Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Revisions...Revisited.

          I originally wrote this post over a year ago. Today, I'm still revising. 
          A published author once told me that her first novel was the hardest and took a very long time. She said that she learned so much during that first novel, the others flowed much more easily from the first. That's encouraging, but for now I struggle to get the first one right. 
          Writing a novel is a test of will. I will do this. I will, I will, I will...
              I was talking to a friend about the message of my novel.  The story has many messages I suppose, but perhaps the most important one is the message of grace.  I want to share the truth that no one of us is better than another; that we are flawed and imperfect and perfectly redeemable.  
            I filled my story with imperfect people making mistakes and doing harm.  One character, though, remained less tainted than the rest.  Claire—my main character.  She was a little anxious, but otherwise filled with faith and good will.  Bless her.  What a gem. 
            My beta readers weren’t as impressed with Claire as I was.  They said she was boring.  They said she lacked excitement.  They said she was too safe.  She was. She is the stay-at-home mom married to the cop who always had a wonderful attitude about life’s challenges.  A Pollyanna.  Yawn.  The thing is, I’m writing what I know, Claire was a cleaned-up version of what I hoped I could be. 
            I am not as wonderful as Claire.  My attitude stinks.  I’ve entertained angry, unkind thoughts about my husband and sometimes I judge people unfairly and I am selfish.  My house is often messy and I waste more time than I’d like to admit and I’ve withheld forgiveness more times than I can count. 
            Claire was fiction at its finest.
            So, I got to work on her.  If my life was the inspiration for Claire, she was going to have to gain some flaws, angst and ugliness.  I was going to have to let her fail.  Allow her to be stupid and selfish and wrong.  She was going to have to suffer shame.  
            Why?
            Because if I’m going to write about grace, I have to give grace a dark place to go, so the light of grace can shine brightly.
            I showered Claire with flaws and angst and ugliness so that my readers will care and relate and possibly see themselves in her story.  It hurt to do it because I share some of her flaws—what if people think I’ve done those things?  And there it is.  A truth.  People don’t relate to perfect Christians who have it all together and can show us how to have it all together too.  They relate to real, broken, messed up people who had to scrape and scratch their way to God's grace.  What if people think I’m just like Claire (because the resemblances are pretty stunning)?  Well, maybe they’ll relate and feel a sisterhood and realize they can find sweet grace too.  

            I celebrate with Claire as she overcomes the bondage of sin and anger.  I celebrate with her as her eyes open to the joy found in giving and receiving grace.  I have grown along with Claire as I’ve helped her find her way.  
          As the revisions continue, I am thankful for the opportunity to improve my manuscript. I’m even more thankful that in real life, we can revise our story too.  There’s plenty of grace to go around.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Wisdom of Old Photos

I love to buy old photos, one at a time or in great big lots.
I've accumulated a huge collection of other people's memories.
If you think about it, photos are finite.
Sure, we're taking more photos today than at any time in the past, but...
They're digital.
You don't hold them in your hand unless you're holding your phone.
Paper, covered with an image, a snapshot of the past, are a thing of the past.
That's why I collect them.
I want to learn about and, more importantly, learn from a time long past.
Which brings me to this photo.
I picked it up on a vacation somewhere.
I was drawn to the image of a funeral but more than that, all the flowers.
That's a ridiculous amount of flowers.
You don't see that many arrangements at funerals these days.
I don't know who this person is, likely just a Joe or Joan Average.
I almost didn't buy this photo, but before I threw it back into the pile, I turned it over.
"Again I say - Say it, write it, but please let someone know."
I'm not sure what the writer meant.
Did they mean to tell your family you love them?
Did they want to convey the importance of telling your stories?
Your secrets?
Confessing wrongdoing?
Making amends?
An interesting caption for a heartbreaking photo.

I recently lost my dad.
I took the time to write him a letter before he passed.
I told him how thankful I am that he was my father.
What his influence meant to me in my life.
How precious his relationships with my husband and children were to me...and to them.
How my life was made better because of his presence in it.
And it was good.
He was blessed.
I was comforted to know he knew.
And when he passed, there were no unsaid words.
No unexpressed gratitude.
No regrets.
We don't always know when someone will die, though.

This photo reminds me how important words are...Say it, write it...Please let someone know.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

This Christmas we will remember last Christmas.
Last Christmas, my dad made us all laugh so hard we cried.
We always have a gift exchange.
Every gift last year had to start with the letter F...yes, F.
You're probably asking yourself, what was the most popular F gift?
Fanny packs.
There were four of them.
They were the hit of the exchange.
Christmas 2016 - The year of the Fanny Pack.
So my dad ended up with a Reagan/Bush fanny pack - he loved it. One of the other gifts was fake donuts.
The fanny pack recipients all wanted to pose together and they decided to put the donuts on their fingers for fun.
My dad stuck his middle finger through the donut and held it up.
His middle finger.
It was completely inappropriate but he didn't realize it.
And there he was, an 82-year-old man wearing a Reagan/Bush fanny pack holding up his middle finger to the camera.
Before snapping the shot I asked, "Dad, is that the finger you want to hold up for the photo?"
And then he realized what he was doing and the whole place busted up with laughter.
None of us could stop laughing, least of all him.
It was hilarious.
He looks like he's sneezing but he's not, he's laughing so hard he can't stop.

A photo of my dad with a proper finger through the hole of a donut.
Maybe you had to be there.
But we were all there and we will remember it this Christmas and we will all laugh in spite of missing him so desperately.

Christmas will go on. This year our gift exchange letter is H.
I Hope Hilarity ensues...because I know my Hilarious dad will be laughing right along with us in Heaven.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful...

There is much to be thankful for on this first Thanksgiving without the man who always carved the turkey...

I'm thankful for the presence of God...
He was with us during our darkest hours this year and made His presence gently known.

I'm thankful for kindness...the kindness of people who quietly do astounding things without the need nor desire for acknowledgement.

I'm thankful for my mother, who has demonstrated strength and grace in her new, more solitary life.

I'm thankful for my siblings and the comfort of knowing that I'm not alone in losing my father...they understand.

I'm thankful for my husband who has dried more tears this year than ever before in our 32 years of marriage...add to the equation, hormone fluctuation and you have a hero right there.

I'm thankful for my kids, who have upped the ante this year for making mom proud...they are doing life well. I'll always think of them as my kids but I think this year it sunk in that they're all grown up...they're adulting hard and well. I am so proud of them.

I'm thankful for "the cousins". I don't think I could have asked for better nieces and nephews...in the darkest hours they were there...helping and loving and caring. I will never forget it.

I'm thankful for friends who pray, for friends who show up and for friends who read manuscripts and tell me the truth. A friend is a treasure and I am so thankful for each one.

I'm thankful for the nearly 52 years I had with my dad. Rather than be disappointed that he's gone today...I am going to try to be thankful. I'll remember the times he snuck me the first bite of turkey, the way he prayed and thanked God for his family and the food, and his laugh around the dinner table.

And finally (although I could go on and on and on)...
I'm thankful that the turkey will likely be butchered this year...or...perhaps the next turkey carver will rise up and be counted among the legends.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fertilizer...

            
            I love my hens. They’re fun, they produce the most delicious eggs, but they’re oh, so poopy. Yeah, I said it. Chickens poop a lot. It’s not an issue during the summer when the weather’s dry, eggs are plentiful and their contented clucks are my gardening soundtrack. But during the wet, rainy fall and winter—ugh.
            All winter long, it rains. The chicken run becomes a soupy mess of poop and mud and boy, does it stink. And they don’t lay eggs in the winter. For four months, I muck around in the poopy mud, cleaning their coop and tossing them treats with no reward. I grumble all the way to the grocery store to buy eggs. I grumble when I break a store-bought egg into the frying pan with it’s anemic yolk and bland taste.
            But spring comes—it always does. When we have a string of sunny days, we mow the lawn and weed the flowerbeds and that’s when my husband says, “It’s time to dig out the chicken run.”
            We put on our grubby clothes. He digs up the stepping stones leading to the coop and I wash them off. I break up the earth with a pitchfork and he digs out about four inches of muck. It’s mostly dry by now. He throws each shovelful into the wheelbarrow and hauls it to the garden. 
            When the coop’s been dug out it looks pretty much the same. The ground level has been lowered but it’s still poopy dirt—it’s a chicken run after all. The garden is full of piles of “fertilizer”. My husband rototills it into the earth. The soil turns a rich dark brown. It’s beautiful. A month later, we plant our garden. The vegetables and flowers grow large and lush.
            Mucking out my chicken run reminds me that muck soils my life as well. Sin, trials, failure, misunderstanding and loss—the stuff stinks to high heaven. A spiritual winter sets in and paralyzes me with fear and causes me to question…Why? Why me? What good can come from this? And I wait for answers. The rains come. The trials seem to go on and on and it stinks. The sorrow aches. The only thing to do is to trust the God who allows the muck and the pain.
            After a while, when the time is right, God has a way of turning things around. The Good Gardener has put into every trial, benefit. In every disappointment, purpose. And somehow, He adds to our loss, gain. He digs out the muck. He turns over the heaviness of our hearts and draws us near to Him. 
            He opens our eyes to others going through similar muck. We care. We pray. We love. We share joy.
            Love blossoms, joy bursts forth, the roots of peace deepen, patience grows, kindness spreads, goodness rises, faithfulness blooms and self-control is strengthened. The fruit of the spirit is borne of our reaction to muck…much like my garden.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Cup of Love...

This is what I shared at my dad's memorial...

          In preparing to share today, I pondered all of the wonderful things I could say about my dad. He was so gifted in so many ways and so generous in sharing those gifts with others. My dad was humble, though, and this time of sharing would probably embarrass him. So today I thought I’d honor him by sharing a simple little story from my childhood.
            As you probably know, my dad was a master woodworker. But what you may not know is that my dad was also a sculptor. His medium of choice? Foil. He could turn a sheet foil into many things but most often he sculpted the form of a goblet. Usually the sculptures were admired for a moment and eventually smashed with glee and thrown in the trash but this one was saved.
            Like my dad, I’ve always been an early riser. In my middle and high school years, I had breakfast with him most mornings before we left for work and school. When I was maybe thirteen years old, my dad fashioned this goblet as his bread toasted one morning. When I came into the kitchen for breakfast, he held the goblet out to me and said, “This is my cup of love overflowing for you.” 
          At that time, I was perhaps the most shy, awkward, pimple-faced teenager on the planet. I didn’t feel nor look very loveable. I hugged him, told him I loved him too, and took the cup. The timing of that gift and the fact that it was filled with his love kept me from smashing it and throwing it away. It was a simple gesture—I knew he loved me—but to have this symbol, at that awkward time in my life meant the world to me. I put it on my dresser and saved it. When I got married and moved away, the foil goblet went with me. Over the years, I have carefully moved it from town to town, stuffed into a trunk or drawer—I could never part with it. I’m so thankful I still have it today.
            My dad accepted a gift of love as well—the gift of forgiveness. Because he accepted Christ as his Savior, that love spilled over to those who knew him.
            Maybe today, as you remember my dad, the grace offered by a loving God is resonating with you. You may not have been handed a sparkling foil cup, but we’ve all been offered an overflowing cup of love from God.
             Thank you for being with us today and honoring my dad. He was a man who loved people well. He loved our mom and accepted our spouses as his own children. Many of our childhood friends still call him dad. He loved his grandchildren fiercely and blessed their lives in countless ways. Many of their friends call him grandpa. I’m so thankful that God chose such a man to be my father.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I'm not doing this right...


That was my thought as I drove to the hospital, tears streaming down my face...
I'm not doing this right...
My dad is nearing the end of his 83 year long life...
I've never lost someone this close to me.
And I'm not handling it very well.

My dad will go on hospice this week (I only recently learned what that's really about).
He's got bone cancer...spawned from one of his other two cancers.
He's tired.
I've never seen such exhaustion.
Today the pain began in earnest.
I watched my strong dad--who knows the answer to everything and can fix anything--beg for help.
I couldn't help him.
I could pray though.
So I did.
I held his hand and prayed...so very hard...so very earnestly...
And then I began to cry and I couldn't get another word out so my mom prayed instead.
My dad prayed in one-word breaths...between our tears.

It has been a few days since I've prayed in sentences.
I've been unable to think of what to pray.
Why would I not be able to form a sentence on behalf of my dad to the One who can help him most?
I don't know why.
But I couldn't.
I tried.
I called out to God but no thoughts or words came.
"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Romans 8:26
What a comfort...I don't need to know what to pray every second of every day...or every nano-second of every minute as I sit next to my precious dad.

And I come back to this:  I don't know how to watch someone I love suffer and die.
I don't want to know how...
But I have to do it.
We all do.
It's inevitable.
So as I blubber and struggle with conflicting prayers such as:
Lord, please take him quickly so he won't suffer - and
Lord, please allow him to be with us for just a little longer...
I hope I'm doing this right...
I love him so...
But this I know...
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me.
Your rod and your staff,
they comfort me."

God is my comfort...
There's one way to do this right (with or without a never-ending flow of tears), and that is to Trust in the One who knows the number of our days...
Trust Him to to be present with my dad, quiet him with His love and rejoice over him with singing as He ushers my dad home.