Fix

pink stars

Take me back

To the child who feared everything that wasn’t to be feared

But feared nothing that had the power to destroy the world

Take me back

To the moment when emptiness and disappointment

Erased everything but the wrong answer

Take me back

To a closed door with no lock

When too much time was spent looking for the key

Take me back

To a place when courage rose up like a phoenix

Before raging fear brought it down

Make me believe

That God isn’t cruel

That God understands

That God made the puzzle and can make the pieces fit

Make me believe

That love is honest

And what is honest is not evil

And what is evil will not prevail

Make me believe

That all things happen for a reason

And reason is and always will be

Even if forever begins tomorrow and not today

If suns collide and pink stars fall and the world becomes unplugged

I will stand in my dimension and wait

My mind whispering honest

Words few have the ability to hear

My uncle was a horse

BB

I have one major rule I follow when I write:  Do no harm. It’s the first rule I teach my journalism students. As easy as it seems to keep, we all break it, though rarely intentionally. Words are powerful. Occasionally they get away from us.

So in keeping with my primary DO NO HARM rule, I hesitate to print this blog. But it’s a story that has stuck with me for decades. It deserves to be told, and I certainly mean no harm.

My earliest influence on me as a writer may have been my great uncle, Charlie Pat, a WW2 veteran. I was much too young to understand the complexities of my uncle’s condition. All I knew is that something happened to him in the war. I was told he was hit my shrapnel and suffered brain trauma. He was never the same.

Of course, I never knew him to be any other way.

My Uncle Charlie Pat thought he was Black Beauty.

Yes, I’m talking about the horse in Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel. I don’t remember how old I was at the time. I just remember I was horse crazy, and Black Beauty was my favorite book.

Back in the old days, we didn’t have Mindcraft or other computer programs to enhance our creativity. We had to rely on household ordinary stuff. My favorite “toy” was a black broom, the closest thing I had to a stick horse. And I rode it nonstop at my grandmother’s house, where, as you might guess, my Uncle Charlie Pat lived for a while.

I don’t think my parents or my aunts and uncles realized Charlie Pat thought he was a horse, but I did. I was too young to roll my eyes or criticize. I just sat down in the chair next to him in my grandparent’s itty bitty den, and I listened to all the stories he told of what it was like to be Black Beauty.

I never laughed. I had read the story at least a dozen times, and I knew every detail by heart. So did Charlie Pat. And when he told me the story, he told it in first person, just like the book. I sat enthralled. I knew my uncle wasn’t really a horse, but I bought into his reality, and I listened intently as he retold each chapter.

I always thanked him for sharing with me, and he smiled. There’s nothing more wonderful for an artist than to have an appreciative audience.

As odd as it may sound, Charlie Pat may have been the first person to inspire me to write. Although he didn’t write Black Beauty, his convincing personal narratives held me spellbound. He was able to quote every page verbatim.

As I grew older, I started to write. I became the characters in my stories. Today they’re bound in a three-prong folder, sitting on a bookshelf in my son’s room. He doesn’t even know they’re there. Maybe his children will find them someday and be inspired by their crazy grandmother who thought at age nine that she could be a writer, somewhat similar to my great uncle, thinking he was a horse.

If you think about it, all of us are quirky in our own way, and that’s what makes us so beautiful. We are works of art, but some of us are an acquired taste.

I was always perceived as that shy kid in class who never talked. I hated that stereotype. I’m not really shy. I just don’t talk much. In my decades here on earth I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve really opened up to.

But there’s a reason for that, I think. God gave me the gift of listening. God gave me acute hearing and sensitive (in)sight. I can see what others cannot. He also gave me the gift of storytelling.

I guess I am the only person in my family to interview a living, breathing Black Beauty proxy.

As I said, I was a major fan of Anna Sewell. Charlie Pat brought the book to life for me. And while his reality had been suspended long before I was born, I learned how to suspend my reality and to enjoy living in the moment whenever I took the time to be still and to listen to him. Charlie Pat pulled me into the story. For a short time in the den of my grandparents’ house, I talked to Black Beauty.

And I think that’s one reason I have been compelled to write ever since. Books let us live a thousand lives. Charlie Pat, for some reason, spent the last years of his life living as a horse.

Go ahead. Laugh. Life is funny. And frustrating. And tragic. But I’ll take funny over the other options any day.

What unusual occurrences in your life sparked your desire to write?

Ones and twos

Alan Wake

I really wanted to post a blog on 12-12-12. I think the day would be quite nifty to commemorate with a scribble or two. It just didn’t work out.

At 12:12 on 12-12-12 I found myself in a Mexican restaurant with 18 crazed teenagers. But I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be. I love working with my students, and this mini field trip was a way to thank them for doing such a good job this semester, producing three issues despite the predictable unpredictable obstacles that always come our way.

There’s a feeling in the air that something ominous will occur 12-21-12. I’m not saying it will. I’m just saying that the feeling, like an aura, hovers about our people. That’s why I wanted 12-12-12 to be special. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make a wish on such a special day and that wish were to come true?

There is no need to worry about 12-21-12 because whatever happens will be according to God’s plan. And wishes aren’t magical. They don’t always come true, except maybe for writers who can make anything happen in their books.

My wish, of course, has been for the last few years to be published. Oh, the ironies of life.

Last week I received an email that said I had a publicist who would set up book signings for my tiny little Christmas story in a Chicken Soup book. On the same day I received a rejection letter from the New York agent I met in Dallas.

Regardless of whether I am published, I am a writer. I can thank God for giving me that gift. I don’t doubt my abilities, even if I haven’t signed a contract yet. I do doubt whether I’m deserving. That’s up to God. Deserving may not have anything to do with publication. Purpose is what matters. Does my writing serve God’s purpose?

All I can do is keep plugging along.

The winter solstice is coming, the darkest day of the year—12-21-12.

We don’t know when the final day will come; nor are we supposed to know. It doesn’t matter.

We have our bucket lists, things we’d like to do before our final day here. But we probably won’t be able to do everything. Life lets us down. People let us down.

I like to write. I like to play music, but those things really don’t matter. God made me who I am. My one desire when it comes to goals is that I don’t lose the one gift God gave me that really matters. I do a pretty good job of loving people.

I guess that’s why I teach, although I don’t always like the profession of teaching in a public school.

When I care, I give my whole heart.

But people, the world, don’t always take what you offer. So it is with professions like teaching, nursing, counseling, etc. People and circumstances tear at our capacity to offer love.

I hope that I can keep my heart intact and not be overcome with bitterness and anger that shadow hurt and disappointment. I’ve always been a little childish, or childlike, one of the two. I like that about me. I love like a child, people and life. Most of the time I look in the mirror, and I see something I really don’t like, my body, my hair, my teeth, etc. But I’ve always liked my heart.

I’m not making an early New Year’s resolution. I’m making an “on the way to the end” resolution. Time is running out. Even if the sun rises again on 12-22-12, time is running out, if not for me, for someone else.

So my “on the way to the end” resolution, is to do the best job of expressing love that I can, through teaching, writing, playing guitar, or just living.

It’s all about purpose.

Giving thanks

I love teaching teens how to write. One, it gives me an excuse to indulge myself and write about topics I wouldn’t ordinarily. And, two, I love it when they are proud of what they’ve written and want me to read it.

While it’s fun to be indulgent, the greatest rewards with writing—and anything else—come with giving to others. Friday at school I changed up the game plan, so instead of having my students write about themselves, I told them to use their words to bless others, to tell one of their teachers why they are thankful that their lives have crossed. I don’t know what the students wrote, but I hope their words made a positive difference.

I noticed on Facebook that people have been counting down to Thanksgiving by naming a new reason each day as to why they’re thankful.

I haven’t joined in the game, but I’ve done a lot of soul searching.

I have to confess. I’m not jealous, but every time I read what these Facebook writers say, I find myself wanting more. Or less. I guess it depends on how you look at life.

I want MORE of a closer relationship with God but less ritual. I don’t want to go to church to fill my schedule with committee meetings, play practices, and parties. I want more God.

I want MORE love, not necessarily on the receiving end but on the giving end. I want the fulfillment that comes with giving a part of yourself to others. But in today’s world, people are suspicious. They think there’s a catch so they put up walls to ward off manipulation. I don’t want or need anything in return except maybe for people to accept without feeling obligated to give anything back.

I want MORE Jesus but less middle-man. Facebook has been come our new town hall, our new beauty shop or barber shop, our new front porch where people go to sit a spell and just talk. I don’t dislike that people talk about Jesus on Facebook, but I don’t like the posts that say, “If you love Jesus, share this photo.” I don’t think he’d appreciate that.

I want MORE philanthropy and less chalkboard. I find myself questioning my motives whenever I do something unselfish. Am I tallying up my goodness to pass myself off as a “good” person, or can I do good without telling a soul?

I want MORE thanksgiving and less regret. We make mistakes. We face disappointments. We get hurt. I want to put aside all of those things. I want to be happy for the moment, for a moment is sometimes all we have.

So with that being said, I’ll try to catch up with my Facebook friends and add my five reasons why I’m thankful this season.

  • I’m thankful for creativity. If God didn’t orchestrate creativity, our five senses would be useless. I don’t want to take for granted all the beauty that surrounds me.
  • I’m thankful for serendipity, that God allows us to think with the mind of a child so that our hearts can leap a little when we discover something wonderful, that we don’t succumb to sarcasm and take for granted the wonder in life.
  • I’m thankful to be a mother, that I can nurture and protect.
  • I’m thankful for friends who allow me to let down my guard and who let down theirs without thinking I have ulterior motives.
  • I’m thankful for family, who gave me part of themselves so that I can carry part of them wherever I go.

(Okay, maybe I don’t do math so well, but I can’t leave out this one:  I’m thankful for you for reading my blog and for offering me encouragement. You’ve changed my life in a good way. I hope I can help change yours.)

Curiosity

Isn’t it funny how you can accept a concept basically all your life but not “get it” until someone else’s words trigger a deeper understanding.

For me, that concept is curiosity.

My favorite grad professor made a statement in class this summer about how the key for students’ success correlates to their level of personal curiosity.

We teachers can’t teach curiosity, but hopefully we can make the information so inviting that the students want more. In educational jargon, the students become so engaged in the subject they’re studying that they delve into their personal critical thinking skills to go beyond the target goal.

Curiosity is the key to survival, for if we as a people fail to assert our curiosity, we will fall deep into a pit of apathy and lose all problem solving and initiative taking. Then we will fall susceptible to mind control and submission.

I can’t imagine a life without curiosity. I guess that’s why I like to write. But writers don’t have dibs on curiosity. If scientists and mathematicians don’t ask questions, we will never have the answers that cure diseases, create durable structures, or harness energy.

Lately, I’ve been very curious about God. I have a myriad of unanswered questions, but the one thing I know for sure is that God is love.

I want to tell a good story. I want to make readers laugh—and cry. I want to make readers think. I’m a writer, and I’m a Christian, but I’m not necessarily a Christian writer. I’m a writer who writes from the Christian world view. Perhaps, however, through my simple anecdotes, readers can learn how to find love, how to find God.

But how does a writer convey the message that God is love? Sometimes I have to explain it to myself.

Love is powerful. There is nothing anyone can do to stop love. God loves all people, even if they hate him and even if he dislikes their actions.

But he’s the rule maker. He’s in charge. If he doesn’t want to allow anger, hatred, bitterness, murder, etc. into his home, that’s his business. He prohibits these things because they destroy love.

I make the rules for my personal life: Don’t lie to me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt my family. Don’t use me. Don’t manipulate me. Don’t control me. Don’t ridicule me. Don’t take me for granted.

If people choose to cross these lines, I can shut the door and keep them out of my life.

Likewise, there is nothing that can force love. Not presents. Not money. Not power. Not flattery. Not bribery. Not bargains. People try all of these methods to earn God’s favor, especially when they try to make their own rules while living in his house.

It’s impossible to force love. I can’t make another person love me. I don’t try. I will never beg or plead. Ever. I would rather walk away and keep on walking. Either love is, or it isn’t.

God doesn’t beg either, but because love cannot exist in an environment of evil, God made the Way for imperfect people to find a place in his home.

Again, you can’t force love, but you can leave the door open and wait for it to walk in. God has done that, but when he chooses to close the door, well, that’s up to him.

I’m a teacher. I know. I can’t make my students love me. I can’t even make them like me. It’s up to them. I’ll never beg or bribe them. I’d rather accept the truth than live a lie.

As a writer, my goal is to create characters that echo the same emotions and struggles that all people go through. It’s inevitable. When readers get into a book, they readily identify with one of the main characters and live vicariously through him or her or it. They feel what the character feels.

I think we all seek love, regardless of our ages, but teens, especially, crave love. Unfortunately, what they often settle for is not love—it’s a cheap counterfeit.

I don’t be a Pollyanna, but I like happy endings. My manuscripts are full of humor, of course, but what I really want to stand out in them is love—not just romantic love, which may be lust in disguise, but real love.

And what is real love? It’s not so hard to define.

  • Real love protects. The counterfeit hurts.
  • Real love puts others first. The counterfeit doesn’t care about others as long as its own needs are met first.
  • Real love forgives. The counterfeit holds grudges and reminds others of their failures.
  • Real love offers hope. The counterfeit delivers despair.
  • Real love is truth. The counterfeit is just one big lie.

You are the main character in your own life. Where is your curiosity taking you? Do you ever question love?

Touch

Have you seen the premiere of Touch, the new show starring Kiefer Sutherland? I’ve been a Sutherland fan since his role in The Lost Boys, but I just couldn’t get into 24.

His new show, however, hooked me from the start. Sutherland plays the widowed father of an autistic boy who has a very special gift. He can see the future. Literally.

This is not your typical Medium or Ghost Whisper supernatural drama. Eleven-year-old Jake sees what we cannot. He sees the mathematical patterns in every aspect of life, positioned purposely by the Creator. Everything…EVERYTHING…happens for a reason.

While I don’t believe we will ever comprehend God, I do believe in Intelligent Design. I believe God made us in His image. That’s why I’m so thankful for having a creative soul. I used to love numbers, but a academic scheduling mishap pointed me in the direction of words, and now I write.

I’m blessed to be a writer. The disciples were among the first journalists. Jesus spoke the world into being. Words bless. Words curse. Words are my acrylics, my pastels on the canvas of life. Words change lives.

I’m not so arrogant to believe I have God all figured out. I’m humbled now more than ever. But I’m fascinated by all the mysteries of the world. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe there is so much more that the mind is capable of doing. God knows. Whether or not he gifts us to be able to use these parts of our brains is up to Him. But I’m not so sure I could handle it if I knew more than I do right now.

Dreams are one of those phenomenon that intrigue me the most. Even when we are not awake, our subconscious takes over and sends us messages. Dreams reveal the answers to questions that perplex us during the waking hours. And the Bible tells us God speaks to us in dreams.

Once I had a dream about a little girl holding the hand of an other brother. The dream was in black and white, and at the time remembered the details. I nonchalantly went to school the next day and told one of my friends about the dream. The look on her face frightened me. She said everything I dreamed about was a scene from her childhood. It was as if I had dreamed an image of her and her brother. Why? I don’t know. How would I have known these things? She grew up in Louisiana. I’ve lived in Tennessee all my life.

Oh, and by the way, the colors of my dreams have special meanings. Black and white always feels “weird,” almost ominous. Colorful dreams are always happy and rarely give me the heebie jeebies like my B&W dreams do. But I do believe God has a purpose in making our minds work this way.

That’s why I think it’s imperative we have a quiet time to listen to God speak. When I have a writing assignment, for example, I can’t always sit down at the lamp top and produce. I usually pray and then let my mind wander and just think.

The other night I woke up after having a movie dream. I’m not a script writer, but occasionally I dream movies. On other occasions as I lie in bed on a lazy Saturday morning, an entire book outline will fill my thoughts.

But this particular movie dream–in color–astounded me. My mind created an entire cast of characters I had never before seen. They each had personalities. The dream had a plot, and there was one particular scene that was hilarious. I woke up laughing.

And yet none of this was real. My subconcious mind created the characters, the setting, the plot, the dialogue, the humor. God made me that way.

I believe there is much ablity within us that we aren’t aware of.  I believe in a spiritual world that’s separated from us by a veil. We are not equipped to see it. But what if God gave some people the gift?

The TV series Touch may or may not have a spiritual twist. The premiere didn’t give me enough to make a decision, but it did evoke thought.

I believe in miracles. I believe in divine intervention. I believe people come into our lives for a reason. I believe there are supernatural mysteries we cannot explain.

I wish I had paid more attention to the stories my grandmother used to tell, but apparently the Bell side of the family had something passed down through them that made them more sensitive to what was about to occur in the future. Frankly, the stories freaked me out as a little kid, and maybe I purposely forgot them. But the Bible does mention discernment.

I risk convincing my blog buddies that I am a true psycho chick, but I will confess to experiencing an “odd” moment in my life. I cannot explain what happened. I don’t know what it happened. But I do believe it was a God thing.

I was in high school. I must have been a senior because I had my own car, an olive green Impala I bought from my uncle. I was driving to a taco party, hosted by one of my favorite teachers. Allow me to stress that this was a G+ rated party in which NOTHING remotely inappropriate would go on. My friends’ band was playing the party, and I was ready for a fun night.

But on the way there, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I pulled my car up to a giant hole in the road. It was if a backhoe or other heavy machinery had dug up the road. There was no passing, no getting through. The dirt was piled up, and a huge pipe protruded from the hole.

I didn’t live far from the party, but I was bewildered. How was going to get there? I pulled up to the pile of dirt and put my car in park. I sat there for a moment and eyed it. I finally put it in reverse and drove home.

My parents were concerned, so my daddy decided to drive me to take a look. We drove to the spot, and nothing was there. Nothing. No dirt. No pipe. No leaf pile that I might have interpreted as a dirt pile. Nothing.

Was I seeing things? I don’t know. Did God send me a vision? I don’t know. Was he keeping me off the road for a particular length of time? I don’t know.

Back during the mid seventies there was a rash of UFO sightings across the nation. Middle Tennessee wasn’t spared. One night my dad and I were in the car together, and we looked up as saw three spheres in the sky, all different colors. We watched and watched and watched, and they went away. No explanation.

This time I had a witness to the strange phenomenon I experienced. Neither of us was the type to seek out weird experiences. We weren’t intoxicated, drugged, or subliminally seduced. We were just father and daughter returning home from a mundane errand.

I believe there is more to this universe than meets the eye. Jesus spoke in parables because He communicates best with us on a deeper level. I believe in order for us to truly understand Him, we must make time to listen and to meditate on His word.

As a creative person, I know that without Him, I would be nothing. And like a little child, I will be, gazing in wide wonder at all the mysteries that surround me. I pray that I never, ever, take them for granted.

Skinny flowers

I could never work as a gossip columnist or a hard news reporter. I’m too sensitive. I don’t like offending anyone, intentionally or not. I’m also hesitant about dropping names, especially when I know all the interviews I’ve ever had, all the celebrities I’ve ever met, are gifts from God, not rewards. I didn’t earn them.

During the last year I have taken my relationship with God to a different level. I don’t think we can ever reach an ultimate level of intimacy with our Creator. The more we seek, the more He reveals about Himself and about ourselves. Honesty is the key. We can’t lie to God. He knows what we think, how we feel whether we confess it or not. Confession frees us.

I have had a rough year. I have retreated. But I’ve learned when we’ve had more than our minds can take in, we need a quiet place to reflect and to be still. That’s where I’ve been. And in my quiet place, God has not forsaken me. He has sent me flowers, skinny flowers.

“Skinny flowers” is actually a phrase from a song by Three Crosses, my all-time contemporary Christian band. And yes, God came through on that one too and gave me an opportunity to write a story about this bluesy rock band for a national music magazine.

I never dreamed I’d talk to the members, but God is good like that, giving me the desires of my heart. One of my favorite songs is about a band member’s daughter who picks skinny flowers for her daddy, little bouquets of love.

I liked the album so much that I bought one for one of my best friends who had a little girl of her own. Rhonda played the “skinny flowers” song almost every time they were in the car, and little Emily, who is now a freshman in college, could sing every word.

The irony is God recently picked a very special skinny flower for me, one that makes me say, “Wow. Who would have though God was planning this all along?”  Of course, we never know what God has in mind, how He can make anything work for our good.

The little girl in that song, April, is now a beautiful young lady and recording artist with a voice like an angel, and my son Josh just shot  a music video for her yesterday. I never would have dreamed it. What a sweet gift!

I’ve seen parts of the video. It’s beautiful. I’m not at liberty to post anything else, but I can tell you I’ve heard her singing the song at least a hundred times this weekend via video, and every time I have had to stop what I’m doing to listen. The song is a cover tune, but I refuse to listen to the original. April makes me believe the song, makes me live the song.

Who would have thought that God would use the little girl who picked skinny flowers to help heal my grief?

The truth is during my retreat into the wilderness, God has not abandoned me. He has sent me several flowers, all in the form of special people who have changed my life and who have helped me heal.

I don’t know what’s next in life. Everything is changing—and some of these changes are good, exciting. I can’t help but think of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

I don’t know what will happen next. I do know how I feel. I suppose I’ll just keep climbing in faith. They say never look down when you’re moving to higher places.

Despite my flaws and fears, despite life’s circumstances, I haven’t abandoned God. He hasn’t abandoned me, and the skinny flowers he sends are constant reminders He has a plan. He makes things work out. He knows our hearts. He knows the truth.

So whatever it is that God has me doing, I want to be a skinny flower (quite literally, I’ll admit. I’ve been living the Weight Watchers life, and it’s working!) But more importantly I want to be a flower in someone’s bouquet, a reminder of God’s love. I don’t want to be a rose. Roses have thorns.

I think I’d like to be a rare wild flower like the ones that grow on the May Prairie. We had a few of them to pop up on our land when we lived in Asbury, and they dazzled me with their beauty. I never knew their real names. They were like nothing I’d ever seen.

I think I’m like a wild flower because I’m not typical. I think God places me in the bouquets of people who do don’t conventional very well.

I want my life to have purpose, to have meaning. I don’t care about material riches. I just want my life to be rich, so I invest in people, and so far, thanks to the lovely bouquets God has sent me during these dark days, I’d say I’m blessed beyond measure.

Rebel with a cause

A writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops.

~ William Saroyan  ~

A year and a half ago I knew if I didn’t come up with 250 words in 15 minutes I would never become a writer.

I was supposed to meet a friend so that we could ride together to Lebanon to a writer’s conference. I had planned to submit the first page of my novel for critique, but there was one problem. I didn’t have a novel. I certainly couldn’t write one in 15 minutes. But all I needed was a page.

In a tear, I sat down at my computer and tapped out the introduction to a story that had been echoing in my head. I hit print, and off I went, first page in hand.

Art by Michelle Spiziri (www.galeriemichelle-online.com)

I put my page in the basket with the work of the other writers’, and when it was my turn for critique, the editors actually showed an interest. They said it showed potential. That’s all I needed. Just a smidgen of encouragement.

Within a year of that conference, I wrote my first manuscript, The Edge—without having attended a major writers’ conference, without having talked to an editor, without having  worked with a critique group.

What was I thinking?

I was thinking I wanted to be a writer. Nobody told me that I should do all of these things. I learned them the hard way—by making my mistakes and then by having some kind, patient, compassionate, unselfish soul gently show me how to correct them.

I am now a member of a writers’ group and a critique group. I’ve attended several conferences this year, including the impressive ACFW in Indianapolis. I’m already planning on going to St. Louis in September, and I am polishing my Genesis entry.

I don’t know when or how God will grant the desires of my heart. But I do know that whatever He gives me, I will return to him.

I hope if God chooses to grant me publication that he will bless me with the desire to show kindness, patience, compassion and unselfishness so that I can encourage other people like me to pursue their dreams.

I’ve always been the kind of person who zigs when other people zag. I don’t follow the same scripts other people do. Not that I’m an intentional rebel, mind you. I just see things differently, so I act differently. When everyone else is watching the drama unfold on stage, I like to go behind the scenes and find out what makes people tick.

I don’t have an ulterior motive. That’s just the way I’m wired.

I write because God is doing something with my life, and I want to share the experience with as many people as possible.

I may not be an authority in the publishing field. But I do consider myself an authority on being a quirky, clumsy goof ball with little self-confidence and a whole lot of self doubt. Is there anyone else out there who feels this way too?

I’m a dreamer—I’ll admit it. But if I can provide a smidgeon of encouragement that helps other people overcome their fears and purse their dreams, then I will have succeeded.

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/day-dreamer-michelle-spiziri.html

Thanksgiving prayer

 

FREE

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.

It’s not about YOU!

It’s not about you.

Have you ever written something with a message for somebody else and then realized that the message was intended for YOU? That’s what happened when I was writing my story. My main character TJ is determined to find the story that will change his life, and he’s willing to do ANYTHING to get it. He risks everything in pursuit, but he fails. Then when he least expects it, he finds the person he wants to interview, but NOTHING goes as planned. As TJ recovers from his misadventure, he receives some advice from the man he’s been stalking. The guy tells him respectfully, “TJ, it’s not about you.”

So often when we write, we try to insert ourselves into the story, but let me echo these words:  It’s not about you. When I was freelancing for one of several Christian music magazines several years ago, the editor warned us that we, the writers, were not the focus of the story. We were NOT to include “I” in the story. His advice baffled me at times because whenever I would pick up some of the big name mainstream music magazines I would see writing like this:

During our midafternoon nosh, Justin [Bieber] and I were just sitting there on the patio at Genki in Buckhead, nibbling our Tiger Shrimp and Yokohama Lobster, when we spot Usher, who sees us and proceeds to waltz past Mychael Knight and Rapper T.I. to make his way to our table to join us. He didn’t even bother to ask permission before  he reached over to sample both of our appetizers. He just sat down and introduced himself to me.

By the way, I made up all that, so don’t think I’m dissing some other writer. I don’t do that. Yeah, I know adding all those details sets the stage and lets the reader know that Bieber likes seafood fare and hobnobs with the biggest names in the biz, including his record producer, Usher Raymond IV. BUT where does “I” play into all of this? The story has nothing to do with “I.” (And the results are inconclusive on whether Bieber does nor does not like seafood.)

In my story, The EDGE, TJ has no clue what the advice means. If you were to ask TJ what happened to him, this is what he would say: 

So the guy calls me back over after I think I’ve killed him, and he says, ‘Man, you got it all wrong. The story’s not about you.’ So I look at him like he’s crazy, and he finally spells it all out for me and says, ‘Dude, you can’t make the writing about you. You gotta make it about the story. You gotta use your gift for others, not yourself.’

See, TJ has a little problem. He lets his writing talent go to his head. He really gets off on the attention he gets as the result of what he’s written. He’s not focused on the story—he’s focused on himself.

Now here’s some advice to you. Sure it feels great to see your byline. It’s nice to get a paycheck in the mail. It’s cool to Google your name and to see your work in the vast Cyberland.  BUT….

When we believers take on guardianship of the Truth, we must not take our responsibilities lightly. Words hold great power. They can be either blessings or curses. When we are “high” on the adrenaline rush that comes from a big story, we can be dangerous. We can allow our actions to hurt others, to defame others, to discourage others. Sometimes we need to take a step back and make sure we are doing the right thing before we make the decision to go public. Once we step over the edge, we can’t go back.

Consider this scenario. Someday you may be assigned to deliver Truth to people who depend on the message for life or death, possible eternal life or death. The message may not be popular. The message may anger the masses. The message could result in your physical death. What will you do? If you are motivated to write because of the positive attention you will receive, you may decline your greatest assignment of all. Remember the advice TJ receives:  The story is not about you.

I didn’t realize until after I finished writing the story, that the advice TJ received was advice meant for me. God has given me a gift. For some really weird reason, He has allowed me to write decently with relative ease. I received a scholarship as a senior in high school on an essay I scribbled in Spanish class. I won a party for the English department at my school by scribbling a song parody. I even got honorable mention in a song lyric contest sponsored by a Christian band, something I sent in on a whim.

God has been so good to me. I want to take the story—stories—He gives me, and I want to use them to serve others. Yes, it feels good to receive those pats on the back. But if anything good does come of my venture in writing for teens, I don’t want the good feelings to go to my head. I want to serve others.

Every time I read a comment posted by one of my newspaper staff members or former newspaper staff members, every time I get a text message from one of the kids in the youth praise band at my church (that I so awkwardly try to help), I am reminded of my purpose. It’s not about me. It’s about those crazy, quirky kids, the teens I serve. 

I do what I do because of love. What about you?