Think about it...

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.
     “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.

     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 If you want to purchase a signed copy, just drop me a few words.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Picking Up Pecans

          I wish we could turn back time and play there again. Climb up in the apple trees, eat the apples that were so ripe they fell to the ground, climb in the pecan tree, play hide and seek around the homes and the barns, play tag with home base at the big pecan tree, pick up pecans and fill our pockets until they stretched. That wasn’t all that was full. Our hearts and our souls were brimming with happiness. We were young. We didn’t know any different.
100-year-old fig tree
          Life was as bright as the sun that shone on that old home place. Life was as dazzling as the sun that still shines, but now on an empty field where homes to three generations were built and eventually replaced, until nothing but the original landscape remained. The fig tree, over one hundred years old, is as big as all the cousins standing in one spot, and could probably feed us all, too. But what’s missing are three different homes that housed three different generations on this property, the barn stalls where the horses slept and ate, farmland of black dirt tilled by the sweat of the brow waiting for seeds to be planted, a young girl in white jeans and a white tee shirt kneeling in that dirt with her cupped hands full of the moist, rich earth held to her nostrils, and a porch-sized swing hanging from an old oak tree rocked tenderly by the winds of summer at the end of a long day of playing in the yard. 
          That’s not all that’s missing. The freedom of childhood, the affection for the environment, and the bond with each other, seem to have been left there when the children went out into the world to become adults. It’s all still there. I can hear it laughing when the wind blows. I can see it running when the leaves move. Forgiveness had not yet been learned, because injustice had not been experienced until now.
          I allowed myself to grieve at the funeral service. I cried hard—silent, hot tears. The kind that burn your nose all the way up to your brain and blur your vision so it’s like looking from the backside of a waterfall. I didn’t want to see at that moment. I didn’t want to see a future without my Uncle Bill. I just wanted to wallow in the past and grab a hold of every memory he had seared into my life. All those moments when he was not even trying to make a difference, but he did. He really did. I wanted to show him somehow that I appreciated that, but it was too late. I swore I wouldn’t let this happen with another person. I cried so hard that I felt like my throat was going to close up on me. I didn’t even try to stop it. That is how to show respect at an old-fashioned funeral service in a Southern Baptist Church…with a humbling, heartbreaking grief.
          Sunday, October 28, 2001, was the day my Mama died. Fifteen years later, on Friday, October 28, my Uncle Bill left this world. Many a Sunday afternoon, my Aunt Glenda and Uncle Bill and their four children would be at our home sharing a meal. Sometimes, that Sunday meal included the fish caught by the men folk from the day before. After we ate, the grown-ups would sit around and talk while the kids played out in the yard. I would sit quietly in the corner, hoping to go unnoticed, so I could listen. On special occasions, like New Year’s Day, we would go to their house for a traditional meal, which included collard greens and black-eyed peas. At their house, I would watch wrestling with the guys and we would try to sneak up on each other to pull an elbow maneuver that caused severe pain in the top of the shoulder area. It really did hurt! It was funny if it was happening to someone else. I learned to stay aware of my surroundings.
          “Vickie-Do-Little!” Uncle Bill always greeted me every time I entered a room.
          “Vickie do a lot,” was my response every single time.
          Bill was a tall, strong man with a giant personality. I looked up to him. He was always happy. I didn’t know until I was an adult, that he had never learned to read.
          The last time I heard those words, I had trudged across a gravel parking lot toward the side door at Boone Ford Baptist Church. My Daddy got out of his van and whispered, “Vickie-Do-Little” to me with a sad smile on his face. I had not forgotten that exchange from my childhood.
          I am grateful for the way Uncle Bill lived his life and the way he touched mine. He was a man of God. Reverend Marvin Carr was the preacher who delivered the sermon at Uncle Bill’s funeral. Reverend Carr said, “I asked him one time. Why do you talk out loud to God?” Bill’s response was, “Because He talks to me.” During the sermon, mothers with babies rocked, and mothers with empty laps rocked, too. Stained-glass windows twisted the light and bounced it off the diamond-dusted ceiling.
          Bill had once said to Reverend Carr, “I was walking around on my property one day and God spoke to me. He said build me a house.” He not only heard the voice, he believed it…and he obeyed it. He was moved to action by the Spirit. It all began with a tent as big as the property, or at least that’s the size registered in the memory banks of my nine-year-old self. Inside the tent were rows and rows of unfolded, metal chairs on a grass floor. An upright piano was positioned to one side of the homemade platform, and a pulpit stood in the middle. Many souls were saved as the wind slipped in and out of the white, fabric walls. Not long after the tent revival, Uncle Bill gave the majority of his land for the construction of a house for the Lord. Bill’s brother, Harold, was the founding pastor of the church. Now, Uncle Bill’s family gathered in that building to say their last good-byes to him.
          In his younger years, he had taxied Marvin Carr around to preach at different churches in a souped up, yellow, racing truck. Years later, Bill took his nephew, Gary Quarles, to church at the age of fourteen. Gary is now the pastor of Boone Ford Baptist Church. Gary remembers those Sunday mornings in a ’65 Comet with Bill’s girls in the backseat singing all the way to church.
          Uncle Bill was a quiet man. He loved to sit down to a spread of food like it was Thanksgiving any time of the year, he loved is wife, his three girls (Becky, Angie and Mamie), and his only son, Anthony (his nickname was Boy, so that’s what we all called him).
          I glanced around the church during all the wailing and sniffling and noticed Boy bent over his own young son, who was half his height and wrapped tightly in a loving embrace. I smiled and thought the love continues.
          The music moved me. I knew it would. Walking across the gravel parking lot, I had said to my husband, “Oh no, I forgot to bring a tissue.” With the first few strums of the mandolin strings by Gary Quarles, I glanced downward and saw a box of tissues in the corner under the pew in front of me. I picked the box up and placed it beside me. I knew I would need more than one. The guitars, played by brothers, Brian and Walter Bohannon, Dale Stone, and Steve Quarles, joined the mandolin in a bluegrass summons for me to hark back to a time before the walls of the church existed. The voices of five men who loved Bill began to sing the first of several of his favorite songs. The harmonious sound swept through the sanctuary like a wave of love and left a trail of tears in its wake, including mine. I knew this was the time to allow myself to cry. I missed him, just like everyone else wiping their eyes. The congregation sang songs as old as dirt. Uncle Bill had told his girls he didn’t want to be left alone overnight at the funeral home, so they had stayed with his body at the church the night before.
          The sound a grown man’s hand makes when it pats another grieving man’s back echoed down the aisle. Babies cried, sisters and daughters wailed, and grown men silently let go. As the service came to a close, I cleaned myself up. I was all dry, just red eyes blinking at the bright sunshine when I exited the building through  the double pine doors.
View behind the Salacoa Baptist Church in June, 2012
          Outside the weeping walls of the church, on the other end of the property, leaves let go of their branches and fell slowly and calmly to the earth. Pecans lay forgotten where feet no longer strolled. The pall bearers heaved their heavy load and rigidly marched the casket out of the church, down the concrete steps, and to the back of the waiting hearse for the long, slow ride to its final resting place on a mountainside with a heavenly view in Cherokee County. In the shadow of his wife’s headstone (she had died in 2012), muffled whimpers mixed with the melody of broken voices. The sun beat down hot on the darkly-dressed mourners.
          It was an unusually warm, fall day when they buried Uncle Bill. Leaves were at their peak of color. Back at the church, pecans covered the ground under a tree that had not been climbed in decades. The evening before the funeral, I had taken photos of the fourth generation, the grandchildren, tracing the same steps that had been walked by their ancestors. I had picked up a pecan from the ground under that old pecan tree and put it in my pocket.
          A small voice said, “Take two or three. Grab a handful and fill your pockets until they stretch! Every time you see these little treasures, let them remind you of the joy, happiness, and love that this family shared. Don’t bother with the dark-colored ones, because they are bitter. When you look at these healthful little nuggets, you need only remember what nourishes you.”
          I reached down and picked up a handful of pecans.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

To the Mountains that Hold My Son

     We are each on a journey. Our destinations are connected by periods of holding on and moments of letting go.
     This past Thanksgiving week flew by. I tried to be in the moment with the launch of my children's book, Baby Birds, and celebrating the holiday with family and friends. It was my grandson's first Thanksgiving--he is so cute and funny! My nieces and nephews are all growing up way too fast. The food was absolutely delicious! Before we knew it, the week was ending, and it was time to take my youngest back to college. He and my husband were both ready to get back to their normal routines, but something inside me wasn't. So, while riding back home through the mountains from the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, I did what writers do and put some of what I was feeling down on paper.

To the Mountains that Hold My Son

He’s off to school that boy of mine.
We visit him from time to time.
I struggle when it’s time to part,
Leaving behind part of my heart.

I talk and chat the time away,
But you don’t want for us to stay.
Your hills may still have gold to hide,
But now you hold this mother’s pride.

I watch the view on the way home.
It seems like days since we’ve been gone.
Teach him now all he needs to know.
One day, you too, must let him go.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Magic Words

          Attending a writing workshop is a good way to learn something new, be reminded of things you already knew, but had forgotten, and to awaken the creativity inside that may have fallen dormant. Yesterday, I was fortunate to spend the day at the CWG 2016 Fall Writer’s Workshop at Chattanooga State Community College learning from award winning poets Jeff Hardin and John Mannone. Hardin said poems can be place driven—just visualize the location. Some people like to write the title first, some make a list of words. Address poems permit us to speak to people or things around us, which can give a new perspective on a situation. Mannone encouraged us to use magic words that would accomplish a slam dunk emotion and allow the story to continue to live off the page.
           I was inspired to write the following poems.

To the Man Who Wants to Butter his Steak on Both Sides
By Vickie McEntire

I cannot help you breathe.
You grab your chest with one hand, and
Slap your clammy forehead with the other.
I sit motionless.
Trying to process.

You push the red canister, more than once.
I count three times.
That is how I’m helping you.
My internal counting does not help.
You have the strength to fumble with the hose
That delivers calm into your life.

Am I dreaming?

I do not console.
I wait to see if you will live.

When you have caught your breath,
You finish your sentence,
“If you slather both sides of the steak with butter while it’s still warm,
It’s so much better.”

You lick your lips as if you can taste it.

“No thank you,” I say.
And I stab my broccoli with my fork.

To a Lonely Moon Rock in My Garden
By Vickie McEntire

Keeping the dirt in its’ place.
I see you in my garden
With your diamond studded face.

Fall’s fading flow’rs remind me
Of the hands that first lay hold.
“What you got there? Let me see.”
Held up to the sky like gold.
The truth I could not tell him.
Your gravel status I raised.

Many times he has retold
How you landed there that day.

You sparkle now in moonlight.
For a new hand you await.
Hang in there lonely Moon Rock.
A grandchild will come this way.