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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Giving is Receiving

So we've just been through another Christmas. I hope yours was as full of love, family and smiles as mine was. This was the first year of my life that Christmas (the presents and all that) was not celebrated on Christmas morning. Because my KC kids were here on the day before, our Christmas was celebrated the morning of the 24th. I was a little worried about it, wondering if this would leave me feeling sort of empty and anti-climatic on Christmas morning, but it definitely did not. This was one of the absolute best Christmases ever. Why you ask? Did I get something really great that I've wanted for a long time? No. I loved the gifts I received, mostly the things I asked my family for, but that wasn't what made it special. What made it special was getting to spend time the weekend before with my family in Cherryvale and then with my family in Hutchinson. So wonderful to see parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews that I don't get to see much of the rest of the year. (Missed Matt, though!) Then having all four of my kids here on the 24th was more awesome than you could imagine. It doesn't sound like much but given what the circumstances might be in the future when Ty and Rachel start their new adventures, it was my Christmas wish come true. Then, as if that wasn't enough, the way their eyes shone when they unwrapped gifts with their name on them. Is there anything better than giving something to someone else that makes them gasp in delight and then give you an amazed yet happy grin? I think not. I learned the lesson long ago about how much better it feels to give than receive, but something about this year made it better than ever before.
So then, that evening in the Christmas Eve service, Todd talked about the same thing. How we love giving our kids things even better than they love receiving them. He told a story about two ladies in a hospital room. One had many gifts but chose to keep them for herself. The other had only one gift but chose to give it to the one with many. Wow! I suppose we all think we would have made a different choice than the first lady, but would we really? What if it involved something besides flowers and plants? What if it involved giving your only begotten Son to save mankind from their own sin?
I know that went from small scale to enormous rather quickly. Let's go back to small for a minute. Do you know what Todd's story made me think of? Books. You don't get it yet, but I'm about to bare my selfish soul to you. Most people that know me know I love books and love to read. The only thing better than reading books is writing books. Writing is harder though, and requires more concentration so when i need to unwind, relax or take it easy I always opt for reading. I asked for several ..... okay maybe it was quite a lot..... of books for Christmas. My sweet husband, ever indulgent and aiming to please, bought me every single book I asked for. It amounted to two large stacks - I haven't counted them but maybe twenty or so and that doesn't even count what's on my Kindle. Are you shocked? My son was. He cannot fathom how he has the same genes as his mother. He thought it would take him years to read all that and can't believe I have made it through an average of a book a day since Christmas. It's really not such a feat, though. The sure sign of a good book is the reader's inability to put it down, even if it means staying up too late, running out of clean underwear or depriving your family of meals. (No - I don't really get by with that but sometimes wish I could.)
I have nothing but eager anticipation for this pile of new reading material, however when I came home that night, it was something else that caught my eye. Not long ago I had removed the books I own, all of them read at least once, from my bookshelves and bedside table and any other places I had crammed them in, and moved them to the hallway, meaning to box them up and put them somewhere they could be out of the way. Unfortunately the box part hasn't happened as yet and they remain in the upstairs hallway, three stacks of books so tall one might think they should have fallen over by now creating a dangerous sort of avalanche in our hallway. Truth is, they have fallen and been re-stacked, a sight most would view as quite precarious. Make it simple - it's a LOT of books I need to pack up and put away. Why? Because I love those books. They're mine! They gave me so much enjoyment. I want to keep them forever. I might want to read them again someday.... Oops. Wrong answer!
So why would I pack them up? If I like them so much, why not share? Yes, I think I might be ready to pass on my cherished possessions. She who has too many is about to lessen her treasure stores. I am ready to receive the blessing of giving! Free books! For any of you that are interested!!
I know I have some avid reader friends and some friends - well- not so much as far as reading goes. I won't hold it against you if I don't hear from you (db). Most of these books are Christian romance or Christian historical - some both categories, some not, a few other genres thrown in there. Some series, some stand alone, a lot of Lauraine Snelling, Karen Kingsbury and Beverly Lewis. Some no-name authors and some no-names that have since become better-known names. Any takers? First come, first serve, take your pick, as many or as few as you like. The only thing I ask is that after you've read them you pass them on to someone else or donate them to a library, nursing home, hospital, whatever. Books were meant to be read and enjoyed - not stuffed in a cardboard box.
Just let me know. Leave a comment here, message me on facebook, call me, email me ksucindy@excite.com or stop by. You can look through my collection (I'm adding to it daily as I finish my new Christmas books). If you want me to pick something out for you, I will even bring it to you! I'm ready to ease my grip and let them go in hopes they will bring someone else a smile.
Oh - to those reader friends of mine, ask me about the Heart Series if you haven't read them yet. I might be persuaded to part with some of those too.
Thanks, Todd. Giving feels so much better than hoarding! Anyway, my family would be so pleased to get that mess out the hallway!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Comfort and Joy

I have to admit right up front that I stole this idea from someone else's blog. Well, maybe "stole" is a little strong. Let's just say I borrowed the title, but then I guess that blogger did the same thing. "Comfort and Joy" are part of the lyrics in the Christmas carol "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," just in case you didn't know that.
I was thinking about those lyrics and the irony of all the stress we experience at Christmas. It's not bad stress necessarily (although good stress sounds kind of like an oxymoron,) but it does seem like we try to cram too much into the Christmas season. I always want every gift to be perfect, the food to be great and the house to be clean. Two out of three isn't bad, I guess. And then there's the money thing. I suppose we all spend too much at Christmas. It's a bad habit that I don't have much inclination to break.
So, how do we find comfort and joy in the midst of all this stress and spending? I wondered just how many things I could think of that are happy, enjoyable and cost little or nothing. I was truly amazed at all the ideas that my fingers typed out in a relatively short time. Here are a few of them:
1. Quiet snowfalls that blanket the outdoors in glittery whiteness
2. A vigorous tail-wagging and happy-to-see-you "grin" from my dog Angel when I come home from a day at work
3. Jake, my son's cat, jumping into my lap and thereby typing foreign words onto my computer screen
4. My husband sending me a daily greeting on MSN of "Good morning Story Girl!"
5. The aroma of bread baking in the oven wafting through the house on a rainy day
6. All four of my kids home at the same time
7. Checking the mailbox and finding an unexpected note from a friend
8. Making biscuits and gravy - comfort food at its best
9. Chris Tomlin CD playing low in the background while I write
10. Sleeping in my own bed again after a weekend away
11. Wrapping up in a fuzzy blanket on a cold evening
12. Listening to K-State football or basketball on the radio
13. Glowing Christmas lights in a dark room
14. The look on Randon's face when he is proud of something he has made and presents it as a gift to someone special
15. Mexican food for supper
16. Finding a great Free Book for my Kindle
17. First step into a warm house on a cold day
18. Nolan's contagious laughter
19. The early morning aroma of fresh brewed coffee
20. Rachel's smile when she looks at Ty
21. Cold Diet Pepsi
22. Listening to Ty tell a funny story and thinking how much he looks like his Grandpa
23. A scented candle burning
24. Someone enjoying reading something I've written
25. My teddy bears
Ok - that's 25 things off the cuff. You can do it, too! Start naming your "Comforts and Joys" and then go enjoy them. It will put the "Merry" back into your Christmas!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just call me Scrooge

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. Christmas is the best time of the year. I love the meaning behind it and all the traditions. I love everything about it – except one thing.

What is there not to love about Christmas? Just this. It gets over. Waking up the morning of December 26 gives me the worst feeling ever. Call it anti-climax, I guess, but after a month of anticipating, planning, wrapping, baking, mailing and even stressing a little, having it suddenly end is a sinking, depressing sort of feeling I’d rather not go through every year.

I’m not proud of this. In fact, I struggle to even admit it, but the evidence is clear. Yes, I tend to downplay the excitement of celebrating Christmas so that the fall from the mountaintop doesn’t make for such a hard landing. Without meaning to or even realizing it was happening, I’ve fallen into this trap of minimizing the effort and therefore the joy of the most Holy Day of the year just to avoid the deflation that comes when its over.

This shameful attitude is most apparent in my house. When my children were little, I spent days decorating for Christmas. Downstairs, upstairs, hallways, their bedrooms, even bathrooms were all adorned with lights, candles and tinsel. It took several minutes just to turn out all the lights every night, hoping I didn’t forget some obscure window somewhere that was glowing with Christmas cheer. Oh, it was such fun to get out all my special Christmas things and place them artistically and creatively around the house. I would have new things every year to add to the festive atmosphere, bags of bargains from last year’s after-Christmas sales, things I received as gifts the year before, even new things I would purchase in preparation for the holiday, not to mention the new tree ornament everyone in the family received each year. My poor son #3, unfortunate enough to have been born in mid November, would usually receive some sort of special Christmas item as a birthday gift. My oldest son ha(s)d a nutcracker collection that multiplied itself exponentially every year and eventually required nearly our whole living room to display. Oh, indeed it was breathtaking to behold!

And so, little did I know, all this Christmas spirit and holiday fervor would become the cause of my current difficulty. As you might imagine, the task of packing away all this paraphernalia required astronomical amounts of time and effort, not to mention cardboard boxes, tissue paper and storage space. Add this to the misery of the “down-in-the-dumps” attitude I experienced at the sudden crash of my heightened anticipation of the big event and I had major emotional repercussions to dig my way out of. (btw, I’m not real good at that sort of thing.)

There were a few years I actually took vacation days from my job at the bank for no purpose other than to put away Christmas. They were horrible, long, teary days that gave me no sense of satisfaction at the work accomplished. I’d keep telling myself, just 11 more months and then I can get it back out again. Wow! Talk about counting down the days to Christmas – I was the champion. One year, I actually paid one of my sons (he shall remain nameless but he knows who he is) to accomplish this daunting task for me. Actually, he did pretty well. I remember coming home from work, being fairly impressed that almost everything Christmas was now out of sight and out of mind. For the meager wages I paid, it seemed like a pretty good deal – that is until I went to get the things back out the next year. We won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say there wasn’t much effort put into the packing and the mess that greeted me when I opened those boxes was no cause for rejoicing. Lesson learned. You get what you pay for.

So, now here I am, present day, kids grown, no longer enamored by such mundane things as cardboard Santa Claus cutouts, talking Christmas trees named Douglas or even nutcrackers. My motivation and ambition is gone. By now you know where this is going so I’ll just be blunt about it. I don’t decorate anymore. There. I said it. I’m a grinch. I’m a burger-meister-meister-burger. Let’s face it. I’m a scrooge.

All I can think of when the Christmas things (the absolute bare minimum, mind you) come out each November is how awful it will be when I have to perform the annual drudgery of putting them away again. Most of my boxes of those things I used to enjoy so much, remain sealed up tight, hidden away in buried alcoves of our garage-slash-fireworks stand, where I probably couldn’t get to them anymore even if I wanted to. And the most humiliating admission of them all – oh, I hate to even say it – I have tried to talk my family into a fake Christmas tree so all I have to do every year is put it back in a box. No – they haven’t agreed and I still have to un-ornament, un-light, de-tinsel and sweep up all the dry needles every year. Still, I keep trying. Maybe a pretty little purple tree that would sit on the coffee table would be nice.

So now, come to my house and you will see our huge Christmas tree, decorated now with all the ornaments from the past, at least the ones that belong to two of my kids. I gave son #1 all of his ornaments last year since he had just gotten married and they had none. Alas, he won’t take the nutcracker collection. Go figure.

Move past the big Christmas tree with all of son #2’s ornaments hanging in one very weighted down spot he happened to find convenient, and you will see our crocheted Christmas stockings and all my beautiful angel figurines my husband and kids have given me. It makes a beautiful table. Then…… nothing. No other decorations anywhere save my Christmas carol clock in the kitchen, which I love to hear chime the hour with a holiday tune. My sweet husband, ever eager to please, has put up the string of lights outside the house that makes us appear a little more festive than I actually am, but then he’s the one that has to take those down.

So, on December 26, or whenever I put it off to before the tree dries up and sheds so many needles I’ll still be picking them up next Christmas, all I have to do is get the tree un-beautiful, throw everything else in a big plastic trash bag and carry it to the basement until next year. It still takes an hour or two, but then its done and I can concentrate on getting over my sour-Cindy attitude, secretly feeling highly superior to all the people that celebrated so much they’re still taking down decorations in mid-January. Ha! I really outsmarted all of them – right?

So, here’s the point I’m trying to make with all this confession. Don’t miss the blessings of today by worrying over tomorrow. Enjoy the gifts of this life as they come your way and revel in the moments at hand. If you let worry and fear of tomorrow cloud the happiness of the right-now, your gifts remain unopened and unappreciated. Unwrap each one, save the paper and bows if you want, cherish them, treasure them, and savor the joy. You’ll be glad you did, because when tomorrow (or December 26 as the case may be) rolls around, even if they’re all packed away in tissue paper and cardboard, the memories are yours to hold in your heart forever – and no grinch can ever take that from you.

Merry Christmas and please - decorate to your heart’s content!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Thanksgiving Story

A THANKSGIVING STORY

The car bounced and rattled over the gravel roads as we neared Grandma’s house   My two kids jumped up and down with excitement despite my admonitions for quiet and I couldn’t really blame them.  Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays and going to the house where I grew up to celebrate with my mom and dad made the holiday special.
            Jeremy had been talking about his pumpkin pie for the entire last week.  Grandma always made him a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving because she knew it was his favorite.  Grandma made the best pumpkin pie in the world according to my 9-year-old son and I was inclined to agree. 
“Grandma’s making turkey and potatoes and rolls too, and red Jello salad with cranberries,” 7-year-old Jessica piped in.  “But I’m saving room for the pumpkin pie.”
Russ laughed.  “Me too, Jess,” my husband agreed.  “Your Grandma’s the best cook ever. Next to your Mama, of course,” he added just in time with a grin in my direction. 
We turned down the rock covered lane, a dusting of snow over the brown lawn looking as if someone had used a giant salt shaker to decorate with little swirls and curlicues through the big front yard.  In spring it was colorful with grass and flowers, but winter cold had changed it to drab brown and gray.  The sky was overcast, dark low-hanging clouds contrasting with the lighter colored ones above. In spite of the cold, Dad came out onto the old front porch and waved at us and we pulled into the driveway. 
“Grandpa!  Grandpa!” Jeremy and Jessica jumped out of the car before I could remind them to put their coats on first, and ran to him.  He enveloped them in a huge hug, then one child under each arm, he beckoned to Russ and me as we got out of the car a little more sedately than our children.
“Hi, Dad!” I called.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Russ shouted, loud enough for mom to hear inside the house.  “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” Dad nodded in agreement and I laughed aloud at them.  In spite of the gloom and cold, I knew they both really meant what they said.  Being together made it a beautiful day.  My sister and her family would be at her in-laws this year so it was just us, but still, anytime my kids could be with their grandparents was special.
Mom hugged us all in turn as we entered the warm, aromatic kitchen.  The table was set for six and the smell of fresh rolls in the oven made my stomach rumble.  I set the spice cake I brought on the counter top where a pecan pie and a plate of oatmeal cookies waited.  “What can I do to help, Mom?”
“Not a thing.  Dinner’s almost ready.  I just need to take the rolls out of the oven.  Oh, maybe you could find that carving knife your dad likes to use for the turkey.” 
I stared at her for a minute.  Her tone sounded worried.  But, she said nothing further as she thrust her hand into potholders and pulled the pan of golden brown rolls from the oven.
I rummaged through the utensil drawer and quickly found the carving knife.  “Anything wrong, Mom?”  I tried to keep my tone casual.
“No,” then quickly, “not really.  I was just wondering if you think Jeremy will be disappointed.  You see….”
At that moment Jeremy and Jessica bounded into the room.  “Is it time to eat yet, Grandma?”
“Yeah, I’m starving and it smells real good in here…”
I followed Jeremy’s gaze to the counter top where the desserts waited.  “Hey where’s my pumpkin pie?”
Yes, where was the pumpkin pie?  I knew Mom wouldn’t forget Jeremy or his pumpkin pie.  Maybe it was in the refrigerator.  I threw her a glance.  Worry creased her forehead.  Uh oh.  Maybe she burned the pie and had to throw it out?  No, Mom never burned anything.  What was I thinking?
“Jeremy, honey, come here a minute.  I have something to talk to you about.”  Mom held out her arm to him and I watched as he hesitantly edged to her side and let her draw him against her.  “Let’s go sit down.”
I could tell he was suspicious.  How would he react if Mom said she burnt his pie?  Would he be grown up enough to handle it or were we in for a temper tantrum? I started toward them but Mom motioned me back.  Dad and Russ now stood in the kitchen doorway as well.  I had a feeling they knew what she was about to say.
“Jeremy, sweetie,” Mom’s voice still sounded worried as she pulled out two chairs and they sat down facing each other.  “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”
His eyes narrowed and his lips formed a pout.  “What?”  I could tell he knew the bad news involved his pumpkin pie and he wasn’t happy about it.
This morning I was taking the pumpkin pie out of the oven.  It was beautiful and smelled so good.  But I heard a knock on the kitchen door.  I set the pie on the stove and went to see who was there.  It was the boy from the house down the road.  His family goes to our church in town and I think he’s about your age.  His name is Eric.”
“What did he want?”  Jeremy’s voice had grown even more suspicious. 
“Eric’s mother is in the hospital.  She’s been there for a couple weeks now.  The doctors say she’s going to get better, but it will take awhile longer.  People in our church have been helping out, bringing them meals, taking turns staying with Eric and his brother and sisters while his daddy goes to work, but it’s been really hard on their family to not have their mommy at home.”
Jeremy’s expression did not soften in the slightest.  “Where’s my pie, Grandma?”
“Jeremy….” I began, but Mom shook her head slightly at me and I didn’t finish my reprimand. 
“Eric came here this morning on his bicycle.  He only had a light jacket on so I invited him inside.  He stared at the pie I had just taken out of the oven and told me how good it smelled.  He said his mama always baked a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but this year she couldn’t because she was in the hospital.”
She paused and suddenly I knew where this conversation was going.  Oh no.  Please, Jeremy, try to understand, I begged silently.  My nine-year-old son, focused only on his own wants and wishes, did not comprehend that his reaction to what was coming might very well break his grandma’s heart and ruin the holiday for everyone.
My mother continued.  “Eric said his daddy sent him over here to see if I had any catsup they could borrow.  He said his daddy was cooking hotdogs and they had run out of catsup.”
Here, Jessica who stood in the doorway by her father interrupted.  “Hotdogs on Thanksgiving?  What about the turkey?”
Grandma smiled slightly.  “That was my thought too, but I didn’t say anything.  I just went to the refrigerator and got the bottle of catsup for him.  But then poor Eric got tears in his eyes and said his daddy didn’t know much about cooking so he couldn’t make a turkey.  He said some of the church people have been bringing them casseroles and things but nobody brought a turkey and all his dad knew how to make was hot dogs.  He kept looking at the pie and finally I…I asked him if he wanted to take it home to his family.”
I looked hard at Jeremy, but he didn’t look at me or speak.  He just sat there staring at his grandmother, an array of emotion flitting through his big brown eyes. I wanted to cry.  Not for lack of a pumpkin pie, but for Eric, his family and the pain it brought my mother to relay this news to her grandson.   
Finally she went on.  “Eric’s eyes got big and round.  He could hardly speak.  He just whispered ‘thank you,’ picked up the pie and left, driving his bike one handed so he could hold the pie and headed for home.  He didn’t even remember to take the catsup bottle with him, but I suppose they won’t miss it too much.  I’m so sorry, Sweetie.  I know how you love pumpkin pie.  I promise I’ll bake you another one for Christmas.”
She looked hopefully at him, but still Jeremy didn’t move or speak.  We all watched him; even Jessica watched her brother as the news sank in and hugged her daddy’s leg as if uncomfortable with what might happen.
Finally, Jeremy met Grandma’s eyes with his, a frown forming on his lips.  I waited, not realizing I was holding my breath until I was forced to gasp for air.  But all my son said was, “Eric’s family don’t have a turkey?”
I resisted the impulse to correct his grammar.  What was he thinking?
Grandma shook her head.  “I guess no one in the church thought to invite them to Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Can we invite them?”
My mouth fell open in shock.  Was this Jeremy’s way of getting the pie back, or did his question run a little deeper?
Mom looked sad.  “I thought of that, but there are seven of them and I’m not sure there would be enough for all of us.  I didn’t make a lot of food since it was just going to be us and your Grandpa can’t eat up all those leftovers after you go home.  I was afraid we’d run short.”
“Well, maybe we could take our dinner to them, then.  Ya got any peanut butter?  I like PB&Js.”
His grandmother gasped in surprise.  In fact, all of us looked shocked.  Was this coming from my son?
“I don’t know, Sweetheart.  We’d have to pack up everything and drive it over there and maybe they’ve already eaten hotdogs and aren’t hungry anymore.  It’s nice of you to think of it, but I’m not sure it’s very practical.”
“I’ll help you,” he offered quietly.  “Please Grandma?”
Tear filled her eyes.  To be honest, tears filled my eyes too, and Russ’s as we stared at each other across the room.  Jess was practically sobbing as she joined in her plea.  “Me too, Grandma.  I’ll help.  I want Eric to have a turkey.  Puh-leeeeese?” she begged.
Suddenly, Grandpa’s laughter boomed through the room.  “That’s my grandkids!  All right, everyone, let’s find some boxes and get this Thanksgiving dinner on its way!”
Everyone sprung into action then, finding cardboard boxes, transferring dishes of potatoes, stuffing, green beans, even succulent light brown turkey gravy into an array of Tupperware containers for the trip to Eric’s house.  In a matter of minutes the feast was loaded into the car and my dad let Jeremy and Jessica go with him for the delivery. 
By the time they returned Mom and I had the makings for PB&Js on the table but the children hardly noticed.  Eyes shining as bright as Christmas morning, they told us about the expressions on the faces of Eric’s brothers and sisters as they unloaded the food and placed it on their table.  Eric’s father unashamedly shed tears of joy and gratefulness as the children crowded around the table staring at the delicious Thanksgiving dinner with eyes that betrayed both their delight and anticipation at the surprise holiday feast.  Dad was in tears himself as he added to the children’s descriptions of the surprised and happy family.
            I hadn’t given my son enough credit.  I was afraid he would have a temper tantrum and make it a difficult holiday for everyone.  Instead, he had blessed us all more than we could have dreamed possible with his generosity and love for people he didn’t even know. 
“I love you, Jeremy,” I whispered to him as I passed him the jar of grape jelly.  He pretended like he didn’t hear, but I know he understood how proud I was of him. 
I took a bite of the food in front of me.  Honestly, this has to the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich I have ever eaten in my life.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The End

When you get done reading this, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and take a look at my ACFW badge.  Yes, as a member of ACFW, I earn this badge to display on my blog or website when I complete a manuscript of at least 50,000 words(mine was 103,000 before edits - huh, maybe I should of divided it into two books and got two of these cool badges).  To most people it looks like a jpeg image of an ink well.  To me it signifies countless hours of thinking, planning, writing and writing some more (that's how I earned my NovelTrack badge over to the right:).  But, lest you begin to feel too sorry for me, I must confess what delightful, fun, intriguing, well spent hours those are!  Ooooooh - I love it! (writing - not the badge so much) I would rather write than clean my house (perfectly obvious).  I would rather write than go out to eat. (don't believe me ask my husband). I would rather write than go on vacation  (go ahead - ask me what I did on my week of vacation last summer - NOT the firework stand week!!, the other one.)  I would rather write than go to work (no such luck - I have to earn those two weeks of vacation).
Back to the story. When I finally reached the end of that book I experienced an odd thought.  To a writer, 'The End' is not the end.  It is only the beginning.  Once that whole plot, theme and characterization thing is there on the screen in black and write, my work has only started.  First come the read through edits, correcting miles upon miles of typos, misspellings, forgotten quote marks, maybe even adding a comma or two.  Usually takes at least two of those read throughs to catch most things.  Then, during the read through edits, I begin to get weird ideas like "Is that what I wrote? I thought it would sound different." or, "Hmmm. Wouldn't this read better if I did it this way instead of that way?" Maybe even, "What is Chapter Two doing there after Chapter One?  That should be back at Chapter 23!"
And so begins the 'real work'.  Countless hours of editing, polishing, re-editing, changing, undoing, redoing. reading, and rereading.  And let's don't forget those pesky writer's rules I didn't even know existed until after I'd already written several books.  No passives, show-not-tell, no info dumps, no buried dialogue, sparing use of lys,and the list goes on and on.  Oh well - rules were pretty much made to be broken, I figure.
And my least favorite of all the after-the-end-tasks, the dreaded cutting.  I mentioned this book had over 103,000 words (Notice my no-no use of the passive "had")  To put this in perspective, my first book was 57,000 words.  I added to it to get up to about 75,000 which is a much more acceptable length by industry standards.  A book you buy in the bookstore must be long enough that the reader doesn't feel cheated, yet short enough that the paper, ink, time, etc that goes into the production of said book does not cross the lines between profit and no-profit for a publishing house.   If you think adding to a book sounds difficult, you have no idea what difficult is until you start to talk about cutting.  Cutting? What's that?  No way!  This is my baby!  Every word of those 103,000 is a total gem and I couldn't possibly cut anything.  Oh, ouch!  No! not THAT scene!  It's pivotal to the whole book - but so is that one and that one too.  I hate cutting.  I'm not good at it.  It's painful.  I have a file on my computer where I actually store my cuts because they are so brilliantly done I could never come up with something like that again.  "Delete" is much too strong a word for my precious cuts.
Well, Ok, this isn't really the point of this blog (which I don't plan to cut - sorry).  The actual point I wanted to make is this.  How often in our daily lives do we think we've written 'The End' and just nonchalantly go on to the next thing?  Do you ever sit in church and wish the pastor would get done so church would be over? (I've NEVER done that, Todd!)  Do you read your scriptures in the morning, consider that done and close the Bible for the rest of the day? Do you throw a quarter in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas and figure you've 'fed the hungry' for another year?  Well, let me burst your bubble.  Our work is never done.  When we leave the church building on Sunday morning, that is only the beginning of our work in the lives of others we will encounter that week.  When you close the covers of your Bible, that scripture you read should be available for the rest of the world to read in your life and in your heart.  When you feed a hungry person for a day, they are hungry again the next day.  Just small examples, but you get what I mean.  Don't ever settle for writing 'The End' on the work God gives you to do then go on about your life. Keep your heart open to whatever He asks you to do, whenever He asks you to do it.  Remember, He's still editing on you!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Raccoon Syndrome

Before I begin here, let me assure you this is absolutely a true story.  It won't sound like it, but it is.  Here goes:
Night before last I wake up from a sound sleep (not unusual).  I laid there for a minute trying to figure out why I woke up and if I can go back to sleep.  Oh.  It's my dog.  Yes, Angel is a dog.  Not a polar bear as she has been accused of, but a dog, albeit a really big dog.  She barks sometimes.  Dogs do that.  But this - well this was more than barking - it was dog language for 'carrying on at a very high rate of excitement.'  The problem with this, of course, is that it's the middle of the night.  OK - maybe some past the middle.  My clock says 3:30.  I probably could have turned over and gone back to sleep despite the noise, but my neighbors crossed my mind.  I'd be willing to bet their clocks said 3:30 too and that they probably didn't want to wake up quite that early.  I glance over at my husband.  Still snoring. That figures.
"Okay, Angel.  Let's solve this dog problem."  I left my warm bed and tiptoed down the stairs so as not to wake sleeping husband or son (Duh - if this barking doesn't wake them, my bare feet in the hallway certainly isn't going to.)
I unlock the door and slip outside unnoticed by Angel, who is completely captivated at the moment by whatever she's barking at.  "Angel!  Hush."  No effect.  "Angel - be quiet!"  The barking gets louder.  So how's your mental image coming along by now?  I'm standing outside in my nightshirt in the dead of night talking to a dog that doesn't understand a word I'm saying and furthermore, does not care what I am saying.  It rained earlier.  I'm not too interested in walking out there too far in my bare feet.  Then, I hear it.  An odd sound, I can't quite place it.  It's a loud sound.  I can actually hear it over the incessant barking.  I listen a moment.  There is only one word for this sound.  Chatter.  Definite chattering is going on over there by Angel's pen just outside of my range of vision.  Obviously whatever is making that awful inhuman noise didn't quite get my admonitions for quiet either.
Then it dawns on me.  I know that sound.  It's the same sound a raccoon makes when a dog has it treed.  (I grew up in a family of coon hunters - its really not such a weird thing that I know this - okay maybe it is but that's not the point of this story).  A coon huh?  In town?  That doesn't happen often.  No wonder Angel is barking.  She probably has no idea what that thing in our yard is and its talking to her real mad like.  More mad than me - by a long shot!
So as all this sinks in, the thought of me being out there in the dark with a mad coon that probably has multiple deadly diseases isn't going over real well with me at the moment.  I go back inside and try to figure out what to do.  Chances are my neighbors can't see or hear this coon and they are growing unhappier with my dog by the minute.  From the window on the stairway landing, I look out into our north yard and I can see the shadow of this coon sitting there telling off my dog.  It is humongous as coons go - but then my dog is humongous as dogs go, so I guess they're a well matched pair each trying to win this war of words they are playing.  Time to call out the big guns.
I crawl back into bed and try to wake up my husband without him knowing it was me that woke him up (it's an art form and I'm pretty good at it)
"Would you go see what's wrong with the dog"
"Wha.....?"
"Can't you hear the dog barking?"
"You want me to go see why the dog's barking?"
"Yes"
"In the middle of the night?"
"Please?"
Obediently, if a bit reluctantly he gets up.  A few minutes later he comes back to the room, but the dog is still barking.  I think about saying something, but decide that's probably not my best option when he starts pulling on jeans. (Which immediately begs the question, "What was he wearing when he went outside before?" - Let's not go there.) So - shoes too! Yeah - this is serious.  He has spotted this coon and is going to go do something.  My hero.
Eventually the dog gets quiet and I fall back to sleep.  It's not until the next morning when I hear the 'rest of the story.'  There was not one but two coons in our yard.  Problem with that, one of 'em happened to be dead.  We don't know who the murderer was.  Maybe the big coon did it in.  Maybe it fell out of the tree.  Whatever the case, it wasn't going to move without some help.
The details of moving the coon are not going into this blog.  Truth is, I don't know exactly how he got moved and would like to keep it that way.  But, once moved, the big coon ran off to finish its mad somewhere else and Angel went back to sleep.  Good dog!  And just for the record, she may be big but her bark is way worse than her bite.  She's never hurt anything save a few heavy duty dog toys that got rather torn apart once they found their way to her pen.  The only way she might conceivably hurt anyone is by loving them to death.
So what did I learn from my coon adventure?  Just this.  Angel got my attention the only way she knew how so I - we - Ok, my husband, could take care of her problem.  Who wants to stare at a dead coon all night?  I decided then and there that if God wants my attention He may start out softly tapping on my heart's door.  If I don't answer, He may knock louder.  I need to answer his call before He has to take more drastic measures and break the door down.  Be alert.  Pay attention.  Don't miss the whole thing because you were asleep. If you hear Him knocking, always answer right away.  It's your wake-up call.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Familiarity

Last night I forced myself to write a few hundred more words on my WIP before going to bed, even though fatigue (let's make that exhaustion) was catching up with me.  No, actually it had already caught me.  Point being, all I wanted was to close my eyes, but there was this awful squawking, squeaking, cacophony of snorts going on in my bedroom that would not let me sleep.  Yes, it must be hay fever season!  I can put up with a lot of things, but snoring is not one of them.
A few good kicks in the backside of the perpetrator did no good whatsoever, so calmly, sleepily, I might add, I pick up my Christmas print fleece blanket and move to another room.  My son is away at college and his room doesn't get much use these days.  But there is a perfectly good bed in there and I intend to make good use of it.  I wonder briefly if the sheets are clean, then decide I'll just lay on top.  It's a warm night and I didn't bring my fan with me.
So, there I am on this strange bed.  It doesn't feel as nice as my bed.  It's firmer and the pillow is flat. Really flat.  All the good pillows are away at college with him.  I can hear the CPAP across the hall that belongs to son #2.  Hmm....it's louder in here.  There is a window by my head where the street light shines right into my eyes from a crack in the curtain when I  turn towards it.  I turn over.  I am staring at the side of a dresser that blocks my view of anything else.  Son #3 certainly has a lot of stuff crammed into this space we call his room.
Despite everything I am about to fall asleep when PLOP!  Something lands on my feet. It's that cat!  Jake is the one we have adapted the famous Veggie Tales pirate song for.  "He is the kitty that doesn't do anything.  He just stays home and lies around.  And if you ask him to do anything.  He'll just tell you, he doesn't do anything."  He's no pirate, but otherwise that song could have been written for him.  He doesn't care that his overweight body is laying on my feet and moving him is out of the realm of possibility.  It's me that has to move.  I try, but there's that street light again.  Whose dog is barking?  Oh, dear!  It's mine. Angel, please be quiet!  She gets so excited about the neighbor's cats that wander around.  She needs to get a life - something besides barking and cat watching.
So, back to the story.  I'm lying there, yonder CPAP humming, cat purring, me curled up in a tight ball to accommodate him, light in my eyes, wishing the mattress wasn't quite so firm, getting kind of warm and wondering if the snoring might be preferable.  Then this revelation dawns.  When my son is home, this is his familiar.  This is what's comfortable to him.  Is he lying in bed in his dorm room wishing he was in his bed at home?  (Well, probably not, I don't think he sleeps much there, but you get the point).  We all have things that are familiar to us and other things that feel strange.
I think God planned it that way so we can help others through this life.  Have you been through some trial that now qualifies you to help someone else go through the same thing?  Then help them!  Do you know someone who has 'been there-done that' in whatever you're experiencing right now?  Ask them for advice.  To borrow a title from a book I like - "We really do need each other."  Don't fight it.  Don't ignore it.  Don't push it under the rug (or the heavy cat).  Reach out to someone.  Stand in the gap for them.  Use the lessons you have learned to help someone else learn.  You will be amazed at the blessings that flow both ways when you do.
P.S.  I finally decided on the snoring - much more familiar! (Yawn!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9-11

We just experienced the 10 year mark (hard to call it an anniversary) of one of the most awful things I can recall in my lifetime.  I remember the day in 2001 vividly as well as how I felt and the gamut of emotions I experienced.  It's not a pleasant memory.  Therefore, when the news media started all the hype and build-up about the 10 year thing, it made me want to go hide my head in the sand.  All the news features, documentaries, pictures, first person accounts, even sermons commemorating that day gave me cause to wish desperately it was all over.  I'm not the least bit interested in reliving that day, seeing the horrific pictures and videos, listening to all the pain and suffering revisited, even honoring the heros.  I would just as soon skip it as go back and experience all that again.  When the TV in our house was spouting all the "specials" the afternoon of the 11th, I was in another room.  I didn't want to see, hear or feel and couldn't understand why anyone else did either.
Then, like the proverbial ton of bricks, it hit me.  It wasn't that anyone wanted to go back to that day 10 years ago or feel the same emotions again - it was that we have to.  We can't ever allow ourselves to forget.  If we forget, all the things that happened that day lose their meaning and purpose.  We have to remember, fight back, honor, even cherish those moments in our nations history.  If we don't, it was all in vain.  It is the same way with Jesus on the cross.  Every Easter season I dread the descriptions I am sure to hear of Jesus' suffering and the horrible things that were done to Him before and after He was crucified.  I closed my eyes through most of it the first time I watched The Passion, but I did recognize the importance of why were seeing it.  By His stripes we are healed.  The emotion it evokes in me is secondary to the reason it happened.  I can't avoid the emotion without avoiding the reason and therefore I do not dare to do so.  I have to bring it out each Easter, relive it, re-feel it and let the miracle of my salvation pervade my entire being.  If I don't, what Christ did for me loses its enormity and I lose track of how much He loves me, all so I can avoid feeling the pain.
Remembering 9/11 as horrendous as it was, is minuscule when compared to the cross.
Remember - Never Forget what Jesus did for you and me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Open Window

After an incredibly hot and long summer which seemed to never end, the weather has cooled off and it is actually almost pleasant - granted, my idea of 'pleasant' isn't necessarily that of anyone else, but you get the point.  I DO NOT LIKE HOT WEATHER SAM I AM.
With the temperature dipping down to almost cool at night, I suggested to my husband that we leave the window open to allow some of this cool, fresh air inside to help us sleep better.  Despite his inclination to experience hay fever, he agreed and we have done this for the past several nights now.
The open window is fabulous.  When I wake up in the morning it's actually cool in the room, and not the artificial cool I usually feel from the fan that blows directly on my sleeping form at least six months out of the year.  I like the night sounds, crickets and cicadas and things like that.  It's a nice little lull-a-bye to fall asleep to.  I also like having the curtain open to allow a little moonlight into the room, nice change of pace from the night light in the hallway.
Now, all that said - I don't believe I thought about all the disadvantages that go along with the open window when I made the suggestion.  First, there is the aforementioned hay fever.  Even though my husband insists it is not bothering him, I wonder if this is entirely true when he begins to snore.  I can never fall asleep first.  I've tried.  And so it goes.  Then, remember those pleasant little night sounds I mentioned?  What about the ones not quite so pleasant that invade the quiet of the night and even have the audacity to startle me awake at times?  The dog somewhere that barks at something then sets up a chorus of barking throughout the neighborhood in every tone and pitch of barking imaginable.  (My own dog is included in this nighttime choir and does her share of directing with the occasional solo piece so rest assured I am definitely not blaming my neighbors!)  The cars going by at all hours of the night are another source of irritation.  Don't those people ever sleep?  A car coming down the street can put it's headlights in my eyes for just a split second then continue on down the road as if nothing had happened.
The point of this dialogue?  Yes, I'm getting there.  The open window has definite advantages, but also disadvantages.  In my mind I have weighed the facts and find the scales definitely tip in favor of leaving the window open on these cool nights despite the drawbacks.  It is the same in life.  Always, always, even when it seems like more bad stuff is getting in than good stuff, leave the window of your heart open.  We miss too much if we close up to the world and let nothing invade our otherwise complacent lives.  God will not open the window forcibly if you have closed it voluntarily.  He will wait for you to realize it needs to be open and for you to let Him inside once again.  So many blessings are waiting.  Don't miss them because you forgot to open the window.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Distraction

How often do you think about your big toe?  I mean, honestly - do you give any thought to it at all?  I never did until several months ago when my left big toe started hurting.  First, I thought my shoes didn't fit right.  Blew that theory when I changed shoes and it still hurt.  Then, I decided it was gout.  Isn't that the disease where your big toe hurts?  Well, I looked it up.  Gout hurts a lot for a few days then it's done for awhile.  Guess that wasn't it either.  Finally, after several months, I did what I should have done in the first place.  I asked my doctor - then I wished I hadn't.  Arthritis.  Yep - that's what he said.  The "A" word.  I can take Tylenol for the pain.  What?  Do I take it all the time?  Will it really help?  Maybe it will go away.  Maybe it won't.  "Try not to use it too much," he said.  Seriously!  Who uses a big toe?
There is a point to all this whining.  My problems with my big toe got me thinking about how much I have thought about my toe over the last several months as opposed to all those months/years/decades when I never gave it a thought.  How much time have I wasted worrying, fretting, problem solving, decision making when there wasn't a thing I could do to change anything?  Where would I be right now if I had applied all those minutes to the pursuits God has put in front of me to do for Him?  Would my next book be finished?  Would my house be clean?  Would I be caught up at work?  Would I have gotten more sleep?
The scriptures clearly tell us not to worry.  Why then, do we do it?  Are we simply not capable of putting needless worry aside?  I have decided to make that one of my life's pursuits - leaving my worries with God and spending my time seeking Him instead of fretting over all the distractions that get in the way.  Can I actually do this?  I don't know.  Perhaps I'll worry over it.  Maybe it's my first lesson.