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Periodically, I’m going to introduce you to an AMAZING woman in our ongoing series, “Women in the Trenches.” I started this series as a way to highlight women I admire, am inspired by, want to learn a bit about life from. These are women I want to sit down to coffee with and ask them how they’re doing it. So, virtually, I did, and I thought you might want to listen in. They are in the trenches of life, family, faith, art, love, community . . . and they’re participating in life in their own ways. Beautifully.

If you haven’t already read the interviews by Rickelle Smyth Hicks, Elaine Hamilton, Rachel Held Evans, and Erin Grayson, please check them out. Each and every one of them so unique and so good.

Today’s guest is Susan Meissner, a beautiful and gentle woman who I got to know when we were living in San Diego. She’s a seasoned author, mother, military wife, has been working in church ministry, and is still a kind and generous person on top of all that. Let’s hear how Susan does it . . .

Age?

I’m 51.

How long have you been married?

Thirty-two years this December!

What are your kids names and ages?

Stephane is 27, Josh is 25, Justin is 22, and Eric will be 20 before the year ends.

Where do you live?

I live in San Diego.

What’s great about where you live?

San Diego has a very unpretentious way about her. She is very generous with sunshine and easy temperatures. You can grow flowers year round, eat avocados in December, and you can watch the sun rise in the Laguna Mountains where it snows or at the Anza Borrego desert where it doesn’t and be at the beach later that same day to watch the sun set while walking barefoot in the sand. The secret is out about that climate, though. Can be a little spendy to live here!

What is your job and why were you drawn to that particular field?

Until just recently I was the small groups director at my local church but I will be finishing up there at the end of November to concentrate solely on my writing career. Doing both for the last five years was a delicate dance of details and I tripped over my own two busy feet often. Being singularly focused on one career will be good for me. Sometimes you have to trim good things to concentrate on one best thing. I enjoyed seeing people get connected into small groups because I know we do our best spiritual growth when we are in close community with other believers. But I truly love the power of story to communicate truth. That’s what drives me to write fiction. Story reveals truth in a way that is often more powerful than exposition.

Your 14th (!) novel, The Girl in the Glass, just released in September. Publishers Weekly calls it a “delightful tale” that is “sure to enchant readers.” AMAZING. Can you tell us a little bit about the story and what led you to write it?

The story in a nutshell is this: Meg Pomeroy is a disenchanted travel book editor unsure of her father’s love, still smarting from a broken engagement, and whose normally cautious mother is suddenly dating a much younger man. Her perspective on everything that matters is skewed. She escapes to Florence, Italy, on a long-promised trip, believing her father will meet her there. True to form, he’s a no-show, but the trip allows her to connect with Lorenzo DiSantis, a writer she’s met only via Skype and e-mail, and Sofia Borelli, a tour guide and aspiring writer who claims she’s one of the last Medici, and that a sixteenth-century Medici granddaughter, Nora Orsini, speaks to her through Florence’s amazing statues and paintings. When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives are indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what it has to be?

The idea for this book was born out of a trip to Florence. For our 25th wedding anniversary a few years ago my husband and I took a much-anticipated eight-day Mediterranean cruise. One of the ports of call on the Italy side was close enough to Florence to hop on a bus and spend the day there. When I stepped onto Florentine pavement I fell head over heels in love. No joke. There is something magical about Florence that I didn’t see in Rome, or even Paris if you can believe that. The beauty created by the masters of the Italian Renaissance is jaw-dropping and it meets your eye no matter which direction your turn. Florence was the perfect place to bring a disillusioned present-day character who needs to re-invent her life. That’s what Renaissance means: rebirth.

You are a military wife, mother, writer, and you work in church ministry. WOW. Can you give us some secrets on time management, priorities, how to keep it all going, and make it all work?

You know, there really is no secret to managing many spinning plates. We really can only spin as many as we are wired to spin. Some people can spin a lot of plates, some not so much. And sooner or later we all take on one too many. We usually know when we’ve done that. There is some crashing and mess and clean-up, and then we learn from that experience (hopefully) so that we can better function within the limitations God has imposed on us. I really don’t think He wants us (me) to be as over-committed as most of us are. As I am. Jesus never left that as an example for us. In fact, He often secluded Himself when His day got too busy and was the first to say “It’s time to rest.” I think it’s safe to say that there is no secret to making it work, the secret we need to discover is making it rest! We are poor resters. We need to slow down, say no more often, feel less guilt about it, and learn to rest like Jesus did.

What’s the best piece of parenting advice you can give us?

Remember your kids are loved by God and are more precious to Him than they are to you. Treat them with dignity and respect and humility. Be their champion as well as their guide and mentor. Never say to your child what you wouldn’t say to someone else’s child. They are on loan to you by God. It is hard work to parent a child; and we make mistakes. But kids are for the most part forgiving; they want to be accepted and loved and treasured by you. Apologize when you are wrong, discipline in love when they are wrong. Catch them doing right and praise them when they do.

What’s one thing that has helped you stay married?

Don’t hang onto anger and bitterness. There is a reason why we’re told not to let the sun go down on our anger. My husband and I have made it a commitment to never go to bed ticked off at each other. Sometimes that means staying up late and talking it out, and even then it might mean going to bed with a lot still on your mind, but don’t let anger be one of them. Anger doesn’t usually motivate change. Love always does.

Looking back on the season when your kids were young, is there anything you’d do differently?

I loved those years. I suppose it can always be said that we might’ve had more fun with less TV but even some of our best memories include watching Sponge Bob and Rugrats and The Fairly Odd Parents with our kids. I do wish I had spent more time praying WITH them. I prayed a lot for them. But more prayers with them would’ve been a great way to build up their faith and dependence on God.

How did you get into writing?

There wasn’t a time when I realized I wanted to be a writer, I just realized I already was one. I itched to write, all the time, from the time I first learned to make letters on paper. God planted the desire in me, I think, and He’s made me restless to be about it. I’ve been writing since I learned to write the alphabet!

How did you get your first book published?

God was just nice to me. I didn’t have any connections; I hadn’t been to any writers conferences. I knew no one. And I didn’t have an agent. I posted a proposal for my book, which I had completed six months earlier, on an online site that Harvest House Publishers happened to check out one day. An assistant editor happened across it, and mentioned it to an acquiring editor there. They liked what they saw and asked to see the full. I am amazed every time I think about how that all came about.

How do you nurture a writing life in the midst of the rest of life?

It has been said that you can’t make more time, but you can make decisions on how to spend the time you are given. Everyone gets the same 24 hours a day. We all get to choose how we spend them. Writing is a time-consumer just like anything else. If I want to nurture my writing life I have endow it with some of that time. And then keep doing that consistently. You always have time to do what you really want to do.  Even if it’s just half an hour.

What is one product or item that you can’t live without that you think everyone should know about?

Ha! Arugula. I am in love with arugula. It’s the most amazing leafy vegetable. I eat it all the time. You simply must try it. In a salad. Or put pasta on top of it. Or a grilled chicken breast. Or grilled vegetables. Love it!

What is your one wardrobe staple?

Flannel PJs!

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