Faithful Sprite

We were told Sprite and her siblings had been dumped by the side of a busy road. A good samaritan rounded up the 8-week-old puppies and brought them to the animal shelter.

My daughter and I had come to the Shelter to check out the puppies.

And there she was. A fluffy ball of black with bits of tan on her face and her paws. Absolutely adorable. The Shelter worker said she was a mix, but I could tell immediately that she was pure Australian Shepherd.

Sprite was the perfect companion for our other dog, Dudley.

She was the “yes man” to his frequent escape attempts. If Dudley escaped our yard, Sprite was sure to be with the errant Springer Spaniel.

Even though we had adopted Sprite for Kiri, she quickly became my dog. She followed me from room to room as I did chores, did laundry, made meals. And when I went into my office to write, she’d plop down right next to my desk.

When I took a break and sat on the couch to watch TV, Sprite would stand in front of me, as though guarding me from any nasty images or aggressive voices on the morning news.

At dinner, Sprite sat at the foot of my dining chair.

At night, Sprite crawled under our bed and stayed there until I got up in the morning.

One hot summer day, Kiri and I took both dogs to the lake. We swam out to a tiny island, about a hundred yards from the lake beach. Dudley, being a water dog, swam with us. Poor Sprite, though, was a herding dog. No encouragement could induce her to jump into the water. But she ran back and forth along the beach, always keeping an eye on us to make sure we were safe.

And when we swam back to the beach, Oh, how happy our fluffy dog was to be reunited.

Sprite is long gone, but I still miss her. She was the perfect illustration of the saying, “A dog is man’s best friend.”

I often think that our dog’s faithfulness is an illustration of how our heavenly Father is with us. Just like Sprite, He stays close, faithfully guarding and protecting. He loves us, and wants to have a close and intimate relationship. There is no place we could go where  He would not be, also. How comforting!

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  “For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” (Psalm 57:10 NIV Bible)

Retreats

Years ago, in college, I developed the practice of going for long, solitary walks to clear my mind of all the stresses of classes, assignments, exams, and performances.

Later, as a busy mother, church volunteer, and music teacher, the only quiet and truly private spot I could find for my rare moments of retreat was—think the old Calgon commercials—the bathroom. Not really a retreat, but it was the most I could manage at that time.

Remember Maria from The Sound of Music? She hiked into the Austrian Alps to be alone with God and her thoughts. Wouldn’t that be great?

Nowadays, most of my mini-retreats are solitary places. So this past weekend’s Front Range Christian Fiction Writer’s Retreat at Estes Park was a new thing for me. At our resort, I met and socialized with my writer friends. Networked. Learned about writing opportunities. Listened. Shared. Ate and snacked with friends.

Then we all retreated to our separate rooms to write. No pressure to follow any specific agenda. No expectations for what and how much to write. Just do what you want for an entire weekend.

Sound great? You bet.

I did not turn on the TV. I didn’t listen to music. The quiet of the hotel room sometimes startled me, as if something were wrong. Until I reminded myself that it was okay to have silence.

But I’m learning that a Retreat isn’t necessarily about getting alone.

A Retreat is about leaving your usual set of daily activities and chores.

Letting the change in environment, the change in weather, in light or dark, in waking and sleeping, in your usual set of friends… shake your brain free. And asking God to accomplish his purpose during this time.

Nov 03 2010 057By Sunday, I felt fully into the mind-set of Retreat. I had finished editing my latest novel, and had formulated a plan for the next six months of my writing career. My mind felt clearer. Thank You, God!

Jesus went on Retreat. His were very short. But, being the Master, He knew how to get the most out of His jaunts up into the hills where he met His Father.

“With the crowd dispersed, He, (Jesus) climbed the mountain so He could be by Himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.” (Matt. 14:23 The Message)

Hedonists and Legalists

I’ve been thinking a lot about our culture in the light of the horrors that are occurring on the other side of the world in Iraq and Syria…and elsewhere.

I read that Islamic fundamentalists hate Westerners because we are so immoral. I assume that they are talking about sexual immorality. It is true that as Westerners have abandoned Christian morality and embraced a kind of secularism that encourages us to throw off any kind of “oppressive” restraint, we appear to them to be infidels.

Sadly, in our culture’s eagerness to immerse ourselves in free expression of the individual’s will, tolerance (an erroneous kind), and materialism, we have rid ourselves of a holy God who would rein in our baser impulses.

This is hedonism.

On the other side….and on the other side of the world, we see Islamic extremists whom I would term, legalists.

These are people who believe that we must not allow any kind of freedom. In their world women are weak and inferior and must be ruled with cruelty and oppression. Harsh laws keep people from saying or doing anything that might be construed as rebellion against their teachings. Infidels must be persecuted or slain. No other set of beliefs will be tolerated.

I’ve never seen anyone in this system who is joy-filled and peace-filled. Not one. How could they be?

Legalism says, in effect, do this, do that perfectly and you will be rewarded. Do you know anyone who’s perfect?

I don’t. And I never will. Therefore, there is no ultimate reward in legalism. Only zealotry, striving, and frustration.

Hedonists see no reward beyond the here and now. Legalists expect an ultimate reward for their obedience and self-denial.

Both philosophies disappoint now, and will disappoint ultimately.

Hedonists and legalists appear to be polar opposites. But, in reality, they are quite the same.

Both hedonists  and legalists are focused on themselves and their own reward. They are both self-centered.

We in the West are horrified by the actions and teachings of the Islamic extremists. We’ve seen executions, rapes, mutilations, torture, crucifixions.

The Extremists see us as objects of horror, too. In their minds, we allow our women to expose themselves in public, men and women co-habit, we tolerate all sorts of societal evils.

Both hedonists and legalists have denied Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Neither have been freed from the bondage of sin. Both are equally lost. Neither philosophy understands and acknowledges GRACE.

Christ is the answer to hedonism. Christ is the answer to legalists. To both, He would say, “Yes, your sin has separated you from God…the true God. But I (Christ) have sacrificed Myself on the cross to pay for your sin.”

There is no room for smugness for anyone. For no amount of “freedom” can free a person from their sin.

No amount of striving and zealotry can merit any kind of reward, in this world or the next.

True joy, true peace comes only when we receive the gift of God’s forgiveness, found only in Jesus Christ.

“To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV Bible)

Writers and Genius Crows

Ravens and crows are probably the smartest birds on the planet.

They survive so well because they are smart and versatile.

In animal science experiments, crows and ravens use tools to reach  treats stuck inside tight containers.

They can be taught to imitate human speech and other sounds.

They drop nuts onto busy street intersections and wait for cars to pass by and crush the nuts. After the light turns red, they swoop down and collect their nutty treats.

A crow was observed at a ice fishing site, pulling on the fishing line. After he had pulled the line out of the water several feet, he anchored the line over a rock and pulled the rest of the line out of the water…and the fish attached to the end!

Crows try several methods to get the food that they seek. They scavenge, hunt for small animals, feed on other birds’ eggs.

As writers in a quest for our own survival, are we as smart and versatile as crows?

Can we re-write an excerpt in an inventive way? Can we think of new and refreshing ways to market our writing works? Do we study the environment and construct creative methods for reaching new audiences? Do we seek out new writer “flocks” and  help them? Do we continue to learn how to use our own writerly “tools” effectively? (Newsletters, social media, tribes, word of mouth? etc.)

We can gain a lot of inspiration just by observing the way God has made so-called dumb animals. Next time you see a crow, let that big black bird inspire you to think smart about your writing career.

 

Writers and Squirrels

Whether we’re talking about tree squirrels, or ground squirrels, or chipmunks, or golden-mantled squirrels, we’re taking about hard workers.

Squirrels climb and excavate, investigate and forage.

I love to watch them scamper about the property. They form communities and help keep watch for predators.

They gather food, carry it back to their nests. Or stash the food some safe place. Spring 2010 050Some of the food is for now, some for leaner times.

Sometimes a squirrel appears to be lazing in the sun, its little paws slung over a tree branch, its eyes closed in blissful slumber. But even then the squirrel is working at storing energy for the next big burst of food gathering.

Yep, the squirrel is a hard worker. He knows his survival depends on continuously seeking food, storing it, providing for his babies, looking out for cats and coyotes, hawks and ravens.

Writers are like that, too. We know that, to sit back and stop growing, to stop writing toward a goal, to stop editing, to stop learning, to stop seeking other writing avenues… means that we cease to exist as writers.

The world will pass us by if we only half-heartedly pursue the life of the writer.

Stay busy, writers. Whether it’s critiquing and being critiqued, meeting other writers, studying the craft, finishing your first draft—or 12th draft—or just spending a few days on brain-neutral as you explore ideas for your next writing project: stay busy as a squirrel!

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…” (Col.3:23 NIV Bible)

 

Writers Are Woodpeckers!

A couple of years ago, our house was attacked. 

Not by  alien invasion.

Not by bad people.

Or even  by termites.

Nope.

The attacker was a woodpecker.

Have you seen what those critters can do to trees? Now imagine holes all over the outside walls of your house. Awful!

Each time the woodpecker did his thing on my house, I ran outside, and shouted, and waved my arms.

The bird flew off.

But not five minutes later, he returned and immediately started drilling again.

That darn bird wouldn’t give up. Over and over, he tried to hunt for bugs within the cedar walls of my house.

Woodpeckers are persistent.

We could learn some lessons from the woodpecker.

The bird’s persistence means that it will get eventually be rewarded by some bugalicious nourishment.

Writers too often give up before netting an agent, or a publishing contract, or whatever else they seek in the world of writers.

Let’s take a lesson from the woodpecker, who always gets his bug!

Animals and Good Writing

I lived for seven years way up in the mountains outside Estes Park, Colorado.

While I honed my craft as a writer I also spent lots of time observing the wildlife outside my window.

Animals display many wonderful qualities that we humans—particularly writers—should emulate. They’re:

  1. curious
  2. persistent
  3. hard workers
  4. gifted
  5. voracious
  6.  fearless

Deer are curious. They want to know if another animal, or another grove of trees, or another meadow is safe. They cautiously approach new areas, but always with the intense focus of an animal that wants to learn something new.

Deer like to come up to our windows and peep through at the strange human animals inside. They quickly learn which houses contain friendly humans, or not-so-friendly humans with noisy dogs.

Writers should be boundlessly curious about their world, too. We need to keep learning every day. We should do things like:

visit museums,

walk places and observe people,

 

join organizations,

read books that you don’t usually read,

take a road trip, a cruise, a rafting trip,

host missionaries at your house,

keep a journal,

listen to other writers.

Our environment is constantly changing. Just like the deer, we writers 7-20-11 005need to be curious.

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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