Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wear Clean Underwear, and Don't Accept Packages from Strangers

We didn’t travel much when I was a kid, but my mother did pass along that well-worn advice about wearing good underwear in case we got in an accident. Although I’m sure that would be the least of my concerns should something happen, to this day, whenever I dress to travel, I make sure I have on my very best undies. No frayed edges or split seams. And ALWAYS clean. Just in case.

In recent years, mom’s travel counsel has been upstaged by another warning. This time from a  disembodied voice overriding the clamor of a busy airport terminal: “Do not leave your luggage unattended, and do not accept packages from strangers.” 

Advice that seems obvious—until it happens.

I usually fly with just a carry-on, but all the electronic gadgetry that has attached to my life has made this more challenging. Stuffed among the chargers for my PC, Nook, phone, camera; hair dryer cords and blinking mouse, are a change of clothes and bag of toiletries. And so I was not surprised when my suspiciously wired bag got snagged by the screener who dutifully pulled me over, opened, examined, swiped, tested, and re-packed the contents before sending me off racing to catch my flight.

I was almost to the gate where passengers had begun boarding when a man approached me from behind. He touched my arm.

“Excuse me. Excuse me, mam,” he said. “You dropped this.”
Momentarily taken aback by being halted by a stranger, I looked at the object in his extended hand. I inhaled a gasp.

Oh my goodness! It was my flash drive. The one with my book, documents, and backups on it. Oh, thank God the man had seen it fall. I never would have known what happened to it.

But just as I was about to take it and offer my deepest gratitude, I heard the disembodied airport voice intone: “. . . and do not accept packages from strangers.” I looked the young man in the eye, sure that he read the conflict which had suddenly clouded my appreciation with suspicion.

Was it really my flash drive? It looked like it, but what if it wasn’t? Could it be triggered by some remote and cause a catastrophe? Were the lives of all those people in my hands? Would the woman in seat 33 E go down in infamy?

I didn’t know whether to praise God or walk away.

“Zone 4, all passengers in zone 4 may now board the plane.”

What would you do?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wobbly Earth Causes Identity Crisis

Apparently the wobbly orbit of the earth has thrown off the astrological charts causing chaos and confusion among those who plot their course according to the celestial treks. Astrologers say they are swamped with concerned clients who now aren’t who they thought they were.

I can understand their distress. According to a list of characteristics of my supposed old and new influences, I am a split personality. My old self favored freedom and innovation, my new is staid and controlled. Previously I was a free spirit, now I am traditional. The projection for a compatible relationship with myself is about 60% favorable.

Many years ago, I would have worried because I too rated among the 25-31 per cent of the North American population who believe astrological signs influence their lives. I studied books of star treks and times looking for hope, meaning and direction. In fact, I valued my books of charts so much that when I moved across country and had to reduce my life to a couple of suitcases, I filled one with my precious books of astrology and palmistry.

 On a divine detour to my born-again sister’s house, I learned about Jesus. Being savvy enough to know my sister (who was mighty in casting out demons and rebuking all things evil) would have set fire to my suitcase, if not her house, I kept silent.

After arriving on the west coast and realizing my California dreamin’ was a far cry from my California reality, I reflected on what my sister had told me: If I wanted all God had for me, I had to renounce the things that were not of Him.

I stared at my pile of treasured books, unable to believe they were not of God. Before going to sleep, I asked the Lord to show me the Truth—could I love Him and still plot my life by lines and signs?

The next morning I sent my young son off to school and started to go about my day when I remembered God was supposed to show me what to do. I opened my Bible (Yes, He does occasionally honor the ignorant in their Bible bingo approach to revelation) and read a passage, which paraphrased read: Choose which side you are on.  

I chose God’s side. At that moment my son came in the door, saying he didn’t want to go to school. After recovering from my initial shock, I realized God had returned him so I could share my new-found truth and reverse the direction in which I had been raising him. Together, we gathered up my precious books, threw them in the dumpster and never looked back.

"You are wearied with your many counsels; let now the astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons, stand up and save you from what will come upon you. Ps 143:8 [But] Let me hear Thy lovingkindness in the morning; for I trust in Thee; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to Thee I lift up my soul.” Isa 47:13

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snippets from the Sages: This One's for Writers

The request was simple enough—submit a few hundred-word article on writing tips. But being the Queen of the Complicated, I approached it as though I were a nervous contestant rehearing for a début on Writing with the Stars. I knew many of the recipients were already accomplished writers, published even. What pithy snippets of information did I have that they might benefit from? (Besides ignoring that preposition at the end of the sentence.)

Thinking everyone was familiar with Strunk’s advice about clear and concise writing, and no one wanted to read about basic grammar rules, I set off to mine the wisdom from the shelves at Barnes and Noble. 

The best advice I gleaned from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing was “Try to leave out the part that readers skip.”

Noah Lukeman begins his book The First Five Pages with the importance of presentation. You know, don’t send in the copy with the coffee rings framing the page numbers.

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones, covers a range of topics from composting (your thoughts for a few days—not the garbage) to doing something you don’t usually do, like wearing different clothes or dangling an unlit cigarette from your lips.

Feeling my time in B&N was bordering on loitering, I went home and searched Google quotations for that perfect nugget of wisdom. The following offered their contributions:

Sholem Asch sums up writer’s block with the observation, “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”  Mark Twain suggests that if you “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you're inclined to write ‘very,’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
And perhaps most sage of all, Van Wyck Brooks recommends “No man should ever publish a book until he has first read it to a woman.” 

All good advice but I still felt unsatisfied. I berated myself for not just getting on with it. How much advice does any writer need for crying out loud? And then it came. A gift from a writer friend: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. A book for people “who torture themselves over their writing, who imagine themselves imposters, poseurs, dilettantes, and manqués.” 

That did it. I was stirred to motion, reminded of the truths that I so easily sacrificed to fear. And so dear fellow writers, I confidently put fingers to keys and offer my own tips:

 Don’t let fear, frustration, or perfection paralyze you from embracing that which pulses in your blood. Believe that regardless of what kind of writing you do, there is urgency in these darkening days for the story that only you can tell. And be assured that He who calls you equips you.
I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord God; I will make mention of Thy righteousness, Thine alone. O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; And I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Thy strength to this generation.—Psalm 71: 16

My article for our writers' group newsletter Penstrokes

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wind-Up Cars and Armed Warriors-- Going Backward to Go Forward

I buy wind-up cars—the kind you back up and then let loose to race across the floor. I bring them with me when I visit my numerous grandboys.—just pull one (car that is) out from my pocketbook and let it rip. They like it.

My mom tells me this fascination is deep-seated. One time I wound one up and put it to my ear, apparently mesmerized by the sound of wheels spinning. The problem was they were spinning around my hair, and within seconds I had a car dangling from the side of my head. She had to cut it out, which accounts for the pictures where the one in a skirt looks like a boy.

Which brings me to this New Year. As much as I love to start new things, before going forward, I had to backup. I wanted to see if I had absorbed the lessons and God-words, that I had committed to my journal in 2010 before dashing on to new horizons in 2011.

My Scripture verse for 2010 was “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God…”—Phil.4:6. Well, I got part of that down—I certainly wasn’t hesitant about letting my requests be known by prayer and supplication. But the part about thanksgiving and not being anxious could probably carry over into this year.

From a study in Esther by Beth Moore, I was reminded “The worst time in the world is God’s time.” I have to admit, if you’re selling a house or looking for a job, He certainly seems to have a different clock, but then again, He does make spectacular entrances at JUST THE RIGHT MOMENT.

From Andrew Murray, I practiced Absolute Surrender (I say practiced because I just couldn’t ever seem to give it all up, but know this is a key.) My prayer from this surrender: May my life be proof of what the omnipotent God can do.

And two themes that were, and still are notable: Expectant and Equipped.

I KNOW that if I don’t expect anything of God, I probably won’t recognize Him even if He stands right in front of me. So, in the early morning hours, when I read my Bible, I expect to hear from Him. Otherwise I might as well read the newspaper.

And I am equipped for that which He has called me to do. A verse that latched onto my spirit this year was an odd one: Psalm 78:9: “The sons of Ephraim were armed and ready, yet they turned back in the day of battle.” I realized I turn back; I sabotage so many of my dreams because of fear. Fear of failure, fear of reprisal, fear of imperfection—fear of being stupid!
But God has equipped me and I need shoot an arrow through the heart of fear.

I’m all about a new year, a beginning, a human reminder that “His mercies are new every morning.” And I’m praying that I will live a life of faith in the One with whom nothing is impossible, and that everyone He gives me to pray for—from a one-legged Michelle Perry loving up on thrown-away kids in the Sudan, to a wayward son or daughter, will see the glory of the living God. And for you who read these words of my heart, may 2011 draw you deep in the wonders, and glories, and riches of God.