The most important thing for you to know about me is that I love the Lord Jesus, and it’s the passion of my heart for others to know that Jesus loves them too.
I grew up shy and insecure in the inner city of Minneapolis, MN. My father was an atheist and an alcoholic and my mother an agnostic. When I got older, I put all that together, "Atheist, Alcoholic, Agnostic? Good grief! I was raised by Triple-A!"
I married my high school sweetheart during college. That ended sadly after thirteen years and three children. I was a single mom, working full time (the hardest thing I've ever done, by the way) when God, in His great mercy, brought me my husband Terry, who was an officer in the Air Force at the time. (It was straight out of Officer and a Gentleman, my very own romance novel come to life!). For 26 years, we've shared a blended family of six children and now seven grandchildren (and number eight is due soon). We live in the woods in Wisconsin with our dog, Zoey, a West Highland Terrorist (and if you've ever been owned by a terrier, you know what I'm talking about.)
On Becoming a "Real Writer"
For as long as I can remember—and I'm sure it's true for you--I've loved the way words could be put together to enchant or inspire or touch me as a reader. I remember being read to before I even started school and that feeling of rapture as the words and pictures drew me into the story. The first book I remember was a Christmas gift from my grandfather. Imagine a gruff grandfather giving a six-year-old a book about a poodle called Foo Foo Goes to Paris. Books have the power to bridge generation gaps.
In grade school, I wrote poems and my own version of a Nancy Drew mystery. (Can you relate?) During a class social studies program in 4th grade, I read my poems (about rocks and Eskimos—well, you can just imagine) and the parents in the audience applauded. I’m sure it was polite applause, but something clicked. Writing was a way for this self-conscious, insecure child to connect. The writing provided a buffer of protection; I wasn’t so afraid when I could prepare ahead of time and know what I wanted to say.
Of course, “everybody knows” you can’t make a living as a writer, so I wrote for my own pleasure—journaling, poetry, letters—and got “real jobs.” I became a teacher and then got into financial services. God rekindled the writing spark when I was a forty years old (it’s never too late) and working as a stockbroker. My husband was completing twenty years in the Air Force in California and we were planning to return to the Midwest. I felt the Lord saying that it was time to write and I told Him, “Okay, then I want to be a writer in the woods in Wisconsin.” And since 1990, that’s just where I’ve been.
It’s such a privilege when God uses my writing to touch someone—through the laughter or tears—and draw the reader closer to Himself.
When I moved to the woods and became a Real Writer, I expected overnight success. Editors and publishers were just waiting for my stuff. ("At last! The manuscript I've been waiting my whole life to find! Yes! Give her six figures in advance! Hurry before another publisher starts a bidding war!") HA! It took a few years before anything was accepted for publication, and the pay was zero. (My toughest green-eyed monster moment was when a friend's FIRST THING SHE EVER WROTE was accepted by Guideposts. Arggh!)
While others were whipping out novel after novel, it took me twelve years to get a book deal. So I’m a twelve-year overnight success. I don't know how long it will take you to reach your dream goals but I do know this fact of writing life: God has a timetable for you and He doesn't let you see it. Our job is to just do the writing and trust Him to do the rest.
If you're still waiting for writing fame and fortune, remember that every writer needs five things: (1) A library card and the Dewey section 808 in the library, where you’ll find books galore about writing. (That's right; not everything is Kindled yet, and as starving artists, we love that the library is free—and smells like books!) (2) A writer-friend who is farther along the writing path than you are, so you can learn from them. (3) A writer friend who is where you are on the path, so you can encourage one another. (4) A writer who is less experienced than you are, so you can start right away to “give back” what God is giving to you. (5) The willingness to give up something (time, money, energy that goes elsewhere now) to make time for writing and studying the craft.
Then, set a schedule and write, write, write. Some of my favorite writing quotes: “Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses.” "It’s in the process of actually writing that we learn how." And the all-time favorite: "Bad things don't happen to writers; it's all just material"!
About My Books
I've written three books that offer laughter and encouragement for women, all published by Zondervan/HarperCollins. The first book, When Did I Stop Being Barbie and Become Mrs. Potato Head? was inspired as I watched a woman on Oprah lamenting the fact that she was, as she put it, “losing her looks.” Oprah asked how old she was. "I'm going to be THIRTY," she said, like that was a dirty word.
I looked at the TV and said out loud (and don't give me that look like I'm the only one who talks to the people on TV), "Oh, honey, it gets a LOT worse!" Then I realized that we all have that moment, sooner or later, when we look in the mirror and our mom is staring back at us. Maybe it’s “crow’s feet,” or “laugh lines” or “middle-age spread.” Something causes us to realize that time is marching on, and it’s marching across our face. Or it hits some of us when we’re trying on swimsuits. We look in the mirror and realize we no longer relate (if we ever really did) to the image of Barbie. We relate to Mrs. Potato Head instead. The good news: God loves us anyway, just the way we are—cellulite and all!
The idea for the second book, Confessions of a Prayer Wimp, came as I listened to Focus on the Family on the radio one morning. Dr. Dobson referred to a woman as “a real prayer warrior.” I thought, I am so not that. I’m the opposite of a prayer warrior. What would that be? I’m a prayer WIMP! The thought became an article, which ran in Focus on the Family magazine, and that grew into the book. In the process of writing the book, I came to see that prayer isn’t really so much about who we are (wimp or warrior) but about who God is. He is the “Omni” God – omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent – ready, able and WILLING to hear and answer our prayers, however feebly we might pray them. God is able to take us from whatever mess we’re in (even if we’re raised by AAA), transform our hearts and make something wonderful of our lives.
The third book title When Did My Life Become a Game of Twister? was actually suggested by the marketing team at Zondervan. The game of Twister is just the perfect metaphor for the way life gets sometimes, when we feel like somebody else is spinning the dial and calling the shots (“Left foot red! Right hand blue!”) in life. We are trying to do our best, but are getting ourselves more and more twisted up and it’s all we can do to remain upright. But again, God is faithful to hold us up, comfort us and provide everything we need for this game we call life.
I’ve been speaking professionally since 1996 (a miracle for this shy girl). My speaking is about evenly divided between church events—women’s ministry events and retreats—and community and corporate audiences. I find that God makes His presence known, even when I can’t mention Him by name.
Whether I’m speaking at a women’s health and wellness event, an employee event, a caregiver conference, or a church women’s gathering, my message is essentially the same—to offer lots of laughter and the encouragement to reduce stress, embrace change, find and offer forgiveness, and to laugh at every opportunity.
On the Importance of Humor
“A joyful heart is good medicine,” says Proverbs 17:22. Laughter is one of God's healing gifts to us. Now certainly there is much in life that is “no laughing matter.” We all have hard times and difficult challenges. Sometimes we can find moments of laughter in the middle of those things—usually laughing at the absurdity of it all. More often the laughter comes later, when we look back. But I figure, if I can say “A year from now I’ll laugh about this…why wait?”
My mother always had a wonderful sense of humor. She survived one Great Depression, two World Wars and three husbands. (When someone would say, “Three husbands?” she'd say, “Well, I didn’t KILL any of them!”)
She taught me, by her example, to look on the bright side, keep on laughing, and trust that tomorrow will be a better day. And when she gave her heart to Jesus at the age of 85, after all those years as an agnostic, she taught me the most important lesson of all: it’s never too late to change your mind about God. She looked for 85 years in this world to fill the empty space in her heart (the one that only God can fill) and never found anything to fill it—until she found Jesus. The pastor asked her, after leading her to receive Christ, “How do you feel?” She said, “Like I never belonged before…and now I do.” What joy!
I had the privilege of caring for my mom in our home the last six years of her life (she passed away in July 2010 at age 96), as she struggled with dementia and then cancer. She kept her sense of humor to the very last, and showed me daily what it really means to age with grace. And it's such a comfort to know that she is with the Lord.
The bottom line is that we may find something to laugh about in most of the messes we get into, but we can have JOY always, no matter what, in the certainty that our “Omni God” loves us and cares about everything in our lives.
A Final Word
Here are two verses that bring me joy, contentment, perspective and everything else I need in this life. The first is Hebrews 13:5, which says in part, “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you’.” The other is Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Wherever we’ve been, whatever we’ve done, whatever we are dealing with today—whatever the impermanence of this ever-changing life, God offers us the comfort of His never-changing love and the promise of His permanent presence in our lives. And for a girl raised by AAA, it just doesn’t get any better than that!
JULIE HERE: Trust me, you will not only LOVE this woman’s books, you will LOVE this woman, so check out Mary’s website at Laughlady.com and sign up for “Today’s Laugh” e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with "SIGNUP" in the subject.
TWO LUCKY WINNERS will be drawn today to receive a complete set of Mary’s three books mentioned above, so just leave a comment to enter the contest. Be sure to include your spam-free e-mail address (i.e. janedoe[at]seeker[dot]net), and good luck!