Out of the fog…………….

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Sometimes my mind is like this fog. Details are fuzzy. Focus is absent. Clarity of thought seems impossible. Thoughts weigh heavy and gray in the corridors of my mind. It may be disappointment or worry, grief or exhaustion,  frustration or anger, depression or distraction that renders my mind temporarily incapable of orderly, logical action. On mornings like that I just long to retreat from the responsibilities which await me. To my mind and body it seems that the best course of action would be to crawl back between the covers, burrowing down into that warm little world that I just left behind, feeling the comfort of my husband’s presence beside me, and just refusing to show up for the day’s activities. But, on most days………

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the fog gradually begins to disperse as the sun’s rays break through. I need the light to illuminate my mind and warm my heart, but how? It cannot come from my determination, for that is weak. Nor from my physical strength, for I feel I have none. The will to persevere comes only from God’s grace and the ultimate light that shines forth from His love.  I try to encourage myself to open to that light, to lean on His loving arms as they lift me up, to yield to His gentle prodding as He encourages me to carry on the work of this life. And, at last………..

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the day breaks forth in my soul, bright and clear. The blue sky is reflected in the pond as the gentle wind turns the windmill, which offers a lesson within itself. The head of the windmill turns, you know, seeking the strongest breeze. And, when it finds that stream of air, it stops in place as the wind turns the blades to create power for the pump which oxygenates the water. What if we kept our hearts and minds in constant search of the strongest stream of God’s spirit, constantly adjusting our vision and attitude and attention to seek His will for the day? And, what if, as we located the power surge of God’s spirit, we paused and let its refreshing, rejuvenating, energizing, inspiring force flow through us to bring light and love to the world around us? What would this world be like then?

Lord, grant me the grace and strength to lean on you and to seek your power this day.

For the child in each of us…………

As an introduction to this piece I must announce that I am the established queen of children’s book readers and choosers. And, yes, I’m humble about it, too! No, just truthful. When family and friends gather at our house, I am often seen off to one side, with one or more willing children and a stack of children’s books. I read with passion–different voices for each character and relishing the flow of the words off the tongue. My favorite gift to give to adults with children or grandchildren is a select children’s book. It struck me that you, reader, might be interested in some of my favorites–only a few premier choices–maybe more to follow later.

Choice #1:

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Miss Suzy is a classic with forty year anniversary editions released a few years ago. It is the penultimate good conquers evil story with a happy ending. Suzy, a gentle gray squirrel, is displaced from her home by a band of mean-spirited red squirrels. However, she finds refuge in a nearby attic, where she finds a lovely dollhouse residence and offers the benefits of home to a troop of toy soldiers, who then save the day. Children love this story, perhaps because Miss Suzy reminds them of being mothered and cared for and because all is well at the end when,

“The wind blew gently and rocked the tree like a cradle. It was very peaceful, and Miss Suzy was very happy once more.” (Young, Miriam, Miss Suzy, Parents’ Magazine Press, 1964.)

Choice #2:

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Cindy Ellen, A Wild Western Cinderella is a delightful Cinderella story by Susan Lowell. Adults will enjoy the references to the Cinderella we grew up with and the magic of how Lowell’s words flow off the tongue when the book is read aloud. There are great sound effects to portray. Again, good wins out, and there is a magical, happy-ever-after ending, as befits a classic fairy tale. Lowell has adapted several classic childrens’ stories to a wild west setting. I love them all, but this is my favorite, perhaps because Cindy Ellen’s fairy godmother voices such GOOD advice for all us girls!

……said her fairy godmother. “Magic is plumb worthless without gumption. What you need first, gal is some gravel in your gizzard. Grit! Guts! Stop that tomfool blubbering, and let’s get busy. Time’s a-wastin’.” (Lowell, Susan, Cindy Ellen, A Wild Western Cinderella, Joanna Cotler Books, 2000.)

Choice #3:

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This book joined my library in the mid-70’s as my children were receiving books in one of those “book clubs” for children. It is a humorous read with plenty of opportunity for vocalization of accent and dialect, if you are not offended by the word “derned” (as in, “derned if you do, derned if you don’t”). I’m having trouble pinpointing the exact reason it came to my mind other than the fact that it’s just FUN! It begins:

“One day old Man Whickutt set off down the mountain with his donkey and his boy, going to the mill. Donkey, he carried a sack of corn; boy, he carried a stick; and Old Man Whickutt, he carried the boss words to keep them both going straight.” (Calhoun, Mary, Old Man Whickutt’s Donkey, Parents’ Magazine Press, 1975.)

This whole post stems from my passion for reading to children. That passion stems from the love of words, the love of a good story, the love of children. What better gift to give a child than a book? Reading that book to as many children as possible, instilling the same love of words and story to the children, inspiring them to look for the underlying moral of the story, awakening their imaginations to other times and places–what sweet memories this creates. This list barely touches my treasure trove of books, each with its own set of memories–the child or children who loved it and our time spent together with a good book. I pray you will find your own favorites (or try these) and begin making your own memories. A good children’s book is a treasure.

Lessons learned

What a journey I’ve been on the past nine months! For it was just nine months ago that I posted my first blog! And, since then, self-published the first of what I hope and pray will be many novels and started writing the sequel. I was, and am still, such a novice, feeling my way through both the creative process and the technical aspect of writing in the digital world, struggling to grow my platform, and, most importantly, discerning who I really am as a writer. I’ve learned some lessons (and need to master many more).

Lesson learned #1: Early morning awakening can be a blessing! More times than I can count during the development of Freely Given (the first book of the Four Corners series), I awakened at three a.m. and was blessed with a sudden revelation, an epiphany if you will, regarding the direction the story should take. I have learned that those quiet early morning hours are to be welcomed as a special time when the spirit can be at rest and the mind can be open. Sometimes it is simply a time to be present with God. People who I characterize as the strongest prayer warriors I know often tell me that early morning awakening is their signal that someone needs prayer. One dear saint tells me at those times she prays “through the alphabet”, lifting up those whose names begin with each letter. For me it seems that my creativity is at its peak, although I cannot conceive of actually approaching the keyboard at that hour. The ideas have to be filed away, ready to be put into play during the next opportunity to write.

Lesson learned #2: You don’t have to know the ending when you are beginning. I was dismayed when, early on during the writing of the above mentioned book,  I didn’t always have a sure sense of its ending. How gratifying to find this Robert Frost quote printed on a bookmark picked up at a local writer’s conference. Writing anything, I think, is discovering. Life, I know, is discovering, for is there anyone of us who knows our own life ending? We just need to keep beginning!

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.

Robert Frost

Lesson learned #3: The Christian faith is, it seems, completely and uncontrollably, central to everything I write. As I view stats of this blog, posts bearing the tag faith are the most viewed. It seems that Christian, rather than popular, fiction is my calling.  Readers of the book frequently reference the thread of day to day Christian life that flows through the story. One gentleman noted, “You could be a preacher.” Really? The book was originally intended to be a romance! And, I guess it is, if one imagines one’s relationship with Jesus as a romance. He does, after all, woo us and call us to an eternal relationship with Him. The Bible calls us, the church, His bride. Sounds kind of romantic. But I am forced to consider: Is it possible for inspirational contemporary fiction to be popular in our culture?

Lesson learned #4: Writing is work! I so admire my fellow bloggers who are so prolific. To turn out the quality and quantity of your work strikes awe in my writer heart and mind. You are truly focused and gifted. As for me, life as wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, nurse, etc., etc. carries on. A TV commercial (I cannot remember what product was being advertised—take note, ad agency) last evening caught my ear–the phrase “the human race” was used to focus attention on the demands of 21st century American life. It seemed very apropos. And, for now, writing must be more of an avocation rather than profession as I race on.

So, back to my lessons for now! May you, dear readers, have a blessed day! What lessons will you learn?

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A cleansing breath, please………

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Lately a repetitive refrain has been playing in my mind–“The world is going too fast! Slow it down! Or, maybe, let me off?”

It’s strange the way God uses the little book above to interrupt my frenzied busyness. After a particularly busy weekend (which is supposed to be a time to rest, correct? Or did I make that up?) I came across the perfect quote. It goes like this:

If you could once make up your mind in the fear of God never to undertake more work of any sort than you can carry on calmly, quietly, and without hurry or flurry, you would find this simple commonsense rule doing for you what no prayers or tears could ever accomplish. The instant you feel yourself growing nervous and like one out of breath, you should stop and take a breath.

(Elizabeth Prentiss as quoted in Mary Tileston’s compilation titled Daily Strength for Daily Needs, copyright 1997, Whitaker House Publishers)

I have a dear friend who often remarks, “Cleansing breath”, when we are faced with technical or interpersonal difficulties at work. The comment used to just remind me of Lamaze childbirth exercises! However, wouldn’t it be lovely if the simple act of taking a “cleansing breath” became our reminder of the true breath of life, God’s spirit dwelling in us? And, how lovely would it be when that reminder reframed our attitudes from frustrated, helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed, and angry to flexible, capable, hopeful, in control, and serene?

Now, granted, I suspect Ms Prentiss lived in a time a little slower than ours. I am almost certain she was NOT a nurse! However, there is to be considered the reality that we 21st century Americans are encouraged to overcommit and use the word no with great reluctance. We do want to be considered team players and good citizens and superhuman in every facet of daily life. I was gratified to find Ms Prentiss’ words giving me permission to be judicious in my commitments.

So, dear readers, the next time you feel at the end of your rope, tie a knot, hang on, and, just, Breathe!!

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Caught in the panini press of life…….

We have all heard the phrase, “the sandwich generation”, a description of baby boomer life in which we are sandwiched between the needs of aging parents and growing children. I’m here to say that my sandwich is a Dagwood variety (remember the comic strip?), not only composed of layer upon layer of stressors, but, true to 21st century culture, squeezed and heated in the Panini press of life! You all know the feeling, right? Trying to write, make a living at the “real” job, be a good mother, daughter, Nana, Aunt Kat, in-law, cousin, etc., etc. And, of course, trying to be at least a modestly good wife. Oh, and there are the friendships that are so sadly neglected because there just seems to be not enough time (or energy) to go around. And Facebook. And what about Twitter–I don’t even understand that whole scene yet. And LinkedIn ……….. I am doomed!

Well, of course I am not really doomed. I just feel that way sometimes. I’m trying to understand why. Reason one: An obsessive-compulsive, perfectionistic nature (although I am slipping away from the latter as evidenced by the dust on this desk as I write). Reason two: Failure to cultivate a heart of gratitude by recognizing and remembering my blessings and giving thanks on a regular basis. Reason three: Impatience (you know the feeling, wanting it all now–forever seeking a sense of completion and control with the mistaken perception that it would come if the house were clean, laundry done, pantry stocked, bills paid, blog faithfully posted to–you get the drift.)

I am reminding myself right now that that Panini press is of my own doing. Sure, life is full of stress. That’s how we know we’re still alive, a friend of mine often says. But I don’t need to be in control because someone higher and better and wiser than I is. Remember Jeremiah 29:11? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That verse should turn off the heat and release the pressure of that Panini press!

So, right now, I lay the imperfection of my obsessive-compulsive, perfectionistic, impatient, ungrateful nature at your feet, Lord. And I prayerfully ask for your forgiveness for taking the remarkable blessings of this life for granted. I thank you for your love, grace and mercy; for faith, family, friends, work, and the gift of self-expression through the written word. May it always be done for your glory. Amen.

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Signs

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My family and I have just returned from a short trip into the great state of Texas. Stopping in Dallas, San Antonio, and then Fort Worth, our trip involved a significant amount of drive time. Riding in a car is when I get lots of ideas for my writing. I see a house and my mind begins to imagine who might live there. Then plots for stories develop, and I’m off!

The travel time also gave opportunity for reading roadside signs. A couple of the billboards struck me as rather humorous. One displayed the photograph of a VERY attractive woman with the caption She Spies! The advertisement was describing her business as a private investigator. I gave her kudos for a catchy name for her business. Another, again graced by the photo of a VERY attractive and professional-looking female, advertised her services as an attorney. She received my congrats for the catchy headline, which read: Ever argued with a woman?, giving her positive marks for turning what can be a negative connotation toward the female gender into a positive attribute.:)

However, it is the third sign I am going to describe which gave me pause and left me feeling rather disturbed. A small church near the expressway displayed a sign sporting this advice:
Considering suicide?
Call on Jesus, the
source of all comfort.

I do believe in prayer, and I am not discounting its benefits to both the sufferer and his/her family and loved ones. However, I do not concede that depression and suicidal ideation are necessarily spiritual problems. The dark pit of depression is known to have origins in abnormal balance of neurohormones in the brain. For too long we have viewed depression as some kind of personal weakness that only needs a little prayer and a little faith and some getting on with life. It’s not that easy, folks. I’ve witnessed both the agony of depression and the tragedy of suicide, as well as addictive behaviors that develop in the effort to self-medicate oneself out of the pain. And many of these victims have had strong Christian backgrounds and beliefs.

I hope we as people are becoming more open-minded, more informed, more sensitive, and more ready to step in with real, meaningful intervention when indicated. I know I’ve learned a few lessons over the past 10 years, and I’m sure I’ll still be learning more 10 years from now. But we Christians need to more careful about presenting Christianity (or any other faith) as the sole solution to suicidal thoughts. We need to pray for wisdom and insight and discretion and love as we try to help those we know who are fighting the battle with the enemy of depression.

The sign scared me. What if someone suffering severe depression with suicidal thoughts reads that sign and stops meds or stops seeing their mental health professional, depending solely on Jesus’ comfort to protect them from harm? And what if that spiritual strategy just doesn’t work? I pray that that doesn’t happen.

A dream coming true. . . . .

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Above you see evidence of a dream coming true–the “physical proof” of my first novel. It seems I’ve dreamed of being a writer all my life. As a matter of fact, I guess I have been a writer, but, perhaps now, I’m becoming an author.

The book is NOT the “great American novel” by any stretch of one’s imagination. It is simply an inspirational romance which celebrates life in small southern towns, where life is often centered around the church. It is a love story but very “pure” by today’s standards, reminiscent of Grace Livingston Hill and Emilie Loring novels that I read as a young girl. Those novels proved to me that love stories can be inspirational and pure, yet still entertaining. I hope and pray that there are some who will still find that style of writing enjoyable and uplifting.

But, most of all, as I have seen this project come to fruition, I have become more aware of the very good things that God has blessed me with in this life. A good education, the profession of nursing, loving and supportive family and friends. And, most of all, faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As I was kindly rejected by a literary agent, I remember telling him that God would do what He wanted with this story, for it was His. And, it is His. Seeing it come to life has inspired me to try harder, do better, be kinder, be more faithful.

And so, whether it is commercially successful or not, whether it receives positive or negative reviews, whether readers find the characters as charming as I do or not, it is a success. Because dreams come true for very few, and I am one of the lucky (blessed) ones. And this process has made me a better person.