Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ya Gotta Have Friends

Everyone has a past. We live in the now. But what keeps us going? That we have a hope and a future. Jeremiah 11: 29 says, "'For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'"

Even if I do not breathe another 02 molecule into my system, I have a hope and a future. Friends and family here keep that hope and future alive, until that day.

Some of that hope involves friends I have made recently. I know whom I have believed and He says we'll all be together someday in a place He's preparing called "heaven." One of those friends here I am privileged to enjoy a friendship in the here and now. Sabrina Fox is one of the answers to my prayers to have real live in person friends with skin on near me by geography. She lives in the next small town over from me in the same county. While I don't see her nearly enough, I know she is close by and we get together whenever we can. We can even call each other without using long distance!

She's smart, (evidenced by her quiet and thoughtful spirit,) a mom and wife with much spunk,toughness, perserverence,and faith. She shares a love of fiction and writing with me. She's one of those kind of persons with whom, when I met her, I felt an instant kinship and kindred spirit, even though she is much younger than I am (and she really is sharp. Don't judge her too harshly because she considers me a friend...) She gently pushes and encourages me and she doesn't ask for anything in return. She is one of those people who is generous to a fault. She is nice. (How many people do you know who are really nice?)I hope that I can give back to her even a portion of the hope she's given to me.

So, anyway, she interviewed me on her blog, Hijinks in the Heartland. Ha! Pretty scary, actually. Sabrina is really trustworthy, as we American Christian Fiction Writers of the Indiana chapter trust her with our money, as our esteemed treasurer. (But she has written a story called Prescription for Murder...hmmm. Authors live in strange parallel dimensions.)

Please also check out her character on Brandilyn Collins' blog about Brandilyn's latest book, Violet Dawn, releasing this month. (If you are easily scared, you might want to go get your blanky before going to any site Brandilyn Collins maintains.)
Sabrina blogs there on that site as Carla Radling. Sabrina is listed under "Sabrina Butcher" there. Don't ask. Writers go by many personas. This woman has many layers.

So, there. Got you some reading to do with my friend, Sabrina. If you catch my interview there, just realize that she is a creative writer and did the best she could with what she had to work with...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Question #3 Inspiring Coaches

3. Who is your most inspiring coach and what's the hardest lesson he/she's taught you on the field?

Ellie Kay’s question number 3 was another tough question, and memory-producer by the sheer act of posing a question. Most inspiring? Sigh. Many inspiring coaches. Hardest lesson?? Ack! Who wants to recall the “agony of defeat?” But that comes along with “the thrill of victory” (you have to be old to know where I got those quotes…)

I’ve played sports most of my life. Not very well, mind you, and I’ve also coached teams (and was paid.) I coached one team that won the girls' city track and field championships. One of my girls I worked with in physical education classes later went on be a state HS and college women’s standout in basketball. (But she was good, and all I did was encourage her, even though I teased it was all of those basketball scrimmages I played with her.) I have my favorite teams and sports to watch and play, and get this, I wanted to be a sports newspaper writer when I graduated from college. In fact in high school I was the sports editor—the first female sports editor—of my high school newspaper, The Clan Courier. It was my sports writing that won me a journalism scholarship to Ball State University.

I also wrote the copy for a two page-sports spread in our high school yearbook. (It was all about girls getting into organized sports, something that was new to our high school and the state, and about sweating.) So, when you think of a coach, you might think I would say my best coach was some sports coach I had. I can name one coach in sports who motivated and inspired me. But this question was about my best coaches in writing, and I have two standouts in this field who coached me and taught me the tough lessons. They taught me to pick my mouse up, get my fingers back on the keyboard, rewrite, and go on (wiping all that blood off the monitor.)The hardest fought and learned lessons for me seem to be echoed in the words from a golf coach: “Wipe the blood off--and continue.” (Didn’t know golf could be bloody, huh?)

Dr. Dennis E. Hensley was my first writing coach, when at age 40 I decided I wanted to try writing again and get back into the game professionally. He not only taught us about writing, but made us critique in the circle of doom with our classmates. (Ooooo. Scary.) He also made us submit our work for publication as part of the class assignments (professional writing course.) It is one thing to turn in a paper for a grade, but it is quite an experience submitting your work to an editor. And critique is tough, but Doc taught me how to take critique. (And from whom to take it, which is just as important.)

Fiction is my first love and that was my first class with “Doc.” We experimented with all sorts of fiction assignments, and in one assignment, it wasn’t in the classroom where I got my first major critique, but on a break in the hallway early on in the semester course. On that now-burned-into-my-emotional-memory-banks evening, I chatted with classmates trying to get to know them in the 7th-inning stretch of the class. I got a drink of water from the fountain, and was strolling back to the classroom, when Doc stopped me in the hallway. He moved into my “personal space” and came within inches of my face.

Now, I had heard all kinds of stories about Doc Hensley. One was that he hated it if you were late, and would lock you out of the class. Another was that he had fought in and survived Vietnam. So, here he was within inches of my face, and all I had at that point were hearsays about him. It was a tense moment--wannabe writer eyeball-to-eyeball with the legendary Doc Hensley. I decided to stand my ground and not move. Good grief, I had survived worse, I reasoned in my mind. Being raised up with boys, having my own 4 boys and marrying into a family with mostly males, being the first female sports editor, first female on an all-male school board...plus, being a trapshooter, when it was still male-dominated. I had learned to never give up an inch of ground when confronted.

“I haaaaate you," he said. Yeah. Right in my face. I'm sure I blinked.


Well, I couldn’t help it, even though I hesitated a second. I laughed. Right out loud.

“Ok, Dr. Hensley…why do you hate me--exactly?” I thought I saw a glint of humor in his eye.

“For what you did to me in that story. You tricked me.”

I was thrilled. He actually knew my story and that I wrote it! I didn’t even think he knew my name. But he sure knew my story.

“What do you think I should do differently?”

And so he coached me through what was wrong. He showed me how I could do it right, and he let me rewrite. And I did it again until he, as the reader/editor, was satisfied with it. I learned a lot about critique in that first personal reader confrontation.

A good coach not only makes you get up again, but makes you do it right. He finds a way to jolt you into reality and then, makes you do it again until you can do it. It’s not enough to just tell you something is wrong. It’s not enough to make you do it over and over, or punish you, because you could just be repeating the same wrong move again and again. A good coach MOTIVATES you to do it beyond what you even think you are capable of. Since that early meeting on the playing field with Doc Hensley, I have learned so many things from him in writing and perseverence. But that first shock and awe of meeting face-to-face and toe-to-toe with one of the best coaches I’ve ever had was memorable—and we laugh about it even several years later.

I really cannot leave this question without acknowledging another coach who has taught me many lessons in writing, and some really tough lessons, too. Terry Whalin was one of the first editors I ever "faced" at a writer's conference. I had written a few articles and had a nonfiction women's humor book I was hoping to sell. That manuscript met with a lot of rejections, but not so much because it was bad, as I didn't have the credentials or the platform from which to write it. Essentially, Terry Whalin was the first to sit me down on the bench. Even though he rejected the manuscript,he's not the kind of editor, writer, teacher, coach who leaves writers without good, solid advice and plenty of encouragement to continue on.(Get back in the game!)

Most importantly, he taught me that just because an editor rejects your work, (pretty hard lesson, even for the toughest among us,)this doesn't mean that's the end of the road for either the editor/writer relationship, or the manuscript. Years later he encouraged me to break up that rejected manuscript into articles, other types of pieces, and send it out some more(and that was after I'd placed it into some long-ago-pushed-to-the-back file.) Because I continued to listen to editors and their comments, and even an agent who rejected me (on that same manuscript,) I still have relationships with these people and have even done work for them. That is mostly due to Terry Whalin, who continues to ask about my writing and to encourage my work. (And I'm not the only one by a long shot.)

Terry Whalin's professional attitude and genuine concern when dealing with authors (even those he rejects) showed me how to deal with rejection and losses and how important relationships are. (Never give up. Keep knocking on doors. Onward.) Writing is a very tough business. Even the best need help with their manuscripts, and even the most published continue to get rejections. I know this now.

These two coaches are effective in their coaching because they've been through almost every kind of playing situation that can be thrown at a writer. And what makes their coaching inspiring is that they care about the players (writers)and know how to motivate and teach. While they aren't afraid to call a player out and deal with him, they also care about the player so much that they push him to the best that he can be.

Tough lessons. Tough coaches. I count both among my friends, and as well as count them as my mentors.

So, who is your most inspiring coach, and what hard lesson did he/she teach you?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Four Questions: Question Number Four

Last week I told you about the questions Ellie Kay had posed to a listserve of professional writers. I asked her if I could put these questions on my blog and answer them (we're limited to 250 words there...ha...no word limit here...) It was within the context of writing, but you don’t have to be a writer to answer questions like these. Life is all about relationships and the relationships you’ve had to shape you. It is about your response/reactions to the people who have been in your life, whether negative or positive. Mostly, these questions focus on the positive reactions/relationships.

So, I'm starting with #4 (yes, I'm backwards)--the question dealing with those who get to you because of their negative response or infliction to you. The question is:

4. Who packs your lunch? Meaning, what kind of personality (no names, please) bullies you and how do you overcome their taunts?

The worst lunch packer is the kind of person who criticizes me falsely or without authority and self-righteously attacks me. It is an attack on the person, not the writing or act with the intention of bringing me down, not to be helpful or bring me to a better place. And I'm sure you have had these people in your life, too.

Being attacked personally is always bloody and ugly, and usually means they don’t know how else to bring you down, plus, they really do not care for you, just wanting to be "right." It usually starts with a self-righteous or self-absorbed reaction to you and is followed by a hateful response to you. Self-righteousness starts out with criticism and is all about the criticizer, not in helping you. The most famous example for me is Joseph and his brothers. It is based in jealousies.

I try to be helpful and have put information out on writers' lists. On one occasion someone, not in authority to me or on the list, wrote to me privately after a post to chastise me for saying something I didn't say and didn't even remotely mean. She slapped my hand and said, "Bad Crystal. You should be ashamed of yourself." When I wrote back to say that what she assessed as my "sin" wasn't even close(and I did check with those in authority first,without using her name, to make sure I didn't commit what she inferred, before replying back.) She still insisted that this was my "sin" and that's the way it was and for me to discontinue posting on the list.

First of all, it wasn't her place to correct me, even if I had transgressed. Second of all, she took a position, not of humble-please-rethink-what-you're-saying, but with extreme disrespect and an attitude of hate, to elevate herself, and bring someone else down. Then, when I explained to her what she had mistaken, she was defensive and self-righteous and still "right." She never apologized for having said horrible things to me. Mostly, I try and avoid this kind of person, but it's not always possible. I forgave her and avoided her from then on. I knew I would never change her heart and mind with my own words. Sometimes you have to just let God fight that battle.

I think my aversion and sensitivity of this kind of a bully goes back to before I was even born. Here is my story of why this kind of person stands out to me most, and how I've learned to overcome this kind of personality.

You would've had to have known my mother, but take my word for it--she was a great lady: kind and humble, humorous, but quiet, forgiving and gracious, strong will of iron-backbone, but godly and always a hostess, trying to make the other person comfortable. She loved deeply and loyally. She was a person shaped by fires of persecution--physical, mental and spiritual trials.

When she was five-years-old, my mother's mother died of tuberculosis. On her sixth birthday not long after her mother's death, she came to the breakfast table, fully expecting that her older, teenaged half-sisters would continue the tradition of celebrating birthdays as special. Her mother always gave the birthday person a special day and a breakfast of choice, giving a crown and making the child king or queen of the day. Each one looked forward to the treatment. Her older sisters, however, not sensitive to a small child's hurts and confusion, and a bit jealous, self-absorbed and self-righteous, too, and maybe just a bit resentful to have to take care of the little ones newly-found-motherless status, barked at her, "Get up and get your own breakfast! You aren't going to be babied from now on. Today you've grown up." And so it was. She worked as hard as an adult from that moment on and never got to be a child.

When she turned 18 and graduated from high school, she went to live with some of these same sisters who had moved to Indiana. They told her she could get a job there and live with them.(I suspect they were hoping to help them with their own children...) Since she lived near the Lake of the Woods in Minnesota on a remote farm, this sounded like the perfect opportunity to get away from the lonely existence and be with young people her own age. Plus, she'd have a job, since she was unable to afford college. She got a job in a hospital nursery as a nurse's aide, a job she often reflected on with fondness in the telling years later to us.(Loved babies and longed to be married and to have her own.) But hospital jobs required working on Saturday, her "sabbath day," which according to her religion was an "acceptable" job to have.

Back in those days, even the aides wore full nursing uniforms (nurse's aide uniforms) and she had to wear runner-less white stockings, the kind with garters. On her way to work one Saturday morning, she noticed a runner, and popped into the five-and-dime store to buy a runner-less pair before her shift. Of course, it was "forbidden" by her religion to make purchases from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, but also, it was a matter of conscience, and there were exceptions. But "someone" saw her going into the store and immediately reported her to the pastor and the board of her church. She was sent a letter of excommunication immediately, and not even given a "trial." No one spoke to her, asked her "why" she was in the store. She was judged, thrown into a pit of ostracism and forgotten about. She was labeled rebellious and shameful.

For 40 years after that she still prayed for those in her family faithfully, endured her own near death with tuberculosis, faithfully taught her two miracle children about her religion and Jesus. The God we were taught about was One of forgiveness and grace. She instilled in both of us a respect of authority and the church. And she forgave freely. We saw it demonstrated in our lives constantly. She sent us to the church's day school,(I got five years; my brother only had two) and though we were treated by both her family and the church as "black sheep" and outsiders, she never defended herself or tried to contest the excommunication. Of course, she was not allowed to participate in her church's ceremonies, in communion or other rituals,but she could "be there," and press her nose to the glass. She endured much.

I am not sure when I realized how wrong it all was. I absorbed the Bible stories and prayed and longed to "belong." I prayed to God to please allow me to be a missionary and to be "wise" in scriptures and be a part of it all. I learned all the stories of how Jesus corrected the Pharisees, never realizing I was dealing with these same type of people in my own life. I learned very young that there was something "wrong" about me and my family, and that I just didn't belong. And as far as I knew, I was being as "good" as I possibly could, and I loved Jesus and accepted Him with my whole heart. Because of my mother's love, I knew Jesus accepted me just the way I was, even if her family didn't want to have anything to do with me. Plus, I looked more like my father than my mother's family, (except for my light coloring,) so that made me more of an outsider to them. I heard their criticism and even my cousins would tell me I was not "good enough." (They didn't accept my dad until after they'd been married 45 years, so as far as I was concerned, I was as "lost" as he and his family were, being not in the "right" religion.)

My mother had already outlived all predictions of her death time after time. She had only one lobe of one lung since her early 30s because of the horrible lung surgeries she endured. She survived birthing my brother, even though they wanted to abort him (back in those days a doctor could order an abortion in the event the mother could not survive the pregnancy--she refused.) She had survived many things in her marriage and also the ostracism of her own spiritual community and family. The doctors were amazed at her willfulness and strength, and the things she was able to do by sheer determination. But she was finally winding down. Because of a lack of oxygen, she was sleeping most of the time. Death was hanging on her shoulder and her breathing was painful and shallow.

The week that she died, she showed me a letter she had received from the person in charge of the Great Lakes division of "her" church. Ironically, she had agreed to attend church with me and my family the very next Sunday. She was quite pleased with the letter, though she didn't say so outright. She tucked that letter away,smiling, and I never saw it again, even though I went through all of her things to try to find it. I always thought she had done as always--forgiven and had thrown the letter away in a gesture of that forgiveness.

In the letter was a full apology for how she had been treated. He stated that the excommunication was wrong and ill-informed, and handled entirely in the wrong way according to Christian principles and their church authority. He sorrowed about all the lost years, but said if she would have them that not only was she granted full fellowship in the church, but he hoped that she would forgive them. They would be honored to have her. Little did he know that she had long ago forgiven the very people who started the whole process--people probably whom she trusted and was close to.

I don't think that she ever replied to him, but relayed her pleasure to her younger brother(the only one of 10 kids who was younger than she was and she was close to him, though he had lived most of his life as a missionary away in foreign countries.) She knew it was him who had told her story to the person in charge of her district--it was her own little brother who was then also in authority in the very same church. After she got the letter, she died a few days later because all had been made right. God had defended her against the self-righteous and Pharisee-like attitudes at last.

She died peacefully on April 12, 1997 in her chair after a long Sabbath-afternoon conversation on the phone with that brother. For many years my favorite story in the Bible was of Joseph. It wasn't until after my mother's death that I realized my mother was a modern-day Joseph. When you have an example like that, it is easy to visualize Joseph's forgiveness in the words from Genesis 50:20:

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (NIV)

My mother's attitude in this life-long persecution and bullying, showed me how bullies and their taunts to bring me down cannot stand in heaven. While they may get away with it for the moment, God is working. Many people gave their lives to God, I know, because of my mother's attitudes of graciousness and forgiveness. She never ran away or shut herself off from the very people who shunned her or treated her badly. And she prayed earnestly for those people every day.

So bullies like that win for a day, but God and His justice and forgiveness wins in the end.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Back in School

"God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you helped his people and continue to help them." Hebrews 6:10 (NIV)

While all my boys are back to school this week, I'm not talking about them. And no, I didn't go back to school, either, as a student or a teacher. However, this week brought a flood of school memories, and not all of them are pleasant in the recall. Some lessons are harder than others to learn or even to address, and we all need refresher courses occasionally. It's good to think, with a grateful heart, about the lessons we've learned and the people who have helped us along the way.

I belong to a large Christian writers online group that has some of the biggest names in Christian publishing. Editors, agents, authors of books and articles--just a "Who's Who" of the industry. We have strict protocols of what we discuss, as everyone has time constraints. Each week a panelist on Monday, and a panelist on Thursday present us with a question pertaining to professional writing. Then, the members of the email loop answer the question, giving us all kinds of perspectives on a topic. It's a great "school."

This week our panelist, Ellie Kay,"America's Family Financial Expert" (R) asked us four questions and they were so thought-provoking, and written in an unique way that I asked her if I could share them on my blog. I think all of us now and then need to take stock of where we have come from and who we need to thank in helping us along the way. So, for the next few days, I'd like to share some of my answers to these questions and invite you think about your own answers.

First of all, I want to tell you a little about Ellie, who really is a specialist in family finances with a family of five kids. She speaks at events around the country, as well as on such programs as CNBC's Power Lunch(a regular,) The Today Show and Nickelodean. Married to a former F-117 Stealth fighter pilot and now test pilot for a military contractor, Ellie has also been an advocate for military spouses and their needs. Plus, she is the author of nine books with the latest being
A Mom’s Guide to Family Finances (Revell, August 2006).

First and foremost, Ellie is a Christian, and so, even with all of this success and public persona, she puts God first in all that she does. That is the perspective from which she addressed a list full of celebrities,movers and shakers in the publishing industry. Publishing and writing is a tough, competitive business. People rise and fall with the market, and even editors move around often. It would be easy to get too focused on your own "numbers"--either the success, or the failure. But, if a person has the proper perspective, the focus turns to God, the Author and Perfector of our faith, instead of whatever emotion we're experiencing at the time tied to our profession.

With that background here are our questions posed to us by Ellie. I'd like for you to think about them, too. Feel free to share an answer in the comments area or by email. I'm going to be writing a little from my own perspective right here--as after all, this is my blog. I don't think you have to be in publishing to answer these questions--they pertain to any walk of life. My favorite one is number four because of the way she framed it. Had to smile about that one.

1. Who is your best teacher and what is the number one lesson he/she's taught you?

2. Who is your favorite cheerleader and how does he/she cheer you on?

(Remember, they don't even have to understand the game)

3. Who is your most inspiring coach and what's the hardest lesson

he/she's taught you on the field?

4. Who packs your lunch? Meaning, what kind of personality (no names,

please) bullies you and how do you overcome their taunts?

Please look for my answers over the next week. And think about how you would answer Ellie's questions.

Monday, August 14, 2006

(Happy Anniversary, Tina and Bruce on August 17th--15 years!)

Tag, You're It!

Tricia Goyer has written some great stuff. Author of historical fiction (WWII) From Dust and Ashes, Night Song and soon-to-be-released Dawn of a Thousand Nights, she also writes articles and nonfiction books for teen moms. She is a part of several blogs, including a blog of writers' quotes. I really don't know how she gets so much done. I can barely put one word in front of another here and in other people's manuscripts. But on top of everything she does and writes, she also encourages communication with both readers and writers.

So, I read Tricia's blog because she has a lot to share for readers and writers (which would be me, both times.) And she tagged me. What that means is that someone tagged her as “it” (that would be Meredith Efkin, author of SAHM I Am/Steeple Hill) and so, according to the "rules," she had to tag five women bloggers to answer a question. The rules say:

1. Answer one of these questions(see below) on your blog.
2. Link back to whoever tagged you.
3. Tag 5 (or so) other bloggers.
4. Plus, check out previous responses, and if you know of a novel that pertains to the subject someone wishes they could write or would like to read about, suggest the novel to them in a comment.

Here are the questions tagged people (she said it had to be women bloggers only. Sigh.) :

If you could write a novel about any subject, what would it be (Just the subject—don’t give away your plot idea.) * I picked this one. But may try the others, too.
If just the thought of having to write anything gives you hives, what would you like to read about in a novel that you’ve never seen done before?
If you hate reading fiction (she says you can get counseling for that, but I find most refuse to face their problem) what subject might make you change your mind or try it anyway?

If I could write any novel I wanted to, I’d write on the subjects of the Underground Railroad set in Indiana (historical fiction;) ER doctors and their lives (romantic comedy or suspense;) small town humor and struggles (romantic comedy or suspense set in Indiana and Tennessee;) the story of Joseph from the Bible(Biblical fiction;) and trapshooting (romantic comedy.)

(You can see that I'm conflicted.Who am I, anyway?? I included genres I am thinking about. By the way, except for the Joseph story, I've written fiction using all of the above. Sigh. Maybe I should just stick to nonfiction writing--or take up another sport.)

Ok, I tag Sabrina, Cara, Kayleen, Bonnie, Michelle,Delia, Mary, Linda, Sara (“ 5 or so”—that’s what she said! ) and because I like to stretch the rules, I also tag Lee, because he’s my cousin, and I never liked it when they said someone couldn’t play…(ok, whatever.)

Also, if you’re a reader, go ahead and play in the comment section—(note the three areas above) or email me with what you say, and I’ll post it on another day’s blog. I look forward to what you all say in answer to the questions.

So, tag! You're all it. And if you have any suggestions for me and my own fiction, go ahead and let me have it, I'm listening--sort of. (I certainly dish it out to authors, so turnabout is fair play. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion--but maybe not necessarily on my blog.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

(Happy Birthday, Melba!)

Wings of Angels?

I read the local newspaper everyday—religiously. It’s a habit I started as a kid because my mother did it. Half the time we didn't believe what was printed there. I wanted to be a newspaper journalist, anyway. But I let life and other people’s opinions get in the way as a young woman in college, and I dropped my journalism scholarship and major to pick up a degree in education. I took another path. Wistfully, everyday, as I read the newspaper, I think about the choices I made. (That’s for another blog, another day.) I could’ve been an editor by now. And I would’ve questioned this front page quote in Sunday's paper.

Now, maybe the speaker at the Indiana Wesleyan University graduation DID say exactly what the reporter from the newspaper quoted, but I tend to think the reporter misunderstood what was said. The words sound similar and she may have made a judgment based on a common misconception of Christians. It has been my experience that most of the reporters are young, and newspaper articles happen fast, so it is easy for something to not be quite right in a newspaper article. When I was in journalism school I had this curmudgeon ex-editor professor who didn’t exactly chew cigars in class, but he looked as if it may have been a habit. He looked exactly like the Perry White editor-stereotype (Clark Kent/Superman’s editor) only he had black-rimmed glasses. And he was every bit as ouchy as Mr. White. Anyway, everyone has heard this in the writing business, but my prof said it to us, too, which has stuck with me, way back when—“If your mother says she loves you, verify, verify, verify.” It’s a journalism catechism. I have doubts that the quote I read was verified.

I have been told that if a passage in the Bible is important, there will be 3 “verilys,” as in “Verily, verily, verily, I say unto you….” So, I take it that 3 verilys equal 3 verifies, and it’s a writer’s clue equaling important. (Ok, I haven’t exactly verified this. This is a blog, not a newspaper. It’s all opinion here--remember that we’re here in my cafĂ© and it’s just conversation.) Obviously, this reporter, or whoever was copyediting, didn’t check the quote at this graduation ceremony, is what I think, and I’m going to tell you why, based on my experience as an old lady Christian.

I wasn’t there, but 1,200 people received their diplomas yesterday at this small, Midwestern Christian university. One of the graduates was a 40-plus woman, whose daughter took her photo on her first day of college, obviously just as the mother had done for the daughter as a child (who is now probably in college herself.) The woman was a speaker and she talked about how it was a network of family, friends and God that made it possible to go back to school at her age. (And it’s more common today, but still tough to do—go back to school after 40.) The quote in the newspaper from her speech to her fellow graduates is: “If we live our lives with tenacity and perseverance, we can, and we will, mount up with wings as angels.”

Ok, pause here. What is wrong with that sentence?

If you have been a student of the Bible for very long, you will note that something is “just not right” about this sentence, as well as its meaning in the Christian faith practice. Maybe you even corrected it in your mind when you finished the sentence, just as I did. If you are that young reporter or someone who hasn’t studied the Bible, (and there isn’t anything wrong with being either of these things—I’m not judging this aspect) you’re missing something in this woman’s message. And even if you don’t believe the way a Christian does, as a journalist, you have a responsibility to get the facts straight instead of making assumptions about the message. Ok, to give the reporter a break here, maybe the reporter put it down right (or what I think the speaker was saying—ha!) and some editor or copyeditor changed it. I’ve heard more than one reporter lament that her words were changed and she had to go apologize to the person in her article. It happens—a lot. It’s not always an exact business. Some might argue, “Who cares? It all means the same, right? And just why are you writing all this when you haven’t verified, either?”

A lot of people will just skim right over that sentence and think, “Yeah, yeah, them Christians are always glory halleluiahing about something. Yeah, up on angel wings. Whatever.”

Reminds me of that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the bartender rings his cash register dozens of times, snarling his line, “Hey! Looky here! I’m making angels’ wings.” (Obviously wasn’t a believer.)It’s no wonder our theology and Christian doctrines are often more legend than fact, even among Christians. Some people even think that if you die as a Christian, you believe that you’ll become an angel. (Most of us don’t believe this. Angels are a whole ‘nuther topic—and being.) But is that what this speaker was saying? That if we, as Christians, hang tough and persevere, we’ll get our wings like an angel? (The rock group Aerosmith said something about “getting our wings” in the ‘70s and that’s an entirely different meaning.)

I don’t think so. I’d have to verify, verify, verify by contacting this Christian woman, but knowing my Bible verses, I think she was referring to a well-known verse that Christians have used for centuries to uplift each other. It is conveyed to me in how she expressed it, even when one of the words isn’t quite right. (And writers like to get the right word.)It’s a verse that’s been quoted, framed, engraved, spoken, underlined, and even painted in image only. Christians are immediately comforted, uplifted and “get it,” just as she encouraged these grads yesterday with these words (when you see what she said in context.)

Isaiah 40: 31 says, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” *

Now, go back to that quote from the woman speaker. (Just to remind you: “If we live our lives with tenacity and perseverance, we can, and we will, mount up with wings as angels.”) I think she was referring, in context with her words “tenacity and perseverance” to eagle’s wings. That is a whole different picture and understanding than angels’ wings. Eagle's wings are something which is tangible and makes sense in image to even someone who doesn’t believe angels exist.

Isaiah, a Jewish prophet, centuries ago, penned this word image, and it still holds meaning to us today. There is a hope built into the image.He could've written yesterday, just like the reporter wrote the article yesterday. It is a hope soaring as high as earthly and nature-bound as possible. We don’t have to scrape through a bunch of convoluted images of various angels from the media—from John Travolta as Michael, to Clarence as Jimmy Stewart’s guardian angel, to New Age angels and spirit guides, to a certain fallen angel who tries to mess up God’s simple messages to us every day.

On wings like eagles. Strong, high and sure. Soaring. You get the picture.

Oh, and the reason that this verse is so appropriate for a 40-something mother who just graduated from college is not lost on me here, either. Read the verse that came before:

Isaiah 40: 29: "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
: 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.
: 31 But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” *

Now, that’s hope for you. And probably something someone who has lived twice as long as her fellow graduates would say. (I should know.)

* New International Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers copyright 1983

Monday, August 07, 2006

Christian Wisdom 101

"Cast yourself in the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength." --St. Philip Neri

Some of you reading may be discouraged, or wondering why you are doing what you're doing, or maybe that you aren't really cut out for what you're doing. Maybe you want to give up. Maybe you'd like to chuck the whole thing you're doing over the cliff. (That would be me. Today.) Why bother to continue? People aren't listening, anyway!

St. Phil had some wise words for you (er, I mean, me) for this point of the day.

"Cast yourself in the arms of God and be very sure."


I'll do the casting myself today. Maybe the very sure thing will come tomorrow.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ten Things to Do

Ten Things To Do

I always have a to-do list, and I'll bet you do, too. Sometimes my prayer list is like giving God a "to-do" list.

"Okay, now God, I know You are busy, but could you check in on Uncle Fred? He's having such a hard time there in the nursing home. And then, there's..."

Well, I'm sure you have your list, too.

I am a person who doesn't like chaos or disorganized ways of doing things. You'd think this would make me a very organized, sort of like a guru in organization. Uh. No. Not even close. Now, in some areas I can be focused and organized. As a teacher I always had my lesson plans sketched out for the month and neatly written into my lesson plan book, laid out on my desk in case I had to have a last minute sub. My principal thought I was a genius of lesson plans. I was. That was then, this is now. I have purchased all the famous organization books--and they're in some pile somewhere around here. They say the people who need the organization books the most are the ones who buy them, but then, probably don't use them, just intend to--someday. I should do something. I do have to-do lists of things to accomplish in many areas of my life.

In the magazine Today's Christian there is an article called, "Ten Things You Should Do Before Going to Heaven." First of all, I'll let you know--I sometimes get turned off when someone says to me, should. That always sounds a bit preachy to me. But I was curious as to what someone thought we should be doing, and I read that article.It's written by these guys, David Bordon & Tom Winters, who wrote the book, 101 Things You Should Do Before Going to Heaven
(Bordon-Winters LLC, 2006 224 pp., $9.99, Hardcover.)

I was hoping I had a good start on that 10 things list when I went to the URL--but, whoa, a 101 and a whole book of to-do! Ack Attack. I'm getting closer to heaven with every breath I take, so this certainly had me concerned. (Do the right thing, do the right thing.) But the book, and the article, say these are practical things to do, and I found myself agreeing with them as good things that could be accomplished. I was even happy to see that there were some things I've done or am doing.

Yeah, did that one. Check. Oh, yeah, did that check, check.

One of the things I could check off happened right here with this blog. I reconnected with a childhood friend. Lorrie, or "Lottie," or "Stoff," was the gal who gave me the "inside" tip on getting the right socks for 6th grade at Liberty Elementary from my blog early on here. She was one of my best friends in high school and before our senior year, her mother remarried and moved to a new school district. I was devastated and she missed us all, too, but I know she adjusted pretty well because I kept in touch our senior year.

I learned to drive to the farm she moved to, and spent many weekends there, kept in touch through college, and we even were in each other's weddings. Then, like life often does, I heard less and less from her, and she heard less and less from me. She is a beautiful, Christian woman with a large family. But then, she read this blog and emailed me. That was worth writing this blog for! It was a thrill for me to reconnect with someone I was so close to at one very important point in my life.

I hope I can go see her or meet up with her soon. A bunch of us girls (cough, cough) from high school are planning a get-together in September, and Stoff will be invited. All of us are Christian women and started off together doing youth group-church related things together, even though some of us went to different churches or had different traditions. There is no reason we can't still have that heart and soul connection, even if our lives are different now, too, as far as schedules, homeschoolers or not, various denominations. We do have one thing in common--Jesus.

So, while that article in Today's Christian got me to thinking about what kinds of things I want to try to do before I'm whisked off to heaven, I know there is one good thing I've done before that final breath--I've accepted Jesus Christ as my Master and Savior. I believe that He is the Christ, the one way to God and spending the everlasting time with Him is sealed. All the other things these Ten Things/101 Things authors listed are probably "good" things to do and we do want to make our lives better and do the things God tells us to do in the Bible that pleases Him. But sometimes shoulda, woulda, couldas doesn't always happen, and you can carry a lot of guilt. Well, we shouldn't have to carry that guilt. That is what that grace thing was all about, afterall.

Actually getting a chance at freedom and heaven is possible by doing the first thing on my list that I did--find out how to get there and accept it. That would be by way of Jesus. So, go ahead and read the "Ten Things" article, and maybe buy the 101 Things book. Maybe you need it. Maybe I do, too (I'm sure there is someone out there who probably thinks the book was written for me, specifically, and will leave it discreetly on my doorstep.) But you won't hear me self-righteously telling you should do this or that. But I sure would love it if you were there in heaven, too, and that only takes doing one thing--accepting Jesus as your Savior.

That's the only sermon you'll hear from me. (Well, for today...)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

This Blogging Is a Writing Adventure

Yesterday I had all kinds of brilliant revelations and insightful thoughts and recommendations to post. That was yesterday, and somehow between our electricity going out and my techno-unsavvy "WHOOPS! Where'd it go?" this brilliant post flew off to into some sort of black hole of Blogdom. I'm sorry, because you would've loved it. You would've cleared up your acne, felt 10 years younger and probably lost 20 pounds, not to mention, been able to win the lottery. Well, easy come, easy go.

I've done this standing in my shower, too. You know, you're standing in the shower, singing the most brilliant cantata, composing the Great American Novel, redesigning your home on a dime, and solving your child's geometry homework, and whoops! You drop the soap, the phone rings, your kids' are outside the bathroom door screaming,"Mom! What are you doing in there? I need..." and it's gone. Gone like the car I wrecked.

So, I am used to this. "I coulda been a contender." (I quote this everyday.)

Anyway, I did remember one thing from the brilliant post. I got a box in the mail yesterday full of books. (I apologized to my mailman who was honking his horn for me to come retrieve it, as he sat in his truck in my driveway. I told him I was trying to cut down on that stuff. He rolled his eyes and flipped the box at me. He really doesn't like me, I think.)It is so exciting to get a box of books, though. Having been a book reviewer with my own column for years, I still have that thrill of "What's in the box! What's in the box?" It's like Christmas, my birthday, Easter, the Academy Awards all crammed into one little box (or big--depends.) I am thrilled as I carry my box from some publisher into my house. (My husband is usually complaining at this point, "What Book of the Day was sent to you today?" He's so cynical.)

This time it was from AMG Publishers-- I love those guys. (Wait, I could say that about every Christian publishing house I know who has sent me books...) Anyway, they sent me a series of Bible studies aimed at women by Sandra Glahn. They're called Coffee Cup Bible Studies. I've already read through Espresso with Esther first because I fell in love with a fiction book when I was reviewing called Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther
by Ginger Garrett. I find the entire book of Esther in the Bible fascinating. Ginger is a brilliant novelist and brought Esther to life. I liked her interpretation of Queen Esther's life.

But back to Sandra's Bible study on Esther (there are four books: Java with Judges, Solomon Latte, Mocha on the Mount and Espresso with Esther. What's better than coffee and a book?) Sandra Glahn is well-equipped to teach us about the books in the Bible, as she is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. She is also one of the handful of women there teaching. Her conversational style in conveying important information about Esther, her life in Persia and the times,and the lessons learned there makes it easy for even me to understand.

I've been in many Bible studies, am one of the resident reviewers of Bible studies for a magazine for church librarians, and have led Bible studies. What more can anyone say to someone like me about a book in the Bible? Apparently a lot. I sure learn something new everyday! I think what grabs me more than issues or topics in the Bible these days are the people. I think this is why I'm so curious about Esther. I happen to know a woman who not only came from Persia, but she was of Persian/Jewish descent and her family is ancient there. She and I talked about her life there back in Persia, and what the Bible said about Esther several times. And watching her, listening to her speak, I could see Esther breathe, because she looked like what I imagined Esther looking like!

So, I hope to go through all of these Coffee Cup Bible Studies very soon, and I'd love to go through them with friends.

Now, don't you feel thinner just reading this blog? At least I did give you a piece of good advice--Read Good Books. Start with Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett (fiction)NavPress and Coffee Cup Bible Study Series: Espresso with Esther by Sandra Glahn (nonfiction) AMG Publishers.

(Might even clear up your adult acne.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What I Like About You/What I Like About Me

This week has been a difficult one for me in that I'm learning to focus all of these things about myself into my own writing. I'm still working on other authors' work, but finally, I'm pulling those things from my life, so I can go where I want to, as I develop my own writing career further.

A friend of mine, who has even written a column with me,(and known me for years) told me I had to do a couple things:

1. Answer this question: If you were taking a trip on a plane, and had to choose one book or author, what would the book be? (Wow. That is a very difficult question for me.)

2. List all of your favorite books (of all time.) Number them from favorite (number 1) to least favorite of the favorites. (ha) Go with your first instinct and don't agonize over it. (Boy, does she know me, or what?)

I have to admit to you right now--I have maybe a thousand books.(First step: Admit your illness.) I am not kidding you. I did give hundreds of books to a church library. (I'm a book reviewer.) This was not easy for me. One of the books I let go of was instantly the pastor's favorite, and since he is also a dean of students at a local university, he is influencing a whole community there with this book. (I may have to buy that book because I did love it, too. Drat.)

My therapist, (I mean, friend,) tells me I have to distill from my life, and my collection of books, the things that are in common with all of them--those threads of passion. At first I looked at these books and thought,"These books are about as different as Cajun food is from Baby's pablum! Ack, I'm a mess! (There are people who agree with this--about me being a mess.)

But then, the smoke started to clear, and common threads appeared--strong, clear and bright--and they ran through my entire soul. I saw them and it was amazing to me. And what I saw, I liked. I liked it in the books I loved, and I liked it about me. I thought that I was all over the map with my favorites and my habits, but I'm not, really. But not only did I have a false view of myself and beat myself up for having those loves, I had no confidence to embrace those true things in myself. I did not give myself permission to love stuff that was uniquely mine.

It's no good, I told myself.

In coming to this realization, I even began to appreciate what other people liked, or had interest in, and to appreciate their loves and passions. And sometimes I share a lot more with people than I thought possible--certain loves or appreciation.

I think wrapped up in this exercise of my soul's passions is a realization that I must bring these threads into my life every day to be whom God intended for me to be. If I do this, I will discover the happiness that is in my life, even on a bad or sad day. We rob ourselves of joy if we do not keep these threads running in our daily lives.

Ok, so what? you say to me. How does this apply to me?

Here are the threads to keep running constantly in your life (and mine) that I have discovered:

1. Have a sense of curiosity and feed it.
2. Keep inspired.
3. Help someone else.
4. Do something you are good at.
5. Read.
6. Don't watch so much. Do something.
7. Love what you do, and if you're not loving it, find a way to get rid of it.(This is only in what you do. ha Just say no.)
8. Exercise. (Your body, mind and spirit.)
9. Face up to your fear(s). Meet them head on and stare them down. Call in back up in the face off (I think God is big enough for that role for me.)
10. Believe in what God already knows about you--and embrace it. It is what is true.
11. Stay close to your family, friends and those people who are positive to you. (Limit the poison relationships or set boundaries.)
12. Follow your heart whenever it is something good--don't follow your temptations, evil or unethical, immoral impulses.

Hope these things help you as much as they are helping me in learning to be happy with living with myself. As a writer I have stories to tell and I want to tell them my way. After all of this time,to find that I'm ok to be who I am is a great freedom.