Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Word for 2019: Hope

Two years ago I abandoned the traditional but—for me—futile practice of making resolutions and replaced it with another strategy for improvement: choosing a word on which to focus during the coming year. 

So far, this plan has served me well. In 2017, I chose the word balance, and I think I did a decent job of allotting time for development of mind, body, and soul throughout that year. Joy was the choice for 2018, and focusing on it reminded me to look beyond temporary problems and recognize the many reasons I had to be joyful. 

This year, my word is hope. I decided on it a few weeks ago when—as my Sunday school class was studying the Old Testament—I realized how critical God’s gift of hope is. We were covering the years before and during the Babylonian Exile, and—to make a centuries-long story way too short—God’s chosen people once again found themselves in desperate straits. After enjoying a golden age under the reigns of David and Solomon, the Hebrew people grew defiant toward God and His laws. They slipped into a decline that ultimately resulted in defeat and diaspora. 

At that lowest of low points, God knew exactly what was needed: hope. He gave a message of hope to Jeremiah to pass along to the dejected people. What a challenge that must have been, and yet the prophet rose to the task. 

In the past, Jeremiah had chided the people for their disobedience, but now it was time to renew their broken spirit. God provided Jeremiah with the perfect words: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘… plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:1   

No matter how many times I read or hear this verse, I always experience a shiver of excitement—a “thrill of hope”—because I believe it applies to God’s people today as much as it did back then. If hope could get the Jewish people through seventy years of captivity how much more can it get us through our times of personal and shared adversity? If our hope is in God, we will discover the tiniest flicker can light the way through the deepest darkness.

Praying you experience health, happiness, and the light of hope in God in 2019! 

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Gift of a Second Chance

In my novel Some Form of Grace, I describe a scene where the residents of Transformation Place are attending the annual Christmas party. That scene was inspired by a very special event that takes place for Exodus House residents, graduates, workers, and volunteers each year. A few years back those parties took place in the community room at Exodus House. It was a fun, riotous, and crowded affair. That small room was bursting at the seams with excitement ... and people!

Wesley United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City came to the rescue. They generously opened their doors and volunteered to host the party in their fellowship hall. I was privileged to attend this year's event, and I can attest it is still fun and riotous and buzzing with excitement. But it it waaay less cramped.

Dedicated people work tirelessly to ensure the success of this party as well as the continuing success of the Exodus House ministry. Among them are the sponsor churches: Wesley UMC, Yukon UMC, Choctaw UMC and UMM, Seminole UMC, New Covenant UMC in Edmond, Blanchard UMC, St. Andrews UMC, First UMC of Edmond, New Hope UMC, and Church of the Servant UMC. There are also some very special individuals I'll identify in the pictures below.

Hopefully, my photos captured at least a smidgeon of the happiness and loving spirit that was evident throughout the celebration.

Church of the Servant and the Angel Tree
project provided this bounty of gifts for
residents and their children.

Tony Altizer, Facility Director at EH, instructing his "elves" on delivering the gifts
EH Site Director Robin Wertz, 
enjoying her role as Master of Ceremonies for the night ...

                              and enjoying opening her
                              own gifts

Gifts Galore!
(And food! I forgot to get a picture of all the food!)

This young lady nearly died of suspense while waiting
to open her presents, but thankfully 
she survived!

Sara, a recent EH graduate.
Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like
a new hat and coat and her 
radiant smile.

Rev. Stan Basler and volunteer Sherry.
As a former prosecuting attorney in Oklahoma, Stan
saw firsthand a justice system that wasn't working.
Exodus House Ministries in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are
the result of his vision for something better.

Exodus House volunteers from Seminole UMC (love that sweater!)

and Blanchard UMC

A volunteer from Wesley UMC on the left, 
and on the right, Kristen Harlin, 
Executive Director of
Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries and
a tireless supporter of Exodus House.

Jay and Kim are past residents of EH. Now they
own a successful business, and Jay serves as a
mentor to current residents.

EH volunteer Kathy Sewell from New Covenant UMC
in Edmond has been instrumental in remodeling
two apartments at EH (she has her own tool belt!) and
mentoring many of the occupants of those apartments.
Her love of God is reflected in her love of EH residents.

"...I thank the Lord and my sponsors for the way
my life has changed."
A thank you note from an EH resident. 

Robin beautifully expressed her gratitude to all those who faithfully support the ministry of Exodus House, thanking them  "for believing in second chances and believing in us, for being a true light in each of our lives, for giving us an opportunity to be and have success in our lives, for restoring families." 

When you think about it, the story of Christmas is summed up in those words:
belief, true light, restoration, and 
God's gift of a second chance for all humanity
 offered through His Son.

Wishing You a Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An Unusual List

On some blog post way back when, I coined the word "oblogation" and defined it as a blog post one feels obligated to write. Since this is Thanksgiving eve and since Facebook friends are posing the question, I feel an oblogation to write about some things for which I'm thankful.

#1  Plumbers - Yes, right at the top of my list are those everyday      heroes who daily prevent, ameliorate, or repair disasters somewhere in the country. This week started out with a busted outdoor water faucet, which resulted in some soggy indoor carpet. A call to Red Beard Plumber had the faucet fixed within three hours of discovering the problem. I call that a minor miracle, and even more of a miracle, the bill wasn't that bad!

#2  Good Neighbors - While the faucet was repaired within a few hours, the wet carpet was going to be another story. An appeal to neighbors produced two big fans which have the the carpet almost dry at this point. I'm very thankful to have lived in the same neighborhood for almost thirty years, surrounded by kind and helpful people.

#3. Walmart - I know, I know. I'm well aware of the fact that some people refer to the mega-merchant as "hellmart" and would rather shop in hell than place a toe into one of its cavernous stores. But I'm sorry. Sometimes Walmart just can't be beat for convenience and economy. This year my daughter and her family will be visiting her in-laws, which means a low-key Thanksgiving for Bill and me. I'd planned on grabbing a couple of to-go turkey dinners from nearby Cracker Barrel, but when I called today I learned they were completely out of Thanksgiving fare! I perused the list of restaurants open on Thanksgiving and while there were some, the prices ranged from $30 to $60 ... per person! I don't consider myself particularly cheap, but really, how can one person possibly eat $60 worth of turkey and dressing in one sitting? Determined not to repeat the Chinese restaurant fiasco from a few Thanksgivings ago, I set out to hunt down my own turkey (dinner). And where did I find it? Yep, good ol' Wallyworld. Turkey and all the fixings in one convenient box. (I'll let you know tomorrow how it tastes.)

#4.  Running Water - The busted faucet was no sooner solved than we discovered a leak in our yard irrigation system. A diagnosis from the repairman resulted in the water being shut off for several hours. Many absent-minded attempts to turn on the water reminded me that there are places in the world where people don't have the luxury of indoor plumbing and have to haul to haul their water long
distances by foot.

Yes, it has been a fun week. But despite the many inconveniences, I recognize that's exactly what they are--inconveniences. Not irreparable disasters, not financial calamities, not losses of property or life. Would I want to repeat this week? No. But I definitely look on it as one of those blessings in disguise. It made me stop to consider and appreciate all the everyday miracles I too often take for granted. And for that I'm truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Survivalist Writing

Writing for pleasure, profit, persuasion? Sure!

But writing for survival? Hmm...

Check out my guest post on on the Southern Writers blog, Suite T.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Music can be a great source of inspiration for writing.
Even if they know the possibility is beyond remote, most writers must at some point dream of their obscure little novel making it to the big screen. As they write, they envision how a scene might be played out and who would be playing the parts. I’ll admit I do this. And I often go further, imagining the music that would be playing either in the background to enhance the mood or as an integral part of the scene, conveying the overall message of the book. Sometimes, I already know the perfect song to accompany a scene, and it loops in my head as I write. Other times, long after the scene has been written, I’ll hear a tune or lyrics and think Yes! That’s exactly what I wanted to get across.

Music served as a great source of inspiration as I was writing Some Form of Grace. Ever since it’s completion, I continue to hear songs that would be the perfect accompaniment to different scenes. If you’ll indulge me my little fantasy, I’d like to present the soundtrack for Some Form of Grace—the Movie. 

My initial plan was to identify a scene from the book and provide a link to the song I connected to it. But then I feared that might spoil the plot for those who have not yet read the book. And I felt that it might make the experience less personal for those who have read it. Maybe the scene you’d pair with a song is different from my selection. Maybe the song/scene carries a different meaning for you. After all, that’s one of the beauties of literature and music!

So here’s what I propose. If you’ve read the book, think about how you would match it to a particular scene. If you haven’t read it, hopefully the “soundtrack” will spark some interest to do so. Either way, give yourself time to listen and meditate on the music. I think you will find it gives a lift to your day.

The songs here are listed in no particular order. After you’ve listened to them, I’d love to know which scene you connected to a particular song. And if you have a suggestion of your own, please share!
(Sorry for the ads, but I couldn't afford to purchase the rights to all the songs. 😆) 

"Chain Breaker" - Zach Williams 

"Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone" - Chris Tomlin

"Fear is a Liar" - Zach Williams

"No Matter What"- Ryan Stevenson

"Feliz Navidad" - Jose Feliciano
"Merry Christmas from the Family" - performed by Montgomery Gentry (I know, it's a strange choice, but it fits.)
"Grace Flows Down" - Sandi Patty
"Redeemed" - Big Daddy Weave

"Grace Got You" - MercyMe

 "It is Well with my Soul" - performed by Hillsong 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Bring on the Brisket!

Every summer for the past twelve (thirteen?) years, my writing group, the Inklings, has gathered for a retreat at Lake Tenkiller. You might have seen my Facebook posts about the beautiful sunsets there or the cut-throat competition to be the reigning Word Wizard.  

Spectacular Lake Tenkiller Sunsets


                                     Our current Word Wizard, Lisa!

However, I don’t think I’ve ever posted about the fabulous food we enjoy, and, let’s be honest, that's one of the highlights of the weekend. In fact, food is usually the first thing we plan.

The eating is always fine at the lake!

Part of that planning is a no-brainer because there are three dishes that have become tradition:
Kelly’s Cornbread Salad
Martha’s Dilly Bread
Roy’s Corned Beef Brisket

I"ll eventually share all of these recipes, but today I’m starting with Roy’s Corned Beef Brisket because it makes a great main course for a July 4th picnic. Roy Bryant began preparing this for the Inklings with our very first retreat, and we’ve insisted on it every year since. Being the nice guy he is, Roy is happy to oblige. In fact, he is so nice, he let me share the recipe. It’s easy and delicious, so if you haven’t yet planned out your July 4th fare, break out that crock pot and get started. 

Roy’s Corned Beef Brisket
3-4 lb. corned beef brisket (I use flat cut)
1 12-oz. bottle chili sauce
1 can or bottle of beer

Place brisket in crock pot, fat side down. Sprinkle spices that came with brisket over top of it. Pour chili sauce over the spices, spreading sauce to cover entire top of brisket. Pour in beer around sides of brisket. Do not wash off any of the sauce from the top of brisket and fill only to the top edge of the brisket. Place lid on crock pot and cook for 8 hours on low. When done, let brisket rest for about 15 minutes before slicing across the grain.

While the brisket is cooking, grab a cool drink, sit back, relax, and give thanks for the privilege of living in the United States of America.

Happy Fourth of July!!! 


Wednesday, June 27, 2018


An eccentric loner, thirty-year-old Eleanor Oliphant deals with childhood abuse and trauma by adhering to a strict regimen of work, sensible eating, Wednesday night communications with her mother, and weekend vodka binges. Eleanor insists she is "perfectly fine," but when a carefully constructed plan of “trying new things, exploring boundaries” ends badly,  the realization that her life might not be all that “fine” leaves her teetering on the brink of disaster. While such a plot might sound abysmally depressing, author Gail Honeyman combines hilarious and heart-wrenching moments with such skill as to ensure readers will be laughing out loud and blinking away tears—sometimes simultaneously.

On the rare occasions Eleanor is thrust into social situations, her strategy for handling them is to ask herself, "What would a ferret do?" or "How would a salamander respond to this situation?" With such a plan, it is no wonder Eleanor is considered a bit odd. But while her observations on human behavior might have the reader chuckling, they also elicit the question: Just exactly who is the strange one here? For example:
—“I was in a fast-food restaurant for the first time in my adult life, an enormous and garish place….It was mystifyingly, inexplicably busy. I wondered why humans would willingly queue at a counter to request processed food, then carry it to a table which was not even set, and then eat it from the paper? Afterward, despite having paid for it, the customers themselves are responsible for clearing away the detritus. Very strange.” 
—“The barman…had created strange, enormous holes in his earlobes by inserting little black plastic circles in order to push back the skin. For some reason, I was reminded of my shower curtain.”
“…I’d worked out that social success is often built on pretending just a little. Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don’t find very funny, do things they don’t particularly want to, with people whose company they don’t particularly enjoy.” 
See what I mean?

Amid such remarks are others hauntingly tragic. Chapter 26 contains what I consider one of the saddest passages of literature ever written: “I took one of my hands in the other, tried to imagine what it would feel like if it was another person’s hand holding mine. There’ve been times when I felt that I might die of loneliness…I physically ache for human contact. I truly feel that I might tumble to the ground and pass away if someone doesn’t hold me, touch me….The scalp massage at the hairdresser, the flu jab I had last winter—the only time I experience touch is from people whom I’m paying, and they’re almost always wearing disposable gloves at the time.” 

And then there are the lines filled with hope: “All you hear these days is that everything’s going to hell in a handcart, how everybody’s a pedophile or a crook, and it’s not true. You forget that the world is full of ordinary decent people like yourselves, Good Samaritans who’ll stop and help a soul in need.” 

In the manner of Olive Kitteridge and A Man Called Ove, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine takes readers on a poignant journey, plunging them into the world of the lonely and depressed and marginalized but also introducing them to characters of incredible warmth and understanding. With sympathy and humor, it teaches us about the all-too-human tendency to judge before we know a person’s circumstances and about the tenacity of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Above all, it demonstrates the life-saving power that community brings. 

Two Things:
A Caution - Several characters in this story provide proof of Eleanor’s statement, “Obscenity is the distinguishing hallmark of a sadly limited vocabulary.” If crass language offends you, you might want to pass on this novel. However, I sincerely hope you don’t. If you look beyond the language, you’ll find beautiful messages of compassion and hope.    
A Confession - I didn’t read this book; I listened to it. Twice. It is narrated by Cathleen McCarron, whose delightful Scottish brogue and talent for interpreting characters’ voices greatly enhanced my enjoyment. Fans of audio books should find this format delightful.