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In the Closet of My Discontent

20 Feb

I’m unexpectedly home today and not sick OR tired. Giving thanks for four inches of snow and a forecast of icy coating. Since we live on a hill and I love my car, I purposed early to not leave the house.

So, what to do with a few glorious hours of serendipitous unscheduled time? Well, for the most part, I’ve straddled the line between laziness and “round-to-it” chores, like washing the Christmas tree skirt that has been in our laundry room for weeks. Had it not been for today’s snow, that thing might have sat there until summer.

The down-side of such an accomplishment is that now I’ll have to scale the pile of boxes and plastic Christmas bins looking for one with enough room to store yet another item. This, my friends, is no simple task.

When we moved here twenty years ago, the Christmas closet was fairly empty—a tree, some lights, a few linens, and a manger scene. Since then we’ve acquired a lovely 15-building winter village, a huge bin filled with only garland, two crates of wrapping paper, bows, and gift boxes, snowmen of all shapes and sizes, Jim Shore angels and who-knows-what else. In fact, now we couldn’t even wedge a Charlie Brown tree in there. Wait; bad example. There IS one, in the back somewhere, right beside the fishnet-stocking-covered leg lamp (because every Christmas scene needs the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window).

ChristmasCloset

And that’s just the front row!

I stared for a while at the overstuffed storage space, struck by how easily gradual acquisitions can overwhelm an otherwise simplified life. I’ve never placed great value on possessions, except those with sentimental ties. Yet every year I get closer to hoarder-dom.

However, crammed into this colorful cubby is a small black box (See it on the top left?) that contains all that really matters—ornaments we’ve acquired over the years that tell the story of my family. From the cheap plastic banner proclaiming our “First Christmas together, 1985” to the fragile white star made of salt crystals from the Bonneville Salt Flats that commemorates a recent trip across country, everything in this box is another brush stroke in the Fitzsimmons family painting. Some are reminders of people we love who have passed away, others help us re-live shared adventures, and still others recall two boys now grown, but when I hold them, I hear giggles from long ago.

If we ever have to “Bug Out” (a military term involving a fan blade and some unpleasant substance), my husband will snag his pre-packed bug-out-bin filled with food, batteries, and survival gear. Since my job is to run upstairs and grab the fireproof document safe, he must also ensure the black Christmas box makes it into the car. It’s his most important mission. Depending on how many flames are licking the house, I might not let him into the car until I see that box go in first.

I tell you all this because I’m pondering these days what downsizing would be like. We’re going to move again, not soon, but likely within the next five or six years. Across town, across the state, out to the coast, who knows? Someplace quiet and writer-like. For now, though, I’m starting to see my house as one big overstuffed closet and wondering what the heck happened.

When we married, we lived in a tiny, two-story, four-room townhouse. My husband brought with him a bed he’d purchased in Colorado and I contributed a hope chest filled with glassware I’d amassed on a military tour in Okinawa. Our dining room table was a cardboard box. Every pay day, we’d purchase a polished plank and two-to-four matching wooden legs—the next addition to the book case that held our roughly 15-inch-wide television and my growing collection of must-have novels.

That was it. And we were happy. Well, not with the place, which was a filthy hole that we left after about six months, but we didn’t pine for “stuff.” We just acquired it. Lots of it.

MeasuringCups

What is the measure of a man who cooks?

We now have ceramic bowls for every season, tables in every corner, and measuring cups for every purpose (and then some). I kid you not on that last one. (I must be very, very, careful not to whine here because my husband is a fantastic cook and he loves to do it, which is the opposite of me. I could survive without him, but only because I like fruit.) I’m just pointing out that in our kitchen, one entire cabinet exists to hold measuring cups of varied size and purpose. He uses them all. He notices when a cup goes missing. One managed to migrate to the garage workbench a few years back and find a purpose down there, so my dear chef actually purchased another to replace it. If we downsize, I may have to coax him into Pyrex Anonymous until life settles a bit.

I’m hereby appealing to the already downsized generation and asking for your advice, your tips, your wisdom. Do I part with one item each month or rip all non-essentials out of my life like a giant Band-Aid with a massive yard sale? Is there a logical way to assess what I “need” when it all seems useful? And how does one even begin to part with books? My books are my friends! Why is this so hard?

And perhaps the most perplexing question, if I succeed, how do I keep from re-filling the void? I’m serious about this. Not so serious I won’t go antiquing next chance I get, but serious enough to maybe not buy any more large items . . . although I’ve always thought a spinning wheel would look neat on the fireplace hearth . . .

So that’s it. Everything must go. Or, almost everything. Or some things. Perhaps I could start with the Christmas closet. Sometime this year. Or next. I’m sure I can find a few items in there I don’t use . . .

I’m keeping the leg lamp.

__________________

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” — Luke 12:20

Lauding a Literary Lexicon

18 Jan

NOTE to non-writers: The following blog is apt to bore you to blubbery. It’s not just serious; it’s also instructive. Proceed at risk of infusing your daily rumination time with minutiae. Don’t accuse me later of not presaging disgruntlement.

After having so much fun with last week’s blog, I’ve decided to pay close attention to the national observance lists throughout the year, and I’m delighted to learn that . . .

Today is National Thesaurus Day!

In other words (heh, heh, see what I did there?), it’s a perfect day to whine, babble, drone, pratter, blather, gabble, instruct folks about thesaurus abuse. I spent 12 potentially good years of my life editing papers written by brilliant analysts, many of whom, unable to be content in said brilliance, believed they had to stupefy their readers with writing embellished to the point of obscufating their work into a state of puffery.

Much of this obscufation (no, these aren’t words, but variations on “obscurity” that I learned from those same analysts and am clinging to), was the result of Thesaurus abuse. In fact, I still remember my favorite sentence from that era: “Exploits of their loins have persisted since the middle ages.” Sadly, I cannot seem to remember nor translate to you the original thought behind this monstrosity, but I do remember the crestfallen face of the analyst when I scratched it out.

You see, the thesaurus is a perfectly good, sound, suitable, reliable, obedient tool until misused, at which point, its use can cost a writer his credibility. Its purpose is not to make your words more impressive, but to make them (and your message) more clear.

Therefore, we must follow steps to be responsible thesaurusers, steps that I shall now outline, sketch, silhouette, delineate, summarize and pontificate about.

  1. Question your motivation before clicking that “synonym” pull-down.
  2. Select the word you think you want.
  3. Look that word up.
  4. Repeat steps above until you find the perfect word or concede your original is just fine.

Motivation: Upon being inspired to consult your thesaurus, first ask yourself, “Why must I?” If your goal is to impress your readers with your brilliance, then answer yourself, “You mustn’t.” If it’s because your original word isn’t sexy enough, the answer is again, “no.” However, if the word in question falls short of accurate, OR if you are repeating the same term too many times, yes, click that pull-down.

thesaurus

That’s right, I’m engraving a blog post!

Selection: Again, sexy isn’t the goal (which is how I arrived at “obedient tool” above, in case you missed that.) There are as many wrong words in your pull-down lists as right. I don’t necessarily advocate shying away from new words, because part of the joy of reading lies in adding to one’s vocabulary. However, there’s a lot to say for keeping it simple, AND knowing one’s audience. I recently edited a book for my good buddy Brent, who insisted on using “countenance” where most humans would say “face” (approximately 20 times in the book). Yes, the words mean the same thing, but most people today would trip over it. It’s the kind of word that halts a reader, which I liken to poking a stick at him while he’s trying to read.

So, your chosen word must be pertinent, which brings us to . . .

Look it up: You don’t even need to switch to the dictionary. Feed your chosen utterance into the thesaurus. If the words on the new list are even further away from your intended meaning, let it go. This seems to be where some writers stumble. They fall in love with the sound or feel of a word and the way it livens up a sentence (as in, “A grin lit up her countenance.” RESIST, I say, plead, beg, beseech implore you!  The reading world DOES actually care. (I’m not sure my buddy Brent agrees with me, but he did heed my advice. When he’s a best-selling author and asks me to introduce him for some momentous award presentation, I plan to chide him for his stilted vocabulary.)

Repeat: Search only for a limited time and then just continue writing. Sometimes the word just isn’t there. If you’re like me, you’ll concede in favor of the Diminishing Returns formula (Passion ÷ Deadline = Sanity) and settle for something close. Then, after publication, and usually around 2 a.m., the perfect word will leap into your brain. That’s okay, really. I’ve learned that I’m actually the only person who notices. I can say with certainty, nobody has ever approached me after reading my prose and said, “You know, there’s a better word for that.” Keep your sanity. Make your deadline.

So that’s that. I hope this is helpful advice. As an editor, I urge you to treat your thesaurus as a valued employee. Recognize its potential but don’t overwork it.

I leave you with two final words of caution, derived from another great sentence in a past work of brilliance: “The nation’s non-metal resources include limestone, marble, anthracites, and various types of cola.”

  1. Not all soda is cola.
  2. If you make me laugh. You may end up in a blog post.

———————–

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. – Philippians 3:12

 

Of Pantsers and Peculiar People

10 Jan

Trying something new this week, so I’m asking you to bear with me, and tell me in the comments whether this works. It’s called being a Pantser. Apparently, some writers take a long time to organize their thoughts in an effort to enhance the clarity of their message. Others, pantsers, write by the seat of their pants. This concept that scares the dickens out of me, but it could hold merit for someone who can’t find solid blocks of time to map out plans. Rather than test this concept on my work-in-progress, I’ll toss my blog to the guinea pig arena and see what truffles out.

For starters, I have no message today. Most of my blog articles are born after days or weeks of mulling certain situations or challenges. Today, however, I turn to the internet for ideas, and search for January National Observance.

Holy Guacamole! There are a LOT of national observances in January. And, depending on which links I click, the observances are different! Now some make sense. For example, it’s National Get Organized Month, and Soup/Crockpot Month, and Tea Month, all of which I can understand. It’s also National Mail Order Gardening Month, Radon Action Month, and California Dried Plum Digestive Month. Yowzer, now that’s something that could put me off blogging for another year.

Before I continue (welcome to the ADD mind), I’m distracted by my curiosity and I ask, by what authority are such events ordained?  I searched a bit and found that, while there is an official listing of national observances kept by the Library of Congress, it’s way more boring than the unofficial lists that grow on their own accord. So, we’ll stick with unofficial.

Then, as the ADD pulled me further down one unofficial source, I learn that the daily observances are far more interesting. I’m sad to learn I’ve missed Festival of Sleep Day (Jan. 3). I could have really devoted myself to that one. I’m also elated to learn that today is both One Day We’ll Look Back at This and Laugh Day and National Peculiar People Day.

Eureka! I’ve found my pantzer blog, because I can honor both with one story about a man who was both peculiar to me and the instigator behind my own sense of humor, as well as a fine example of how we can look back on bad days and still smile: My dad.

My dad was the only person I’ve ever known to get his ear stuck in the car door. Near as we can figure, he dropped his keys as the door was closing and leaned down just in time to get pinned. (NOTE: and only children of HIS would have run to get the camera to take pictures of the helpless, red-faced, yelling man before drawing straws to decide which of us would set him free while the others escaped).

Dad fathered nine children, although there’s debate among his offspring about whether he loved his dogs more. He lived in a world of patterns and impulse. Solitaire every night at the kitchen table, always with a bag of pretzels and can of Pepsi at the ready. Popsicle in his favorite chair just before bed. (After he passed, we found stacks of thousands of Popsicle sticks in his work bench area of the basement.) The impulse? Encouraging us to put Pop Rocks in Grandma’s martini, quitting job after job because of perceived slights and offenses, and a willingness to drop everything for a new adventure—once even moving the entire family out of our home and into a houseboat for about three years. He also lived a Walter Mitty-like secret life the nine of us are still shaking our heads over and trying to understand. Perhaps I’ll explain more when I write Mom’s story, but that’s about four years down the road.

Anyway, our tale takes place in the early 70s, at a particularly sad time of my childhood. My mother had been rushed to the hospital in the ninth month of pregnancy. The doctor was telling my father that she had lost the baby. My dad, a retired Marine Private First Class and proud of his ability to adapt to any situation, asked the only question he could.

“Is there anything I can do? For her or for you? I really want to do something.”

The doctor gave what must have been a typical response to such a request:

“We can use some donors. Lots of donors. Why don’t you see if you can round some up.”

My dad was off like a shot. This was something he could act on.

He raced out the emergency room door and was gone for about 20 minutes. To this day I hope my mother was still under sedation while this scene went down, because I cannot imagine anything she might have wanted more than her husband by her side. Then again, she married him, so…

Dad returned, out of breath and panting heavily, holding three rather flat boxes above his head like a championship trophy. He went straight to the nurses’ station and asked that the doctor be paged.

“He’s quite busy sir, perhaps I can help you,” said one of the nurses.

“No, he asked me to do this and I want to let him know I did.”

Take the bus or stop for sugar? Tough choice.

Donors vs Donuts- What’s a few letters?

After another 10-15-minute wait, the doctor appeared, disheveled, bleary eyed, and clearly ready to go off shift. My dad shot to his feet, grabbed the boxes and rushed to greet him.

“Doctor, here they are! There were many to choose from—Jelly-filled, frosted, chocolate—just too many. So I got two of every kind. He shoved the three boxes of donuts into the surprised doctor’s hands, grinning like a three-year-old holding up a piece of artwork.

Shaking the bewildered doctor’s hand, Dad then turned to the nurse and asked for Mom’s room number. “I think I should go back and see how she’s doing.”

Yes, yes, we would look back on that day and laugh. Many times.

Pantser, signing off…

Another New Beginning

2 Jan

Welcome to a new year, a new blog attempt, and, to a small extent, a new Portrait Writer.

I love the promise of a new year. I see the days ahead as a book full of blank pages that God, not I, will fill with joy and personal growth—if I allow Him to. This year, I am determined not to grab the pen from Him so often, and I’m excited to see where it leads.

You see, I learned quite a bit about this wrestling for control last year as I tried to fill the pages in by myself. In fact, 2018 was for me a year of frustration, disappointment, and significant bouts of outright anger, because I wasn’t in control.

I learned a lot last year. If I had to put my finger on two verses that impacted me the most, they would be:

  1. Romans 8:28, which is a common verse, commonly misinterpreted: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to Hispurpose. I cannot stop bad things from happening, or my train from derailing on occasion, but I can trust that God will get me back on track.
  2. Matthew 6:10, which scholars have changed over the years by adding a comma in a most unfortunate place. Consider this, the King James Version: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. And here is the current, ESV version: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Just look at those commas. They completely change the emphasis of what we’re praying. I now purposefully say Thy will be done on earth (and when I pray this verse with my congregation in church I’m jarringly off beat).

In summary, I’m learning that God’s will is NOT being done on earth, or we wouldn’t have been asked to pray for it. I’m learning that when evil has its way on earth and in my life, it’s not because God ordained it, but because evil rules this place—for now. However, God’s not surprised and can work that event for good, if I trust His plan.

So I have to concede, despite my optimism, that some of those pristine pages ahead will marred by heartache, self-doubt, and (for me at least) potentially anger-inducing stress because of Satan and his minions. I say potentially, because I’m learning to lean more on Jesus’ response to my situation and to see him as my paraclete instead of an idle bystander. That requires constant reliance on Romans 8:28.

Bannister

The Caps toque only adds to the look, doncha’ think? 

 

All of which brings me to this day, and a new beginning for my blog. Some would say I’m a day late, but one of my resolutions for the new year is to give myself more grace. Just yesterday I packed away the boxes of Christmas cards that were never opened, joyful to know I already have cards for next year, and I’m intentionally leaving the garland draped across my entry banister as a reminder that Christmas (or even life) is not about getting it all done.

I don’t usually make resolutions, but this year I have. Let’s call them goals, though, because it leaves room for God’s input:

  1. Knowing that my purpose in God’s kingdom is to write, I will write. My blogs may be short on occasion, but they will be regular. I shall keep my writing time sacred, and I will resume work on a collection of stories about people in our church family. I have a goal of 4,000 words per week. I’m considering putting a word counter at the bottom of my blog each week for accountability purposes, but I’m afraid of the pressure it will place on me to succeed despite my second resolution. . .
  2. I resolve to give myself more grace. Math has never been my best. . ., on the top 10, part of my vocabulary, but I’m learning to accept that I can only do so much in 24 hours. Writing takes dedicated time, as does traveling to Ferrum College to pick up our scholar, working my day job, laundry, grocery shopping, editing jobs, date nights, etc. Last year, there were many days when I actually tried, on occasion, to use all 24 hours available and STILL couldn’t finish. I’ve learned to be content that I’ve done my best. If only I could leave the green garland on my banister all year as a reminder of that. . . Hmmm . . . Let’s just say if you visit my home in July and it’s still there, you’ll know why.
  3. Finally, I will enjoy the way my pages flow. I don’t want to miss the blessings because of my temper tantrums. When I prayed yesterday for a word of knowledge for the year ahead, all I heard was “sacrifice,” (which immediately destroyed my “No Whining” resolution, so you won’t read about that here). But as I prayed, I realized I’ve confused sacrifice with being a doormat. I know my recent bouts of anger stem from knowing I’m letting others direct my path, and I resent it. However, while preparing for this writing yesterday, I came across these words from fellow writer Susan May Warren: “The secret to living your life to its potential is to value the important stuff above your own comfort.” Sacrifice is giving up something good for something better; It’s NOT putting everyone else’s wants before your own. My goal this year is to learn how to discern others’ wants from their needs, so I can love them generously, yet not get so involved in their plans for me that I ignore God’s. I must sacrifice some things to get there. Simple? We shall see.

Each of these points could make an entire blog, so I won’t expound on them here because I know you don’t need that much sleep. I will share a secret here, however. Part of my inability to blog last year was because I worried my words were leaning toward too much of Jesus and might be turning people away, as I have many friends camping in the secular world. I’ve decided this is not my concern. God will keep them reading my blog if He wants them to. Let’s study His words together, shall we?

In a nutshell, God has called me a writer, and so I will write in 2019. I’m glad to have you along for the ride. Tell me in the comments, what has he called you to do in the year to come?

Happy New Year!

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.

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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.

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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