Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Mindful Walking Post 2: Poetry

In Afoot and Lighthearted, Bonnie Smith Whitehouse quotes Simon Armitrage: “…there’s a relationship between the poetic meter and the fall of your foot…. Often when I go for a walk I come back with a poem.”

I jumped right on this because I enjoy composing poetry, and I especially enjoy composing poetry with definite rhythm (meter) and rhyme. Free verse (no set pattern of rhythm or rhyme) is very popular these days. I’ve noticed that in many contests and literary publications, free verse is favored and rhyming, rhythmic poetry is considered rather old fashioned or trite. I don’t have a problem with free verse—actually enjoy a lot of it and have dabbled in writing some. But for me, when I determine to write a poem, rhythm and rhyme almost always take over. 

At the risk of being considered the ultimate nerd, I’ll confess to enjoying prosody (the science or study of poetic meters and versification) both as a student and as a former English teacher. I know, I know. I can hear the groans and grinding of teeth. There are many who contend that to analyze a poem’s form is to wrench the very life out of it. They feel—to borrow from E. B. White’s observation on humor—that analyzing a poem is like dissecting a frog. No one enjoys it, and the frog dies in the process. I’ve no desire to murder anyone’s poem, but prosody—like sentence diagramming—appeals to that strong left-brained side of me. 

I think rhythmic, rhyming poetry has fallen into disrepute lately because often it appears too forced, too artificial. But if done correctly,  rhythm and rhyme in poetry can be as natural as our heartbeats … or the fall of our footsteps. And after all, those are the elements that draw us us to poetry in the first place. I used to tell my English students that as far as I knew, no child ever listened to a Dr. Seuss poem and responded, “Wow, that message was deep.”

Sooo armed with these thoughts, 
I sat out on my morning walk in search of a poem.
I sat out on my mindful walk this morning in search of a poem … and maybe a few augers. As I walked, I noted the equally stressed thump-thump my feet made on the packed sand—a spondee! The augers eluded me, but amid the many sounds and sights on the beach, I managed to find this poem. (In case anyone is interested—the odds are, you’re not—it’s eight couplets of predominantly spondaic dimeter.)

                                          Beach Walk

                                       Breeze lags
Flag sags

Waves roll
Walkers stroll

Gulls shriek
Folks greet

Parents shout
Kids pout

Tide turns
Sand churns

Birds glide
Bouys guide

                                            Surf swells,
                                            deposits shells

                                            Sun blazes
                                            The sea amazes!

Try composing a poem on one (or more) of your mindful walks. It’s fun. Take inspiration from the sights and sounds around you and see if you detect a rhythmic pattern. Once you do, let it lead you to a poem! (And don’t worry—identifying the name of the meter isn’t necessary.) 

If you'd care to share the poem from your walk, I'd love to read it!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Mindful Walking: Day 1 - Analogies

The choice for my first day of mindful walking was a no-brainer. I’d thumbed through Afoot and Lighthearted and chosen “Analogies” as my first point to ponder on my stroll along the beach. According to a study by Stanford Researchers in 2014, walking can lead to an increase in “analogical creativity.” And who doesn’t enjoy a clever and enlightening analogy? I mean, a good analogy is like the perfect word … when the perfect word eludes or doesn’t exist. 
When asked to describe heaven, Christ responded, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed … a merchant seeking fine pearls … a treasure ….” He knew there was no human word that would adequately capture the divine concept of it, so he relied on analogies.

Whenever I read, I’m always on the lookout for the well-stated comparison that shows me what a character is seeing or feeling or experiencing. One of the best tools for helping me understand a complex problem is to begin with, “It’s like this …”

In her book, Whitehouse gives an excellent exercise to follow, which I might use at a later time. But for this walk, I followed only the first part of her instructions: Let your mind wander. For me, the quickest way to squelch creativity is to demand I come up with something: “On this walk, you WILL come up with an analogy.”  So I set out walking with the suggestion nestled comfortably in the back of my mind.

It didn’t take long to come upon two women carefully inspecting a pile of shells freshly washed ashore. Every so often, they’d pick up something and place it in their opposite palm for safekeeping. My curiosity was piqued because I could see absolutely nothing worth collecting in that pile of broken, garden-variety shells. 

But just in case I was missing out on something, I asked, “What are you looking for?”

“Augers,” one of the women said. She held out her hand to reveal the tiny tips of conical-shaped shells.

I was delighted. The aptly named tips did indeed resemble little drill bits. What fun to search for them! How cute would these tiny treasures be displayed in a tiny bottle next to my sea glass collection! They had a fantasy quality to them … like tiny unicorn horns. (An analogy!)

And so I was on a roll. I noticed people all up and down the beach, involved in hunts of one kind or another. I started asking what they were searching for. Answers varied and they’d show you the results of their searches—colorful shells, bits of glass or sand dollars, parts of sea animals.  

And that’s when another analogy came to me. 

Perhaps life is a treasure hunt and we are all treasure seekers. We go through our days searching for the good, the delightful, the beautiful—something that brings us joy. The fortunate find it; others give up too easily or search for the wrong things in the wrong places. But I think as long as we are intent in the pursuit of what is good, we’ll be be happy in our search and eventually rewarded. And in our search for the ultimate Truth, Jeremiah 29:13 promises us this: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” 

Do you have any favorite analogies? Any that are original to you? If not, lace up your shoes and start walking. And happy treasure hunting!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mindful Walking

I’d accompanied my daughter into Parnassus bookstore in Nashville solely to “window shop.” With my TBR list resembling a library card catalog, the last thing I needed was another book. But on the Local Writers shelf, Afoot and Lighthearted by Bonnie Smith Whitehouse caught my attention. No way was I buying it, but a quick perusal couldn't hurt.  


This gem of a book is chock full of quotations about walking (who knew there were so many?) and ideas to inspire, motivate, and de-stress during those walks. Lately, my creativity had been flagging. Likewise my required daily number of steps has fallen well below the required daily number. But I would soon be headed to the beach. Maybe this little journal, combined with oceanside strolls, would jumpstart the creative juices and get them flowing again. And maybe it would provide motivation for walking other than offsetting the massive amount of seafood I’d be consuming. I needed this book. 

My resolve to buy no more books also flagging, I made the purchase. And what a wise and happy decision that proved to be! I couldn’t wait to hit the beach and put what I’d read into practice. 

The beauty of this book is that it applies to any walk, any place. It doesn’t have to be along an aqua blue ocean or verdant mountain trail. In fact, Whitehouse begins by challenging readers to make new discoveries right in their own neighborhoods. Can’t wait to try that when I return home.

I'll confess to ignoring one of Whitehouse's suggestions--digital detox. I'm so excited about my new source of inspiration I want to share some of the results via my blog--which involves technology. Be looking for them over the next few days. Until then, I’ll leave you with this quotation from the book: 

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it."
                                                     --Soren Kierkegaard

    Feeling tired, out of sorts, uninspired? Lace up those cross-trainers and hit the trail—or the pavement. Let me know how it works for you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Get to Work!

One of the tenets of Christianity is that belief in Jesus Christ, not works, secures our salvation. This comes as a big relief to me personally. Over my lifetime, the Oh, nos! have far outnumbered the Atta girls! If God were keeping score (which thank heavens He isn’t), I wouldn’t get a toe inside the Pearly Gates. I am all too happy to read Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith … not of works …,” and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

BUT … there are those other verses that let me know, I can’t just claim this promise and go happily on my way. For example, if you read further in the second chapter of Ephesians, verse 10 to be exact, you’ll find there’s a proper response to accepting this incomparable gift: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” And in James 2:17, the author essentially tells us faith without accompanying good deeds “is dead.” 

My blog posts, while often having an inspirational message, aren’t usually quite this “preachy.” But an event this past weekend at my church inspired me to reflect on the relationship of faith and works. For the past three springs, New Covenant Methodist Church has organized an activity called Sent Out Saturday. Members devote a Saturday morning to helping with various needs around the community. Usually this involves performing a lot of manual labor—cleaning, repairing, painting, sprucing up—for organizations or persons incapable of getting it all done themselves. 

Just look at this impressive group!
And they're all smiling ... at eight in the
morning...on a Saturday!
When this program began, around thirty people gathered to be “sent out.” This year, over ninety showed up to help! What a thrill to see this growth—to see so many give up a Saturday morning to help people they didn’t even know. And what thrilled me even more was that many of these volunteers were families with children of all ages. By example, moms and dads taught their toddlers to teens that if faith is genuine, it will reveal itself in love and concern for others. 

No, task was too big...and no worker too small!
Okay, I’m just going to go with the preachy thing and make a suggestion. Even Christians can sometimes find themselves in the doldrums. I certainly do. If you find yourself in such a state, help someone. It doesn’t have to be in a big group or with a lot of fanfare. Just look around … in your family or at your workplace or in your neighborhood. A need, however small, will soon present itself. To steal an old milk slogan, helping others truly “does a body good.” And sharing the good news of Christ doesn’t get any more effective than this!

If you need proof that serving others can make you feel good, check out these smiles.

How many volunteers does it take
to open a bucket of paint?

A pretty mother/daughter duo!

More teamwork!

Some jobs are best tackled alone.

There's always a need for good organizers!

Men and tools--an unstoppable combo.

Taking a little time out for fitness.

Sprucing up the Exodus House courtyard for spring.

Getting ready for the summer campers at Shiloh Camp.

And mulching at Shiloh.  Volunteers also sent to
the homes of Meals on Wheels clients and helped
with cleaning and repair chores.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Nothin' Says Lovin' Like _____

I was scrolling through Facebook when a link posted by Southern Living Magazine caught my eye. The picture of a vintage recipe box tripped my memory button and brought to mind another such box—a bright yellow one with an apple painted on it. It had belonged to my mother-in-law. I guess the picture and recipe box put me in a vintage mood because as I searched through my own pantry for the little wooden box, I caught myself singing, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven…”

I smiled because it’s a catchy little jingle. The person who came up with a tune and words that would stick in anyone’s mind for over fifty years is an advertising genius. Also, I smiled because it provided the inspiration I needed for a Valentine’s Day post. 
Pillsbury first aired this ad campaign in the 1950s. At that time it was assumed every young woman wanted to snag herself a man and the fastest route to capturing his heart was through his stomach. Once she accomplished that feat, she could continue to show her devotion—and show off her domestic skills at the same time—by baking  “a very special cake.” 

Of course, this kind of thinking has undergone some alterations through the years. First came the realization that while baking might have pleased your fella, it didn’t necessarily guarantee him a long and healthy life. In the seventies I worked with Dale, a lady from Mississippi. She’d been raised in the time-honored tradition of sending the man of the house off to work with a hearty meal under his belt. For years she’d risen early and fried bacon and eggs for her hubby and made him biscuits. Not ones from a (Pillsbury) can, mind you, but light and flaky, made-from-scratch biscuits. Dale had taken great pride in lovingly performing this duty every morning until … her husband developed an ulcer and heart problems. Crestfallen, she’d listened as the doctor explained to her the ill effects of too much fat and cholesterol in the diet. Adding insult to injury, the doctor had added, “Lady, you’re killing your husband.” After that, Dale lovingly sent her man off to work with a bowl of corn flakes under his belt. But somehow it just wasn’t the same.

Another change in thinking came when women’s goals became redirected. Those old Pillsbury ads were targeted at women, but today many ladies are more interested in landing a fulfilling career than a spouse. And in many marriages, the husband might be found in the kitchen as often as or maybe even more than the wife. That’s a good—no,  a GREAT  change! No rule says only women can experience the joy of preparing something good to eat for her loved ones.

But while traditions or ideas might undergo alterations over the years, some things never change. And one of those is the desire to be loved and have that love expressed either in words or actions. On the off-chance “something from the oven” doesn’t make your heart go all a-twitter, I want to know what does. What says or demonstrates “lovin’” to you? Whether in a friend, family, spiritual, or romantic relationship, what’s your favorite way to be told or shown “I love you”?  Please share either in the comments below or on Facebook. And from my heart to yours ...

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

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!