Monday, December 31, 2012

sore afraid

Best moment of Christmas TV. Ever.

Yes, Christmas is over, though our family extended it this year quite a bit. Nevertheless, some thoughts deserve revisiting.

Here's an fyi Linus knew—real angels do not resemble Precious Moments figurines. At all. They do not have sweet cherub faces, they do not hover over people and toss flower petals and good feelings, and they do not await their wings by anything we may say or do for them. (Sorry Jimmy Stewart, you know how much I love you and your movie.) They are also not our dead relatives, but that's another story.

Real angels, the way they talk about them in the Bible, are big, scary things George Lucas could not imagine the special effects for. They could and should scare the heck out of anyone who happens to be visited by one. They don't look like my angel collection, however much I love it. They are the material for "sore afraid" to be sure.

In the coming year, I want to focus here on fears—what they are, what they aren't, and why we need or don't need them. I figured the Christmas story was the place to start.

“An angel of he Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2.10-11

Whenever an angel greets someone, the first line is often, “Do not be afraid.” Like they are well aware they need to break the ice with something a little disarming. Then immediately, they follow that up with the why. In this case, do not be afraid because . . . here's the news, and you're going to like it.

The things that look terrifying to us from our perspective aren't always. Sure, if you're on the wrong side of an angel, things could get heated, and you will lose. But the shepherds weren't. They were just receiving a newsflash from a cosmically cool messenger. They also were being given a job.

The things that terrify us probably look a lot worse than they really are as well. But when we stop covering our eyes, turn around, and look and listen, we can discover the message those things are trying to deliver.

So I'm inviting you to join me on a journey this year. Or just today, your call. What do you fear? List the top five. Write them on a piece of scratch paper, on your bathroom mirror, in your Bible, or right here in the comments. It would be great to share together to know what the biggies are. Then decide which one you're going to spend time with this week opening your eyes to and listening to the message behind it. Let me know what you discover. It just might be good news of great joy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

we interrupt this program

How many Nativity sets can fit on the top of a television cabinet? I don't know, but I may be going for a record. This is only one representative of the collection.

I have Nativity sets from Guatemala, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Ecuador, Israel, Mexico, and probably Walmart. I didn't actually visit any of these places, but relatives did, and they know I love to collect nativity sets of the world. (Walmart being, of course, a huge part of the world since we know none of those sets were made here, right?)

I have one my mother-in-law made and the one that sat on our shelves when I was a child. I have the first one we bought as a married couple and the one I made several years later for our kids to play with so they would leave the glass and ceramic ones alone.

Obviously, they mean much more to me than nice Christmas decorations that may or may not have all their pieces intact each time I take them out of wraps. They speak of the divine interruption that happened one night in a stable that changed everything with one cry of a baby. They remind me that God doesn't always work within our expectations, and sometimes he give us the greatest of gifts in the most unlikely of packages.

The international flavor of the collection reminds me of another interruption. The one where he promises to come back and finish the story. “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” (Rev 7.9) I am in awe of the beauty promised in the second great interruption. It will look a lot like the people in my nativities. They are colorful bunch, if you noticed.

God has interrupted your usual programming. Are you listening?

Do you collect a Christmas decoration? What is your favorite symbol of Christmas?  

Monday, December 17, 2012

how many of you?

How many of you dropped your child off at school today, said “I love you,” and thought for a moment, 'that could be the last time I ever see her?' I did. How many of you held someone, anyone, just a little tighter this weekend? I did. How many of you cleaned sloppy gross hair from your shower drain this weekend and, for the first time, were grateful you could because of the child who left it? I did. Yes, really.

Like a lot of people, this is not the blog post I had planned for today. And I hesitated to write anything at all about Connecticut because so many have done so already and written better.

The usual sides have been taken and lines have been drawn. Some good conversation is being had; some bad won't go away. But what if, amid good and bad conversation, the most important conversation never happens?

We've read so much already. Taking sides is easy. Blaming 'the system' is easy. Coming up with plausible reasons and solutions is easy. And some of those things are partially correct and needful. But nothing should be easy about this conversation. Nothing.

We all know what will happen here. People will feel terrible. For a while. People will cry for solutions. For a while. People will shake their heads and wonder what's next, and we now know we will inevitably find out, because this is becoming not uncommon. So it anesthetizes us all too quickly, making our tears and resolutions to be more appreciative and “do something” dissolve into “real life” before the New Year rings in.

The most important conversation? It's the one with the person in the mirror. The one where we stop distancing ourselves from evil and look it in the eye. Where we quit trying to blame everyone and anyone and look into our own souls. Where we admit the world is terribly broken, not just slightly sprained, and ask ourselves why we spend our lives running in fear and denial of that fact. And what effect that collective running is having on our culture.

Today. And tomorrow. And every day we need to remember and not go back to business as usual. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “How long have I known the world was broken, and what have I done to fix it?” Not fix as in lobby the government for more programs or proffer opinions on Facebook. Not fix as in bury into my own safe little world so at least my family can survive intact. But what have I personally done to push back the iron force of evil in at least one person's life? If only starting with my own.

Easy answers? If the answer was easy, the Son of God would not have had to be born on this earth with the intention of dying. “Easy” doesn't end up in a virgin's uterus and a trough with wood that stinks of manure. “Easy” doesn't end up on a cross that reeks of blood. There's nothing easy about innocence giving its life for evil. It's complicated and messy. It happened two thousand years ago voluntarily. It happened three days ago horrifically.

To borrow from last week's sermon, "Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place. . . Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don't light a candle in a room that's already full of sunlight." - NT Wright

Christmas isn't really for children. It's not for the meek and mild at all. It's for hardy souls who are willing to admit that the world needed a healer and mender. It's for those courageous enough to take that redemption into our lives and the lives of people we contact. In ways that matter. And not just today.

just grace

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. 
Victor Hugo 

What's the last 700-page book you read?

Yes, I'm aware ninety percent of you, if you have read a 700-page book, just responded with something in the Harry Potter series. Few authors have the guts to attempt this feat. She is one who did it well.

But mine is different. I fell in love with the story of Les Miserables watching the nonmusical version. I took up the book with some trepidation, noting its bulk. It's rare that I'm going to say a book is totally worth all 700 pages. I'm one of those people who believes if you can't say it in 25 minutes, you probably haven't thought out what you needed to say. An appreciated quality in a preacher, but Les Mis would have suffered considerably by turning it into a novella. It was totally worth it. All. 700. Pages.

Going downtown Chicago to see it on stage followed, naturally, as I am a fan of musicals in general and this story is particular. Now, the movie.

But what is it that makes me love this massive story so much? Yes, it's a fascinating study in character, which is what I'm all about when I read or write. But more, its point is also what I'm all about in life. Les Mis is about second chances. About looking at someone others have written off and saying, “God hasn't written you off. So neither will I.” It's about giving them dignity and another shot. And yet another if that one fails. It's about looking people in the eye and communicating, 'You my well let me down, but I'm going to love you anyway and extend as much grace to you as I've had extended to me.” Which is more grace than any single one of us deserves. That Hugo's story does this all while feeling more like you're listening to a great symphony than poring through a book adds immeasurably to the enjoyment level.

So while we're still thinking about Christmas, I invite you to do a couple things.

One, extend grace. Give a second chance. Do what was done for you at Christmas—go out of your comfort and personal space to love someone else. Not just a little and not just because they deserve it, but with genuine sacrifice on your part, because they don't deserve it at all.

Second, if you're looking for someone to help this year, whether because you've been grabbed by the Christmas spirit or because you need a write-off before any more great fiscal cliffs, check out a couple organizations that specialize in second chances. These people are on the front lines of loving those others have written off. Give them a look this year. Love sacrificially through those already doing it. Love this group. I've organized angel drives for years. No one feels more unwanted than prisoners and their families. Working to free people from modern day slavery. Yes, it still exists, and not only overseas. Working to empower and encourage refugees. Definitely a forgotten and unwanted group in so many places.

Monday, December 10, 2012

ten things we can learn from a hobbit

This week, I will be doing something I rarely do. I'll be following the crowd. Into a theater filled with people, smelling like imitation popcorn butter and gross gumdrops (that is a redundant phrase). It will be very loud. If you cannot see many things wrong with that scenario, you are not a flaming introvert with sensory overload issues. But I will do it because . . . I love the magic combination of J.R.R.Tolkien and Peter Jackson. Love as in, I own Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit, and I will dominate you at it.

Why the big deal over The Hobbit? A fantasy creature barely three feet tall? Admittedly, it is not the epic its sequel is, literarily or theologically. It's just a good adventure story, written for children. But in its own different way, it is so much more.

Ten things we can learn from a Hobbit:

10—Every enemy has a weak spot. No matter how big and fierce our nightmares are, they are vulnerable somewhere. Find the spot, employ the right weapon, and watch them fall.

9—Don't leave the path. If you've been given a path to walk on, stay on it. No matter how tired you are or how endless it seems. Regardless of how good another path looks. Just keep going forward.

8—Something that appears insignificant to you may prove very important in the future to someone else. Pay attention to the insignificant things right under your feet.

7—Never laugh at a live dragon. It pay to remember that no matter how smart or fast you are, showing it off can give you a warm backside.

6—Never leave home without your pocket handkerchief. I don't know why, but Bilbo seemed to think it important.

5—No matter how small or worthless others may think you, take up your job and do it with courage. They may be surprised.

4—When you don't have an obvious or easy way to accomplish something, think creatively. Rafting in barrel may not be one's first choice of transportation, but it got the job done.

3—The word “mine” will always get you in trouble. A tunnel focus on “what I deserve” rather than “what I can offer” ends badly. Always.

2—Sometimes the biggest thing we fear is not the dragon but our own reaction to it.

1—Home never looks the same after a real adventure, but it always looks good.

Bonus lesson—Stay away from large spiders. Really, why should anyone have to tell you this? It should be obvious.

And . . . watch this space (and my website and facebook page) for the upcoming devotional/youth group study based on Tolkien characters written by--yes--me! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

We've always done it this way

This year, child #2 flew to Atlanta for a wedding the day after Thanksgiving. She missed the Great Tree Cutting last year on account of being a couple thousand miles away in Guatemala. I could not let her miss it again. We could not go before the flight because child #3 had gymnastics practice at school. (Turns out, we should have skipped practice and cut the tree, since she sprained her elbow that morning and was out for a week, but hindsight, you know.)

Parents of older children, you know this drill. It's called “My Kids' Schedules Are More Complicated than a NASA Liftoff.” With one in college, one working full time, and one in a sport in high school, getting all three in the same place at the same time is like trying to get Halley's Comet to jump through the rings of Saturn.

But I've noticed a funny thing. The harder it gets, the more they want it to work. It's like the farther they go away from the things of childhood and make their own futures, the more they cling to the solid things of their past. Those things that just always were. Like a tree on Friday. A gingerbread extravaganza sometime in the vicinity of Christmas. (That one's not so particular on time. We've been known to do it in January.) A birthday breakfast out with mom.

I remember having to cook the huge Thanksgiving dinner the year my mom died. Keep in mind, cooking was not then nor is it now one of my spiritual gifts. I hadn't a clue. But I knew somewhere inside it had to be done, then more than ever. So I invited all the siblings, I cooked, and no one got poisoned so far as I know.

I don't mean we need to keep traditions in a legalistic sort of way—like “you will do this or else be cut out of the will." We got our tree on Sunday. Faced with the choice of doing it on the traditional day or doing it together, we chose together. Modifications and compromise become absolutely necessary.

It's so much more difficult to keep these things solid as they get older and go on to their own hopes and dreams and traditions. But I'm realizing, that's when it gets the most important. We think it's when they're little we need to keep the traditions alive the most. Really? We need to when it's the hardest. Whether that be because of illness, death, or distance, the time to keep the solid things solid is when everything else is too fluid to walk on.

It's worth fighting for those rock solid things that make you the "whole" you are together rather than just individual people joined by DNA. Keep up the fight. 

What's your favorite family tradition?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

this is a turtle. and it's the next big thing.

Happy week after Thanksgiving! This odd picture is from what I hope is an upcoming young adult book by . . . me!
Today I’m having fun participating in a series of blog articles called “The Next Big Thing.” It's kind of a ‘Blog Chain’ I was invited to by author Tracy Krauss (, and it’s my job to invite several people and so on. I’m not sure where it all began, but it’s a cool idea, and it's spreading. So if you like to read about what people are writing, or if you're looking for a good Christmas present book, read on.
The book i'm talking about isn't one I'm currently writing, but it is one I'm working on getting published. So I'd love feedback!
What is the working title of your book?

How NOT to Be Noticed: My High School Anti-Plan for Success. You have to know this is about the fifth working title. My title-creating ability is up there with my knitting mittens ability. Which is not up anywhere. Someone else came up with this title. That is why I like it best so far.
Where did the idea/inspiration come from for the book?

I love reading and teaching YA literature, but I never thought I'd write for kids. Then, after trying to read my novel for adults, my youngest daughter begged me to write something for her age. I figured, if I love reading it, why not try? So she is to blame.
I don't remember the inspiration for this particular story, but it's born of a couple things. One is my friend Rocio who came to this country, worked like crazy to make a life, and allowed me the privilege of sharing in her citizenship ceremony. The other is my middle daughter, whose zest for the unusual in life and whose former fear of the spotlight find their counterpart in Madeline just a little.
What genre does your book fall under?

Young adult contemporary humorous fiction. There are no vampires, werewolves, zombies, or other supernatural creatures to be seen (or unseen). Unless you count the creepy geometry teacher.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Madeline―as in fine, not fin―wants to be called Arwen. She also wants to pass art without breaking anything, to live down her junior high nickname, to stop letting her best friend entangle her in activities that imply she cares about high school, and to convince her parents to give up their quest to adopt another daughter. Like any of that is going to happen.
She wants not to be noticed, to stand out, or to have to come out from behind the stage curtains, ever. Like that’s not going to happen. Freshman year is not starting well.

Enter Angelina and Rocio, who complicate everything. What are they hiding and why don't they want to talk about Angelina's dad?
So how does this girl who only wants to be not seen and not heard get to speaking her mind in front of half the town―and not necessarily the friendly half?

OK, that was a bit more than one sentence. Oh well. To see more, go to:

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It's with my agent now, so say some prayers!
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I did the first few chapters over a couple months, then I finished it off during NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, that's National Novel Writing Month, in which you write a novel in a month. Makes sense, no? Obviously, that was a rough draft.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
My favorite YA author is Sharon Creech, so I'd love to be compared to her. I think the current writer my style is most like is probably Julie Halpern.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It focuses on the issue of illegal immigration in a very personal way. It also looks at how Madeline's faith changes how she acts, but not in a “Christian novel” way. It's not aimed at Christian publishing, though if it goes that way I'll take whatever I get!
So—to the next five authors, tag, you're it!
Elizabeth Dudak:
Catherine Hackman:
Amy Sullivan:

Sadly, the fifth person I had 'tagged' passed away this last week. She was a great and encouraging writer and will be hugely missed.

Monday, November 12, 2012

just a spoonful of good sense

Everyone, it seems, is posting requests on Facebook these days begging that we all return to civility and forgive and forget post-election day. I am all for this. Civility is nice. It's good. It's . . . civil. In the back of my mind I can hear Mary Poppins' voice (or Julie Andrews', which is synonymous) offering her approval.

There is one problem with this petition for amnesty. Sometimes, you really do have to ask permission first, not forgiveness later. Sometimes, it's too difficult to go back to how things were when hurt has been done. Not too hard to forgive, mind you. That's always necessary. Forgiveness is vital to our mental health and soul. But I don't think forgetting is going to be as easy as everyone hopes.

I wish it was.

But Facebook has created a monster we previously saw only in ill-advised emails or incredibly stupid comments on Youtube. The monster of “It's electronic, not face-to-face, so I can blast people with my 30-second opinion and feel no consequences.” OK, Facebook hasn't created this monster. Occasional bad manners are native to most of us. But it has facilitated poor judgment on a vast scale.

See, if someone is willing to basically call me an a selfish moron in a Facebook post for not thinking they way he does, I can reasonably assume he would call me one in person as well. This is not the behavior of friends. Realizing that Facebook “friends” and real life friends are different creatures, I hope that if a person is the former, I would still treat her with the respect of a face-to-face friend.

I don't post politics, so I haven't lost any friends over it so far as I know. But I know several people who have. Unfriending someone simply because she doesn't agree with your brand of thought is absurd. I mean really, who wants to live in a world where everyone thinks the same thing? Opinions among friends are part of the fiber of a free country.

But unfriending someone because he persists in comments, statuses, or comics that imply or outright insist I'm an idiot and his opinion is the only intelligent/morally defensible one? I can understand that. I'm in a cranky enough mood first thing in the morning when I sit down and open the computer. I don't need to add insult to insufficiently-caffienated injury.

Point being, think before you type. Ponder before you post. Are these really your friends? Then let's begin from respect rather than end with apology. Mary would approve.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I am writing a very excited blog post today. VERY EXCITED! Did you catch the emphasis there?

Today, I am EXCITED to announce that I finally have a website! It's been in the works for a while, and it's time for the unveiling. explores my confused, I mean many-faceted, personality as a speaker and a writer of adult nonfiction and YA fiction. We've had fun putting it together. A million thanks to Emily Lorraine Richardson for her patience and talented graphic design and to Tony Tiradani for his hours of work making this functional. Many, multiple hours. Like, I think I should be thanking his wife as well for patience. Especially for dealing with a web-design-tech ignorant person such as, possibly, myself.

Please let me know what you think. Yes, I know there are a few bugs. I already have my list of typos, picture fixes, and mixed up titles. Plus one grammar error--and you know I will not let that stand.

I will be putting my speaking engagements on it just as soon as I figure out how to use Google Calendar. Or how to sync it with iCalendar. Also, when I have time to do anything but direct The Hobbit (opening this weekend).

I am, by the way, Very Excited.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

getting boys to read

Today I want to introduce a writer with a passion to get boys reading. As a former teacher, I can only say--preach it brother! I am excited to tell you about Eddie Jones new release, Dead Man's Hand. And that name pretty much makes you want to read on, right?

Eddie is the author of eleven books and over 100 articles. He also serves as Acquisition Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. He is a three-time winner of the Delaware Christian Writers' Conference, and his YA novel, The Curse of Captain LaFoote, won the 2012 Moonbeam Children's Book Award and 2011 Selah Award in Young Adult Fiction. When he's not writing or teaching at writers' conferences, Eddie can be found surfing in Costa Rica or some other tropical locale.

Tell us about your upcoming release, Dead Man's Hand, with Zondervan.
First, it’s a fun, fast read aimed for middle school boys, but we’re also getting nice reviews on Goodreads from teachers and mothers. But my aim is to give boys a book they can enjoy, one that taps into today’s fascination with the occult. This is the first book in the Caden Chronicles series, and each story involves one element of the supernatural. Book one explores the concept of ghosts, spirits, and what happens to our souls when we die.

Zonderkids is a Christian publisher, so the paranormal aspect is surprising.
I added the paranormal aspect because I want parents and youth to struggle with eternal questions. We’ve created such a culture of blood-letting through books and movies involving vampires, zombies, and survival contests, that the reality of death doesn’t carry the sting it once did. In high school my youngest son lost several friends to driving accidents. When another friend recently died, we asked how he felt and he replied, “I’m numb to it.” I fear that’s what we’re doing with our youth: desensitizing them to the horrors of death. In Dead Man’s Hand, Nick and his family discuss spirits and ghosts and the afterlife because I think it’s important for teens to wrestle with these questions before they’re tossed from a car and found dead on a slab of wet pavement.

You're passionate about getting boys interested in books. Why do you feel it's so important to get boys reading fiction at an early age?
I fear we’re on the verge of losing the male reader. I don’t mean men and boys won’t learn to read: they will. But the percentage of males who read for leisure continues to shrink, and this could be devastating for our country. Reading forces the mind to create. With video the scene and characters are received passively by the brain. There is very little interaction; it’s all virtual stimulation, which is different from creation. When you read, you add your furniture to the scene, dress the characters, add elements not mentioned by the author. 

In general, boys would rather get their information and entertainment visually. This is one reason books have such a tough time competing for male readers. It can take weeks to read a book, even one as short as Dead Man’s Hand. Meantime, that same story can be shown as a movie in under two hours. So in one sense the allure of visual gratification is robbing future generations of our ability to solve problems. 

I believe Americans only posses one true gift, creativity, and it’s a gift from God. Other nations build things cheaper and with fewer flaws. They work longer hours for less pay. But the thing that has always set America apart is our Yankee ingenuity. We have always been able to solve our way out of problems. That comes directly from our ability to create solutions to problems we didn’t anticipate. If we lose male readers and fail to develop that creative connections necessary for the brain to conceive of alternatives, then we will lose our position as the world’s leader.

What's one thing you wish I wouldn't ask you and pretend I asked you that question.

How I became a writer. I started my sophomore year of high school when I told my English teacher I wanted to write for Cat Talk, Millbrook High School’s newspaper. Mrs. Hough said, “Eddie, you can't spell, and you’re a terrible grammarian.” But I wrote a couple of articles, and she seemed to like the way I could put words together, so I won a spot on staff. My senior year Mrs. Pollard begged me not to major in English. In fact, she was shocked I would even consider going to college because I’d never be accepted. She was right. NC State rejected my application. A few days later I made an appointment with the admissions office. The day of my interview, I wore a pair of red and white checkered polyester pants my mom made me, a white shirt, and a red tie. State admitted me into Industrial Arts, which I thought would be pretty cool since I though Industrial Arts meant I’d get to paint buildings.

Where can we find out more about you?
Please come find me on   

Monday, October 22, 2012


A lot of my blog posts seem to revolve around Starbucks. Which is odd, since I don't like coffee. But it isn't if you realize that I spend four working hours there per week with no distractions, other than the random but highly interesting conversations of people around me. Work often involves writing blog posts.

This one is a result of staring intently at my cup a while back and seeing the words, “Download our cup magic mobile app, then scan this cup to see it come to life.” Um, what? Sorry, but if I start seeing my paper cup come to life in the middle of a coffee shop, I'm going to suspect they've put something other than chai spice and nonfat milk in there.

Even now that I have a smart phone, I'm not sure why I would do that. Why do I need my cup to come to life? Why do I require it to start giving me information or entertainment, like some kind of disposable Charlie McCarthy, singing, dancing, and being annoying all at once? What kind of added value could it possibly give my two hours of distraction-free typing?

Maybe it's my introversion. I just prefer things that are supposed to be quiet and inanimate to remain that way. I don't read Stephen King or watch horror movies, so I have no expectations of my car, Barbie dolls, or cymbal-banging monkeys coming at me with ill intent. I'd like to keep it that way. Although I don't actually own any cymbal-banging monkeys. You never know where one is lurking.

I would rather interact with information on my own terms. I don't need it flying at me from every direction, even from the once-innocuous cup in my idle hand.

But I think, if research be accurate, it's not just me. If it were, things like the Information Overload Research Group would not exist, for instance. ( Ironic, a new group formed to generate information about . . . information overload. I wonder how many formats they publish their findings in.

But the answer, as in so many other things, lies with us. When do I say enough? When do I remain content for the things around me not to flash, beep, twirl, generate a coupon, or do anything? When do I erect the filters that say, “I don't need this information?” I don't have to let more “stuff” intrude on my peaceful cup of chai?

We didn't have to make that conscious choice before. Now, we do. It really is a choice not to engage. We forget we can 'just say no' to the intrusion. After all, if my cup promises me a world of excitement and knowledge I've never known, aren't I obligated to take it? Well, no.

That's why you'll no longer see me on Facebook or email most Sundays. I need time unplugged. It's why I never answer my home phone. Why there are technologies, TV programs, and gasp, even things to read, that are all well and good but to which I just say no. Enough is enough. My tenuous sanity is more important.

I'd love to hear your strategies for dealing with information overload. Thanks! And be careful of those coffee cups out there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

wind over marshdale

This week for New Thing Tuesday, I'm letting you know about a novel by Tracy Krauss, who just happens to have the same birthday I do. Which makes her special, right?

Actually, I probably read 95 percent nonfiction. So, if I think the premise of a novel looks interesting, it has to have caught my attention. Of course, it helps that I've done a lot of work and research on my own novel about a young woman living among Native Americans. So if you like contemporary fiction with a touch of suspense, check it out today as she celebrates her launch with several free gifts as well. 

Marshdale. Just a small farming community where nothing special happens.  A perfect place to start over… or get lost. There is definitely more to this prairie town than meets the eye. Once the meeting place of aboriginal tribes for miles around, some say the land itself was cursed because of the people’s sin. But its history goes farther back than even indigenous oral history can trace and there is still a direct descendant who has been handed the truth, like it or not. Exactly what ties does the land have to the medicine of the ancients? Is it cursed, or is it all superstition?

Wind Over Marshdale is the story of the struggles within a small prairie town when hidden evil and ancient medicine resurface. Caught in the crossfire, new teacher Rachel Bosworth finds herself in love with two men at once. First, there is Thomas Lone Wolf, a Cree man whose blood lines run back to the days of ancient medicine but who has chosen to live as a Christian and faces prejudice from every side as he tries to expose the truth.

 Then there is Con McKinley, local farmer who has to face some demons of his own. Add to the mix a wayward minister seeking anonymity in the obscurity of the town; eccentric twin sisters – one heavily involved in the occult and the other a fundamentalist zealot; and a host of other ‘characters’ whose lives weave together unexpectedly for the final climax. This suspenseful story is one of human frailty - prejudice, cowardice, jealousy, and greed – magnified by powerful spiritual forces that have remained hidden for centuries, only to be broken in triumph by grace.

Monday, October 15, 2012

being an expert

Like most of us these days, I find myself with too many choices. Right now, having just finished a couple writing projects, that means I have too many ideas in my head and too little motivation to choose one and go for it. Translated, I'm getting nothing done writing-wise.

The first adage they teach writers is to "write what you know." I think this is a good rule for most people. When you need to figure out what path to start down, work with what you know and go from there. It's what I try to tell my college age daughters when they look at the plethora of options out there, jobs which didn't even exist a couple years ago and will be obsolete by the time they graduate, and wonder what choices to make now.

Write what you know. So, in an effort to figure out what I should write, I decided to catalogue what I'm an expert at.

I'm an expert at:
  • Putting things off that I don't want to do. I succeeded in putting off ironing until we grew out of everything in the basket. I am the epitome of expert on this topic.
  • Asking, 'What's up with that, God?” I'm really good at objecting when I don't get my way. There's got to be a market for that.
  • Losing things. I can misplace glasses, keys, phone numbers, or pens that I had in my hand nanoseconds ago. I once lost an entire parking lot. Beat that.
  • Not getting the words out quite right. It's been a family joke since the day a year into our marriage when I enthusiastically told friends, “I love my husband. Next to him, I look good!” (It was supposed to be a compliment.) That was the first of many. Writers can edit. Talkers can't.
  • Hoarding craft items. If necessary, I could run the vacation Bible school craft room for an entire small country. This is what comes of twelve years in 4H. If anyone buries me with all my belongings like an Egyptian, future generations of archaeologists will scratch their heads over 55 empty pill bottles, six Chinese tale-out cartons (not used), and twenty rusty jingle bells. That's just the first layer.
  • Not having any idea what people are talking about when they discuss a TV show that aired in the last twenty years. Except Gilmore Girls and Monk. Oh, and The Magic School Bus. But really, what else has been worth my time?
  • Saying “Why not?” I'd rather say yes to an idea than no. Sometimes it backfires. Often it makes a huge mess in the driveway. But I think the misses (and messes) are worth the hits.

Not sure yet how this is going to shape into an article or a book. But at least I know my strengths.

What are you an expert at?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

new thing Tuesday--Make a Wish!

This week, I've been reading Marlayne Giron's book Make a Wish, a compilation of stories she has written for other people in which they are "the star." I like the idea for her book, as Marlayne works to make others feel blessed and important by featuring them in a fictional story that fulfills some wish they have. Not only does she use her creative abilities to write entertaining stories, but she seeks out friends and acquaintances who need something to lift their spirits and intentionally blesses them with a story. She also offers a story to readers who contact her.

Marlayne has two other books out, and her information follows. Do you have a wish? It can come to (fictional) life!

Marlayne Giron is a Messianic Jew who found Christ as her Messiah at the age of 17 while watching Franco Zefferelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” on television in 1977.  After coming to faith, she began to read the Old Testament for the first time and was amazed to discover that believing in Jesus was a very Jewish thing to do and not a betrayal of her Jewish religion as she had been taught by her parents and the rabbi’s in her synagogues.
In the course of her life she has had many small ”miracles” occur; the first major one being coming to faith in Christ when she hadn’t even been looking for it and with a built-in bias against Him.  The second was meeting and marrying her future husband Michael whom she had prayed for by name as well as writing and illustrating a story (with his image in it) five years before meeting him.  The third is the publication of The Victor after almost 30 years with no previous publication credits to her name.  All three of these significant milestones in her life occurred on the Easter holidays. The fourth was becoming a mother of an adopted daughter on Christmas Eve in 1997.
Marlayne Giron is a full-time career secretary, wife and mother who likes to read, cook, entertain, draw and scrapbook. She is the author of "The Victor, A Tale of Betrayal, Love & Sacrifice"; "Make a Wish (Stories Written for Real People Where They are the Star)"; and "In Plain Sight"; her first Amish fiction.

Monday, October 8, 2012

kicking the bucket list

My husband told me this morning his rationale for doing what I had expressly forbid. That is, throwing a surprise party for my 50th birthday. The fact that the whole shindig was his idea was surprise enough. But, as he explained this morning, he wanted to do this because it marks the fact that I have officially outlived my mother and most of her siblings.

Wrong, I said. I won't have outlived my mom for another four months. Three siblings, yes. But not her. He was surprised I was being so exact. I was amazed he didn't know I would be.

So technically, this party should have been thrown in four months. When it would have been a whole lot colder outside than it already was. So it's just as well they did it now.

With two parents who are healthy and happy and who come with a fairly long-lived genetic heritage, my husband can be forgiven for not assuming I would be excruciatingly aware of exactly when I pass mine up. The bare hospital lights, the elevator ride back to the family waiting room, and the fact that, as my brother remembered yesterday, I was left to stumble through a valedictorian speech a few weeks later to a crowd I knew my mom wasn't in are memories whose clarity will never diminish. I will (and do, regularly) forget car keys, lunch appointments, and important meetings, but I won't forget that. I know exactly how old she was.

On my birthday last week, I posted a song I told my friends was my “Anthem for Turning 50.” The chorus says, “I want to live like there's no tomorrow, love like I'm on borrowed time. It's good to be alive.” More than most, I feel like I have a grasp on that borrowed time concept.

Does that sound fatalistic? Not at all. I fully plan to live another fifty if God gives it to me. As I told my sister yesterday, when she tried to remake me as a child, she learned to have a healthy regard for my stubbornness. It's not pessimistic; it's just a choice to be aware of what should and should not be taken for granted.

I also told my sister yesterday that I do not nor ever will have a bucket list. It's not that I don't have a lot of things I want to do. Way more than I can accomplish. But I want to have a bucket lifestyle, not a bucket list. Bucket lists are about conquering fears and meeting adventures. I don't want to relegate that to special events or planned excursions. I want it to be my daily default. I want every day to be one in which I ask myself what needs facing, do I have the courage to do it, and how will it help someone else?

Whether that means holding a tarantula (oh yeah, scratch that one off the nonexistent list), writing something that tells the truth, or taking a break for a friend or child, I want to do it like I may not get the chance again. I don't do that perfectly. It may take another fifty years. That's OK. I'll take it. It's been a pretty good run so far.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

if you can't say anything not nice . . .

I've decided something important this weekend. I want you all to tell the truth when I die. If you're going to stand around my non-existent casket (because I will be ashes scattered on the Great Lakes) and talk about what an amazing person I was and what a perfectly inspiring example of Christianity I was, please stay home.

OK, so there's not much chance of that anyway. But still, forewarned and all.

Not that I'm saying people were lying in the two memorials I attended this weekend. They were beautiful. Just that the temptation is always there to embellish the good and dismiss the bad when someone dies. And I want that temptation resisted.


Because other people learn from our struggles.

That's why I currently have a half dozen speaking engagements scheduled this year on the topic of anger and motherhood. Apparently, a lot of other women feel the need to learn something from the fact that I and all three of my kids survived my parenting skills. A lot. Like, it's rare as a penguin with a sunburn that a mom's group chooses any of the other twelve topics on the list.

Please don't tell people when I'm gone I was some kind of paragon of victory. My kids alone will disabuse anyone of that notion. But just in case you're tempted by the mood, please don't do it. Just tell the truth.

Because other people feel encouraged when we're not perfect.

Not that I want to live as the poster child for “Wow. At least I'm better than her.” More like, “Wow. It's OK to be a work in progress.” Always. As long as things really are progressing.

Because it's more honoring to say someone tried and failed than to say she never had to try.

I told a friend once that I admired her because, since it wasn't her nature to always be nice, I knew her kindness to others came out of a struggle to do right. It didn't exactly come out favorable, as you can imagine. I'm quite good at the backhanded compliment.

But it's true. I'd far rather have someone say I fought the battle, tried in the face of everything stacked against me, and yes, even failed in the effort. I don't want to be the person who never went beyond her comfort zone. I don't want it said that I was a nice, good person. I'd rather be a person with flaws who fought to let Jesus shine through the cracks. I'd prefer knowing people saw me face Goliath and be slain in the process than sit at home strumming my harp. (Um, I don't play harp. Can we substitute piano? Alto sax? Which I haven't actually touched in thirty years or so? Whatever.)

Tell the truth when I die. Don't hedge, mince words, or avoid the subject. To hold up my end of the bargain, I'll try to live a life that doesn't make you wish you could.

What do you want said of you?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

great encouragement for kids

It takes a lot for me to endorse someone on my blog. I will give you all, from time to time, the opportunity to check out an author or a book if you like the genre. But I'm careful about the trust you give me and don't ever want to violate it by getting behind something less than impressive.

So today, I have to tell you about the blog and work of someone in my writer's group, Sandra McLeod Humphrey. Sandra writes stories. They're true stories. And I love them. She's doing several things I think are great.

  • She's telling good stories, while most prefer to feed us the horrific or shocking.
  • She's encouraging kids to realize they can be better, effective humans, at any age.
  • She's reminding us that the attitude-ensconced, entitled teen is not the only game in town. I don't think it's even the most common one.

And it just makes me happy to read.

Today, she's launching her book They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference. As an incentive to get the launch rolling, if anyone buys a copy from Amazon today, September 25th, she will receive more than 20 Great Bonus Gifts. Her launch site is: 

If you enjoy good news, or if you know teens who should be encouraged, check out Sandra. I think you'll like it, too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

two funerals and a reality check

This week I'm writing a funeral sermon. I've never done that before. It's not been high on my list of career goals. But in fact, this weekend I have two memorial services, at the same time, for two people very dear to me. I can't help but think that is very, very wrong. Oh, and not to mention, both younger than I. Doubly wrong.

I hate this. A mutual friend put it well when she said, “I hate that we are mortal and I hate cancer and I hate satan.” I know exactly what she meant. This morning, I am hating the same things.

I hate death. I hate pain. I hate that parents grieve for their child and little boys will grow up without a father. I hate that some people will never see this gorgeous fall day.

But it goes deeper than that. I hate sin that brought death into this world. I hate that I am guilty of it. I hate that, if I went looking for the source of evil in the world, I'd find my own hands stained with the fruit of the Garden of Eden. I hate anger and unforgiveness and pride. The list is endless.

It is making me realize more than ever what belongs on that list and what doesn't. It's putting into perspective what we mean when we toss around phrases like “I hate that teacher,” I hate my ex-wife,” “I hate fill-in-the-politician's name.” I can't hate any human being today.

It's an election season. There's a lot of hate flying around out there. I have my opinions. But hate? I just can't muster that up for any political candidate, any person who disagrees with me, or even, yes, any lunatic with a shotgun who barges into a movie theater. Not today. I'm occupied with hating more important things.

The real things. The roots of all this garbage. The things we're all victims and perpetrators of at the same time. Sickness and cruelty and selfishness and apathy. Those things we once rightly called “sin” but are too fashionable to label so now.

I want to spend my energy and time hating those things. I want to use my life to fight those things. Not petty battles that only give way to more skirmishes on more subjects once they are out of the way. Never hating another human being. Never. That just chips away at all of our value.

And oh yes, it's worth the fight. No matter how hard this weekend is, I know this. Satan didn't win this one. Both these men we'll miss hated him, too. They hated what he stood for. He tried, and he scored some serious hits, but he didn't win. They did. Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

living dangerously

The first sign you may be right where God wants you is when everyone starts telling you you're nuts. Or you may well be nuts; that's your call.

I'm telling a story of the last couple years today, and you'll either decide I'm nuts or not, but at least, I hope you'll read. After all, you're already here. It's Casey's story, and I owe him that.

I'd never had my debit card used to fill ten peoples' gas tanks. Never had the credit union call me to view security tapes. Never visited a heroin addict in the suicide ward. Life holds all kinds of new experiences when you decide living dangerously is the safest way to live.

Casey began life with us as our daughter's boyfriend. (That didn't last long.) He progressed to stealing from us, lying to us, and grand theft auto. Not the video game. Somewhere along the line, he also progressed to a kid we loved. Love is a hazardous thing.

We learned his mom had a restraining order on him. We found out he had a violent past. We discovered at least two intentional overdoses. We also learned, later in the relationship, that his own father used to hit him so hard that the neighbors could hear him smack the wall. I'm a forgiving person, but looking at the sweet face of that kid, I thought that if I ever met the dad, I'd probably acquaint him with a two by four to the head. Beating the heck out of your kid and personally getting him hooked on drugs are not OK in any parenting manual that I've read.

When we took him in as “part of the family,” every single real family member and friend he had told us we were nuts. The kid would not change. OK, he was no kid; he was 23. But only chronologically. He would take us for all he could. And he tried. You have no idea what it's like to try to explain to the security woman at the credit union that, yes, I do know who the young man in the tape is using my debit card. Yes, I do know he's a drug addict and what he'll do with the money. Yes, I know if I don't press charges you won't return the money. No, I still don't want to press charges. When she looked at me like I was the dumbest human to swim in the gene pool, I just shrugged my shoulders. “I'm a pastor. It's an occupational hazard. I can't really explain.”

When Jesus told us to love the least of these, he wasn't being rhetorical. He didn't mean sending money to African orphans to satisfy my conscience or buying a pair of shoes so a needy child could have one, too. OK, he didn't only mean that. Those are good things. I do them. But real love takes risks, gets personal, gets messy. Real love looks a messed up kid in the eye and says, “I'm with you for the long haul. What do we have to do?”And sometimes the crapshot you take with love comes up bust. There is no guarantee.

Every time I thought I had had enough and was ready to turn this kid in and wash my hands, I asked God if I could. Well, I kind of begged him. There were some pretty bad days. And every single time, he said, “No. I am not done with Casey. So neither are you.”

As part of our “I'm not turning you in so now I have some power over you” strategy, we “sentenced” Casey to community service at our church. He met people. He came to a few services. He went forward to the altar trying to start over and get out of the iron-bar-less prison he knew he was still in. He got better; he got worse; he got better. He told us no one in twenty-three years had made him feel that loved. Like the security woman, he shook his head at us and said he could not understand why.

But eventually, he got it. He got that love beyond all human ability comes from Jesus alone. A tiny bit of comprehension seeped in that, maybe, possibly, it wasn't too late for someone like him. A God who would die for any sin on the books just because he loved us would love him, too.

Eventually, I got it, too. I got that compassion means so much more than a thoughtful email, and mercy is the greatest inexplicable gift someone might get from me. Grace has always meant a lot to me. But I know now how amazing grace is not just when its received but when its given. I've hugged Jesus in the form of a messed-up, love-bewildered kid. And I'll never see Him the same.

People tell me, "Oh, you did a great thing." What they don't realize is that we received a great thing. That's why we owe him more than he ever owed us.

You know those stories with bittersweet endings that you hate but know are really more true than the happily ever after ones? This is that kind of story. Casey didn't make it in this life. He tried hard. He went though recovery and was on the road. But there were too many years of pain and bad choices, and one last time on heroin, after being clean for a while, was the last. Sitting looking at the waves of Lake Michigan roll in last week, I cried for the man he might have been and the life that could have been his. But I also cried because I knew, absolutely knew, that at that moment, Casey was looking at Jesus through eyes free of fog. He had no pain, no past, no chains of addiction or scars of abuse. He had no tears of hopelessness or self-hatred. He was free. And I'd never been so happy for someone in my life. Or sad. Dangerous life is like that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

another new thing tuesday

Yvonne Pat Wright describes herself as “the most full of hope person that exists.” She hopes and waits eagerly for the Lord to come again; she hopes she will get married again; she hopes her book will sell one million copies or reach one million people and that a great percentage of those persons will come to know and love the Lord.

She hopes that she will wake up one day and all her excess fat will have melted away; she hopes she will come into enough money to set up a multi-facility home for homeless/wayward children on a paradise island. And she hopes that tomorrow will be the day when one of these hopes get struck off her list.

In the meantime she’s happy just being hopeful. She loves the sun and struggles to make it through the dark gloomy days that are typical of the weather in the UK. The moment the sun comes out her mood changes and she’s enlivened. And thats spawns another hope... to return to her island home Jamaica one day soon.

Although she loved to scribble as a child and used her vivid imagination to write engaging short stories in school, she does not describe herself as having a passion for writing. She always said she would write her autobiography so she could bare all, thinking its salacious contents would make good reading. The idea for that kind of book died a natural death when she became a Christian as she felt that some of those details would not glorify God. Being fully convinced that the Lord wanted her to write From Spice to Eternity, she finally turned her mind to the task.
From Spice to Eternity is a teaser about her life, only barely hinting at separation from an abusive husband, grief when her elder daughter is shot and killed, the pain of losing a grandson who has disappeared into thin air over ten years ago and other suffering she’s lived through, yet tinting those with the happy joyous memories that came along the way. Her book can be variously described as inspirational, motivational, memoir, and devotional. In it she shows a coping strategy when life throws unexpected balls, curved or otherwise. 

The Bible is an integral part of her life and she studies daily, committing verses to memory which she will quote on demand. Serving in her faith community, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, is a big part of her life. She eagerly accepts the call to preach and teach the Bible. In her book From Spice to Eternity, at least one Bible passage is quoted to show that the Bible is a practical help in providing a solution for every situation.

Her book cites facts about herbs and spices and has some forty recipes drawn from around the world, allowing her to display her knowledge of the craft, especially learned from her course in the culinary art of using herbs and spices from the South African Herb Academy.

So what would make life most enjoyable for this over three score and ten going on thirty five grandmother, soon to be a great-grandmother? The ability to tame her fertile mind which never quits churning out things to do. To be able to have a functioning computer and not be tempted to switch it on and become caught up o the internet, but rather spend days upon endless days reading the Bible, any other books of interest, in some warm climate with nothing more to do than hope that all that she hopes for will be day soon. 

To purchase a copy of From Spice to Eternity, plus receive her one-day-only free gifts for this special book launch, visit: