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

Going postal

Dearest Readers,

I have another confession to make. I hate being the bad guy. I will if I have to, but it is not something I relish.

Today I was the bad guy. I didn’t choose to be, but sometimes life just puts you in unfortunate situations.

See, it all went down this way. I am on fall break, my VACATION from school. It’s been a stressful year so far. I had to take 12 graduate hours during the summer—no break. I missed the first week of school because I was still in grad school. Then I developed bronchitis, almost pneumonia. Whatever. I was really sick.

I also had a newspaper to publish, a new class to develop, a new email system to learn, a new grading program to learn. Papers to grade. MOUNDS of papers to grade from four preps. I found myself struggling to keep up.

My most stressful incident  had to do with boarding an airplane for the first time, well, a big airplane for the first time, not counting the kiddie rides at the fair or the four-seater I rode with my parents when I was a terror-stricken elementary school student. That plane ride changed my whole outlook on flying, and I found Biblical scriptures to back my belief.

Matthew 28:20. “Lo, I am with thee.”

That’s what God said. Low. Not way up there. Right? The Bible offers no proof we have any business soaring around the clouds on wings attached to high-powered engines that can suck up ducks and eagles and then send the craft crashing to the ground. Nope. Scripture does not back that.

Nevertheless, I flew.

All my life people have told me what to do, and I usually listen and do as told. Not this time. For years I remained adamant that I would not step onto a plan until I felt the time was right.

I had a plan. I am going to Ireland—someday. I figure the world is in great turmoil, and perhaps the rapture will happen soon. My plan was to fly to Ireland and to “live” Ireland for a short time and then to fly back. If the plane crashed, well, then, I would have crossed off my Number One item on my bucket list. I was at peace with that.

I have never felt at peace about stepping aboard a plane otherwise.

But then something very cool happened. I was named a Genesis Finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers contest in the Young Adult category. I had to attend a gala in Dallas to find out the results. I didn’t win, but that’s okay. The experience was worth it all. I am confident God has a plan for my writing. Many other cool things did happen.

Being named a finalist, however, put me in a dilemma. If I went to Dallas, I would HAVE to fly, and I would have to miss my son performing with his band at the county fair. Flying was no problem. I had a definite peace about that.

“Lo, I am with thee.”

I made up my mind long ago that the only time I would step on a plan was when I felt a peace about it. For the first time I felt peace, and I wasn’t even flying to Ireland. However, I was really sad, to the point of tears, that I had to miss Michael’s performance. I have always been there for him.

I have coached his Little League teams, his Upward basketball teams, and his soccer teams. I’ve put on catcher gear to help him when he tried to pitch. I have thrown footballs for him to catch. I have escaped with him from wild animal attacks on nature walks. We’re a team. I have always been there for him.

But this time I had to go by myself and let him go by himself.

I walked through the airport doors alone and made it all the way to security where I had to empty my pockets. I almost made it through without incident except for the can of Mink hairspray I was packin’ in my carry on. I had a choice—toss it or check it. I tossed it. Grumble. That stuff isn’t easy to find, and it was  a new can. I don’t like throwing away money.

Oh yeah, my jean pockets were too sparkly too. The scanner didn’t like that either.

Once I made it to my waiting area to board, I was scared, just a wee bit, but I was ready. But then they announced that my scheduled plane had problems. In other words, it was broken.

Broke? Broke was not what I was expecting to hear.

I had to board another plane. At this point I was in official freak-out mode. When I get nervous, I either sit in a catatonic state, or I talk nonstop. My students think something is “wrong” with me when I go into nonstop talk mode. But most journalism advisers understand—they too have experienced the “I gotta make deadline, but the computer’s crashed, the picture’s not there, we forgot to write that story, and Dear Lord, please, don’t let me get fired over something I missed” panic attacks.

So in my non-stop talkative mood, I started interviewing people waiting in line. We were in Nashville, so there were lots of people with guitars. Naturally, I sought them out. I listened in on their conversations and then inserted my comments into their conversations. I don’t usually do that, but, hey, MY AIRPLANE BROKE!

I noticed a couple of guys having a nice chat. One of them carried an acoustic case, so I turned my antenna in that direction and heard one word—Ireland. And so I interrupted.

Fortunately, these guys were nice and told me they had just returned from a gig in Ireland. And what style of music did the guitarist play? Country blues.

Ah. The anxiety levels dropped considerably. Good enough. I felt as if it were a sign. It was time to board the new plane.

I lugged my carry on, and a nice person helped me store it in the overhead. I was too short and too wimpy to load it myself. I hugged my laptop for dear life, but the flight attendant made me store in upon take off. I got it back asap.

My security blanket.

The flight itself was a breeze. I even asked to sit by the window. I looked out and saw a patchwork quilt of earth below. I saw the topside of clouds. It was all cool.

Landing was fine.

It was all fine.

Until I got back home and flipped on the TV and saw all the reports of American Airlines plans having problems with the seats coming unbolted.

Well, it just figures.

So what does all this have to do with me being the bad guy?

Not much. Not really.

I didn’t fly today, but I had a minor mishap in my doctor’s parking lot. I kind of crashed. Not bad crashed, just itsy, bitsy, “I still feel like crying” crashed.

You see, I had a check up today, and I overslept. My doctor’s office has a new rule that says we have to be there 15 minutes prior to the appointment time. Well, I got there by the appointment time, but I was not 15 minutes early.

The poor lady in front of my looked as if she should have been in the hospital, and she was three minutes late according to their clock and missed being 15 minutes early. She was going to have to reschedule. So was I.

I was ready to be the bad guy. To take my punishment. To reschedule. But I felt so bad for her. She was distraught. They finally relented and let her see the doctor after receiving permission from the office manager.

Me? No, I was sent away.

I was upset because I had failed. I had messed up. I always feel bad when I mess  up. I was distracted a wee bit. And then it went from bad to worse as I was leaving. I backed up my truck and felt a slight crash.

I took out a mail truck.

To make matters worse, by-standers jumped out of their truck. They checked to see if we were all right, but they were ready to identify me should I try to make a run for it. They told the nice mail man they would tell the police everything that happened. They liked him. They didn’t like me. I was the bad guy.

Criminal. I felt like a criminal.

To make matters even worse than that, the mail man had come into the doc’s office in such a happy mood. Leave it to me to dent his good cheer.

And then the police came. And the rescue squad. And I couldn’t find my insurance card. And I didn’t have my phone. And I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. The policeman was really nice—a former student. I pictured myself in the back of this squad car. I was hoping for dear life I was a nice teacher to him.

I was ready to pose for my mug shot. Be finger printed. Get cuffed. Get maced. Get clubbed. Wait for the noose around my neck. I was ready for whatever I had coming to me. I felt pretty bad.

All I could do was tell the mail man, “I’m sorry I ruined your day.”

So here I am—the bad guy. Not much I can do about it now.

And as I write this, I’m thinking, “What in the Sam Hill do flying and crashing have to do with each other?”  Well, obviously if it’s the airplane that’s both flying and crashing, there is a connection. But flying in plane and denting the door of a mail truck really have nothing in common, except maybe for this scripture.

“Lo, I am with thee.”

Maybe I’ve been misinterpreting that scripture. See, my nickname forever has been Tee, but when I had my short run of kick (my butt) boxing classes, my friends gave me a new nick name—Jet Lo. You know, kind of like Jet Li, the martial arts champion?

So, I can hear God saying, “[Jet] Lo, I am with thee. Up. Down. High. Low. Good days and bad. I’m right here. Always.”

I am still stubborn enough to believe I will know when God calls me to do something. I don’t have to be guilted into doing something I don’t feel a peace about. But I’m also reminded that God understands my fears, my hurts, my triumphs, my let downs, my failures. He loves me just the same.

As a writer, I hope I can convey that message to my readers. There’s only one thing I really want to get across—love, love, love. THAT’S what I feel called to do. And a little laughter doesn’t hurt either.

So, my dear friends, take it from me, the Fearless Flyer. a.k.a. the Mail Man Mauler, God has got you covered. All you have to do is believe it. Go seek the truth, the whole truth, and believe it. It doesn’t matter if you are the good guy or the bad guy. God loves you just the same. Seek him and find out for yourself.

I wouldn’t say if it weren’t so.

Sincerely yours,
Jet Lo

Where I am now

When I lost my mother on March 25, I fell into a state of numbness. As much as I tried to function in this fast-paced world, I couldn’t keep up. I fell further and further behind. I managed to do my job, to my job well, but I feel as though I failed at everything else. By the time I returned home each evening, I had nothing left. I was an empty shell.

When my father passed away unexpectedly on June 27, my strong emotional pillars collapsed, and I realized for the first time in my life what it feels like to be lost.

If it weren’t for the grace and mercy offered by members of my family and select friends, I think I would be stuck in neutral, totally unable to move. I’m an only child, and I always feared the day I would lose my parents. But that day comes to all of us.

I’ve learned the great toil grief takes on writing. Last year at this time I was on the fast track to learning how to get published. The future was bright. But I’ve been stopped in my tracks in a dark tunnel. I can’t see the light at end. Maybe it’s after the bend. Despite my love of and appreciation for my writing groups, I can’t participate. I have nothing to offer.

I’ve signed up for the writing conferences. Maybe I’ll serendipitously stumble on what I need.

So instead of writing fiction, I have picked up my guitar and have found a different type of outlet for creative expression—writing lyrics. I consider myself one of the privileged few who is on a first-name basis with a a couple of the very best, award-winning songwriters in Nashville. They have what it takes to pen a hit. I don’t. But That’s not my goal. Sure I know you need a catchy riff, a hook, plenty of imagery, a few metaphors thrown in, and God’s grace shining down on you to make a song-writing dream come true.

But all I really want is to tell the truth—to write what I’m feeling even if I don’t understand it. Even if it’s the worst song in the world. Even if my syllables are a bit off and it only has three chords.

Lately, I’ve been on a blues kick as you can probably tell from my earlier posts, so a lot of what I have written lately uses a blues-type progression. But what I write is inspired by life itself.  Life is unfair. Our dreams are unfaithful. Our plans often fail. But there’s always the chance hope will prevail.

If I could write the ultimate song, I would write it for the people who have taken time to listen to me. I guess that’s what all writers want—a good listener. I guess that’s what all friends need, a good listener who really cares, who never lies, and who always understands.

If could share any tidbit of advice with a reader going through a difficult period, I would strongly suggest finding some outlet of expression. You can’t keep feelings bundled up forever.

What you write, what you paint, what you play doesn’t have to make sense to anybody else as long as what you express is the truth and you give yourself a chance to purge itself of whatever you’ve been holding back.

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?