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.

 

 

 

Wear It Well Wednesday: Fancy Attire

“Can you please find me some non-ugly shoes?” 

Woodrow asked me this during our shopping trip to buy the boys some suitable dressy shoes for my cousin’s wedding. Eric (and his wife Elicia) got married in February in New Orleans. Our whole family planned to attend, which meant I needed to sort out our outfits for the occasion.

So, off we went to Once Upon a Child (Do you know about this store? It’s a national chain second-hand shop for kids’ clothing and gear.) I dug through the shoe bins and offered Woodrow and Garfield pair after pair and heard in response:  I don’t like square-toed shoes. Those are ugly. And then came the request for the “non-ugly” shoes.

Perseverance prevailed, though, and they each came home with shoes that I liked and they liked. Bonus:  Woodrow’s actually fit me! He’s almost as tall as I am now (and will be 13 years old in April). I might show y’all those shoes in a different WIWW post–on my own feet, though, not his.

With the boys’ wedding attire arranged, I focused on my own outfit for the celebration.

outfit for Erics wedding 2

For this ensemble (I can’t help but think of saying that word with a phony French accent), I bought only one piece myself:  the pale gray tights. Both the dress and shoes came from my Mama, who wore them a few times and then passed them to me. A local friend graciously loaned me the cape/shawl I’m wearing to add a little warmth for the outdoor ceremony and wedding reception. Thanks, Deidre!

OK, y’all…The shoes killed me. I’ve worn them on several occasions, but this time they just did me in.  My sister even laughed at the way I walked in them by the end of the evening. So, feast your eyes, because the shoes won’t be making another appearance on my blog.

outfit for Erics wedding

Eric and Elicia held their ceremony at the Tree of Life in Audubon Park, and then we went to the most interesting, special location for the reception:  Paradigm Gardens. 

Situated among raised garden beds that grew the herbs and greens used by the chefs here, we sat at cozy tables and watched goats play in their pen. We ate scrumptious food like goat cheese grits and artichoke flat-bread pizza while we listened to a live band. And, of course, we all marched a few blocks behind a small brass band playing quintessential New Orleans-sounding music (When the Saints Go Marchin’ In, for instance) while waving handkerchiefs in the air that had been monogrammed with the new couple’s names.

If you’re thinking Huh? this wedding-reception parade is called the second line, named for those who follow a marching band just to enjoy the music. This is the second wedding I’ve attended in New Orleans and the second time I’ve marched in this kind of wedding parade. And my feet were not having it, y’all, not in those shoes. But still, it’s so fun, and I flung my handkerchief around with the best of them.

So…although I did purchase one item for this dressy outfit, the base of it arrived to me second-hand. Another WIWW win, I think.

In February, I also received a copy of the magazine in which my thrift-store outfit appears (the one I posed for just before Thanksgiving). If you’re in Orlando, you can probably find a copy in a downtown coffee shop. Here’s a picture I took of the picture…

magazine photo

One more clothing-related tidbit:  I’m currently reading Over-Dressed:  The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. The book addresses the rise of “fast fashion” produced almost exclusively in overseas factories and how the American consumer has come to expect–and to buy heaps of–cheap clothing.

As I write this, I’m wearing the same skirt and leggings I wore yesterday along with a t-shirt Woodrow no longer wanted. But it surely is fun to dress up sometimes!

 

 

 

The Christmas Day Explosion

I blew up at my children on Christmas morning.

For nearly a week this past Christmas season, my family of four (along with a heap of aunts, uncles, and cousins) had been staying with grandparents for the holidays. We had slept in various rooms, including a tent in the backyard (our two sons with two of their cousins). When other relatives had come to visit and the house had begun to overflow, we set up cots, sleeping bags, and a small heater in my parents’ workshop and slept out there, too.

Now, after all the over-stimulation that accompanies present-opening combined with no alone time for many days, I felt sapped. And I snapped.

red and black presents

My two sons got into an argument with some cousins over a television show. The boys wanted to watch a reality show about offshore fishing, while the girls wanted to watch a cartoon. When my younger son tried to commandeer the TV remote, I pulled him and his brother into the bathroom.

I hated appearing out of control of my children’s behavior to the rest of my family, although I do ponder how much a parent can actually control a child’s actions. But I just wanted my boys to be calm and not stir up conflict. I wanted things to go smoothly. I wanted easy.

When I find myself brewing with anger over circumstances that don’t measure up to the calm-and-easy flow that I crave, I recognize the idolatry present in my heart. I see how much I look for inner satisfaction in outer peace—instead of resting in the One who is my peace.

colorful canoes

So, there we are, in the bathroom, where I whisper scream at them. I shudder to imagine the expression I wore on my face at that point. They explained their position in the argument, which I hadn’t fully known when I ushered them into the bathroom for the scolding. We came to an understanding, and I apologized profusely. I felt thoroughly ashamed for losing my temper with them, and I brooded over it—flying off the handle with them at Christmas–the next day, too.

The day after the TV argument and fussing in the bathroom, my family and my sister’s family loaded up and went to shop at a salvage store in our hometown. We typically stop by there on each of our trips to see my parents. As my boys wandered the store with their cousins, I browsed in nearby aisles. I stopped in front of one display, barely noticing what was right in front of me. Cereal? Make-up? I don’t remember.

With slumped shoulders, I actually hung my head as I reflected on the poor parenting choices I’d made so recently. Then I sensed the Holy Spirit’s nudge:  Obedience always matters.

Last fall, I’d read the Old Testament story of the Israelites demanding that God give them an earthly king. They wanted a king to lead them and to fight their battles. Even though God had been their King—protecting them and providing for them—they still clamored for a king like other nations had. Eventually, God gave them what they requested, and He led the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as their king.

king sculpture

In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel made clear to the Israelites that they had done evil by asking God for a king. And yet…Samuel reassured the people even as they trembled with fright about the consequences of their sin. He exhorted them not to fear, telling them that as long as they and the king who ruled over them faithfully obeyed the Lord’s commands, it would go well with them. Their obedience—even after declaring that God was insufficient to be their king and insisting on a human king to reign over them—still mattered. Their obedience still mattered.

I contemplated that truth, the assurance that our obedience always matters, even right after our sin. Even after my explosion on my children that had more to do with my comfort than their cooperation, my obedience still mattered.

The Spirit’s reminder of this lifted my head, quite literally, that afternoon in the salvage store. Instead of shuffling along in guilt, I looked to the Spirit to fill me and empower me to love God and follow His commands. Which, of course, include loving my children. Right there in the after-holiday hubbub of that store, I trusted God more for His forgiveness—and for His strength to obey, no matter where I had to sleep that night.

 

 

 

From Plenty to Rest {My New Word of the Year}

For 2018, I chose plenty as my word of the year. In years past, I didn’t give much thought to verses from the Bible that might help me grow in the area of life pertaining to my word of that given year.

But for last year, I sought out Scripture that reminded me of all the “plenty” Jesus has for His followers. Here are a few that especially connected with me in 2018:

candles lit for praying

2 Peter 1:3 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Everything we need for life and godliness? He has given it. Whatever we need for life and godliness, He has given plenty.

Deuteronomy 2:7 “The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.”

God has been faithful to me in all the years that have felt like “deserts.” And in each season of life, I have not lacked anything. In the land of nothing, God still gives plenty.

And one more…

Psalm 37: 18-19 “The days of the blameless are known to the LORD; and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.”

This passage actually contains the word “plenty” right in it. I love the verses that remind us not only that God provides plenty, but that He can give plenty in the midst of famine and disaster.

These verses, and many more, provide so much reassurance. And they’ve been good reminders of the plenty that God has in store for me, no matter how my circumstances look or feel.

As we’ve rung in a new year, I’ve chosen a new word for 2019:  rest.

red chairs

The idea is that I’d do restful things (not just actual sleep but refreshing things, pursuits and experiences that restore me) and that I’d rest in the Lord. Simple as that. The verse about “rest” on which I’ll hang my hat this year is Matthew 11: 28…“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

This month, I’ve carried a few burdens–not earth-shaking ones, just the normal weights of life as a parent and adult making decisions that impact the future. And I’ve pictured myself sitting with Jesus and talking to Him about these issues and then placing them into His outstretched hands. He cups His hands around those needs and promises to hold onto them. He’ll give the decisions back to me when it’s time to tackle them, but, until then, I can rest that He takes responsibility for them.

I think He wants to remind me that He does the work; my job is to rest. To show up, be present with Him, and pay attention…because I will want to see what He’s up to as He works.

 

 

Pro-Life Movement, Here’s What We Got Wrong

Scrolling through Facebook a few days before Christmas, I came across a post from a pro-life group I’d followed on social media. They shared a news report about a young woman who’d become pregnant and, after being pressured to abort the baby by her boyfriend/father of the child, she chose nonetheless to carry on with her pregnancy.

But the story didn’t end there (or else it wouldn’t make much of a story these days). After discovering that his girlfriend refused to go through with an abortion, the young man murdered the pregnant teen–thereby killing the pre-born child, too.

He allegedly told police that he “took action” and “took her life.” You can click here to find the article and read more.

This certainly seems an apposite type of article to share on a pro-life site. But what didn’t seem fitting were the comments from Facebook followers of this organization.

backlit boys

Some responders–self-professed pro-life proponents themselves–pointed to this murder as being consequence for the young woman’s sin; another suggested her death might be punishment for sexual immorality. Others commented about the need for “young girls to stop giving themselves away” and instead to “have some self respect.” They blamed her; men and women alike blamed this woman for winding up murdered (and her baby, too). The number of people chiming in with these kinds of comments left me bewildered.

The young woman–cheerleader, athlete, high school student–consented to have sex; she did not consent to be murdered. God created us and gave us beautiful gifts–and He instructs us in how to use those gifts. Sexual purity matters. But so does championing a young woman who finds herself pregnant and, despite pressure, chooses to nurture her baby instead of end it.

There was one reason and one reason only that this woman was murdered:  Because another person murdered her. What could have prevented the murder? If the murderer hadn’t murdered her.

Pro-life movement, I’m afraid this is what our pro-choice counterparts mean when they accuse us of not caring about the mother. Next time, we need to get this right.