Think about it...


Sunday, April 29, 2018

He's So Big


          We drove twelve hundred miles round trip in forty-eight hours just to sit in a room with carpet tiles placed so the pattern was interrupted every square foot. We were not late, so I had time to observe my surroundings before the ceremony began.
          The bright canned lighting hanging from the pitched ceiling reminded me of a surgical suite I had been a guest of twenty years ago. The doctor had held up the baby, all nine pounds dripping in bodily fluids, like a trophy. 
          I felt love and gratitude that I could not express at that moment and showed my admiration with a beaming smile and the words, “He’s so big!” 
          The pride of that moment still relevant today in this well-lit, poorly-carpeted room and shown by the guests’ adornment:  a lady with sparkly flat shoes, a child wearing her favorite necklace, and me wearing a silver bangle with a Marine medallion.
           On other days of the week, this room would be full of worshipers inviting the Holy Spirit to visit where two or three are gathered. I trust He will visit today as this event is opened in prayer. A nervous young man gives a good speech. Everything is orderly—the only way the Marine Corp does anything. I worry that I might get emotional. When I make it past my son’s name being called to receive his recognition without a tear, I am certain I won’t cry today. I look for a grown man, even a half-grown man, somewhere in the well-dressed group. They all look like children to me.
          At the end of the ceremony, we stand together, Marines fill up one side, parents scattered on the other. Music plays. Then the room fills with a boom of men’s voices shout-singing the Marines’ Hymn. Something like my childhood memory of the Holy Spirit presses on my chest, grabs my throat and draws tears from my eyes. In that song, I hear fears they have defeated, I feel hope for the country and the future, and I imagine doctors holding up newborn babies and declaring not that it’s a boy or girl, but It’s a Marine!
           I feel love and gratitude that I cannot express at this moment, so I show my admiration with a beaming smile and the memory of those words, He’s so big.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Writer's Journey

          I am so grateful to be where I'm at on my writing journey. Our community is fortunate to have such a beautiful library and the wonderful opportunity to bring readers and writers together to support each other. A big thank you to Karli Land, Young Adult Services Coordinator for the Calhoun-Gordon County Library, for organizing a recent author event.
My journey to becoming a published author began as an infant when the sound of my mother’s voice soothed me. That same voice read comforting scripture to me as a child and the antics of Little Women when I was older.
            My dad was a writer. He kept his sermons, essays, and poetry in a ring binder.
Even though we were poor, we owned three sets of encyclopedias. My home was filled with love for the written and spoken word.
            I received a blue, plastic-encased, Brother typewriter for my birthday when I was a teenager. It clicked and dinged loudly into the wee hours of many a night. I have always had the kind of brain that imagines every possible scenario in a situation (and some impossible ones). Writing gave me an outlet for my active imagination.
            My highest achievement so far in the writing world is receiving a handwritten rejection note from a literary journal. Along the way, I have received instruction and advice from some great writers.
            In 2014, I joined Calhoun Area Writers. My confidence soared, and I had several of my stories published in the group’s annual anthology, Telling Stories.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Amber Lanier Nagle, for publishing many personal interest stories I wrote about local folks in Dalton Living and Calhoun Magazine. I also published a story to an online magazine called Lady Literary. People are reading my stories!
I didn’t expect to publish children’s books, but I shouldn’t be surprised, because I still love to read them. My first children’s book, Baby Birds, was a way for me to express my journey as a mother through the analogy of the life cycle of birds. I dedicated that book to my three children, my own Baby Birds. I love the watercolor images created for this book by local artist and illustrator, Alana Kipe. It was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year Award.
           Next, I published a book of poems titled Empty Nest. Again, recounting my life as a mother, but this time including poems about the loss of my mother. This project allowed me to work with a dear friend and uber-talented, local artist and illustrator, Sandy Dutton.
            My first two books were published through CreateSpace. It was free, easy and so rewarding. After internationally published author, Cheryll Snow, made a presentation to our writers group, I was inspired to submit a story to Chicken Soup for the Soul. My story, “The Book Fair”, was accepted to be included in the Inspiration for Teachers book. It’s on page 348.
            Before long, another children’s book was born. This one was dedicated to everyone who is different and was published through a vanity press, which means I paid them to publish my book. Sometimes our lessons and encouragement come from unexpected people and from circumstances we have no control over. Little Bird & Myrtle Turtle, my second children’s book, was beautifully illustrated by Christina Vergona. 
          We labored over this project without ever meeting face to face. This book has been nominated for Georgia Author of the Year Award, the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award, and the American Book Fest International Book Award.
            Keep your eyes and ears open, because I am working on several other projects. Yes, another children’s book—this one will be titled Baby Crow and will be dedicated to my grandson. I am involved with two critique groups, one is helping me to smooth out my work-in-process novel, Tucker Hollow, and the other group is helping me to hone my skill at writing personal essays.      
          This journey has been a long, curvy road with hard work and some tears, but lots of laughing and celebrating. One thing I know for sure is I’m glad I took that first step and submitted that first story. I have never looked in the rear view mirror and wondered if I made a wrong turn.

Monday, January 8, 2018

I Wish It Would Rain Down

          The rain was cold today. In some parts of our state there were icy roads, and accidents. My coworkers and I kept a close eye on the weather all day. By the end of the workday, the temperature was near 40°F, but still a cold rain pelted my raincoat. I met my writing critique group at Dunkin Donuts and ordered a hot Macchiato. I love my critique group, almost as much as I love coffee.
          As I drove home—my mind swirling—an old song came on the radio, I Wish It Would Rain Down by Phil Collins. I smiled and got dreamy-eyed.          
         
          My mind floated back to a cold day in the past. I squatted on the bank of a creek that runs cold through Gatlinburg, Tennessee. On a big flat rock out in the middle of the creek with the clear water rushing past, stood a skinny five-year-old with a brightly colored sweater and animated hands. My only child at the time. He belted out Mr. Collins’ lyrics at the top of his lungs.
          He sang to me. He sang to the creek and the trees and the birds. No microphone or stage lights needed. That was almost thirty years ago. It stormed that night in the mountains while we slept in our warm hotel room, and the next morning the white-capped rapids changed the creek. It was no longer a safe place for a budding singer to practice.
           Many storms have raged since that day when my sweet child sung the words of a grown man’s song. He has sung many songs since that day. But that day—and that song—were special for a moment. A moment that will never leave me.

          At this time of year, we make big promises to ourselves. I have resolved to read more, to listen to more music, and of course, to write more. I want to love more, give more, and receive more. I’m ready to stand on my own rock and sing to the universe, “I wish it would rain down on me.” 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Life's Pivotal Projects


The creation of objects—where the practical considerations of use is of crucial importance—is essential. Leaving a legacy with your life is vital. We all want to leave our mark on this world, to know that our life mattered. When you reach for your goals, you make critical decisions that determine how you will show up in the world each day. You build your future by leaving a path of sweet surrender for others to know you were here.
     A little bird sat on my front porch this past week. I opened the front door slowly. He didn’t move. I stepped toward him. Still no movement. I kneeled beside him and touched his head with one finger. He waddled around, and I saw the problem. His left eye was swollen.
     I jumped up and flew into action. I had a decorative bird cage in the garage, which I was sure would be a lovely home while I nursed him back to health. I grabbed last week’s newspaper and folded it until the size fit the bottom of the bird cage with just a little edge all the way around—to hold in any droppings. In my mind I was already wondering how to treat him and imagining I would use a Q-tip to apply the healing ointment prescribed by Google.
     I went back out to the porch and my little birdie was still there. He needed me. I picked him up and headed toward the door to go inside. He wiggled against my caring grip. I didn’t want to hurt him, so I didn’t squeeze. He flew from my hands leaving a wake a little feathers behind and me standing speechless at that fleeting moment.
***
     Many years ago, crayons and play dough kept my son’s toddler mind and fingers busy while learning. “Look what I made!” Those words always made me smile. The early school years kept the refrigerator covered with construction-paper art—flags and the letters of the alphabet shaped with pasta. It was a proud display for all to see.
     As he grew, so did his art. Intricate pencil images decorated his bedroom walls. He dabbled in different mediums. He moved on to creating phenomenal videos for his high school. Always creating with his mind and his hands.
     Fast forward. One year of college under his belt. He needed to do something more, something bigger. He decided to become a Marine. While waiting for the day he will get on that bus to go to boot camp, he has been working hard making beautiful things. He resurfaced and stained the back porch and deck. It was a lot of hard work. No project has been too big for him.
     We decided it was time for that patio we always wanted, and he was eager to help. The design for the three different shapes of stone was created with his mind and his hands. A stone path leads from our house to the patio he built. In the middle of the path, the stones came together to make a butterfly shape. My husband and I will sit on the patio and watch the sun set.
    

     





     It took several days of tilling, digging, shoveling, tamping, leveling, checking, spacing, and placing. It brought us all together, and forced us to communicate to complete this project. It took a lot of imagination, following instructions, and technical skill. It is a gift of art that will comfort us at the end of the day.
     “Come over here,” he said to me late one evening as we put the finishing touches on our new oasis, which included a stone fire pit and nearby water feature.
     “Why?”
     “Just come here.”
     I walked to where he was shoveling the last of the dirt mound into the back of the truck. The sun was setting, the air cooler. The grass already wet with dew tickled my toes.
     “Look at it from right here.”
     I looked at the whole project from his perspective. I saw the future. It was beautiful and full of more projects.
     We finally leaned back in the Adirondack chairs exhausted from the week behind us. Butterflies flew around the butterfly bushes and a light breeze twirled a red, white, and blue pinwheel. 


     I remembered holding his hand when he was a little boy. He always pulled it away. So independent. 
     He will fly away from this place in about a month, but his life will leave a feathering of memories all around me. I may very well stand speechless at the fleeting moment when it happens.
     He will move on to his next project that will be on a much larger canvas—transforming himself. Boot camp will be hard. He will grow and become stronger. He will learn new things. I expect to be impressed when he presents himself to the service of his country.
     Each of us can make a difference in the lives of others. Even an ordinary life lived well and lived with grace will make the world a better place.
     Everyone must leave something behind...a child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way...and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
     What project has life invited you to make a part of your legacy?
     

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On the Wings of a Dove




     The dove has long been an enduring symbol of God’s spirit and divine authority and to show the hand and presence of God in the world. As a child (about forty years ago), I heard many Bible stories in Sunday School and sermons at a small missionary church on Boone Ford Road about doves. One brought an olive branch in its beak to Noah in the ark, and at the baptism of Jesus a dove descended to proclaim God’s pleasure in His son. In David’s distress (Psalms 55:6-8), he wished that he had the wings of a dove, that he might fly away and be at rest. Above all the stories, I recall the sweet bluegrass sound of guitars as they strummed to the lyrics of an old country song, On the Wings of a Snow White Dove.

     I am excited to share that my children's book, Baby Birds, has flown on the wings of a dove into the hands of a special group of children in Nigeria, thanks to an extraordinary young lady named Joanna Foley, who is blessed with a gift for ministry.


(Photo from Joanna's blog, His Precious Daughter Missions)

     Joanna's life is spirit-led. She has a sun-shiny disposition, and she is the sister of Rebecca, who has Cerebral Palsy. Rebecca’s condition prevents her from walking, talking or communicating like most people, and requires around-the-clock care.

     It's no surprise that Joanna’s big heart for special needs kids and adults has taken her on a mission trip to Jesus Kids Home in Nigeria, which is an evangelical non-profit, non-government organization that provides hope and rehabilitation for children with a broad spectrum of issues. It is not unusual in Nigeria for physically challenged children to be abandoned by their families, leaving the innocent to wander the streets and become the target of harm. Even though disabled children may be viewed as not being perfect, we know they are fearfully and wonderfully made. For a brief time this summer, Joanna’s beautiful heart and smile will brighten their days.

     Please visit her blog, His Precious Daughter Missions, at the following link and join me in praying for her and others as they minister. https://hpdmissions.wordpress.com/blog/

     Joanna’s feet have landed all over the world (one of her goals is to visit all of the continents, by the way). She has been to Switzerland, on a mission trip to Nicaragua, London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, Costa Rica, Nassau Bahamas, Half Moon Cay, and Grand Turk. She will also visit Alaska later this summer. Joanna has been to all but five of the states in America. In 2014, she toured the United States with her dad, Jack, and Rebecca to promote the Treasured Tyrtle Project—an effort to honor and celebrate Rebecca’s life, raise awareness of Cerebral Palsy and to raise scholarship funds to help children and their families affected by the disorder.

     I suspect there will be many more opportunities for mission and ministry in Joanna’s life as she spreads her wings this fall to fly to Augusta University to pursue a degree in chemistry. She really is His precious daughter.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

And The Winner Is....

     Last night, my husband and I attended the Georgia Author of the Year Awards ceremony. My children’s book, Baby Birds, had been nominated. I met a brave woman, Jane K. Ashley, who fought cancer and wrote a book about it. I am inspired by her. She and her husband stopped near our table looking for a place to sit. I invited them to sit with us. It was so exciting when her book, Cancer:  The Light at the End of the Tunnel, won in the category of Inspirational – Secular. I told her I liked the cover of the book. She said some people had expressed that it was too dark and too dramatic.

     
     She told those people, “You haven’t been sitting in the chair I sat in and given the diagnosis I was given. It’s pretty dramatic.”     
     Raymond L. Atkins, author of The Front Porch Prophet, Sorrow Wood, Camp Redemption, Sweetwater Blues, and South of the Etowah, received a Lifetime Achievement Award. In his expected humorous acceptance, he said now that he had this award he could stop writing. I guess you have to be a writer to understand he’s not through writing.
     When one particular winner was announced, many of us stood and clapped hard. It was all we could do to show our admiration for Congressman John Lewis. Just to be in the same room with this Civil Rights hero was awe-inspiring. 



     It was humbling to realize my book for children was competing for the same kind of award as his history-changing memoir/autobiography. His speech was indicative of how he lives his life—humble. He gave most of the credit for the book to Andrew Aydin, co-author of their book March:  Book Three.     
     Lewis said, “It was Andrew’s idea to write the book. I was just along for the ride. He did all the heavy lifting.” But we all knew who did the weighty marching.     
     At the end of the ceremony, I made my way to the front of the room where a line was already forming in front of Mr. Lewis, and I boldly took my place. I not only wanted to get my picture made with the icon and his signature on my program, but I had something to say to him. The line moved. I was up next. I got the co-author’s signature, whose parents were Muslim immigrants to this country. Then, it was my turn. Our hands reached toward each other…and clasped in a handshake.
     I said, “Thank you for what you’ve done with your life.”    


     He stopped shaking my hand, and we made eye contact. His hand moved from the handshake position to holding my hand and covering it with his other hand. I felt that he was blessing me in that moment. His expression was one of humility and love. He nodded his acceptance of my gratitude. We turned to the camera to get our picture made, and a lady dropped her pen. He bent down to pick it up for her. We put our arms across each other’s back and held the moment to be recorded. I thanked him again and floated away.     
     Sometimes you go to an event and things are just rocking along and it's going the way you think it’s supposed to go and then something that’s not on the radar comes out of left field and the experience is elevated to a different level. This night was like that.




     In parting, I told my new friend, Jane Ashley, that I thought fate had put her at our table. “You invited us to sit,” she said as she smiled. “I was a stranger and you gave me bread.”     
     I was prepared to give my own speech last night, but fate would have it that only a few special people have heard it. I left that building feeling very much like a winner. If you are so inclined to continue reading, here’s what I would have said….
     
     An economy of words.
     That’s how someone kindly described my children’s book, Baby Birds. I will try to express my gratitude for this award with the same spirit. I had three beautiful children. Their voices were like birdsong to my heart. They all flew away, and I felt the sting of an empty nest. My grandson was born, and with him, the idea for this book.
     I am standing in this wonderful place tonight because my mother read the Bible and Little Women to me; because Amber Lanier Nagle taught a class on the campus of Dalton State College about writing family stories; because my husband loves me so much he does an unequal amount of household chores while I write; and because a young girl named Alana Kipe brought a watercolor painting she had done on the back of a pizza box to a meeting of the Calhoun Area Writers.When I was a preteen, there was a private book-burning in our home. I don’t remember the title, but on some of the pages were curse words and descriptions of sensuality. My mother lit the match and made me
watch. I am grateful for that, too. It was in that horrific moment that I was awakened to the power of words.
     I was reminded of that power recently when I heard from the caretaker of a four-year-old who was placed in a foster care home for troubled children.

     The caretaker said to me, “We go through the same routine every night. He won’t go to sleep until I read him the book you gave him. You know, the one you wrote about the baby birds.”
     If you are waiting for a sign to move forward with your own story, wait no longer. There are readers waiting for you to use your power. But it’s not about us, the writers—it’s about the story, and inspiration, and letting go to give the story a voice. Thank you for listening to mine. 







Monday, March 27, 2017

Chicken Soup and Broccoli Casserole


     The big brown truck pulled into our driveway as I was backing out. Our new little Bichon Frise puppy, Gracie, was sitting quietly in the carrier in the back of my car. We were on our way to her first appointment at Calhoun Pet Care. I pushed a favorite number on my cell phone.

     “I think we have a delivery,” I said to my husband. “There’s a UPS truck sitting in front of our house.” I laughed.

     “You don’t say,” was his unsurprised response.

     “Yes. Will you bring it in the house? It might be my Chicken Soup books.” I was hopeful.

     While I waited for Gracie to be examined, my phone dinged. It was a text message from my husband—a photo of a book. It was my Chicken Soup books! I laughed out loud. Now I had a stupid grin on my face. My phone rang.

     “I cannot believe it,” I said. “ I have a story in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book!”

     “You sure do,” my husband said like he wasn’t surprised.

     “I can’t wait to get back home to look at them. Don’t look at them before I get back,” I told him. He promised to wait.

     As soon as Gracie ate, took her medicine and pooped off the pad, I grabbed one of the books. I fanned the pages and leaned in to see what a Chicken Soup book smells like. It smells good—like success.

     Back to the front of the book, I began skimming the Table of Contents for my name. I was so excited, it took three skims to find it.

     “They’ve got the stories in sections,” I announced. “My story is in the one called The Quiet Ones. How perfect is that!”

     My husband was grinning while he busied around the kitchen preparing dinner. He was making my favorite dish, broccoli casserole, to go with grilled chicken and creamed corn. A few years back, he had pitched in to help me with Thanksgiving by making the broccoli casserole. He got so many compliments, that the dish belongs to him now.

     I found my story on page 348—The Book Fair. It was really there along with my name at the end of the story.

     “I bet you never thought you’d be married to a woman with a story in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book,” I challenged my chef in training. I was bordering on bragging.
He looked up from the steaming stove and shot right back, “I bet you never thought you be married to a man that could cook a broccoli casserole.”

     He had me.

     It got me thinking about a lot of things I never dreamed would happen and how I had been blessed with an amazing life. I have three strong children living lives they have chosen to live, a beautiful grandson who is present in my heart every day, and my new little puppy. I have met so many remarkable people along the way. Some of those people have had a powerful impact on my life with just a few words.

     Words are that important.

     Whether written or spoken, they allow us to express how we feel about anything and everything, including those we love. Words help us tell our stories, and they help us to know what ingredients to use to make the perfect broccoli casserole.   


     If you want to read the words of my story in Chicken Soup for the Soup:  Inspiration for Teachers, the books go on sale April 18 in bookstores everywhere and on Amazon.com. If you want to purchase a signed copy, just drop me a few words.