Monday, December 28, 2009
Like last year, the Christmas season presented challenges. Jolene's death didn't lay as heavily on my heart, but Mom is now in assisted living ... my son celebrates his faith in the Messiah through Jewish festivals and thus skips Christmas ... so I had to prepare my heart and spirit for a different sort of Christmas celebration.
After the week-long Hannukah celebration with Jaran and his family--can anyone say wonderful?--I was almost welcoming a lowkey Christmas.
I didn't expect to be snowbound! As Tamela Hancock Murray (a co-author of Snowbound Colorado Christmas) said, too bad this wasn't the year we were writing that collection. I could have written from personal experience ...
Snow began falling on Christmas Eve and ended up accumulating 14" in Oklahoma City, the most ever on a single day in this area. Inches of snow pushed against my door (never have I been so thankful for shelter) and snow drifted waist high at the edge of the doorstep. I couldn't get out.
So I stayed home on Christmas Day, baked chocolate cookies, and ate hot dogs and cookies for my Christmas dinner. I had an unopened present ... in my car ... it might as well have been back in Denver.
I had a wonderful morning with the Lord, and enjoyed watching the Librarian movies in the evening. I confess in between I wasted some time in self-pity. Saturday, ditto--especially when we lost power, my son couldn't get here and even the food delivery guys couldn't make it out. (I was getting really tired of hot dogs!)
Yesterday Jaran dug out the path to the car and took me to a convenience store for peanut butter, bread and milk. Never did grilled cheese taste so good! Today I hope to drive myself over to Mom's for a much belated Christmas.
What a Christmas. In retrospect, I suspect I will see the humor of it more than I felt it at the time. What a reminder that Christmas is about God with us, and not about the trappings.
One of my resolutions for 2010: write in this blog, at least once a week.
Thanks to all those who stop by.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I reread these familiar verses recently in the wake of a painful rejection of a book project. They struck me anew with the application to a writer's life.
Even with six books to my name, I haven't obtained it. I haven't made it. And I'm far from perfect (as proved by the detailed notes in the rejection letter from the editor).
But I need to keep pressing on, to "take hold," to improve my craft, to become the writer God wants me to be.
To do that, I have to forget what is behind. I need to put past successes, my nomination for a Book of the Year award, numerous contracts and change to a full time, profressional status in the rear view mirror and move forward. I also must set aside the rejection, learn from it, but not let it stop me. I have a set a goal, a goal I believe honors God, and achieving that goal will take pressing on and straining forward.
All of my striving shares one common purpose: the prize, the ultimate gift of serving the Lord who gave everyone for me.
I needed that word from the Lord at one of those vulnerable times in my writer's life.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Last week I traveled south on I-35 to Paul's Valley and came back via 77. It was a lovely afternoon jaunt.
Yesterday I traveled west on I-44. First surprise (although I should have expected it): it's a toll road that cost me &6.50 for travelling about 50 miles "there and back again." After about half an hour, I decided I was tired and only wanted to get back home. At the time, I was approaching Chickasha. I thought the sign read "next 3 exits," so I was looking for one that that said "food" this exit. I bypassed the MacDonald's because I wanted "real" food.
Big mistake. Only two exits led to Chickasha and the next exit was twenty miles down the road. What could I do? I trundled down the road, exited at Sterling and hoped I could at least find a gas station with bathrooms and snacks. Five miles off the highway, over the crest of the steepest hill I've seen in Oklahoma so far, I think I found Sterling. The main portion of the town lay somewhere to the south of me but I didn't want to get lost trying to find it.
And no, I didn't find any gas station, let alone a restaurant. Thank the Lord I had plenty of gas.
So I headed back for Chickasha and headed for the place a sign advertised for serving "fried pies." I found the stand; but it was closed. But at least I found a gas station. After a bathroom and a nice long cold drink of diet coke and cheese crackers, I felt much revived and made my way home.
Oklahoma, here I come. I think I need to get off the highways and onto the back roads to actually see more than billboards and rest stops.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Until last week. I was trying to think of an example of someone who shared all news, good and bad, with that one special person. And I remembered how Jolene always called me with the details of her life. Oh, how I wanted the phone to ring and to hear her voice. Oh, how I longed to have her run to me full of joy and throw her arms around me. I cried, hard, for several minutes; and tears continued to spill throughout the weekend.
This morning I woke up from a dream about Jolene. I have stacks of boxes to sort through ... things that belonged to Jolene and Mom, as well as some of my own. In my dream, someone found a quilted black-and-pink purse that Jolene prized. They wanted to throw it away; I wasn't sure.
So Jolene was in my thoughts when I woke up. During my quiet time, I sang, "Draw Me Closer, Lord, to Thee." Jolene again skipped into my thoughts when I sang "I long to rise in the arms of faith." Again, I missed her arms around me.
But then I realized ... Jolene doesn't need to be drawn closer to the Lord. Not anymore. She's as close as she can get. That which I prayed for, she already knows.
All I can do is look forward to the day when I join her in the Lord's presence.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
But here I am today, determined not to let another week go by without writing something.
Fall has arrived in Oklahoma. I took Jordan for a walk along her street last week after rain. I handed her yellow leaves and introduced her to dogs we met. I felt like a teacher when she replied "oof!" the next time she heard a dog barking. It's cool and damp and definitely time for long sleeves. I understand it's already snowed in Colorado, and I can't say I mind having rain instead!
Pumpkins abound everywhere ... the residents in Mom's assisted living place recently decorated pumpkins. One creative person painted theirs with black, white and gold stripes ... very striking. Another lies on the floor of Jaran's house, ready for Shannon to take it to school to decorate.
Speaking of Jaran's house, their cats seem to have adopted me. The adult cat, named an improbably "Pinky" (male and black. Where did Pinky come from?) dozes on my hood whenever he has the opportunity. The kitten Mister (also male and black) isn't satisfied with dozing outside the car. He jumps in as soon as I open the door, probably looking for more of the hamburg he found there once.
In other words, life is good, and Oklahoma begins to feel like home.
Monday, October 5, 2009
--the three book Vermont historical series for Heartsong (Prodigal Patriot, book #1, due out next summer)
--another novella for 2010 (Face of Mary in A Woodlands Christmas)
--Book of the Year nomination for Dressed in Scarlet in Snowbound Colorado Christmas
--every devotional I've sent out has sold
--publishers considering my longer books
--the awesome booksigning in Denver
--This year's novella anthology, Wild West Christmas started out wild at the gate and promises to sell very well.
--most recently, an invitation to join the staff of a magazine
Not much of this has amounted to much money yet, mind you, but the possibility is there.
I also gave my first speech at Toastmasters and was told I did things well that some Toastmasters take years to learn.
I could be walking around with a puffed up head. Probably am.
Maybe that's why God has sent this path across my path twice in the past week: "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord" (Jeremiah 9:24, 1 Corinthians 1:31).
Jeremiah in fact reminded me "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, or the writers of her contracts (my insertion) but let who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me."
I pray I will be faithful with the opportunities God is giving me.
Monday, September 21, 2009
The best way to describe conference for me a reunion with hundreds of my closest family members, to put faces with people I have come to know and love via email.
I may post several times about conference - different aspects of the experience - but for now I'll share high points and low points.
The low points jumped on me when I crossed the two-building length one more time to get to lunch--to discover the meal was a buffet and I had to stand in line. I started crying. I went to conference sans cane and sans pain pills and overall did well. But I'd had it by lunch that day.
As for high points, I laughed and smiled my way through the booksigning. No, I didn't have an out-the-door line like Debbie Macomber (I sat a table near her). But I did have a lot more than the "possibly none" every writer fears at occasions like this.
My roommate and good friend Connie Peters brought four of my books to sign. I wrote something different in each one. For my mystery, I was trying to write Enjoy the murder and mayhem.
I was talking while I was signing and my subconscious took over. I actually wrote Enjoy your murder and mayhem.
Susan Davis, who shared the table with me, told Connie,"Well, it's your book. You bought it."
There is more to the story, about a purple pen (thanks to Rene Gutheridge).
Tears of happiness when a friend from Echostar took a bus from downtown Denver to the Tech Center to come to the signing. Waving at you, Gregory!
Later I'll tell you what I learned.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Lying in bed might not be so bad if she was doing something. Watching television. Reading. Looking out the window.
But she lies there, blinds down, tv off, dozing on and off and thinking random thoughts. When I chide her, she says "But what is there to do?"
I don't know how to respond. She has puzzle books and coloring books and crayons. She doesn't do any of that. She doesn't even turn on the tv. She has the schedule of activities at the Center, but she only attends church services. I urge her to try them all out. Unless she truly hates something, take part in everything. But she chooses not to.
I feel like she's waiting to die. And it breaks my heart.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
My writing process: everyone's is different, so I'll let you in on mine. I write a first draft with no corrections. I make notes to myself along the way: "This sentence is bad but I'll fix it later." "Anac," which means I want to check whether the word or phrase was in use in that time period. "Go back and fix earlier references" when I change something. So it's really raw. I do the entire manuscript that way.
Then I do a major overhaul; send it out for critique; revise again; and give it one final look before I send it off.
I am in the first, major revision mode on two different projects at the moment: the last third of a manuscript that is due on the editor's desk on November 1st and the first three chapters of a new project for a proposal. I want to take that one with me to the ACFW conference in Denver next week.
The final third is the easier project. By that point in the story, I know my characters well and I know where the story is headed. Revisions consist of cutting out the junk, and making the writing sing and filling in a historical gap here and there.
But the urgent project at the moment are the three chapters for conference. And man, it's miserable. As usual, I started the story in the wrong place and had to cut out the first two scenes. Some day I hope I will figure out the right place to start the story before I write boring, unnnecessary stuff!
On top of that, I used different names for the same character. Oops. Another character didn't get a name. Double oops. And a third character changed from a teenaged Jewish girl to an older African Americian woman, and I had to decide if she was a protege, a mentor, or a confidante. So Miriam became Maggie and is neither Jewish nor African American but Irish.
All of that before I've started revising the actual wording of the manuscript at all.
Terry Brooks, author of marvelous fantasy books, wrote a writing manual called Sometimes the Magic Works.
That's what pulls me through the revision stage. The rough, raw, ugly baby turns into something magical--something that editors and readers want to read.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
The UPS delivery man said, "You must like to read."
I corrected him. "No. These are books I wrote. See, that's my name on the cover!"
Oh, the joy of having a new "baby" to show off. And I love our covers for Wild West Christmas. And I counted my blessings that I have had three books release this year.
So in the interests of shameless self-promotion, I'm going to quote from the back cover of Wild West Christmas.
"Sharp-shooting LUCY AMES is thrilled to join Major Paulson's Wild West Show. But is she setting her sights too high when she begins falling for budding evangelist Gordon Paulson? Would she be better off aiming for a stable, widowed rancher?"
My story, Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter, follows Charlsey's Accountant by Lena Nelson Dooley, and before A Breed Apart by Vickie McDonough and Plain Trouble by Kathlee Y'Barbo. Each novella tells the romance for a different sister in the Ames family.
Wild West Christmas is available from Barbour Publishing and coming soon to a bookstore near you.
Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter comes on the heels of my Book-of-the-Year-nominated novella Dressed in Scarlet, which came out last year. Next year, The Face of Mary will appear in another Christmas collection. That's right. Last week I found I get to write another Christmas story. I love 'em! The new contract gave me always-welcome reassurance that I have might the right decision to write full time, at least in August 2009.
Have a good week, everyone!
Monday, August 17, 2009
At a nursing home, I've learned to tune out the moans, wails and mumblings of other residents and focus on Mom. If I can wheel a patient somewhere, or give a hug or ring for a nurse -- I do it. But otherwise, I have to tune out the excess noise.
On Saturday, a woman named Eloise wandered into Mom's room. Mom introduced her as Eloise Smith. She said Eloise Jones (I've forgotten the real names, but they were different). Mom asked is Smith was her maiden name. Eloise got a confused look on her face, said "That was a long time ago," and then started talking about a boy. She stood in a muddle, unclear where she was or why she was there, so I offered to take her back to her room.
Out in the hallway, I encountered two more E's: Evelyn and Edna. They had joined their wheelchairs in a fierce battle. Whenever Edna tried to move past Evelyn, Evelyn turned to block her passage. Evelyn accused Edna of stealing her blankets.
Eloise couldn't remember her room. And we couldn't get past the wheelchairs.
The blankets belonged to the nursing facility. But Evelyn had it in her mind that they were her blankets. When a nurse's aide intervened, she grumbled. "I'll sell them up north. I can get better prices there."
It was funny and sad, both at the same time.
I joked to Mom, "Is there an Emily, Esther or Earlene?" And thanked God that Mom's mind is sharp, she lives in today, even if she sometimes forgets small things. She is alert and positive, much more so than when I first arrived in Oklahoma.
I walk by a room full of patients every time I go to see Mom. They recognize me, smile, greet me. I feel shame for my previous perception of the elderly living in nursing homes: scary, unattractive, ... unworthy of my time or attention. Only as I see my mother's slide and I catch an Edna or an Evelyn on a good day, do I recognize these people are also God's children. Precious treasures who have lived full lives and deserve respect and love.
And the day comes every closer that I will join their ranks ... and pray someone will still love me.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Man, did I struggle through my birthday. Every event made me miss Jolene all the more, my birthday especially.
This year I had the joy of spending the day with family. Eating ice cream with Mom (soft enough for her to manage). Going to Western Sizzlin' with Jaran and family. Watching Jordan's face go through every expression from disgust to delighted "give me more" as she tried all kinds of new foods: cottage cheese. lime jello. peas. And any number of other things.
Last year, Mom and I were struggling with whether or not she should have her heart valve replaced. Was the surgery successful? I don't know. She has gone downhill rapidly in these last few months, taking me with her on a journey that always arrives at an unexpected time.
A year ago, I asked God for patience, wisdom, courage ... and I still need all those things. And more.
Through good times and bad, surgery and recovery, contracts and rejections ... God is faithful. Praise the Lord that never changes.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Monday: Mondays seem to be a struggle to get back into a writing routine. Saturday I work as needed, Sundays I take off. Mondays it's nose-back-to-the-grindstone time and I just take a long time getting anywhere. But eventually I did. And shared supper with Jaran & his family at the restaurant where he works.
Tuesday: Met my writing goals (yay!).
Wednesday: Managed writing goals, Jaran came by, went to choir at night.
Thursday: Here's where things got interesting. Long-distance phone call from a Denver friend. Looked for my retirement check, which was supposed to be delivered by the 23rd. No sign of it. Found out my novella Dressed in Scarlet is a finalist in the ACFW Book of the Year (BOTY) contest! Too excited to do any more writing, so I went out to celebrate. Saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Friday: Found out the check had been delivered to the office at my apartment on Tuesday! Aargh. At last deposited. Yay! Spent the afternoon taking care of Jordan and evening out for supper with family.
Saturday: Attended the OKC chapter of ACFW for the first time. New friends!
Sunday morning: Tried to join local church. Ran into a big snag; they're saying I should be baptized again, I disagree strongly. Very upset.
Sunday afternoon: Shelley (dil) invited me over for a home-made "greasy Mexican fiesta." We gobbled it down ... all of us going back for 2nds. Wonderful afternoon with the older girls, who made my day by telling me they didn't want me to go home. They joked about how they would sleep in Jordan's crib and I could have one of their beds. :) Day ended as well as it had started out poorly.
I have visited Mom almost every day. After last Sunday's discouraging visit, this week she has remembered small things, like the Bible book I'm studying with a friend and the soon-to-be-released movie of our favorite book of all time (after the Bible): The Time Traveler's Wife.
Many more ups than downs ... but please pray with me that I'll have wisdom about the church situation.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I'm starting to get plugged in. On Wednesday night, I visited choir rehearsal. Oh, how I miss choir when I'm not singing. I received a warm welcome from the folks at Southern Hills Baptist Church. They're already working on Christmas music. Christmas in July is more than a catchy phrase at this church.
On Thursday, the lady who invited me to sit with her in church last week called. Friday night, my new friend from last Sunday invited me to join her at Toastmasters. Saturday, I went to a potluck dinner and movie night with the singles class.
(I must have overdone it with all the parties and outings. I got sick on Saturday night and didn't make it to church.)
Silver friends? I like to think so.
And the olden, golden ones. A letter from the man who helped me prepare to move. An email from a former coworker. Another from a friend from my church back in Colorado.
Friends--how needed. What wonderful gifts from the Lord.
Keep Mom in your prayers. She has good days and bad days. Yesterday I mentioned her stay at the hospital. She said, "When was I in the hospital? What for?" Oh, Mom.
Thanks to all of my blog friends.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I'm so glad I went.
Last week I visited a megachurch here in Oklahoma City. The services were great, and they responded with 4 contacts during the week. But I had missed that personal touch during Sunday school--no one took the time to talk with me. But I returned, and asked God, Please let them welcome me into their midst. And if I should meet another writer--so much the better, Lord.
God answered that prayer. They invited me to a French-themed pot luck supper & movie night on Saturday. One lady asked me to sit with her during the worship service. And lo and behold ...
Yes, I met a writer! Who is also a musician. Out of a church of 1200, in a class of 12 people, I met another writer. She invited me to her local group, and we've made arrangements to go to a Toastmasters meeting on Friday night. Fridays, yay! When I always feel at odds and ends.
Thank you, God, for leading me. Amen.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I then fall in your arms
As you give me a big squeezy bear hug
I look into your face
A face of love and wonder
I shall find a place called home in your arms
You say loving and comforting words to me
Tell me that I am all right and no harm shall come
And though I close my eyes you put me
on a soft cloud and sing a lullaby
Oh Little One you shall find peace in me.
By Jolene Franklin
January 19, 2001
Darlene's note: This one makes me want to cry. Jolene ran home to her Father, and this prayer came true for her.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
When I talk about good times, I have to remind myself that God is also good when times are tough. His nature doesn't change when my circumstances do!
But this past week has had some amazing developments.
It's official: I have received a contract from Barbour for the first of a three book set of historical romances set in Vermont. In the past week, I have written over 10,000 words for Prodigal Patriot, a love story set during the American Revolution, scheduled for publication next summer.
I also have received a contract for 30 short pieces for a nonfiction book for Barbour.
So God is blessing my decision on both fronts.
Thanks for your prayers and encouragement as I work on both these assignments.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Often I'm singing to my cat, Talia. She follows me around and looks at me with round blue eyes (Siamese blue), and so I add her to my song. "Talia, Talia, where have you been? I've been to London to visit the queen. Talia, Talia, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair." Every time she hears her name, her ears perk up and she looks at me. Sometimes she graces me by jumping next to me on my bed or onto the computer desk or the box I am unpacking.
I sing to Talia because she is precious to me and because I love it when she knows I'm talking to her.
Do you suppose God feels the same way?
One of my favorite verses from the minor prophets is found in the third chapter of Zephaniah: "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (emphasis mine. verse 17)
I pray I will hear His song, perk up my ears, and bask in His love.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I should know. I've had three "blank pages" in the past two weeks, writing first chapters for a number of different projects I hope will sell. And the beginning always seems heavy, uninteresting--nothing anyone would want to buy.
Yet a blank page is exactly how I want to be before God. I want to come to Him without my ideas pencilled in. To allow Him to write His plans, His thoughts, His prompts to action on my heart, day by day, hour by hour.
And then maybe the blank pages of my writing will fall into line.
FYI: Mom left the hospital on Tuesday and is in a skilled nursing facility for rehab.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I don't know much about how it will work. My agent, Chip MacGregor, talks about thinking of income in terms of quarters. How much do I need every three months to get by? And I know I am close.
The question comes, how will I make up the difference? It's a business. I have to treat my computer as my office and sit down each and every day and write for the length of time I would be working at Echostar--probably more. I have to explore open markets and introduce myself.
And trust God to open and close doors.
When I say "write," I don't mean I am writing a novel or an article for eight hours a day. That includes time spent researching, marketing, planning--even blogging. Writing and editing take up only a portion of my work time.
Pray with me for discipline for getting "to work" in a timely manner each day, and for a balance between my family's needs (where will Mom go after the hospital?) and my need for income.
And start pursuing your own dreams. What do you need to do to get there?
Monday, June 29, 2009
How many people worked together to make it happen for me individually--Dianne back in Denver who paid my way. Janet from Edmond who drove three of us up to Tulsa. Josanne who worked tirelessly to find me a hotel room and Vickie who put me up for a night. The numerous people who welcomed a newcomer and talked with me. I got to meet Margaret Daley and Brandt Dodson, two of my favorite authors.
The weekend was the mountaintop. Tulsa is hilly and lush and green. By the time you get to Oklahoma City, the plains have about started and it's no longer hill country.
I almost didn't go. Mom had a stroke on Thursday. She's in the hospital.
She appears to be doing well. The stroke affected her tongue; swallowing is hard. She doesn't want to do the exercises, but without them, eating and talking will be hard. We don't know when she'll return to the Assisted Living center, but it may be soon.
She insisted I go ahead to the conference, so I did. I am so thankful I was here when it happened, and not back in Denver.
Thanks for your continuing prayers.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Savannah and Shannon had already been hatched when they joined my family. My first memories of Savannah are of dashing through a water sprinkler on a hot summer day (when she was still young enough to enjoy such things) and convincing her that Jaran's Mom could be cool. She survived a difficult first year of junior high and has matured into a sweet young woman.
Shannon had adopted every animal on her Mimi's farm when I met her. Unfortunately, the bunny rabbits and chicken died. But now she has rescued a box turtle named Peyton and is keeping it as pet. So far the cat Pinky hasn't decided to devour it. Whenever I turn up, she pulls out a game and challenges me to a new round of Wii or cards or whatever.
And Jordan--well, you've heard me talk about her plenty.
I came home in mid-afternoon, happy and drained. A friend told me "Good. That's what you moved to Oklahoma for."
Now for finding some friends that AREN'T members of my family. A bit lonely so far ...
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Here are 2 poems from January 14, 2001:
Oh How I Come to Thee
Oh, I come to Thee
Oh Lord I bow down to You
Oh in Your tempe of grace and power
Oh how I shall sing holy holy is the Lamb
Oh God in the highest I shall praise Thee
Oh God how I shall know Thee
Holy is the Lamb
Holy Holy is the Lamb
Lamb of heaven
And lamb of God
Oh Lamb of grace
And Lamb of power
Oh how I shall praise the Lamb
Monday, June 22, 2009
Verses to cling to as I make a new home in Oklahoma. I have been here for a week. Have I unpacked yet? Are you kidding? The kitchen is mostly done, so I can cook. The rest remained untouched while I spent much of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday taking care of that precious grandbaby. (Kisses to Jordan here). I lack the strength to attack it all at once, so I will juggle the remaining dozens of boxes with writing.
Highlights so far?
Talia the cat took to the road like a seasoned traveler. She curled up on the child's seat in the moving truck and didn't complain the whole way. Praise the Lord!
Jordan is a happy, healthy six-month-old, who stares at Grandma and grins widely. She's cute and intelligent and ... any of you grandparents out there, fill in the blank.
Hoping to meet people soon. Visited a church yesterday, but it doesn't feel like the right place, so I'll keep on looking.
Mom isn't doing well. She's much weaker, she's lost a lot of weight, she's forgetful and disoriented. The good news is that yesterday she went out to church and she went out to dinner with me. Two outings in one day! I hope she will take more of an interest in things now that I'm here.
Great apartment. Jaran did well! It's at the center of things. And it's more spacious than I remembered, which is lovely.
Unless the Lord shows me otherwise, I plan to try to write full-time. Jaran and Mom need me for significant amounts of time. Pray with me for discipline in work and for God's blessing on sales.
I have the same email address for anyone who wants to write. belovedfranklin (at) msn (dot) com.
Monday, June 8, 2009
In describing the "armor of God," Paul urges us to go "with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace." (Ephesians 6:15, NIV)
I've always taken that to refer to evangelism--readiness to share the good news of Christ as we go. I still believe that's part of the meaning. After all, Isaiah 52:7 says "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who boring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'"
But yesterday our pastor preached about friendship. One of his points was that while shame and guilt keep us from being friendly, in Christ we are free to take risks and reach out to someone else. Because of the peace God gives us, we can move our feet.
A door in my mind opened. I can be ready to go wherever God leads--because He's given me shoes for my feet, made out of His peace. I don't have to be afraid.
What wonderful words of encouragement as I undertake this huge step. All that comes with living in a new city--new job, new friends, new church--God's peace softens and prepares each step I take.
For those of you who prayed for my singing: it went well. But something funny happened. I stepped up to the music stand, and the left lens popped out of my glasses. The pianist was already playing the introduction. I took off my glasses, thanked God that I had memorized the verse, and sang. I've been laughing about it ever since.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
In fact, my mind started racing so quickly when I got up that I forgot my quiet time. Thank God I remembered it when I went back to get dressed, and spent a few minutes with the Lord.
Since Monday, three writing buddies came along and helped me pack up half the house. Thank you, thank you!
Last night, the music minister at our church had told me "You WILL come to choir on Wednesday." Why, I wondered. The choir wasn't scheduled to sing again until June 14th - when I'll be gone.
Was I surprised--thrilled--honored--when he asked me to sing a solo with the choir for this Sunday. It's the first time at this church, and I have been singing nonstop since he asked.
So pray for me as I pack up the remaining spots around the house and as I sing on Sunday. Pray for the book proposals out there, for my job situation in Oklahoma.
And if you like, I'd love to see you at the morning worship service at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church on Sunday morning. (10:30)
Monday, June 1, 2009
I have received my author copies of my historical romance, Beacon of Love. The story takes place in 1815 Rhode Island during a hurricane. Can the doctor overcome his fear of the ocean and help the lighthouse keeper's daughter keep the lights burning during the Great Gale?
Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy.
With God's help, I could affirm some bed rock truths:
God wants the best for me--even if His definition of the best doesn't match mine.
God loves me even when I'm throwing a pity party and He'll carry me through to the other side.
My definition of success is short-sighted. I want God's approval more than man's--although man's affirmation is always nice.
My dear son prayed with me, and I began to feel better.
After that bottoming out time, God began to pile blessings on. On Friday I turned in my resignation and paid my last month's rent--tangible signs that the move is coming near.
Also on Friday I received my author copies of Beacon of Love. Yay! Those of you who are members of the Heartsong Presents romance club should receive it soon, and anyone else ... you can contact me, or Barbour, directly.
On Saturday, several faithful church friends showed up. One gentleman moved out the boxes and furniture I had designated for donation. Two ladies stormed through Mom's room and packed it up. The task ahead is still daunting, but no longer seems impossible.
Best of all, I learned that my middle granddaughter Shannon received Christ at church camp. Praise the Lord! She will be 10 this summer, and her salvation has been much on my mind.
Thank God for His faithfulness and goodness when I'm so far from faithful.
P.S.: If you are interested in winning a free copy of Beacon of Love, please post to this blog with your contact information. (john dot smith at msn dot com)
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Jeremiah 31:3 states "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." Later in the chapter, in verse 13, it states "Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well"--versions of my silly shower songs--"I will tun their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow."
Thank You, Father, for giving me gladness, comfort and joy in place of the sorrow that weighed me down. Let me turn the memories of Jolene into moments of praise and not despair.
In the words of this month's praise song at church (The Blessing by John Waller): "Let it be said of us that we lived to be a blessing for life."
Monday, May 25, 2009
But all I can think about is moving. I have hit the project hard this weekend: about 20 bags of trash and maybe 10 boxes of stuff to give away. Mom's closet, 2 bureaus and 1 hope chest left to sort through. It's close to being ready to sweep through and throw everything into boxes.
However, last night my knee informed me that it had had enough. As good an excuse as any to take it easy for the day.
Mom asked me if I've found anything that makes me happy. It has been fun to run across bits of Jaran and Jolene's childhoods that I had forgotten: a story Jaran had written. Jolene's first "picture." Even photos of me as a child. A bulletin from the church where I came to know the Lord. A letter to Mom from the grandfather I never met ... interesting, yes.
But mostly it's just plain hard work. I've watched the entire season of Castle and Cupid via the internet while I've been sorting. And made a dent in episodes of NCIS that I missed.
I'm rambling here, I know. I can't wait for the work to be over and to be in Oklahoma with my family. Less than 3 weeks to go!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Mark tells us the first time the rooster crowed: right after Peter denied Jesus the first time. The question crossed my mind: Why did the rooster crow twice? Was Jesus giving Peter a warning to stop and think about what he was doing?
But like so many of us, Peter didn't stop and think about Jesus words. In his fear and confusion, he went ahead and fulfilled Jesus's prophecy. He denied his Lord two more times before the rooster cried again.
Comparing my upcoming move to Peter's denial seems pretty silly. But I hear the rooster crowing, nonetheless. Until I get settled in Oklahoma, I think I'd better cut back on my blogs to twice a week: back to my Monday and Thursday schedule.
And the next time I'm tempted to do something God has warned me against--pray that I'll hear the rooster crow the first time.
How graceful are the mountains
Mountains that guard the singing prairies
Who beckon me as they call my name
Their beauty and grace shall I find thee
In the mountains I call my home
On the prairie I shall stand by the majestic mountains
Who watch all they see
Monday, May 18, 2009
One bit of advice for writers hasn't changed in all my years as a writer. Editors repeated it again, many times, at the recent conference. Avoid passive voice.
A friend asked me, "What is passive voice?"
I could direct you back to high school grammar, diagramming sentences and direct objects. "To be" verbs are passive. I am, you are, he/she/it is. I was, you were, he/she/it was. "Feel" and "seem" fall into the same category, and "to have" verbs are also weak.
Here is an example from my current WIP (work in progress):
I could have said, "It was cold."
Instead this I wrote this: "their breaths formed identical puffs in the frigid air."
Passive voice also refers to sentences where the subject of the sentence is being acted upon instead of doing the acting. I know, that sounds as clear as mud. Consider the difference between the following sentences:
My house was robbed by a stranger.
A stranger robbed my house.
She was upset because of her bad grades.
The bad grades upset her.
The solution to this problem with passive voice usually involves switching the second half of the sentence with the first.
I am featured today at http://gratefulgrammy.blogspot.com. Go on over and check it out!
So when God showed me the following verses from Isaiah 49, I felt like shouting "Hallelujah!" (Formatting mine.)
--Called me before my birth.
--From within the womb called me by name.
--Has hidden me in the shadow of his hand.
--said, "You will bring me glory."
That's how God sees me. What's what wants me for me. That's His calling.
But how do I often see myself?
--My work seems so useless!
--I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
When I think all that I've strived for has come to nothing, God wants to use me for His glory. After writing for 18 years, I can get caught up in feeling it's all been for nothing. I have little to show for it.
God reaffirmed His calling and His purpose. Whatever happens with the open doors at this conference, I know that God has a purpose in all that happened on the mountain top and in the days to come. Amen.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
At the time I began writing (back in the early ‘90s), ACRW was still a gleam in the founders’ eyes, I didn’t yet have a computer, and the internet age was still in its early years. I didn’t have access to the tremendous helps available to writers today.
What I did have was a faithful critique group. We met in Vickie Baker’s home 2-3 times a month, every month, for almost ten years. I would take my typewritten pages to a nearby grocery store to make copies. We would meet for however long it took to critique everyone’s work. Janet Garmon was the first to have a book published (Home Run Rudy and His Tattletale Teeth); Vickie followed with her autobiography, Surprised by Joy.
In the crucible of those biweekly meetings, I learned accountability (who wanted to go to a critique group and not have anything to share?) and caring and ... yes ... what worked and what didn’t in good writing. What did “show don’t tell” look like? What were active verbs? Vickie made a point of writing her book without using any passive verbs except in conversation.
How did we structure the group?
We wrote all across the board. Vickie was a trapeze artist before a broken back gave her a life sentence to a wheelchair. Janet wrote mostly for children. Others wrote poetry, short stories, devotionals, science fiction. We represented the major genres of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
We read our own contributions out loud. We tried to follow the critique sandwich—something nice, something that could be improved, something nice. When we received something back without red marks on it, we wondered “was it that good ... or that bad?:
We also came from all levels of writing. Our core group started as rank beginners and grew together. Others came and went, but we always welcomed newcomers to the group.
We functioned as much more than a critique group. They walked me through my 40th birthday and my son’s difficult teenage years. When Jolene finished her difficult freshman year of high school, they threw her a party. When Vickie grew terrified at the coming millennium, we helped her through the crisis.
The group finally disbanded when Vickie went home to be with the Lord in 2003.
Could I have grown more quickly with a critique group that specialized in romance fiction? Perhaps. But I will always credit my initial growth as a writer to that committed circle of friends.
I’m part of a critique group of published authors now. Anyone interested in hearing how that differs from the earlier group, the pros and cons?
Monday, May 11, 2009
So every time I open the door, she dashes out. Let me restate that. She dashes out, as long as I'm going out at the same time. Of course, I'm only going outside when I'm leaving. I don't have time to chase after her.
She runs away when I call her (of course). She doesn't understand that my concern is for her safety. Cats make tasty tidbits for coyotes that occasionally roam our neighborhood. She was a stray taken to the animal shelter when I got her ... that's another possibility. She could disappear one day, and I would never know what happened to her.
So I warned her, exasperated, of the danger she was in. That if she persisted, I would have to lock her up in the bathroom when I leave to prevent her running out the door. And what kind of day would that be?
Not that she understands. She just knows that I'm angry with her for some reason. Oh, and yes, she knows I don't like her to go outside.
I recently finished listening to the prophets of the Old Testament. God warned His people over and over again--If you persist in disobeying Me, you will suffer the consequences.
They didn't pay any more attention than Talia does. They knew what they wanted and didn't quite believe the warnings God sent through the prophets.
The next time God warns me about something, maybe I should listen.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
And I thought about work. I've become the "go-to" person when someone has a question about the Bible. Recently someone asked "Who was Cain's wife?" They also don't forward dirty jokes to me. I'm thankful for that reputation, but that doesn't share my hope.
No, that comes less often. But those opportunities do come. The week after I celebrated Easter, a co-worker said she was going to color Easter eggs with her son on Friday night. It turns out that she was raised Orthodox, and they were celebrating Jesus' resurrection a week later.
I had overheard this same person telling someone else (we sit in the same cubicle, I can't help but hear) that she struggled with believing what couldn't be seen or proven. She's a trained scientist. So I was surprised that she would follow a religious ritual.
She shared how her faith is important to her ... but her husband grew up in war-torn Bosnia, the victim of religious conflict, and wants nothing to do with religion. He doesn't want their son raised with any faith. "Let him make his own decision when he is old enough."
She said, "But this much I will do. I will celebrate the resurrection with my son."
One of those times when the Holy Spirit pokes me and says "so, say something." I shared something ... I don't remember what ... whatever I said, I felt inadequate in addressing the problems she and her family had faced. I'm not convinced her "religion" is by faith and not an expression of her culture (1st generation immigrant from Macedonia.)
But one advantage of working in a secular office are these one-of-a-kind conversations. I pray God will use my words to speak to her heart. As I walked through the valley with Jolene last year, God opened many such doors.
I'm also thankful that people in all walks of life will read my books because they know me; people who would never walk into a Christian bookstore or join an inspirational book club.
For someone who felt called to full-time ministry, I found it in the most unexpected place--a secular satellite tv giant.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Picture a boy and a girl dressed in old-fashioned, hobo-like clothes, standing on a traintrack. The verse says "On the road of life ... it's not where you go but who you're with that makes the difference." Jolene filled the blank space with her hard to read handwriting and this is what she said:
Your love and supporting got me to where I am today. If not for your sacrificing I would not be as adult. You taught me so much about life. Money. Debt. Choosing a house. Detention. Good employee skills. On the road of my life you were always there.
Taught me about God is first, be my first. You came as a role model as well as anything I can dream. God is love, and He knew we would need each other. You rock me still, you rub my back. I cannot tell you in words how much I love you. My heart reaches out with God, surrounding you, to give you a hug.
Here she drew a picture of arms hugging a heart, with the words God, me, Mom written in the middle.
Love, Your Little Bit (nickname) who is no longer a kid but your adult daughter who will always be your little bit.
On the envelope, Jolene wrote To my mother: For I could not wish for a better mother on earth, it was destiny for us. With all the love in the world, your JoJo.
Thank You, Father, for the words from beyond the grave. You and my girl are still hugging me tight.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
I always say the same thing. It's two-fold.
Read, read, read.
And--you guessed it--
Write, write, write.
I confess I go a little overboard with reading. I carry at least one book in my purse at all times--two, if I'm nearing the end of the book. If I find myself out without a book--gasp!--I buy one. It doesn't matter that I have 20 unread books at home. I have to read.
But if you want to write, you must first be a reader. Read specifically in the genre that interests you (magazines? memoirs? horror? chik lit?). Read widely. Read bestsellers (what makes them so appealling?), new authors, and old favorites. Read classics. Read anything--but read.
Writing is equally important. Vickie Baker, my earliest writing partner, said that she told people she was going to write for six months before she ever put words on paper. The practice of writing consistently--even if only for five minutes a day--will improve your skills more than five hours altogether once every few weeks. The more we write, the more we grow in what we want to say and how to say it.
That's my challenge for this week. Read and write.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
From Joshua 14, he shared how Caleb boldly stated that "I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me"--forty-five years later, at the age of 85. He demanded "give me this mountain!"
Exactly how I'm feeling. "Give me my dream!"
Over the last few days, I had realized that I didn't fear being rejected (a real possibility). My fear focused on having my dreams crushed. And since I definitely can't realize my dream of writing full time if I don't risk rejection--I went ahead and sent the proposal on.
Today God didn't promise that I would get the contract (He'll let me know through ordinary channels)--but He did assure me that He was pleased with me. That I had acted in obedience and faith.
Pleasing that audience of One is all I needed.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know I enjoy watching sports. But that's not the point of this post.
The Nuggets could have entered the seven-game series with a fearful attitude. They could have said, "We've lost the last five years. This year won't be any different." But they didn't. They went in with confidence, and won the series 4-1, posting 20+ point losses on the Hornets.
I need to be like the Nuggets.
I have the opportunity to submit a book proposal that will be decided by the time I move to Oklahoma. In other words--I could have that much-longed for contract that would allow me to write full time. No need to worry about a job.
I was discussing it with a writer friend. I told her about my hesitation. She said, "Oh, so you're afraid, just the rest of us."
Bingo. She put the problem into bald words and startled me. Frightened, because like the Nuggets 14-year playoff series drought, the editor has rejected at least ten previous proposals from me. What makes me think this time is any different? So rather than risk rejection, and the crushing disappointment that would come seeing my dream slip away from me at this time ... I'm tempted to not even try.
So pray with me about facing the monster in my computer, that I will do my best work, that the editor will look on it with favor ... and that I will be at peace, whatever happens.
And share your own monster stories.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I love thee, God
How I love thee
Oh how I love him
He is so special to me
He is my dad when I had none
Oh what a God
A God that I love with all my heart
I love you beyond the glory
Beyond my eyes I do love thee
Love love is all I can say
Oh how I love thee
Mom's note: Amen! Now and forevermore.
Monday, April 27, 2009
The silly song represented the last few days for me. I've been singing snatches of hymns, praise songs, and plain old made up songs for hours every day. The sillest one? "May 1st is a week away." Yesterday I adapted the lyrics. "May 1st is still five days away." (Maybe we'll have a snow-free May? I hope so!)
I sing when I'm happy. I sing when I'm sad, to cajole myself out of the mood. When I can't stop singing, that's usually a good indicator that I'm feeling great.
In spite of the snow.
Here is a poem I wrote many years ago, celebrating snow. One of my favorites.
Heavens telling, snow falling
Winter white, God is calling
Hear His voice soft and low
Gentle as new-fallen snow
Catch His words one by one
Flakes glittering in the sun
Heavens telling, snow glist'ning
Winter white, are you listening?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
On the radio, our hockey and basketball teams switched stations last fall. They are now located on a hard-to-find AM station in the high ranges. I can usually tune in from the study; in the bedroom, where I often listen as I drift off to sleep, the static is so bad I can't understand the words.
Last night, I was headed to bed when the Nuggets' playoff game tipped off at 8:30. I tried to locating the channel on my bedroom radio; no luck. Then the thought occurred to me. What if the problem isn't the location ... but the equipment? I moved the radio from my study to the bedroom and lo and behold! Success. I could hear every play. (The Nuggets are now ahead in the series, 2 games to none. Maybe they'll get past the first round this year.)
By my own choice, I have limited what I listen to. A similar choice faces me when I go to work. Audio books fill my work hours. I have the Bible on CDs--64 of them--and I decided to finish my annual "reading" by listening to 1 CD every day before I start on something else. There are days when I don't want to listen. I am caught up in the story of my current novel, or don't want to listen to the warnings from the prophets. But I can choose to listen to God's word--filling my mind with His thoughts--or not. (I'm in the middle of Ezekiel. Talk about object lessons!)
Back up further, to when I get out of bed. My Bible waits by my bedside. I have no excuse for ignoring it and jumping into the day's routines. Yet there are days when I do exactly that, come back later and realize, I never had my quiet time today.
Changing channels. What do we choose to listen to?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
What a God are you
In this life is just a taste of what is to come
I hear you calling out my name
and I shall run to you and
you shall embrace me in your loving strong arms.
You say have faith little one
as I walk through the valley of death
Even as I am blind I know he is there guiding teaching me
I walk through the trials of my life
when I am done you stand there
to greet me and give me encouragement
for another life trial.
You give me hope to lean on you, hold me up straight
when I fall down you place a kiss
and wipe off all the dirt and grime
and tell me to try again and I fail
don't worry I still love you as much
as the beginning of time.
I love thy God for all he does and
the price he had to pay for me.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Another principle of descriptive writing is to use strong, active verbs when setting the scene. I am still using my current WIP--not because they are the best examples, but at least they're mine.
"The wind caught her hair and lifted strands across her eyes. She held them away with her hand, not wanting to miss a yard of the seacoast, of rocky hills climbing straight out of the water. "
I particularly like the idea of rocky hills climbing, because of course they don't move at all. Look for unusual verbs that convey the impresson you are trying to create. Yesterday I read a sentence about a midwestern drawl crawling along someone's skin, and I instantly knew this seemingly harmless man was a villain.
As always, use the five senses to convey setting. In this paragraph, my heroine is being drawn to the galley aboard ship.
"A pale pink horizon peeked through the porthole. She listened to the ship. Next to their cabin, Cookie sang as as he worked in the kitchen. She enjoyed waking up to his morning hymns of praise. A familiar yeasty smell reached her through the boards. He had promised a special repast for their last morning aboard, and perhaps he was fixing cinnamon rolls or at the very least fresh bread. A welcome meal. She knew they would not enjoy leavened bread for most of their trip to the west."
The example uses four of her senses. The following example includes the sense of touch as well as sight, hearing, and taste to introduce the ship's cook.
"Zillah remembered how she gawked at the strange, unexpected molasses-hued color of his skin. She had longed to touch the dark curls that sprang from his head like lamb’s wool. The tall stranger had welcomed her curiosity and bent down so she could feel his hair. The tight spirals and bumpy surface tickled her fingers, and she giggled. He spoke English, a kind of English Zillah couldn’t always understand. But the first time the man made cookies for the children, he had spoken in the only language that mattered. A language of the heart. For days afterward she had followed him around the house, calling “Cookie! Cookie!” And so the nickname was born. "
Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch. Five cornerstones for descriptive writing go a long way toward showing and not telling as well.
Monday, April 20, 2009
"Devout men are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." (Isaiah 57:1b-2, NIV)
The thoughts reminded me of Mom's view of Jolene's death. What pain, what heartbreak--what evil--awaited her if she had lived? Perhaps her death had spared her further disappointment.
Jolene's faith shines through in her poetry. She's one of the "devout" that God refers to. No, He didn't take Jolene away. I know that. But she has been spared evil. She has entered into peace. She has found rest. And those are all good things.
That thought brings me comfort as I dig out from Colorado's spring snow storm (maybe a foot and a half of snow? It fell for 36 hours.)
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Last week I pushed myself to pack the hallway bookshelves. There is only enough room to stand; before my surgery, I couldn't have done it. So I praised God for legs that will hold me, and bent and straightened and shifted books and videos and other heavy items.
By Friday, my legs had had enough. My left knee cramped when I sat done on the low toilet seat, and I worried about whether or not I would be able to stand during the Good Friday service that night. I made it through the service, but made a point of taking a very quiet Saturday. I did grocery shopping, but no house work. No packing. So once again I'm behind.
Sunday, the sky was overcast, and I was still sore. I walked into the church library. But as I mentioned on Monday, I was feeling good. Easter does that for me. A friend greeted me. "You're smiling today!"
The librarian said, "Darlene's always smiling!"
Always smiling. I told her how much that meant, given everything that's happened this past year.
Always smiling. Because with God, I am always all right, even if when my life is falling apart.
Always smiling. Maybe that's why my co-workers bend over backwards to help me, even though I'm quiet and don't joke back and forth quite as much as everyone else.
Always smiling. I'm glad that's the memory people have of me.
Because since God is for me ... who can be against me?
Absolutely no one.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Our church was packed yesterday, even the balcony. Yes, people came dressed in springtime finery. Children had enjoyed an Easter egg hunt. Fake grass lined the edges of the hallways and after the service I saw children tearing into packages of candy. But it was so much more than that ... the sheer joy and celebration that "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!" The cry of hundreds of voices responding "He is risen indeed!"
I love Easter. Without the resurrection, everything else I believe is meaningless. The fact Jesus returned from the grave proves everything He ever claimed and gives hope for my today and tomorrow. Without His resurrection--without the promise of my resurrection--Jolene is really and truly gone.
Even the rainy drizzle couldn't dampen my spirits. He is risen!
Say it back to me. He is risen indeed!
Amen and amen.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
A man does everything for his dog. He feeds it, gives it a home, takes it for a walk, and lavishes love on it. The dog thinks, "Man must be a god!"
A man does the same things for his cat. But the cat, on the other hand, thinks, "I must be a god."
I can see all of cat-and-dog people out there nodding your heads and smiling.
This time, the dog's response has a lesson to teach us about faith.
Our heavenly father gives me my daily bread and keeps a roof over my head. He lavishes His love on me. He sent His own son--for me!
John reminds us that "we love Him because He first loved us." That's the dog's response. We recognize God as the source of all good things and love Him and follow Him.
But too often I'm like the cat. I feel like I'm entitled to all those wonderful things. Never do I call myself "god" with my words, but my actions proclaim my cat-like attitude. What makes me feel good and puts my needs first--that's how I expect God to treat me. I forget that He is God and I am but His creation.
Wow, look at everything He does for me! He must be God!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
It was a good rejection. The reasons the proposal was rejected had nothing to do with my writing and everything to do with market needs. They even asked to see something else from me.
But rejection is always hard. I am struggling right now to focus on writing. I have run a writing marathon over the past year. Now I am fitting writing around packing and working extra hours. Without as much time to write and without a specific deadline to meet--I am not accomplishing as much as I would like.
Add to that content edits on one of the manuscripts I wrote last fall--with a general comment of "vary your sentence structure." It's been a while since someone said my writing was weak. It hurts.
I'm sure I'll learn from the experience. Improving my craft is important.
But in the meantime, I feel like I might have failed at the opportunities presented to me. And that this last year may be the highlight of my writing career, fizzling to nothingness as quickly as it arose.
Any suggestions out there on dealing with discouragement?
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Spring snow continues. Fellow Denverites, how many snow storms is this in the past week? Three or four? But God is good. Snow fell during the night and again this afternoon, but did not fall during the crucial morning hours when I had to get myself out of bed and to church.
I mentioned the deer near my place of work last week (that blog posted at the wrong time, by the way. It was supposed to be my Thursday blog). On Friday, they weren't satisfied with staying in the field. Two does trotted across the street in front of me on my way home. I love looking at animals.
My beloved lynx point Siamese is my constant companion. Last night I laid my head next to hers. She used her soft paws and teeth to unsnarl a knot in my hair. I enjoy someone working on my hair, so her attentions gave me gentle pleasure. A bit like God's tender mercies--perhaps a bit sharp, but reminders of His loving care.
As I've said before, faith is like my cat.
God is also at work in the minutiae I don't like. Going to a restaurant and seeing table after table with couples, while I sit alone. Getting news that a book proposal was turned down. Packing, sorting, shifting books, books, and more books. I can only do so much of that before I'm exhausted (and add in temperatures in the teens, my knees start complaining.)
I can't wait to see what mighty works God has in store for my life.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The same sentence in my current wip (writer's shorthand for "work in progress," in other words, our current writing project) earned rave reviews from my critique partners.
"The predawn sky was clear, the moon sliding behind the pines surrounding the house. "
I'm not sure why that sentence caught their attention; it seems fairly prosaic to me. But I have been told by others that I am a strong descriptive writer. So now my challenge is to capture the process of how my mind comes up with strong images.
Read. I notice well-done description in books that I read. The right description can set mood. My favorites for this skill are James Lee Burke and Nancy Pickard. I read for story, but every now and then a sentence or paragraph grabs my attention and I pause and consider. Like any other craft, we can learn from the masters.
Practice. For a time I drove my family crazy jotting down descriptions of different places we visited. At the restaurant--ball field--doctor's office--bring it to life with your words. Use all five senses. How would you describe the total experience to someone who has never been there? What small details would let the reader know this is a small family restaraunt or an upscale boutique? Without coming out and saying so, of course.
Similes and metaphors. In the process of learning how to "show not tell," I discovered the beauty of similes and metaphors. For a time I tended to pepper my writing with too many, but the practice made me a stronger writer. In my current wip, I said "She couldn’t imagine living away from the ocean, the crashing waves, the pine and spruce that crowded the shore like God’s army" and "Trying to stop a boy from playing red coats and patriots was like trying to stop the snow—impossible. " Ideally, the description will go beyond describing physical attributes and illustrate an internal truth. My heroine feels safe in her home because the trees remind her of God's presence; she is tired of the constant snow.
There are a few opening statements. Anyone interested in part two?
Monday, March 30, 2009
Have you ever heard that when the Bible says "therefore" you should go back and read what it's "there for?"
Look at the "therefore" in this verse.
"'I believed; therefore,' I said, 'I am greatly afflicted.'" (Psalm 116:10, NIV)
Afflicted because he believed. Wow.
Even better, the psalmist continues "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?" (v.12). He saw no contradiction between belief, affliction, and God's goodness. They were all part of the same package.
A Christian theology of suffering, packed into 2 short verses from the Psalms.
Yesterday, our pastor preached about overcoming fear (based on the time Jesus calmed the storm in Matthew 8). Among other things, he pointed out that (a) Jesus was with them in the boat. As a believer, I should take confidence, knowing that God is with me wherever I go. and (b) God has either planned or permitted every storm.
In the afflictions of the past year, God has demonstrated His goodness to me over and over. With the psalmist, I ask, "how can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?"
I can't. It's as simple as that. What can I give Him? Everything I have, everything I am. Lord, make it so
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I have grown used to seeing cottontails everywhere from the patch of lawn behind Good Times to the bushes in front of the office. Prairie dogs successfully moved their "town" from one side of the street to the other--unsure if they dashed across or carefully burrowed their way underneath. One year I even saw teeny-tiny babies, probably out of the hole for the first time. Adorable!
Lately we've even received emails at work about "what to do if you see a coyote." Well, I've seen coyotes or foxes at various times--from the safety of my car.
But what I saw last week beats all.
Rounding a corner on my way home, I looked, blinked once, and looked again. Those weren't horses (I do occasionally pass horses in the field) or cows. Slender legs. Short, slightly rounded ears. A perky nose at the end of a snout. Short tails turned up with white showing. Five or six head, with a single antlered male keeping watching over his herd. Deer. In the middle of the city.
In Job (this week's through-the-Bible listening), God challenged Job with this question:"Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?"
God is still the almighty God of nature (my daily drink of the majestic Rockies reminds me of that)--but Job didn't live in a city.
Maybe some day this spring I'll spot that fawn.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
In fact, I can see how God protected me through this recovery winter. We've had snow a few times. But we haven't had snow through February and March--normally the snowiest of the year. I haven't had to worry about slipping and reinjuring my knee. God is good!
On Tuesday I spoke on writing devotionals at our local Words For The Journey Christian Writers Guild meeting. 25 women plus children attended. How grand to see old friends. How wonderful to see new writers learning their craft.
A young man of ten shared a story with me. How exciting to encourage him to continue writing. Children of writers have an advantage...they learn by osmosis what we struggle through. (Both Jaran and Jolene are gifted writers. Do I use the present tense for Jolene? You know what I mean.) Oh, and the boy's name was Jordan. Like my granddaughter. Like a precious boy, now a teen, that I taught in Sunday school for years.
Oh, and this week I also learned that my rental application in Oklahoma has been approved.
In Colorado, even the snow speaks of spring, of the moisture needed to bring vegetation back to life.
2009 will be a time of new life for me. I'm sure of it.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The first group of poems comes from a journal titled "For the Birds." The cover features a colored pencil drawing of pink bird sitting atop an orange tabby cat's head. Vickie Baker, author of Reflections of Joy and my faithful writing companion for years before her death, gave it to Jolene at Christmas 2000. She taped a carnation in the front of the journal, a flower that had a special meaning for her. (We'll revisit that when we get to her God's Carnation story.) She made good use of the journal in expressing her thoughts. The following is her first poem after the Christmas season (I'll save those for next December).
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Last week I learned about the Silver Lining contest sponsored by Cup of Comfort (who has published several of my devotionals) and Redbook. The description of the contest states, "When the going gets tough, we often look to others whose tenacious spirits have enabled them to weather similar storms and whose living examples inspire us to persevere and to find a ray of hope behind even the darkest clouds."
I think you will agree that the last twelve months of my life qualify as dark clouds. So I want to accept the challenge. But this is a kind of writing I struggle with. How can I express the hope and faith that have carried me through--in a unique, engaging way? What "silver lining" symbolizes that hope?
I told a friend I would not even attempt the contest if I couldn't answer those questions. But I think I have a glimmer of an answer.
The silver lining that I pointed to over and over again last year was the impending birth of my first grandchild and the opportunity to see her and rejoice in new life.
Ah, you might say. But I thought your visit was cancelled. Another "dark cloud."
Therein lies my story. If I can capture the paradox between the presumed silver lining and the reality--then I think I may have a story worthy of the contest.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I asked one lady to join me for dinner on Tuesday night. She, in turn, invited several others. I ended up reminiscing with seven wonderful women. Talking about Jolene and Mom, about childhood and forgiveness, about moving on. Thank you for joining me.
I wore a red flowered blouse to church yesterday for the sole reason it was all I had left to wear. I received half a dozen compliments on how good I looked. (Thank you, again!) I like red, it's such a cheerful color, but I think it was more than outward appearance. I threw myself into the worship, into singing and smiling and lifting up the Lord. And I like to think that came through.
Jolene's poem appeared Friday by mistake (I thought I had scheduled it for posting at a later date.) I have taken to working through Jolene's things while I'm watching television at night. I am discovering notebooks, journals, scraps of paper, full of her writing. I will be sharing it with you once a week for now. My hope is that you will get to know my precious girl through her own words.
I can sing and smile. Read Jolene's poems without crying. A big thanks to my extended church family for standing by me each step of the way.
Note: I am speaking about Writing Devotionals at Words for the Journey Christian Writers Guild, Rocky Mountain Chapter, tomorrow morning at 9:30. Hoping to see some of you there!
P.S. One comment mentioned an interest in blogs about writing. As you probably can guess, writing is one of my passions, and I would love to share some of the agony, joys, and tips I have garnered along the way. Anyone else out there interested? Please comment to say so, and I might add a day's blog devoted just to writing.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Maybe I should take my cue from Asaph in Psalm 77. His words in v. 2 echo my feelings last weekend: "When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted." (italics mine)
He decided, in v. 10-12, "'To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.' ... I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds."
Now, that's a worthy focus. Looking for God's hand in all the minutiae of my life, both big and small. I glance out my window, wishing I could see the "peaks" promised by my street (Peakview).
I had decided against going to Colorado Christian Writers Conference. I still can't afford to go. But ... last night gazing into the mountains as I drove west on Arapahoe Road, my heart hungered for one last trip into their grandeur before I move back to flatland. And few settings are better than YMCA of the Rockies. Pray that I'll have wisdom about whether or not to go.
I moved to Colorado sight unseen nineteen years ago, and fell in love instantly. For the first time since I left my native Maine, I felt I was at home. The mountains do for my spirit what the ocean does; they both remind of the creator God and lead me in worship. I have lived with daily glimpses of snow-capped peaks. I will miss my friends, and I will miss the home of my heart, when I go to Oklahoma. But God is good, and I believe the years behind will eventually pale in comparison to what God has in store for me in the future.
Thanks for joining me on the journey.
News flash: I have received my copies of my second mystery, A String of Murders. Anyone interested in obtaining a copy, feel free to contact me.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Like sitting shiva, another Jewish mourning custom that resonates with me is that of saying Kaddish. Not Kaddish itself...a prayer for the dead...but the length. A full year after death. Something about a year brings some closure, finality, a readiness to move on.
All day Friday people kept trying to jolly me along. I finally told one friend, “I want to wallow in grief today.”
Well, not really. What I did want was permission to remember, to cry, to grieve. Many days I push the tears away and focus on something else. But over the weekend, I wanted to hold Jolene and my loss close to my heart. At last, when it was time to get ready for work, I broke down. Sobs spilled out. Talia (my cat) kept wandering around my legs, echoing my cries with her own.
I met with a writers group on Friday night—a safe place where I could cry and be comforted. Instead I was caught up in passionate debate about the writer’s craft, and story. I’m doing the same thing tomorrow, when a group of friends from church will gather with me after work.
Yesterday our pastor preached about Job, “The Man Who Was Good for Nothing.” He addressed the question of why bad things happen to some people and not to others.
I told him I felt like he had consulted the calendar, noted the anniversary, and planned his sermon with me in mind. He hadn’t, of course. But the Holy Spirit had.
One of the points he made was that God rewarded Job after tragedy struck, and we could expect the same. It left me with a sense of anticipation, as had the words of one of the praise songs. I will leave everything behind, I will follow you for all of my life. I am leaving Denver and going to Oklahoma to begin a new chapter of my life. God has clearly led our steps. I don’t know what God has in mind, but I believe it will be good.
Jolene will always be part of me, but it is time to leave Kaddish behind.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
One of the boxes was stuffed with Jolene's artwork. What can I say about the cascade of emotions, seeing her talent for design, her eye for color, her affirmations of faith, her childlike enjoyment of cartoons ...
I thought I would get through the box relatively unscathed until I reached the last piece of paper jammed in the back, the top of the too-tall sheet curled to fit into the space.
A mother looks tenderly at a girl, their silhouettes cut from a Lifeway shopping bag and glued onto a larger piece of paper.
Titled simply "Emahay 2006" in my handwriting. The sole example of my artwork in the bag. A simple gift to the daughter that I loved.
"Emahay." (pronounced "eee-mah-hay") I love you.
"Emahayati" (pronounced "eee-mah-hay-ah-tee") I love you too.
Our own private love language, the two words that survived from Jolene's private childhood language.
I cried. I could cry all day. Friday is the anniversary of Jolene's death. I hope to write a thoughtful perspective on Monday.
But today I simply grieve. Jolene, if you can hear me, emahay.
The Lord's voice comes back. Emahayati.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
But I've given this presentation before, and haven't been stoned yet.
One of the cool things about the community of Christian writers is our diversity. We attend churches along the whole spectrum from very traditional to very charismatic. And yet , when we gather, our common love for the Lord and our passion to share the good news of salvation with a dying world override our petty differences.
The same thing is true of those who are grieving. My grief won't look like yours, and yours won't look like mine. We'll express our emotions differently. We'll have our individual time tables. But grief, whatever form it takes for us, allows us to reach out to comfort others with the comfort God has given to us.
When you think of me today, please send up a prayer. That God will empower me through His Spirit to present this important teaching.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
I shared pictures of Jordan at choir last night. How cute! What a happy baby! I see her gorgeous smile and remember Jaran's happy baby pictures. (Unlike Jolene's always serious poses. Forget smiling. She wanted the toy the photographer was holding!) If Jordan is the same live wire, people person her father is, Jaran and Shelley are in for years of trying to keep up with her--and loving every minute of it. I can't wait to get back to Oklahoma to see her again. Seeing Jordan reminds me of my own precious babies. I ache to hold Jolene again, too, but that's not going to happen.
We are coming up on the one year anniversary and not a day passes that I don't think about her, about the loss. I may write about that several times over the next few blogs. God continues to bring opportunities to be with other people as the anniversary approaches. The only offer I've rejected is a night at the bar with people from work, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Somehow I don't think that would lift my spirits.
A reminder that I am speaking at Borders in Northglenn on Monday night.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Mom has been in Oklahoma for a week, and she's struggling with the transition. Disorientation--waking up in the middle of the night with a sense of "where am I? what am I doing here?" Loneliness.
Loneliness is a factor for both of us. I am reaching out. For instance, when I walked into Applebee's for lunch today, I sought out another church family and joined their group. Yesterday, I went to a movie by myself. Slumdog Millionaire. Once you get past the tortune scene that dominates the first five minutes, it's a great movie. Still pretty violent in places, though. Warning.
Accepting help. A co-worker came by with her two girls and we packed up my entire kitchen in an hour! Can you imagine?! Well, we packed up (a) things to go to DAV and (b) things to save for Mom. The stuff I intend to keep is still on the shelves, waiting until the moving date approaches.
Fridays are bummers. Anyone else out there struggle with Fridays? How do you handle them? A year ago, I spent Fridays with Mom and Jolene. Now I'm alone, and I feel every second. Especially now that I've dropped to basic cable tv and don't even have Monk and Psych to look forward to anymore. Hey, it could be worse. At least their seasons just ended. Maybe I'll have expanded cable again by the time the next season starts in the summer.
This morning I sang with the choir. Among other things, our pastor mentioned that Jesus Christ has called us to service: to discover what He wants us to do and to get busy doing it. And sitting at the end of the first row felt right. Leading in music is something I have known God has called me to do since I was a little girl. It's time I got back to it. I think about Oklahoma, and taking my grandchildren to church, and then I think, but what about choir? Jaran and Shelley have a Christian home, they're just not involved with any local Christian community.
Getting back into the groove of having an empty nest--it's a pleasure. It's a struggle. It's work.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Oh, what a blessing. What a blessing to lift and blend my voice with the other dedicated members of the Arapahoe Road music ministry. To be back among people who have held me up and prayed for me and visited us throughout this past difficult year.
Aside from a few weeks last summer, I really haven't been in choir since Jolene's death. First, it was too painful. Every song made me cry. Then, my knee went out and I couldn't possibly make the steps. Lately, I've been busy with writing deadlines and getting Mom settled. (And oh, yes, I still wasn't sure about those steps. Turns out they weren't so difficult after all.)
The rehearsal was wonderful, everything I hoped and longed for, until we reached a song we practiced for last year's Good Friday service. (We're using the same song again this year.)
I rehearsed and prepared for that service, but never took part. Instead, we held Jolene's memorial service on Good Friday. Easter came early last year, March 23, during the time we were in the first throes of grief. For all I know, every Easter from now on I will remember that Easter.
So grief and memory continue to intertwine in my life. Pray for strength to sing God's praise. He is the Resurrection and the Life and most worthy of all my praise and so much more.
Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. (Psalm 96:1-2, NIV)