Category Archives: Sustainable Living

Becoming a Community That Takes the Right Kinds of Risks

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I have been making a mistake for years. You’ve most likely been making the same mistake for years.

 

I finally got some much-needed perspective at the Festival of Faith and Writing last week.

I forget that the tiny slices of people that we find online can’t possibly stand in for the whole person. Everyone I’ve met through Facebook or Twitter and then met with in real life is far more fascinating, complex, and wonderful when we meet up in real life. I have made the mistake of “fearing” these in-person meet ups because I fear we won’t get along or, most likely, they won’t think all that much of me.

Getting to the point of meeting up with online friends requires some risks. We have to risk those awkward first moments when we shake hands or give a side hug. We have to break the ice (which some of us are better at than others).

We have to risk a conversation where we may find out that we don’t have anything in common.

We have to risk a conversation knowing that the other person, someone we may admire, could find our interests and passions boring or insignificant.

We have to overcome these fears in order to make the most of our relationships. However, every time I reached out to someone I even vaguely knew online, I was delighted to learn more about their stories. Even more so, I was energized by their dreams and goals. I wanted to help them.

In the world of writing, this can be a tricky matter. I want to help writers with worthy stories, but I also want to give them a list of caveats. I want to show them the hope/discouragement graph from my Examine app.

“See all of those low points from the past two months? Those are from my book releases.”

It’s my “secret” mission to help writers when I can. I want to push them to sit down and write, to explore the tough points of their lives, and to develop those ideas into book proposals when appropriate.

I want to warn writers that they are leaping off a cliff and the landing may not go well.

As honest as I want to be about the pain and fear that comes with both writing and marketing a book, there’s so much more to talk about if time permits at a conference.

I’ve fallen on my face several times. I’ve crashed off that cliff. I’ve received really painful emails. I’ve questioned whether I should keep writing more times than I should admit publicly.

And yet, I wake up, and get an itch to write about something. Before I realize what has happened, I’ve filled an entire page and exposed a liberating truth about myself. I start to wonder if it may help someone else…

Perhaps it’s an addiction. Maybe it’s a fatal flaw. Maybe it’s the only way I can keep myself sane or at least truly “know” something. I need to jot down notes, outline, scratch out the inane, and scribble, scribble, scribble until some kind of direction takes shape on my page. 

It’s like I need to draw an arrow for myself, but I need to experiment with wiggling lines and unruly circles first.

Everything with writing and relationships is risky. But we can’t tap into the beauty of our relationships or our writing without taking risks. Mind you, let’s take the right risks. Let’s explore our writing, let’s ask the “what if” questions, and let’s jump on opportunities to meet our “online friends” in real life when appropriate.

To that end of taking risks and reaching out to each other, I have an idea I’d like to share with you.

Lent is almost over. A new season of the Christian year begins next Monday. Perhaps you’ve been fasting. Perhaps you’ve been just hanging on by a thread. Wherever you are, I wonder if you need to take some risks along with me into this world of writing and relationships.

What if we all made a commitment to spend at least one morning or at most five each week getting up to write at least one page around 6 am? The rules aren’t ironclad. Maybe that’s a notebook page. Maybe that’s a Word doc with tiny font. Maybe that’s an index card or it’s a Note app on your smart phone. And maybe you won’t start until 6:15 am. Maybe you need to start at 5:30 am.

If you know me, you know I’m not one for rules and precision. Just get a page done each morning around 6 am. And when you do it, mention it on Twitter or take a picture on Instagram to let us know what you’re up to. I’ll try to do the same.

Use the hashtags: #6am #1page.

Maybe we’ll find the courage and encouragement we need if we know that others are trying this out. This is something I’ve done for a season after our son was born, but I’ve started staying up later and sleeping in. Hearing Anne Lamott talk about getting your butt in the chair, especially before your kids wake up and the day begins, has left me wistful for those days of early morning writing. And wouldn’t it be better if we could all do it together?

We’ll give it a shot this year, starting Monday, April 21st. If you want to join me or just write whenever your schedule permits (even one day a week), let me know in the comments or drop me a like on Twitter at @edcyzewski and mention the hastags: #6am #1page.

Creation Care Literally Stinks

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I’m posting today over at Red Letter Christians about the part of creation care that stinks… literally. Here’s a preview:

Our house rabbits play a significant role in one of our contributions to creation care. In fact, their contribution is tied my second least favorite chore: cleaning out the rabbits’ litter box.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blast to have rabbits as house pets. Our friends’ children lose their minds (in a mostly good way) when we turn the rabbits loose. They, the rabbits that is, provide endless amusement for our son without all of the sneezing that comes with cats.

The rabbits even venture into the kitchen to lick up the crumbs he left behind at dinner time. They’re less aloof than a cat but not as “in your face” as a dog.

Rabbits are fun pets, but my gosh, their litter stinks. I wish I could just dump their litter in the trash and be done with it, but their litter is far too valuable for that. Using a cat litter box scoop, I drop piles of rabbit manure straight into our garden all fall, winter, and spring. In the summer time I drop their litter into a bucket to make manure tea (my #1 least favorite chore). You see, rabbit manure is the black gold of animal manure.

Our rabbits help us mightily with creation care, but I can assure you that effective creation care really stinks, literally.

Read the rest at Red Letter Christians.

Announcing My Future Plans with Gardening, Prayer, and Writing

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Starting today, my literary agent will begin talking to editors about a new book project that I’ve been working on. It’s titled Cultivate: Going Deeper with God in an Uprooted World. This is a project that has been growing inside of me for about six years, and it represents where I see both my own calling moving and where I hope a segment of nonfiction books are moving.

Is that grandiose enough for you?

The short of it is this: Cultivate counteracts our ultra-busy, over-connected society with a series of garden based meditations on scripture that are paired with original full color art work and simple spiritual practices that help create space for God in our lives.

I’m teaming up with my friend Jeremy Slagle, an award-winning designer, to create a series of meditations that provide a unified written and visual message that covers the entire growing season of gardens and connects it to our lives today. Here’s a sneak peak of an illustration from one chapter.

Taking-root-layout-2

 

I was prompted to start working on the Cultivate project because of what I’ve observed over and over again in conversations:

When you ask people what they want, it’s usually prefaced with the word “MORE.”

We want more free time, more money, more organization, more space in our homes, more technology, more speed (whether online, on train tracks, or on interstate highways), etc.

When you ask people how they’re doing, many will say things like stressed, busy, overwhelmed, etc.

We’re too busy to pray, too distracted to focus, and moving too fast to rest.

Our desires for more speed and more stuff are connected to our stress, and the solution isn’t found in the latest app or IKEA catalogue. We can’t crowd source our way out of our over-connected, over-committed lives.

The answer to our stressed out, too busy for anything lives is this: We need to train ourselves to create space for God.

Christianity has the metaphors and practices that can help us counter our constantly plugged in, over-stressed society that uproots us from one trend to another. We need to disconnect long enough for the life of God to take root in our lives and cultivate the times and spaces where God is growing in our lives.

Cultivate uses art work (like the piece above), meditations on scripture’s farming metaphors, and simple spiritual practices to create space for readers to prepare themselves for a deeper life with God.

Jeremy and I have imagined this project as a full color print book. It’s designed to be visually engaging in order to foster a focused reading experience (although we’ve discussed digital and two-color versions as well).

The spiritual practices suggested at the end of each chapter, what we call a “Greenhouse,” provide opportunities to test out a simple spiritual discipline and journaling/art space for readers who want to process their experience.

* * *

I’ve sensed myself moving toward a project like Cultivate for a while now as I’ve resolved to be that annoying Charismatic Evangelical who is both grounded in the history of his movement and fully aware that we are wasting our time if we don’t have the present work of the Holy Spirit among us today.

If there’s one thing I’ve found as a Christian, it’s that I can’t make myself grow spiritually or find stability on my own. All I can do is create space for God in my life. By cultivating space for God, the Spirit has room to take the initiative in my life.

One of the most powerful places where I’ve found God’s life has been in my backyard garden. I’ve found the time out there spiritually restoring and intellectually grounding.

Life doesn’t flourish in a garden by mistake. We cultivate the soil and prepare it for plants, watering and fertilizing until it’s time for the harvest. I can’t make a seed grow into a fruitful plant, but I can create the right conditions for life.

Cultivate is not a magical solution to all of your spiritual struggles. It’s more like a spade that you can either hang up or put into use, digging out weeds and breaking ground for the next growing season.

* * *

And speaking of seasons, our garden is just about done for the year. The last of our kale is wilting and a few carrots remain to be harvested. The garlic is planted under a layer of straw and I’ll soon dump a pile of leaves on the rest of the broken soil. As the garden enters a season of rest and waiting, so too will this book project. We’ve worked on it for a season, and now it’s time to see if anything comes of it.

Jeremy and I started this project together as a series of meditations for Lent at our church. We’ve invested a good deal of time in sharpening Cultivate into a book proposal, and we recognize that creating a full color series of meditations will take a lot of work and represents a departure from what many publishers are looking to produce. We’re certainly prepared to receive plenty of “thanks but no thanks” replies or offers that aren’t quite right.

Whether this project only goes as far as this post or someone acquires it, Cultivate is the book project that best represents where I’ve been and who I’m becoming. Each book I’ve worked on has a part of me, but Cultivate feels intensely personal.

It’s an invitation

… to break up tired soil with decomposed leaves in the fall.

… to join me in the garden as I work manure into the softening dirt.

… to take part in the hope of planting tiny seeds in the spring.

… to rejoice in the harvest after a season of working and waiting and trusting.

… to sit in silence next to me as I wait for the Holy Spirit to speak.

… to unplug from the internet long enough to reflect on a work of art and to let the metaphors and imagery sink into our daily lives.

Cultivate is my invitation to break out of our habits and routines long enough to ground ourselves in the peace and life of God. We won’t flourish with God by accident, and Cultivate is one spiritual growth tool that I hope you’ll be able to add to your “shed” someday soon.

 

Want to stay in the loop about Cultivate (and pick up two FREE ebooks while you’re at it)?

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Humane Advice for Those Called to Write

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Do you want to dominate the competition?

Do you want to develop a brand that will give marketing consultants dry heaves?

Do you want to crush your next book project and so that readers riot in the streets demanding a follow up book and the global economy crashes?

Then don’t read this post.

This post is for the people who write because they can’t fall asleep at night as ideas bounce around in their heads. They scribble notes throughout the day, trying to capture that brilliant insight that bubbled up in their brains while showering. They read books and keep thinking of what they would have done differently. They can’t stop themselves from going out in the evening to tap away in a café or sneaking away in the morning to fill a few pages of a notebook.

As my friend Rob Stennett put it: “Writing is my full life crisis.”

writing-rob-stennet

There’s a divide of sorts among writers and other creative types. The divide is between the people who love to write and those who love to write as an entrepreneurial endeavor. Both are good and fine and great and healthy. I lie awake at night thinking of ways to improve my writing, while they lie awake at night trying to think of ways to grow their writing business. The difference may be subtle, but I believe it’s very real.

I read books and blogs by the entrepreneurial type big shot writers who build huge businesses around giving writing advice. They have good things to say, even if there are days when I want to print out their pictures and lay them in the rabbits’ litter box so they can be shredded, eaten, and then pooped out.

Here’s the problem: The big shot, dominate-the-world writers make the lovers of writing feel like crap.

I write because it’s a holy calling, an itch I can’t stop scratching, an art that I’ve sacrificed my reputation and bank account for. It’s not that I want to be foolish or wasteful with my work. It’s just that I write for the love of it. I’m not wired to think of the big picture. I’m not a businessman or marketing genius. Even if the big shots see writing as a “calling,” there’s a noticeable difference between those who can’t help thinking about the big business picture and those who get a cramp trying to think about their writing as a business.

I can only think as far ahead as the bottom of my page. I don’t really know how one goes about dominating Twitter with constant witty and conversational tweets as part of a writing advice empire. I refuse to write my own version of pandering self-help business-speak wishy washy drivel. I’m terrible at building a media empire. It’s not that I’m lazy or afraid to work on promoting my writing. It’s just that I’m so consumed with the work of writing itself that I struggle with putting together orderly promotion campaigns. I soldier on. I network. I really like chatting about my books with anyone who will listen. But this business of dominating and crushing it and branding myself and being this persona is too foreign.

I used to really beat myself up over all of this. I would watch other writers “dominate” the industry by putting together marginally readable self-help nonsense and then I’d consider packing it in. How could I ever make it as a writer if I struggle so mightily where these big shots have risen to great heights? Even if the big shots shared their super duper top secret tips and tricks for crushing and dominating, would I ever be able to really pull it off? They suggest stuff like:

 

You don’t need to sleep! Work all night and you’ll dominate!

You don’t need to work all night! You only need a four hour work week!

You don’t need to work harder, you just need to be nice and honest!

You don’t need to learn how to write, just surround yourself with positive slogans and buy a typewriter!

You don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but I can help if you buy my books, sign up for all of my amazing top secret groups, and send me your bank account number!

 

Some writing big shots have put together some great books. I’m not out to slam them all. However, I often hear and read advice from these big shots that isn’t really appropriate for everyone. They give their paths to success and awesomeness, promising that you can be awesome like them, forgetting that many of the people they write to are WAY, WAY different from them and driven by different things.

Also, I’d bet my bank account, which is tiny by the way, that they’re not really sharing ALL of their secrets for success. Some had amazing mentors, worked their way up in a great job that taught all kinds of lessons, pestered big name influencers to help jump start their careers, and so on.

So here’s my advice for you writers who love putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard: Ignore the hype and clamor about dominating and smashing and being awesome and anything else that pulls you away from the love of writing and your personal calling.

If you want to give the advice from the big shots a chance, go for it. I’ve tried it sometimes, but don’t beat yourself up or doubt your calling if it doesn’t work. There’s a good chance that their advice is best designed for people like them. You may be a completely different person with a totally different calling and path forward.

I believe with all of my heart that God gives each person gifts and talents and that we honor him best when we use these gifts and talents to serve others. If you can’t stop yourself from writing, nurture it and work at it. Wake up early or stay up late if you must, but remember why you’re making those sacrifices.

If you’re making those sacrifices in order to dominate, you may see it all fall to pieces when you can’t reach the same heights as the big shots who rake in thousands by telling others exactly what to do. If you just love to write, you need to ask yourself whether you’re in this writing thing in order to dominate like the big shots or to nurture a holy gift that’s been entrusted to you.

I learn best from other writers who give very general, humane advice that can be adapted for individuals. The more specific the advice, the more grandiose the goal I’m being pushed toward, the more my BS sensor kicks into action.

Not everyone is lucky enough to recognize what their true passions and gifts are. Invest time and energy in them and even market your work, but don’t diminish your talents if the results aren’t as amazing as you’d hoped.

Keep jotting down ideas, revising your drafts, and sharing your words with anyone who will read them. If you aren’t noticed, try something new, ask a friend for advice, check out what other writers do, read a book, and keep practicing. Maybe a big shot really can help with something. It’s always going to be hard work to write whether you write for the love of it or for the business of it.

Sleepless nights, interrupted showers, and piles of scribbled notes are wonderful. They may not lead to everything you’ve hoped for, but there is beauty in faithfully working at our callings. Learn, change, evolve, grow—I’m not telling you to stay the same. I’m just telling you that we’re all wired a little differently, and the big shot advice givers may be far more different from us than we realize.

Our results may vary significantly from theirs. That’s OK. You have a gift, and there is value in using that gift.

Learning to Wait Again

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tomatoes-waitingLast week we pulled the last of the tomatoes off our wilting vines. The temperature dropped to a frigid 19 degrees in the evening, and as the number of tomatoes on our vines continued to dwindle, we realized it was time to wrap things up. Now the last tomatoes of 2013 are lining our kitchen window sill.

I’m not sure why tomatoes have become such an iconic DIY vegetable. If someone is going to try growing something, tomatoes are typically at or near the top of the list. Perhaps it has something to do with the taste of a homegrown tomato. Perhaps they’re some of the most gratifying vegetables to grow.

A tiny seed or undersized plant produce large red fruits in a matter of months. It’s kind of astounding.

In January we buy heirloom tomato seeds from Fedco in Maine. The seeds arrive in little white envelopes around February, and we typically start them no later than March. A little cluster of seeds is buried in little brown cups with seed starting soil. The cups will decompose upon planting, making the transplanting process far less traumatic for the young plants next spring.

But even before we pull out our seed catalogues or start planning the next year’s garden, there’s a lot of work and a lot of waiting.

The work has to do with the soil for the tomatoes. It needs to be fortified with fertilizer—our source primarily being our rabbits’ manure. We spread manure throughout the garden all winter, mixing in leaves and hay along the way to keep the soil loose. While we usually buy some compost since we grow tomatoes in buckets out front where they find the most sun, the soil we mix with their manure will also do quite a bit of good for our plants.

It just takes time.

Every week I take the litter boxes out back and dump the manure into our garden beds where the decomposing leaves and hay are slowly breaking down.

I used to think that buying a tomato plant from the store and waiting for it to bear a ripe tomato was the longest wait ever. Who wants to wait 50-60 days for a harvest of tomatoes? Growing our own plants have helped me rethink the nature of patience altogether.

Growing our own tomatoes is actually a year round process of fertilizing and cultivating the soil until we’re ready to drop the plants in. Once the plants are in, they need weekly fertilizing.

The taller they grow, the more they need pruning as “suckers” spring from between branches and the main stem. Failing to fertilizer or prune reduces the number and sizes of tomatoes harvested.

“Waiting” on tomatoes is a very active process. It’s not like we sit around watching our plants grow. In order to create a thriving garden for them, we have to be proactive and on the ball. “Waiting” for our tomatoes next year begins now. And by waiting, I mean we are working to keep our garden fertile.

Each day I work in the garden serves as a reminder that life rarely springs up on its own—or at least life can’t flourish as well on its own. We’re tenders of the environment. I can’t “make” our tomatoes fruitful, but I can create the right conditions for that to happen.

It’s like living in a parable. Only you don’t tell yourself the parable. You dig into the parable and get it stuck under your finger nails and track it around the house. The parable starts to put its roots down in your life. Before you know it, you’ve been grafted into that story of seasons, cultivating, and waiting.

Winter is coming. There’s a long wait ahead. It’s time to get to work.

I Have Church Nursery Guilt: My Post for A Deeper Family

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I’m writing for A Deeper Story’s Family page today about that thing every parent at church knows they should do but can’t always bring themselves to do it:

When I finally pull into the church parking lot with our son Ethan babbling in the back seat and tossing toys, I feel like I’ve just accomplished a major feat before 10 am. I’ve fed him breakfast, cleaned up a little bit of the mess in the kitchen, mostly scrubbed him clean, wrestled him into submission long enough to change his diaper, slipped both socks into place fast enough that he can’t pull them off, held his feet still long enough to fasten the Velcro on his sneakers, and stocked the diaper bag with a back up outfit and a few choice toys before properly snapping him into his car seat.

By the time I’m carrying Ethan up the steps to church, I’m sweaty and feeling a little frazzled. I’m trying to calm myself down to focus on worship, to be kind and patient in the crowd of people, and to remember to hold onto Ethan’s nursery number.

When we arrive at the nursery, it’s dark and empty.

Uh oh.

Read the rest at A Deeper Story.

This Sacred Everyday: A Guest Post for Micha Boyett

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I’m guest posting for Micha Boyett’s blog Mama Monk today for her new series: This Sacred Everyday. I met Micha at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I’ll admit that when she introduced herself, I almost said, “Yeah right… I know what you look like from your blog.” However, I’d been looking at an old picture of her.

mamamonkheader1

After clearing that up, I moved on to just feeling insecure around a bunch of people I didn’t know. Micha was amazingly kind and welcoming. When she learned that I hail from Philadelphia, she even talked smack about the Dallas Cowboys. Now that is Christian love in action.

I’m writing all of this to arrive at the point where I asked about her blog, and she mentioned the concept behind Mama Monk: After she had kids, she struggled to find the peace and quiet she used to have for prayer. Mama Monk is about rediscovering spiritual practices in the midst of having kids. It’s a great idea, and the blog itself is even better. I’m honored to be sharing a guest post there today.

Here’s a little sample of my guest post:

Manure tea is heavy and awkward to pour. The smell is revolting. How can week old rabbit manure that’s been “brewing” in a bucket of warm water not assault your senses? I pour the manure tea on our tomatoes. Tragically, it splashes.

I look at the fertilizer powders in the gardening center with longing eyes. What joy it must be to use a scoop to spread a pleasant, clean white powder on one’s plants and call it a day.

Instead, I’m scraping up another load of rabbit manure from their cage and filling up the bucket for next week’s batch of natural fertilizer.

On other days I’ve hauled in bags of dirt and compost, turned over the soil, dug holes, yanked weeds, and fought off pests and disease. I deal with sweat, sore shoulders, torn jeans, and cracked fingers.

Gardening can be physically demanding, expensive, frustrating, and wonderful. I’m not just attached to the thought of the sweet carrots I yank up or the delicious greens that pop up in orderly rows. I’m into the rhythm and sanctuary of my garden as a sacred space.

Visit Mama Monk to read the rest of today’s post.