Skunked!

I talk to lots of people each week. Frequently, the conversation turns to the topic of family or business relationships. We all have challenges with other people, and I hear all sorts of methods of dealing with difficult family members.

The most challenging relationships are with people who continue to say or do the same irritating things, never learning to resolve conflicts in a new or better way.

Have you ever said to yourself, “I blew it again. Why do I always say (do) the same thing? When will I ever learn?”

When we lived in Paradise, California, a skunk used our backyard as his private highway. I believe he lived under a shed in the vacant lot next to our property.

Every night, he began his routine foray by scratching and digging just outside the master bedroom window. I watched him search for bugs and grubs. Continue reading Skunked!

Dust Yourself Off

 (Note to readers: This is a post I wrote about three years ago, but, given that it’s about the season for writers to start submitting their manuscript excerpts to writing contests, I thought I’d re-post it. Also, since then, I have signed a writing contract for the novel mentioned below in the post, with a strong possibility of having the next two of that series being published, as well.):
I received scores from three judges for a writing contest I’d entered recently.
The first two judges loved the excerpt of my romance novel and gave me glowing scores and remarks.
The third judge hated everything about my piece. He/she couldn’t muster any constructive comments. Not one.
Third judge’s score was a whopping 40 points (out of 100) lower than the other two judges.
If her low scoring had followed with constructive suggestions such as: “this paragraph needs an action beat,” or “add more description of the environment in this section,” I’d have received her evaluation with appreciation.So, I will chuck her unbelievably low scores.
I’ll push my jaw back in place after it dropped to the floor for ten incredulous minutes while I perused this judge’s low score.
And I’ll dust myself off and “get back on the horse,” so to speak.
I’ll study what the positive judges said and put their advice into practice.

If I were a new writer, this negative and (non-constructive) evaluation would have really messed with my mind and heart.
I wonder if judges realize that their comments have the power of life or death over aspiring writers, even established authors.
The writing tone of the negative judge smacked of a kind of “got-you” attitude.

But I’ve already published lots of articles and stories and devotions.
And last year (this year, too, in spite of negative judge) I semi-finaled in a national writing contest.
I’ve got more publications coming out in the fall
and my literary agent is shopping out one of my novels.
And I have five more novels waiting in the wings.

I’ve experienced both rejections and acceptances and I’m getting used to the idea that the writing industry, just like the music world I used to live in, is fraught with emotional upheaval.
There’s nothing new under the sun.

So it doesn’t shock me so much when I see how subjective the evaluating of manuscripts can be.
And I don’t take it personally. Well, not as much as I used to.

And the main reason I don’t get so bent out of shape by a lousy evaluation is that God has given me a vision for how my writing can be a blessing.
So what is one fallible judge’s opinion compared to the Lord of the entire Universe?
Of course I have much more to learn in my craft. What writer doesn’t?
But I won’t let one little, negative evaluation thwart the plan that the Lord has for me to write stories that glorify Jesus and comfort and encourage readers.

So if you’re reading this, still smarting from a similar negative evaluation at work, at church, in sports or the arts, at home, wherever, please don’t let it stop you.
Get back up, take a big breath and ask God how this experience might teach you, and make you a better person.
Only vision-less people stay down.
Hold onto your vision.

Lift your eyes and gaze at the horizon, where your future lies.
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For God’s sake, hold on!

“Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” (Proverbs 9:9 NIV Bible)

Solomon’s Conclusion

IMG_0965The world famous pop singer, Madonna, said in an interview with Dianne Sawyer, that she felt insecure, not happy, and not emotionally safe.

Yet she had achieved it all: fame, wealth, a rich and handsome husband—well, more than one rich and handsome husband. Many, in fact.

The “material girl” had sold millions of records, was featured on the cover of glamorous magazines, was often quoted by admirers, followed by paparazzi, fawned over by hotel staff, and restaurateurs.

Beautiful , brainy, talented, and driven.

In the world of musical entertainment, she had achieved the pinnacle of success.

Who wouldn’t want to be like her?

Yet she didn’t feel “emotionally safe.”

Kind of like the ancient king, Solomon. His success story happened three thousand years ago. But since then, nothing’s changed in the hearts and minds of men and women.

We still wrestle with the same needs and motivations, the same questions about the existence of God…

Why am I here? What is my life all about? How can I find significance? Am I loved and valued?

Perhaps I will find the answers to my deepest questions, and fulfill my greatest needs by…

intellectual pursuits: college degrees, new skills, more letters after my name: JD, MD, PhD, etc.

Maybe my significance is found in building something: a house, a business, a charitable foundation; writing a best seller, building my bank account.

Being popular and sought after? That’s a roller-coaster ride because people have a short attention-span.

Physical feats in sports or warfare, or travel to exotic places? Feels good for a short while.

If not that, then maybe I can dull my senses by engaging in the ultimate sexual experiences?

No?

Why not drown my disillusionment in marijuana, drugs or alcohol?

And finally:

I’m tired of life. I’ve tried it all. Nothing makes me happy or gives me peace.

We all come to the Solomon conclusion eventually, if we give ourselves time to reflect.

He concluded: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!,” ‘says the Teacher.’ “‘Everything is meaningless.'” (Ecclesiastes 12: 8)

Certainly, the famous pop singer had recognized the futility of success. I’m not sure, though, that she came to Solomon’s conclusion.

In my own little world of volunteering at the local pregnancy clinic, I have had the opportunity to share this with my clients:

“Nothing makes sense unless we have a true connection—through Christ—with the God who made us. He understands how we are made, because He made us.”

 

Solomon’s conclusion: “fear God and keep His commandments.”

Holy Cow! that sounds old-fashioned and hell-fire.

But if mankind hasn’t changed, then the Teacher’s words are true and applicable for us today.

Deeply respect and humbly follow the Loving and all-wise God who made you. Listen to Him, and don’t do life your own way. (When has that ever brought you lasting satisfaction, anyway?)

Solomon was right, but it took him a long time to discover this truth.

I hope we come to agree with Solomon’s conclusion while we’re still young.

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1 NIV Bible)

 

 

Earth And Sea And Sky

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My shell art is almost complete.

It took me almost a year to collect enough shells from the bay. You craft-wise people would probably ask, “Why didn’t you simply go to the craft store to get your shells?”

I looked at those bags of shells in the store, and told myself, no. I want shells that represent my new locale. So I went down to the bay every week and searched for just the right shells.

Bruce is not into home-made art. He tolerates my need to occasionally paint, or sew, or construct something…

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So my “art” will hang in my office. The walls are getting crowded, and the only reasonable space left is behind the computer.

Which is good, because my shell art will remind me of the sea, how I prayed for forty (yes, literally) years before God answered my prayer to live by the ocean again, how the waves and the wind and the salt air settle my mind on the greatness of my God…

how He has established nature’s rhythms: light and dark, high tide and low tide, the arc of the sun, of the moon, the currents of air and the drifting of clouds,

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and below, the swell of the deep.

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Never mind that the art is not perfect. It’s there to say, “You are where you’ve always dreamed about. God brought you here.”

Where’s The Sand?

 

“Where’s the sand?” the child asked his mother, with a tone of indignation.

I was standing  on the pebbly shore of Bellingham’s bayIMG_1007

along with a couple of other contemplative visitors.

I heard the mother try to explain that this beach wasn’t like the beaches down south in Oregon or California, but it’s a beach, just the same.

The kid wasn’t convinced.

I don’t blame him. He probably thought he’d have miles of sandy beach to run, dig his bare toes in and squish them about, spread a beach towel and build a sand castle, play tag with the surf.

I’m the same way. My Father gives me wonderful promises in His Word. I get so excited. My mind conceives a beautiful picture of what my life will look like…according to what I believe God has promised.

Then the real deal happens. What?!

“But God, You said….”

Did God really say? Or did I take God’s Word as  my prisoner, and magic-wand a Biblical reality well-suited to my temporal wishes, shrink-wrapped to fit my tiny mind, my ego, my comfort, my own exaltation?

The kid at the beach understood—in his limited, youthful mind—that sand is the thing you find by the ocean.

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But one also finds smooth rocks, and drift wood, various kinds of delightful shells, tiny scuttling crabs, screaming gulls, carried aloft on moist sea breezes, islands in the mist, sunlight and shadows, big and small sea vessels, frothy waves, laughing children.

So much more than mere sand.

Do I understand that, too?

A Deadline Before I’m Drugged

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I’ve gone through a couple of major surgeries before.

And what follows is at least a week of swallowing pain pills.

And not being too productive.

A couple of weeks ago I signed a contract for one of my romance novels. I’m waiting to receive edits.

Which will require a sharp, alert brain.

Who knows how long it will be before the edits come and then I’ll have to bury my nose in my laptop.

I’m currently working on another novel. 12,000 more words to go. I want this manuscript wrapped up before I start edits for the contracted novel.

The question is: can I get ‘er done in the two remaining weeks before my surgery?

It’s about 1000 words per day. It ought to be do-able.

If.

That is always the urgent word for me. “If.”

If I don’t fritter my time by watching too much news. If I can efficiently do my errands and chores. If some crisis doesn’t happen between now and then. If my insomnia doesn’t make me a zombie the next morning.

It can be done.

The problem is me. It’s my endless distractions and making choices that lead me away from my writerly quest.

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And it’s my blasted neck—the reason for my upcoming surgery—and the pain that won’t let me sit for more than ten minutes before I have to get up and run around the house, waving my arms, stretching my neck muscles, drinking something hot—I don’t know why this helps, but it does—and rolling my back on the giant exercise ball.

I’m going to make myself accountable to y’all. By next Thursday I’d like to be able to report to you that I’ve written another 6000 words.

I’m asking for your prayers. And for a safe and successful outcome for my surgery, please. (August 30th)

Thank you and God bless you!

I Delight In People

The other day, I decided that it was just too good a day to write indoors.

I packed up my laptop and other stuff and headed for Marine Park, in south Bellingham.

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On my way, I stopped off at the Amtrak station and got a coffee and watched travelers, tried to take a selfie—which I’ve never done— all the while feeling terrified self-conscious, and hoping no one smirked at the sight of an old woman taking a selfie.

The sun was bright so I’m squinting like crazy in this photo.

After about 500 words, I moved on to the park itself.

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I love to watch children at the beach. They find “treasures” most of us would plug our noses at.

Like this cute little boy who found a dead crab. He’s so excited, and on his way to show and tell his parents and siblings all about crabs. Oh, how I remember those days of innocent exploration and exuberance over tiny creatures, and rocks, and waves.

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I did 500 more words, and, as if God were sending me a bonus for my productivity, a freight train rolled through on the tracks adjacent to the park.

I love trains. And apparently, others do, too, because about twenty of us lined up along the iron fence to count the railroad cars as they lumbered and screeched around the bend.

115 cars.

What skill, what knowledge to build a freight train! And how does the conductor safely move that long vehicle through miles and miles of track? The massiveness of the train, the blast of its ear-shattering horn, the squeal of metal on metal, the rush of air as it passes, the places it’s been and the places it will go: I love trains!

Close by, a young man also watched the train.

I returned to my shady picnic bench under a huge—and I do mean huge—maple tree.

Later, a shadow made me look up at the tree. The same young man who had watched the train had climbed into the lowest branches of the maple. Carrying a long, nylon strap, he wound it, logger style, around branches to help him climb higher.

He moved confidently among the branches, like a modern-day Tarzan.

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He kept exploring the largest branches. What was he doing?

But when he wrapped that nylon strap around one of the branches that extended horizontally, I got a horrible thought.

I shouted up to him in a friendly voice, “You’re not planning to hang yourself, are you?”

He laughed and said no. Then he turned and smiled, his handsome face radiant. “How’s your day going?”

I said “Wonderful, it’s beautiful day and I’m being very productive with my writing.”

“That’s what I’m planning to do in a few minutes.”

In another five minutes, he had hauled up a hammock and strapped it between the inside boughs of the maple tree. Wow, what a great idea. Now, if only I could be twenty-two again and have the agility to climb like that athletic young man.

I didn’t have the nerve to ask him what he was writing. Kind of wish I had, now.

My writing, the little boy’s exploration,

mothers watching their children, sailboats slicing through the cold waters of the Sound,

couples kayaking, people—childlike—watching a train,

the young tree-climber, preparing his writing studio for the day.

Thinking, expressing, exploring, observing, building.

I came home refreshed and filled with thankfulness for everyday human activity, and for God, Who has given us so many capabilities, among the chief: the capacity for enjoyment.

 

 

 

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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