Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Celebrating Seventy!

Take that, J.Lo!
I just passed another birthday involving a big, fat zero … this one with a seven in front of it. But I’m not depressed. On the contrary, I’m celebrating. Not since my fortieth birthday have I approached a new decade with a sense of dread. Once I got past the ridiculous notion that being young was the ultimate goal of life (how can that even be?),  I became grateful for the gifts that can come with growing—yes, I’ll say it—old.  

As I approached this birthday, I realized my celebratory attitude stems from gratitude—a word, I fear, that has almost become cliche since Oprah’s gratitude journal brought it to the forefront of popular thinking  several years ago. But the value of being grateful was known long before Oprah came up with the journal idea, and the fact the concept has enjoyed widespread popularity as of late doesn’t diminish its importance . 

So here are some things I’m grateful for as I begin my eighth decade:
  • I’m here! So much goes into this observation that it would take a post of its own to do it justice—and that post would be very long. For the sake of brevity, let me say I’m grateful to ancestors who passed along good genes. I’m also thankful to be living in an age and a country where knowledge, good food, and healthcare work in tandem with those genes to promote longevity. I’m aware that nothing is certain and circumstances can turn on a dime. But worrying about what might happen in the future is useless and steals joy from the present. So for today, I’m celebrating. 

  • I’m healthy! The same factors that go into longevity also contribute to a level of health that enables me to enjoy life. I certainly have my share of minor aches and pains and senior moments but nothing that keeps me from celebrating the opportunity to get out of bed each day and pursue both physical and mental tasks.

  • I’m productive! I'm grateful to have things to do that are enjoyable and worthwhile. I’m retired but that doesn’t mean I’m useless. Not working for a salary should never be confused with not working. 

  • I’m supported by family, good friends, and faith! As I wrote in my last post, I’ve been giving much thought to the idea of community and am extremely grateful to have supportive groups of people in my life. I’ll be exploring these more fully in the future, but first I had to write about this significant birthday. 😆
This post is not meant to be an opportunity to brag (although, yes, this picture might be a bit of showing off). I realize I've had very little to do with so much of what I’ve been blessed with. Rather this post is an expression of gratefulness and hopefully encouragement. No matter what age you are or what stage of life you’re in, I pray you can look around and find many things to celebrate and to be grateful for!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

My Word for 2020: Community

My friend Cheryl and I were discussing what we liked best in a book we’d read when she said, “There’s that strong sense of community.” 

And that’s when it struck me. 
To prove the point I'm making here, this a random selection of
books currently stacked on my messy desk. I've read and
thoroughly enjoyed all of them. I don't think it's a
coincidence that they all impart a strong sense of community.
After reading hundreds of books over the course of my life (and even writing a couple), I became aware that the element which most determines a book to be a personal favorite is the inclusion of a supportive community. I cannot recall a single book I've read and liked in which the protagonist's ultimate success didn't depend in some degree upon community in one form or another.

That awareness started me thinking more deeply about the value of community . . . and the nature of it. What constitutes community? What is its purpose? Does its size matter? Does it require physical proximity? Do communities remain static? Do they require absolute agreement? 

What is the nature of community?

A lot of questions, I know. And more will probably come. Maybe some can’t be answered. Since I’m not a theologian, sociologist, anthropologist, or philosopher, they definitely can’t be answered by me. But I know what I feel, and I feel strongly that community in some form is vital for humans to thrive. So I decided to make community my word for 2020.

Over the coming year, I’ll post from time to time about the communities which are most meaningful to me. I'll comment on the the things I’ve learned about community and things I’ve learned from those communities I belong to. In reflecting on them, I hope I’ll become more appreciative of their contributions to my life and I’ll become a more valuable, supportive member.

Like I said, I’m not an expert on this topic, so I’d truly welcome any ideas or insights you have or any discoveries you’ve made. Feel free to comment (even respectfully disagree) either in the space below or on Facebook. Looking forward to hearing from you now and on future posts.

Wishing You and Your Communities Joy and Prosperity in the Coming Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever--Still a Great Christmas Story

I promise I'm not lazy. It's just that this morning at church I was  reminded of my favorite Christmas story (other than the original one), so I dusted off a post from Christmas 2013. The funny, poignant tale of an almost de-railed Christmas pageant still brings me to tears, and the message behind it rings as true as ever. If you've never read it, do yourself a favor. Purchase a copy and make reading it a Christmas tradition

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Does the Christmas Story Confuse You?

What would Christmas be without a bit of confusion? Seven years ago grandson Brooks--two at the time--had this experience. Then a week or so ago, my daughter Kristin received an email from number two son's first-grade teacher explaining that when she had asked who in the class celebrated or knew someone who celebrated Hanakkuh, seven-year-old Bennett raised his hand. The teacher invited Kristin to come and share with the class ways in which she celebrates the Jewish festival.
It was a nice idea, and Kristin would’ve been only too happy to comply, but there was one little problem: She isn’t Jewish. And while she knows a lot about Christmas traditions, to my knowledge she has never participated in a Hanakkuh celebration.
When asked about it, Bennett said, “Mom, I thought you celebrated Hanukkah.” Further questioning revealed he’d confused Hanukkah with Advent—perfectly understandable in a seven-year-old.

I’m still laughing about this, picturing Kristin’s face as she read the email. But this episode also has me contemplating the idea that many Christians—even long-time ones—experience confusion about the faith they’ve chosen to follow. And not just at Christmas time.

And I think that’s okay.

One of the most reassuring statements I ever heard from a Bible scholar was “If you can’t live with questions, you’ll have a hard time being a Christian.” For years, I’d read with great interest books on Christian apologetics, seeking to alleviate my confusion with some of the more difficult concepts of the faith:
—Did all the Old Testament stories really happen?
—How is Jesus fully God and fully man?
—Why do innocents suffer?
—What is heaven like? Where is it located?
I felt I needed to defend my beliefs by presenting the logic or reasoning behind them. And when I couldn’t come up with absolute answers, I was frustrated. 

Being granted permission to have questions brought me to a place of peace and to a stronger faith. I now realize God doesn’t need me to “prove” His existence. He offered evidence of it long before I came on the scene. God doesn’t need me to answer questions people have been asking for millennia. And, frankly, I wouldn’t trust anyone who claimed to have all the answers, anyone who didn’t acknowledge a bit of confusion. The Apostle Paul himself admitted to seeing through a glass darkly, knowing only in part.

I still gain Christian inspiration from reading what Bible scholars and theologians offer in the way of explaining difficult concepts. But I read them for my own enlightenment and consideration, not with the intent of clearing up all confusion, whether mine or someone else’s.

The season of Advent is when Christians set aside time to reflect on Christmas—the time when God came to Earth as a baby. A baby who in adulthood willingly became the sacrifice to assure hope, peace, joy, love, and eternal life to all who believed in Him. 

Do I have the answers to all the hows and whys of this supernatural occurrence? I don’t. But I do know it happened. And about that, I have no confusion.

In this season of Advent, may you embrace the Wonder, the Awe, the Confusion, and the Certainty of the Christmas story.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Friendship International: A Miracle

My current English class includes these beautiful ladies from
Iran, Bangladesh, Morocco, South Korea, and China
Shortly after Some Form of Grace was published, a lady in my exercise class asked me if I would speak to a literature class she taught. Always looking for a way to promote my book, I told her I would be happy to. My book “gig” turned into an opportunity to connect with Friendship International, an international ministry that teaches English to a group of ladies from all over the world. 

I showed up at my first FI event—the 2018-19 welcome tea—unsure of what to expect, but it didn’t take long to get caught up in the excitement of both the staff and the returning students. Hugs and shouts of greetings and laughter filled the church assembly space. I quickly became aware that this program is not solely about teaching/learning English. It is about developing relationships and demonstrating Christian love a very tangible way.

Friendship International began in 1977, when a group of women from three area Southern Baptist churches began teaching English to international wives living near then Central State campus. The teachers began this ministry as a way to share Christ’s love, but they soon became aware of another need in their students’ lives—the need for friends, for community. Unable to speak English or drive and having small children to care for, the international ladies spent most of their time in their apartments. Their husbands, who attended classes during the day and spent evenings studying, provided their wives little relief from their isolation. After several months of prayer and planning and with the help of Dr. Ronald Paddock, the church ladies formed Friendship International Wives’ and Children’s Program. The name was later changed to Friendship International Women’s Program to include the expanding group of women who are in this country for a variety of reasons. The organization offers classes in English, Bible, citizenship, cooking, sewing, quilting, painting, embroidery, literature, and choir.
Nena Thomas who teaches the sewing class made
these darling Christmas trees--over 20!--to decorate the tables.

Friendship provides a place for ladies of different cultures and religious backgrounds to gather and be free from judgment for their countries’ politics or religious beliefs. So far this year, Friendship volunteers have had the privilege to share God’s word with ladies from thirty-five different countries. Few places in this world can lay claim to hosting to such an extraordinary event: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu women—and even those subscribing to atheism—willingly attending a Christian church gathering while aware a Bible message will be shared.
No matter the country or culture, women are women, sharing desires and hopes for a better world for their families and friends. Friendship International relishes the opportunity to encourage them in the pursuit of these hopes and to plant the Truth of God’s Word in their hearts.

This is my second year to participate in FI, and I have been blessed in numerous ways. Last week, we held the annual Christmas brunch. Along with beautiful decorations and delicious food so lovingly prepared by the staff, music was provided by the choir. Listening to ladies from all over the globe sing of the birth of Christ is a true Christmas miracle. I never felt the hope for "peace on Earth" more strongly. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Ending the Debate Over Ending Punctuation

A few weeks ago, my writing group called into question the use of  !? to end some dialogue in my work in progress. I staunchly defended my choice but failed to change their minds. Then—with uncanny timing—Facebook friend Gail Johnson posted about Benjamin Dryer’s recently released book Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. The title intrigued me—grammar nerd that I am—but the reviews are what convinced me to make the purchase. It’s not often a writing instruction book garners descriptions such as “utterly delightful,” “smart and funny,” and “brilliant, pithy.”
Also described as a "mind-blower" and
a "frankly perfect book."
A few pages in, I realized the book is deserving of its accolades. It truly is a book that “makes you smile and makes you smarter at the same time.” But what amazed me is that on page 65, rule #64 provides the answer to whether !? should ever be used. According to Dreyer ... it shouldn’t. He considers the use of it so completely wrong as not to be worth discussing. What!?

Far be it from me to challenge the wisdom of the copy chief of Random House (which Dreyer happens to be), but I contend there are times when a single mark of punctuation simply won’t suffice.  Take, for instance, these lines from my WIP. 

“That’s it, JJ,” Barb said, pointing. “My truck.”

My intention was to convey JJ’s simultaneous need for confirmation and amazement that Barb would be driving a one-ton sweeper truck. Does “That?” Or “That!” adequately express this mixture? 

I rest my case.

I suppose JJ’s emotional state could be described with words.

“That?” JJ hiked his eyebrows high on his forehead, and his eyeballs bulged from their sockets. 

But why go to all that trouble when the same effect can be achieved by two simple taps? Well, three. You also have to tap the shift key.

I agree with most of what Dreyer has to say in his book. (I’m sure he’ll be relieved to know this.) I agree the use of  double exclamation marks or double question marks is superfluous. Do we need to stress that a question is being asked or a character is expressing intensity of emotion? No! And Dreyer’s mandate that “periods and commas … are always (italics mine) set inside [terminal quotation marks]” makes me smile. Broadly and smugly. 

Dreyer does offer me hope in my struggle to gain approval for !? with the following revelation: “The dictionary takes its cue from use.”  If writers (as in everyone who writes) want “rest room” to become “restroom,” all they have to do is persist in using the latter. If we want to start sentences with “And” or “But,” now we can because we’ve insisted on doing it for so long. It makes sense that punctuation should follow this same process of acceptance—within reason. “Ladie’s Restroom” should never be legitimized no matter how many times it appears on the doors of ladies’ restrooms.

If you feel as strongly as I do that sometimes ?! is not only warranted but necessary, please join with me in continuing to use it. But because this path to acceptance could be a long one, I’m also asking you to do one more thing to expedite the matter. In the comments on this blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter, simply respond with ?! Feel free to respond as many times as you like, as that will increase its frequency of use.

PS While we're advocating for this mark of punctuation, we also need to come up with a name for it. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Mindful Walking Post 4: Serendipity

It has been a while since my last mindful walking post, but I assure you I’ve been trodding along at a steady pace. Most of the trodding has been at Spring Creek Trail which is about a five-minute drive from my house. This 2.5-mile trail which runs east from I-35 to Arcadia Lake’s Spring Creek Park has been open approximately two years. Why I didn’t discover it until this past spring, I can’t say. But what a glorious discovery it has proven to be.
Although my walking “bible,” Afoot and Lighthearted by Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, suggests walking be a time of technology detox, I take my phone with me on this trail because there is always a picture to snap be it of flora or fauna. All summer and into fall, I’ve seen white-tail deer,
On a single walk I saw seven deer!

 assorted butterflies and birds,
Can you see him? That little speck
of white in the middle? I need a
better camera!

colorful and interesting trees and vegetation.

Any suggestions?
I learned a bois d'arc and an
Osage orange are the same tree.
Just depends if you're in Louisiana
or Oklahoma.

Sumac--one of the foresters
told me he uses the dried berries
as a spice.

Roughleaf dogwood

These mushrooms--dozens of them!--popped up by
the entrance after a heavy rain.

I’ve observed the water level at Lake Arcadia go from dangerously high to could-use-a-little-more, but always the lake has provided photo ops of inspiring, tranquil scenes.

In past years, knowing the names of plants or trees or certain birds never interested me that much. But as I walked this trail and became more observant, I also became more curious about what I was seeing and photographing. (I know there are apps for that, but I wasn’t sure which one would work best, so I continued to walk in the figurative dark.) 

Last Saturday morning, after much deliberation, I decided to walk the trail rather than tackle all my weekend chores. When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw that Oklahoma Forestry Services had set up stations along the trail. There were signs and markers and also real live people to share their knowledge with curious walkers—like me. As I scrolled through all the photos I’d taken, the experts patiently answered my questions and gave me even more information about the forest I live in. (Yes, we Edmondites live smack dab in the middle of a forest.) It was one of my best walks ever! And to think I would’ve missed this serendipitous moment had I opted to do chores—which were still waiting on me when I got home. 

Put those chores on hold. Lace up your walking shoes and discover a new world right where you live!