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Pruned! There’s a Nap For This

13 Sep

A year ago, I made what I still believe is a right decision. I put family needs before personal wants, although, in fairness, I believed I could manage both. I now know I cannot. I also know the road back is not as simple as reversing my trajectory.

It took a potted plumeria tree to show me the road ahead.

We call it the Lily Tree, to honor its previous owner. Soon after we brought it home last fall its leaves began to drop. Sad looking thing—a three-pronged stick in a pot. However, a friend told us to be patient, saying it’s a hearty tree and worth the wait.

As instructed, we set it in a dark, quiet corner of the house and left it alone to nap, not even disturbing it with water. Apparently, the plumeria is the introvert of the tree world. This was difficult advice and counterintuitive to our way of thinking, but we ignored it.

plumeriaThis spring we set the tree outside, certain it had died. However, its three spindly branches developed green tips almost immediately, and within a few weeks sprouted tiny leaves. Only then did I allow myself to become emotionally invested. I looked up plumeria on line.

There I learned another name for this plant is frangipani, which is SO fun to say, and that it’s native to Hawaii—the source of those lovely lei flowers Hawaiians string together to welcome visitors to the island. Of course, this discovery gave me cause to whine.

Hey, why don’t we get flowers?

We researched possible reasons for this barrenness and discovered the plumeria likes certain nutrients. In case you’re wondering why I don’t name those nutrients, the botanic realm looks a lot like math to me, all those phosphorus levels. So, I recommend the following:

Look it up, sigh heavily, then turn it over to a problem-solving spouse.

My husband, whose thumb is far greener than mine, purchased some fertilizer and worked it into the soil. The Lily tree’s leaves fanned out and grew appreciatively. We’ll never know if flowers were forthcoming, because just when the tree seemed to be at the pinnacle of joyful thriving, a strong gust of wind blew the plant AND its heavy terracotta pot off our deck. Two branches snapped off and the third lay helpless atop a now-flat basil plant in the garden below.

As I stared at those pots, I saw a somewhat depressing similarity to my own life.

For more than four years, I lived the life I’d dreamed about since my teenage years. During that time, I was blessed to receive a glimpse of the writer I might be and know for certain that writing is my life’s calling. Every writer’s group, conference, networking contact, and writing class, as well as the feedback from people who read my books and articles, all fed me nutrients, to the point where I could practically feel the blossoms emerging.

And then my pot blew over.

Anyone who follows this blog has surely noticed the almost eerie silence about the place for the past year. In the few entries I did manage to write, I’ve remained true to my Pollyanna side, trying to paint a rosy picture despite evidence to the contrary. I sprouted green leaves even though I lacked proper nutrients.

To be frank, I’m in a season of inner conflict. Blessed with more than I need, yet somehow still unhappy because I don’t have what I want. Trying not to complain, because it feels wrong to whine about writing woes in view of the myriad people in my life suffering real trauma right now. So, I’ve been stuffing my emotions to the point where any time I’m asked, “How’s the writing coming along?” I practically burst into tears.

Because it’s not coming along. In focusing on the mundane demands of my detour, I’ve managed to dissolve nearly all ties to writing groups, magazines, contacts, as well as that part of my brain that sees a story in every situation. I paused a book project mid-way through the interviews, and it seems to be on perpetual hold. My leaves are gone. I’m a bare branch in a pot, left to nap in a quiet room.

I’ve been pruned.

Plumeria_StubMy gardener husband was not undone by either pruning. For the plumeria, he researched a bit more and learned that it’s likely not terminal. He set the pot back upright and gave the sagging tree some water. Then he picked up the branches and carefully pruned their leaves until they looked like two long cigars, which he set out to air dry. Then he planted them in a new pot, side-by-side so they’ll support each other through this traumatic time.

Apparently, if we bring them inside for the winter to rest in the quiet corner, we should have three thriving plumeria trees come springtime.

His solution for my own pruning was to give me wide berth and let me mope. He knows the more depressed I feel, the more I turn to the Bible for answers. He’s a wise gardener.

I learned that pruning is good news for both plants and people. The dream hasn’t gone anywhere, nor has the promise. In showing me Proverbs 13:12, He helped me see that those four years represent a hope deferred, a glimpse of a tree of life, a vision of who I’m meant to be.

Through reading the Bible, I’m reminded repeatedly that my status is not terminal. In fact, the passion to write is stronger than ever, with new ideas developing continually and those unfinished stories sill intact in a dark still corner of my brain. Resting. Waiting for spring.

Lately, I’m starting to feel as if spring might be on the horizon.

However, I won’t emerge as the same writer you knew a year ago. You see, I was elated just to be writing, satisfied to be producing beautiful shiny leaves. But that was never God’s plan. My tree is supposed to produce large, aromatic flowers. My tree had to be pruned to prepare me for more than I knew to ask or imagine.

plumeriaSo I’m going to essentially start over. Write a short blog here and there, attend a writer’s group or two, take on an editing assignment. This time, though, I will keep before me a vision of the plumeria flower to represent God’s plan for my life. If I have to, I will go about the mundane hours of each day singing, “frangipani, frangipani” (likely annoying my coworkers), to stay focused on the something better that lies ahead. I will remember (shout out to the poetry of Rob Thomas) that I am a black and white person with technicolor dreams. But I don’t have to be.

———————–

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. –John 15:2

Time’s A-wastin’; What Can I Do?

10 Mar

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.” — Dion Boucicault

These two quotes represent opposing views of time. Which speaks more to you?

As we prepare to set our clocks forward tonight, I find myself slightly miffed at the prospect of losing an hour. While my practical side understands that, by some slight of hand, the hour will fortuitously appear back in the bank next fall, right now it feels like thievery.

Perhaps this is because time has been my nemesis lately. I seem to be preoccupied with finding some, particularly this mythical “free” time I hear so much about.

According to the internet, time is money, time is of the essence (of what, I’m not exactly certain), time [supposedly] heals all wounds, it and tide wait for no man, it flies, it runs out, it marches on, and it drags. The time can be right, ripe, near, or at hand. We can make it, spend it, keep it, mark it, lose it, save it, and kill it.

I hear time can stand still, as it did for “almost a day” for Joshua in the Bible (Josh 10:8,12,13) or even go backward like the 40 minutes that backed up for King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20: 9-11). However, being neither a leader nor a king, I’m rather certain that option is not available to the likes of me.

About the only thing we can’t do with time, I suppose, is understand where it goes.

calendar_daysSince taking on a “part-time” job a few months ago (has it been seven months already? My, how time—oh, nevermind). Anyway, since then, I’ve developed an enhanced appreciation for the stuff. It’s true that we appreciate something more when it’s no longer ours. At the end of the day I become frustrated that I accomplished so little of what I used to . . . in what I call my “free time.”

I’m in awe of America’s forefathers and all they accomplished in the time they were given. George Washington ran a country and a plantation, and still found time to write more than 17,000 letters (which have been preserved in a handy 52-volume set, in case you ever find YOUR free time). Newspaper man and Philadelphia postmaster, Ben Franklin served as the U.S. ambassador to France and “dabbled” in science and inventing. Aside from entertaining the ladies, his more reputable interests included demography (study of populations), the wave theory of light, meteorology, refrigeration, electricity, oceanography and ocean currents; he played the violin, harp, and guitar, he was an avid chess player, he established one of the first firefighting companies, invented the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, and travelled back and forth to FRANCE, for Pete’s sake. Still, he found time to write Poor Richard’s Almanac for more than 25 years and produce the first monthly magazine in America.

All I want to do is write a weekly blog.

Mind you, our forefathers didn’t have the internet or television to slow them down. Or electricity. And they travelled by boat and horseback (only one of which, come to think if it, seems conducive to writing).  In a strange sense, technology seems to have made us less productive.

In analyzing this perceived waste of my free time, I’m realizing that my frustration is not how with little I receive, but whether my pursuits during that time are worthy of having it in the first place. Some days this is what drives me; other days it’s what drives me nuts. Then it dawned on me. . .

It’s ALL free.

Time is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Not a second of our lives is promised or deserved, let alone the hours, days, weeks and years we seem to accumulate so effortlessly. Some of us operate so far into the future we fail to see the minutes sitting right in our laps today.

timeI want every minute to count.

The first words I utter each morning—well, after “Are you kidding me? I just got to sleep!” and after whatever I mumble to my husband, which can vary depending on how long ago “just” was—so let’s say the first coherent comment I make each day is “Heavenly Father, thank you for one more day on this earth.”

Lately I’ve started balancing that thought by asking at the end of my day, “God, did I use it prudently?” He wisely doesn’t answer. Or perhaps I close my ears because I really don’t want to hear. Either way, I know the answer.

Time isn’t my nemesis. I am.

——————

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.—Ephesians 5:15-16

New Year, New Map, Better Compass?

1 Jan

The year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean,
with a freshness like clean linen, the newness of a tightly folded flower bud,
and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless
possibilities of what lies ahead. – The Portrait Writer, 1 Jan. 2017

I just read my New Year’s blog from a year ago, and I have to smile. In a nutshell, my 2017 turned out absolutely nothing like I expected it would.

A year ago, I had two ghost-written books under my belt and had started a novel. I was writing short stories for two magazines, as well as 2-3 biographies every month for a company that produces church anthologies. I belonged to two writing groups and was pondering joining a third, and I registered for two writing conferences as soon as the opening bell sounded, certain that this year I’d have a book proposal to shop around. My life was ALL writing, and ALL figured out.

Somewhere between then and now I turned a corner and suddenly nothing looked familiar.  I lost the novel in a hard-drive crash. (No, it wasn’t backed up, thanks for asking.) I had to give up creating short stories to take a job that I both love and resent. Writing group meetings began to clash with other obligations, and even my blog fell to the wayside. At both writing conferences I felt like a fraud because I had very little to offer in any conversation. By July, I’d given up any hope of balancing work, family, and writing.

This is not a sad tale.

You see, in the same New Year’s article, I wrote, “I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.”

Boy, did I learn.

Now that I’m on the looking-back end of this year, I can see that although the path I walked led away from my dreams (for now), it contained a few experiences I hadn’t anticipated. Some good, some awful, all necessary. I learned a lot in 2017, primarily, that ALL writing and ALL figured out is not how I’m supposed to live.

The highlights of my year include two rekindled long-ago friendships. First, Chuck and his wife Sam, from my Yuma, Arizona days (circa 1992) sent me a card out of the blue. Turns out they live just a few miles from where I’d planned to attend a book launch in May, so I tacked on an extra day to visit them. Within minutes of my knocking on their door, we picked up where we left off, re-living the days of our Marine Corps glory and swapping stories I’ll never put into print.

Then, through the wonders of Facebook, I found Vicky, my Boot Camp bunk mate from 1979 and my roommate and partner-in-crime for the first year of my Marine Corps career. As fortune would have it, she lives just miles from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference site, so I tacked a day or so to the end of that trip as well. My friend meter is pegged, and I couldn’t be happier.

willas_site

Willa’s new home. Only the squirrel knows where…

Other highlights include seeing my youngest graduate high school and start college, taking a train across country with my husband, and spending a week in a mountain villa with the Fitzsimmons clan. We met in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to spread the ashes of Grandma Willa and Grandpa Jerry in an area that will remain unnamed because it maybe wasn’t legal to do so. That week was a time I hope to remember for ages. I enjoyed getting to know my husband’s family and sharing more than a brief visit after decades of whirlwind trips to Sacramento. It’s something we’d never done before, and I hope will do many times in years to come. It made me realize anew how important family is, and regret that it’s been many years since I’ve seen my own siblings in New England (and the ones in New Mexico and North Carolina).

jerry_hockey

So proud of this young man. And feeling so short these days…

In 2017, we were also able to travel twice to Pittsburgh to see our oldest, and we learned much about him we didn’t know—all good, of course. We even went to a midnight hockey game in the middle of nowhere to watch our goal tender in action.  Apparently, in Pittsburgh, hockey is so popular one often has to wait until midnight for rink time. That’s one of those occasions I’m glad to experience—once.

Finally, thanks to my new job and its excruciating learning curve, I’ve acquired TONS of new skills in areas I never would have expected to venture, particularly in Photoshop, InDesign, and (ugh) time management. I know that in God’s economy nothing is wasted, so I’ve learned these skills for a purpose that will be revealed at the right moment.

All this leads me to a familiar scenario. I am again looking at the year ahead with hope and excitement, understanding that I needed to take a break last year to assess my priorities. God, family, friends, writing. In that order.  Now I’m looking at ways I may be contributing more to our church this year—ways that both terrify and intrigue me because they employ even more skills I’ve yet to acquire. On the family front, we’re in the preliminary stages of planning a trip to New England in the summer, where I hope to interview siblings for my Mom’s story. I’m also planning to do more with friends this year. For starters, Althesina, I’m coming to see you in August, and Vicky, we’re gonna make that hike.

Finally, I believe I’m ready to start adding small writing assignments back onto my plate, starting with this blog. If I can keep blogging through January, I’ll add the novel to the juggling act. I’m also eyeballing ONE writer’s conference in June, but will make no commitment until I know I’m supposed to attend.

For now, I’ll just take joy in the fact that anything is possible on this first day of the new year.

——————————–

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. —Jeremiah 10:23

Dust-covered Dreams and a Whackin’ Stick

14 Oct

 

How long had she been gone? Hard to say.

Exhausted from her recent adventure, the woman approached the dark building with yearning and trepidation. And hope. When the heavy oak door wouldn’t open, she lowered her shoulder and shoved. It groaned and creaked in protest, but relented. Sort of. Its base grated like a plow against the thick layers of dirt and grime on the floor inside until it could advance no further.

She raised her walking stick to whacked away the curtain of cobwebs that stretched across the opening. Not knowing what to expect inside, she took a deep breath and exhaled before stepping into the dark void. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she strained an ear for any signs of life.

There! In the distance: a faint beeping, like a tired heartbeat, and a droning hum . . . a machine on its last days.

Letting her cobweb stick lead the way, she stepped cautiously across the room to a huge wooden table piled high with yellowed documents and open books of ancient knowledge. The scene triggered a distant memory. She’d spent many days at this very table, pouring blissfully through poetry and lore. Those had been creative days, and she had made not a few contributions of her own to the literary realm.

She set her hand on the small humming machine and sighed, drinking in the thrill of the call. Pondering the expanse of all that has yet to be imagined.

I must. I simply cannot let this go on.

Now resolute, she took a seat on a gray (cough, cough, wait for the dust to settle—no, green velvet) cushion, and caressed the machine.

“What will I say to them?” Her voice came out in a whisper, and the answer came from within her heart.

“It doesn’t matter, dear one. Say something. Move forward. That will be enough.”

She sighed again and blew gently across the box, sending a swirling cloud of dust upward, and then lifted the lid. A small light flickered. The heartbeat strengthened. Warm memories crept from the shadows and edged closer, crowding in a circle around her.

Encouraged, she began to rummage through the contents, her trembling hands fumbling across once-familiar treasures.

Then it appeared. She squinted to read the date at the top.

“August 18, 2017.” She gasped. “That’s like eons in blog years!”

A sobering thought stopped her cold.

ancient_Portraitwriter2“What if they’ve forgotten me?” She swiped a sleeve across her tear-brimming eyes. “What if I’ve let them down?”

Her heart smiled. “Well, that’s just a chance you’ll have to take. Somehow, I think they’ll be very understanding.”

She nodded, still doubting, and pressed the “new blank page” button.

“Should I tell them everything, or just start typing as if nothing happened?”

“Just start. The important details will emerge over time. The main goal for now is to reconnect and let them know you’re still here.”

Nodding again, she took a deep breath and began typing. As her fingers tapped the keys, the cobwebs around her fell away, and the darkness ebbed. Sunlight filled the room and joy took its rightful place in her heart.

Hello, my sweet friends . . . I’m back. I have so much to tell you!

________________

Therefore this is what the Lord says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman . . .”  —Jeremiah 15:19

 

 

 

Secret to Creativity? Shut It Down

5 Aug

Somehow, without meaning to, I took an entire month off.

Nobody was more shocked than yours truly. I can’t remember the last time I did absolutely nothing, if ever, for more than a weekend. I’m usually that guest at the family gathering who keeps stealing away to write, or the one who cancels at the last minute because of an unmet deadline. I take my laptop on retreats.

“Writing IS my relaxation,” I tell the raised eyebrows.

Just over a month ago, I was building writing projects into an upcoming two-week adventure with my husband. I looked forward to the train rides across country to Denver and back, falling asleep to the rhythmic click-clack as the rails ticked by; sitting on a quiet deck at the rental in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, my writer’s brain inspired by the cool breeze and lovely view of Mt Werner; and then a week in the city, sight-seeing by day and journaling each night.

Ah, plans.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although I enjoyed every minute (my next three or four blog entries will catch you up there), I did not work a single minute during that time.

Flash back to the weeks before we left. I’d taken on a deadline-driven part-time job that requires a bit of a learning curve, I had accepted three different short-story assignments (fortunately with August deadlines), and nearly took a fourth that would have been due mid-vacation. I’d also been rushing through some editing projects and wrapping up two book productions, all while our family saw the youngest through high school graduation, an Eagle Scout ceremony, and preparation and delivery to his 7-week camp counseling job deep in Virginia’s woodlands.

Frankly, my brain fried. I began forgetting words, simple words like “mailbox” and “bread,” and resorted to pointing and saying, “that thing.” I’d stop mid-sentence in conversations, wondering where in the heck I’d been heading with whatever ramblings were escaping my mouth. I reached the point where just writing my name felt creative. I worried about my mind, and my work, concerned that I wasn’t giving my customers OR my family the best of me, and with today’s hindsight, I can validate that worry. But I pushed forward, because that’s what I’ve always done.

People count on me; I must keep working.

I felt particularly overwhelmed by snippets of story and blog ideas that tried to surface, an experience that used to thrill me but had begun to scare me, because nothing really made sense or led to a real concept. Knowing I had no time to address them, and no mental strength to remember or even log them in my idea file, I simply let them go. I felt like a mom at the playground, ignoring her kid yelling “watch me!” from the top of the slide.

Just hang in there until vacation time. Then you’ll be freed to think.

But that’s not what happened.

The moment I stepped aboard that train, I stowed my laptop under the seat, where it stayed. I toted it through the streets of Chicago and onto the connecting train, where I stowed it again. It sat idle in the Colorado mountains, in the Denver hotel, and again on the train home.

red rocks

Just a tease. I have so much more to tell you about! 

I tried to feel guilty, I really did. I at least jotted down a few fleeting ideas. But in truth, I enjoyed not concentrating. We hiked a bit, slept a bit, read a LOT, took in some of God’s most amazing scenery, and greatly enjoyed the company of family. (I feel compelled here to allude to our Beers Across the Midwest adventure, but only as a suggestion of blogs to come, and without the words “a lot” because the truth is never quite as interesting as the suggestion…)

In short, I rested.

Self-imposed deadlines passed, yet the world kept turning; words went unwritten, yet my mind filled with beautiful, coherent phrases; tasks I’d considered of massive importance shrank to mere suggestion size. I swept them away with a wave of my hand.

mount evans

More teasing. 14,000 feet up, I couldn’t imagine anything more creative than what The Creator has already given us.

And do you know what? My mind healed. Not completely, but enough so that I noticed my words coming back and that story ideas made more sense. I ventured out of my awkward introvert persona enough to have real conversations with people. Conversations with a beginning, middle AND end.

Back at home, I extended my non-thinking binge until we returned from a weekend trip to pick up Woodland Counselor Boy and deliver him to Middle of Nowhere College, just east of camp. I kept reading lovely words and letting my brain rest.

Sweet Victory!

I woke up this morning ready to go again. My mind is clear, active (in a productive way) and excited about being creative again. This is what a real rest can do.

When did I buy into the idea that pushing forward and staying busy would make me more productive? Obtaining rest between obligations is a concept that goes back to, well, the Bible, in Genesis 2:2, where even God rested. Sure, I try to honor the Sabbath by not working, but I realize now it was more a freedom from doing—my mind never actually took a break. Lesson learned. Getting rest is not about taking your work somewhere else; a true VACATION is a departure from activity. Its Latin root word is vacare, meaning unoccupied, and it’s in the same family as “vacate,” or “empty.”

We were meant to shut down on occasion. Think about it. Fields are more fertile after a fallow period. Athletes perform better after a few days off. Why shouldn’t our brains need the same?

Do you want your mind to be more productive? Give it a rest.

———-

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. –Mark 6:31

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do Writers Read? Pursuing Adventure — Summer 2017

31 May

One would expect writers to be on the cutting edge of the book scene, devouring best-sellers one after another. After all, reading got us into this mess. Not just reading, but reading good books. I sometimes wonder, would I be enamored with writing today if I’d tried to read James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or William Faulkner’s “As I lay Dying” while I was still a tweenager instead of reading everything ever written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Douglass Adams? I suspect not.

That isn’t to say those aren’t perfectly fine books. I confess, however, I’ve never managed to make it through either, which is a personal frustration as I’ve been told Ulysses is the greatest book ever written. How is it I cannot get past the first chapter then?

But I digress.

Over the past four years, or since I started writing for a living, I find I’m reading less and less. This is not good, as I was reminded last week repeatedly at a writers’ conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We need to read, to keep our imaginations lit, to stay abreast of changes in style and analyze what works and what doesn’t so our own writing stays fresh, and for myriad other reasons that would bore you to tears if I listed them. For this reason, I’ve established a summer/fall reading list to make sure I’m hip. Or whatever it is I’m supposed to be these days.

I share this list with you with a caveat, one that also attempts to answer the question posed earlier. You won’t recognize many of these authors, but give ’em a shot. Writers don’t always read the latest and greatest best sellers. I’m learning that writers, by the nature of their networking and community, read books by friends who are writers. We help each other out, which is, more often than not, a good deal despite the time invested. However, not all writers should be, if you know what I mean, so sometimes I have to wade through some heartbreaking time-suckers. I will not recommend those books, as a service to you.

On the other hand, we also get to read some phenomenal books by lesser-known authors, some of whom are self-published but should be moved to the front of the line. I will announce those gems as I find them.

Without further ado: A Writer’s 2017 Summer Reading List
(Assuming you’ve already read Caged Sparrow, From the Remnants, and Breaking the Chains, of course)

NOVELS

toscaTosca Lee’s “Demon: A Memoir” – Okay, this was going to be on the list but the moment I started it I had to push through, so now it’s just a recommendation. I read this book in three days, it’s so good. For my Christian reader friends, DO NOT JUDGE this book by its gruesome cover. As a writer, I cannot load my brain with dark imagery and would normally have given it a wide berth. However, I’m so incredibly glad someone recommended this because it’s fantastic. I cannot say enough about the way this book has changed my thinking about good and evil. I’ve never considered what fallen angels might think about having no possibility of receiving forgiveness while watching us blind and foolish humans receive chance after chance. Tosca Lee’s descriptions are fantastic and quite believable, and will stay with me for quite some time. The ending felt a bit repetitious at first, but I get it now: We still don’t get it. Because of this book, I will add everything Tosca Lee has ever written to my reading list.

Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” – A small-town reporter and the local pastor notice some strange goings-on in their neighborhood.  Recommended by a friend and endorsed by Jerry Jenkins. That’s enough for me.

Connie Mann’s “Hidden Threat” – Just out and looking like a book I can get lost in. Connie is a boat captain from Florida I met at a conference a few years ago. I’ve read most of her books and can easily recommend them, especially last year’s “Tangled Lies.”

Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See” – The story of a blind French girl and a German boy who meet in occupied France during WWII. Although not really into romance, I’m a sucker for a well-told behind-the-scenes war story.

annieMEMOIRS — Hey, I write ‘em, I gotta read ‘em, and frankly, I think memoirs are among the best reading out there—because truth is indeed stranger and much more interesting than fiction.

Paul Kalamithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” – the story of a young neurosurgeon facing terminal cancer. Recommended by a writer friend. I’ll keep you posted.

Annie B. Garman’s “Unexpected Grace: When Your Child is Born with Half a Heart” – I haven’t even started reading it and my tears are getting ready to flow. This was a finalist in the 2017 Selah Awards so I know it will change me.

MYSTERY AND HUMOR – may as well get those in one package when you can, don’cha know?

Chelsea Field’s “Eat, Pray, Die mystery series. – I was just about to give up on humor and re-read an old favorite (Douglas Adams’ “Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul – highly recommended) when I stumbled across these. The second book in the series is called “The Hunger Pains,” which screams “READ ME!” So I shall.

OTHER

There are many other books on my Round-to-it list, primarily writing books (apparently, I should read one a month so I’ll start with Steven James’ Troubleshooting Your Novel); Christian inspiration (Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) and classics  (“Les Misérables” – I know, I know, but I haven’t yet). I won’t list them all because I don’t want to overwhelm my mind . . . just tease it a bit. I promise to let you know if I find any of these time-investment worthy.

How about you? What’s on the top of your stack? I’m always ready to read something new.

Except “Ulysses.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.

——————————

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. — Psalm 45:1

The Great Buts of Human Limitation

24 Apr

Who are you, deep down? What is it you really desire to do? What is it you’ve been putting off for years, despite the constant yearning? We all have dreams, hopes, a purpose . . .  but some of us are sitting on our buts and may never see them realized.

It seems the more I write, the more I hear from people who want to write. The more I write about peace and positive outlook, the more I hear from people craving peace and positive outlook. The more I write about jumping off the ledge to follow your dreams, the more I hear the word “but.”

But I’m too old. But I’m too young. But I’m too sick. But I’m too far in debt. But I don’t know where to start. But the kids…

I understand completely, because I’ve been there. I pined to write for 35 years, yet never stuck my head out past the margin of societal expectations. Despite having an active imagination and dreams of writing for a living, I believed the voices that said to leave my current job would be irresponsible, that making lots of money is more important than pretending to be a writer, that I might not be good enough to make it in the writing world.

But perhaps when I’m old enough to retire; but maybe if I could secure a solid offer for something first; but perhaps when the youngest graduates college…

Then, quite out of the blue, I do believe I heard the Lord tell me to get off my but(t) and start scribbling. I did, and although I wouldn’t call myself a financially successful author yet, I’m on my way and having a ball. I’m happier than I ever was when money was assured (although, depending on your spiritual foundation, one could argue that sufficient money has been assured and IS being provided, as we are not in need.)

As I walked through my neighborhood recently, I took specific notice of some trees that clearly do not conform to nature’s expectations, and it occurs to me that sometimes, despite our greatest yearnings, we make decisions based on the world’s expectations and let fears and past hurts keep us from what may be the true happiness we’re seeking, a happiness that comes from doing what we were meant to do with our lives.

So, the photos on this blog post will be larger than usual, because I want you to study them and search for your face amid the leaves.

stubborn treeThis first I call the Tree of Determination. You might say it’s a young tree with an old soul. This is a rebellious Eastern Redbud, which sports radiant purple (go figure) flowers every spring. This tree has clearly experienced a recent tragedy, yet refuses to go quietly into that good night. Notice how tall and full its new growth is. There’s nothing meek or hesitant going on here. This is how we were meant to be, alive and vibrant, pushing forward despite the negative buffeting of the world around us, and despite the passing of those who went before us. It’s okay, and quite healthy, to mourn those who are no longer with us, but we can also honor them by taking what they left behind and letting it nourish our growth.

The second is this Tree of Hope, quite possibly a Red Maple, but I’m not a tree expert so don’t write that down. When a fire stripped this pitiful thing bare last summer, I was sure someone was sharpening the axe. But the owners, who are clearly wiser than I am, burned treepruned back the branches and let it rest over the winter. This spring there is evidence of hope. It put up a small patch of growth this year, perhaps all it can muster, as if timidly testing the environment. I will track this tree’s progress over the next few years, and reblog someday with hopefully a fantastic fall display. The lesson I take from this tree is, sometimes we know where we want to go, but we’ve been burned too many times to stick our neck out there. In that case, it’s okay to go slow. Do only as much as you can right now, but move forward. Fires can and may happen, but the likelihood that they will keep happening and in the same place is not great. That picture in your mind of where you’re going? That’s your dream. Do something every day that brings you closer. Don’t give it up, even if the world mocks you or knocks you down (see picture #1). It’s YOUR dream and they can’t have it.

 

 

Finally, we have the No-longer Imprisoned Tree. I have no idea of its species, because I boxed treewas too focused on the roots of this tree to examine the leaves. Here’s a fully functioning, helpful tree. It’s tall, and straight, and even supports a swing. A giver. At one time, though, its roots were apparently boxed and tightly constrained. Sadly, the message here is one I see all too often. Many of us were once boxed and tightly constrained, but although we’ve been set free, we haven’t moved a muscle. We function, day after day, provide care and nurturing for others, but we keep our own selves confined. What’s keeping us from stretching those limbs and experiencing the freedom we’ve yearned for? Other voices? Reminders? For me it was fear of failure. Or more precisely, fear of success. I worried that if I succeeded with my first book, I’d have nothing else to say, and I’d be found out a fraud. The voice I listened to said anyone can write one book, but only a “real author” can keep the words coming. I still worry sometimes, but I know the dream is still in my heart so I’m striving to be a purple Redbud tree.

My inspiration to keep moving forward, however, comes not from trees but from three women I greatly admire. My Tree of Determination friend is Erin Elizabeth Austin a writer friend who suffers from an often debilitating disease called Lupus. She refuses to let negative events of the world dictate how she will behave, and chooses to make every healthy minute of her life count by helping others and by blooming wildly. She has just released the 11th issue of “Broken but Priceless” magazine, an uplifting and encouraging magazine for people who have, or care for loved ones with, chronic illness. And in all this, she’s so danged funny, just like a purple Redbud tree.

Aimee Gross is my Tree of Hope. She’s a fellow blogger who suffers from mental illness and chronic depression, but she’s sticking her neck out there in hopes of reaching that one person who might be looking for help in this vast internet. Aimee has a physically demaanding day job, yet she writes to inspire others in her free time. Her main message is, you’re not alone. you can overcome, we can do this together.

And my Tree of No-longer Imprisoned? That would be Michele, a strong-willed, smart, big-hearted woman whose dreams are repeatedly squelched by buffeting storms. Some of the waves have even knocked her down at times, but she resolutely stands each time and braces for the next. What she can’t see, but her friends can, is that the waves are getting weaker, further apart, and the sea is ebbing. I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens when she realizes she can stretch out her limbs and take a step forward. Michele is not a writer (yet), but boy, does she have a story. I’ll keep you posted there as well.

So, a lot of words blogged today to ask, again, who are you deep-down, and what’s the next step in fulfilling your dream? I would love to hear your answers, unless there’s a “but” attached, because on this blog, we don’t sit on our buts.

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

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Book Signing Poster2Oh, two announcements! First, for those who live in the area, I will be co-sponsoring a book signing with Bea Fishback this Sunday (April 30), at Brew Republic Bierwerks in Woodbridge (near Wegman’s). If you can make it, please stop by between 1 and 3. Even if the idea of good books and fellowship doesn’t grab you, at least try the beer cheese pretzels or the crab dip—such a treat!

Breaking the Chains Cover_300 dpiAND, I’ve recently contributed two stories to the Lighthouse Bible Studies anthology “Breaking the Chains,” an uplifting place to start if anything in the blog above strikes a chord. This book addresses the spiritual attacks that keep us bound and believing things about ourselves that just ain’t true. If you want to take that first step forward, I’ll have books at the signing on Sunday, or you can order them here.