically, send the right people, to do the right job, in the right place. 

I know. I know what you're thinking. You're like, “....but, but, but...what about all the good stuff we've done? And what about Mother Theresa? And what about that Kisses from Katie chick? And what about that one time when I went to that one place and that AMAZING thing happened? What about that?!"

And I don't want to discredit any of the extraordinary things that have happened in the name of missions these last few years, not at all, because, yes, there has been some good stuff. But most of our amazing missions anecdotes really are extraordinary success stories – as in not typical. And not advisably clone-able. Like, Katie Davis has done a beautiful, extraordinary thing, and I honestly believe God has used her in amazing ways - but that's not a good reason for every 20 year old white girl with a “heart for missions” to hop on the next flight to Zimbabwe or whatever.

Initially, as I watched Cristina Noble's story unfold on the screen, I was irritated by that very notion. Great. Another nice little Faith story about a white chick who “feels called” to “love on” third world rug-rats, so she shows up in their country, completely unannounced and totally unprepared, and then TA-DA! She saves all the children.


But Cristina's faith doesn't come across as all that nice. In the film it comes off as pleading, faltering, demanding, confused, and even a little bit scheming – kind of like my own. And her “call” is never really defined. She saw images of the war on the news. She had a dream. Then, years later, after her kids were grown and gone, she got on a plane. Do I think that's kinda weird? Yeah. But at least she let it stew for a couple of decades before she flew away. (And, yes, we could talk for days about white savior complex – but remember this was back in1989, way before posting mission trip selfies on Facebook was a competitive sport.) What I loved, though, is that Christina Noble's capacity to help the street-children of Viet Nam wasn't born simply out of wild passion or good intention, it developed in her over a lifetime. She drew from her personal experience in poverty, her time of homelessness, her distrust of God and the Church, and all the lessons of Motherhood. She was uniquely prepared and extraordinarily equipped for the task at hand. And, y'know, I don't know anything... but, maybe that's why she's been so successful in her efforts.

NOBLE is not the story of a missionary. It's the story of a woman who was the right person, doing the right job, in the right place. And the God who never forsakes us...

NOBLE will be in theaters, Friday, May 8th - Go see it so you can come back here and we can talk about it! Tell me all your thoughts...

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