Looking Back … and Ahead

For the past few years, I have encouraged the members of the KPC Writers Group to choose a focus word for the year. Last year, I chose the word “further,” and I’ve been thinking about whether or not I made any progress in making that word a reality in 2020.

I’m sure more than a few of you will agree that 2020 wasn’t what we’d expected, planned for, or dreamed of. We weren’t far into the year when we found ourselves cancelling vacation plans and family events, doing the majority of our shopping online, and getting graduate degrees in Isolation 101. And that’s just, as they say, a drop in the bucket of upheaval.

While 2020 probably wasn’t easy for any of us—and harder and more challenging for some—I still found myself infuriated and saddened (which is an odd combined emotion) when, in January 2021, I saw a commercial advertising a popular dating site. This site “matched” 2020 with the devil. And they were partying. Add to that the social media comments paraphrasing “Good riddance, 2020!” in all manner of disparaging terms, and I found disappointment washing over me like a flood.

Yes, 2020 was different. Difficult. Discouraging. Disappointing in many ways. But each day was still the day the Lord had made, and each came with its own call to rejoice. Yes, each day brought its own brand of trouble—just as Jesus told us long ago that it would, but we were still called to rejoice in the truth that Jesus has overcome. And through Him, with Him, in Him … so have we.

But what about my focus word in 2020? Before writing this, I read over my last post and was a bit surprised (as you often are when you read your own writing) at my enthusiasm and anticipation for seeing that “further” work itself out in the coming year. I really was excited.

So, how did I do? Um. Well. Did we agree that 2020 was a challenging year? I think we did. Even so, how many of us found ourselves being driven closer to the Lord, deeper into the Word, and closer to each other? In those aspects, I can definitely proclaim I moved further up and further in. With my calendar pretty much cleared for several months, I came to be more and more aware of the Lord’s presence and companionship. I may have been isolated, but I was never alone. I dug into the Word further than usual, and my confidence in who I am in Christ grew.

As far as writing, I’ll admit I didn’t make as much headway as I could have on my current WIP (work in progress).  I couldn’t say I didn’t have the time, that’s for sure. However, an opportunity to do some ghostwriting (with one of the most beloved friends of my life) opened up new avenues. Although my name isn’t mentioned anywhere, we saw three books published in 2020! And, again, while I’m a “ghost” in these books, I can hold a finished product in my hands and see words I wrote on a real page.

I can definitely see that I moved “further” in my writing—especially as these books were nonfiction, and I fancy myself to be primarily a fiction writer. Thank You, Lord, (and thank you JDW) for not letting me sit entirely idle but moving me further along.

As for 2021 … I’m once again awed by the variety of words chosen by the writers in the KPC Writers Group. As you look through these words, are there any that touch your heart or quicken your spirit? It’s not too late to claim a word, a promise, a dream!

I think you’ll agree that these words each have a sense of hope and movement about them. Last year may have had its disappointments, but each word is a declaration that 2021 will be different! I think all of these words should have exclamation points!


And there are a few words that seemed, to me, to be whispers, poignant reminders of Whose we are and how we should live each day.


As for me, my word was odd. I thought of several others I thought could encourage me and remind me of what I hoped to accomplish during the year. But the word that kept coming back to me was “see.”

Years ago, a friend of mine “gifted” me with a quote saying it reminded her of me. While I don’t “see” it myself, I do find that the quote fills me with longing and the hope that it really is somehow, or somewhat, true—or will be.

“She always had that about her, that look of otherness, of eyes that see things much too far, and of thoughts that wander off the edge of the world.”

I found a graphic with a dandelion puff with the caption, “Some see a weed; some see a wish.”  

And another, “If your eyes are opened, you’ll see the things worth seeing.”

And I reclaimed a picture from last year’s focus word. “Each step in the right direction allows you to see further in that direction.”

For me, “see” carries with it the intrinsic command to be fully present in each moment. To not miss a thing. Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”  And, to paraphrase Ann Voskamp, “You profane the moment when you are not fully in it.”

Not only do I want my eyes to be opened to see the blessings, the stories, and the truth around me, I want to live my life so that I continuously “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and offer the prayer “Lord, let them see You in me.”

Such a simple word, but it’s one that can change my day, change my future, change my writing … and my life.


Life Lessons from Improv 101

When my good friend, Sherrie (no anonymity there, dear girl–you’re getting full credit/blame for this!), asked if I would like to take a class to learn to think on my feet and become more comfortable as a speaker, I jumped on it. Who isn’t up for a little self-improvement? Besides, Sherrie is always fun and spending time with her is a hoot, so why not?

And so, my “yes” came out of my mouth before I fully understood the question.

I went home eager to sign up online—only to discover I had agreed to take a six-week improvisation class. In a theater. And the last “class”—our graduation—would be an actual performance. On stage. In front of real, live people.

Thanks, Sherrie.

On our first night, everyone had to stand, introduce themselves (accompanied always by loud applause—you applaud everything in improv), and share why they were taking the class. Interestingly, most people wanted to do something outside their comfort zones. I was astonished at the number of engineers, accountants, and other “technical” occupations represented. Folks with those types of jobs were yearning to do something “right brained” and creative. Others, like Sherrie and me, wanted to learn to think on their feet and be more comfortable in front of a crowd. Only a few were—or wanted to be—actual performers.

It was scary. And fun … and did I say scary?

The first surprise was that improv has rules. I think improv can rightly be called a discipline (even though everything is made up on the spot) because it does have rules. Our instructor, Brad (a kind and hilariously funny man), was a stickler when it came to their application and had us recite them at the beginning of every class like first graders learning the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rule Number One: Make your partner look good.

No matter who you’re performing with, defer to them, follow their lead. Negation is death to a scene. For instance, if someone limps across the stage and addresses you saying, “Doctor, I think my leg is broken,” you’re a doctor. It doesn’t matter if you thought you’d like to do a scene about a pilot, you are now a doctor and must—absolutely must!—respond as such. If you say, “I’m not a doctor,” you’ve just killed the scene and mortally wounded the other performer. Make your partner look good.

What if I lived every day with that in mind? Instead of constantly critiquing, judging, and try to one-up everyone, what if I find ways to support, encourage, and validate those I come in contact with? What if I put Romans 12:10 into practice … “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor …” [NASB]

The second rule was wrapped up in the simple words, “Yes, and … “

Regardless of what the other performer said, our response was to be “Yes, and … “ Again, no negating their words. Agree and add something. If someone said to me, “Wearing an armadillo as a hat is an interesting choice.” I cannot say, “It’s not an armadillo.” Or “It’s not a hat.” I agree and add. Maybe I could say, “Yes, and I bought it at your mother’s shop.” Whatever response immediately comes to mind, but I must agree and add, expand the statement. (Of course we didn’t have to actually say, “Yes, and …” every time, but the mental inclusion of those words needed to become automatic.)

Hmm. How many times do turn conversation into a debate instead of making it about agreement? Now, I’m not saying I should agree with a statement I know to be incorrect or is against my beliefs, but why must I be so quick to contradict, so quick to say something to try to  prove my intelligence or my depth of character or to impress someone? It’s a habit I need to break.

In improv, agreement is the only rule that cannot be broken. Whenever possible, I just need to agree and add whatever words of compassion and understanding I can. How can two walk together unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)

Improv forces you to listen. I cannot listen and plan what I’m going to say while the other person is still speaking. I have to respond solely to what that person says. I cannot “steer” the scene in any direction I choose. I must respect the choices made by others and comment (yes, and …) to whatever they say.

How many times do I half listen to what my friends and family members are saying? I’m so busy coming up with my response that I barely hear what’s being said. I can hardly wait until she stops talking—and too often I don’t wait … I interrupt!—so I can speak. I want my turn while it’s still her turn.

What if I don’t formulate my argument or my clever reply until AFTER my friend says whatever she’s saying? What if I pay attention to her tone, her facial expressions, her body language … actually hear her words, and “always listen to the whole idea in a statement” (another improv rule) and then—only then—respond? How much deeper, more meaningful will my conversations—and my relationships—be?

There were so many other ideas and rules in improv that I can apply to everyday living—perhaps fodder for other posts. I’m told to treat others as if they are artists, poets, and geniuses—and they will be! How wonderful to be part of calling out someone else’s potential.

While nerve-wracking, the graduation “performance” was a blast. Yes, Sherrie and I were nervous, but we pulled it off. We remembered the rules and came out alive, relieved, and richer for the experience.

Thank heavens, I’m not always on a theater stage (or am I?), but I try to remember what I learned in Improv 101 and apply what I can to real life. And who knows? Maybe I’ll let Sherrie talk me into Improv 201 someday.

There’s always more to learn.

Focus Word for 2020

Spring is almost here, and I’m still wondering if my focus word for 2020 was a mistake. As usual, the writers in the KPC Writers Group pretty much outdid me in choosing their words. Some words have an obvious connection to writing goals and are easy to see how focusing on such things will bring positive results:


Without holding tight to these intentions and incorporating these purposes into our daily lives, we won’t go far.  

Other words chosen by our writers lend a depth of awareness into writing and life in general, urging us to look up and within ourselves for inspiration and purpose and reflect desires for growth:


All of these embrace insight and encourage us to open ourselves to who we were created to be, building character, focus, and determination.

I’ll admit there were two words that stood out to me this year. One I “assigned” to a writer who seemed to struggle for a positive word to claim.  (Believe me, if you knew him, you would give me a fist pump and say, “Yes! That’s the perfect word for him!”) The other word simply strikes joy and excitement in my heart and makes me want to go all out.

Those two words: Unstoppable and Audacious

Unstoppable—unrelenting, persistent—unwilling to admit defeat … ever!

Audacious—daring, bold, brave—willing to step out of our comfort zones and see what flies!

And then we come to the word I chose for myself.


That’s it: further.

What was I thinking?

Further means additional, more, extra … and to advance, promote, broaden, expand. It can also convey “beyond” or “extreme.” Yes, all that is what I meant.

I want to go further in my writing … further in my knowledge … further in my relationships … further in my faith. I want to further (advance/promote) sales of The Canary Cage and hopefully broaden its influence and reach.

Maybe not such a silly word.

Truth is, the word popped in head in the context of the final book (The Last Battle) in C.S. Lewis’s epic series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Chapter Fifteen is titled, “Further Up and Further In.”

“Then he* breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in.” (*Aslan, the Lion)

Further up and further in.

And, near the end of the chapter … “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. … Come further up, come further in!”

The final chapter, “Farewell to Shadowlands,” describes a series of challenges the characters undergo. I love the ongoing encouragement and responses (excerpts below).

“Don’t stop! Further up and further in,” called Farsight, tilting his flight a little upwards.

“Isn’t it wonderful,” said Lucy, “Have you noticed one can’t’ feel afraid even if one wants to? Try it!”

A long valley opened ahead and grow snow-mounts, now much nearer, stood up against the sky.

“Further up and further in,” cried Jewel and instantly they were off again.

“Further up and further in!” roared the Unicorn, and no one held back. They charged straight at the foot of the hill and then found themselves running up it almost as water from a broken wave runs up a rock out at the point of some bay. Though the slope was nearly as steep as the roof of a house and the grass was smooth as a bowling green, no one slipped.

And then, finally, they reach great golden gates. For a moment no one was brave enough to try to open the gates. They were unsure of themselves and their worthiness.

“Dare we? Is it right? Can it be meant for us?” (Oh, how often we think this and deny ourselves God’s blessings!)

But while they were standing thus a great horn wonderfully loud and sweet, blew from somewhere inside that walled garden and the gates swung open.

Tirian stood holding his breath and wondering who would come out. And what came out was the last thing he had expected: a little, sleek, bright-eyed Talking Mouse with a red feather stuck in a circlet on its head and its left paw resting on a long sword. It bowed, a most beautiful bow, and said in its shrill voice:

“Welcome, in the Lion’s name. Come further up and further in.”

Okay. Maybe I have chosen wisely and well. Do I have the courage? Can I grow past doubt and feelings of unworthiness to venture into more of what the Lord has for me this year?

Do you?

Join me, my friends! Further up and further in!

(If you’ve never read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis—oh! You must, you must!)

Flyover 2019

KPC Writers Group 2019 Word for the Year

I admit I had all sorts of preconceptions of what could happen when I chose FLY as my focus word for 2019. I hoped to experience freedom in a new way. That I would see life from a different—and higher—perspective. That I would sail through the year with joy and wonder.

I am by no means an artist, but each year I make a card featuring my focus word, so I can keep it in front of my eyes year-round. Certain quotes that especially strike my heart, images that inspire me—I include whatever I think will nudge and encourage me in the right direction.

The quotes for FLY included:

“Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from flying.”

“What good are wings without the courage to fly?”

“What if I fall?” “Oh, but darling, what if you fly?”

“One day she decided to stop letting fear hold her back and chose to live bravely. From then on, she flew.”

Wouldn’t you be amazed if I told you that 2019 embodied those quotes? That I reached the heights I had imagined and hoped for? That, perhaps, life had exceeded my imagination?

Sigh. Not so.

The year was a tough one in many ways. My dad was plagued with health issues. He fell and broke his arm near the shoulder so that it couldn’t be put in a cast. He was in agony for weeks, trying to hold his arm still, unable to take pain medication due to allergies. He was hospitalized on another occasion and spent time in rehab to regain his strength. He is still dealing with neck injuries. Now, bear in mind, my dad is very independent and active. He teaches and calls square dances several times a week, works out, and is always happy to go out. He’s not a whiner or pitiful in any way whatsoever. He’s optimistic and self-sufficient and doesn’t look to others (even his kids) to take care of him. What made these months so difficult was simply that I love my dad desperately. He’s an amazing father, and we all felt helpless and inadequate in making things easier for him. Seeing him in pain for so long is heartbreaking.

No flying there.

Rod, my cowboy, buried his first father-in-law the same week that his only remaining uncle and my Uncle Paul passed away (on the same day). Those occasions always leave me feeling ineffectual. While we were blessed to know that all three knew and loved the Lord, knowing what to say and do in the face of grief is hard. I can only reiterate what everyone already knows and believes, and it seems insufficient to assuage the heartache to any degree.

No flying there.

But interspersed with all of this, there was the moment when I signed the release paper for The Canary Cage, giving the publisher permission to send the manuscript to print. I had been through edit after edit and rejoiced with each improvement, each revision. Holding my published novel for the first time—feeling and seeing the tangible reality that my decades-old dream had indeed come true …

That was flying.

My beautiful friends and family helped me plan and execute a launch party for The Canary Cage. I was stunned by their love and generosity.  More people than I expected gathered for the event, and the excitement and spirit of celebration everyone exhibited was overwhelming.

That was flying.

 A ladies book club chose to read The Canary Cage and invited me to meet with them to answer questions and for discussion.

That was flying.

I spoke on forgiveness at a women’s conference at a local church … and that, for me, was flying.

My husband and I went on our first cruise together. Flying to Seattle (literally flying!), we traveled on the Norwegian Joy to Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point (all in Alaska) and Victoria, British Columbia.

In Icy Strait Point, the Cowboy and I strapped ourselves in and enjoyed one of the longest and fastest ziplines down the mountain.

Now THAT was flying!

In November we flew (again, literally) to Oklahoma City and drove to Guthrie, the setting for The Canary Cage. Walking the streets I had researched and spent so long writing about was thrilling. Knowing that the buildings and streets still looked much as they did in 1899 added a depth to the experience of writing that surprised me. We were invited by the Oklahoma Territorial Museum for a book signing in the historic Carnegie Library and saw my novel on display in the giftshop.

That was flying.

And, I have to add, just being married to the Cowboy is flying. I’ve been told he should give “how to be a good husband” lessons, and I agree. He lifts me up with his love, support, encouragement, and care for me every day.

Right before Thanksgiving, I realized something was amiss with the vision in my left eye. Distortion. Not good. The distortion impacts reading … and writing … to an upsetting degree. I underwent surgery on December 26 to repair a macular hole. A gas bubble was injected, and I had to lay facedown for three days. Three. Entire. Days. And. Nights.

And that definitely was not flying. I can’t remember being more miserable. It was awful. Again, friends and family support, especially from the Cowboy, was amazing and kind. I felt loved and cared for in the midst of my misery.

I finally had to laugh. “Lord,” I fussed, “I said I wanted to fly … not LOOK like a fly!”

Healing is still in progress and could take quite a while. But I believe that He who began the good work will complete it. (Yes, I know that’s not the correct exegesis of the verse, but it works for me.)

Knowing that the Lord’s plans for my life are bigger and greater and higher than mine keeps my hope alive throughout all challenges. Knowing that His love for me is inescapable and vaster than I can understand … now THAT truly is flying!

Have you chosen a focus word for 2020? Stay tuned next week for mine!

FLY … My 2019 Word

My 2019 Focus Word Card

Again, I asked the members of the KPC Writers Group to choose personal focus words for the year. I love this annual exercise, and I especially enjoy the variety of words and the explanations given for their choices.


I nod. Yes, definitely. Great words. I can see how all of these apply to writing.

I empathize with Finish and Completion. As writers, the ideas can flow, and we can flit from one to the other with enthusiasm. Beginning is exciting, but after that initial wave of eagerness, projects can bog down and enthusiasm dissipates. Beginning is the easy part. Finishing those stories and poems and articles … now that’s something else altogether.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” ― Neil Gaiman

“You need two things to write a great book: imagination and inclination. Without one, your book will be boring; without the other, your book won’t get finished at all.” ― Ellie Firestone

Yes, I also need to focus on finishing, on completing. Thank you, fellow writers.

Other words seem to have broader “life reaches” than writing:


People have depth and layers, and their reasons for choosing certain words are personal and complex. While my point in asking them to choose a focus word is always writing-related, their choice of words often reaches far beyond their goals for their writing. I admire that. I applaud that. I wish I were not so shallow.

On my dining room wall hangs an abstract art print with a quotation by Brian Andreas:

“For a long time she flew only when she thought no one else was looking.”

When I saw that print in the gift shop, I almost cried. That was me. I’d never met Brian Andreas, but he knew me.

And so, my word for this year is FLY.

My favorite dreams are of flying. (Do you ever dream you can fly? Many people haven’t.) I once dreamed I flew to a barren place of scrub brush and rock (and reminded me of taking shortcuts through the canyons in San Diego with my friends). A sign read, “This is the top of the world. Where you go from here is up to you.” How’s that for a dream with meaning? Sadly, I never seemed to go much of anywhere.

A few years ago, I jumped out of a plane (with a Navy SEAL strapped to my back), because I knew that sensation would be the closest to flying. I was right. It was magnificent. But what about flying … in metaphor … every day?

I love the idea of being “above” (expectations, circumstances) and having a bird’s-eye view (a different perspective) of life.

Flying means freedom.

Freedom to write whatever comes into my head and heart. Freedom to become who I truly am (surely, there’s still time!)

“Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.”―Oliver Wendall Holmes

I want to play whatever music God has placed in me. Too often we are held back by fear … fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being laughed at, fear of being exposed as a fraud …

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

May this year be my first year of flying. My first year of casting off the chains of doubt, of cutting off the shackles of my own (and others’) expectations, a year of shattering the limits I’ve placed on myself.

What about you? Do you have a fear of flying … or are you with me? What is your word for the year?

“But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength;They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 


Jesus–Our Prince of Peace

Isaiah 26:3

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”–Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)

Peace must be a big deal to God since it’s mentioned over 400 times in the Bible. It’s a big deal to us, too. But doesn’t life seem to come pre-charged with stress, anxiety, and angst? With the economy, health issues, our society’s moral decay, and [insert your personal junk here], you’d think we’d be walking around with Valium IV-drips.

Yet the Lord includes peace right along with love, joy, and six other qualities in the fruit of the spirit role call (Galatians 5:22). Jesus Himself was fond of saying, “Go in peace” and “Peace be unto you.” And most of the epistles seem to have some variation of “Grace and peace be unto you . . .” You can look it up.

On that extraordinary night when heaven broke open and angels filled the sky proclaiming the birth of our Savior, I imagine they could have declared all sorts of amazing things about Jesus, the King of the Universe. What they said was, “Peace on earth . . .” Peace. Must be important stuff.  In fact, it’s a key ingredient of His Kingdom, right along with righteousness and joy (Romans 14:17).

Plenty of verses tell us not to worry. Even children know the story about the beautiful clothes of the lilies of the field and how God cares for us more than He cares for them. We know all about casting our cares on the Lord. Easier said than done, right? Jesus is frank about this world and its fallen state. He never says following Him is easy. He never says everything will be peachy-keen after casting our cares on Him. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34 NLT) “I’ve told you all this so that trusting Me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33 MSG)

Yet worry is a tough foe. Our minds are vigilant in toying with problems. It’s like trying not to scratch an itch. That itch will drive you crazy until you scratch it—but it keeps on itching. So you keep on scratching . . . and itching . . . And you have no peace.

What’s the answer? Our minds. Someone said you can’t control what thoughts come into your mind, but you can decide whether to dance with them. I once defeated depression by refusing to dwell on certain thoughts and deciding instead to reflect on scripture and sing praise songs. That’s all it took to chase away depression (for me). I just said, “No, I’m not going to think about that. I’m going to think about this . . . “ And turned my thoughts—guess where!  To . . . “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely . . .” (Philippians 4:8)

Sure, it takes discipline. But if we ask for help from the Holy Spirit, we get it. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. It’s a promise in Philippians 4:7.

I believe worry is one of Satan’s tools. Isn’t it a form of torment? Our minds go in circles. We hold imaginary conversations, envision plausible and implausible scenarios—and all in vain. It doesn’t accomplish a thing. The majority of what we worry about never happens. We expend energy, sleep, emotion for nothing. Accomplish zero. My theory? I believe worry is torment because the Lord doesn’t give us grace to go through things (all this stuff we’re imagining) that haven’t happened. When the day comes, He’ll be there. And so will His grace.

Yes, let there be peace on earth. And let it begin in me. Thank You, Jesus, for being our Prince of Peace . . . “having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 20)

How Did I Do?–My 2018 Word for the Year

At the beginning of the year, I asked the folks in my writers group to join me in choosing a focus word for 2018. They were more than willing to do so, and I spent time making cards illustrating each focus word as gifts for them.

There are plenty of Word of the Year articles on the internet, but this idea first came to my attention through http://lifevesting.com/blog/ by Andy Wood (one of the best bloggers ever!). Ever since, I’ve tried to choose a word that would focus my efforts for the year. Let’s clarify that: I’ve tried to choose a word that would focus my writing efforts for the year.

I’ll admit to being a little frustrated when some of my writing friends didn’t seem to get it. Some, in my opinion, chose well:


I could clearly see how each of these could easily be applied to writing goals and the writing life in general. Good going, writers.

But others threw words at me like

Really? Okay, guys, you just don’t get it. These words seem to be more like life words or, more specifically, spiritual life words. I meant for you to choose a writing word—a word to encourage you and spur you a little further down the road literarily.

I wanted to say, “Try again,” but—of course—I didn’t. This isn’t my word. If this is the word that came after thought and introspection, then fine. Fine. Do it your way.

I chose PURSUE as my 2018 Word for the Year. Now that’s a great word, isn’t it?

  • To seek to attain or accomplish (a goal), especially over a long period.
  • To continue to investigate, explore, or discuss (a topic, idea, or argument)

With its many applications—and with synonyms like follow, chase, run after, go after—pursue was the perfect word for me this year … when it comes to writing.

I was content. And maybe a bit smug. I chose wisely.

And then a verse popped into my head:
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:” Hebrews 12:14 (NKJV)

Oh. Yeah. Peace and holiness. Those are important. Maybe I should pursue those, too. Like the writer who actually chose that word.

I couldn’t help but dig a little deeper to see what else the Word has to say about “pursue.” In addition to other verses urging the pursuit of peace and holiness, I found:

“He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor.” Proverbs 21:21

I’d like to have those things … life, righteousness, and honor.

“Pursue love … “ 1 Corinthians 14:1a

Oh, yeah, love is good. Love covers a multitude of sins. I need a lot of love in my life.

… and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:11b

So maybe I should add faith, perseverance, and gentleness to the growing list …

Hmm. I think I owe a few people an apology. While I had initially focused on writing as being the priority for the year and as the essence of the word I chose, some of my fellow writers chose words that meant so much more.

Yes, my goals for the year still included chasing my dreams of publication, improving my writing, entering (and hopefully winning) contests, and encouraging other writers in the pursuit of their dreams. But suddenly there were other pursuits as well. Pursuing the will of God for my entire life is the real dream, the real goal, the real reason for being on this earth.

And God pursues me right back, chasing after me with goodness and mercy (Psalm 23) and going before me and behind me wherever I go (Psalm 139:7-8).

While I did make strides this year in my writerly pursuits—obtaining my first book contract, winning second place in a poetry contest, continuing to facilitate our wonderful writers group, and attending workshops to improve my writing, I’m reminded that the word “pursue” not only suggests diligence and effort, it also implies lifelong effort.

It seems to me that, as we begin trying to conform our lives to the will of God in any area, He points out our need to change in another area. And that’s where the lifelong effort comes in. We’ll always be pursuing—chasing after—holiness and other things rather than fully attaining them in this life.

Oh, let’s go with that line from the Westminster Confession:
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Yes, let’s pursue that—and not just this year but every year.

Stay tuned for my 2019 Word for the Year. What word will you choose and why? Let me know!


And Then There Was . . . None

No one has ever accused me of having a green thumb. In fact, my plants have died and come back to life so many times I’ve named them all Lazarus. I’ve never been able to figure out those fine lines (at least I assume they’re fine) between not enough water, enough water, and too much water. Everything either shrivels, wilts, or turns yellow.

And yet I persist.

For the last few years, I’ve tried my hand at growing a few herbs. Basil does fairly well, except I don’t use enough of it, and it gets leggy and sparse. I tried thyme this year. The hardest part was in not pulling out the fragile roots when I tried to pick off the inevitably dead leaves. Parsley is the other herb I’ve tried growing. It did fairly well last year (fairly well might be stretching it), so I tried again this year.

Growing next to the thyme in a long, rectangular pot on my porch, I was quite pleased that the flat-leaf parsley was doing reasonably well. Not bad, I thought, patting myself on the back, until the morning I discovered my little parsley plant adorned with nine—yes, NINE—caterpillars. They had each claimed a branch (stalk?) and were merrily munching away.

My first impulse was to pull them off and throw them in the yard. But I don’t like bugs—not even caterpillars—so I squirmed a bit at that. I considered waiting until the Cowboy got home and task him with the job. Then I checked with my three best sources for plant information—my friends Vera and Patti … and Google. They all concurred that the caterpillars—which, by the way, were very pretty—would soon become lovely black swallowtail butterflies. If I didn’t kill them.

So I left them alone.

Within two days those caterpillars ate every single leaf (and a lot of the stems) off my poor parsley plant. It was naked, and the caterpillars were gone. One actually made its cocoon right there on the plant, but I missed the unveiling of the butterfly. For all I knew, those caterpillars ate my plant and were never seen again.

To my amazement, new growth began to appear the very next day, vibrant green and so much healthier than the caterpillar food of just a few days earlier. Within two days, the entire plant had resurrected with a beauty it had never before exhibited.

I’m convinced there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Maybe it’s that we can have something, something we’re reasonably convinced is good … or sufficient … and then—suddenly—it’s gone, destroyed, taken away. We can be devastated by the loss, certain that God isn’t looking out for us, convinced our world has crashed into an unforgiving brick wall.

But then God … who is always true to His Word … restores. And when He restores it is with something so much more beautiful than what was destroyed. As Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB)

I also think of Job. He had everything a man could want—family, land, wealth, and good health. He was content with his life and, if you had asked him, he would probably have said he had everything he needed and wanted. But it was all taken away from him, and he was forced to confront some hard truths.

When the time was right, God not only restored everything Job had lost (no, his children did not come back to life, but he was blessed with more children), He gave him more than he had before. He was doubly blessed.

In my own life, when I was at my lowest, when I looked back on my life and felt I had nothing to show for all the years I had walked on this earth, when I was pretty sure that the light at the end of the tunnel could be an oncoming train, I was reminded of Joel 2:25 … “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten … and the crawling locusts, the consuming locusts, and the chewing locusts …” And I took heart.

And God was, as always, true to His Word.

There is more than one kind of locust mentioned in Joel … swarming, crawling, consuming, and chewing … and I’m going to give that more thought. But regardless of the kind of locust that has swarmed, crawled, consumed, or chewed what I think are the good things in our lives, God will come in and restore … and not just to the level of blessing we had before … but with blessings more vibrant and rich and …

Just as my parsley plant was destroyed by caterpillars, it grew back healthier and greener than before … and those caterpillars turned into lovely black swallowtails. I’d say the sacrifice was worth the beauty that emerged from both plant and caterpillar.

Have you ever experienced “locusts” in your life? Have you experienced the blessing of restoration? I’d love to hear!

Every Little Thing

“Hear my prayer, O God;
Give ear to the words of my mouth.”
Psalm 54:2 (NASB)

There are few things more annoying than being near a parent who is ignoring a child. How often have you witnessed a little one, tugging on a parent’s shirttail, incessantly repeating, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” or “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” to the apparent oblivion of the parent? It drives me nuts. I want to stalk over, shake the parent by the shoulder, and fuss. “Will you please pay attention to your child!”

Aren’t you grateful that our Heavenly Father doesn’t treat us that way? We always have His attention. He is ever mindful of our circumstances, our needs, our joys and sorrows. He pays attention to every little thing.

A few years ago, my mom had to have tests run on her heart. Before I left the office to join my dad and brother at the hospital, I asked my coworkers to pray. Everyone offered sweet prayers for peace, guidance, and wisdom. And then one of our senior staff prayed for healing and that whatever Mama needed would be provided. He said, “If she needs a plumber, send her a plumber.” We all chuckled at that.

At the hospital, Dad, my brother Matt, and I were gathered waiting for a report from the doctor. When he finally appeared, he wasn’t the doctor Dad was expecting. This was someone new. He introduced himself and said that he had been called in as he was a specialist. He said, “I’m the resident Roto-Rooter man.”

I almost choked. A plumber. God had sent a plumber. I felt the corners of my mouth twitching, and I tilted a gaze toward heaven. Our God has such a sense of humor. And I was again reminded that He listens. To everything. No detail is too small or insignificant for His attention.

I’ve been convinced of this ever since I was young. When I was in my 20’s, I dated a sweet fellow who, sadly, was not a believer. I had been feeling more and more uneasy in our relationship but hadn’t yet made the decision to break up with him. One phone conversation convinced me.

I told him I was going to get my hair cut and I had been praying about it. He laughed at me. “Ev, God doesn’t care about your haircut.”

I disagreed. First, if I care about something, I believe He cares—even if He only cares that I care! Second, if He knows how many hairs I have, wouldn’t it matter to Him what happens to those hairs?

“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”—Matthew 10:30 (NASB)

Perhaps that sounds like a silly reason to break up with someone, but that conversation served to point out how different we were in the most important issue in life … faith. God knew I was struggling, and He used that little conversation about a haircut to nudge me in the right direction.

One more little story …

As you probably know, my sweet mom passed away on April 30 of this year after a valiant battle with Alzheimer’s. I miss her terribly, but I try not to dwell on it. I know she is healed, whole, and unspeakably happy … and I’ll see her again. But I do miss her encouragement and knowing that she was always praying for me.

Last week, Sue (my “adopted” little sister) and I were at Dad’s sorting through closets. I came across Mama’s blue jacket. I remember her wearing it, and I slipped it on to see if it fit. It did, and I put it in the pile of things I wanted to keep. When I got home, I was gathering laundry and grabbed the jacket to throw in the wash. Ah! Remember to check the pockets! I found a handkerchief in one pocket and a piece of lined notebook paper wrapped around a bundle of some sort in the other pocket. I unwrapped the paper to find a few business cards, a list of medications she was taking, and an appointment card for a haircut. Nothing there to keep. But then I smoothed out the notebook paper to find a few words written in one corner in Mama’s familiar writing …

May the Lord
bless you in
amazing ways.

Oh, my.

God not only hears the words I say, the words I pray, but He hears the unspoken words of my heart. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the little paper had been in that pocket for several years, because it’s been a long time since Mama was able to carry on a conversation and even longer since she had been able to write. But it’s the timing that’s the miracle … and the fact that only the Lord knew how much I still long for her. When I read those eight words, I can hear her voice.

I encourage you to be attentive to the ways the Lord reveals that He hears you and understands your heart. Trust me, He pays attention to every little thing.

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”—2 Chronicles 16:9 (NASB)


I’m Back!

So where have I been? Good question. I look back and can’t believe it’s so long since I’ve posted. It doesn’t make sense to me. Or perhaps it does. Writers are strange beings. We have a passion, a never-ending itch to write, to spill things on paper. But then there’s also that deep conviction that we have little or nothing to say and that even the things we feel strongly about will never be read. I made a bookmark recently with this “demand”: Three words for a writer: Make me care.

And that, my friends, is a tall order. Hence, the—dare I say it?—fear that no one cares.

Deeper still, however, is the truth. If I believe the Lord gave me this desire—this mission—to write, then I’d best be about it. Sometimes it takes a while to work through the fear and get on with it. And so … I’m back.

To get you up-to-date … Things have been happening. Of course they have. Time didn’t stand still. Life didn’t end after my last post, even though I thought it might (smile).

Soon after I wrote my last post, I lost my job. There were budget issues at the church where I had worked for sixteen years, and I was told that my position was a luxury they could no longer afford. “We can make our own appointments and answer our own phones.” I think that was the most devastating thing anyone could have said to me. All those years of hard work, innovation, and dedication, and I was reduced to a phone-answering, appointment-making assistant? I was a puddle for days. Weeks maybe.

It was especially tough because, truth be told, most of my self-esteem had been tangled up in job performance since I was very young. I gave my best and did a good job. Always. My goal for each employer was to gain the affirmation that I was the best assistant ever. I had failed relationships, often failed as a mother, hadn’t attain my writing goals, but I was an excellent employee. When that was taken away, I wasn’t sure who I was.

Then the silver linings began to reveal themselves.

I wrote a poem about my Mama’s battle with Alzheimer’s (you can find it in the Poetry tab) and won second prize in a poetry contest. I pitched my novel to an agent at a writers conference and was invited to submit my manuscript. Nope. Not interested. Sigh.

In December of that same year, the Cowboy and I moved from Suffolk to Virginia Beach (less than five minutes from where I had worked, really?) so we could be closer to our parents. In addition, we were grateful to have city utilities and pizza delivery, things we didn’t have at our previous home in the country.

I re-wrote the first chapter of my novel and made some changes after feedback from a couple of writers I trust. It was hard to cut parts of the book I liked, but—hey—if it’s broken, fix it.

I wrote a short story and won third prize at another contest. That one was especially gratifying as I hadn’t written a short story in thirty years. (Maybe I’ll post that one for y’all to read.) I pitched my novel to an independent publisher who was interested. At her request, I submitted the entire manuscript.

A couple of months later, I attended an ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers/Virginia chapter) one-day conference. Again, I had the opportunity to pitch to an independent publisher’s rep. She asked for a book proposal (aaaarrrrrggghhhhh! I love book proposals, said no writer ever!) and then, after reading the first fifty pages, asked for the entire manuscript. Two publishers were reading my manuscript!

After four months, the second publisher e-mailed and offered a book contract. What?! I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. Of course there was a caveat: I had to get an agent. My heart sank. Surely she realized how hard it is to get an agent. I had been trying for years and years. Agents were always encouraging and willing to read my manuscript, but the response had always been that they weren’t enthusiastic enough about it to represent me.

But this publisher was wonderful. She suggested three agents she had worked with who might take me on. She was right. I was able to secure the services of an amazing agent in just a week.

Everyone was so thrilled for me! My Cowboy was over the moon, and my family and friends couldn’t have been more excited. Only one thing was missing: telling Mama. One of the first things my dad said, with such a wistful tone in his voice, was how excited Mama and Aunt Julie would be if they knew. Well, Aunt Julie is in heaven, so I like to believe she knows. But Mama, my sweet Mama, was pretty much just staring those days. She went from the hospital bed in the living room (serving as a downstairs bedroom) to the wheelchair and back again. She barely ate and didn’t speak. But in my mind’s eye, I could picture her dancing around the kitchen and squealing like she always did when she was excited.

A few days after I received the book offer, I knelt in front my mother. She was laying on her side in bed, and I was delighted to see that she recognized me. There was a certain light in her eyes. I couldn’t help myself. Whether or not she understood, I had to share my news.

“Mama, do you remember how I’ve always liked to write?”

She said, “Yes.”

I almost fell over. She spoke. She responded. The blood in my head pounded, and I thought I might cry.

“Do you remember how you always said you wanted me to write something for the glory of God?”

Again, she said, “Yes.”

I could barely speak.

“Mama, somebody wants to publish my book. I’m getting a contract. My book will be in the bookstores.”

And the most amazing thing happened. Her eyes opened wide, her face lit up with the brightest smile … and she squealed. When I told her I loved her, she managed to say that she loved me. That was the last time I heard those words from her.

She might not recognize me the next day—or the next hour—but right there, right then, I had my Mama—and she was rejoicing with me. What a blessing! How good of the Lord to gift me with that moment.

But Mama was fading, and we didn’t know then that she would be with us for only a month longer. For an illness that seemed to drag with changes coming on relentlessly but in slow motion, when the end came, it came so quickly we were stunned. One day everything was as usual, and the next day she wouldn’t wake up. My beautiful Mama was gone.

Soon after, I received an email from the second publisher who had requested my manuscript. Somehow they had not received the email I had sent letting them know I had been offered a contract. They, too, were interested! Wow! What affirmation that was for me. Thank you, Lord!

I entered another poem in a writing contest—this one inspired by my dad—and won second prize.I am so grateful. Maybe I really can do this writing thing.

And so, we’re pretty much up to date. I have an agent, a signed book contract, and I’m waiting to be assigned an editor—something that is exciting and daunting. I’m determined to concentrate on this blog, if only to keep myself writing (though I do pray someone out there is reading this) and to catalog lessons I’m learning.

I hope you’ll continue to come along for the ride. I love roller coasters, don’t you?

Palms & Fair-weather Friends

palm tree branch

Thanks to FreeFoto.com

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 http://lifevesting.com/blog/ 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

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 GodsizedDreams.com)

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)