Thursday, December 30, 2010

Expecting the Unexpected

As 2010 draws to a rather mellow close, I'm enjoying the soothing peace. For a change.

But I know that expecting the unexpected is a way of life in this busy world we attempt to function in, so I can't help but wonder a bit about what surprises 2011 has in store.

I'm reminded of the night a few weeks ago when I agreed to play the piano at a wedding. Now I don't really play much any more ... actually NONE ... since I stopped teaching private piano students three years ago, so I was a smidge nervous about this prospect. It was a small wedding and the bride wasn't at all picky about her music, so I suggested four classical pieces, which she readily agreed to.

So I diligently brushed up on those specific pieces - Pachelbel's Canon in D, Beethoven's Ode to Joy, Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and Beethoven's Fur Elise - for several weeks. Altogether, they were designed to last about 15 minutes before the bride was to appear at the door, cuing me to launch into "Here Comes the Bride."

Cool beans. No worries, mon.

Then came the big night. The bride's sister (the only family member able to attend from Haiti) was delayed at the airport at the last minute so the 7:00 wedding was switched to 7:30. Finally, at 8:00 when she still hadn't arrived, and the guests and I had become thoroughly bored staring down one another, I was told to "just begin playing - she should be here any minute and we'll start the bride down the aisle at approximately 8:15." 

So I played. And I played. And I played. All my prepared music. Then I went through them again. And again. I had no other pieces with me and heaven knows whatever I'd memtorized during my early years had long since evacuated to higher ground.

I finally had to stop due to hand cramps after completing Canon in D for the FOURTEENTH time. Honestly. I ain't funnin' ya. I considered Chopsticks and Heart and Soul as time-fillers, but decided against it. I think if I ever see Canon in D again I'll rip out my very last three hairs.

I felt like cheering when the bride finally appeared at the back door, giving me the thumb's up. I attacked "Here Comes the Bride" with the zeal of a freshly pardoned convict.

So unforseen things happen from time to time, and we are called upon to dig deep to deal with them. Gracefully. It's easy to deal with them like spoiled little brats - my personal forte, but much harder to act like a grown-up. I've been told that once you're in your 50's you're expected to be that level.


So here's hoping your New Year will be peaceful and calm and uncluttered with Canons that never stop.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Place for Jesus

So this is what it's supposed to look like, right? The nativity set in your front yard, I mean.

Well, mine didn't. For the entire month of December, something - or should I say someone - crucial was missing.

It all started last year when I took my yard nativity set in to Children's Church as my visual aid in telling the Christmas story on a stage before 200 kids. My coffee table model was just too small, so it seemed like a good idea to heist the larger hollow plastic model from the yard.

Everything was great until the chubby 8-year-old playing Mary was so startled by the heavenly host appearing that she stepped backward on the manger and sent Baby Jesus log-rolling across the stage. You could hear the c-r-a-c-k of the cheap plastic manger legs in the back row.


Because the set is 20-years-old, there are no replacements available, and I haven't been able to find any wooden boxes or feed troughs that would do. So we've had no manger to house the wee Savior all season. It just didn't seem right to lay the Prince of Peace on the bare ground, so we decided to leave him boxed up in the garage until an idea hit us.

But none did. Until today, Christmas Eve.

I was in the backyard, sprawled on the hammock under the big oak tree, and happened to remember our manger-less manger scene. "Lord, can you please help us with this one? We want to honor Your son, but we've exhausted all our ideas. Got any You can share?"

About a minute later, a shaft of sunlight peeking through the leaves hit something metalic in our yard debris pile at the back of our lot and shone like a lantern. It was an old rusty fireplace grate we'd discarded years ago, the PERFECT size for a manger.

It had been there all along but we never saw it until we asked for heavenly help.

Isn't it heart-warming how God will provde a place for the Savior in our lives if we only ask Him?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Coty Near-Facts of Science

Okay, girlfriends - I'm caving in to requests for a synopsis of a few of my Coty Near-Facts of Science. Sorry, my publisher won't let me share ALL the new ones coming out in my fall 2011 and spring 2012 releases, Too Blessed to Stay Stressed and More Beauty, Less Beast, but I can spill those from Mom NEEDS Chocolate and a preview of a few new ones.

Can you come up with some of your own? I'd love to hear them!  Enjoy!

TCC: Time Contortion Continuum: An angel with a warped sense of humor mans the time joystick in heaven and loves to make us squirm. Need proof? You know how time drags on sleepless nights as you thrash about in the covers, but zips by in hyperdrive when company's coming and the gravy boat hits the linoleum?

Theory of Negative Relative-osity: As soon as you utter the prophetic words, "My child will never ..." cosmic forces kick in to ensure that your little darlin' will perform that precise behavior for the rest of his life. Or until you end his life.

Earring Paradox: When shopping for a specific style or color, inevitably the only cute earrings you can find are clip-ons.

VR Theory: Volume Relativity: The phenomenon that occurs over the summer when your jeans inexplicably shrink two sizes in your dresser drawer. We HATE this one!

Spontaneous Degeneration: When left in an unnaturally clean state, matter will spontaneously atrophy into indiscriminant disarray. An hour after you triumphantly finish slaving over a clean house, mold begins to sprout on shiny faucets, green slime oozes from the vegetable crisper, and dust bunnies proliferate for a closet reunion. Black dirt erupts like lava from the carpet nap, clothing magically appears on every piece of sit-able furniture, and dirty panties peek from behind hampers just in time for the dog to proudly present them to dinner guests.

BBP: Bursting Bladder Phenomenon: That inexplicable law of nature that expands one 6-oz cup of hot tea comsumed before bedtime into two quarts an hour after you hit the sack. And then mysteriously dredges up another quart every half hour therafter. It's the gift that keeps on giving ... all night long!

D.A.M.: That dreaded teenage malady, Disorder of Adolescent Memory. Amazing how stacks of dirty dishes and chores they've done every single day of their lives are so easy to forget! There are times you just want to hook a voltmeter up to their little punkin brains to see if anything is getting through.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Glitter

Don't you just love the special treats Papa God sends our way to remind us that He's intimately involved in every detail of our lives? I call them grace notes. My friend Esther recently told me of one of God's amazing grace notes in her life.
Esther had been dismayed that during her only son's wedding three years ago, somehow a photo of Esther and her husband with the newlyweds had fallen between the cracks. The photographer had snapped pics of family groups and friends and seemingly everyone there except the four of them together.

Esther was deeply disappointed. She knew that was a special moment she could never get back.

Fast forward three years. Esther turned a flash drive from their camera into Walgreens to retrieve some recent pictures she needed of the children's Bible Club she leads. Because there were 200 pictures on the flash drive, the clerk told Esther she'd receive a free 8x10 with her purchase, and asked her to choose one. Esther didn't really have time to look through all 200 photos, but she felt an inner nudge to do just that. Lo and behold, buried deeply in the bunch, somehow - no one knows who snapped it or when - there was a head-on, looking-right-at-the-camera wedding shot of Esther, her husband, her son and his brand new wife.

It was exactly what she had wanted!

In Esther's words, "God's grace sprinkled over me like Christmas glitter, saying, 'Thank you, Esther, for being still to listen; I heard the desire of your heart.'" 

What grace note glitter will God sprinkle into your life this Christmas season?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Not Just a Pretty Face

I was floored last week to barely recognize a well known actress from a 70s sitcom as she loomed large on my TV screen. I rarely watch TV, but being it's the Christmas season, my daughter insisted that we catch a few of the Hallmark Hall of Fame cheesy holiday movies.

I had to double check the credits as this particular actress caught my eye. She slightly resembled her younger famous self, but she hadn't aged well at all. It sure got my attention. And made me sad in a way. I guess partly because I've been thinking a lot about appearance lately as I've been working on a chapter about outer beauty for my new book, More Beauty, Less Beast.

I have to admit the damage done by the ravages of time made me pity her.

And then today as I was filling my gas tank, I studied my reflection in my car's side window and suddenly identified with that poor actress. How often do we really look at ourselves? For me, it's just a casual glance in a mirror a few times a day to make sure I don't have spinach between my teeth or my hair isn't sticking out like a scarecrow. But there in the glaring light of day reflected in my window, every single wrinkle, ugly pore, blemish, and saggy jowel showed up loud and clear.

Was that really ME? It didn't look like the me in my head - the self-image I've had of me for the past decade.

It was eye-opening to say the least.

I was immensely thankful that I don't have to make my living by my appearance. How draining it must be to have to be beautiful all the time. Certainly there are those who do it and have done it well for decade after decade; Christy Brinkley, Rachel Welch, and Sophia Loren come to mind. Timeless beauties, by anyone's standards.

But what is beauty by God's standards?

That's precisely what I intend to find out. That intangible, indescribable, radiant beauty that shines from within - we've all known people who had it. People who don't necessarily posess society's standards of physical beauty, but leave us basking in their beauty nonetheless.

As I journey through life, never knowing what surprises (or wrinkles or bags) the next bend in the road will bring, I want to know that I will always be beautiful to my Father. The only one who counts.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let's Party!

After 40 years of reading the Bible cover to cover, I discovered something I never knew yesterday while perusing the book of Exodus. But then again, maybe I'm the only one in the world who wasn't clued in.

Did you know that Moses wasn't the only one (besides Adam and Eve) to actually see God face to face and live to tell about it? In fact, did you realize that God threw a party for a hand-picked bunch in His mountain hide-away and hung out with them while they chowed down?

No? Well I'm glad I'm not alone in my duh-ment. I fear that many of the times I've waded through some of the heavier Old Testament books like Exodus , Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, I was either half asleep or brain-fried enough that what I was reading didn't register. Happily, this time it did and I feel oh, so enlightened.

In Exodus 24:9-11, it's recorded that while the Children of Israel had recently left Egypt and were just getting started in their wilderness adventure, 74 Hebrew leaders were invited up to Mt. Sinai where "they saw the God of Israel" and "they shared a meal together in God's presence!" (New Living Translation)

Is that not cool? Can you imagine being invited up to God's place and being served manna appetizers while the Master of all Creation and God of the Universe hangs out with you?

I must admit it makes my imagination run wild just considering what the party chatter must have been like:

"So, Lord, what does your agenda look like for the next 40 years?"

"Hey Moses, did you try the quail wings? The secret's in the sauce!"

"Do want us to stay and wash dishes, Yahweh? Good help is so hard to find these days."

No disrespect is intended, of course - I just like to insert myself in these amazing biblical scenarios to see what it could have actually felt like. Guess that's the actress in me.

Nevertheless, I think that's really something that God loves His children so very much that He intentionally seeks our company - He wants to spend time with us. Do we, on the other hand, give Him the same consideration?

How many times have I closed my Bible after 4 verses because I'm tired and would rather go to sleep? Or left a prayer unfinished because I got sidetracked by other important claims on my time? Or had a whole list of good intentions to perform in His name that just somehow never made it to fruition?

Hmm. Maybe it's time to rethink my priorities. Maybe I can still make the invitation list to the Almighty's next shindig.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Oy! Coty Meets Coyote

I had heard rumors of missing cats in our semi-rural neighborhood, and even a blood and guts description of, well, the blood and gut remains one neighbor found of her cat one foggy morning. There were several accounts of coyote sightings caught in headlights during the wee hours of the night.

And then this morning, I had my very own close encounter.

I was walking my dog down our quiet neighbohood street just after sun-up when we were both startled by a large critter emerging from between two houses about 20 yards in front of us. My ferocious miniature poodle went ballistic but the beast only nonchalantly glanced our way, never even breaking stride. He wasn't exactly loping, but walked at a right smart clip as he crossed the street and disappeared between two houses on the other side of the road as if on a mission.

He ignored us like we weren't even there.

I understand urban coyotes are more common in Florida than most people realize. And by the time you see one, you're probably infestated. They're cunningly adaptable and surprisingly agile. This one had the coloring and height of a German Shepherd but was more gangly, thin and scruffy. He definitely had a wild look about  him.

I actually enjoy observing wildlife, which is why I moved to this 200-home subdivision on the cusp of town and country. It brings joy to my heart to see the array of sandhill cranes, iris', red-tailed hawks, owls, silver foxes, racoons, bunnies, possums, and even the occasional alligator traipsing down the middle of the road on a trek between the ponds flanking the neighborhood.

But I must say this encounter didn't bring me the least bit of joy. I'd say heart palpitations is more like it. I've read that coyotes consume just about anything - garbage, dog food, berries, roadkill, eggs, small pets and any kind or varment they can run down. And they've been known to breed with female dogs when one is handy, producing a "coy-dog," which can never be fully domesticated.

So what's an urban animal lover to do? Take the good with the bad and just get over it? Or buy a pellet gun and start packing? What's your opinion?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trapping the Weasel

Fear is a covert weasel that can sneak in under the wire and wreak havoc in our feelings and decisions without us even being aware of the wily little beast.

I've never been more aware of this fact than last week when my daughter asked me to accompany her and her husband to their 12-week sonogram. To my surprise, my first impulse was to shout "NO!" and run the other way. But I didn't. Carefully keeping my expression neutral, I saw the excitement and joy radiating from her eyes about this momentous occasion, her first baby, and knew it was a precious honor she was offering me and I should accept graciously.

But my gut reaction puzzled me. What was so frightening to me?

As I considered this perplexing question, a decade faded away like early morning fog and I was transported back to a tiny sterile cubical at a long-forgotten OB office. It was my own 12-week sonogram visit and I was thrilled, despite my daily bouts of nausea, to be expecting our third child at age 42 after five devastating miscarriages. Our two teenagers had been supportive and everything seemed to be going fine. I was already in maternity clothes. I'd asked my mother to come with me, since she had never seen this new technology - sonography - and we giggled like school girls in anticipation as we entered the little office.

Then, the technician began searching with the probe, and I watched her friendly smile disappear as she kept moving the wand around and around. She suddenly turned off the screen and abruptly left the room, stating, "The doctor will be in to see you momentarily."

My mother's face melted. It was only then that I suspected something was wrong. Dark, hollow dread began in the pit of my stomach and snaked outward to fill my chest cavity and my head as the doctor came in to explain my lifeless womb.

I had grieved over the years, sure, but some losses are bured so deep they never really go away. They just get planted over.

And so, as history seemed to be repeating itself, I nervously crowded with my daughter and her husband into another tiny examining room, and found my heart in my throat as the technician pulled out the ultrasound probe.

I had prayed incessantly about this moment, and given my fear repeatedly to Papa God, but tentacles of that wretched, weaselly creature wrapped around the soft vulnerability of my mother-love and squeeze the very life away.

Please, Father. Please let this baby be okay. Please.  

Suddenly, a tiny beating heart filled the screen and little arms flailed around a safe, warm womb housing a living, thriving, miraculous baby.

Tears filled my eyes - as they do even now - in grateful relief and joy for God's amazing grace that conquers fear.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJ).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Meet my future daughter-in-law!

 My son is engaged! Matthew popped the question to his beautiful Rebecca at our Smoky Mt. cabin last week. No date yet but we'll keep you posted!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Party's Over

Just got back from a wonderful, relaxing week in the Smokies where Spouse and I saw no less than 7 deer, 2 foxes, a gazillion chipmonks (a rare treat for us Floridians) and a few elderly squirrels. Not exactly like this one - most used canes instead of walkers.

As an extra treat, we had about 2 inches of snow the last few days, which was a mixed blessing. It was great fun to romp in winter wonderland until it came time to pack up and go home Sunday morning.

We arose at 5:30 am to 20 degrees and frozen everything: pipes, screws, spigets (is that how you spell that?), even the hose we needed to drain the hot water heater was frozen stiff and filled with ice. Poor Spouse had to soak it in a bathtub of hot water to get it to loosen up enough to to run water through. What a mess!

But we were finally on the road by 7:30 am, just in time to hit a huge traffic back-up just south of Atlanta. Grrr. Three lanes funneled down to one for 12 miles for construction, which consisted of ten guys standing around watching one guy break up pavement with a jack hammer.

The hour delay was tolerable but barely. At least we had plenty of apples I'd picked from a tree up our mountain, and of course chocolate covered you-name-it (oreos, Nutter Butters, pretzels, etc ad nauseum) from our favorite chocolate shoppe in Highlands.

So now we're home and back to work with nothing but memories of frosty mornings, snowball fights.and geriatric rodents.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A little spiritual refreshment

Enjoying a girls day at the beach for fun, food and Bible Study with my spiritual sisters a few weeks ago.

Okay, back to my series of Scripture meditations from my personal spiritual retreat. This one is from Zephaniah 3:17, CEV: The Lord your God wins victory after victory and is always with you. He clebrates and sings because of you, and he will refresh your life with his love.  

1. He celebrates and sings because of me; with deep love, joy and appreciation especially and singularly because of ... me! Wow! How incredible!

2. He wins all the victories of my life that I'll allow him to fight. So why don't I give ALL of them over to Him?

3. He's always with us. Always. I think there are three levels of His presence:
   Level 1: He surrounds us with evidence of His presence/love through nature and blessings.
   Level 2: We have a personal audience with Him, His undivided attentioin.
   Level 3: We're in Him and he in us, melded together, the vine and the branches. We're extensions of His    heart, spirit, and thoughts. He resides in us.

I aspire to the third level, but in reality, I think I spend most of my everyday awareness moments on the first level with occasional toe-dips into the second level.

4. He will refresh my life with His love. Refresh: renew, reinvigorate, animate, exhilerate, rouse, stimulate, revive, new start, renovate, reawaken, rebuild, re-do, restore, replenish. Do I need this? YES!!!

5. I am special to  Him - His beloved little girl. He loves me unconditionally, the way I love my beloved little girl.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

If You Can't Fix it, Decorate it!

I didn't know the neighbor at the far end of my walking route, but I felt badly for them. One night during the sweltering summer months, someone had backed into their brick mailbox stand, toppling the top half of the four-foot-high monument adorning their front yard.

Apparently too heavy to remount, the beheaded portion stood akilter alongside its base, jagged edges exposed in a pathetic silent plea: Fix me! 

I could just picture Mrs. Homeowner helpfully reminding (some call it nagging) the little mister every day to "Do something with that mailbox, dear," and him replying, "Just what do you suggest I do with 300-lbs of broken mortor and brick, dearest?" 

So there sat the unsightly mound of brokenness, day after day, month after month. Finally, October rolled around and I couldn't help but smile as I rounded the corner on my morning walk to find their marvelous solution. Someone (I assume the creative missus) had strung fake Halloween spiderwebs all over both halves and decorated it in classic Adams Family motiff.

It actually looked terrific! Like a larger version of the vase of rose stems Morticia had carefully de-budded.

I couldn't help but be reminded of all the broken, bulky, unfixable things in our lives. They sit there day after day, year after year, hulking reminders of our inadequacy as we glare at them, grouse about them, but don't actually do anything to fix them. Maybe we can't. Maybe we just plain won't. But whatever the reason, they remain a constant source of irritation and embarrassment.

Yet here was a delightful effort to make the best of the worst, to salvage a little dignity and humor from among the ruins. An object lesson from which we could all benefit.

If you can't fix it, decorate it! 

Monday, October 18, 2010

His Voice

This is the second of a series on my meditations of scripture during a recent personal retreat.

Today's passage: 1 Kings 19:11-12: The still, small voice of God.

1. "Go stand on the mountain" was a command to take action; GO! Stand alone, exposed and vulnerable; wait on the Lord to come to you. You're in His presence on the mountain. Likewise, I'm in God's presence when I climb the mountain he sets before me.

2. The great and powerful wind came before the Lord came. It seemed to shatter Elijah's whole world but he stood firm and waited. He didn't run from the wind, earthquake, or fire, but stayed right there on that mountain ledge, exposed. Do I have the courage to wait through the turmoil?

3. Elijah recognized God's genetle whisper immediately. He knew it wasn't the same as the hubbub that came before. Do I hear God's voice enough to recognize it? Even through the noise of everyday?

4. God told Elijah to go to the mountain in the third person - why? If He was giving Elijah instructions, he must have already been there. So was this His physical presence? No - it was his spiritual presence. God is always here; He sometimes takes his presence to another level. A deeper, more personal level.

5. The huge display of elements was to show Elijah God's power - then He brought it home with the whisper: "Elijah, I am here." (my interpretation). Elijah, who was unmoved by the big show, crumbled and covered his head at God's voice. He ran back to his cave. I, too, often run back to my cave.

6. Elijah was told to go out and leave the cave in which he was hiding. Papa God tells me that, too. But I like my cave. It feels safe. If I go stand out on the mountain, exposed, I can be shot down. But I must leave my cave if I want to experience God's presence in a deeper way.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Best Gift is a Sacrifice

This post is the first of a series sharing insights that I encountered about various scriptures on a personal spiritual retreat I enjoyed this summer while all alone for a week in our remote Smoky Mt. cabin. (If you've never invested yourself in a spiritual retreat, I HIGHLY recommend it!)

My technique was to take one passage per day, study it in numerous translations and Bible commentaries, learn the passage's background, read surrounding chapters, read the verses aloud frequently during the day, and meditate on that portion of God's Word during long prayer walks along winding mountain trails, opening my heart and mind to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

First passage: Exodus 35: 20-22 - Moses leads the displaced Israelites in building a place of worship in the desert

1. Background verse 5: Everyone is invited (not commanded) to give what they have to the Lord as an offering (for the tabernacle). An offering is a voluntary gift, not expected or demanded. The most appreciated gift is sacrificial, something that costs the giver.

2. Their very best was desired (v. 5-9) but not required. They could get by (without penalty) with giving little or even nothing. So can I.

3. Is my heart stirred (v. 20)? Do I desire to give my best as an offering to my Papa God? Am I truly willing to give my time, gifts and abilities with no expectations or strings attached (v. 22)?

4. Gifts must be prepared in private (at home) to get the final offering perfect and ready to present to Him on the altar of my life - like practicing my speeches, agonizing over words in books, responding to readers as they share heartfelt needs with me. Effort is required to prepare and (v. 21) bring/carry/pursue publication in His name.

5. "The Message" translation: everyone "whose spirit was freely responsive" was desired by God to participate.

6. Their gifts/offerings cost them something dear. They didn't have much; they had been slaves in Egypt and left with only what they could carry. The broaches, jewelry and linens they gave were precious to them (v. 22-23).

Are the gifts I'm willing to give to the Lord's work precious to me? Are they a sacrificial offering or merely the leftovers of my best efforts directed elsewhere?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stress Happens

Such a marveous weekend! Crazy busy, but marvelous nonetheless. That's not to say there weren't glitches, but hey, all's well that ends well, right?

I've come to realize that stress happens no matter how well thought out or planned-to-the-hilt an event is. I co-directed the Florida Inspirational Writers Retreat at Cedarkirk in Lithia on Saturday, which was preceeded by a manuscript critique at a different location on Friday night.

The first big hiccup occurred when my co-director, Ruth, who was supposed to put up two of the three guest speakers, found out her husband had infectious pneumonia on Thursday. Since we couldn't afford hotel rooms for the speakers, we had to scramble for other accomodations. I ended up putting the husband and wife on my pull-out couch (how very elegant!) and the other in my daughter's guest room (thankfully she's my backyard neighbor).

Then I realized at the last minute that I had to throw something together for breakfast for everyone - hooray for simple quiche recipes! Add a little fruit and sweet rolls and voila! Gormet breakfast!

Then at the retreat, we had the usual forgotten-at-home speaker notes, unexpected equipment failure and awkward silent moments when speakers didn't realize it was their turn to take the podium. And there was the attendee who wouldn't pay and the other who arrived 1 1/2 hours late and ran her car smack into a tree in the parking lot.

Couldn't help but wonder what else was in her morning coffee besides beans.

But to my surprise, the retreat turned out quite well. Speakers spoke, attendees learned, several very talented writers strutted their stuff in a writing contest, and everyone left smiling. And I am soooo glad it's over. Now to start planning for next year!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Picky, Picky

For lack of table space, I laid out all the fixings for eight gift baskets on the floor of my office ... a cute little scarecrow for each, flavored tea bags, floral stationery, various writing supplies, and a ceramic fall mug filled with chocolate Kisses, Godiva gems, Baby Ruths, Nestle Crunches, Butterfingers, Dove dark chocolate-caramel nuggets, and Tootsie rolls.

Imagining how excited the drawing winners at my writing retreat were going to be when they received these gorgeous baskets, I assembled all the goodies into the elegant wicker baskets and was just beginning to wrap the first with clear cellophane shrink-wrap when I noticed the time.

Yikes! I'm late for church! Will have to finish when I come home. Without another thought, I rushed from the room and out to the car.

When I returned home, the first hint that something was amiss was a crumpled candy wrapper peeking out from beneath the couch. Where did that come from?

One glance at my miniature poodle, Fenway, skulking away with a candy bar sticking out of his mouth like a cigar gave me the answer.

"Fenway! You bad dog! Did you get into my gift baskets?"

Of course he had. The little choco-dickins. The funny part was that Fenway, who normally employs a feeding frenzy not unlike starving sharks, had carefully nosed his way through the bounty of ever-so-sweet options and ferreted out only the best. The Godiva and Dove bars were the only ones missing. A chip off the old block!

I guess if you have to love a thief, at least you can console yourself that he's a discriminating thief.

P.S. Whoever said chocolate kills dogs hasn't encountered the steel metabolism of my Fenway!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Come As You Are

I'd just finished pouring a cup of water over my head and another down my shirt after sweating out two sets of singles in 93 degree heat. Sounds messy, I know, but us diehard tennis players who stubbornly insist on playing through central Florida summers do it often to prevent heatstroke. If you're already slathered in sweat, what's a little more water, right?

So I'm dripping, stinky and exhausted as I slide onto my car seat (and when you're that sweaty, I do mean slide) and check my phone for messages. I was expecting a message from a newspaper reporter whose call I had returned right before my tennis match (we're not allowed to have our phones on court; they disturb other players).

Cranking the car to get the AC blasting my blotchy, beet-red, face, I wasn't surprised to hear a male voice reciting his message. But it wasn't the reporter. It was the male secretary from the rehab center where I work part-time:

"Just wanted to let you know we scheduled a splint patient for you at 11:00 Friday. See you then."

WHAT?? My eyes darted to my watch; it was 10:45. On Friday. My day off.

I punched the center's number in frustration. They shouldn't have done that, but they did. And now a patient who needed a splint for his wounded hand was trustingly filling out paper work.

'I ... you .... Why? ... Listen, I'm not prepared to work today," I sputtered. "I'm a half hour from home and I'm not in work clothes ..."

"Just come as you are!" the clueless secretary responded. "Nobody will mind."

"Well I MIND! You don't know what you're asking!" I looked down at my tiny barely-bum-covering tennnis skirt, the half moon sweat marks beneath my armpits and the soaking white tennis blouse stuck to my sports bra. I had on not a drop of make=up and a clay-stained Nike hat holding back my greasy, soaking hair, for heaven's sake. I couldn't have looked less professional if I'd tried.

My effort to douse the nasty smell enveloping me in a cloud like the dirt from Charlie Brown's friend Pigpen only resulted in a nauseating mix of Spring Bouquet body spray and B.O. I felt like I was back in the high school girl's locker room on flag football day.

But off to work I go. Hi Ho, Hi Ho.

Of course none of the therapists had a lab coat or even an extra sweater to try to camoflage my inappropriateness. And when the patient (a young black man) eyed me warily as I called him from the waiting room, I could only come up with, "I know I don't look like a therapist, but I am one, really. I, um ... I thought this was the day we decided to do Halloween early (try two months early!) so I'm supposed to be Serena Williams."

At least that got a chuckle out of him, but it dawned on me how risky the invitation to "Come as you are" can be. There's no telling what a disgusting mess you might find if people take you up on it.

Yet Papa God extends that very invitation to each of us when He calls us to Himself. Come as you are. With your ugly attitudes, sinfulness, full of pride, unable to help yourself ... come on, dear child, and I'll cover it all up and make you clean as the new-fallen snow. No matter how you started, you'll end up beautiful.

And thank the Good Lord His body wash works inside and out!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Now I get it.

As a writing late bloomer (I started writing professionally at age 45), it never ceases to amaze me how many people think they can just jump in and write a book without doing their homework. I spent three years researching, writing articles, attending writing conferences and consuming every industry how-to I could get my hands on before wading into the book publication waters, and then it was with fear and trembling.

I started small (articles and submitting short pieces to compilations and devotionals) and worked my way up to books. And I always followed the advice of successful authors (which you can easily find if you just seek) and invested in good editors before submitting my manuscript to agents or publishing house editors.

At the writing mini-workshop I taught over the weekend (one of dozens I've taught at bookstores and libraries), I spoke with several authors of self-published books who hadn't bothered to have their manuscripts professionally edited before turning them over for printing. Unfortunately, this lack of preparation inevitably shows in the quality of the writing, and reflects poorly on self-published books in general.

One of the authors didn't even know his book was self-published because "it was accepted by a publisher," until I asked, "Well, did they require money to print your book?"

"Only three thousand dollars," was his reply.

I wanted to say, "Good heavens! For three thousand dollars, shouldn't you take enough pride in your work to have it edited properly?" I really don't understand.

I'm not just talking grammar and punctuation here. I'm talking 16 pages of throat-clearing introduction before beginning the first chapter. Or not even pre-plotting out major events in a "fictional novel" (a HUGE redundant no-no as a book is referred to as either a novel or fiction, not both), or using real names and real events without asking permission.

When I first delved into books and faced my 9th traditional press rejection for The Distant Shore, I thought about self-publishing. I recall the advice of published authors to exhaust all possibilities in traditional publishing first because of the stigma attached to self-publishing. Sub-quality editing was the difference, they said. I didn't fully grasp their meaning at the time, and thankfully, my manuscript was finally accepted by a small press who provided its own editing in addition to the professional editing I had already procured, which produced a quite acceptable end product (in my humble opinion).

But I get it now.

After wading through beginner model book manuscripts from people who just decide to sit down and whip out the memoir or novel they've always dreamed of without a lick of preparation, I do indeed get it now.

Monday, July 19, 2010

An Unexpected Twist in Events

I just returned from two weeks in a mt cabin enjoying the hummingbirds, little brown field bunnies, chipmonks, and 60 degree mornings. It was a very beneficial time of prayer, communion with my Creator within the beauty of His creation, contemplation, study, writing, and spiritual renewal.

Oh, did I mention near-death? Twice within the same hour?

I'd trekked down the mountain to run some errands. Just as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot to grab something for dinner, the sky split wide open and rain fell in buckets. I grabbed my umbrella from the backseat floorboard, tucked my purse against my chest and sprinted toward the store entrance with the umbrella low to my head and angled against the rain blowing in from my left side.

As I crossed the expanse in front of the store, vision occluded by my umbrella, I heard the sickening screech of car tires and a woman standing in the doorway screamed as she pointed in my direction. Suddenly the front bumper of a car entered my field of vision beneath the canopy of my umbrella as it skidded to a stop on the wet asphalt, shiny chrome coming to rest against my left hip.

I laid my left hand on the car's hood, about three inches from my now-trembling body and looked up at the ashen face of the driver, his hand flying to his forehead as he exhaled a long, relieved breath.

Dinner no longer held it's appeal and I pivoted back toward the car. I just wanted to get out of there and back to the snug safety of my cabin.

I sat dripping in my car trying to pull myself together enough to drive. Okay. I'm okay. Just breathe in and out. Thank you Lord; You saved my life. Or at the very least a long night at the ER.

The trip up the twisting narrow mountain road flanked by sheer drops took twice as long as usual in that horrible thunderstorm with dusk closing in. About halfway up, hail began pounding my windshield and I slowed to 15 mph, barely able to make out the center line as visibility decreased to almost nil.

Roundinga sharp curve, I was startled to see, in a timely flash of lightning, an enormous tree falling across the road directly in front of my car. Thankfully, I was moving so slowly because of the weather I was able to brake just in time. I reversed about ten feet and sat staring at the massive trunk and heavy limbs sprawled acorss the exact spot where my car would have been if I'd gotten there five seconds earlier.

Five seconds. The difference between life and death.

Meaningful scripture jumped out at me: If God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won't he more surely care for you? You have so little faith! (Luke 12:28, NLT).

What you hope for is kept safe for you in heaven (Col. 1:5, CEV).

It occurred to me that if we receive God's prescious gift of salvation through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ, we don't have to fear death. It's merely a door opening to the greatest adventure of all : Heaven!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Living by Hope

This is a good week despite marathon work days and lack of sleep.

I received my advance for the 2-book deal offered me by Barbour Books a few months ago. Yay! There's just something about holding that check in your hand that affirms your call to write and swells your heart with gratitude more than you ever thought possible. You stack hope upon hope, but never really believe this moment will actually come one day.

Ephesians 3:20 becomes more real than ever: "To Him who is able to do EXCEEDING ABUNDANTLY BEYOND all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to HIM be the glory ... forever and ever. Amen."

And the hope of a stress respite next week keeps me going. I've been covering hand therapy at three clinics for the last two weeks for a therapist out on maternity leave. I remember the day when I could run, run, run like that without any difficulty but it ain't now. Sheer craziness.

It will be heaven holing up alone in a mt cabin with nobody to answer to but my dog, Fenway. And he's pretty easy going. But knowing me, after a few days of solitude, I'll be more than ready to see the fam when they drive up. It's my favorite place in the world up there - just God, Fenway, the birds, chipmonks, and occasional wild hares on the beautiful mountain trails.

Sure hope Sir Lancelot, my 4-wheeler, is working this trip.

Until next time, here's to HOPE!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Playing Chicken with a Duck

As I was driving down a narrow, seldom traveled back road today, late as usual, I spied something moving in the road ahead. Partially obscured by tree shadows, it wasn't until I was nearly upon it that I recognized the object in my path as a fat black and white duck waddling toward me down the center of the road.

I squealed to a stop about 10 yards in front of the quacky quacker but undaunted, she just kept bringing it. (I assumed female gender because she exuded an illogical, unmerited superior attitude I've seen before.)

When she wouldn't deviate from her preferred route straddling the center line, I laid on my horn. All she did was stop, stick her stubborn little beak in the air and park her feathered butt to roost right there. She had no pressing engagements; we could be there all day.

What was wrong with this chick? Here's a 2-ton van versus a 5-lb bird and she thinks she can win? Steel and chrome versus webbed feet and tail feathers? C'mon!

And we both obviously felt we were in the right - that we had more right to be there and own the road than the other.

It occurred to me, as we stared each other down, halted at an impasse because neither party was willing to give an inch, that I was witnessing a metaphor of my life.

How many times am I rendered immobile by silly obstacles that I allow to hinder pursuit of my life goals? Obstacles of my own making or even small speed bumps that I allow to swell and loom over me like the Alps?

The thing blocking my path may seem like an immovable precipice to me, but in reality, it's the size of a duck.

In trying to remove this pecking roadblock before me, horns don't work, opponent size doesn't matter, time is not a factor and rank is irrelevant. But there IS a way around. It just takes effort and a plan.

So I got out of the car in the 95 degree heat, walked right up to the obstinant entree, nudged her with my foot and scrambled to avoid her snapping beak. Squawking her annoyance, she finally moved, herded to the side of the road by my perseverant shooing.

My hot and sweaty lesson? Don't waste your time playing chicken with a duck. Regardless of your formidable advantage, you won't win unless you formulate a plan, leave your comfy air-conditioned vantage point, put a little sweat into it and execute.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Balancing Act

A literary agent's blog I follow has been running a series on finding the right balance between accepting criticism and praise (for writers). A thought-provoking conundrum for real life, too, don't you think?

Most of us feel as though we get much more criticism than praise, or at least we remember the criticism more clearly and often have trouble deleting it's repurcussions from our perception of ourselves. It's a shame, really, because in reality, we get praise from all kinds of sources that we barely notice at the time and certainly don't deposit in our self-esteem banks:

"Great dinner, Mom!"
"That looks nice on you, dear."
"I wouldn't trust this important project with anyone else."
"You're my BFF!"

And yet all the implied compliments, love, and trust are wiped out by one flippant negative remark:

"Don't be rediculous."
"You've got to be kidding me - you really don't get it?"
"My grandmother has a skirt just like that."
"How are you planning to shrink the skin back up now that you've lost weight?"

(Believe it or not, that last one was a real comment I received after a speaking gig.)

And so many times we're deathly afraid of receiving criticism - even helpful, necessary criticism that would help us refine, revise and perfect our skills.

An example would be yesterday when I lead group of neighborhood gals in a Bible Study lesson I wrote and wanted critiqued for possible publication. During the six months we've been meeting weekly, these lovely ladies have become dear friends, so what was I afraid of? I don't know, but I sure was. I was nervous as a cat at a dog show and held my breath at the end after the last prayer was said and I knew comments would follow.

Of course they were kind, and the helpful suggestions for improvement were framed sensitively and Oreo'ed between praise. Yet I'd erected my inner steel wall and braced myself for arrows.

It guess life's just a balancing act in many ways, and learning to accept and internalize praise (not brush it off or overlook it) and downplay criticism (all I could do about the weight loss/wrinkle dig was laugh it off) are just part of rehearsal.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Want a Bun with that Beef?

I've got a new pet peeve. The cyber-selfish.

I've always felt a bit annoyed when people with whom you're chatting speak only of themselves. You know the type - a conversation consists of you asking them one question after another about their recent exploits because it never occurs to them to ask you anything personal or take an interest in the details of your life.

Sadly, it has been my experience to encounter significantly more of these eg0-centric folk than others-centric. In fact, they are the rule. Exceptions, though quite refreshing when encountered, are few and far between. My family has, upon return from a party or social event, been able to count on one hand the rare caring individuals who delve deeper than "How are you?" and actually listen to the answers.

Well now technology has provided yet another way to make people feel unimportant. I've recently become aware, as have both my husband and grown daughter, of those who blog and e-mail under the guise of friendship only for commercial gain or to promote their cause/book/business/whatever.

I suppose they've always existed - those who join churches or clubs just to have access to a larger clientele pool and such - but for some reason it's extra annoying when they invade my computer space.

It's bad enough when their eyes flit around while they're talking to you at a gathering, checking out who's more important so they don't have to waste any more time on you than absolutely necessary. But it's just as obvious when they never ask one personal question about you, ignore your Facebook comments on their frequent posts, and mention their cause/book/business/whatever in every single correspondence you receive. Which of course, are all mass e-mails or forwards.

Okay, I feel better now.

Do me a favor, will ya? If I ever bore you to tears talking about my life, my books, my granddog (no grandchildren yet but I'm sure that will be an issue too) and neglect to make you feel like a person of interest, respect and dignity, please tell me.

For I truly believe the old adage: People may not remember what you say but they'll always remember how you made them feel.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Title is Born

Sooo excited to finalize the title of my newest Barbour book this week. After bantering back and forth, my wonderful editor and I agreed on a doozy: Too Blessed to Stay Stressed. It's the first book of a series for frazzled women and I've been amazed about the feedback I've received in the few days since the announcement was made:

'Oooh, I need to read that book now!"

"Want to interview me for your book? I'm the expert on stress!"

"Can't wait to sink my teeth into that one!"

"Hey, I could write a few volumes about stress!"

Just affirms that today's women are trying to keep so many balls in the air, we're feeling the strain. We yearn for relief from the fray. We want to stop the madness!

I'm so happy to be able to share with my frenzied friends some of the things Papa God has been teaching me - practical pathways to everyday peace. Of course, sometimes my foot slips off the path and I end up ragged out and battle-weary at the end of a busy day. But I think that's all part of the plan. We have to experience the worst before we can appreciate the better.

And that's what makes a terrific book - when we pour ourselves and our experiences into print. Our passion transfers and then transforms the reader as we go through our own metamorphosis.

May our blessings overshadow our stressings!

Saturday, June 5, 2010


I was riding my bike out in the country today when something caught my eye in the road. It was a colorful little snake coiled in a patch of sunshine in the middle of my lane. Traffic was very light - almost nonexistant - on this tree-lined back road late on a Saturday afternoon, so of course I had to stop alongside and check it out.

Golly - seems like all I'm doing lately is talking about reptiles, doesn't it?

Now bear in mind I'm a backwoods girl raised by a swamp. Never held much fear of snakes and in fact have had my share of the swiggly things tucked away in a pocket or two.

But as soon as I saw this little guy, I knew he wasn't a pocket-dweller. He was a coral. Red on black won't hurt Jack; black on yellow'll kill a fellow. All swamp rats know how to tell the difference between a harmless scarlet kingsnake and a poisonous coral snake. And we never harm the one and just steer clear of the other.

I stared at him and he stared back at me in mutual respect. Skirting him by a safe five feet, I admired the crystilline beauty of his vivid colors. One of God's masterpieces of design. Coral snakes don't strike or jump at you like other poisonous snakes; they're actually not aggressive at all. You have to practically step on one for it to defend itself and bite, and then it has to sort of chew on you to do any damage.

Anyhow, along comes a truck toward us in the other lane. A shiny silver pick-up driven by a young redneck in a cowboy hat. He slowed down a mite to see what was so interesting to the lady on the bike, and then sped up right as he got to us. Swerving way out of his lane, he intentionally ran his oversized tires right over the little snake, squashing reptile innards all over the road at my feet.

Now I know there are different ways of looking at every issue, and I might feel differently if a coral snake were latched onto the ankle of my toddler, but my blood boiled at the needless taking of this life just because of the color of its skin.

That little snake wasn't bothering anyone. It was just enjoying a little sun-bathing on a warm road. It wasn't encroaching in anyone's habitat, we were in his. I can't believe I'm admitting this but my eyes teared up at the unjust scene of a destroyed creature whose only offense was being himself and a smug self-appointed executioner driving away to his Bud Light.

Makes me realize the sting of prejudice among humankind. The unfairness, the folly of judging someone simply by the color of their skin. Or their tribe. Or their ancestry.

Maybe it's the judge - the guy in the truck and even me sometimes - who ought to be squashed all over the road. There but by God's grace goes each of us.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Feeling Your Pain

I was preparing to speak about the healing power of empathy last week when God brought the point home in a very moving object lesson.

Our neighborhood ladies Bible Study had just gotten under way Friday when Lynn (name changed) appeared at the front door, visibly shaken and puffy-eyed.

"Can you please pray for me?" she asked, her voice breaking mid-sentence. "I have to put my dog down and the pet hospice vet is coming to the house at 3:00 to euthanize him."

Lynn's beloved Chippy was nearly 14, deaf, and suffering from congestive heart failure. He'd begun having seizures all night and she knew, as shattering as the decision was, that it was time. But knowing it's the right thing to do doesn't make it easier.

We surrounded Lynn and laying our hands on her quivering body, prayed for God to give her His supernatural comfort and peace during this most difficult time. Lynn left immediately afterward, saying she wanted to spend as much time as possible with Chippy.

I couldn't stop thinking about Lynn the rest of the day. She was divorced and her kids were grown; Chippy was all she had. My heart ached for her. As much as I didn't want to relive the searing pain of having to put my sweet dog, Dusty, down several years before, I knew it was time for me to act as Jesus' hands and feet on earth. I cancelled my afternoon appointments and went to Lynn's house around 2:30.

The vet was an hour late arriving, which heaped hot coals upon Lynn's heart as we waited for the dreadful inevitable. But the beautiful part was that during that agonizing hour, one by one, four more girls from the neighborhood Bible Study trickled in to add their support. When the horrible moment finally came, we were a cohesive prayer force.

We cried with Lynn and laughed through our tears over funny stories about Chippy. We were God's love with skin on it.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that God never wastes a hurt. He comforts us in our affliction so that we will in turn be able to comfort others.

Jesus demonstrated the healing power of empathizing with those who are suffering when he cried with Mary and Martha in mourning their brother's death, although he knew Lazerus would be restored to life and health in a matter of hours. He chose to enter their grief and feel their pain.

Jesus wept. One of the shortest but most powerful verses in the Bible.

Empathy opens up a channel directly from the heart to the Holy Spirit. It's a ministry we all can be a part of if we put just forth the necessary time and effort.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Who do voodoo?

I was super excited about a 2-book contract offer I received last week and in my enthusiasm, told a friend all about it.

"Shhh," she responded. "Don't tell anyone about it yet. Not until it's finished. Somebody might jinx it."

Excuse me?

Now I could certainly understand if she meant not to tell anyone for fear the deal would fall through and I would have to face humiliation in admitting to those I'd confided in that my good news was, after all, bad news. I certainly learned that lesson after my second of six miscarriages when I'd already spilled the beans before I lost the baby and had to painfully answer all the smiling folks who asked how the pregnancy was going.

But that's not what my friend meant. She explained that when she'd had good things on the verge of happening in the past, she had made the mistake of telling one particular acquaintaince who, my friend was certain, counteracted the good by wishing bad on her and thereby jinxing it. The good things never happened and were replaced by bad, worse and downright rotten.

I must say this was a surprising point of view to me. I responded that as a Christian, I believe that Jesus is stronger than Satan and mere people do not have the power to wish bad things on other people and make them come true.

She just shook her head, wide-eyed, and said that in her South American country, she had seen it happen.

So what are your thoughts on supernatural slander?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All I can be is who I am

Had an interesting interview today with a pastor who had received my name as a referral to fill in at the pulpit while he's on vacation. Now I speak to a lot of groups - mostly at libraries, schools or women's church luncheons. But you can bet I pretty much choked up a gizzard over a Sunday morning sanctuary invitation.

My first question to this very kind and gentle man of the cloth was: "Do you realize I'm a woman?" Apparently his denomination has no problem with that issue. He'd heard I'm a Christian humorist and he felt his congregation could use a little levity with their dutiful dose of religion.

Second question: "Do you realize that I'm not a preacher?" I assured him that to consider me a preacher was demeaning to his profession. "I'm an encourager; a fellow sojourner in this Christian walk; perhaps even a lay-minister, since I consider all followers of Jesus ministers to their fellow man, but I would never in a million years be called a preacher.

"In my opinion, preaching is an honored calling for special servants of God. I have nothing but respect for true preachers and my little feet wouldn't begin to fill those large shoes."

We settled on "sharing." Now that I can do. That I love to do; my preferred delivery is through the written word, but I've found that sometimes it's got to be verbal. People need to see the joy of the Lord in action face to face, not eye to paper. Something dynamic is lost in the translation if it's just read about and not felt.

So although Billy Graham I'll never be, I can be something akin to a Rhonda Rhea, Martha Bolton, or a Chonda Pierce. Or best yet, a Debbie Coty - God's favorite choice for me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Creepy Crawly Memories

Reptiles. The word brings a shudder to some but they've actually always fascinated me.

I suppose growing up backdoor to a swamp in north Florida had something to do with that. I have very clear memories of gators in the pond (ducks and small dogs used to disappear back there) and snakes popping up in peculiar places quite often.

I recall racing outside to the neighbor lady's screams one morning to find her clean laundry strewn all over the yard. Apparently snakes like nothing better than to curl up in a basket of fresh sun-warmed laundry from the clothesline. No dryers in those days!

On my daily treks through the woods it was not uncommon to encounter a large specimen stretched across the path sunning himself. I usually just stepped over them, although I did occasionally bring home the smaller guys forthwith to torture my sister.

Unless they were rattlers or corals or cottonmouth moccasins. With those I hastily beat a retreat in the other direction.

Then there was the time the neighbor boy Robert and I were playing cowboys and indians as 6-year-olds. I was the captured indian, so he tied me to the oak tree in his front yard with a jumprope and then galloped away on his stick horse. My play screams turned real as I caught sight of a coiled rattler about 3 feet away from my bound feet. Robert's mama dashed out of the house and beat it to a pulp with a shovel.

I still have nightmares about that one.

When I got the chance to cavort with the cute little gator in the picture (at the TV45 studio in Orlando, compliments of the Gator Crusader, Michael Isaacs) I was thrilled. Felt like old home week at the reptile farm.

At age 3, he seemed an especially calm gator, and I knew Michael had taken him on "tour" for the past year with his ministry, so I asked him what would happen if the duct tape was removed from his pointy little snout. (The gator, not Michael.)

"Why, he'd chew your arm to rawhide," he replied with a smile.

Swell. Suddenly he didn't seem so cute. (The gator; Michael was still a cutie - an American version of the late great Steve Irwin.)

My wrists and ankles began feeling warm and itchy, like they had when tied to that oak tree long ago and far away. Watercolor memories ... Where's a good shovel when you need one?

Interview with an Aligator

My little buddy...

Smile for the camera!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Picture Perfect

There's nothing quite like holding pictures of your loved ones in your grubby little hand.

Call me old fashioned, but I just can't get the same warm, fuzzy thrill out of looking at cold electronic photos. It's too much like viewing someone else's life, too far removed from that private place inside that croons, "Awwww" when you're caressing a fave memory. Something crucial and not really easy to explain is missing when you can't respond with your tactile senses.

Stroking a computer screen just doesn't cut it.

Anyhow, I mentioned something like this to Chuck the other day. Actually, it was more like, "I hate not having real pictures anymore." I wasn't even sure he was listening, but the dear man just plunked an 8-inch stack of several hundred printed photos on my desk. They must be every digital photo we've shot during the last year. Wow.

Pitter pat goes my heart. I love that guy!

Guess it's time to unearth the old albums and have some fun.

Monday, May 10, 2010

True Love is Black Duct Tape

Last Friday I was in a huge rush to make it to our neighborhood Bible Study on time.

I'd rushed home from my tennis match (which I lost, leaving me in a bit of a blue funk to start with) with no time to shower. I spashed on some fruity-smelling body wash over my sweaty tennis clothes, dabbed a little make-up over my newly sprouted sun-induced freckles, threw my purse, Bible, and study book into my bicycle handlebar basket (yes, yes - I have a basket like the Wicked Witch of the West) and careened down the sloped driveway already ten minutes late.

As my front tire hit the gutter at the base of my driveway, the flimsy gizmo connecting the basket to the bike popped off, flinging my purse out and spewing the contents all over the road directly in front of my tires. As I ran over my new leather Coach purse (the only one I've ever owned, which now sports a tire tread down the center), I heard tubes of lipstick crack and all my other essential items of life spread out through the cul-de-sac like a rock slide.

Miraculously, I didn't crash, but the sudden stop caused by sticking my legs out catapulted my Bible onto the asphalt. It ended up spread-eagled upside down, flying bookmarks and ripped pages flapping in the breeze.

With none of the grace of my inbred Southern heritage, I heaved that aggrevious basket as far as I could into the bushes and left the stupid bicycle lying prostate in the gutter. I think I even kicked it.

I hope somebody steals it, I thought, angrily stuffing my broken stuff back into my poor violated handbag. Or maybe the garbage men will pick it up. I never want to see it again. I climbed into my car and tore off, a living testimonial to Christianity at it's finest.

By the time I arrived back home from the Bible Study, I was in a better frame of mind. I didn't even notice that the metalic offender was gone. In fact, I never gave that bike or basket another thought until the following day when, having forgotten all about my vows to forsake two-wheeled transportation forever, I entered the storage room to hop aboard for my regular 5-mile weekend bike route.

I was already astraddle before realizing the basket was somehow back in place and the tires had been reinflated. Now how did that happen? Are there bicycle fairies flitting about?

Glancing down, I had to smile at the black duct tape winding round and round the handlebars securing the basket in place until you-kn0w-where freezes over. Awww... my eyes teared up.

Apparently my husband Chuck had witnessed my Lance Armstrong fiasco through his office window and without saying a word, had gathered up my shattered Humpty Dumpty and painstakingly put all the pieces together again.

Now that's true love with a sticky back.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Repelling the Dagger

I had just finished my little speech at the women's banquet and was trying to catch my breath before manning the book table at the back of the room. A well-dressed lady whose lips were smiling but her eyes were not approached me, gushed a bit about how much she'd enjoyed the presentation, and then grabbed my arm like you would an old friend.

"Oh, Debbie," she said in an everybody-listen-to-me-now voice, "I thought what you said about losing 40-lbs was amazing. What do you plan to do to make the skin shrink back up?"


There's always one in every crowd. Someone who just can't find it within themselves to encourage rather than discourage. Someone who thinks their candle will shine brighter by blowing out yours.

I hope graciousness isn't becoming a relic. I value good manners and sincerely hope that a genteel countenance isn't just a cultural trait. Having been raised in the South, I have wonderful memories of two lovely white-haired ladies in floral dresses sipping mint iced tea while gracing me with their undivided attention in a room full of adults. A true gift when one feels invisible and unworthy. They were blessed with the talent of making a person feel good about herself - even a shy, chubby ten-year-old with nothing much yet to offer.

Since I've circulated more among strangers as a speaker during the last two years, I've been insulted intentionally and unintentionally many times. Thankfully, early on I learned the value of Proverbs 10:19: "Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise."

A simple smile in response goes a long way toward learning not to take yourself so seriously. It really doesn't hurt a bit and nobody's the better when bitterness is exchanged. Surprisingly enough, I've actually made inroads into lasting friendships when a foot-in-mouth comment or two were overlooked.

So next time someone decides to point out that I'm a human river of wrinkles, I think I'll throw my arms up in the air and let my underarm Dumbo flaps speak for themselves.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ah, Glorious Spring!

Chuck and I just returned from a wonderful get-away week at our little cabin nestled in the mountains of N. Carolina. Spring was just dawning in our tiny yard about 3/4 of the way up a 5,000 ft peak, although it was in full swing in the valleys beneath.

So unlike our home in Florida, where the only trace of spring is often barrels of oak pollen, I was thrilled to see tulips and daffodils nosing upward from the frozen earth, soft dogwood blossoms of pink and white (sometimes grafted onto the same tree!), and multiple shades of brilliant green as hostas emerged to fill out desolate flower beds.

The creek beside our cabin fairly danced with glee as it gushed with runoff from the 60" of snow that blanketed our mountain this winter.

All small things, sure, but it was sublimely refreshing to have the time to take delight in the small things that often escape my attention in this busy life. On my long morning trail walks in the crisp 40 degree air, I intentionally thanked Papa God for each and every flower, chirping bird and ray of sunshine.

What a difference it makes to have an attitude of gratitude! My entire day was lived from a different perspective - one of humility and awe at the myriad of blessings before me, rather than worry, hurry and regret at things not accomplished.

I think that's why God makes spring. So the renewal of His earth can demonstrate to us the power of renewing our minds.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sooo excited to be a guest blogger on Margaret McSweeney's Pearl Girls blog today!

Check it out at

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Real Test

The call from the Women's Center was surprising: "We've got a homeless woman here who lives in her car. She's written a book and would like to see about getting it published. Since you're an author, we wondered if you'd mind speaking with her."

I cringed quietly (didn't want the counselor to know how annoyed I was) and replied, "Well, I'm kind of busy right now, with two speaking events coming up next weekend to prepare for and a book proposal my agent wanted yesterday."

No reply.

Enter conscience. I had volunteered to help the charity "in any way I can." And I had just finished writing in my speech on "Becoming a Barnabas" the incriminating statements, "A true Encourager must be willing to be used whenever, however, and for whomever God places in her path. That means willingness to be available, even if it means interrupting our own busy schedules for unexpected developments."

Yikes! Time to put my conviction where my mouth is.

So regardless of my private eyerolling and preconceived ideas that this would be a waste of valuable time, I met with "Lynn" in the lobby of a church where we could sit in air conditioned comfort to discuss her manuscript.

To my utter astonishment, it was good. Very good. She was a bit rough around the edges in appearance (who wouldn't be, living in a car?) but was articulate and well educated. Lynn had been working on her memoir for nearly two years and had painstakingly typed it into book form on a computer at the public library.

I found her story fascinating and well written, and with some good editing, I believe it has commercial potential.

When we first met and she reluctantly turned over her well guarded manuscript to me, I could read the fear in her eyes. Or was it distrust? Probably both. Her tension was palpable. For a moment, I thought she might snatch the bundle of papers out of my hands and bolt for the door. But after I completed the first chapter, I'll never forget the light in her eyes and relief on her lined face when I assured her it was one of the best first drafts I'd ever encountered.

Her smile was absolutely radiant!

I was able to offer a few tips and recommend a professional editor I know. But most of all, despite my initial selfishness, I was able to encourage this aspiring writer who had received much discouragement and disappointment from life in recent years. I gave her a copy of my book, Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers and invited her to our monthly writing group and a free writing mini-workshop I'll be doing at a local bookstore soon.

We hugged as kindred spirits when we parted ways, me to my nice home in a safe neighborhood and her to her rusty car packed with all her earthly possessions.

Yet I was the one most encouraged.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sometimes it's Just Roadkill

Did you hear about the Pennsylvania man who was arrested after trying to resuscitate a possum on the side of the highway?

Nope, I ain't funnin' ya.

According to the article in the 3/27/10 Florida Times Union, a 55-year-old , um, gentleman (and I use the term loosely) was a apparently bit tipsy on his way home one afternoon. Several witnesses called in a report of a man kneeling in the road before the deceased animal, attempting to give it mouth-to-mouth resucitation.

You just can't make up stuff this good.

While we may never understand his motives, one can only assume that he was an animal lover with passions gone awry. Or eww-y in this case. A possum? Have you ever seen a possum up close and personal? That species must have been last on God's to-do list and he ran fresh out of eloquence. A wee, cuddly puppy or an adorable fawn I might understand, but a possum?

It wasn't like our guy had just hit the thing with his car; witnesses said the possum had been "dead a while." Wouldn't you love to read that police report?

Anyway, it occurred to me that trying to revive one of my old manuscripts is kind of like that. I pulled the thing out of its bottom drawer with the intention of infusing it with life and giving it one more shot at a future. After all, I spent many hours of effort and energy on that ill-fated plot years ago; why just bury it without first pulling out the electric paddles?

But you know what? It was too far gone. It had no pulse. No heartbeat. No dying breath. So I got out the coffin.

As much as writers hate to admit that every single thing they write isn't golden, we must face hard, cold facts. Sometimes it's just roadkill.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bunny Revenge

Although I've never before observed the tradition of Lent, as I was studying the subject five weeks ago, Papa God whispered to my heart that He wanted to teach me more about personal sacrifice. I was okay with that.

Until He mentioned that chocolate - gasp! - was the sacrifice.

SIX WEEKS WITHOUT CHOCOLATE??? You've got to be kidding!

He wasn't.

The problem is that I'm a world class choco-athlete (I prefer this term over chocoholic; sounds healthier somehow). I've not missed a single day without the creamy, delicious, delightful stuff for thirty years, with the exception of four months in 2008 when I was dutifully bound by a strict no-fat diet (wonder why?)

How could I possibly give up my life blood? My reason for living past 3 PM every day? Surely I misunderstood. Instead of chocolates, maybe God said to give up socklets or wallclocks.

Only those things hold no great affinity for me and I know the purpose of Lent is self-sacrifice, reflection anad repentance. Originating before AD 1500 as a preparatory time for Easter, Lent is the forty-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday during which believers commemorate Jesus' forty-day pilgrimage into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2) by fasting, praying and rededicating themselves.

I realized that it was no personal sacrifice if the item I was fasting held no special meaning to me. If it wasn't melted into my very soul with its luscious Godiva tentacles wound around my heart and caressing the comfort center of my brain. Sigh.

And so I entered the Lenten season kicking and screaming, wrestling the overwhelming hourly urge to indulge my little secret vice. When you can't have something, it screams your name even louder.

With only a few days to go, you can well imagine that I'm a bit, well, on edge. Actually, I fear it's withdrawal: My hands shake, my head jerks like a squirrel's and I'm even more ornery than usual. I know this because my family and friends are now baking me brownies and begging me to take just one nibble of fudge. I don't think they can stand me much longer.

But I'm holding firm.

How pathetic that Jesus could suffer and die for me and I struggle to give up this one little thing when He asks me to. Every time I open my computer drawer containing my stash of Cadbury bars, I breathe in the heavenly aroma and remember His sacrifice for me.

It doesn't quell the craving but at least it redirects my thoughts and fills me with humble gratitude.

Another added bonus, I have definitely learned more about that prune in the fruit bowl of the spirit: self-control. But I still plan on biting the heads off every chocolate bunny I can find Easter morning.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Smiling in the Dark

I'm soooo excited that Everyday Hope has been nominated for a Retailer's Choice Award! It's such an honor even to be nominated, but the down side is that it's up against a Max Lucado book. Yikes!

It would take a real miracle to win. But hey, God's in the miracle business, right?

May I share a letter excerpt from a reader of Everyday Hope?

"I went into the grocery store and this beautiful little book jumped into my cart! It must have known how many people in my life are struggling with hope. I shared your devotion, 'Smiling in the Dark' with a friend whose mother-in-law fell two months ago, which resulted in her becoming blind. My friend couldn't believe the words that seemed meant for her:

'Hope isn't just an emotion; it's a perspective, a discipline, a way of life. It's a journey of choice. We must learn to override those messages of discouragement, despair and fear that assault us in times of trouble and press toward the light.

Hope is smiling in the darkness. It's confidence that faith in God's sovereignty amounts to something ... something life-changing, life-saving and eternal.'"
~ Nancy Stoppelkamp, North Carolina

Saturday, February 6, 2010