Archive for May, 2012

The annual Memorial Day trek to decorate graves with my brother and sister has come and gone. We faithfully visited the long list of buried ancestors, most of who we never actually knew.  My dad’s dad started the tradition and my dad drummed the mission of honoring our history into us.

For years my dad led the charge and narrated the day with stories about Aunt Evelyn and Great Grandpa George, of babies who died tragically and patriarchs who lived long event filled lives, and of the boy who got hit by the ice truck.  We listened but we didn’t write it down.  We always planned to, but time got away from us.  My dad is gone now and with him the details of lives that formed the roots of who we are.

So we find ourselves wandering the rows, pooling the bits and pieces we have, laughing, remembering and wishing we’d listened better.  We thought they were just stories. Now we know better.  Now we know they were the brush strokes on our life canvas.  It mattered that Genevieve’s toddler died of pneumonia and she never had another child.  My dad carried that little bit of sadness with him.  It mattered that one of Walter’s boys went bad and died in a gunfight with police. My dad carried that lesson in making right choices.  It matters that one of dad’s cousins whose name we can’t ever remember ran in front of an ice truck and was killed. My dad carried the reality of how tentative life is from that day forward.

Those pieces and more made up the man who passed on to us the integrity and compassion, sense of humor, passion and everything else that makes my siblings and I who we are today. These are the things we will pass on to our offspring and they will pass to theirs, if we keep the stories going.

Here’s the real tragedy in these ramblings.  I am a writer and I didn’t write the stories!  I used to think writing the next great fiction novel was the most important thing.  Now I know that it is writing the real stories, capturing the true seemingly unimportant details of a life – because my dad’s memories are my history. My present will become the memories that are my children’s history.  And on it goes – the oil painting that is never finished; the canvas that changes layer upon layer, the colors ever deeper and richer.

God knew it. He included in His divine Word stories of generation after generation, stories of dying young and making right and wrong choices, of being heroes and failures, of a father’s traditions being passed on to his sons. He made sure the stories were written down.  He made sure they were shared.  There is a lesson in every one. Just like the lessons hidden in my dad’s simple retelling of the life events buried beneath the headstones. 

Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.  Joel 1:2-4

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So, a friend told me she thought it was time for a humorous post.  She should have known the danger of that suggestion because the funniest things that have ever happened to me also involve her.  I hope she’s up for this!

My husband and I make quite a few extended trips on our Harley Davidson.  We have a favorite couple we like to travel with, the friend mentioned above and her husband.  They had been married just five days and this was our very first trip with them.  My husband and I were celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary and they were marking one week as we left home for ten days on the open road.

It is no secret that guys love their bikes.  They talk about them, show them off, polish them, compare them, and talk about them some more.  Everytime we stopped for a break, the guys would stand around admiring the bikes while she (let’s call her Bev) and I busied ourselves with more important things like finding an espresso stand or poking around gift shops or catching up on all that had gone on since the last stop two hundred miles ago.

This particular stop was for gas and a short break.  Bev and I went inside the mini-market to grab a cup of that questionable push-a-button- shazaam-it’s-espresso.  Of course we got the extra large size.  We wandered back out to where the guys were doing what guys do – admiring their bikes.  The sun was shining, the weather was perfect and the camaraderie was perfect. 

I leaned against a pole and took a big sip of my drink.  Bev decided she needed something out of the saddlebags so she set her drink on the front seat of the bike. The memory of what followed will forever be frozen in time.

Bev opened the saddlebag, her extra large, hot, sticky drink tipped over, the shiny chrome of the Harley disappeared under a sheet of mocha – and the only sound was the sharp gasp of breath from every man within viewing distance.

No one moved for several seconds.  All of the guys looked at the husband.  Bev and I looked at each other.  Somehow we knew this would be the ultimate test of the week old marriage.  She would either be flattened, forgiven, or forced to find her own ride home.

Have you ever known someone who reacts to a crisis by laughing?  Yeah? Well,  that’s my friend Bev.  So let me give you some advice right here and now.  Dousing a Harley Davidson showroom polished motorcycle with a sticky chocolate drink is not a laughing matter.  Take my word for it. 

You might also appreciate knowing that pulling a cheap, carboardy napkin out of your pocket and attacking the flawless chrome is not a good idea regardless of your intentions.  There are special chamois cloths for that.

And one more bit of knowledge gleaned from that experience.  Men love their wives.  Men love their motorcycles.  Do not let yourselves get in a situation where one is pitted against the other.  My friends are still married – but it was a close call.

Now – the challenge.  How do I turn this little story into something inspirational to fit my platform?  I guess I would have to refer to this little scripture hidden in the book of Leviticus. 

“‘Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment.”  Leviticus 5:17

Bev, the fact is you were a newlywed in a whole new experience, completely innocent of the rules.  But by the biker standard – you were guilty as sin! And had you not been a brand new bride, it may have been the unpardonable sin!

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I was doing the fast clean thing in my kitchen Saturday before hopping on the Harley for an all day ride with my hubby.  My fast clean thing is where I make the surface look good and pray no one looks over, under or inside.  I was swiping off the counter and came across a bag of stale dinner rolls.  No mold or anything – just really stale.

I thought about hanging on to them for another day or so.  I could always nuke them to refresh them a little.  But of course, as soon as they cooled they’d go stale again.  I thought about trying to use them in something else like dressing or as croutons.  I thought about freezing them until I could decide what to do.  But in the end, I tossed them.  Stale bread is stale bread.

I was visiting with a friend yesterday and the topic of someone who had hurt both of us pretty severely came up.  We shared a few stories and put the whole thing back on the counter while we moved on to fresher topics.  On the way home I found myself revisiting some of the hurtful incidents.  It wasn’t pleasant so I had to make a decision.

First of all, I’d obviously done the fast clean thing with that relationship.  I might have looked like I was over it on the surface.  But opening a door revealed what a poor job I’d done.

I had to make a choice.  I could hang onto the hurtful feelings for a while.  But the last thing I wanted was to freshen up stale pain.

I could try to use them in some other situation – to prove myself innocent, to give examples of how I’d been the bigger person in the relationship, to get a little sympathy or compassion.    But why would I want to recycle any of that old stuff?

I could freeze them deep and out of sight until I could decide what to do with them.  But that just takes up room in my memory storage bank with bad stuff and makes less room for me to keep the good and golden memories.

In the end, I had to admit that stale bread is stale bread.  It was time to toss those ugly buns of hurt and betrayal and tears beyond measure.  It was time to pull out the flour and yeast, tie on the apron of God’s amazing grace and mercy, and stir up a batch of fresh baked goodness.  And when I made that choice, God did a most wonderful thing.  He brought back a distant memory of a time of laughter I’d shared with that person, a time when I had loved her and enjoyed being with her. 

Now isn’t that just like God?  The minute you do what He asks and let the bad stuff go He fills up the empty spot with the one thing to keep you from missing what you tossed.  I love Him for that!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such thingsPhilippians 4:7-9

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I was feeling my recurring frustration the other day over never having enough time to keep up on all I have to do, want to do and need to do.

Time is such a slippery commodity. Great plans can be sabotaged by the wasting of it. Great things can happen in a fraction of it. And great regret can be felt at the passing of it. My thoughts led me to how God values time. A few amazing contrasts came to mind.

God created the world in just six days. What a glorious, monstrous accomplishment in such a short time, right?

The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. There is nothing noteworthy that they accomplished other than the passing of an entire generation. What an incredible waste of a very long period of time.

Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days – a short time compared to many events recorded in the Bible. But I would guess that for Jonah those three days felt like an eternity.

Jesus ministered for three short years and yet was able to completely alter the course of history while accomplishing a direct route to eternal life. In the end, when you examine His prayers, He never asked for more time. He used the time He was allowed to complete the task He was assigned.

We all have the same number of minutes in a day, the same number of days in a week and weeks in a year. We get to make the choice whether to wander around like the Israelites, veer off course like Jonah, or make the best use of the time we have like Jesus.

As a Christian those choices apply to my ministry.  As a writer those choices apply to my writing. As a wife, mother, grandmother, Human Resource Director – for every role I play, the same choices are before me.

God, in His infinite and perfect wisdom, gave each of us enough time in this lifetime regardless of how long the lifetime lasts. And, praise the Lord, we won’t have to worry about time in the next because it’s infinite.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1

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It’s events like the celebration of Mother’s Day that make it clear God had a reason for Hebrews 3:13  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Saying thank you, listing someone’s positive character traits, bragging on them, telling them you appreciate them – all of those things make it difficult to become hardened in the heart.  There is a warmth and a softness that comes when the words we express are kind ones.

The opposite is also true.  Haven’t you noticed that when you snap out a harsh word or criticize an action it begins a negative chain reaction?  The first time you are critical makes the second time easier.  The second time you put someone down takes even less effort.  The third time you verbally express a nasty thought makes the fourth time a piece of cake.  You begin to go downhill emotionally and spiritually.  Sin’s deceitfulness is at work.  When we maliciously criticize one of God’s children we have fallen into the trap of mistrust and unbelief.  For doesn’t scripture tell us in many different ways that each is created in God’s own image, formed in the mother’s womb by the hands of God, and set into this life with a purpose?  How can we then bitterly criticize?

Notice that the scripture says we are to encourage one another so that our own hearts are not hardened.  Is that what you meant to do when you spoke out in anger toward the person who irritated or hurt you today?  Of course not! How unfair that you are the one who walks away damaged.

Yet for every action there is a reaction.  Your heart will respond in some way to every word you speak.  Cold words will result in a chilled center of your being, drawing you into a tight little ball.  Warm words will result in a heated core radiating out to cause expansion. 

The best thing we can do every day is down a dose of warmhearted reaching-out with encouragement in the morning, follow it up with a spoonful of sweet expressions in the afternoon and top it off with a goodnight kiss of gentle words before we go to bed.  Sin can’t deceive a heart that has expanded fully to God’s truth.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil 4:8

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Once you are a mom, you truly understand how God made mothers unique.  It’s a bit like Clark Kent and Superman – same person but different.  Clark is a great guy, but when he morphs into Superman he can do things beyond explanation.  The same thing happens when you become a mother.  A new depth is revealed and it isn’t anything you learned or practiced or even knew you had before.

Once you are a mom you have an innate ability to find things like lost school books, lost socks, lost toys.  You know how to look in the unusual places like the refrigerator or under the steps or in the back corner of the closet.  But you also have the superpower to locate lost souls.  What mom hasn’t looked in a child’s eyes and known immediately that the world is coming to an end?  What mom hasn’t found the right measure of words, touch and encouragement to restore hope and determination?

Once you are a mom you have the ability to fix broken things like toys and handmade artwork.  But you also have the superpower to fix broken hearts.  What mom hasn’t dammed a river of tears with a soft spoken promise or rekindled a light in the eyes with a smile and cookie?

Once you are a mom you hear things like a cry in the night or a specific whimper on the playground, even the “mommy” called out in a chaotic crowd of children that you instantly recognize as yours.  But your superpower allows you to hear the soundless things.  What mother hasn’t heard the unvoiced fear of a child’s first step out into the world?  And what mom hasn’t tucked just the right note into a lunch bag or texted just the right words of courage for an unvoiced dread?  What mom hasn’t heard the unshed tears of anguish when a game is lost or an election goes the other way?  What mom hasn’t heard the beating heart the first time a boy looks her daughter’s way?  What mom hasn’t heard the unasked questions when a child looks in a mirror?  Am I pretty?  Am I strong?  Who am I?  What mom hasn’t answered those questions before they were even asked?

Once you are a mom you know just what lessons are critical to making your child into the best person he or she can possibly be.  But your superpower enables you to know that no matter what, your child is already the best you could possibly hope for.

Today I’m really missing my mom who passed away twelve years ago.   She read me like a book, loved me like no other human could, and encouraged me in ways I never realized until I became a mom.  My prayer is that her legacy lives on in me.

My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Prov 6:20

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Another rejection letter from a publisher, another disappointment, another talk to self about not giving up.  It’s a typical day in the life of a writer.  Still, each time bruises and causes a little soreness for a while.

I know the manuscript is good and I believe in it passionately.  My pep talk to myself reminds me that it just wasn’t right for this particular publisher.  I tell myself it’s an opportunity for improvement.  I remind myself that many well read books out there have a history of rejection.  Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times.  Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times and he actually threw it in the trash but his wife rescued it.  Gone With The Wind was rejected 38 times.  It’s a tough industry.

When you are a writer, you can’t not write.  There’s always a story, a poem, a novel clawing to get out.  Although publication may be the writer’s dream, I don’t believe it is the writer’s soul deep goal.  The true, passionate longing of the writer is the pouring out of words, ideas, creative thoughts. 

As a Christian, I would equate writing with prayer.  The prayer warrior pours out her soul to God.  We know the prayer is good, we’ve put our best effort into it and we submit it to God, hoping to get the answer we want.  But that doesn’t always happen.  Often times it’s not the right fit with God’s plan just like a manuscript might not be the right fit for the publisher’s list at that time.

I honestly believe that while getting a prayer answered in the way we desire is our dream, conversation with God is our ultimate, soul deep goal.  We pray because we need to pour out our hearts to God.  We know He’s in charge.  We know He knows what’s going on.  And we know He has the right answer.  Our humanness makes us want to suggest a solution to our need.  Our spiritual side realizes we are being presumptuous.

Our job as a writer is to keep the words flowing, to believe passionately in what we write, to trust the agent or the publisher to evaluate our manuscript fairly and to accept the answer and move on.   Our job as Christians is to keep the communication lines open, to trust in God’s timing and God’s wisdom, and to accept His answers and move forward.

There is one great difference between writing and prayer of course.  I’ve never ever received a rejection letter from God!

Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!  Psalm 66:20

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Is there anything more disheartening than when someone in ministry loses their focus and goes down a wrong path?  I don’t mean they completely turn away from God.  That would be much more than disheartening.  I’m talking about the ones who forget Who is in charge and begin to operate under their own power and not His.  Invariably, as part of their new plan, they are driven to destroy what they left behind.

As Christian we want to look up to our pastoral teams and our ministry leaders.  We want to hang our hat on the security that they are solid and will always be.  But often we are disappointed, even shocked, to find them flawed.  Under the power of God’s hand their ministry is amazing.  But when they step out and begin to do things under their own power, trying to convince people it is still God in charge, the power manifests itself in the great damage that they do.

How should we react?  What should we do to assure that the least amount of damage is done and the fewest number of people are hurt?  God gives us specific instruction.

Ephesians 4:29-32  tells us “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Wait a minute!  That instruction is for them not us, right?  After all – they are the ones out there trashing our good name and planting seeds of destruction with their bitterness and anger.  Where’s the instruction for the ones wounded by their weapons?

For the answer to that question, go back to paragraph four.  Harming because you’ve been harmed is never God’s plan.  Retaliation bitterness, pay back rage, defensive anger – sorry, not justified either. 

If the Christ who died for us can say from the cross, “Father, forgive them” how can we not do the same? 

Our job is to pray for their angry and misguided hearts, to speak words of encouragement to others so they are not harmed, and to let the Holy Spirit work on the mess created.  Our job is to be the Christian others can look up to.  Our job is to be bold in standing up for what is right but at the same time be compassionate for the one who is being manipulated by the devil into thinking he or she is right. We can only do this if we turn away from flawed earthly examples and “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”  Hebrews 12:2

Lord, help me to remember.

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