Category Archives: Blog

Surviving Writer’s Block

writers-blockWriter’s block. Those two words cause my blood pressure to spike and bring a slew of four-letter-words to mind. I have a very personal relationship with writer’s block. It found me the year the Mayan calendar claimed the world would end.

2012 didn’t start out with guns blazing or a mushroom cloud of destruction. I spent much of it in the jungles of Tanzania and at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, reading, writing my second novel, Liberty Hill, and sipping hibiscus tea. My husband and I went on safari, ate goat with the Maa’sai, hiked with baboons, swam in the pools of an actual oasis. At the end of our nine-month adventure we continued on to Europe, exploring the architecture, foods, and languages of France and Italy. 2012 had all the potential to be the most incredible year of our lives, and it was. We returned to the US after a lot of failures, a lot of successes, and with a clean slate for starting over.

And then, two months later, my parents were killed in an automobile accident.

In the wake of their deaths, I found myself spending large amounts of time staring at the wall. Sometimes with earbuds, sometimes without. I would pick a book off the shelf and sit with it open on my knee, unread. If I felt especially brave, I would stare at a computer screen and try to remember that I used to be a writer. I would open my old Word documents in search of proof, or inspiration, or identity, but all I would find was a failure to communicate. How could I have written such incomplete and adolescent garbage? I wasn’t a writer. I was a joke. Stupid, worthless, and worst of all, incapable of writing anything better. So I abandoned the art entirely, deferring to playing piano. I could play music for hours without singing, without having to hear my own voice. I came to despise my voice, both by song and by pen. A voice is reflective. A voice betrays. Inside I was lost, so my voice was, too.

This went on for two years. I began to feel so very contained. I wanted to write, but I no longer knew how or where to start. I would begin a project and abandon it the following day. This was a problem, because the book I’d written in Africa demanded a sequel, and I had planned on releasing it the following year. I would receive daily inquiries from my readers wondering when they could expect it. I felt pressure to perform, but was mentally and emotionally incapacitated. I had always been a doer, and producer, but I was crippled by my grief.

I had to make a decision. I was breaking beneath that pressure, and I had to get well. The inability to perform as the writer I once was was robbing me of confidence, and without confidence I could do nothing. I had to build it up again. I had to rest, I had to achieve small successes, and I had to get inspired. Rather than demanding a novel from myself, I started focusing on little things. In an effort to find my voice again, I began to journal. All my sadness, anger, fears, and doubts made their way onto the page in brutal honesty. I allowed myself to dream, to envision how my work would look when I could create again. I wrote those visions down. Maybe I couldn’t actually write my next book, but I could definitely describe what I wanted from it. I created an in-depth outline, detailing plot twists, characters, locations, even some dialogues. Then when I felt like I couldn’t do any more, I set it aside. I bought boxes of books from the thrift store… some titles I knew, some I didn’t. I wanted to find other authors whose voices called out to mine. If I didn’t get into a book after a hundred pages, I would discard it. I wouldn’t guilt myself into finishing anything that felt like drudgery. And even though I wasn’t actively working on my novel, I continued to research the material, even rereading some of the facts I already knew. I wanted to remember what inspired me in the first place. What had once excited me, gripped me, pulled me into that time and place?

I didn’t try to force anything, because that didn’t work. Instead I focused on taking care of myself. I needed to feel alive again, so I made a master Dream List (or Bucket List), then broke it down and made separate and smaller dream lists at the beginning of each year. Then I concentrated those to each season- Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Soon I was beginning to feel as though I had control of my life again. I was going to concerts, exploring new places, learning new things. My heart began to piece itself together again. I missed my parents, but I used their untimely deaths to propel me towards a larger, more beautiful life. With this came a burning vitality, and then the day came when I just felt clear.  I was able to read a book without drifting through a fog, constantly trying to force my mind back to the page. And I was aching inside… aching to release, to let go. I missed writing like a long-lost friend, and I was ready to return to it. When I did, it was like I’d never stopped.

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20 Seconds of Bravery

There is a famous actor who lives in our little town. Everyone knows about him, and rumor has it he is rather taciturn, but I have never heard that from someone who has actually met him. For his privacy, I will not disclose his identity, but for the sake of my own 7th grade sense of humor, I will amuse myself by calling him Fred Bob.

For weeks I had been telling everyone that the next time I saw Fred Bob- which I see him quite frequently since he likes to hang out near where I work- I would march right up to him and introduce myself. However, my husband Andrew recently told me that when you speak your plans aloud to someone, there is scientific evidence that you are actually less likely to carry out those plans. (This is highly unfortunate since I have trouble keeping my own secrets.) So I knew that scientifically, I had cheated myself out of meeting Fred Bob. But as someone else has said before me, I am the master of my own destiny, and I was determined to prove science wrong. Not simply for the reason of being right, but because I really, really wanted to meet Fred Bob, and I wasn’t about to let myself back down just because I had gained a small sense of accomplishment by telling someone else my idea.

Until, of course, the time came to make that idea a reality. Then all of a sudden I was scared as hell.

I had just finished lunch and was returning to work when I saw him in the distance, maybe about twenty yards away. He was by himself, as usual. The perfect opportunity. But I was supposed to clock in in two minutes, so naturally that was a very good excuse not to execute the “plan”. Fred Bob would be there again some other time when I was feeling a little more brave. Or would he? See, that’s the thing about the way I think these days… I’m not so sure of tomorrow. I was debating with myself about this “would he be there, would he not be there” business when I opened the door to my workplace and saw my good friend Sally Sue (another name change per 7th grade humor). Knowing Sally Sue would bolster my courage, I immediately blurted out, “Sally Sue! He’s out there! He. Is. Out. There!” Sally Sue’s eyes grew to the size of softballs as she replied, “Go! You have to go!” This was just the little push I needed. I rushed back out the door and started walking towards Fred Bob. I had dreaded this walk because there was nowhere to hide. If he saw me coming, he would have plenty of time to make a mad dash for his vehicle, cursing aloud the nonexistence of privacy in celebrityville. But while he saw me coming, he did not act remotely inclined to leave. Instead he smiled and went about his business, and when I was close enough he stopped what he was doing and turned to face me. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” I said, “but I see you here all the time and I just wanted to meet you. I’m Sonja.”

He didn’t run me off, cuss me out, or act haughty or violated in any way. Instead, we had a very pleasant interaction. While it was short, it was special, because I had proved something to myself: I was powerful. I had proved that I could demystify Fred Bob simply by walking up to him. And isn’t that how all of us conquer our fears? Something ceases to be great and terrible once it is stripped of mystery. Sometimes when we approach the unapproachable, we discover it is not so unapproachable after all.

I have learned something about bravery these past 2 years, and it is this: it doesn’t just come find you. It doesn’t settle on you like some cloud of glory, granting you the sudden realization that you are more than what you are. I would like to suggest that bravery is an option, like cheesecake or tiramisu. Just as cowardice is no more a part of your identity than the shoes you wore to work on Friday. You have a choice to exercise bravery or cowardice, but there is a common misconception that one is easier than the other. I don’t believe that is the case. Fear is a highly uncomfortable state of mind. Why would I want to stay there? Why not risk the discomfort of bravery for just a moment, but gain the experience of a lifetime?

I like what Benjamin Mee says in We Bought A Zoo: “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

 

 

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Unexpected Numbers (Free Kindle Promotion!)

This is a guest post by my husband, Andrew, who has handled all the publishing for my latest novel, Liberty Hill.  ~Sonja

The past few months I feel like I have been reading nothing but books on how to publish for Kindle as I’ve never worked with the Amazon platform before.  Sonja published her first book, For He Is Summer, while I cheered her on but I largely stayed out of the business side of things.  But this time I wanted to take over mainly because Sonja was working at a bank full time and I had other businesses that I was working on.  After reading the 4th or 5th book all the information on how to publish and market on Kindle and Amazon began to blur and get repetitive.  We tried some ways to boost our sales numbers but sales were mainly coming from friends and family.  One of the strategies I learned was doing a free promotion for your book.  We did that for a day and only had 377 downloads.  Granted that was pretty impressive for what we had been pulling in but it still wasn’t earth shattering.  I gathered a few more tips and tricks from fellow authors and publishers and we decided to give the free promotion another go.

So I’m happy to report there is good news and there is bad news.  There is actually 2 pieces of good news!  The first is that for the next 3 days (ending July 17th) you can download Liberty Hill, Sonja’s latest book, for free on Kindle at Amazon.com, link below.  You don’t have to have a Kindle to get it either, you can download the Kindle app for your Android or iPhone and read for free!  So if you haven’t gotten it yet now is a great time.  If you are looking for a print copy please follow this link or get it on Amazon.

The other super duper great news that we wanted to share is that in the last day and a half there have been over 7,000 downloads for Sonja’s book!!!  Yayaya!  Not only that but we have hit the #2 spot in our category which is historical fiction AND the #3 spot in historical romance which is a MASSIVE category to win in.  We were also at #411 overall in Amazon.  Check it out!liberty hill, historical fiction, california gold rush, sonja heisinger

That’s right Mr. Dickens, we’re coming for you!

california gold rush, adventure book, historical fiction, sonja heisinger

I have to say I am SUPER proud of my wife for doing such an amazing job on this book.  Those of you who have bought it know that this is a successful author in the making here and I’m super happy to be her man.  =)  *Sappy moment*

But like I said, there is bad news as well.  If we had sold 7,000 books at even .99¢ we would have made a little profit after Amazon takes the share.  But free is free and there is no monetary gain in it for us…but that’s ok!  If you decide to download it there is something you could do for us that doesn’t cost you anything but 5 minutes (at most!) of your time.  There is a very complicated system we need you to follow after your get your free download.  It goes like this.

#1  Download the Liberty Hill for free.
#2  Read the Liberty Hill.
#3  Write a short 200-500 word review on Amazon.  It doesn’t even have to be a 5 star review!

And that’s it.  Pretty tricky huh?  That would really mean a lot to us and help out a ton with paid sales after the free promotion.  Reviews = $ for us down the road.

Remember, the free promotion only lasts until midnight on Wednesday, July 17th so get it now!  Click on the book cover below and it will take you straight to the Kindle page.

Liberty Cover

Click Above!

 

 

 

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Teenagers

So, life has changed a lot since my husband and I moved back to the United States. Instead of being the adventurous couple with no kids and no ties, we are the adventurous couple with professions, a mortgage, and yes, a teenager. Since December, we are the proud guardians of my baby sister, Summer. (Okay, if you’ve read my book, For He Is Summer, you will find this ironic, too.)

There is no warning for the kind of things you experience with a fifteen-year-old under your roof. You know the old adage about getting married to your spouse’s family in addition to marrying your spouse? When you have a teenager, you don’t just have a teenager. You have all your teenager’s teenage friends as well. So you never really have just one teenager in your life… not unless he or she is extremely weird and antisocial, and in that case you have one teenager plus a handful of imaginary friends, oftentimes with names like Bruce, Harry, Frodo, Peter… you get my drift. You can’t just order one teenager. You automatically get fries on the side, and oftentimes you get a montage of other items, too. Lip rings, shaven heads, sneaking out, boyfriend/girlfriend rotations, slamming doors, obnoxiously loud farts… and these are all really good ingredients for lack of sleep, weight loss, and heart burn. I know. I understand. I get it. I have one.

My sister is fun. Really. The other day, my husband got this fond look in his eyes and said, “She’s a great kid.” Aw. It’s true. Especially when she showers. And my favorite moments are when she starts laughing about something that’s not really funny, and pretty soon she’s coughing and holding her stomach because she can’t stop, and she can’t even remember what she’s laughing about. She will do this for periods up to twenty minutes. Just laughing. It’s so ridiculous, so cute, so innocent, and entirely too rare. I wish she would laugh more often.

But the thing with these kids is that most of them are starting to get a taste for that delicious spirit called independence, and that spirit can leave them tipsy and silly, drunk and stupid, or hung over and emotional. The stages don’t always go in order, and they have the tendency to alter simultaneously and without warning. Independence. Kids just DRINK IT UP. Such power, such monstrous effects, such catastrophic consequences. And so rewarding when they get it right.

We’re still working on that last part. But we’ll get it. We’ll get it.

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Finish It

I never used to be the finishing type. It’s like every time I set my mind to doing something, I make it three quarters to the finish line, then I get distracted, or I get discouraged, or I straight up lose interest. I never used to finish any of my sketches, and for a long time, I just gave the excuse that an unfinished work of art was my “style”. I allowed for my inability to see anything through till the end. In fact, I owned it.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many unfinished stories I have tucked away in my secret, unseen files. There are tens, maybe even hundreds.

Sound familiar?

What unfinished projects do YOU have tucked away in your closet? In your diary? In your heart? Inspirations left to the guillotine of apathy… dreams squandered by lost time… aspirations quieted by your lack of education, lack of experience, lack of qualifications…

You’re not alone. Lost dreams are everywhere. Somewhere there’s a symphony left incomplete beneath a teenager’s bed. After all, he’s got too many pimples and too little education to be a real composer. Somewhere there’s a man sitting at the same desk he’s sat at since he was twenty, an AA under his belt and a guitar locked in his closet. After all, who wants to hear the songs he’s written? The music scene is really competitive anyway, and he’s tired of life never going the way he hoped it would in high school. Somewhere else there’s a waitress who has an incredible gift with people and a keen understanding of politics. But it’s silly to think that SHE could be the first woman president. After all, what would that itty bitty restaurant do without her?

Somewhere there’s a baby in a young mother’s belly who is capable of such brilliance that he might one day find the cure for cancer, but he’ll never get the chance. After all, he wasn’t planned, and there’s too many babies in the world as it is.

Can you imagine a world full of sabotaged, incomplete masterpieces? During WWII, what if everyone decided to stop fighting against Hitler? What if we just gave up? How many more would have needlessly died? What if Mozart had never finished his requiem? What if the Beatles, after playing a hundred sweaty, underpaid sets at an insignificant club in Germany, had decided the industry was too hard and they wouldn’t pursue music after all? What if Tesla had burned his formulas because no one could understand them anyway? What if Mandela had gotten out of prison and spent the rest of his life embittered against the world instead of seeking to change it?

Frankl could have taken his life in that concentration camp. Thoreau could have conformed to society and ashamedly left Walden pond. Muir could have abandoned Yosemite without ever telling another soul about it. Dickens could have decided that his writing was too controversial, and hidden it away.

Who would we be as individuals, as a people, without them and their accomplishments? What if the Eiffel Tower stopped halfway up? Or the Golden Gate Bridge stopped halfway to the other side?

We rob mankind of our accomplishments when we do not see them through. We have a responsibility to the greatness of which we dreamed when we were young. And sometimes finishing something doesn’t just mean picking up where you left off. Sometimes it means getting out of the mess you’re in- that nine-to-five prison, that suffocating retirement plan, that debt-accruing university. It means wrapping it up, bringing it to completion with honor and excellence, letting it go, and moving forward. When in your life did you stop growing? We are born to advance. As children, we grow up. As humans, our legs propel us forward. Disease, obesity, and depression befall those who refuse to get out of bed, because it is UNNATURAL to go through life and do nothing. The very essence of life is not simply to be, but to become better, stronger, healthier through movement and transformation. Stagnation doesn’t only cause death- it stinks, and it makes everyone else suffer.

I don’t care what you have been told in the past. Maybe your parents told you it was impossible. Maybe your siblings laughed at you. Maybe your peers looked at you funny, or your professor told you to be realistic, or your boss told you that you he couldn’t live without you. He’s wrong. He’ll make it. But the rest of us will be so disappointed if you don’t move to Hollywood, or cut that EP, or write that future bestseller, or embark on that campaign, or land that research scholarship, or go to med school, or submit that artwork. Stop owning your excuses of why you can’t, because it’s NOT your style, it’s NOT your personality, it’s NOT in your character to give up, cop out, and surrender! Please, I beg of you. Whatever it takes, whoever you are, imagine what it would be like to actually go after your wildest dreams. Is it terrifying? Is it paralyzing? Is it strictly impossible? Then with God as my witness, I promise you it is going to be so worth it.

Come on. Go for it. Quit your job, or send in that application. Write that essay. Contact that politician. Learn how to make creme brulee, or learn how to speak Italian. Read Les Miserables or War and Peace. Make a list and start checking it off.

When I was sixteen, I made two important life decisions: #1. Learn how to cook and #2. Start finishing my sketches. Today, if you go to my Art page, you can see “Angelina’s Pearl”, the first sketch I ever completed. It is still the one that receives the most praise.

So start living. And we as the human race will thank you for it.

Seriously. Finish it.

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The New Fear

To prepare for our new adventure, Andrew and I read a lot of books about living and serving in a new culture. We were told to keep our eyes, minds, and ears open. We braced ourselves for new foods, customs, and languages, for spectacles we may not understand and traditions we had never heard of. We also knew that no amount of preparation could change the fact that once we were here in Tanzania, learning to adjust to this new life was going to require some time.

There are certain things that sneak up on you when you enter a new culture, however. Suddenly, the voice of fear creeps out from behind you, wearing several masks you’ve never seen. One looks like the fear of unclean food, of parasites and worms and disease. One looks like the fear of driving on the opposite side of the road, of no seat belts and swarms of pedestrians and the constant passing of vehicles. Another looks like the fear of losing your belongings, the precious little you brought with you from home, of being robbed or having your baggage lost at the airport. And still, another looks like the fear of wild plants and animals, of poisonous flowers and insects, of monkeys that bite and birds that peck, of dogs that may have rabies and lizards or roaches that may scurry across the floor at any moment.

The new fear can drive you insane. It can cripple you, disable you, cause you to focus on everything but the good and beautiful things around you.

But in reality, the new fears are simply new arms and legs of the same fears you battled back home. They all connect to the same body, the entity that is itself the fear of being alone, of being weak, of being vulnerable, of not having enough.

The good news is, however, that the weapons which defeated the old fear are the same weapons which may conquer the new fear:

Thankfulness. Focusing on what one has more than what one has not.

Joy. Focusing on the little black faces that break into a brilliant white smile and wave as you pass by, rather than the barren, rocky, Maasai wasteland you’re passing through.

Peace. The knowledge that, whatever the circumstances, you are NEVER alone, you are strong because HE is strong, you are no longer vulnerable, but SAFE in the shadow of His wings, and there is always, ALWAYS enough.

 

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T.I.A.

Art by Sonja HeisingerFor us here in Tanzania, T.I.A. (“This Is Africa) means…

There are certain bugs that don’t bite or sting. Just don’t smash them on your arm, because their insides are acidic and burn right through your skin.

Kilimanjaro is in our backyard, with a base so huge you have to swivel your neck to see the whole thing. On a clear day, you might see her snow-white cap; but mostly, she’s shy, and prefers to hide behind clouds.

Not all monkeys want to have a conversation. Some just want to watch you pass by from the side of the road (baboons) while the others just want to climb you like a tree to dig in your purse, your hair, steal your sunglasses, or bite your necklace.

Storks should NOT be in charge of handling babies. They are huge, hideous, hairy, and mean, and they will snap their gigantic beak at you whenever they please.

Chai Massala… Spicy, creamy, sweet hot tea? YES PLEASE!!!

Cereal is around eight dollars a box; and if you’re an mzungu (white person) and there’s no price tag, chances are it’s a lot more than that.

A dhala-dhala is something that looks and acts like a mini-bus, only there are about thirty people crammed inside and around it.

You’re supposed to drive on the left side of the road. Supposed to. Doesn’t mean it always happens.

Cars on the road: Land Cruiser, Land Cruiser, Land Cruiser, Samurai, Land Cruiser, dhala-dhala, Land Cruiser, Mercedes-Benz, Land Cruiser.

On the side of the road: Ditch.

Between the ditch and the road: Cart. Man with one leg and wheelchair. Two women with baskets on their heads, one with a six-foot bundle of brush, another with a heap of bananas, another still with a fifty-pound sack of beans. More carts. More people, people, people.

On the other side of the ditch: A six-year-old Ma’saai shepherd with a stick, three donkeys, and forty goats.

The veterinary clinic is very much like Jurassic Park meets James Bond: it’s thirty minutes away, in the jungle, run by gorgeous blonde Europeans and full of exotic creatures.

There are speed bumps. On the highway. And seat belts? A rarity.

Cops don’t have cars. You pick them up and escort them to the police station.

The Rwanda war crime trials are occurring an hour down the road.

Watching “The Lion King” is a whole new experience, especially when you leave the house and the first thing a local says to you is, “Hakuna matata, sister!”

 

 

 

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Tis a Season

I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately.

Before I left Pinocchio’s Italian Cafe, where I used to work, I would be in the back washing dishes and thinking to myself, “I’m happy here. If I never had another job, I’d be happy.” Not that doing dishes was a glorious occupation. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t the dishes that fulfilled me. It was the knowledge that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, taking the direction I wanted to take.

Pinocchio’s was one of the least lucrative jobs I ever had. I made just over minimum wage. I left a position at one of the largest banks in the country to wash those dishes, sacrificing half my hours and half my wage. I had skills in website development, writing, and administration, none of which was needed at the restaurant. At Pinocchio’s, I just needed to know where everything was, how to make a Jiminy Cricket sandwich, and how to smile like I meant it. And I did mean it. Because working sixteen hours a week was exactly what I wanted.

But why?

Three years ago, I would not have been able to get away with working at Pinocchio’s as my sole occupation. At 20, Andrew and I had just gotten married and we were absolutely broke. I mean, we paid our bills, but at the end of the day, we had enough to cover our electricity, but not enough to buy groceries. We depended a lot on charity. We got some free food from the local churches and sometimes, a surprise check in the mail would be the exact amount we needed to cover the rent. We lived moment to moment, never knowing how things would work out, not knowing what more we could do to make it to the other side. I was working full time, first at DaniJohnson.com, then at Wells Fargo, and Andrew was cleaning carpets and renting out skis at Dodge Ridge. We got home in time to make dinner and fall asleep during whatever movie we had most recently borrowed from a friend. It was tough, but it was what we had to do. It was a season, and we recognized that. Our “poverty” wasn’t going to last forever.

Just a thought: the key to recognizing seasons is having a vision. Vision is also, I believe, the key to happiness.

So how did vision get us through that first year? It’s like when you’re in P.E. and you’re running the first mile you’ve ever run. Maybe you’ve never run before, maybe you’re not even athletic, and unless you realize that there’s a finish line, you’re going to stop running and do something else the instant you get tired. Then your teacher gets upset and you can’t imagine why. You’re tired, your heart is racing and you feel sick, so naturally, you should stop. You owe it to yourself to stop. But stopping after twenty yards isn’t victory at all. Victory is at the end of the mile, when you can change out of your gym shorts and go to lunch.

Andrew and I had a vision. We weren’t even exactly sure what that vision looked like, but we knew it was different from working odd jobs and eating boxed food. I knew it had something to do with becoming a published author and Andrew knew it had something to do with business and living overseas. So that was what we worked towards. I took every spare moment to write and Andrew took every spare moment to convince me to become a missionary (I write that with a smile on my face, because the last thing I ever wanted to become was a missionary… but that’s another subject). Andrew eventually landed a full-time desk job, and I stuck with the bank even when I wanted to bash in Corporate’s big ugly head. Gradually, we paid off our debt and learned how to spend less and less a month.

Then, over a short period of time, a bunch of things happened.

I quit the bank and started working at Pinocchio’s so I could have more time to dedicate to art and writing. Andrew and I made the concrete decision to go to Africa. We clarified our vision, and then it was like everything fell into place. We became debt-free on New Year’s 2011, I got some contract work with marketing and web development, and I put some artwork up for sale. I was instantly getting paid to do the things I loved while putting away money towards Africa. Months later, I was a published author.

In three years, Andrew and I went through some serious transformation. We are no longer charity cases; instead, I am an accomplished artist and first-time author, and together, we have become self-financed missionaries. We would not be here if three years ago, we had felt like victims. No. Even then, we knew we had everything we needed to be conquerors.

And when you know who you are, when you know where you’re going, you can wash dishes and sing at the top of your lungs along with Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore”, even if your back hurts and your feet ache and your eyes burn from onions and you’ve washed the same stupid sauce pot a hundred times. Because you’re exactly where you’re meant to be in that moment. Because when that moment passes, those dishes are gone and you’re in Texas about to board a plane to the next chapter of your life.

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Time To Say Goodbye

I wrote this in my journal just a few days before leaving Sonora.

Every day is beautiful. It is autumn, and the last of the leaves are hanging on until it is time… time to say goodbye.

I don’t have a car anymore. My Honda was rear ended and totaled, so lately I have bummed rides everywhere from my coworkers. It has given me the chance to look out the window at everything that passes… the trees, the houses, the creeks, the hills, the people, the shops. I love this town. I love everything about it. It’s growing right now… there are new businesses springing up all over the place. What will Sonora be when we return? What will be the same, what will be different? I will miss it here, and in expectation of missing it, I have loved it intensely. I have soaked in every moment, every conversation, every little adventure, every bumper-to-bumper trip down Main St. I have always chosen Main St. over the back roads because I can’t ever seem to get enough of it. What silly display will the Masons have in their window? What colorful garments will catch the wind outside the Banyan Tree and Tradewinds? How many familiar faces can you see inside Yo Good Yogurt? Which wedding dress has been regally erected in the Bridal Shoppe?

There are the ever-changing businesses, but there are the ones that have not changed since I was born. Dorothy’s Christmas. PJ’s Cards and Collectables, the Bagel Bin. There is the Veterans’ Memorial and the Courthouse, and after everything, there is the church. Oh, the church.

I have so many memories in that church. Sundays, Christmases, Easters, my senior project, fundraisers for Katrina relief, meetings, baptisms, choir, confirmations, acolytes, old photographs in the History Room, making a mess of the nursery, teaching Bible studies, performing the Pie Jesu, drinking tea with the old folks, sitting by the fire in the library on cold winter mornings. The list is endless, as it should be. I spent a huge portion of my life there. I used to dream about turning around in my pew and seeing a handsome man enter in through the back door, that maybe that man was my husband. I envisioned us saying our vows at the altar, with my dad performing the rites and someone playing that gorgeous grand piano I have always loved, and yes, coveted. And the funny thing is, my husband DID walk through that door, just a few years ago. But his face was not new; it was as familiar to me as anything else in that church. He was my best friend, and on Christmas Eve during Midnight Mass, when the candles were lit for Silent Night, he slipped a ring around my finger. In that church. Better than I could have dreamed.

And that is the definition of Sonora for me: better than I could have dreamed. No matter what fictional towns I dream up in the future, all of them will bear some similarities to that place. My home. And if the saying is true, which I’m hoping it is, all roads in this life lead back there. So wherever we are, wherever we go, to Africa and beyond, perhaps Sonora will wait for me. Till then, I will dream about her, write about her, imagine her as she was those first twenty-three years of my existence. I will remember her in the autumn of 2011 when I said goodbye for the first time.

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One Step Closer

We survived the next step. I’m not sure which step we’re on… perhaps the first was making the initial decision to flip our lives upside-down and leave everything we’ve ever known for a country we’ve never seen.

Yeah. I guess that was the first step.

The second was getting out of debt. Whoo-hoo! As of January 1, 2011, we owed no cents to no man. That’s a totally awesome feeling.

The third was budgeting out our entire year. Where was our money going, and how much could we save?

So that must make this the fourth step: Moving. Not to Africa, not yet. Just out of the house.

“Moving” seems like such an innocent word. Two syllables, not too daunting. Maybe if we threw an “r” in there, it would seem a little more frightening. “Mor-ving”. There we go. Then it’s right up there with “morgue”, “mortuary”, “mortician”, “Morgoth”. You get the picture.

Death. Moving is really a lot like death. It’s a really, really irritating ceremony of goodbye.

There was a lot of emotion that came with moving. For me, anyway. We were leaving a house we loved, where we had tons and tons of memories, not just with each other, but with all our friends and family. Andrew spent his teenage years in that house; together, we spent the second year of our marriage there. We threw numerous parties; going away parties, costume parties, Settlers of Catan showdowns, movie nights, worship gatherings. Andrew and I fell in love in that house. We announced our engagement in that house.

Before we packed our things, we thinned them out by having a huge sale. What was left had to be sorted, rolled in newspaper, stowed in boxes. It was a good feeling to look at everything we owned, I mean everything, and think, “I love this. I use this. This is important to me.” We cleaned our house and our lives of miscellaneous crap, and everything remaining was like gold. Suddenly, we had less to call our own and paradoxically, we felt extremely wealthy.

Our last year at the famous Heisinger abode was accompanied by two dogs, a cross-eyed cat, and two amazing roommates. Every last moment was priceless, even the difficult ones, such as Indie (our dog) rolling in poop and sticker burrs and me spending two hours cleaning her up. Yes, I now see the value in those hours… they conditioned my heart to say “I’m outta here, and I am NOT going to deal with this again!” And then there were the other moments, like having our last breakfast on the big rock, or staying up till midnight with Ashley (roomie number one) drinking red wine and port, or hearing Monica laugh in the kitchen (roomie number two). These were the hard moments; more difficult than lifting boxes or carting off cords of wood. Those are the moments of beauty that will never happen again.

So where did this step come to a close? I am currently sitting in our motor home (which was NOT crushed by Terry Gordon, contrary to the picture Jordan Anderson posted on Facebook) on my parents’ property. I spent the day at my leisure. No tape, Sharpies, phone calls to the post office, or boxes involved. Andrew and I will be here with my family until the first week of December, then it’s onward to Texas for the remainder of the year. At the end of 2011, we’ll take that final leap aboard a plane bound for Africa and then, I’ll stop counting the steps.

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