This writer’s early Letter to Santa

santa_claus_letter

Dear Santa,

I know it’s early, but I’ve noticed  the Christmas trees and the Halloween pumpkins are already competing for aisle space at the local Walmart. I’m sure you’ll be swamped this year filling stockings. Heaven forbid you have to stand in line on a Black Friday because your elves didn’t make their quota. The North Pole may melt before you make it back to load the sleigh.

So, I’m getting my list in early. You know I’m a writer, but I’m not asking for books or pens or laptops this year. I want something to elevate my mood, to entertain my Inner Child. It’s awfully hard for the writer to write when the writer has a bad case of the blues or the blahs.

So, if you don’t mind, could you please ask your elves to set aside these five things  just for me. I’ve been really good this year–except for the time I backed into the mail truck and all the times I got in trouble for not turning in my attendance on time. Other than that, I don’t think I’m on your naughty list. So here goes. You can start packing now. (Well, let me rephrase that. Maybe you’d better leave the Daisy Red Rider with Mrs. Santa and stay out of the malls.)

My List

I want PURPOSE. Michael W. Smith told me during one of our interviews that teenagers need a place to “plug in.” Smitty was right. We all need a place to “plug in,” a place to feel as though that’s where we belong. Right now I have a music studio that gives me a sense of purpose, a place to “plug in.” I hope I can keep it, and I hope it gives others a place to plug in as well. There are a lot of stage moms and dads out there who want their children to become stars. I don’t want that, Santa. I can’t make anyone a star. I just want a place where kids, from ages 9 to 99, can find their purpose . I know how it feels to be “disconnected.” I worked with teens in church settings for years. However, when we moved to a larger church, I lost my purpose because I didn’t feel needed. I kind of got bumped out of the jobs I used to do. I want to be needed. I want to have purpose. I want to help other people have purpose too.

I want TRUST. All people need security in their lives. I need security in mine. I feel secure when I know I can trust the people around me. I want truth. Truth builds trust. I like it when people tell me the straight-up truth. I never ask anyone to spare my feelings. Spare the white lies. I trust people who aren’t afraid to tell me I’m doing something wrong. I trust people who aren’t afraid to tell me they are doing something that might upset me.

I want LAUGHTER. Here’s a secret. I think you’ve done a pretty good job in the past with this request. I’ve had a lot of students in my class who have made me laugh. Please don’t stop sending me those people, in my class, on my job, on the streets. Laughter is good medicine. I know a lot of teachers have a tough time with the class clowns, but those students usually end up being my favorites. Please don’t send me the ones whose humor belittles or whose humor is crude. I don’t like sight gags much either, and I don’t even want to talk about flatulence. That kind of humor just stinks. But word play, mild pranks, good natured teasing? I’ll take that.

FYI, some of my former students must have been special delivery gifts from you, dear Santa. They were a hoot–even though they drove me crazy. And yes, I have forgiven all of them for their shenanigans.

(By the way, thank you. Clark and Darrell, I forgive you for sticking my hall pass to the ceiling each day. Nick, I forgive you for leaving campus to “borrow” a backhoe to dig into the methane pockets surrounding our school. Hayley and the Ditzy Chicks, I forgive you for the utter chaos you conjured in Room 32. Tonya and the Couch Crew, I forgive you for delivering a couch to my classroom so that I could counsel you all on your many problems–you certainly had them. Amy, I forgive you for starting a dance party when I stepped out of the room. Juli, I forgive you for catapulting a stuffed groundhog at me as I walked through the door. Curtis, I forgive you and the others for hiding behind the lockers and leaving me a “Gone Fishing” note. Emily and Ashleigh, I forgive you for “rolling” my room and getting me in trouble with the principal on Halloween. You meant no harm.)

Any person who wants to win my heart just has to make me smile. I’m a sucker for the kid who never grows up.

I want DEPTH. God gave me a pretty good brain. It’s creative. I don’t want to dull it through countless hours of watching TV. I want to think, I want to create, I want to discover. So, Santa, please wrap up some opportunities for me to write songs that mean something, to explore new places–Ireland perhaps, to read words that inspire and challenge, and to talk with people who can communicate with me on my level.

I want LOVE. I know, I know, Santa. Love is not in your department. And don’t send me to Cupid, either. True love comes from God. So if you can’t deliver love, I’ll take the next best thing–Starbucks. So, Santa Baby, you can slip a Starbucks gift card under my tree. I’ve been an awfully good girl.

TODAY’S CHALLENGE
One, two, three, ready, set, GO! It’s a proven fact that Santa stops at my blog first. Leave your Letter to Santa in the comments. Who knows? You may get exactly what you want.

WORDS OF WISDOM
If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.  ~ George MacDonald

What we are is God’s gift to us.  What we become is our gift to God.  ~  Eleanor Powell

MUSIC NOTES
No more lives torn apart / That wars will never start / And time will heal our hearts / Every man will have a friend / That right will always win / And love will never end / This is my grown up Christmas List  ~  Monica

LOOK AND SEE CYBER SERENDIPITEE
http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCf2PoTuh4Q

http://theboot.com/blake-shelton-god-gave-me-you-lyrics/

FINAL THOUGHT

GIFT

Snapshots

I guess you just had to be there.

I’ve searched for weeks for something worthwhile to write about, but everything that comes to me is cliché. Or I’ve written about it one too many times.

Write what you know, “they” say.

What do I know? I know I’m weary. The school year has been great. My students have been awesome, but my mental faculties are zapped. My emotions are zapped. I’m depleted. So my focus isn’t what it should be. That’s okay, given the circumstances.

I’ve spent lots of time at my parents’ house. But I didn’t grow up there. The house once belonged to my aunt and uncle, and my grandfather lived there before he passed away. This is the first and only house my parents ever owned, and they were proud to call it their own. “My” childhood home was a rental house on the edge of the city limits.

I knew that old house, that tiny little, mildew-ridden house. I could stand in the hallway and see every room. The kitchen especially. I remember the green table cloth on the table. Green. My mom always decorated the kitchen in green. I don’t remember what I had done. All I know is that a switch was involved and that I was short enough to run under the table while standing up straight. Being short has its advantages.

I remember the black telephone hanging on the wall in the hall and the party line. I had some pretty cool conversations with an anonymous voice who said he was a vampire. I think his real name was Terry. All I know is if I picked up the phone and he was on there, our chance meeting turned into a mysterious conversation. Not that I believed any of it, but Dark Shadows was a popular show at the time, and my mom and I were really into it. I guess I was already writing books in my head at the time. I mean, how often does one have an interview with a vampire? I thought it was uber cool. Too bad we never met.

Before my parents bought their house and moved out of the rental, “my” house was grand central station of the neighborhood. I had a front porch with a swing and a basketball goal in the back and a beautiful redbud tree with limbs low enough for climbing.

I was a manipulative child, certainly not the demure individual I am now. But then again I was the only girl in the neighborhood, and it was every man for himself. And being the only girl on the street, there were times I had to man up for survival’s sake. Once I tied my neighbor to my beautiful redbud and refused to let him go until he paid for his crime. I don’t remember what he did to tick me off, but I’m sure he deserved the punishment. If he hadn’t convinced me he was having heart troubles, I would’ve made him stay there all night.

I am not a liar. In fact, if you ask me anything, I’ll tell you straight up to your face the truth. But back in the day, my front porch was home to some pretty profitable poker games. Again, the only girl, I learned to bluff—and held my smile when I raked in the loose change. We didn’t play for big bucks, but that’s not to say we kids weren’t privy to some secret info. I won’t say where, but it was a known fact that in my neighborhood, high-stake poker games were a pretty common occurrence. We used to ride our bikes by the place and count the cars out front, daring one another to knock on the door.

No one was stupid enough to take the chance. But dares were just part of growing up on my street.

My own kids never stepped foot in  the rental house I grew up in. They never would have understood. We couldn’t turn the wall heaters on at night for fear the water that ran off the iced windows might drip into them and short them out. Lack of insulation. We relied on quilts, plural. Piled high. We didn’t have showers; we had tubs, but we learned how to adapt with a hand-held sprayer. Nope, my kids would have never understood.

They grew up in a cozy little neighborhood, just down the road from our current home. Quaint, small, but comfortable–and safe.

Granny and Pa watched my babies like hawks. The worst thing that ever happened to Josh was a bicycle stunt gone wrong. He flipped it, literally, and did a 360 without any major injuries. Michael, my tough guy, made Pa play ball, made Pa, in his 70s, slide into home plate, again without any major injuries.

I can’t believe my parents let get me get away with the things I did as a kid on my street—namely, jumping out of tree houses just to prove I wasn’t scared. And I never broke a bone. Never sprained an ankle. Never cried. I ventured through fields, fearless of snakes, and I waded through ponds, never knowing how deep. And I never learned how to swim. And I rode my bike down country rodes and picnicked by myself in the loft of an old deserted barn just for the adventure of it. I didn’t mind being alone. I still don’t. It gives me time to think.

I learned how to be tough. I never cried when I wrecked my bike or got hit in the face with a baseball or forgot to let go of a firecracker before it when off. When it came time to choose up teams for baseball, basketball, football, whatever the sport, I waited to be picked–sometimes until the very end, depending on who was captain. The truth is I figured I was just as good as they were. Either they picked me for their team, or they didn’t.

I never whined. I never complained. If chosen, I went out there and did my best. I laughed when a new kid begged me to take my turn at bat. Ground rule. Got a sucky player? One of the better guys could take her–yeah it was usually a her–turn at bat.

I could take my own turn at bat, thank you. And if they didn’t want me, I didn’t tear up. I’d rather have someone tell me straight up how it is than to lie or pander to me. I still feel that way. Don’t like me? Don’t like my talents? I’m outta there. No hard feelings. Goodbye. Don’t expect me to beg.

When I was a kid, I roamed the neighborhood. I spent a lot of time  sitting on the porce steps of an old man’s house. Everyone called him Grandpa, but I never knew his real name. I just remember him playing a tune on his French harp, stomping his feet and stopping to sing a verse or two. “Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” And my favorite—“If you want a good man, you gotta treat him right.” I probably still have Grandpa’s voice on cassette tape somewhere. I grew up and moved before he passed. Probably a good thing because if I had known, I’m sure his death would have broken me.

Grandpa gave me my first dog, Lassie. Original name, huh? She looked a lot like a collie, and she was so smart. It was as if we could communicate telepathically. I didn’t even have to say the words. Lassie and I were so close that I could subtly give a command with my eyes and she did whatever I asked—sit, catch a ball, jump through a hula hoop, whatever. My parents begged me to give her up. They promised to buy me another dog. I wasn’t sure why. I loved THIS dog, and nothing could stop me from keeping her. Good choice. I think that was the only time in my life I ever stood my ground with my parents.

The Kennel Ration Dog Competition came to town one year and held a contest in the old strip mall across from the high school. Lassie won third place. I was never so proud. I still have the trophy in my case. I sure loved that dog. She was my best friend, my confidant, my everything. I had already gone to college when she developed cancer, and the vet had to put her down. No hope. I lost my best friend.

So there you have it, a blog that’s nothing more than a hodgepodge of memories, snapshots from a spunky little girl who grew into a disillusioned adult.

My parents’ bought and paid for home, the one I inherited, holds few memories for me but dozens for my children. But, every time I’m there alone, I have to admit, I feel a little strange. I hear things. Tonight I had shut off all the lights in the house and was feeling my way from the back bedroom to the front door. That’s when I heard the screen door shut. No one was there.

And the lighthouse music box turned on by itself the first time we started moving things out.

Once, while I was alone, I ventured up into the attic—defying my fear of heights, just to see what was up there. And while I was exploring, I heard footsteps walking around down below. No one was there.

I do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe there are things our minds don’t understand. I certainly don’t understand what I heard.  I actually sat down on a stool up there in the attic and had a rational conversation with myself.

“Do you hear that?”

“Yes. I definitely hear footsteps.”

I waited. I listened. They continued.

I wasn’t imagining things.

I assumed it was Kenny. I waited for him to yell at me to find out where I was. But no one ever checked on me. I finally climbed down the ladder. No one was there.

Go figure. I have no answers. I just have an imagination and my memories. And sometimes that’s all a writer needs.

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.

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?