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.