Thanksgiving prayer



FREEBIE! FREEBIE! I’m giving away a Christmas edition of Chicken Soup for the Soup. And my first Chicken Soup for the Soul story is in it! You have a chance to win. All you have to do is (1) be a subscriber to this blog and (2) leave a comment. What are you thankful for? You have until November 30 to add your comment. I’ll post the winner’s name in the December 1 blog. I’m thankful that you’re willing to take time to visit my blog.

It’s well after 2 A.M., so technically Thanksgiving has arrived. Of course, it’s never to early to give thanks. Most of us give thanks daily for the blessings in our lives, our family, friends, our jobs, our talents, etc.

But tonight—this morning—what I’m most thankful for is what I have never seen—what’s on the other side of “the” line. I have no doubt that in my lifetime I’ve teetered on “the” line. We all have. I just don’t know what to call that line.

It’s the line that separates “all is well” from “nothing will ever be the same.”

The first near disaster I can remember was when I was in elementary school. Only one other person in the world knows this story, and I’m ashamed I have this story to tell.

I grew up with no brothers or sisters, and the little boy who lived across the street from me was the closest thing I had to a brother. One day we were snooping around a neighbor’s garage and found these odd bottles that had been hidden away. Nobody knew we had found these bottles. I had never seen bottles like these. We didn’t have anything like them at my house.

The funny thing about these bottles is that most of them were empty, but a few of them still had a liquid in them, and this liquid smelled funny and strong. Very strong. I’m pretty sure these bottles had a man’s name on the front. Jack, maybe. Or George.

We took these bottles to my garage, which was detached from the house, and we decided to perform a chemistry experiment, not that we knew what chemistry was back then. We were probably around six or seven years old at the time.

We put these bottles in a garbage can and dropped matches in them. WHOOSH! The more liquid in the bottle, the bigger the flame. And what pretty colors. (I’ve always had this thing about fire.)

It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized just how close we probably were to burning down the garage. My dad always kept his gas for the lawn mower in a round can just above the old garbage can where we were shooting flames. And turpentine. And probably a dozen other flammable liquids.

The only thing that stopped us is we spotted the fire marshal, driving by in his red car. We were sure he was out to get us, so we hid out the rest of the day.

Oh, how thankful I am that I don’t know how close I’ve come to going over “the” line.

Last year my family and I were returning home from Franklin one night, and our truck hit a patch of black ice on the interstate. Without warning, our truck went totally out of control and started sliding sideways toward the median. We came so close. If we had driven off the road, I have no doubt we would have flipped and landed in on-coming traffic. But we’ll never know how close we came to crossing “the” line. I’m so thankful.

A few years ago we traveled out west and crossed the border into Juarez. We stepped off the bus at the wrong stop and found ourselves wandering around clueless that the city was notorious for its drug wars and murders. We were happy go lucky, admiring the sites. But God sent a young man name Chuy to take us where we needed to be. We naively hopped in his van, and off we went.

Was he really honest? Did he have ulterior motives? Did something change his plans? Were we ever in danger? We’ll never know. I’m so thankful. (And just as we were returning to El Paso, they closed the bridge, and we were detained due to a terrorist threat. What might have happened had we boarded the bus? We’ll never know.)

I carry a chilling memory from my college days. I remember heading for the campus bookstore, not a care in the world. Just as I was about to enter, a boy called me by name. I approached him, and we talked. I had never seen him before in my life. But he seemed to know everything about me—my family, my interests, all sorts of unusual things a person wouldn’t expect a stranger to know. I asked the boy to identify himself, but I didn’t recognize his name as a friend or acquaintance.

It wasn’t very long after our strange encounter that I heard this boy’s name in the news. He was a perpetrator in a homicide-suicide, involving a young woman. How did this boy know my name? Why did he stop me as I was walking in the bookstore? I will never know. I’m so thankful I don’t know.

So often we are delayed in traffic. A phone call keeps us from walking out the door. Why? We may never know. Perhaps we entertain angels unaware. Or perhaps God sends his angels to snatch us back to safety as we put one foot over the line.

Several years ago my mother became very, very ill at Thanksgiving. I don’t know how close we came to losing her. She spent some time on a breathing machine. All I know is that I’m glad Jesus spared us from crossing that line.

Holidays can be very difficult, especially for those who have recently lost love ones or who have suffered life-changing events. Let us remember to give thanks both for giving us blessings and for sparing us from unseen sorrows and evils. Are there people in your life who need your prayers?  Are they close to crossing “the” line and not even aware? We may never know.

Dear Lord, it is my prayer that you will put a hedge of protection around all the readers who visit this blog. Please bless them and keep them safe throughout the holidays. I thank you for sending Jesus to save us from our sins. It is in His name, I pray. Amen.

Wild hogs

When I opened the refrigerator and found the pigskin sitting next to the eggs and cream cheese, I knew it was time to get out of the house.

For the last week, I’ve been sick, too sick to write. Oh, maybe if I didn’t have to get up and go to work at the crack of dawn, I could have mustered up enough energy to put a couple thousand words on the page each day.

But having been consumed by the plague, the name I’ve given to the persistent hacking and coughing and fatigue that eventually sent me to the doc for a round of antibiotics and two shots in the old keister, I just didn’t have the energy to write and to teach. Either the writing or the teaching had to be put on hold.

I’m not sure my boss would have understood if I called in sick while sitting with my laptop at Starbucks, so every morning for the last week I dragged my weary body into work and assigned those essays, graded those papers, and did my best to keep all the kiddos from killing each other before the holiday break.

Now, having a day off from school and having regained my strength from my mystery illness, I decided to escape Manchester and to look for my muse in a coffee house somewhere out of town.

I packed up my computer, jumped in my truck and turned up the volume on the radio. I like to drive to music. But a Fox news broadcast preempted my listening pleasure, warning me that there was a wild hog outbreak across the state.

Wild hogs.

Could the outbreak have anything to do with the pigskin in my refrigerator? I doubted it.

But there was always hope that along my journey I might be swarmed by a herd of them. There’s nothing like a herd of wild hogs that says creativity.

But I encountered not one wild hog. The drive to the coffee shop was painstakingly normal. And the coffee just didn’t do it for me. And the music was just dreadful. What in the world does Danken Schoen mean anyway? And who was that woman singing to me?

As I looked around the shop, I hoped I might find one interesting character that might wander into my current WIP (work in progress), but, alas, these people were just too normal, sitting alone, texting or talking to an invisible friend—alone.

How am I supposed to eavesdrop on their conversations if they won’t speak up? They could have at least had the courtesy of inviting a friend to meet them for coffee.

Bad atmosphere, bad coffee, bad music, and a room full of bores. Well, there you have it. Forget the wild hogs—I’ve been swarmed by monotonous bores.

You would think that I would know by now that I cannot pre-plan adventures that result in ideas for my books and blogs. I must stumble upon them—hence the name of the blog, SerendipiTee.

But I was hoping the pigskin in my refrigerator and the radio report of the wild hog threat were omens that a stream of creativity was on the way.

You see, at the beginning of November, I committed to NaNoWriMo. In less than a week I am supposed to have 50.000 words logged in. I only have 40,000 to go.

But I was sick! I was sick!

Who cares? NaNoWriMo, she don’t care. If I don’t come up with 40,000 words, I fail, and there’s nothing a sounder of wild hogs can do about it. (In case you are wondering, during my boar-dom at the out-of-town coffee shop, I resorted to a mad Google search and discovered that when referring to a group of wild pigs, one says sounder, not herd.)

So I sat there for another 15 minutes, waiting for my muse to walk through the door. And by muse, I almost always mean my “a-muse” because I draw my greatest creativity for those things that are just preposterously hilarious.

There’s nothing funny about a woman singing “Danken Schoen.”

I finally gave up, dumped the coffee, and drove back to Manchester. Want to guess what I heard as soon as I turned on the radio? You guessed it—another report of wild hogs ravaging the countryside.

Where are these wild hogs when you need ‘em?

Desperate for something, anything, to spark my creativity, I returned to my home coffee shop and ordered another drink. The barista, probably noting that I was hyped up on caffeine and half crazed, said, “Let’s make this one a de-caf.”

And here I am. Sitting a table in the corner, listening to smooth jazz, and….answering my cell phone.

You’re not going to believe this. It’s a fundraiser rep calling, reminding me that I still owe for the HAM I’m supposed to pick up tomorrow.

But I’ve already paid for the ham—I shelled out two twenties and four singles. I’m sure of it, but the caller has no record of it. She says I have to pay. I’m sure it’s an oversight.

But, maybe, if I’m lucky, we’ll have a throwdown at the ham pick up tomorrow.

Guess I’m going to get my excitement after all. 

Wild hogs.

Rage against Justin Bieber

I like to think of myself as a tough kid. I usually don’t let too much get to me.

There’s a quote in the movie A League of Their Own that is kind of my philosophy. Right fielder Evelyn Gardner makes a bad play, and Jimmy Dugan calls her on it, making her cry.

Me and Michael at Fenway 2009

He yells at her, “Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!”

I’m a HUGE baseball fan. If there’s no crying in baseball, there will be no crying. Period.

I’m pretty good at keeping it in. There are very few people who have ever seen my tears. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes my frustrations come out when I least expect it.

Sometimes they show up in my dreams. Recently I had nightmares all night. I don’t know why or what I dreamed about. All I can tell you is I woke up incredibly angry with Justin Bieber.

I don’t even know the poor boy. I’ve just heard his name. But he became my scapegoat. Rage against Justin Bieber. Oh, I didn’t do anything about it. I just pictured his face whenever I felt like screaming.

Weird? I agree. But, hey, but if Justin Bieber were the first thing that popped in your head after a night of unsettling bad dreams, you might feel a little rage toward the boy too.

I am so ashamed.

I try my best to keep a sunshine positive attitude. After all, it’s my choice. I can be happy. Or not.

But everywhere I’ve turned in the past three weeks, I have felt little darts. You know what I’m talking about. Snarky comments, hateful attitudes, hateful remarks, criticism, condescending suggestions, and the looks. Oh, how I despise the looks.

And even when I’m trying to do what’s right, I end up doing saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and falling prey to the darts again, each time more aggressively.

Pop, pop, pop.

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve felt them too. But if you’re like me, you may not even know where they’re coming from, but you know it when you’re hit. You just don’t know who your enemy is.

The only thing I can compare this enemy to is the Yanamamo hunter. He lives in the Amazon rainforest, where he hunts his prey, often the monkey. 

When he hunts, he climbs a tree, eyes an unsuspecting monkey, takes a dart from his quiver, dips it into poison, inserts the dart into the blowgun, and then blows. The dart imbeds itself in the monkey’s flesh.

Pop. Dead monkey. Just like that. Monkey doesn’t even see it coming.

None of the other monkeys in the colony even notice their monkey friend is gone. They just go on, doing their monkey business. Ever felt like one of those targeted monkeys?

The thing is these monkeys don’t die immediately. They drop to the ground and run away to isolate themselves. Then they die. It usually takes a while for the poison to take effect.

Isn’t that what happens when we take a hit emotionally? We feel the immediate sting. We try to dismiss it, but then we let it get under our skin, and the poison takes effect.

We become just one more casualty in the ongoing spiritual warfare.

It gets worse. Want to know what the poison’s made of? Frog juice, actually the alkaloid poisons in the frog’s skin. The poison leaves the victims unable to move, their muscles paralyzed. Eventually the victims die of heart failure.

Wow. So let’s see if you are following my little analogy. Note the steps.

Enemy uses his vessel to project poison into unsuspecting victims. Victims become paralyzed with broken hearts. Victims die.

Wow. The native’s poison darts and the enemy’s cruel words are both deadly.

But there is a bright side, though there is no current antidote for the toxin of the poison dart frog, there is an antidote for cruel words. Kindness.

I know a lot of you, like me, have had to deal with hurt this week. I’m truly sorry. I wish I could do or say something to make you feel better. A kind word here or there—maybe an email or a gift or a simple chat–can make all the difference. I know.

Just when I’ve least expected it this week, I had someone out of the blue to do something to mend my broken spirit and to make me feel so much better.

So you—if you’re reading this, THANK YOU.

My goal for this upcoming week is to stop thinking about me and to start thinking about others. I will start by making a public apology to Justin Bieber.

Dear Justin, I am very sorry that I targeted you as my scapegoat this week. I’m sure you are a fine young man, and I wish you only the best. Just stay out of my dreams—and my nightmares.

As for everyone else, if there is something I can do for you, let me know. Got a prayer request? Leave me a comment. Send me a message or a text. Call me. Let me know how I can send a blessing your way.

We help ourselves when we focus on others.

Just a side note: Talking about frogs, especially poison dart frogs, has been one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve done this week. I hate frogs. When I was five years old, I had a dream that I was riding my hobby horse and a frog reached up, opened its mouth and swallowed my foot. This dream traumatized me. My parents tried to tell me that frogs were too little to eat a human foot. I believed them. THEN, while researching info for this blog, I saw this picture. My parents lied to me. Look at the picture of the frog at the bottom of the blog. THAT frog could swallow the boats of NBA players Yao Ming or Shaquille O’Neal. Now I’ve got that to worry about. *Sigh* Oh well. Pleasant dreams.





I hear voices!

Let ME out of here and put ME on the page!

Finally! I’m hearing voices!

For the last week, I have been relentless, tormenting my English students, trying to bleed them so that their unique personalities will pour out into their writing.

My torture techniques are working. Some of them are actually catching on!

Sadly, we English teachers have taken a bad rap for stifling our students’ creativity. As much as I hate to  admit it, in some cases, it’s true.

We force our darlings to conform to the state-mandated guidelines that require them to write a five-paragraph persuasive essay in 35 minutes. The results are carbon-copy essays: Introduction, body 1, body 2, body 3, conclusion.

Yada yada yada.

Of course, there’s a place for academic writing, but I want my writers to be in control of their writing—not to be controlled by it. I want them to choose to use academic writing, not use it by default because they aren’t aware of other options.

Dr. Frankensteins, that’s what we English teachers have become. We’ve created mindless little monsters. We’ve conditioned our pupils to follow such rigid rules that their writing has become stiff and unimaginative, displaying no evidence of personality or individual style.

Thank goodness there are a still few teen rebels out there who are willing to try something new—even if it means sacrificing their A for innovation. Most are too afraid of lowering their GPA to take a risk.

In the last week I’ve tried all sorts of methods to breathe life into my teens’ writing. Yesterday, I had them respond to me in class, using the “voice” of a well-known character or celebrity. I heard “The Situation,” Elvis, Paris Hilton, Eminem, Britney Spears, and even the Water Boy.

Ah ha! Once these kiddos realized they had to alter their diction and syntax to create a “voice,” they caught on.

But when I asked them to pour out themselves on paper, they didn’t know what to do. Once again their words sounded almost identical. I don’t think I could tell one paper from the other if the students didn’t put their names on them.

My evaluation sounds harsh. Don’t get me wrong. I have the BEST students in the world. They are wonderful, respectful, hard working and creative.

But writing is HARD for most of US, especially when we have to put ourselves on paper for the world to critique. It’s easier just to write “safe” without revealing our vulnerabilities.

Bottom line, my students have voice problems. They don’t know who they are yet. Some of them are nervous to test the waters, so they’re reluctant to develop their own unique styles.

Newbie novelists like MYSELF have this problem too.

We’re still in the process of getting to know our characters. Until we really get to know them, they all sound alike, or, even worse, they may not sound believable at all.

I write these words of wisdom as though I’m some kind of writing guru. I’m not.

It’s just that I myself have started to catch on to this wonderful element of writing called voice.

Earlier this fall I met with best-selling YA author Ellen Hopkins at a conference in Nashville. We are so different! Yet she offered me advice that transformed my writing technique.

“Voice. Work on your character’s voice,” she said.

My first manuscript is written in limited third-person POV. Ellen suggested I re-write part of it—as  practice—in first person POV so that I could hear my character’s voice. I wasn’t too crazy about the idea at first, but now I understand why.

My main character TJ Westbrook has his own style, his own diction, his own syntax—just like those characters and celebrities I asked my students to emulate.

In order to create a convincing character with a unique voice, I first had to get to know him, spend time with him.

Well, duh.

I took Ellen’s advice and revised my manuscript. I actually left the comfort of my sunroom, where I do most of my writing, and I found a cozy spot where my characters and I could “talk.” We went on a date.

So here I am now an official participant in NaNoWriMo. I must write fast and furiously. Yes, I can revise later, but I think I can do a better job and write more efficiently if I totally immerse myself in characters’ lives so that I can hear their voices.

No, I’m not going to the extreme as some method actors have. Daniel Day-Lewis trained 18 months with a former world champion for his role in The Boxer. Robert De Niro worked 12 hour shifts as a cabbie in preparation for his role in The Taxi Driver. We all know how Heath Ledger’s personality shifted when he took on the dark role of The Joker.

So don’t worry. It’s not like I’m going to go to school with a “mojo hand” and dare all my wayward students to meet me at the crossroads. (Think Memphis. Think the Delta blues. For my current WIP, my main character mixes it up with a little magic as he returns to Memphis to find out who killed his best friend.)

But I do need to make time to go on a few “dates.” It’s not like I’ve got time for a five-hour trip to the Blues City Café—unless one of you suggests an impromptu road trip. I’m up for that.

More than likely, I’ll just chill out in my sunroom and listen to a little Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then again, I might have to make it to the nearest BBQ place in town. But the point is, I may be on hiatus from Serendipiteeblog for a few days as I get into the groove my NaNoWriMo endeavor.

I’m not sure where TJ and I will go on our next “date.” I just hope he’s paying—or, better yet, he and his voice pay off in the form of a book contract.

My big, fat NaNoWriMo life

Give peace a chance.

It’s November, and I’m just a few steps away from official freak-out mode. You know what November means, don’t you? The holiday countdown is on.

I’m nowhere near being ready. I’m so far behind that I haven’t even bought my pumpkin for Halloween yet, and now October is gone. I guess I’d better start looking now for a turkey. (At my house I won’t have to look far. Ba da boom.)

As if I didn’t have enough stuff going on, I have also signed up for NaNoWriMo. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is. I’m a novelist newbie myself, and the first time I heard the term, I thought it was alien speak.

NaNoWriMo refers to National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words, roughly 175 pages—a novel—between the dates of November 1-30.

Okay. I can do that. I guess. But it’s going to be hard.

When I started my first manuscript, I didn’t know anything about writing a novel. I just jumped in. I believed my desire to write came from God. I still do, but back then I didn’t worry about POV and voice and pacing and head-hopping and all the other pointers I’ve picked up in the writing conferences I’ve attended this year.

I just dove in head first and wrote, believing God would take me and the book wherever we were supposed to go.

Now I know too much. I know a dirty dozen different ways I can fail, and I’m afraid of messing up.

But see, that’s where NaNoWriMo comes in. Participants are encouraged to write with abandon, to let the words flow freely and to throw caution to the wind—kind of what I did with my first manuscript.

NaNoWriMo participants get a free ride. They can delve into writing without worrying about failure. They know what they write isn’t going to be perfect. And it’s okay.

The end process will be a novel that can be edited and revised at a slower pace.

I’m thinking I wish I could live my Christian life in NaNoWriMo mode. No, I don’t mean I want to make errors without worrying about consequences.

I mean I wish I could just jump in and do whatever it is God wants me to do without trying to control the variables that could affect my failure.

I wish I could just walk without fear and let God take my writing—and my life and all the worry that goes with it. He’s in charge of my ultimate revision. Why do I think I can do a better job?

And so here we go again, I’m launching another WIP. As of November 1, I’ve logged in 3,541 words. Not too shabby. My goal is to write an average of 2,000 words each day.

Am I crazy or what?

How about you? Are you living the NaNoWriMo life?

 If you want more information about NaNoWriMo, check out the official website.