Palms & Fair-weather Friends

palm tree branch

Thanks to

I love Palm Sunday. I was born, too many years ago to disclose, on a Palm Sunday. Then, just days before my sixth birthday, I was born again on another Palm Sunday. It has always been a day of joy and excited expectation for me.

This Sunday, as I waved my palm and sang (if you can call it singing), I remembered something I have heard from several sources. The folks who, on that first Palm Sunday, laid down their coats and branches in the road for Jesus, proclaiming, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!,” were, with rare exception, the same people who turned their backs on Him and cried, “Crucify Him!” just four days later.

There’s a great story behind the beautiful hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, written by Horatio Spafford. I won’t go into in detail, but HERE’S a link if you’d like to read more. When Anna Spafford’s four daughters drowned—including her baby who was torn from her arms—after a tragic collision at sea, Anna was saved from their fate by a plank that floated beneath her unconscious body and held her up. When she was rescued, her first reaction (understandably) was one of total despair. But she heard a voice saying, “You were saved for a purpose,” and she remembered the words of a friend …

“It is easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”

A fair-weather friend. A person who stops being a friend when times get tough. One who is friendly, helpful, or available only when it is advantageous or convenient to be so.*

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in triumph, regaled as King, people found it easy to join the crowd and align themselves with Him. After all, everyone likes to be on a winning team. But as the sunshine faded, and it became difficult—even dangerous—to be counted as one of His followers, they began to fall away. Even those closest to Him—those who claimed to love Him the most—turned their faces away and hid.

Would I have done the same? Or would I have been counted among the few who stood by Him through it all?

This Sunday, I determined to praise God in the darkness that comes on Thursdays, the seeming hopelessness of Friday deaths, and Saturday despair. I want to be there, palm still waving, when joy comes, rising in full force and glory, on Sunday. I do not want rocks and stones to have to cry out because I am silent.

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people—and HALLELUJAH is our song!” (Pope John Paul II)




My One Word for 2016

For the past few years I’ve waited expectantly each January to found out Andy Wood’s “My One Word.” Instead of New Year’s resolutions (which, let’s face it, don’t usually last past January—or, for me, past the first week in January), Andy focuses on one word. This word is based on what direction he senses the Lord is leading him during the coming year. Past words have included finish, lean, one, and advance. Check out if you’re interested in learning more about “My One Word” and Andy’s word for 2015. (I highly recommend subscribing to this blog. It will bless and enrich your life. I promise. This writer is amazing.)

I’ve thought about this before, but (honestly) I can’t remember my word for last year. Or the year before. I have no doubt it’s because I (1) didn’t take it seriously; (2) didn’t write it down; (3) had zero accountability.

I hope this year will be different. I plan for this year to be different.

Somewhere around November a particular word kept occurring to me. It would just pop up here and there, but I didn’t think about the word-for-the-year thing. Then a few Sundays ago, a lay leader host mentioned that she chooses a word for each year. Her word for 2016 is intentional. And that word immediately popped into my head again. I thought about Andy, and then got his “My One Word” post. His word is RENEW.

Andy’s words are always right on point, and I’m always tempted to just agree and claim his word for my own. But not this year. This year I have my own word, and I hope it will guide me, encourage me, remind me of what’s important.


The word resonates deeply with me … to prosper, to flourish … to grow or develop vigorously. I love some of the synonyms … burgeon … bloom … blossom.

It’s something that can be applied to every bit of my life—emotional, relational, professional, vocational … and, most definitely, spiritual. After all …

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 NKJV)

One of Google’s definition of “life” reads, “… including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”

And so, built into this body of mine, is the capacity for growth, to engage in functional activity, and to be changing continually until I breathe my last.

That’s exactly what I want to do. Grow in my writing, grow in my marriage, grow in my friendships … grow in my relationship with God. And not just grow … THRIVE.

I don’t just want to survive.

I want to thrive.

I don’t want to strive … just thrive.

I have to admit I’m not exactly sure how to go about this. Perhaps I have to figure out how to water myself, give myself nutrients, sit in the Sonshine, and breathe. More reading, more writing, more prayer …

As Tony Robbins says, “There are only two options: make progress or make excuses.”

I’m tired of making excuses (and I’ve made a LOT). So, this year, I’m shooting for progress. In whatever form that takes.

So … what’s YOUR word for 2016? 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us … (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV)





Tis the Season


This time of year is always one of thanksgiving and expectation. Thanksgiving because, well, it’s Thanksgiving (and there’s always so much to be grateful for) and expectation because it’s a time of waiting (and when you’re waiting you’re always expecting something. I know, simple, right?) We’re coming up on the culmination of Advent—awaiting, expecting, the “arrival of a notable person, thing, or event”—that Person being a Savior, the thing being God’s grace (or take your pick of many other glorious things), the event being Christmas, the birth of Jesus.

Of all the marvelous things that typically happen during this season, something different stands out for me this year. It has truly been a time of miracles—but miracles of an unexpected kind. Just days before Thanksgiving I found myself again thinking of a woman who had been my friend when I was a teenager. We lived in Newport, Rhode Island, Navy housing back then. It was a lonely and confusing time for me. I had only one really good friend my age (hey there, Lin!) with whom I’m still friends today. But there was someone else, and I had lost contact with her. Mrs. Faul was a neighbor who hired me as babysitter to Jennifer, her adorable two-year-old. She was young, beautiful, smart, and devoted to her husband and child. Somewhere in the middle of all the babysitting, she became my friend, my mentor, and a huge influence in my life. She never treated me like a kid, never laughed at my teenage crushes (I was SO in love with Tony Conigliaro who played right field for the Boston Red Sox) or my angst-ridden poetry. She listened to music with me, introduced me to Rod McKuen’s poetry, helped me with my biology and math homework, took me shopping, and even sometimes went out just so I could earn some extra money. But, more than anything, she listened. To everything. And I was devastated when I lost contact with her.

Over the years I’ve tried several times to find her (no, everyone in the world is not on Facebook) to no avail. When I tried again before Thanksgiving, I somehow hit the right combination of whatevers … and there she was. I wasted no time in calling her, wondering if she would remember me. Not only did she remember, but she seemed to be as delighted in reconnecting with me as I was with her. She brought up Tony and said my voice sounded the same. Even after all these years (and we’re talking 43 of them), we were still on the same page. I am so thrilled to have her back in my life and to have the opportunity to get to know her again. It was truly something to top my gratitude list on Thanksgiving. Miracle number one.

And then a sad thing happened. I got word that one of our dearest friends had passed away. He was really my parents’ friend, but he was a man I respected and truly liked when I was a kid. His son called to let us know of his dad’s passing … and this was another amazing reconnection. We hadn’t seen each other since his mom’s memorial service 19 years ago. Before that, I hadn’t seen him since I was in 8th grade (and that’s a LOT of years ago). We had a long conversation by phone, then my brother and I made the long trip to the memorial service where Danny and I were able to give long hugs and actually look at each other. We had spent so much time together as kids. We were the same age, and we were both “only” children (until my brother was born). We played Beatle records, roller skated, and spent hours and hours playing The Green Hornet with him starring as Kato. And we laughed. And laughed. Though we were initially “forced” together by our parents’ friendship, we became good friends. Then we were transferred to Newport, and his family was transferred to Northern Ireland. And we had no connection until his mom passed away. Such is Navy life.

We have marveled at the depth of our reconnection and are pretty sure we’ve figured it out. This time we’re both believers. We understand each other in a way we never did before. There’s something sobering about looking at another human being and knowing that person has come to the same understanding of need and hopelessness without God and has surrendered to Jesus, believing on Him as Lord and Savior. There’s a connection between us that can only come about by the work of the Holy Spirit. We were friends way back then, and now we’re even better friends. Miracle number two.

And then last week I was celebrating a dear friend’s birthday at lunch. Into the restaurant walked someone I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years. I recognized him right away though he had grown a tremendous white beard. Of course he had. His hair is a beautiful white, and it’s Christmas. He always loved playing Santa, and it just seemed so right. Amazingly, he recognized me and came over to the table. What a sweet treat! We had been such good friends all those years ago, but circumstances and changes in location did what so often happens. But now we’ve reconnected. Miracle number three.

And so the word for this season (literally and of my life) is reconnection. One definition of “to reconnect” is “to meet or come into contact again after a long absence.” How perfectly that describes what has happened to me these past few weeks. And I feel like holes in my life have been plugged. (Okay, that’s not a very elegant way of describing it.) Joy has been multiplied. Anticipation has re-awakened.

Isn’t that what this time of year should be about? Advent. Christmas. A time of reconnecting—not just with friends and family—but with our Savior. A time to again look to the One who journeyed from the wood of the manger to the wood of the Cross. For us. A time to reflect on Who He is and what He’s done. The greatest miracle of all.

Freshly Squeezed


“Waterfall” Courtesy of Alexandra Whiteside

I recently had the privilege of attending my friend Alexandra’s art show at a local gallery. She’s a remarkable lady with too many talents to list … She paints, she writes, she speaks, she teaches … and she even has a sense of humor. Still, I don’t hate her one bit! Remarkable.

I walked into the gallery and there, splashed all over a long wall, were her paintings. Not knowing what to expect, I was confronted with the kind of art I just don’t get. Abstract.  And so I just admired the pretty colors because, like I said, I just don’t get abstract. You throw colors on a canvas and smear it around, right? Maybe even I could do it.

Of course it’s not true. I’m one of those people without a lick of artistic ability. But I resolved to really look at her work. Each painting had an expressive title, and so I was able to figure stuff out. A little. I understood why she titled the series, “Freshly Squeezed.” I got why she called the one with soft pinks and white “Berries and Cream.” And how she had drawn (hey! A pun!) inspiration from lemons and limes.

But it wasn’t until Alex took time to explain some of her process that I began to actually see the paintings. She often works from photos with enticing colors, textures, and shapes. She then “abstracts it out,” adapting the original image to the vision in her artist’s eye. And so, in the painting that had at first seemed to be just blue and white paint sharing a canvas, I recognized the corner of a white building and the brilliant afternoon sky in “Garden Shed.” Oooooh.

And then there was “Waterfall.” Several discussed the direction of the flowing water. The flowing down-ers had the majority, and Alex admitted that was how she had imagined it. But, she quickly added, everyone sees it differently and that’s the point. Up or down didn’t matter. (She often paints canvases that can be hung in any direction.) Her inspiration had been a little waterfall at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. The bottom of the actual waterfall was rocks and moss or algae, but she exchanged those colors for purple. (That’s abstracting it out, I guess.)

Experimenting with different brushes and tools, she had spent hours getting the texture just right. Sometimes she had to clear off all the paint and start over. For the effect at the bottom, she finally used a Martha Stewart stenciling brush—a tool not usually intended for oil (or was it acrylic) canvases. But really, how cool is that?

All that got me to thinking about writing. (Don’t all roads lead there?) Writers often take a phrase, or an overheard conversation, or a picture … and abstract it out. Daphne du Maurier drew inspiration driving past a farmer plowing a field. Above him, seagulls dove and swooped. Her thoughts “abstracted” the scene to one of hostile birds attacking a farmhand, his family, and his town. Alfred Hitchcock later “abstracted” her short story into the suspense thriller, “The Birds.”

There are plenty of other stories of how a glimmer of ideas and dreams blossomed into entire novels. But not without much work. Just like an artist’s canvas, we have to write, and re-write, finding the best words, the perfect tone and rhythm. And sometimes we even delete the whole daggone thing and start again from the blank page.

How wonderful it is that God, too, let’s us build and grow and prune and rework our lives. While I often see my life as abstract—mostly an idea of who I want to be or who I might be created to be, but not having that solid existence, God knows exactly who I am, who He created me to be. And so He works—and lets me work—the colors and textures and phrases and scenes of my life into something pleasing to Him.

The best thing of all is that the Author and Creator of the Universe lets me delete the messes I’ve made and start each day with a fresh canvas, a blank page. His mercies are, indeed, new every morning.

A couple of great quotes:

“It’s never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise.” (Nancy Thayer)

“The archer knows the target. The poet knows the wastebasket.” (Ron Dakron)


The Big One

Happy Birthday

So The Big One is coming. It seemed appropriate that It would fall on Good Friday this year. After all, that was the day when the world seemed to have come to an end, when it seemed all hope was lost.

I’ve been brooding about this upcoming birthday for months — actually for the last year. It’s been looming there in the distance, a big black cloud foretelling the death of my dreams.  It must be true as all other milestones and deadlines I set for myself flew by without seeing my life goal materialize.

So maybe it’s time to give up. Maybe it’s time to set it aside and find something else to do. Like rug hooking. That, at least, has a foreseeable and obtainable conclusion. I could cover my floors, and my family’s floors, and my friends’ floors. And even make wall hangings.

But, in the end, I would be laying claim to the lament attributed to Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

And I just can’t do that.

I have spent too many days contemplating the probability that my dreams won’t come to pass, that I will reach the end of my life and my epitaph will be, “Spring has passed. Summer has gone. Winter is here … and the song I meant to sing remains unsung. For I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument.” (Tagore)


Too many of us are afraid to hope, afraid to allow ourselves to be excited about possibilities. Too many of us live with the ridiculous belief that “Blessed are those who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.” How silly.

Recently, a friend of mine was asked to send her manuscript to an agent. Another friend was going through the steps of buying her first home. Both commented that they didn’t want to get too excited in case things didn’t turn out. I have been doing that. The less I expect, the closer I’ll be to the ground if I fall.

But just days before my 60th birthday, I’ve realized that I’m missing out on joy. Regardless of what the outcome may be, I should embrace all the joy I can. I must dare to hope! Why not enjoy the anticipation, the thrill of knowing that something is working itself to its rightful conclusion? Really. If whatever it is doesn’t come to pass, then I’ve still had a time of joy, of delight … and the Lord is always there with His grace regardless of the outcome.

The truth is that if I continue to postpone joy, I will eventually diminish my capacity to experience it. Do I or do I not believe that our great Father will give me the desires of my heart? How and when He gets me there is really His business.

And my friends? The writer was signed by the agent (wow!) and my co-worker bought her first home (wow!). As for me, I’m going to stop setting self-imposed deadlines on things I have no control over. I’m going to trust that, if I keep working at it, keep improving my skills, keep stepping out there, it doesn’t matter how many birthdays pass — my life will be filled with joy and hope. After all, Easter swallowed Good Friday.

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” (Pope John Paul II)

The Advent of Every Day


I’ve always been a daydreamer. As a lonely little girl, I couldn’t wait to be a teenager. Trudging through my melancholy teens, I dreamed of the day I would be a self-sufficient adult. I‘ve always been certain that everything in my life would, one by one, fall into place, and I would be deliriously happy . . . one day . . . someday . . . when . . . if . . . one way or another. Happiness awaited me just beyond the next whatever. I was constantly wandering in the wilderness—but totally convinced I was heading for the Promised Land.

I refused to call myself a hopeless romantic — I was a hopeFUL romantic! My day would surely come! Dorothy and I were en route somewhere over the rainbow.  Too often I wished I could sleep through today and wake up tomorrow (and, sadly, I sometimes tried it), after all, tomorrow was closer to the next day . . . and the next day   . . . when things would be better.

And then there’s John. John’s a writer—a real writer. He works long hours, and lots of overtime, for an ad agency in California. He also spends most of his off hours writing freelance projects to make extra money. At one point, he was constantly working so he could afford to travel with his wife Dee. They were always going somewhere. She so enjoyed planning their trips, and, as she was often sick, he loved bringing her joy even if it meant working himself to the brink of exhaustion. And then came the trip to Hawaii—the vacation of her dreams—the Ultimate Holiday! John worked (and worked) and saved (and saved), and Dee planned and shopped (and shopped). Departure day finally arrived; they boarded the plane in Los Angeles, and they were off!

John called me when they returned, and I heard the frustrated dejection in his voice. All that work, all that saving, and as the plane was lifting off . . . yes, you read that right . . . as the plane was lifting off, Dee said excitedly, “Guess where I’d like to go next?”

My heart ached for him. They hadn’t even arrived at their destination — they hadn’t bought one souvenir, enjoyed one Hawaiian sunset, one walk on the beach, one kiss in the moonlight . . . and she was already scheduling the next adventure! What about that day? What about the exhilaration of that moment? They were on their way! Wasn’t that something to be happy about? Something to rejoice in?

I often remind myself of what missionary Jim Elliot said: “Wherever you are, be all there.” When we are not fully engaged in the moment—wherever we are—what blessings we miss! Whether it be a word of wisdom, the warmth and strength of a held hand, or the beauty of whatever touches your heart, don’t waste this moment and what the Lord has poured into it for you. There are purposes, blessings—gifts—all around us. Just look.

Have you ever spent all day cleaning the house . . . or been excited about a new haircut . . . or set an especially beautiful table for your family or guests . . . or spent extra time doing something special . . . only to have no one notice? How disappointed we are! Heartbroken even. Yet how often are we too busy (or too self-involved) to take in what the Lord has placed right before us? Perhaps failing to notice His gifts, His blessings, the smorgasbord of delights He sets before us, over our own preoccupation with self, is akin to sitting at a Michael W. Smith or Josh Groban (or another world-class artist) concert listening to a recording of ourselves playing Chopsticks blasting on our iPods.  Or telling Monet to move aside so we can fingerpaint. We honor God when we pay attention to His gifts. We honor self when we don’t.

Yes, we all love the Jeremiah Scripture about having a plan and a future and a hope. It’s true—hallelujah! But the Lord also has a here and a now for us. When Moses asked God His name, He responded, “I AM.” He always has been and always will be, but He is also fully present, fully here, fully now. Always with us.

Every year we celebrate Advent—the season leading up to Christmas. We have Advent candles and Advent calendars counting down to the excitement of Christmas Day. Advent is a time of anticipation and hope and is marked by a spirit of expectation, of preparation. But I believe there is more to Advent than just those few days before Christmas. I believe God has made every day an advent—that He uses every today to prepare us for every tomorrow. I also think we often tend to miss it, because we’re so busy rushing past today to get to tomorrow. We can’t wait to get through now to whatever the future holds . . . when we get married . . . when we have kids . . . when the kids graduate . . . when we retire . . . THEN (fill in the blank).

Oh, today—sure, this moment is fine if something exciting or fun or sweet is happening—a movie to enjoy, an event to celebrate, a song we love, a delicious taste, a hug that’s warm. But if we don’t take the time to reach out and take in everything He has for us today, when we come to tomorrow and what it holds—both the good and the not-so-good, we won’t be as prepared as we could have been. There will be some piece of knowledge, some morsel of wisdom, some bit of much-needed experience we will be missing.

I’ve changed a lot recently. I think I pay attention better. I look around me more. I try to be engaged in the moment, where I can receive all the Lord has for me every day . . . and I find there is something to be learned in even the hard times. I’m learning to give thanks for things I’ve never been grateful for before. And “thanks makes now a sanctuary” (another great thought from Ann Voskamp)— and every day is holy . . . and every day is filled with sacred moments.

Oh, I still look to the future with great anticipation. I expect great things, because there are wonderful promises in the Word and because the future will one day be my “present,” and it too will be filled with glorious gifts. And I intend to be thankful — and aware — of each one.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot? Great Question.

sneaker-shadows-solo I had second (and third) thoughts about attending my recent high school reunion. I hadn’t seen most of my former classmates in too many years to count, and — for the most part – I didn’t care. But there were a couple of people I wanted to see again … so I went.

And I pretty much felt invisible. Just like in high school.

Afterwards I was reminded of that song we usually sing when the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve … Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

Auld lang syne … times gone by … And so I thought about it. Maybe sometimes you should let go of an old acquaintance, especially if the relationship isn’t something that warms your heart, soothes your spirit. But that’s easier said than done.

There’s also the realization that sometimes we only have scabs where we thought we had scars. Scars are evidence of an old wound, but they don’t hurt anymore. Rub on a scar and it’s pretty much dead meat. A scab however can be easily ripped off, revealing the open wound beneath it. Ouch.

I talked about it with Kathy, my friend and co-pastor of our church. She reminded me of the account of Sarai (Sarah) and Hagar in Genesis. While Hagar was Sarai’s maidservant, I’m thinking they must have had a fairly close relationship. After all, Hagar was by Sarai’s side most of the time, seeing to her comforts, taking care of the day-to-day tasks of Sarai’s life. You couldn’t have that type of relationship if you had a personality clash. And while the whole idea of sending our husbands to another’s woman’s bed is appalling, I can see where Sarai would rather have that other woman be someone she loved and trusted than someone she disliked or had no relationship with.

But of course that whole situation was totally out of God’s will, and conflict arose between Hagar and Sarai (duh!). And Hagar fled. The Lord came to Hagar and asked her, “Where did you come from and where are you going?”

Wow. She had come from a situation of fear and hurt and harshness … and she ran away. Just like I do when I feel unwanted, unappreciated … invisible. Where did you come from? What are those things in my past that keep flooding back? Did I do anything to cause them? If I did, is there any way I can fix that?

And where am I going? Where do I want to end up in my life? Will I let these old wounds cripple my progress, trip me up on my journey?

The truth is that my life is hidden with Christ in God. He’s the one who has given me my identity, and He says I’m wanted, I’m accepted, I’m needed, I’m loved.

Hagar called the Lord, “The Living One Who Sees Me.” What a joy that is to know! I am never invisible to God.

Heartburn & Love Stories

burning heart

One Saturday afternoon a few years ago, I cried because my dream was too small. At a “destiny” conference presented by Billy Godwin I felt myself growing smaller and smaller as I heard the dreams of other folks and was disgraced by their grandness. They wanted to use their gifts to reach orphans, businessmen, housewives, teens, etc., etc. for Christ. Their visions were so lofty, so glorious, so, well, godly. Just listening made me shrink inside. I almost ran out the door in humiliation.

We were coached to write our personal mission statements, our visions for our lives. And I sat there. Embarrassed. Mortified. Unworthy.

I just wanted to write love stories. With happy endings.

Two friends hauled me up to talk to Billy. In less than 60 seconds, Billy had me in tears. I can’t to this day remember what he said to me in those moments, but in no time at all I realized that my dream was just as valid as everyone else’s. And my mission statement?

As a writer, my God-given mission is to demonstrate God’s steadfast devotion to us by unfolding the eternal truths of faith, hope, and love through creative storytelling.

I try to remind myself of that. Often. But it’s hard.

This past Sunday our pastor spoke of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. I love that story. Jesus suddenly appears as Cleopas and some nameless guy are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus asks them what they’re talking about and why they look so sad. They think Jesus has to be the most clueless fellow in the country — the only one who doesn’t know what’s been going on. And they tell Him about His own trial, death, and resurrection. After Jesus opens the Word to them and reveals who He is, they say … “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Jeremiah tells us of his discouragement and determination to shut up, to stop preaching, to stop proclaiming what the Lord told him to say. “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.” (Jer. 20:9)

Pastor Tony prayed for us all to have burning hearts and reminded us that it was in the image of fire that the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost.

I knew everyone else was thinking about being brave for Jesus, about witnessing, about impacting the world in some wonderful way.

But all I could think of was how my heart used to burn for my God-given mission, for writing love stories.

How easy it is to set that dream aside and do other things that play around it, that are sort of “related.” How easy it is to tell myself that it’s hopeless, that no one wants to read what I write, that I really have nothing to say. There’s nothing in me worth pouring out.

Then I think, even if all that were true … could I ever really give up? While the flame may not always be blazing, the embers never go out. They’re waiting to be breathed on, to be stirred …

Kingdom dreams come from our broken past. What the enemy once tried to steal, God redeems. (Jennifer Wagemaker for

My dream has validity even in its simplicity (though the “coming true” part is a lot more complicated). I remind myself of what Holley Gerth says …

“There is a message inside you that only you can share.
We don’t get a second chance at it.
There is no back-up plan in God’s agenda.
You’re the world’s one shot at what God has placed in you.”

And I feel discouragement dropping its “dis” … and I remember a recent comment from my friend, Lou, who said … “Your life seems to be full of love stories.”

He’s right. It is.

And doesn’t the world need more love stories?

A Hero for Life

I’ve been blessed to have more than my fair share of heroes—people I admire, respect, trust completely … love. I was a Daddy’s girl, and he was the first dragon slayer in my life. But when I was seven years old, I met the man who would become larger than life … larger even than Roy Rogers, my first childhood crush. A man who would be forever in a class by himself, who would become a true, lifelong hero.

His name was Will Shively. “Mr. Shively” to me. Always. Even when I reached the age when I too was an adult, I just couldn’t make the switch to Will. Growing up, I was never allowed to call adults by their first names. My dad, a military officer, impressed upon me from the very beginning that “Mr.” and “Mrs.” was a sign of respect. As I think on it now, I’m wondering if he was always Mr. Shively to me because that respect, that esteem, that veneration ran so deep that calling him by his first name would have been almost sacrilege.


He called me Sis. I wasn’t anybody’s sister in those days. It would be years before I would have a little brother. But I believe our relationship was such that he too needed something more than what everyone else called me. Something special, just between us. And so I was “Sis” to him for life.

In 1962 we were transferred to the Naval Annex in Bermuda. Navy housing wasn’t ready for us when we arrived just before Thanksgiving, and so we lived at the Sugar Cane Guest House on the west end of the island. And we were pretty much bored out of our minds in the evenings. There were no televisions in the guest rooms. We would sometimes sit in the lobby after dinner and watch television there … but there was only one station and it only broadcasted from 7PM to midnight.

Then one evening we noticed a commotion in the dining room. People were moving tables and chairs to clear the floor. And when we heard music, we went to check it out and found the hall filled with folks square dancing to songs (with calls) on a reel-to-reel tape recorder.

And we met Will and Jean Shively. They came over to us right away and introduced themselves. Mr. Shively was also stationed at the Naval Annex, and the two lived within easy walking distance of the hotel. The adults hit it off right away. They invited us over for Thanksgiving, and—as they say—the rest is history. In just a matter of days, I became their “adopted” daughter, and Mr. Shively became my best friend.

He would pick me up on their motor scooter, strap Mrs. Shively’s helmet on me (which hung down over my ears), and secure me in front of him, safe between his arms. On the ride to their home, he would sing to me  … and I still remember all the words. Popular songs of the day like “Blowing in the Wind,” “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Puff, the Magic Dragon” were my favorites. (Could he possibly have been a Peter, Paul & Mary fan?)

Mr. Shively would spend hours reading to me, usually books on American history. He and Mrs. Shively bought me stacks of books for Christmas and birthdays, and thus began my habit of never leaving home without a book. I still have every one.


A little sidebar on Mrs. Shively. She too was amazing and taught me so much—how to thread a needle and sew simple stitches, the rudiments of cooking—how to measure ingredients, follow a recipe—and how to share. I could have either the beaters or the bowl. She was the cook; she got a treat, too. That was something new for me. As an only child, I always got the beaters AND the bowl. We would sit together in the kitchen, me with whichever one looked like it had the most leftover batter, she with the other, licking away contentedly. She was a creative and loving woman, a bit kooky, and would be a wonderful mom a few years later. (Sadly, she passed away about four years ago.)

But Mr. Shively—ah, how I loved that man. We would spend hours together—just the two of us—swimming, diving off the coral reefs, walking, fishing, scraping barnacles off the bottom of the little rowboat he and Dad owned together … and reading. Always reading. I wrote my first poetry for him.


He was my dad’s best friend, so I often had to share him. But when it was just the two of us (usually with Mrs. Shively off cooking, sewing, knitting …), I was on top of the world. I don’t know that I had ever before felt like a real person — a person of interest, of value … that I could be loved for myself. That someone could choose to love me … to think I was worthy of time and attention.

When I was 12-1/2 years old and my little brother Matthew Gordon Worley was born (Gordon was Mr. Shively’s middle name), Mr. Shively wrote me a letter I still treasure. We lived in San Diego, and Dad was overseas at the time. Mr. Shively reminded me to help Mama; she would be relying on me heavily with a newborn in the house. Then he wrote that I was growing up, becoming a young lady … and the time would soon come when I would have many friends and interests. Our relationship would change, and I wouldn’t need him as much anymore. He said he understood, and that it was right and good that it be that way.

He was wrong. It’s true we didn’t write as much, and sometimes a couple of years would go by when we didn’t talk. But my first solo vacation as a 19-year-old was to Washington state to visit him. He came to my too-young wedding … and was there for me when divorce came. I took my son to meet him when Jeremy was 10 years old, and I was thrilled to see their heads bent low over stamps and coins, which they both collected.

Email came along and communication got a little easier, a little more often. And my love for him grew deeper and deeper. I realized the influence, the impact he had on my life. Reading. History. Music. Writing. He wasn’t a writer, but I came to love words through all those books, all that reading. Fifty years later, I can still hear his deep voice rumbling softly as we pored over books together.

And now he’s gone. Just a week ago, he succumbed to illness that took him too quickly. And I am lost. Devastated. I had written to him recently, and his sweet daughter, Susann, told me she read my letter to him, and he listened with great emotion. I tried to tell him how much he still meant to me, how much I loved him, what an everlasting influence he was in my life … but it doesn’t seem like enough.

It was an honor and a privilege to know him. An unspeakable blessing to have him in my life, to be his friend and his little girl.

Rest in peace, my dear, dear friend, my hero. You have my love and devotion always. I look forward to seeing you again.




Birdlike Faith

So we come barreling up the driveway in our huge Ford pickup truck happy to be home after a long day at work. Rod brakes suddenly when a white-chested bird flies up, flapping furiously and making some noise best described as a gosh-awful shriek. He leans out the window and—I’m convinced by the grace of God—sees what got that little bird so excited.

Right there, in the middle of our gravel driveway, are three speckled eggs. They look so much like rocks you can barely pick them out. If not for the frenzied acrobatics of the mama bird, we would have rolled right over them.


My first thought is, “Is this bird on crack?” I mean, really. Ahem. CAT! What crazy bird digs a hole in a well-traveled (we have three vehicles) gravel driveway and lays her eggs? That would be a killdeer. They get the name from that gosh-awful screech I mentioned earlier—“kill-deer!”

I pelted Rod with what-ifs. The cats. The raccoons (we know they love eggs) and possums and hunting dogs and red-tailed hawks and other birds. How was she going to feed them after they hatched?

Rod calmed me. “She knows what she’s doing.”

I wasn’t so sure.

Turns out they aren’t nuts. Killdeers are shore birds, the least associated with water, and tend instead toward lawns, parking lots, golf courses, athletic fields, and, apparently, gravel driveways. These birds typically distract predators and other dangerous beings by pretending to have a broken wing, leading the imminent threats away from the nest. The chicks are precocial, which means they emerge from the egg able to move around immediately. I guess they come out as teenagers, anxious to leave home. (This was comforting to me, as I could only picture just-hatched chicks left alone out in the open in danger of all the wild and domesticated critters we have at the swamp. Again, CAT!)


Rod put a sawhorse in front of the nest to be sure the UPS or mail truck didn’t come charging through. Then the wind knocked it down—but blew it AWAY from the nest! Another huge sigh of relief. A couple of days later, we found a fourth egg.


And then a storm struck. The temperatures dropped and cold, ferocious rain again turned our entire yard into a swamp. We came home late. In the dark. And that mama bird was sitting on that nest,  guarding those babies, right in the middle of the deluge totally unprotected. 

Did I say that?

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  (Matthew 6:25-34)

She was still on the nest this morning. And I didn’t notice her sneezing or anything. When Rod went around the car to climb in, she came at him—both wings spread—like an avenging angel, with that intimidating shriek. Rod’s no dummy. He’s not messing with a mama bird. “We’re leaving! We’re leaving!” he reassured her and escaped to the safety of the car.

I don’t know if we’ll get to see the chicks or not. Most likely they’ll be there one moment and gone the next, leaving behind broken bits of shell and a proud mom with an empty nest.

But I’m constantly reminded, if that bird can have such faith, surely, I can rest easy as He keeps me as the apple of His eye, hidden under the shadow of His wings.

Going Home

For once we weren’t in a hurry to get where we were going, and so we patiently waited as gray boxcars chugged by against a gray sky. Rain pelted the windshield while we listened to the radio and chatted, watching for the end of the long line.

Some cars had escaped graffiti. But many were covered with garish swirls and flourishes and primitive spray-paint “art.” I thought it was a shame that the cars had been ruined.  Then another car rolled by and my heart caught in my throat. The words “I shud go home” were sprayed in huge letters across the side.

I shud go home.

Of course my first thought was that “shud” was misspelled (hey, I can’t help myself; I’m afflicted with a  condition!), but fast on its heels was heartache for the longing soul so far from home.

Home.  What was at home? Peace? Security? Warmth? Provision? Love? Acceptance? Time to heal and begin again?

Then of course the parable of the prodigal son leaps to mind. I’ve never understood how that son could demand his inheritance while his father was still alive. I mean, honestly, you might be an heir, but you don’t have an inheritance until someone dies. So, by demanding his inheritance, wasn’t that son telling his father, “You are dead to me”?

How sad is that?

And I wonder, how many times have I taken the gifts and blessings of the Lord, then turned my back, and gone off to live life by my own rules and desires?

So that loving father gave both sons their inheritances. One tucks it away and stays home (still living off his father) … and the other makes a break for freedom. Far from home, he does whatever he feels like … and he has the money to do it! But soon all is gone, because the things he thought would make him happy didn’t last. He finally came to himself and thought, “I should go home … “

And so he did. He found his father waiting for him — and everything he needed was there. At home with his father.

One friend sends me a text saying she believes God has abandoned her. Another vents on Facebook that there’s no point to spending your life working for others, being the better person, turning the other cheek, because you’ll just find that those you gave your all to will be the ones who will never do the same for you. She adds you should never put yourself out on that limb, because when the limb breaks, no one will be there to catch you.


My fingers twitch over the keyboard, my mind scratching for attitude-adjusting — no, heart-revolutionizing – responses. My first thought is to throw Bible verses at them, because I know the power of the Word. It is, after all, Truth. But when folks are in certain frames of mind, they tend to slap away Scripture like a so many bothersome gnats. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah.

All I can think of is Jesus.  And home.

They should go home.

If anyone ever felt abandoned, it was Jesus. If anyone ever gave and gave and gave of Himself to others, then found those very same people nowhere around when He needed them, it was Jesus. If there’s anyone who understands us, what we’re feeling in every circumstance … it’s Jesus.

How many times have I left home determined to go my own way? How many times have I disappointed my Father, broken His heart, grieved His Spirit? But every single time — knowing of His love, His compassion, His never-failing mercy, His inexhaustible grace — I knew I could turn around and head for home. And His arms would be open wide.

But I don’t know what to say to texts and Facebook posts. So I rattle off cliché encouragements, paraphrases of Scripture, hoping something nicks.

I should just tell them to go home. The Father is waiting. He has everything we need. And His arms are always open wide. After all, there’s no place like home … 

The Ministry of Listening

I miss Helen Atwood. Whether you know Helen or not doesn’t matter. I hope you’re blessed to know someone with her gift. Um … talent? Skill?

I should back up a bit.

I’ve been a bit angst-y lately. (Yes, I know that’s not a word.) A bit discouraged. Wondering about this writing thing. About ever getting published. About ever getting someone to even look at my work. All that. Now don’t get me wrong, I know all the right answers. I know them because I’m constantly telling everyone else all those right answers. I know I just have to keep writing, keep pitching, keep putting myself out there. As we said in our first KPC Writers Group challenge: Write what brings you joy, trusting God to use it for His glory.

Easier said than done.

Sometimes the truth that’s in your head has a hard time sinking into your heart. And discouragement follows. Am I really supposed to be doing this? Maybe I’m just supposed to encourage other writers and let myself off easy. But the thought of giving up hurts like a meat hook lodged in my chest.

So I misquote Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation … and go to the grave with their song still in them.” And I’m confident that’s not what I want for myself … a life of quiet desperation … going to the grave with my song still in me. (Though if you’ve ever heard me sing, you might prefer that I do.)

But back to Helen and one reason (there are many) I miss her.

Whenever this sweet woman asks how you’re doing … she truly wants to know. And for those moments when you have her attention, you feel as if you’re the only person in her world. You see, whether she’s learned this or she’s gifted with the ability, she knows how to listen. Really listen.

And I’ve needed someone like that lately. Please don’t get me wrong.  I have an amazing husband and wonderful friends and family who would patiently listen. They’d all encourage me–and they’d truly mean all those nice things. But it’s hard bucketing out all that torment to those who are closest to you. They worry. And they don’t know what to do to help.

How does someone really listen? Tim Keller, in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, says, “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

I think he wrote that about Helen. She knows how to do that.

Not long ago, I was having one of “those days.” I met a writer friend for lunch. We talked about lots of things. And somewhere in the middle of it all, I cracked open a bit and squeaked out a little of my discouragement … then we went on to other things … and I left, carrying my anguish with me. And missing Helen.

Then I received an email from my friend. She felt she had failed me as a sister-writer, because she had rattled off a few words without waiting to listen long enough to see if that was what I truly needed to hear.  And then she said, “So let’s try this again … What I’d say to you, if we had more nachos (which I could totally go for right now) and more time together, is more like this … “ And then she wrote of hurting hearts and how life with a creative gift never gets easy … She reminded me of Elijah who curled up under a juniper tree and wanted to die—right after he had called down rain and outrun chariots. She reminded me of Moses who got his calling directly from God—and still believed he couldn’t do it.

And then she talked about the fire in our bones and how no matter how we try to shut our mouths (or still our pens?), it will roar louder and louder.  She talked about the panic and the terror … and the aches … oh, the aches … how the ache of “waiting” is a worthy ache … but the ache that is NOT born of waiting-in-hope but from fear that I won’t ever be satisfied, that I won’t be whole, that I’ll crave and suffer and long for no reason at all … well, that’s a devilish ache. It’s the voice that, “… tells you that you were crazy/foolish/wrong to ever think He’d choose you for this, that at this point the only thing to do is stick your writing desires in a suitcase under the bed. Go back to what is comfortable, what doesn’t gnaw on your soul, what you know you can do easily and well. Go now and you could mitigate the damage …”

There was more … all of it a balm to my soul. I came away refreshed, recharged. Yes, a lot of that had to do with the fact that she was totally on the money. She started off apologizing, and yet it was so obvious that she had listened beyond my words, and she cared enough to give a thoughtful response overflowing from her heart.

I knew I had been heard. And it meant everything.

Is it a gift, a talent, a learned skill … or maybe a fruit? I can learn a lot from Helen Atwood and my sister-writer.

So … how are you today?

I’m listening.

A Virtual Slap for the Bogeyman


JesseSlappable1 from Photobucket

Don’t tell me you haven’t wanted to do it too — just reach right through your monitor into cyberspace and slap someone for something he/she’s written. Well, I read a blog post a few days ago — and I so wished I could do just that. I envisioned this fellow sitting at his computer, flabbergasted to see my hand reaching out of his monitor and just slapping the tar out of him. (Slapping the tar out of someone — that’s a Southern thing, y’all.) I got an enormous feeling of satisfaction from the look of stunned surprise I imagined on his face.

Oh, I suppose you need backstory, don’t you?

It started with an email I received from the most gifted writer I’ve ever read. I am NOT exaggerating. Y’all, this girl can write. Oh, she’ll hem and haw and blush and want to crawl under a chair because I’ve dared say that OUT LOUD, but it’s true. I’ll call her WG here (Wonder Girl) so I won’t embarrass her further. So WG emails me the link to an article she’s read, and she says if this guy, who’s already a published author, is ready to give up, what is she even doing? How can she ever get her story out there and read?


WG has almost finished the first draft of an amazing novel. Her rough draft is, oh, maybe a gazillion times better than most authors’ tenth drafts. (I’ve been a bit concerned about electrocuting myself from drooling into my keyboard reading the section she emails me.)  And this article has her doubting herself?

Oooooh, was I angry. Not at her, mind you. At the Bogeyman.

Now don’t get me wrong. This isn’t the first time she’s doubted herself — and she’s not alone. We writers doubt ourselves every day. Pretty much every other moment. And it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been published according to Patricia Hermes, a writer I heard at a writers conference a couple of years ago. Patricia is the author of over 50 books, and she still thinks everything she writes is crap. She never thinks she has anything to say or that anyone will want to read what she writes. And she swears every writer—published or not—feels the same way.

Okay. So WG and I are in good company.  And that pretty much means that discouragement comes naturally to writers. But if that’s the case, then we certainly don’t need any more of it, do we? We have a hard enough time admitting we’re writers.  Every so often in the group I belong to, we stand up and say, “My name is ______, and I’m a writer.” Yeah, I know that sounds like we’re at one of those other meetings. Well, believe me, it’s that tough for some of us to say the words.

So this published writer lists “demotivators” in his article. How’s that for depressing? I’m constantly searching for guest speakers to inspire and motivate our writers and here, in an article about publishing today, this guy is handing out demotivators.  Sigh.

Now he does make a couple of points I can’t argue with. Yes, in this new world of easy self- and e-publishing, the market is flooded with books. [I learned at a recent conference that 1.5 million new books were published last year.] And, yes, it seems that it’s getting harder and harder to get published traditionally. So, if you do manage to get a book out there, what are the odds anyone will read it?

Another point he makes — and this is the one that truly rattled WG — is that most of us writers feel writing is something we do, not only because we enjoy it, but because we believe it is a gift from God—and we should use it. I agree. How many times have I quoted Leo Buscaglia? … “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God.”

But then he goes on to say that Christian writers have been “bashed over the head about not ‘preaching’ in our fiction,” that we’re being told to only let the example of our characters’ lives and the lives of the authors themselves be the Gospel message.  And if he writes fiction that takes [him] a year of hard work, goes largely unnoticed by a majority of the reading audience, does nothing to further the Gospel and has no life-long effect on the reader, then what am I doing? Probably just wasting my time. He asks, “What good is fiction? How does it spread the Gospel? How does it accomplish the work of Christ?” “He touts that “faith writing in fiction is practically worthless.”

Gee. Ever heard of Francine Rivers? What about The Chronicles of Narnia? The Screwtape Letters? How about Pilgrim’s Progress? Hinds’ Feet on High Places? The Left Behind series? Peretti’s This Present Darkness? (And I’d proudly and confidently add WG’s novel, and—hopefully—my own, to the list.)

In Write His Answer, Marlene Bagnull says, “In light of eternity, low pay and rejection slips mean nothing if even one life is touched.” And while it would be so gratifying to receive high pay and never again be faced with a rejection slip, Marlene is right.  “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”  (Tom Stoppard) Nudging the world would be an incredible accomplishment. But, in truth, having even a small impact on one life would be an amazing triumph … and well worth all the hours bent over a keyboard.

But I guess the main reason I wanted to slap the Bogeyman was simply because we writers (or anyone for that matter) don’t need any more discouragement. We deal with enough self-doubt, misgivings, hardships, trials, setbacks, tribulations, (see your Thesaurus for additional words).

Besides, my favorite Writer (not WG this time, but THE Writer), says the “words of the godly encourage many … “ (Proverbs 10:21) and that we are to “encourage each other and build each other up.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

So hug a writer … or anyone who might be a bit discouraged … and say something sweet today, okay? (And remember, “You are not a dork” is not an affirmation.)

And, honestly, I’ve never slapped anyone.

[Note: If you want to read the article that set me off, you’ll have to work for it. I’m not providing a link.  Google “Faith writing in fiction is practically worthless” … posted by Keven Newsome. Mr. Newsome, I acknowledge that you are totally entitled to your opinions and to your rant. I just disagree. And I repeat, I’ve never slapped anyone … and you’re absolutely safe from me.)











Lesson Learned (Finally)


Photo by Rod Wagoner

Last weekend, I headed out to Chincoteague Island—a beautiful little place on Virginia’s eastern shore—to help my dad with an event. I made an attractive flyer and figured I’d take along a few of my books to sell—after all, these folks knew me. Well, sort of. They’d seen me once or twice a year for a decade or two. But they know my dad and they know my brother, and a lot of them even know my son—all three widely popular square dance callers.  (We are an interesting family.)  Certainly, the dancers at this annual event would be excited for me and wildly fascinated by my new book. Right?

It was reasonably priced at $9.95, so I came prepared with fives and tens for all those twenties folks were sure to hand me. And I had plenty of nickels. I wanted to give change. Professional writers shouldn’t be accepting tips.

So I set up my books and my flyers there at the registration table among the door prizes and the candy jar game before going to work checking in the dancers and handing out program books, all the while managing to keep an eye on my display in my peripheral vision. There was the lady who picked it up and read almost half standing there at the registration table. Do you really read half a book if you’re not enjoying it? But she didn’t buy a copy.

And then someone else read a few pages and told me she didn’t know I was such a good writer, along with a few other highly complimentary things that would have meant a whole lot more if she’d bought a book. But she didn’t.

When Dad or my brother, Matt, announced I had a book for sale, the spectators and everyone on the dance floor broke into loud applause and cheered like I had won the Nobel prize. And I was hopeful.

But by the end of the first night I had sold two books. Yep, two.

We spent a good part of Saturday walking around the lovely island, shopping, enjoying the incredible weather … and I had sort of an epiphany:  I had played it safe. Or thought I was, anyway.

I had only brought 15 books with me. In the back of my mind I was certain I could sell that many. Better to take a few and sell out, than take a boxful and bring a lot home. I wanted to feel good, and it would feel good to sell them all. Come home empty handed. To have to hand the latecomers my little flyer, point to my website address, and say, “I’m so sorry. I’ve run out. I should have brought more. But you can order one here … “

I had been protecting myself.  I didn’t have the confidence to bring a big stack and pile them on the table. I played it safe.  And it burned me.

Right there, Saturday afternoon in the Chincoteague sunshine, I repented for my lack of faith. I promised that, given another opportunity, I would step out there more boldly, and do my part, trusting God to do His part … whatever that might be.   

It would be such fun to be able to tell you that I went back to the conference center that night and sold the rest of my books. But that’s not what happened.  I sold three more that night bringing my book sales to a grand total of five. 

Though I wouldn’t be selling any more books, the weekend wasn’t over. I would be speaking at the devotional service Sunday morning.  I was a bit more nervous than usual, because I’d been working on my notes for six weeks, and I just couldn’t get them to gel. I had a string of thoughts that had no point. Before leaving for Chincoteague Friday morning, I had been pretty sure the beginning of my devotional was somewhere in the middle, and I had no ending. I made a few revisions before I gave up and printed out what I had.

But I was determined not to play it safe again. I was not going to be timid. And I was not going to start off by apologizing and saying my notes were a mess (though I was convinced they were). I was going to do my part (step out there, open my mouth boldly, and do the best I could) and trust the Lord to do His part—whatever He chose that to be. I knew I was not alone. He said He would never leave me nor forsake me, and I held on to that promise.

So I only sold five books. But on Sunday morning my scattered notes came together, my eyes skipping over the parts I didn’t need, words to fill the holes popped into my mind … confidence I didn’t know I had was reflected in the strength and assurance of my voice … and it seems there was a point (and a decent conclusion!) to my devotional after all.

Funny thing, one of my points was about how often we make God our Plan A … and we figure out a Plan B just in case He doesn’t come through for us. I said God doesn’t want to be our Plan A — He wants to be The Plan. Jesus said to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls, all our strength. “All” doesn’t leave room for anything else, especially not a Plan B.

While it’s true I might have sold more books if I’d paid attention to my own notes, I think the lesson was more valuable than a few dollars in my pocket.    

In Plain Sight

trunkOkay, so I started off the morning by falling. Yep. Tripped in the dark and walloped my head against the trunk that nestles against the foot of our antique bed. My husband, the sweet guy I was trying not to awaken, leaped from the bed with the speed and grace of a gazelle with good knees. He was, shall we say, a bit freaked out, yelping, “Honeyhoneyhoneyhoney!” then, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus … “

I lay on my side, my head bent at an awkward angle, knees grazed, right hand gripping my left wrist like a vise, chanting, “I’m all right, I’m all right, I’m all right,” though I couldn’t have sworn it was true. I wasn’t quite ready to move, not quite ready to test my body. Though somewhat satisfied my neck wasn’t broken, I wasn’t sure about my wrist. Before Rod could flip on the light, one thought did emerge coherent: “Cover my butt! Cover my butt!” He almost laughed, but complied, bending down to tug at my nightgown in the early morning shadows.

It was kind of strange that fall … tripping over something I knew was there. You see, that “thing” had been there all week, waiting quietly for us to move it upstairs. It had been in my path for days — there on the floor between my closet and my bathroom—and I had navigated around it without thought, without effort. It was big and soft. As a co-worker pointed out, I tripped over something soft and collided with something hard (the reverse would have been so much smarter). Why I stepped out of our closet, tripped, and flew—who knows?

How many other things have tripped me up on my way to my goals? Things I know are there, things in plain sight. Most of the time that thing is fear in its many forms. Fear of rejection, of criticism, of failure, of being thought silly or stupid or (fill in the blank), fear of no one reading what I write (or my posts if I were to ever begin a blog) … And for years I’ve allowed so many things to trip me up, to keep me from moving toward what is actually the essence of who I am — who I dream of being.

Remember the Henry David Thoreau line about leading lives of quiet desperation? (“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation … “)  Most stop quoting right there, after all, just that much can be enough. It’s compelling, and folks can identify. But there’s more to that famous quote … “—and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Now that’s a mind-numbing thought. And if I don’t buck up and keep putting one foot in front of the other … if I don’t look that fear in the eye and make it back down, then it will win, and I will continue to live a life of quiet desperation (though I’m not necessarily so quiet about it. Just ask my husband and friends.). And my song will go to the grave with me.

Instead, I want to be like Erma Bombeck who said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything You gave me.”  

All in all, it was a good fall.  My neck and back are a bit sore, my right knee carpet-burned and stiff, my knuckles boxer-bruised (after all, I did “hit the deck”—ha-ha!), and my left wrist is purple.  Still, a happy ending, when you consider what I slammed my head on and what could have happened. And, in the end, I pretty much kept my dignity.

What is tripping you up? Determine today to take some small step toward your goal, toward your dream.

“Enough shovels of earth — a mountain. Enough pails of water — a river.” (Chinese proverb)



A Quotable Life

quotable lifeFolks collect everything from hatpins to hubcaps. My brother-in-law collects old bottles and antique trains. My brother collects Disney animated movies. My son used to be a philatelist and a numismatist, which are fancy words for stamp and coin collector. I too am a collector of sorts, though there isn’t a highfalutin’ name for someone who collects quotations.

Why quotations? Well, “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” (Tom Sheppard ) I honestly believe that, so I’m learning how to mix and match words, trying to build glorious sentences. I’m not up to world nudging yet, but magnificent quotations give me hope.

Though I’m typically optimistic, when it comes to my writing I’m prone to self-doubt. Russian storywriter Isaac Babel wrote, “No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” And so it goes with a truly great quotation. The right combination of insight and poignancy can slice through uncertainty, dejection, and even inertia—the tendency of an object at rest (that would be me) to remain at rest. It can set one’s feet on the path towards confidence as effectively as an electric cattle prod.

So I’m building an arsenal crammed with hand-picked quotations ready to destroy—or at least somewhat disable—my writing adversaries. I launch quotation grenades at attacks that try to convince me I have nothing to offer . . . “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” (Ray Bradbury) POW! “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” (William Wordsworth) BAM! Now I can allow myself to believe there are things inside me worth pouring out, that there are thoughts, ideas, stories, and characters in my heart worth breathing onto the page. (Perhaps my 10th-grade teacher was right!)

“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.” ZING! I grow half an inch. Not only does John Jakes presume that who and what I am and what I believe are worth writing about and that I can make them “shine,” he also presumes I shall actually finish what I started! Dear John, he has such faith in me.

When I feel like I’m borderline crazy because of all the stories, characters, and voices in my head (who insist on talking at once), F. Scott Fitzgerald himself is there to soothe me . . . “Writers aren’t exactly people. They’re a whole lot of people, trying to be one person.” WHACK! Graycie Harmon convinces me I am not alone, because “Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.” ZAP!

Some of the best missiles are practical and guide the writer on the process from start to finish. “Don’t get it right the first time, just get it written.” (James Thurber) . . . “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” (Robert Cormier) . . . “Everything can be revised. Write passionately. Edit like the frozen tundra.” (Pam Hart) . . .“Never throw up on an editor.” (Ellen Datlow)

When confronted with writer’s block, that age-old nemesis, a frontal attack bellowed with determination—“Blank page, I shall THWART thee!” (Anon)—can be the perfect offensive maneuver. And if you’re ever stumped on subject matter, consider G. K. Chesterton who noted that, “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

On my last milestone birthday, in a melancholy funk over still not reaching my goal of publishing my first novel, I almost gave up. My cache of quotation ammo came to the rescue . . . “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.” (George Elliot) I squared my shoulders. “Are you a writer or not?” A bomb from e. e. cummings responded. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

Most days I’m a tangle of wife, daughter, mother . . . passionate, frightened writer. Somewhere in the jumble hides Real Me, Mystery Me—a riddle even to myself. But I have a quotation displayed prominently. Tasting, rolling the words on my tongue, feeling the weight and the truth of them. They are my prayer, filling me with hope, peace. “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” Thank you, Mr. Kierkegaard.

Among my heady aspirations, there is the hope to write something that so strikes a heart that I too may be quoted—to make a difference in a life (or perhaps simply in a day) by putting that period in just the right place. “To be occasionally quoted is the only fame I hope for.” (Alexander Smith) Mr. Smith, I feel you! (And congratulations—you have your wish!)

And who knows? Perhaps at some point I’ll write something brilliant or beautiful about cheddar, Gouda, or brie—something that would have made Mr. Chesterton proud. Until then, I’ll work at becoming myself—whoever she may be, and I’ll watch my language. Who knows who might be taking notes.

A bonus quote for my writer friends: “Remember to use positive affirmations. ‘I am not a dork’ is not one of them.” (Brian Andreas)