On Unwritten Books and Play Dough Recipes

I planned to write a book this summer and then chose not to.

Instead, I chose outings with my family, swimming lessons for the kids, and slow mornings with Jesus. I chose music camp and play dates.

I chose to play Canasta with my mom, grandmother, and Brandon’s grandmother. I chose a birthday getaway to New Orleans with my love.

I chose to research different approaches to homeschooling, one of which I immediately implemented upon discovery. I chose to give my children the experience of snapping beans and shelling peas—whether they wanted it or not.

In one way of looking at things, I failed. The thing I planned to do, I failed to accomplish.

The Accuser loves to remind me of it too. “I thought you wanted to be a professional writer. Professionals don’t act this way. You always say, ‘It’s up to me to protect my writing time. No one else will.’ So why aren’t you protecting it? You’re a joke. A fraud. A wannabe.”

Sometimes—in my less discerning moments—I agree with the loud angry voice in my head, which is both ridiculous and incredibly dangerous.

Us girls are hard on ourselves, aren’t we?

If you’re like me, you evaluate the day based on your failures as though your successes count for nothing. I judge myself by my checklist of “to-dos,” forgetting the art of “to be”. And then I get so worn down and strung out, I confuse temporal things with eternal things.

I’m either overly pleased with clean floors or overly despairing over junk heaps and unwritten books.

The Accuser is clever. If he can’t keep you down with depression, abuse, negativity, laziness, ignorance, poverty, or disease, he will slave-drive you to a painful death on a blade of your own making.

“The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” ~Proverbs 14:1

It’s easy to play the part of the foolish woman these days—with so many options and cultural demands. And whatever you aren’t doing or not doing well, condemnation comes in like a wrecking ball.

The Accuser hates you, and he hates every moment you “squander” on your relationships, especially on those with your spouse and children. Because he hates your marriage, he hates your children, and he hates anything that might amount to something of lasting value. And if you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself believing his lies and partnering with his agenda—destruction.

It’s important to remember we’re at war. Life is no game. The casualties are real and are often our relationships, which are lost one moment, one choice at a time.

In my novel Eleora, Kali tells Mara that every yes is also an infinity of noes. In other words, you can’t choose every good option.

Whether we’re intentional or remiss, we make choices all the time.

Writing books? Cleaning house? Ministry of various kinds? All good options. But if I say “yes” to these, I might be saying “no” to something of greater value. Like my children, who grow up nearly as quickly as flowers fade.

And then there are moments that I choose the meaningless thing.

I began last week with a to-do list. All important things. One item on the list was to get my oil changed. Brandon had been working long hours at his new job and just couldn’t get to it, so I called the Chevrolet dealership and made an appointment.

The appointment would last 30-45 minutes, I was told. So I made a plan. I would read to the kids while we waited. Good plan, right?

Well, of course, the kids were distracted by their new surroundings—the cars, the balloons, the candy machine. They couldn’t focus for thirty seconds to listen.

Defeated, I gave them permission to explore the waiting area. When they had seen what there was to see, they still weren’t in a frame of mind to listen to a story. I gave each of them a pen and notepad and decided to look up a recipe for homemade play dough on my phone. Because that was the most important thing to do at the moment, obviously.

Time passed. Sara was drawing happily, Micah was perusing a Field and Streams magazine, which I’d checked for objectionable material, and I was still on my phone. A female employee walked over with a coloring book and a Sharpie marker for each child.

Sara accepted her book and marker with a grateful, “Thank you,” but Micah, still absorbed with his magazine, shook his head and said in a dismissive, big kid voice, “No, I don’t like that kind of stuff.”

I looked up at the woman in apologetic amusement and saw genuine rejection there, but because I was so wrapped up in my stupid play dough recipe, I missed the opportunity to correct my son and draw her into conversation.

Conviction hit me later. I had sacrificed a teachable, relational moment to a play dough recipe.

In that moment, Micah had needed gentle correction, and the lady, if indeed it was rejection I had observed in her body language, may have needed to know someone saw her and cared about her.

The Accuser pounced. Because he’s the Accuser and thereby a jerk, and he likes to counterfeit the real work of the Holy Spirit.

“You’re a terrible mother,” he said.

And for a while, I agreed with him.

And then the Holy Spirit reminded me of that morning. Of how I’d taken the children outside to choose pinecones. Of how we’d made birdfeeders with peanut butter and seed. Of how we’d sat outside on the porch and watched to see if any birds would accept our offering.

 Notice said junk heaps in the background and how they didn't matter in the moment.

Notice said junk heaps in the background and how they didn't matter in the moment.

Of how I’d seized the teachable moment when the kids were fussing about turns and who beat who, the biggest pine cone, and where each would sit. Of how I’d read to them about the birds of the air and how they didn’t need to worry about what they would eat or whose turn it was or who ate from the biggest bird feeder or who perched on the highest branch because God saw them all and knew what each of them needed and would care for them individually because He is a good Father and can be trusted.

Never mind that I was circular breathing and my tone was a bit preachy.

I’d done well that morning. One ill-spent moment does not a bad mom make. Though it might make a wiser one. If she chooses to learn.

I’m far from perfect. I don’t always choose the greater thing. Too often, I choose the meaningless thing. But I don’t regret my choice to not write a book this summer.

Because here’s the thing—when I get to be my grandmother’s age, I’m not going to wish I’d written more books. I won’t care about the perfect play dough recipe. Clean floors and organized closets will amount to little more than tripe. I’ll regret every moment I spent looking into the screen of my phone instead of the face in front of me.

I’ll treasure every moment I spent teaching, swimming, and making bird feeders with my kids. Wasn’t that the kind of thing we were missing when I was so sick?

I’ll rejoice in a long, happy marriage. I’ll smile at the memories I made playing cards with my grandmothers. My life will have made an impact because I’ll have displayed God’s value for the one by stopping for her and by letting her know that she wasn’t rejected just because her gift was.

So forgive me if the next book takes a little while to come out. (I love that you’re anxious for a sequel.) And excuse my slow response to texts and Facebook messages. I’m just trying to eke out as much as I can of this time, this season, these little people who won’t be little for long.

And I refuse to let the Accuser make me feel bad for it.

Books—even Facebook—can wait.

But I think it might be time to try out that awesome play dough recipe I found.