Think about it...

Monday, July 9, 2018

Little Bird is Flying High!

I wrote in my journal on Saturday, June 16, 2018, the following:

          It's gonna be a great day! The sun is bright hot, the birds are chirping.

By nightfall, I sat at a table encircled by friends at the 54th Annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards ceremony. The food was great. My purse was on the table near me, and inside it were three index cards. I had written an acceptance speech--just in case. My category was first up. The judge for the Children's Book category was Carmen Deedy. The winner of the finalist award was Dan Carlton and his book, Ollie and the Wise Old Owl. I didn't get the finalist award, but I was still hopeful. I had poured my heart and soul (and some cash) into creating Little Bird & Myrtle Turtle, and I loved it. When I heard my name called out, I went into some kind of automatic mode. It was really hilarious.

I knew my friends were cheering, but I couldn't celebrate until I had that award in my hands. I grabbed my little purse and unzipped it like a woman on a mission. Pulled out two, then three cards. Each one folded on the bottom corner, so they wouldn't stick if this occasion actually happened. It was happening! I felt giddy. Then I put myself in check. I had a message to deliver.

I strode--make that floated--to the front of the audience and waited patiently at the bottom of the steps for Michelle Khouri, the emcee, to finish her remarks. 

Ms. Khouri read the judges statement about the winning book, "The tale of a character that cares for an unhatched egg--with surprising results--is not an uncommon theme in children's literature. Hans Christian Anderson's The Ugly Duckling, Oliver Butterworth's The Enormous Egg, and Emily Gravett's wickedly delightful, The Odd Egg, are among the most memorable of these adoption stories. McEntire's gentle wisdom in the treatment of this theme is worthy of commendation. When the bird asks its adoptive turtle mother if it belongs to her, her reply is simple, " do not belong to me or anyone else. Your life belongs to the wind under your wings..." These unselfish words reassure the young reader that the turtle, wanting only freedom and happiness for her young charge, is a marvelous parent. And the little bird is fortunate indeed to have her for a mother." 

She was talking about my beloved book, but I didn't hear a word she said. Then I dropped one of the index cards!

I remained steady and calmly bent over and picked it up. It was a dream come true to finally step onto that stage and accept such an honor. I paused with my trophy and the emcee for the photographer and felt as if I were gliding over to the podium. I was so nervous, but 
I spoke with all the confidence I could muster and delivered my speech.

"Over 12,000 children are in foster care homes across the state of Georgia. I wrote the story, Little Bird & Myrtle Turtle, for every child who grows up with people other than their biological parents. They may look different from their caregivers, but with love and support, they can appreciate their own identity and find their purpose in life. Thank you, Georgia Writer’s Association, for this opportunity.

I am also grateful my parents read to me; I am thankful that Amber Lanier Nagle taught a class about writing family stories; grateful that Karli Land founded Calhoun Area Writers; and I appreciate that my husband, Dave, does an unequal amount of household chores while I write. I am thankful for all of these things, but I’m most grateful for the power of words.

We all know the importance of early reading and mentoring. I was recently reminded of that importance and the power of words, when a caretaker of a four-year-old who had been placed in a foster care home for troubled children, said to me, 'We go through the same routine every night. He won’t go to sleep until I read him the book you wrote.'

I recently watched a video of Ron Howard about directing. He said, “Find a story you love, and tell it.” That’s what we do as writers. I encourage each of you to continue to write the stories you love. There are readers waiting for you to use your power. Just remember, it’s not about us, the writers, but the story and letting go to give the story a voice. Thank you for listening to mine."

I will never forget that night. I went back to my table and laughed like a silly school girl. I said "I love you" to my husband who has supported me every step of the way. I hugged everyone at our table, and texted friends and loved ones who couldn't be there. My "Little Bird" is flying high!

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.
     “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.