Eyes in my pencil

IMG_4773My friend, Brady, writes everything down. Multiple journals, mostly hardcover with ornate designs of hearts or flowers scatter amongst her coffee table and other various areas throughout her apartment. Her purse is never without one and ink is abundant. She literally has dozens of them filled with shopping lists, to-do lists, meeting minutes, study notes from her bible time, Spanish words, things God has said to her, things she says to Him and anything else. Though I didn’t know her in her waitressing days, I can assure you that her guests never had that uneasy feeling she was going to mess up their order in her fancy attempt to memorize the entire order sans notepad. A few months ago Trevor had rotator cuff surgery at a big hospital here in the Dominican Republic, and to say the experience was a comedy-of-errors is being polite. Brady accompanied me in the hospital for moral support and we belly-laughed for days about the about the $3,000 hospital bill hand-scrawled on a receipt pad, the computer system which is not one but actually a system of spiral notebooks, and the wild-goose chase we were sent on to get change for our payment. She told me several times, “you have GOT to write this stuff down! People are never going to believe it.” When I returned to the hospital without her, she texted me, “R U writing this stuff down?”

As we rounded the last corner home on a grueling August afternoon walk, Brady says to me, “I think you should blog more.”

Gulp.

I hear what she says, and I have that indescribable feeling of “something” when you know that the words that were said were more than just words, and it’s more like you were just served your next orders for life. But for the moment I brushed it off like she had said something mundane like, “I think you should wear more blue,” or “I think you should take more vitamin C.” And my verbal response to her was short, and while I didn’t mean to sound offhand, I said something like, “I dunno, maybe. You and I are different and it’s easy for you to put your words out there for the world.” I got off-the-hook and she dropped the subject.

Brady writes down anything that is worthy of remembering. Memories become immortal on the pages of her journals. Whatever she is thinking, she writes. I am a writer, too, but I usually write so that I can know what it is that I am thinking. I started reading Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts, which is a memoire of one woman’s ability to find true joy through thanksgiving as she writes an ongoing list of life’s blessings. She quotes John Piper, to say, “that there are eyes in pencils and in pens.” And for me that is true, too. When I need to forgive someone that seems too unforgivable, I have found one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to write them a letter, even though I almost never send it. When I am confused on a lesson that God is trying to teach me, I start writing and thoughts that couldn’t be formulated on their own, now stand. Although I am loving her book, Ann’s concept of literally writing down your blessings is not a new one to me. I did this years ago, when I felt a temporary depression start to settle in because I was struggling with living with a blood disease. I needed God-time so I rode my watermelon-red beach cruiser to a lake near our home, and as I contemplated Philippians 4:6 which reminds us to present our requests to God “with thanksgiving” I started my own list of blessings on a yellow legal pad. It was easy to come up with them because we had just returned from a mission trip to Honduras where we witnessed some of the poorest conditions in the world. I was thankful for my dishwasher, my car, my kid’s preschool, my doctor. And there was power in my list, too. Usually I start writing about something that inspires me, and something more valuable is inevitably revealed to myself.

And I thought about Brady’s words to me about blogging. It was a dare that required courage that doesn’t come from me alone. Because when I talk, I almost always mess it up. Time after time I feel so misunderstood. “That’s not what I meant!” is a common theme. So the thought of putting words on paper, or better yet the World Wide Web, where everyone I do and don’t know can poke holes in my words and thoughts was terrifying. I wasn’t always this way. When I was in the sixth grade, I entered an essay contest for the Daughter’s of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) on some patriotic topic. I received a gold medal and was asked to read my award-winning essay on the local AM station at some ungodly hour in the morning. I don’t think I was nervous, but I think I thought I was probably pretty awesome, and that I was most definitely some form of a local celebrity. But I had excellent training. Over the years, I spent countless hours pouring over details of proses and research papers at the kitchen table of my Grandma Sebree, who happens to be the best writing teacher I know. God has blessed me with a gift of gab, but only on paper.

While I didn’t express it fully, I accepted Brady’s “dare” and committed to more [deep breaths] blogging. And whether anyone reads what I write or not (and the fraidy cat in me secretly hopes that they don’t), it is cheap therapy for my soul.

Do you journal or blog? If so, what is the purpose?

You can read Brady’s blog here.

15 Ways to Celebrate Fall in the Land of Eternal Spring

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Although, we are not officially celebrating Labor Day here in the Dominican Republic, I still think it’s a good time to acknowledge the passing of Summer and the welcoming of Fall. Yes, school is in full swing, college football has begun, and people are Instagramming their pumpkin lattes. But other than those clues, it is hard to recognize the change in season from where I sit. Year-round luscious flora and average temperatures of 75 degrees earns Jarabacoa the nickname, “The Land of Eternal Spring.” It was easy to celebrate summer, with daily warm rays of sunshine and sandy beaches just a short drive away. And Christmas is maybe more commercialized here than the States, and since I’m from Florida I don’t know what a white Christmas is anyway. But celebrating Fall is just not the same. They don’t grow pumpkins or apples here, there are no Fall festivals, and college football and Thanksgiving are out for obvious reasons. And for a brief moment, I almost felt sad for myself. But I did what any good third-culture mom would do, scoured Pinterest for hours, and this year, I am determined to give the season of Fall a proper recognition. Here is my top to-do list of things for a Fall in the DR that don’t include changing leaves, hay-rides, or jack-o-lanterns. My expat friends, please join us, and everyone else can follow us as we cross off our Fall in the DR list @ #fallintheDR.

1. Roast marshmallows and make S’mores. Check check! See picture above.
2. Make caramel apples.
3. Have a real tailgate. Cheesy, maybe, but we will all don our Florida Gator gear for a mock tailgate with grilling and chilling, and maybe we will even teach the Dominicans how to play corn-hole.
4. Bon fire.
5. Nature walk and make leaf rubbings. If we use the right color crayons, you’ll never know the leaves are still green!
6. Plant a garden. Yesss!
7. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Fall is a great time to reflect on our abundant blessings, and to memorize this verse as a family: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1 NIV)
8. Read One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. This goes with #7, and has been on my reading wish list for a while now.
9. Host a costume party. Excited to invite all of our expat-kid friends and some Dominicans friends, too, for a tradition too good to skip.
10. Drive-in movie. No, I don’t know of a drive-in theatre here, but if we projected a movie on the outside wall late enough in the evening, the air may be brisk enough to feel like Fall.
11. Make pumpkin pancakes. It’s a Plank Family tradition.
12. Watch fall movies. On the list: Hocus Pocus, When Harry met Sally, Rudy, Good Will Hunting, Scared Shrekless, and our all-time favorite, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
13. Make fall decorations for the house. I have a board on Pinterest a mile long. You’d be amazed what you can do with tin cans, twine, and orange spray paint.
14. Make a Starbucks copycat Pumpkin Spice Frappe. We did this last year and it was heavenly.
15. Make Grandma Betty’s Monster Cookies. Last fall, my Grandma Betty passed away. One of my favorite recipes that she made every fall was Monster Cookies. If you don’t know what these are, they are like chocolate chip cookies with like 75 other ingredients from oatmeal to Peanut M&M’s and takes the world’s most gigantic bowl and superhero strength just to move a spoon through the batter. So, in honor of Grandma Betty, and because they are fabulous, Monster Cookies are the final thing on my Fall in the DR to-do list.

What’s on your Fall must-do list? Do you live in a tropical climate where you have to get creative to feel the season? Or are you getting ready for jean jackets and Fall foliage? We’d love to hear how you celebrate.

Happy Fall Ya’ll!

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Trevor and Kathy are independent missionaries in the Dominican Republic, and raise their own financial support for their family. If you’d like to be a part of the Plankenhorn family support team, click here to see where they are, and how you can help.