Hearing God’s Word in Our Voices

If you read the Bible closely (or at all, honestly) you’ll notice the prominent role women played throughout God’s great story of rescuing His people. From Miriam–sister of Moses–to Esther, Deborah, Rahab, and Ruth in the Old Testament to Mary and Lydia and Priscilla in the New Testament, God’s work always involved women.

A couple of years ago, a Cru staff sister–back when I served with Cru–developed a vision to create an audio compilation of the Bible read aloud by women. Jenny envisioned recruiting women of various ethnicity to narrate Scripture. Now, the entire New Testament is available for listening in a host of voices, along with some of the Old Testament–all for free.

baby with Bible

I had the distinct privilege of recording the books of 1, 2, and 3 John. You can listen to those at her.Bible, and to all the other books of the Bible that have (currently) finished production.

For me, this is a dream come true. When I lived in Starkville, Mississippi, I connected with a ministry to the blind and visually impaired and recorded books and Bible study materials onto cassette tape (yes, those; yes, I’m old) for the individuals whom C.A.R.E. Ministries served. I narrated booklets on everything from Biblical views on divorce and depression, to books about breaking free from abuse and enjoying God’s gift of singleness. To read aloud Scripture for people around the globe to access is a tremendous gift.

Reading Scripture, handwriting it, and listening to it allow us to absorb God’s Word and store it in our hearts. Plus, an audio version makes for convenient listening while doing housework, taking a walk, or journeying on a road trip.

Most listeners at her.Bible reside in the US, with Canada, India, Philippines, and Brazil rounding out the top five countries. But the number of listeners has grown to over 6,000 in 109 countries overall. For women who can’t read (or aren’t allowed to read a Bible), her.Bible provides a vital resource.

Want to support this work and help complete the recording of the Old Testament? You can give hereFollow her.Bible on Facebook or on Twitter. Listen and share to get the Word out.

An Open Letter to the 2020 Hurricane Season

Dear Hurricane Season,

As you may know, 2020 has been a killer of a year. We know you’re on your way, and we also know you don’t always have good intentions. Let’s face it; we’re just not willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

I mean, there were a couple of times when you did manage to keep my husband home from work on a weekday and not wreak total havoc on people’s lives at the same time. This was especially helpful when I was raising a baby and a toddler. The extra pair of hands was nice; I won’t lie.

But on the whole, you just don’t play nicely. I’d like to think of a polite way to tell you that you’re not welcome here, but I’m afraid there isn’t one. I do want to make sure you get the point, though, which is the reason I’m writing you this letter.

So, Hurricane Season, here is what I wish for you in 2020.

eye of the storm

I hope you find yourself craving Chick-fil-A but only on Sundays, and on every Sunday of the season. I hope your favorite shoes grow a size too small, and, when you’re forced to walk around barefooted, I hope you step on a dozen LEGOs.

I hope the sweet boy you dumped in high school because he was too quirky or too nerdy or too something shows up on your Facebook feed as a total babe, living his best life with his beautiful children and even more beautiful wife.

I hope you plan a summer beach vacation and then start your period on the first day. I hope you go out to eat at your favorite restaurant the minute it re-opens after all the shelter-at-home orders are lifted and then find a hair in your food. Or, better yet, a cockroach. They can survive hurricanes; can you survive a roach? Hmm? 

I hope you go for a walk and a bird poops in your hair. Better yet, I hope you go on a walk while on a date and the bird drops a little present on your head. Maybe the sheer embarrassment will make you wish you were anywhere but where you are, and then you’ll go where hurricanes go to die. Over cooler water, I hear. I also hear there’s some fairly cool water in the Southern Ocean. Why don’t you give that spot a try? There probably aren’t many birds to poop in your hair there, either.

Hurricane Season, you single-handedly destroyed the tree house my brother and I shared when we were little. You mauled the roof on our home when I was in my 30’s. And I understand you have also seriously ruined some lives, which is just downright nasty, pardon my French. You’ve had your fun. Time to move on.

See, we’re all trying to salvage what’s left of 2020, and you just don’t fit into our plans. So go pick on someone your own size. We have our hands full here. K? Thanks.

Sincerely,

Allison (which is a name you’ve gone by on more than one occasion–even managing to spell it with two L’s–so maybe you could leave me out of it, too? I’d sure appreciate that.)

The Most Famous Person I Ever Met

Of all the famous people I’ve personally encountered, I met THE most famous one today.

Not that I’ve met a significant number of famous people, that is. First, at 18, I met Leslie Nielsen (of Naked Gun fame) at the Los Angeles airport on the way to Hawaii with the all-state marching band. Then at age 20, I met Brian Austin Green (from Beverly Hills, 90210) at an event on the beach. He was promoting a campaign called “Turn the Tide on Herpes.” Just to be clear, I wasn’t interested in info on herpes; I just wanted his autograph.

But today! TODAY, y’all, I met former Vice President Joe Biden! Well, I met him through virtual means. But still, I spoke to him, and he spoke to me, and–squee! 

Here’s what went down:  I attended my first-ever volunteer shift at Second Harvest Food Bank today in Orlando. During the shift–at which only 20 volunteers were allowed to work, instead of the usual 65, due to social distancing rules, despite the fact that demand for food assistance is higher now–the food bank employees told us that Congresswoman Val Demmings, her husband Orlando Mayor Jerry Demmings, and Mr. Biden would be arriving to thank us for our work (with Biden appearing via video chat).

Certainly this show of thanks to volunteers in this strange season in our world might be a political boon in this upcoming election. But there was truly nothing partisan about this presentation. First Congresswoman Demmings thanked us. Then Mayor Demmings thanked us. When the congresswoman spoke about food insecurity in central Florida and how we were helping combat that, I had to fight back tears. By this time, I began to geek out fan-girl style just a bit. But I had on my mask, so I think I hid it well. By the way, Congresswoman Demmings is stunning and friendly and energetic. I told her how nice it was to meet her–from 6 feet away–and just kept waving my hands because I couldn’t touch her or anything.

grocery aisle

THEN, an assistant began rolling around the cart with the computer monitor connected to Biden’s end of the call. And each of the 20 volunteers got introduced to former Vice President Biden, and he chatted with each of us for a minute or so. Again, nothing about voting or defeating President Trump, not one word about the election–just thanking us and reminding us that Americans pull through, band together, help each other out in tough times.

So, when the aide rolled that screen my way, Congresswoman Demmings announces me as if I’m a celebrity, informing Mr. Biden that this shift was my very first one as a volunteer. Well, he got excited about that! I said, “It’s so nice to meet you, sir. How are you?”

Then, he said–y’all! Just listen!–he said, “Better after seeing you, kiddo.” Let’s overlook the fact that I’m 46 (maybe the mask aged me backwards); Joe Biden called me “kiddo.” (Cue more fan-girl geeking out.)

Maybe you voted for Mr. Biden for vice president in the past. Maybe you plan to vote for him for president this year. Or maybe not. Regardless of anybody’s political leanings, I got to meet (sort of, kind of meet) a former US Vice President. I mean, I thought Legally Blonde 2 was a silly movie, but if Reese Witherspoon looked me in the eye and told me how nice it was to meet me, I’d be tickled pink. (Ha ha). Meeting a celebrity is one thing; meeting someone like Mr. Biden is an honor.

When I was in school, one of my classes traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi, to hear Ronald Reagan speak at a campaign rally. President Reagan was on the trail running for his second term. As I prepared for the trip, I told my mama that I should take my autograph book (a throwback even in the 1980’s; Mama had bought it for me because she’d had one like it as a child). With all the confident naivete of a child, I absolutely believed I could meet President Reagan and get his autograph. In reality, I don’t think we got more than a quarter of a mile near him on the stage that night.

I didn’t get Mr. Biden’s autograph today, but our brief conversation was better–a privilege on top of the privilege of packing food for hungry neighbors in central Florida.

Moral of the story:  Donate food. Food banks everywhere need it. Demand is higher; supply is lower. And Americans pull through, band together, and help each other out.

When Your Half-Asian Child Wishes He Were White

Last night, I made a mistake during our bedtime routine.

Before we send the boys to bed in the evenings, we read some Scripture, pray, and sing. Our prayer routine follows a “wow, sorry, thank you, please” plan that I read on another mom’s blog long ago. It replicates the ACTS acronym you may have learned about prayer–adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. During my turn to say a “please,” I prayed for the hearts of people who are acting in damaging, racist ways to Asian Americans during this strange COVID-19 season, along with protection for Asian Americans in this time.

I hadn’t mentioned any of the news reports to the boys about attacks both verbal and physical (even stabbings) on Asian Americans being blamed for (or simply somehow representing) the novel corona virus. But as I prayed aloud for the rest of the family to hear, it introduced a new level of anxiety where this virus is concerned. Afterwards, Garfield peppered me with questions.

Why are people doing this to Asians? What have they done? Have these attackers killed anybody? Are they going to jail? Did anybody sue them?

I really should have known, y’all. One doesn’t simply introduce a topic like this and then ask Garfield to go to bed.

When I went to his room to say goodnight, he asked more questions, and I tried to answer truthfully but with limited detail. Distressed and frustrated, he told me I shouldn’t kiss him anymore–since I’m white. I’m your mother, though, I responded.

Then he declared, “See, this is why I wish I were white.” If he could shed his half-Korean heritage, he reasoned, he wouldn’t be at risk of the harms of racism. More importantly, he wouldn’t have to wrestle with this fear:  Would people kick him or spit on him or yell insults at him–because he’s Asian American? 

After I’d left his room, he called me back to apologize for what he’d said to me (presumably about not kissing him since I’m white), which I hadn’t taken personally, of course. I assured him he could let out his frustration with me, and that I was angry that people were treating others this way. That God hates racism, and that He hates that people are treating one another like this, too. We prayed for his protection, for the protection of our family, for others’.

It was a longer than usual bedtime ritual for him and me last night. I laid down with him a few minutes, while he cuddled up to me and told me that the world is so uncertain. Then he continued with what I think of as an anxiety dump.

He wanted to know why it wasn’t acceptable for Christians just to “do suicide” and go to heaven and be with Jesus. Because I know him–and his inner musings–this didn’t alarm me too much. Like me, he’s analytical, always thinking and pondering. This topic dealt more with a need for answers than with a threat of self-harm, a general inquiry into why Christians can’t just choose to exit this earth and get to the good stuff of heaven.

Allison selfie in Colorado resized
Middle-aged me

I myself have asked this same question, though not as a child, as a middle-aged adult. I didn’t share that I’d wondered that myself, but I did answer that our sins always harm others–even in ways we can’t see. What if, I posed, Woodrow got so upset that God allowed his own brother to end his life that he walked away from loving Jesus? Or what if he got so angry that he burned down somebody’s house? (I was improvising with the examples).

Of course, I admitted, Woodrow’s actions would still be Woodrow’s responsibility. {We’re not responsible for each other, but we are responsible to each other.} But wouldn’t it make us sad to know our own sins may have spurred a loved one on to destructive actions–instead of to love and good deeds? The whole “no man is an island” concept is kind of what I was attempting to communicate. Because that’s how I’ve answered that question for myself in the past–and because the reality that those we love will miss us if we’re gone just doesn’t always feel like enough.

Garfield did let me kiss him today, and he told me “I love you.” He then told Mike, “I love you.” After Mike reminded him there was another family member at the dinner table, Garfield turned to Woodrow and muttered, “I love you, too, Bro–I guess.”                             

I feel so many emotions in this season:  gratitude that my son unburdens his heart with me; anger at a world so broken that my 11-year-old fears the sting of racism; sadness that his first camp-out with his new Boy Scout troop (which is also Woodrow’s) got canceled due to COVID-19. I tell Garfield over and over that he can always ask me the big questions, the hard ones. Sometimes the questions are just so, so heavy.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

 

 

Not Exactly Homeless, But Between Addresses

It happened again. It happened. AGAIN.

On Thursday afternoon last week, we met with our real estate agent at the home that is (ostensibly) soon to be ours to go for our final walk through. If you’re keeping up with this story, that final walk through should have happened the week before. We ended up being delayed a full week before the next attempt at closing on our home could take place–I knew this would be possible, but I didn’t expect it.

At the walk through last Thursday, we took over more bags and boxes to store at the new-to-us house, including the mirror off my antique dresser, a bag of sewing supplies, and Garfield’s Hot Wheels collection all boxed up. As our Realtor helped us carry in boxes, we asked about whether we were still on target for closing on the follow day (which would have been last Friday at noon.)

Juan answered, “There’s a 50/50 chance.” I looked at him–we love this real estate agent, by the way–and thought, Well, I know which 50 this is gonna turn out to be.

After we finished, we drove to the U-Haul store (again) to rent their biggest moving truck. Waiting for Juan to confirm with us whether the buyers’ loan for our current home had gone through, we decided not to gamble with renting the truck that evening. Instead, we elected to show up first thing the next morning–last Friday–and load for several hours before heading to the closing at noon.

Not long after returning from the U-Haul shop, Juan sent us the confirmation that began with, “So sorry, guys.” I glanced at our living room, a miniature furniture warehouse, cluttered with nightstands, the futon, a couple of dressers, all shoved together and waiting to be placed in the truck.

And there it still waits. Almost all our small belongings sit in boxes in the new house. Our big things aren’t much use to us, either. Thursday night, I slept on a sleeping mat with a sleeping bag.

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to sleep in a sleeping bag without having to be on your back? I haven’t slept on my back willingly since the late stages of pregnancy, when sleeping half on my side, half on my stomach just wasn’t feasible. But I haven’t been pregnant in over 11 years. I like sleeping on my stomach. Several times throughout that night, I woke up sliding around in Woodrow’s green sleeping bag several feet away from the mat. At least the carpet is somewhat comfortable.

What a horrible night of sleep. Whether due to my sleeping arrangements or the general stress, I awoke at 3 or so. Made to-do lists for the family for the next day (with things like eat vegetables and 20 minutes of exercise with Oh mah). Tried to drift back off later, after reading some of the Shawn Colvin (of Sunny Came Home fame) autobiography I snagged on a whim at the library before all the branches in our county shut their doors.

But sleep wouldn’t come, as my brain took me curious places. I kept thinking about cognates, words that have the same meaning and a similar sound in different languages:  “attention” in English and “atencion” (with an accent over the O) in Spanish, for example. “Mediocrity” in English and “mediocritate” in Romanian. I guess some words survived the tower of Babel, I thought. Then I further kept myself awake remembering my high school Spanish teacher’s caution about false cognates. Such as “culto” in Spanish which corresponds to the English word “educated,” NOT the English word “cult.” Hmm… The tower of Babel strikes again.

Welcome to my brain. Or, at least, the workings of my brain in a constant state of limbo.

I’m thankful for our camping tub, supplying us with dishes, an emergency role of TP and a packet of tea bags. I’m thankful for books. I’m reading aloud Soul Surfer, about the young girl–Bethany Hamilton–who lost her arm to a shark attack while on a surfboard in Hawaii. Another task I completed while up at 3 AM the other day was to research read-alouds for me and the boys. I perused the posts I’d saved on Pinterest, got ideas, and then checked out several e-books from the library. Dear Lord, thank you for public libraries. I am so happy that my taxes help fund these institutions. I’m also thankful that Garfield’s crossover from Cub Scouts to Scouts BSA (formerly called just Boy Scouts) took place before the canceling of almost everything:

 

Calvin and Oh mah at crossover in March

We’re still heading outside–geocaching (use anti-bac after every cache, I instruct); fishing; walking. Tonight, I think supper will consist of a ginormous order from local business The Meatball Stoppe. They do curbside-pick up during the COVID-19 social distancing; we want to support local businesses; and we aren’t spending money on much else besides food at the moment. Mike works remotely, as Cru headquarters are shut to all but about 50 essential staff. We aren’t going to events or classes, including our home school co-op. When I announced to Garfield that co-op had been canceled for the rest of the school year–including our Spring Celebration–he declared that he hated this stupid corona virus! 

Me, too, darling. Me, too.

Our deep freeze malfunctioned last week, and we cooked lots of barely-cold-to-the-touch meat to keep it from ruining. And we got to almost all of it in time, thankfully. (Side note:  Once you’ve thoroughly cooked the meat, you can re-freeze it at that point, and it’s still safe to eat later.) Our washing machine hoses must have gotten damaged in the early stages of the first attempt at moving, because they now leak. I did more laundry in the tub this past week, but yesterday we used the spin cycle of the washer to wring water out of the clothes. So there’s that.

I’ve also been doing a lot of walking around the house while twirling a baton I’ve had since 6th grade. It helps. I anticipate doing more of it in the coming days. And eating a truckload of food from The Meatball Stoppe tonight.

How the Corona Virus is Affecting our Family

While the world at large (our community included) faces the disappointment of canceled events, I wash clothes in the bathtub.

We’ve lived in our current home about four and a half years. I hadn’t anticipated moving for a long time, and I had no particular idea when that might happen. But last fall, a group of kids–the police have labeled them a “gang”–began harassing and intimidating our family:  banging on our door at all hours; trying to break into our van. With the security camera we had posted above our front door, we could watch the videos of these teenage boys and their antics.

It worsened from October through January, with these kids standing in the street in front of our house–too far for the camera to record–swearing and yelling racist taunts. So, we began our search for a new home. Those were hellish months, and I won’t cover all the painful details. But, we located a home in a little town called Belle Isle, right in the middle of Orlando near Lake Conway. It even sits at the end of a narrow canal leading into the Conway chain of lakes. It’s in good shape, fits our budget, and gives us this water access–for the kayaks both boys now own and the 36-year-old bass boat we bought last year.

We put an offer on it, with the condition that we sell our current place first. The sellers accepted. We put our house on the market, had five showings in one day, and had a full-price offer that night. We began preparing to put our house on the market before Christmas, so at least some of our stuff has been tucked away in boxes since then. But by mid-February, we started packing in earnest. In fact, we kept packing all the way up until last Thursday evening. We rented the U-Haul truck, loaded the washer, the dryer, and part of the boys’ bunk bed set. Our closing was set for the next morning–last Friday.

But it screeched to a halt when our real estate agent sent us a message that the buyer of our current home had come up against an obstacle. Due to the “global health crisis,” as their lender stated, their loan had not been completed. They couldn’t close on the sale, so we couldn’t close the following day on our own purchase. We then removed the washer and dryer and bunk bed steps and hauled them back in the house. We returned the unused U-haul and came home.

Now, we wait–maybe a week in total, maybe less, maybe more. We’d already moved a few dozen boxes into the laundry room of our new house, thanks to the seller’s generosity and the fact that the house is unoccupied at the moment. So, with what we have still at home (what we currently call “home”), we are making do. We still have shelter, electricity, air conditioning, running water, and internet. And even a few clothes, although most are packed.

I re-opened the boxes labeled “home school.” Although my packing goes like this:  In the box with Garfield’s grammar book, I’d also put a paring knife and a throw pillow. One of the boxes labeled “kitchen + home school” held a couple of camping lanterns, a pair of binoculars, a portable water filter. The only things school-related consisted of a bag of Scrabble tiles for spelling practice, a pair of colored pencils, (huh?) and a ruler. But I found enough materials to last the rest of the week. Woodrow’s Algebra textbook and notebook were actually in the same box, a happy accident.

I feel far more calm and patient with this situation than I might have expected. I value minimalism and don’t mind making do with few things for a time. Life has taken on a kind of simplicity that can be compared to camping, in a way. Plus, the level of gratitude upon finding an extra pair of underwear when I’d assumed they were all stored in boxes just cannot be matched. I made a point to pray with the boys as soon as we got the news, to thank God in the midst of upheaval.

And so we wait. I have none of the excitement about moving into this upcoming home the way I did with our current place. This move feels necessary, important, and the boys are excited to be on the water. Mostly, we just needed to move someplace our children could be–and feel–safe. The anxiety and anger caused by the threats of this group of teens (who still seem to be in middle school) created so much stress in our family that I don’t even want to reflect on it; it’s still too new. For a different reason, I don’t relish taking on a different mortgage–with more debt–at this time. But… I still believe moving is the right choice for us, for now.

We’re spending much time outdoors–so much so that I got sunburned yesterday. No church service, no youth group, but read-alouds and audio books and parks are all still available. All in all, we’re doing just fine. And always, always, the Lord provides.

boys and me at soccer game
The boys and me at an Orlando City pre-season soccer game (before MLS canceled their season).

A Few Words on Forgiveness and Rage

I’d rather know than not know.

In the past few weeks, I’ve asked the Lord for some good news about my writing:  a paycheck in the mail for a story I sold or a copy of a publication with one of my pieces in it or an email message informing me that one of my submissions had been accepted. But almost immediately after that prayer, I’d receive an email letting me know some piece I’d submitted had been rejected. In two weeks:  two emails, three rejections. Which means one email contained two “this doesn’t fit our needs.” Yeah. But, I’d rather know than not know.

Then today, I received a message from the Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast team. They’d selected my story that appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul:  The Forgiveness Fix to feature on their January 6 podcast. You can listen to it here. The story involves the forgiveness that I sought following an incident stemming from my 14th birthday (that got resolved two decades later). Since my birthday took place earlier this month, it seems fitting that this story made an appearance in January, too. (But please, please, PLEASE no “happy belated birthday” wishes. It was a day. It happened. Maybe next year will be happier.)

So, I’ll certainly take this podcast appearance as a splendid “yes” to my request for encouragement about my writing.

woman in blue shirt

Something else from my birthday earlier this month:  I went to my second EMDR therapy session that day. I am thankful I’m making this investment in my own well-being. Today I saw illuminated one of the points my counselor has made in our meetings:  that rage is a very normal human response when a person feels invisible.

I ran two errands by myself today:  the library and then grocery store. While waiting in a turn lane, I watched a man bicycle his way halfway across the heavily-traveled six-lane road. He’d dodged moving cars to get to the median–crossing at the crosswalk without waiting for the “walk” sign–where he then waited a few seconds. Then he began inching out into those lanes, too, traveling against the traffic. I watched transfixed, baffled at why he wouldn’t just wait at the crosswalk until he could safely cross the road. Even more perplexed as to why he’d continue pushing his way across the street when cars were barreling down those lanes at high speeds. Undeterred, he kept going, intent on forcing traffic to stop for him. He passed through one lane and then, pedaling toward the second lane, he nearly collided with a red SUV. I squealed, thankful the boys weren’t with me, and watched the driver of the SUV veer into the lane next to him–which was blessedly empty. Trying to pedal back to the median, the man grew incensed at the drivers honking their horns and slamming on their breaks to avoid hitting him.

Holding a large Styrofoam cup missing its lid, he hurled the ice still in the cup at one of the cars and then began flipping up the middle fingers on both his hands at the drivers. After yelling and gesturing, he eventually returned to his tiny island of safety at the median. I turned left, continuing on my way.

The man on the bike, who looked slightly disheveled and perhaps was homeless, should have chosen a safer means of crossing the street, of course. We all have to wait our turns, of course. But I wondered at the insistence he showed, trying to force drivers in moving cars to stop and wait for him to cross. I wondered if he were desperate to make them see him, to demand that they notice him, acknowledge him. I wondered if he’d felt deeply unacknowledged throughout his life and if forcing his way into traffic amounted to his misguided efforts at announcing “I am here. I won’t let you ignore me.” 

He certainly seemed enraged, so I can only assume he didn’t want to feel invisible.

I’m learning that sometimes, though, we simply must realize that some people don’t want to see us. They aren’t willing to acknowledge us. In those times, we have a choice:  we can continue raising our voices, speaking up for ourselves, asserting our needs and our value and our worth with great eloquence (or with faltering sentences)–or with tossed chunks of ice and raised middle fingers. Or we can accept the fact that we can’t convince another person to care.

Yes, relationships require work; yes, we shouldn’t expect another person to intuit how we feel. Yes, relationships are worth fighting for. But when you’ve done all that and you have no fight left? Grieve the reality that you can’t force that person to find you worthy. And then guard your one precious heart.

Took my diamond to the pawnshop
But that don’t make it junk.–Leonard Cohen

 

The Writer Writes Again

Changes have been afoot lately. As of August 31, I officially left the employ of Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ). I now carry the title “associate staff,” since my husband remains missionary staff with Cru. I currently fulfill a small, unpaid volunteer role from home.

After 22 years of serving with Cru, on three different continents and multiple campuses and various teams at international headquarters in Orlando, I decided this summer to close this chapter. My entire adult life has been intertwined with the ministry of Cru.

When Woodrow was a baby, I couldn’t find a Cru team where I could contribute–a situation that began during my pregnancy with him and continued until I left staff in August. But in 2005 or ’06, a former supervisor had connected me to a person who could make use of my writing, so I did piecemeal work for her team.

One story assignment involved interviewing a Cru couple over the phone about challenges their family faced. I took copious notes during a call with them, wrote up a story, and brought it to a meeting at headquarters with the team. I attended as a visitor. The women in that group read and discussed all the stories written for that cycle, including mine. A few remarked on the spiritual lessons we all could draw from it. I felt I’d succeeded.

Then the stories went live. The family who was the subject of my story contacted the team leader about it. They were disappointed, even upset, about what I’d written. I discovered this when the leader–we’ll call her Betty–came to my house for a meeting she’d planned with me.

green pencil

Woodrow had just woken up from a nap, and I held him while Betty and I sat on the couch. I didn’t know the reason for our meeting that day. I felt confused about why we couldn’t discuss this over the phone–whatever “this” was.

But during our talk, she shared the news about the family’s frustration over my story. She spoke as if I’d broken a rule, disobeyed a law. The thrust of her conversation:  that she wanted me to re-write the story to satisfy the couple.

“I’m sure I’m not a very good writer, either,” she declared, emphasis on “either.” Perhaps Betty meant that as an expression of sympathy.

I felt gobsmacked (I love that word, by the way). The story had been vetted by a table full of women reviewing materials that were soon to be published. Not one person raised a single reservation about what I’d written. And, from what Betty expressed, I hadn’t gotten a detail wrong–like misspelling one of their children’s names or something; they just didn’t like how it represented them. Betty never informed me, though, of what exactly had displeased them, of what it was that I’d gotten wrong.

I took time to figure out how I felt. Why wouldn’t Betty’s first response be to support me, one of her writers? Well, kind of…since I’m not on the team. Why would she throw me under the bus instead of explaining how she, the editor, and a team of women had all signed off on this piece? Why would she promise them that I’d rewrite the story without first asking me? Why not raise questions before it got published? Why not train me better in what exactly she wanted me to produce?

Betty had also shown up at my house with several instructional books on the topic of writing. I’m sure they were useful, although I don’t remember reading any of them. Interesting that my writing skills weren’t called into question *before* the family announced their disappointment, I thought.

I didn’t mind if somebody else re-wrote the story. I didn’t mind if they deleted my piece, used my notes from the interview, and gave somebody else credit. I just knew I didn’t want to call that family and apologize (for what, exactly?)–Betty indicated I should do that–and go through this process all over again.

I called Betty and left a message about not re-writing the story and wondered if I should be working on side projects for her team anymore.

She never called back. I haven’t seen her in ages; I think she moved overseas. I believe (now) that my writing ability–or lack thereof–wasn’t the real issue. I think Betty saw a problem, blamed me, and wanted me to fix it.

I no longer need a team to write and have my work published. I didn’t let the “not a very good writer” comment derail me–not for long. As you can see, I’ve continued to write.

Within days of submitting my change of status forms to Cru, I heard from Chicken Soup for the Soul. A story I wrote will appear in their new volume, “The Forgiveness Fix.” It comes out in November.

Last week, I got a phone call from the editor of a magazine called Power for Living. They’re publishing a story of mine in 2020. I will also have a piece in Country Woman in December.Two devotional magazines (one for youth; one for kids) will print pieces I’ve written in 2020:  Keys for Kids and Unlocked. 

I also get to work with editors who value my contribution and help me grow. I re-wrote a piece 3 or 4 times this year for a Christian kids’ magazine called Primary Treasure. The editor’s feedback helped me improve it so the story meets their needs. I can’t wait to see it in print.

After that appointment with Betty, I wondered at times if I were like those contestants on American Idol. You know, the ones who get highlighted during auditions who are so ridiculously awful you wonder how anybody can lack total self-awareness. What if I’m like those ill-informed wannabe singers putting themselves out there for the entire world to mock? 

Maybe I wasn’t a very good writer in 2006. But I’ve grown, and I’m better now than before.

 

 

 

 

Nobody Waves, But Everybody Waves Back

Recently I read a stunt nonfiction book (my newest favorite genre) written by a self-proclaimed “shintrovert” (shy introvert) about her year of stretching beyond her comfort zone and challenging herself with what doesn’t come naturally to her temperament.

She wanted to make new friends, take new risks, and meet new people. Along the way, she consulted experts who could mentor her through all manner of tests:  stand-up comedy, talking to strangers, hosting a dinner party.

One of those coaches passed along a nugget that I’ve been pondering:  “Nobody waves. But everybody waves back.”

I’m from Mississippi originally, in a small town where–at least when I was growing up–almost everybody lifted at least one finger (and not the middle one) in a friendly wave as two drivers passed each other on the highway.

highway

But I heartily acknowledge the truth of that statement above, that nobody waves, but everybody waves back. It’s true when people at church always respond in a friendly way when I approach them to talk, but they don’t initiate meeting me. It’s true when I speak to other parents at the soccer fields who probably wouldn’t make the effort to talk if I didn’t approach them first.

I decided to try a little of this on a walk the other night around the neighborhood next to ours, to test the theory and discover whether strangers might also “wave back.” I don’t think of myself as a “shintrovert,” perhaps closer to “grintrovert” (gregarious introvert). Maybe I’m more of a “lintrovert”–loquacious introvert. I made that one up myself. Anyway…

I noticed an older couple, sitting in lawn chairs in the driveway, facing the street. They weren’t talking to each other as I walked down the sidewalk near their house, and their expressions seemed rather wooden. But when I made eye contact, held up a hand, and said, “Good evening,” they both smiled and said “hello” in response. [I know ‘good evening’ sounds kind of dorky, but saying ‘hey’ sometimes seems too informal. And I usually feel disingenuous saying ‘hi.’ Because I’m from Mississippi.]

Success. Then I neared a home where an older man stood on his lawn, just looking out at the street. Perhaps he was deep in thought. He looked up at me, then I smiled and said “hello.” He smiled and returned the greeting.

Another success. On the way back to my house, I passed a woman planting shrubs in her yard. She looked messy and dirty, and I could see she’d done a tremendous amount of work on her lawn. I started with, “I can see you’ve been working hard!”

She then explained how she’d started the project the day before, but the rows of shrubbery hadn’t come out even. So she had bought more plants that day, dug more holes, and planted more bushes. I complimented her on how good they looked.

“I hope you get to enjoy it…the fruit of your labor,” I said as I began walking away.

Then she said, “Oh, bless you,” and thanked me for stopping to speak. She thanked me.

Y’all, this felt good. So indescribably good. I didn’t make any new BFFs. I didn’t exchange names with anybody. But I let those folks know they were seen and noticed. They let me know my effort at friendliness didn’t go to waste.

I waved; they waved back. That handful of people and I made a tiny connection with each other in a very disconnected world.

Heart Change: Wishing or Wanting

This year, I’m reading chronologically through the Bible and am currently in the New Testament. How can I be in the NT when it’s just early June? Well, by “this year,” I mean this school year. So on my reading chart, it’s October.

As I’m reading through passages in the Gospels, I see many stories of miraculous healing that Jesus accomplishes.

I notice a common element in each of these stories. When Jesus healed a blind man or a paralytic or the woman who’d been bleeding, He healed people who had either come to Him themselves or who had been brought to Him by their friends. They had to be in proximity to Christ. Either they got to Him under their own agency, or they had friends who got them to Jesus.

But whom didn’t Jesus heal? Those who never got near Him.

succulent

When I think about how we cling to our pet sins–those we might keep in a jar on a shelf to take down when we feel like toying with it–I wonder what is required for us to relinquish those sins. We know they hurt us, harm our relationships, interrupt our fellowship with the Father. Do we continue pursuing those habits, giving them more of a stronghold, hardening our hearts more and more, as we hope or wish for a transformation?

That change of heart (and practice) won’t ever come if our plan is simply wishing for it. And if that’s our plan? We probably don’t actually desire a change anyway.

I keep being reminded that God never works to transform the hearts of His children against their will. God can accomplish mighty deeds, but we have to be willing participants in our own growth. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling…

If we know Jesus, if we’re acquainted with His healing power, we must get ourselves to Him if we want heart change.