hope and a habit

forced forsythia

Spring is finally unfolding here in Holland. Remembering the thrill of noticing nature’s first green-gold from a great big window on the sixth floor of the seminary library last spring, I have checked every day for one tiny green burst on some tree.

Thirteen days into April, nothing. Fourteen, this:

spring has sprung!

forsythia fork

In those rupturing buds, so much possibility! hope! promise!

So tied am I to seasons that the arrival of spring and the approach of summer always herald an opening in my spirit. My dreams grow. Days that seemed intolerable become delicious. And this year, knowing that we’ll be at Hope come fall, I can receive these seasons fully and freely. Oh, the books on my list! The mornings to be given over to writing! The prospect of someone I love dearly moving to Holland!

barely buds


And after a long winter of not-writing, now writing.
Not much, yet.
Fifteen minutes a day, up from ten.
Piddling, really.

But I’m writing. And for the most part, it’s feeling better. Like I’ve moved from huff-puffing around the block to jogging a mile. Some days I still don’t want to write, but the momentum’s there. I can say with integrity that I’m writing.



To keep us all from faltering, my friends Colin and Anna and I are meeting to write together and to hear each other’s writing. To encourage, mostly. Colin’s encouragement was this, wisdom from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life:

As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, “Simba!”

Everyone has their way of screwing up the courage to write. In our college writing workshop, Heather was always reminding us that we are made up of two parts, a half that wants to write and a half that doesn’t, and our work is to trick the half that doesn’t into writing. (If you’re wondering who she’s scolding in that most recent post, it’s us.) My friend Adam’s strategy is to picture writing like a jet ski, which, once you’ve fallen off, is much easier to climb onto if the jet ski is moving. Momentum breeds stability.

forsythia reflection


I’m picturing the lion, wild and fierce, and determining not to let it overcome me. For two weeks, it hasn’t. One night, on my way to bed without having confronted the lion for the day, I checked my e-mail and found a note from Colin saying I had to write before I slept. He says I can’t skip a day for at least a month. Maybe two.

My methods of tricking the not-wanting-to-write part are varied: a timer, a notebook and sublimely silky pen, friends, metaphors, books on creativity, a writing group, and, most recently, Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing. A whole three days of spreading my arms wide and receiving whatever wisdom, spurring, and osmotic aptitude these writers had to offer. Twenty pages of notes trying to capture that wisdom, spurring, and aptitude. (Next time, I’m going to try sketchnoting.) A heart bursting with hope.


roasted apples

I want to tell you all about it! I wish I could recreate the conference and its effects on me. I feel wiser, spurred on, and more capable. I’ve decided to not be afraid of language, to use luscious words the way Amy Leach does, to explore metaphor, to write what I don’t know about what I know, to write a lot because there’s no end to the creative abundance in this world.

That whole weekend, I mulled, I simmered, I gushed and gobbled more. I buzzed from session to session, flitting over book tables here and there, finding quiet spaces to eat and sort everything out.

forsythia in the morning

forsythia in the afternoon

Meanwhile, the apples I had brought to snack on froze in the hotel fridge. And once removed, thawed to mush. Totally unappetizing. Fortunately, Molly came to the rescue with a roasted applesauce recipe that might’ve been the only way to salvage these sloppy, spongy apples. I only had five, but cored and quartered, they fit perfectly into an 8×8 pan and took just under an hour, giving me ample time to write. I need those clear wedges of time; writing is simultaneously delightful and difficult. It doesn’t always come naturally.

I need structure, discipline. I need to be forced sometimes. Even forsythia will bloom when it’s cold out. Give it a mug of water and a window, and here it comes!

forsythia blossom

on their way to applesauce

Roasted Applesauce

with thanks to Molly Wizenberg and Judy Rodgers

Spring is on its way! Apples are on their way out. This is the perfect way to send winter off with love.

as many apples as you want (at least a pound or two)
1/2 tsp. sugar per pound of apples
1/2 tsp. salt per pound of apples
1 Tbsp. butter per pound of apples

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Quarter and core your apples. I forgot to peel mine, which made them harder to mash into applesauce but added a delicious dimension. Do what you will.

In a baking pan—8×8 or 9×13, depending on the number of apples—toss them with the sugar and salt. Snuggle them against each other and scatter little bits of butter across the top. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’ve begun to soften.

Crank up the heat to 500ºF, remove the foil, and return the pan to the oven for another 10 or 20 minutes. (I had lots of bubbling juice in the bottom, which I poured into a cup before putting the apples back in to allow them to get dark rather than damp. I added this back in at the end.) When the edges have caramelized and the apples are browning, pull out the pan.

Use a fork or pastry cutter to smash the apples, or, for a silkier consistency, use a blender.


6 thoughts on “hope and a habit

  1. Grace, my hopes for and struggles in writing are the same. When you sit down to your fifteen-minute sessions, about what do you write? I’m really hoping to become a faithful, a disciplined, a creative, an expressive, an effective, a holy writer but I am so scared and unsure how to start.

    Love & grace to you.

    • Oh, Amber! Take heart! It can be done. For a while, I used the prompts in Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, one prompt each day, until I uncovered material that I wanted to follow further. Her prompts are a good place to just get writing. That’s the biggest thing I’m learning: nothing can take the place of sitting down to write, even if the most horrific, self-absorbing writing comes out. Then you have something to work with. Two books I’ve found encouraging for pushing through the resistance are Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. Keep me in the loop, promise?


  2. i love reading things about april 14 on april 14. 🙂 i also love the idea of using baking time as a confined time to write. sounds like an excellent habit pairing for bread baking, with its defined time pockets for rising and baking. i’m all about habit pairings: anytime something is heating in the microwave, i load dishes or clean something in the kitchen; when i finally convince myself to get my oil changed (ugh), i allow myself to use the time to walk to the local creamery and treat myself to an ice cream cone (i may or may not have chosen my mechanic on the basis of its proximity to ice cream). thanks for the new pairing, grace!

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