Lizzy’s Life Story
This is the part where you’re supposed to make your life sound exciting and glamorous… it’s a good thing I’m a writer, with the gift of embellishment. Ha! No, seriously, I’ll tell the truth. I’ll just use lots of dramatic adjectives to make my life sound especially intriguing.
I wrote my first story when I was five, and I’ve been writing ever since. I can’t help it—writing is how my brain works, how I process life. Everywhere I go, I’m thinking up stories, studying people, creating characters. I guess if I’d lived in prehistoric times, I would have been a storyteller to Ug and Lug around the Neanderthal campfire. I’ve always been a voracious reader—in elementary school I would check out so many books from the library I could hardly carry them out to the car. I have such wonderful memories of reading as a kid, and even now my favorite books to read (and write!) are for kids and teens.
I’m a PK—you know, the infamous Preacher’s Kid. Only in my case, this status did not come with an automatic ability to dance in scandalous ways (Ever seen “Footloose”? The old eighties version, in which Kevin Bacon was young and sort of cool, in a shaggy-haired-eighties way? Yeah, sorry to disappoint, but I’m not even close to being like the wild preacher’s daughter in that movie.) Nope, I am rhythmically challenged, and I despise all events in which public displays of one’s dancing ineptitude are required. Which is why my daughter is already taking dance lessons, to spare her a lifetime of misery at public functions.
Being a PK means we moved a lot. North Florida, Georgia, Boston, Miami, New Jersey, North Carolina, back to Georgia again. Three elementary schools, two middle schools, then three high schools in two years . . . It was pretty crazy. Moving shaped me in ways I am still wrapping my brain around. On the good side of things, it forced me to be confident, to be outgoing and to open myself up to new relationships quickly. I still remember the moment when, staring out of the Laing Family Minivan window, on the drive from Miami to New Jersey, I had an epiphany. I thought, “This move is a chance to start over. No one in New Jersey has to know that I used to be quiet and insecure. I can be confident—I can be anyone I want to be.” That moment changed me forever.
Another great thing about moving was that it brought my family very close together. When you don’t have friends, you look at your siblings and say, “Well, I guess we’d better get along.” So you do. I have the most wonderful memories of playing crazy war games with my two younger brothers, David and Jonathan, in the woods behind our house (which is probably how I got Lyme Disease in the fifth grade—thank God for a smart doctor who spotted it and saved me a lifetime of suffering!). The best day of my young life happened eleven days before my eleventh birthday, on January 17, 1988, the day my baby sister Alexandra Joy was born. She was my baby doll, then my little sidekick, and now she’s my best friend.
In middle school I was a Nerd with a capital N. This was not all my fault. (PK, remember?) I mean, how could I be cool when the only music my family listened to was Huey Lewis and the News? And then when we finally got our first CD player, we listened to my dad’s very first CD, Basia, ad nauseum (I know the whole “first CD player” thing makes me sound really old, but I’m not. Seriously. I was born in 1977—you do the math. I must say that technology has morphed light-years in my short lifetime.) Then later Dad got two more CDs—Phil Collins and Kenny G—so my coolness factor didn’t increase very much.
I was also one of maybe two gringas (translation: pasty white girls) in my entire Miami school, which was populated by exotic beauties with glowing bronzed skin. I wore way too much blush to try to compensate for my pallid skin . . . again, Nerd. Sigh.
I became a Christian when I was fourteen—the most significant decision of my life, as it has shaped everything about who I am, how I think, what I do.
High school . . . I studied my brains out, and participated in every possible club and sport. I got cut when I tried out for the JV volleyball team, started for the JV basketball team even though I never scored one basket, and then ran cross-country until my toes turned black. (But even so, I always finished eighth, one place shy of a Varsity slot. I am still upset about this.)
We moved to North Carolina when I was 16, and I must say that if there is a heaven on earth, it’s North Carolina. The saying about the Carolina blue sky? It’s true. The sky really is brighter, a deeper shade of blue. And with the beach and the mountains both just a few hours’ drive away from anywhere in the state . . . you just can’t beat it. (Sing with me now, “Goin’ to Carolina in my mind . . .” That song makes me cry every time. Did I mention I’m a total sap?)
I met the dashing man who was to be my husband when we were both seventeen. Yep, seventeen. It was (at least for me) one of those classic Love at First Sight moments: I saw him, the heavens opened, angels began to sing . . . If you look in the dictionary under “tall, dark and handsome,” you will see Kevin Thompson’s picture. He had it all: the chiseled jaw, black hair, quarterback shoulders, and slight Southern drawl, topped off by a disarming charm that made me swoon.
To my utter delight, we both ended up going to Duke University, also known as The Best College in the World. They call it the Gothic Wonderland—and seriously, it is a spectacularly beautiful school. I loved going to a university where no one made fun of me for doing my homework. Everyone there loved learning as much as I did, and it was so fun to be surrounded by deep thinkers. For two years, I had my own dorm room overlooking the main quad, so I could people-watch while I did my homework. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if I just so happened to glance out my window at 9 am, I would catch a glimpse of the love of my life as he strutted across campus in his letterman jacket, on his way to class.
Kevin, to his shame and my dismay, took a few years of delicate prodding to see heaven open and angels sing above my head, but he eventually came to his senses and fell in love with my charms. Actually, it took me going out on a date with another guy—in Paris, of all places—to make Kevin realize that I wasn’t going to sit around being his best friend forever. When we got back from Paris, let’s just say there were lots of roses. Within two years we were married, and it’s been a glorious ride.
More random fun facts about our life: Three weeks before our wedding, we were all set to move to Atlanta to start new jobs, when Kevin got a call from the new coach of the Duke football team, begging him to come back to play his last year of football. So for the first six months of our marriage, I worked and Kevin played college football . . . now that was an exciting way to start our new life together! Here I was, the geeky girl from middle school, getting to say things like, “Yeah, I’m married to the quarterback.” Ha! Maybe nerdy girls can win after all.
We have spent most of our married life working side by side in campus ministries all across the Southeast, which has been a blast. To this day I have college students in my house all the time, and I confess, their crazy stories sometimes find their way into my novels.
After nearly three years of trying to start a family, Kevin and I finally had our first baby: Cassidy, born on Christmas Day, 2005—the greatest gift I’ve ever received. (You can read her so-amazing-it-sounds-like-we-made-it-up birth story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: It’s Christmas!) And then fourteen months later came our son Blake, followed only twenty months later by my sweet little firecracker Avery Grace. Three babies in three years—yikes. A few years later, when we finally got a full night’s sleep, we looked at each other and said, “What’s one more?” So along came the family Exclamation Point, our daughter Sawyer. Now we live on the North Carolina coast with these four spunky kids and a dog who eats library books. Our life is crazy, my house is full of baby socks and sippy cups, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.