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. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Being Clear on Transparency

A recent walk on the beach inspired
all this transparency thinking...
Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the issue of transparency. Maybe because it has become a favorite buzz word of politicians and pundits of all political persuasions. Or maybe it’s because social media have given people a convenient forum for proclaiming their every action and thought, no matter how trivial or offensive. Most likely, though, this transparency thinking was spurred by a recent walk on the beach in search of sea glass.

Frosty nuggets of varying hues, as lovely as any semi-precious stone
I wasn’t aware of the existence of sea glass until I read a magazine article about it a few years ago. Being a landlocked beach bum, I became mesmerized by its beauty. I switched the focus of any beach-combing opportunity from searching for shells to searching for this rare ocean gem. Rare because it’s much harder to find than shells, even intact ones.  And a gem because—while mankind does lend a hand—nature applies patience and force to make this glass as lovely as any semi-precious stone. The process for making sea glass is cyclic. Nature gives sand and heat to humans, who combine these components in such a way as to produce glass. Then, some bits of that glass eventually find their way back to nature, specifically to the sea. Over time, sand and surf toss and tumble those bits until they are polished to frosty nuggets of varying hues. 

During my most recent search for this treasure, I picked up the occasional piece of glass, examined it for its cloudy quality, and ran my finger around the edges.  Any shards that still contained transparent spots or sharp edges were discarded—given back to the sea so she could continue working her magic on them. The pieces passing muster—after hours of searching, there were only a couple—had been sanded to translucence, permitting  muted rather than glaring light to pass through them. The edges had been buffed to harmless smoothness. The chosen pieces were pleasing to my eye, soothing to my touch, and satisfying to my soul.

Transparency has its place...
Transparent glass has its place. If I buy a jar of pickles, I want to see them through the clear jar and know exactly what I’m getting. Transparent windows in my house allow enough sun for me to see clearly in daytime hours without artificial means. But, depending on its purpose, glass doesn’t always have to expose everything. Sometimes, glass is beautiful and desired when it has been rendered hazy but still allows light to penetrate in a softer, gentler way.

I look at the need for transparency of information much the same. Times exist when we definitely need clear-cut, accurate facts to make informed decisions that will impact our lives. But like glass, stark, revealing words are not needed in any and all situations. Do we really need information that won’t affect our lives other than insult our intelligence or offend our sensibilities? Do we need information for which we lack the necessary background or ability to process? Are we entitled to every jot and tittle of information even when it might result in harm to others? I’m not talking just politics or government, here. There are plenty of instances in our personal lives when we should carefully consider and answer those same questions. This discernment also applies to the words we speak. Is it really necessary for all of our opinions to be shared? Even if we state facts, is it necessary they be expressed? If they are, has the filter of care or concern or tact made our words less glaring and harsh? Will something constructive be achieved from their being spoken? 

Long ago a very wise person (source obscure) established a litmus test for the words we speak. I will add we should also apply this test to the words we listen to. We should always ask, “Is it true?” “Is it kind?” “Is it necessary?” It’s a practice much easier said than done. It usually takes years to learn, and sadly we often undergo much tumbling and tossing before we perfect it, if perfection is even attainable. However, if we diligently pursue it, this habit has the potential to turn our words into rare, polished gems  . . . as rare and polished as sea glass. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sometimes It Takes a Funeral

You don’t have to remind me. I realize that in a January post (just three short months ago) I blatantly proclaimed “joy” as my focus word for 2018. I still claim that word, and I still strive to obey the Apostle Paul’s command to “be full of joy in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4). But sometimes that joy in the Lord must struggle to overcome my human proclivity to slip, for no identifiable reason, into the doldrums. Not mad or deeply depressed. Just in need of an attitude adjustment. 

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often, but I had such a morning a few days ago. Maybe my dour mood was the result of a restless night. Or maybe it was brought about by a return of winter temperatures that had worn out their welcome. Or—to paraphrase a great line from Steel Magnolias—maybe it was because the elastic in my pantyhose was shot. Whatever the source of my malaise, I needed a strong dose of encouragement to lift me out of it. 

I got it from a very unlikely place.

On my schedule that day was a memorial service for a former assistant pastor at my church. Marvin had overseen congregational care and nurturing and, in my opinion, was the perfect person for the job. We weren’t really what you’d call close friends, but we often exchanged greetings and handshakes at church. No matter how brief those exchanges, I always felt good after they occurred. Marvin always—and I mean always—had words of encouragement to share. At over eighty years old, he was one of the most gracious, positive men I knew.

From the messages and testimonies at his service, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Because that’s what Marvin was—an encourager. The trait was second nature to him. In fact, one of his eulogizers referred to him as “a Barnabas”—that early church leader who was nicknamed “Son of Encouragement.” 

Marvin had planned much of his own funeral, and to use one of the phrases he often bestowed on others, it was “the total package.” Marvin’s life had not been free from pain and challenges. He had dealt with job frustration, depression, and divorce. Yet the music and the singers and the messengers he selected to participate in his service all gave testimony to God’s power to lift us from our hurts and  problems—even the doldrums—to a life of hope and joy in Him.

My heart ached for Marvin’s close friends and family who certainly were suffering a great loss in their lives. But I also was uplifted. A man who had encouraged so many people while alive continued to do so from beyond the grave. I left that service determined to be more encouraging in my own words and actions—an area in which I often fall short. On a day when I really needed it, my spirit had been refreshed with  a sense of gratitude for people like Marvin and for all that is good in this world.

As I said, sometimes it takes a funeral to give us a renewed outlook. Not a tragic service in which the departed left this world far too early or unprepared. But one that is truly a celebration of a life well lived. 

          How about you? Have you ever found inspiration in an unusual place or circumstance?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Moonlight and Meatloaf

In the Author’s Note in Some Form of Grace, I promised readers some down-home recipes from Flo’s restaurant. Today I decided to go with Flo’s Famous Meatloaf because when Flo features this as her blue plate special, the line is out the door. (Get recipe here.)
To get the ball rolling on this post, I googled “quotes about meatloaf” (not to be confused with “quotes by Meat Loaf”), hoping to find something really clever or funny as a good lead-in. Fortunately, I found quite a few quotes. Unfortunately, I also found that in the food world, meatloaf is maligned only slightly less than Spam. Of those quotes, 99% of were not the sort that would entice you to click on a meatloaf recipe. For example: “Meatloaf. I don’t like it. It’s like a bunch of hamburgers that got caught in a car accident” (Norman’s Corner, 1987). Or this: “Meatloaf. Smeatloaf. Double beatloaf. I hate meatloaf” (Randy-A Christmas Story, 1983).  

But I was diligent in my search and eventually came across this: “If you make this meatloaf for the boy you’re hung up on, you’ll own him” (Bijou Hunter, Damaged and the Bulldog.)

Ding! Ding! Ding! I’d hit the Daily Double. A quote for meatloaf AND Valentine’s Day  all in one. I could multi-task! In the blogosphere, it doesn’t get much better. 

For all the verbal abuse it takes, meatloaf—if done right—can be delicious. And, believe me, Flo does hers right. As proof, I made her recipe for dinner while recently visiting family. My niece said her husband didn’t eat meatloaf, so she’d bring some fried chicken. Not that I was watching, but that evening I noticed he not only ate meatloaf but went back for seconds. 

So ladies, if you want to please your sweetie this Valentine’s Day, whip up this recipe for a romantic dinner. Chill the wine, dim the lights, and, as the quote says, “…you’ll own him.” 

Give this recipe a try and let me know how it works for you, but please keep your comments G-rated.

PS Gentlemen, this goes for you, too. What lady wouldn’t appreciate a meal thoughtfully prepared by your own hands? And if you throw in kitchen cleanup, she’ll be positively swooning.

PPS Wine with meatloaf? Why not? Go here and enter meatloaf in the search bar.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

First Runner-up: Expectancy

Last week I blogged about joy, the word that would direct my mind set for 2018. I explained in that post I’d decided upon the word during Advent when I read in Philippians 4:4 that uplifting command to "Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again--rejoice!” intriguing combination
of allegory and analysis
Until that time, I’d had another strong contender: expectancy. I’d begun considering it early in the fall, after reading Allen Arnold’s The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create,  

While reading this book, a section of it gave me pause because it seemed to go against so much of what I’d been told all my life about having expectations. I’d always considered expectations desirable things. What happened to "setting our expectations high" or "living up to high expectations"? When we complete any task, we have certain outcomes we want our work to achieve. What’s wrong with that?
But while Arnold doesn’t encourage having expectations, he does recommend living with expectancy. And he explains there is a vast difference.

Expectations are what we think should happen. They lead us to think we should be in control. And when our expectations are unmet--which often happens--it leads to disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement.

Living with a sense of expectancy accomplishes the opposite. Expectancy is being open and prepared to accept what does happen.  Living with expectancy keeps us in a state of readiness or anticipation for what comes our way—whether good or bad. Expectancy leaves room for God to take our lives, our work, our situations far beyond what we would have ever imagined.

I'll admit it took me a while to wrap my mind around this idea. But after giving it considerable thought, it began to make sense. And it gave me an entire new way of looking at the book I would soon be releasing. What freedom there was in letting go of expectations for Some Form of Grace! I sent my best writing, publishing, and marketing efforts into the world and let go of expectations for reviews or awards or financial success. I could live in expectancy of what God would do with my book. 

Both joy and expectancy would make excellent focus words for the year. In choosing between them, the struggle was real. For various reasons, joy won out, but that doesn't mean I won't be living in expectancy of what God will do with my choice.