Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Life and Times of a Book Festival

The Decopolis BookFest in Tulsa on Saturday was a hot, fun mess. This is how it all went down....


The ability to succeed as a writer has nothing to do with communication skills or creativity. It's all about the biceps, deltoids, and core. Can you or can you not carry everything needed for your table for a minimum distance of one city block? Many a promising writer has ended their careers at the 20-yard line.





That's not even a little true. There wasn't one freaking camel in the entire downtown area.





Those who know tell me authors must constantly be taking pictures with their books. But...it's a book. It's rectangular. Eventually, you run out of fresh picture angles. So I've taken up flashing hand gestures with my books. Here, I went with the peace sign. I have no idea why. It means absolutely nothing.





This sweet couple stood and chatted for awhile. I sat the entire time, while, apparently, taking a periodic nap during the conversation.





That's not completely true. I ate very little, although I will admit to consuming a fruit roll-up. Otherwise, I kept consumption at a minimum because bathroom breaks aren't frequent. Instead, I chose starvation and dehydration.






Then a friend, knowing that's exactly what I was doing, showed up to complicate the situation. I won't regret drinking that water. I won't.




There's a family-type familiarity between readers. We know each other, even when we don't know each other. Whether we're driven to read history or fiction or autobiographies, it doesn't matter. We know inside those pages there is another world, one we can only explore by taking the time to seek it wrapped in words.
Meeting those people was the best part of the day.
The worst part of my day was when the bookfest ended and that freaking camel still hadn't shown.

The end.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Why is entertainment so unentertaining?



A few months ago I tried watching Homeland. I knew better. But some lessons take a few tries before they stick.

After a few too many episodes of feeling like a voyeur in Nicholas Brody's bedroom, I signed off. Let's let these kiddos work out their material issues without me watching.

I don't own cable, or any of the cable add-ons because, quite frankly, I don't enjoy needing mental decontamination after an evening of relaxing in front of the TV. I prefer not seeing severed bodies during a typical Friday night - I'm funny that way. Or hearing joke after joke about genitals and bathroom habits - because jokes are supposed to be funny. Or watching actors simulate sex acts - I pity them for the awkwardness they should be feeling.

Since I'm neither a sex addicted porn watcher or a murderous psychopath, none of these things entertain me. And all these things, in one form or another, are everywhere. Even in my non-HBO or Showtime watching world.

God preserve me from the day I'm held hostage and tortured with Game of Thrones episodes.

I don't mean to come off like some self-righteous puritan. But, then again, do self-righteous puritans hate being around gratuitous sex, gory violence, extreme crassness and excessive profanity? Because, buddy, if so I'm in. Get me the t-shirt.

Here's the part that really disappoints me: As consumers, we can have better; As artists, we can do better.

Entertainment can be inspiring, hilarious, romantic, adventurous, mysterious, intriguing, fascinating, intelligent, inventive, impactful, pointed, opinionated, thrilling, all without the negative, gruesome elements. Despite the popular belief of most entertainment producers, it can. And the fact we're so rarely treated to such either shows a lowering of standards on the consumer's part, or a laziness on the artist's.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying you can't find high caliber entertainment anywhere, I'm saying is isn't predominant in the industry. It's like that rare fleck of gold you find after sifting through running sewage.

Now go wash your hands.

When I wrote Not Another Superhero, writing a story with class was a major objective for me. Could I create complex characters, put them in extreme circumstances, design a multi-faceted plot, ignite it with a respectful but spirited sexual tension, and do it all without asking my readers to lower their standards?

You tell me.

Not Another Superhero is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The sequel, Just Another Sidekick, is due out in August.

Expect more from your entertainment, my friends. Expect movies and books and art that meet your moral and mental standards. When you do, the artists - as artist Robert Florczak explains in the above Prager University video - will have to meet those standards.

Hold artists accountable and demand better. You deserve entertainment from your entertainment. Otherwise, what are you inviting into your time and attention?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Let the good times roll.



How much sharing is too much sharing? Anyone got an answer? A formula? A theory? I haven't got a clue.

As an author, from what I've been told or witnessed, I'm supposed to be sharing every opinion, past time, thought, and meal I have. That's me marketing myself. That's me creating a brand.

That's me getting on my nerves. That's why me doesn't do it.

Personally, I'm not big on knowing everything about anyone. Even the writers I adore reading, I don't necessarily adore their coffee mug collection or gardening hobby.

Not that they aren't lovely people with lovely lives, but I'm cool just reading their books when they come out.

Personally, I'm not great with sharing details about myself because 1) I'm a private person and 2) my life is about as fascinating as a coffee mug collection. And I'm good with that.
"It's no bad thing celebrating a simple life."
J.R.R. Tolkien
Post WWI, Tolkien lived a normal, ordinary life off paper and an unimaginable one on it. We could have been mates.

I'm saying all this as a heads-up. I'm gearing up to launch my second book, Just Another Sidekick (available August 2017), which is the next installment to Not Another Superhero. This means I'll be pressured - and will succumb to that pressure - to post aspects of my simple life you are not obligated to find interesting.

But doing it is a necessary evil.

However, I do have some boundaries. I won't take selfies with my meal. I won't take a picture of my feet on the beach. And I won't live tweet any sporting events. Everything else in the pursuit of marketing my book is fair game. That includes pictures of my coffee mug collection, which I don't have, and information about gardening, which I don't do.

You've been forwarned.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Send ANYONE Else



He told me not to bother. If I remember correctly, his exact words actually were, "Don't bother."

This was around my 27th year and I was less than a week away from launching The Remnant, a Christian service group comprised of adult singles....wait for it...with a twist.

The twist was that singles groups are awkward and I didn't want to attend them anymore. So how does one meet new people and make quality friendships? One starts a group that weeds out any namby-pamby. Here's what I figured: I'd create a service group that specialized in volunteer projects so heinous, so tiring, so draining, so filthy, only the cool would survive.

Anyone left standing would be my kind of person. And we could be friends!

A week before the launch meeting, while I was in the midst of making snacks (the almond bark coated pretzels were a big hit) and organizing my pitch, a friend asked me a question that nearly ended it all: Are you willing to lead?


Define 'willing.'


Matthew - you beautiful boy you - was a friend with a background in ministry leadership. While working on the initial launch, he helped me think of scenarios and issues I'd never imagined. He asked me the hard questions. He took me through the logistics and the reality. Basically, he was my Mr. Miyagi.

Then he asked me that question and I was stumped. What I was comfortable doing was starting the group, not leading it. I assumed God was only asking me to do what I was comfortable doing. Isn't that what God does? Lets us chill in our comfort zones? Can I get an amen?

Matthew wasn't impressed with my answer. "If you can't lead it, don't bother starting it."


But...but...but...


This is what I call, "Being a real Moses." Not the Red Sea division Moses. The earlier dude talking to a burning bush about a speech impediment.

Initially, when God spoke to Moses about His plans to free the Israelites from Egypt, Moses responded with questions. We may think of him as this powerful Charleton Heston type and, with God beside him, he was. But he was also a man with a fear of public speaking he could not face.

So, he threw out any question he could. People will want to know God's name, what was he suppose to tell them? People will question his authority, how could he make them believe him? When God had answers for every excuse, Moses finally got real.

"Oh Lord, I'm not very good with words. I never have been, and I'm not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled." Exodus 4:10


Oh Moses. I get you, man.


I relate so much more to this Moses than the miracle working one. He saw his own inability and it caused hesitation and fear. I've often given God a list of the things I don't want to do. "Ask me to do anything Lord! Except this list of exceptions I've made into a convenient refrigerator magnet for you."

When Matthew asked me that question, I had a list of excuses, too. But God came with a ready answer.
Then the Lord asked Moses, "Who makes a person's mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say." Exodus 4:11-12

In other words, "You get tongue-tied? So what! Your limitations do not limit me. So get your rear in gear!" But Moses couldn't give God this one fear. He just couldn't.
"Lord, please! Send anyone else." Exodus 4:13


Accepting your ineptitude is liberating.


All those years ago, my friend Matthew gave me a new perspective on stepping into a role where I didn't feel qualified.

"God has trusted you with this project," he told me. "So are you going to protect what God's given you or let someone else step in and, quite possibly, take this group in the direction God never meant for it to go?"

This wasn't about what I was qualified to do. It was about God asking me if I was willing to do anything. Even if that anything freaked me out.

I take it back. 


I did launch The Remnant. And led it.

Not because I felt empowered and capable, but because I wasn't going to let anyone come along and screw it up.

Not only did God use me far beyond my capabilities, but He blessed me immeasurably for trusting Him. That group is where I met many of my closest, dearest, lifelong friends. For three years, we broke bread and sweat together. Lived with more paint in our hair than was culturally stylish. Worked in the cold rain and brutal sun. Ended most projects covered in dust, dirt, sawdust, and, on one particular weekend, cow manure. We also had an unfortunate event in a muddy field with a heavy truck, laughed more hours than we cried, and experienced true brother and sisterhood. All these years later, and I'm still blessed by that time in my life.

I think about that a lot when God comes around again asking me to travel further into my fears, which He does all the blasted day long. It's like He doesn't appreciate that refrigerator magnet at all.

If God is asking you, like He does with me, to do something that freaks you out, here's what we should do:

Right after listing all the reasons we're not qualified and believing anyone else would do a better job, take a breath. Deep inhale. Deep exhale. Get rid of the boundaries we've placed on our life. Forget who we are alone and remember Who is with us. Then, with as steady of a voice as we can summon, say, "Geez. Okay God. I take it back. Don't send anyone else. Send me."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Yes. But He's alive.



A wise and noble friend of mine often says, "Life is hard, but it's also so much more than hard."

And I reply, "Yes, but it is hard."

And he replies, "But not only hard."

And I reply, "Yes, but..." You get the picture.

My side of the conversation is super easier to prove. In fact, at this very moment I can rattle off names of family, friends, acquaintances, and even plug myself in there, who are currently struggling financially, with serious health issues, mourning over lost loved ones and lost trust, battling with failure and those fuzzy feelings that go with it, facing self-doubt, helplessness, hopelessness, broken heartedness, and pain of various shapes, colors, degrees, and delights.

See? Hard. I win.

Rules and exceptions.


We know this, of course. The evidence is everywhere. After awhile, and simply to maintain sanity, we accept my argument without much push back. Why fight it? What's done is done. What will be will be.

Right on.

Things get glitchy at this point because, if you're a Christian, you can't leave it there. God won't leave it there either. Lately, His 'not leaving it there' is getting louder. At least in my head. I have this phrase that keeps making its rounds everytime I consider all the harshness of life. It goes something like this, "Yes. But He's alive."

Easy to remember; hard to forget. Also, incredibly repetitive, like when you get, "The Final Countdown" by Europe stuck in your head.

Life is hard! Yes. But He's alive.

The harshness is real! Yes. But He's alive.

The real is confirmed! Yes. But He's alive.

Death is as real as it gets.


Easter weekend is here and I keep thinking about the disciples and their reality. They walked with the Son of God on earth, saw the sick healed, lame walk, thousands fed, Pharisees publically humiliated.

Good times.

Things took a drastic turn nearly as soon as Jesus got off that donkey.

The miracle worker stopped working miracles. The good guys started losing. The man who raised others from the dead was now dead himself. What could they have been feeling as Jesus was tortured to death on that cross? Probably hopeless. Definitely fearful. Incredibly lost. Undeniably defeated.

This was their harsh reality. It was their grave medical diagnosis, their home foreclosure, their sick child, their ending marriage, their failed dream. Jesus didn't just appear dead, He took a final breath. Done, finished, finito.

What's done was done. What would be...was.

Yes. But.


Sunday was coming. Not all that far off, actually.

The disciples saw their Teacher and Savior buried in a tomb. But their reality didn't change God's eventuality. That tomb was already empty. Those burial clothes were already tossed aside. Even before reality said so.

The plan God had written from the beginning was already as good as done before it even started.
Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, "Listen, we're going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise."
Luke 18:31-33 

All these hardships we face are real. They aren't frivolous or minor or shrug-worthy. They're painful, excruciating at times, and overwhelmingly defeating. They're as real as real gets. So, yes. The harshness is true.

And, because of that, I think we often see the future as more of the same. Mourning that never ends. Heartache that never stops. Pain that never relents. It's hard to imagine anything different than the reality we're facing every day, over and over, without any signs of change or renewal or hope.

But He's alive. And, because of that one fact, everything can change. Everything. Even our reality.

You know what this means? It means I lost the argument.


Happy Easter, my friends. He's risen! 



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don't despise criticism. Despise the absence of it.



Take six months, he said. Enroll in some grammar classes. Start fresh and relearn the craft. My fiction writing had creativity. And humor. And timing. What it didn't have yet, he said, was the technical chops to be taken seriously.

Yeah. That hurt.

This was an assessment I received years ago after a New York Times best-selling author critiqued a few pages from one of my initial manuscripts. The advice put me back five years in publishing my first fiction novel. It caused me to second guess every sentence I wrote. It made me paranoid about comma usage. It created doubt about my talent. It unearthed serious insecurities about my career choice.

Man, I owe him.

The war on words.


Telling the hard truth isn't popular these days. Nor is questioning certain sacred cows. There are people, ideas, even opinions in our culture that are not to be criticized or tested. Doing so is borderline illegal. Unless you're in Canada and question Islam, then there is no borderline. It's just plain illegal.

Welcome to the age of settled science, hate speech, and safe spaces: all terms used conveniently to silence all questions, doubt, and opposing opinions.

I don't know where this idea started that certain people, ideas, and beliefs couldn't be questioned. Who decided which ones get coddled? And which don't? What makes these people, ideas, and beliefs so fragile they can't survive doubt? And wouldn't treating them like a namby-pamby be considered soft criticism?

Someone needs to issue a public apology. Stat.

Desperately seeking adulthood. 


I don't think I grew up in a bubble, but maybe I did. In my formative years, the one thing you didn't want was to be treated like a child. Not even when you were one.

That meant accepting constructive criticism, instruction, even punishment and correction with emotional maturity. It also meant dealing with different viewpoints, not always getting your way, never being a sore loser, and, yes, having your ideas and beliefs questioned.

This was the normal path to adulthood.

And we're not talking Medieval Times here people. It was the 80s. Earning respect meant you had to have the gumption and strength to withstand criticism, even when it wasn't constructive.


Tough words are for the tough.



My author friend, the one with the harsh rebuke, actually paid me the ultimate compliment. He treated me like an equal.

He didn't pander, pat me consolingly on the head, and lie about keeping up the good work so I'd feel accepted.

Instead, he questioned me where I needed questioned and challenged me where I didn't know I needed challenged. His words weren't easy, but they were respectful. He knew my fortitude was, or would have to be, strong enough to withstand being questioned and criticized.

Appeasement would have been an insult; rebuke gave me dignity.  

If I were a Muslim in Canada, I'd be so offended right now.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ladies, you've embarrassed strong women long enough.



Lately, there's a certain group of women consistently in the spotlight. Women who really love talking about their genitals. And, I'm just going to say it, they're humiliating the rest of us.

Where do these pussy hat wearing, free contraceptive demanding, abortion-on-demand glorifying, public breast exposing, poor me whining, nasty woman celebrating, genital obsessing, free bleeding females come from? And do they talk to their mother with that mouth?

These women revel in dropping the word "vagina" into any conversation. They brandish it like a talisman, capable of bestowing undisputed relevance.

Stephen Colbert: "Cate Blanchett, what is your moral compass? Where does kindness and humanity sit in a brutal world? Because those are important questions right now." 
Cate Blanchett: "In my vagina." 

That sounds uncomfortable.

The Apple Has Fallen Far


I'm baffled anyone - the media, the culture, Stephen Colbert - takes these women seriously. When did we start mistaking vulgarity, shrieking, and anger as strength?

Some will blame it on political viewpoints, but I disagree. My girlfriends with differing political or religious viewpoints than I are all classy and kind, funny and joyful, giving and intelligent and successful and just...cool. None wear genital costumes.

What women are actually facing is a crisis of identity. Being a female has become nothing more than a thought. Even a man can be one if he so chooses.

It's way past time for strong women to take our gender back.


The Strong Woman Manifesto


Strong women have been beating down the mangled, overgrown path ahead of me my entire life.

I've watched them face unbearable pain with nobility and charm. I've watched them struggle through financial destitution; the loss of marriages, spouses, parents, and children; the challenge of single motherhood with disabled children; the ache of loneliness; the heartbreak of infertility; the mortality of life in all its shades and tints and textures. And still they do it while enchanting us with their heart and laughter and that incorrigible wink of mischief.

I know what strong women look like because I know their names.

In honor of them, and because they deserve better representation than what they've been getting, here are 8 of the many life lessons they've taught me: 

Strong women don't feel sorry for themselves.

Bad things happen to strong women. It's actually the rough edges of their life that have shaped them into the curvaceous, bodacious Amazonians that they are.

That doesn't, however, mean they don't have their weak moments. It means they take those moments, recognize them for what they are, accept they come, soak in the unfairness of it all, then refuse to be defeated by it.

Strong women face challenges with determination, not self-pity.


Strong women respect their bodies. 

Self-respect cannot and will not happen without respecting your body. It's the outer presentation of your inner self. Pretending otherwise is a lie. So it must be protected. And honored. And clothed.

Do you want to be viewed as a chalkboard? Then don't expose your breasts to write messages on them.

Strong women use posterboard.

Strong women love strong men.

Dear Lord in Heaven, yes.

Please.

And thank you.

Strong men are beautiful creatures. We need more of them, not less. I've never seen a single strong female be intimidated by a strong man. In fact, they thrill her. Strong women know that strong men are their equal, while gloriously different, counterparts. They support them, encourage them, respect them, because she knows true strength never needs others to be less.

Only bullies push others down to feel powerful. Strong women admire strength wherever it is found.


Strong women control their tongue.

You don't have to say everything you think. Really, it's best not.

You also don't have to infuse your verbal dictionary with excessive descriptions of your reproductive organs. The women I admire in my life are always worth listening to because they always have something of value to say. And when they don't, they shut up.

They also keep talk about their private parts private.


Strong women welcome opposing viewpoints. 

Disagree with her. She really doesn't care.

A strong woman won't agree with people often. Because she has her own mind. She's a maverick, a pioneer, a free thinker. But she also knows she can gain insight and wisdom from hearing differing opinions...about everything!

What she doesn't do is send f-bomb tirades on Twitter when someone says something she doesn't like.

Want an easy test to tell a strong woman from a weak one? Disagree with her. Then stand back and watch.


Strong women are hard workers.

I've never known a single strong woman who doesn't want to work. Not a single one.

Whether their job is with a company, for their family, or raising the next great generation, strong women embrace the hard labor of life because they want the rewards - self-respect, education, discipline, achievement, better life, more options, sense of fulfillment, and a chance to show off, baby.


Strong women are survivors, not victims.

I've seen this too many times, in too many glorious ways, to believe women cannot and do not overcome some of the harshest circumstances in life. The strongest women among us never see themselves as a victim, even though society would gladly approve them for the label.

They refuse.

They want to be more, prove more, and have more than what victimhood provides. Yes, they have obstacles to face and tears to cry. But they face them. They cry them.

Then strong women go kick ass.


Strong women are more than their gender.

Being a woman is fabulous. And strong women are nothing if not fabulous. They love indulging their relational nature, delighting in their femininity, celebrating and displaying beauty, and exploring all the ways their minds work differently than men.

A strong woman takes great pleasure in being female, but she does not worship it.



The next time a woman starts dropping the v-word, tell her to stop embarrassing herself. And while she's at it, stop embarrassing the rest of us, too.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The storm your meteorologist isn't talking about.



It's March in the heartland.

That means it's time for Oklahomans to burrow into the ground with our water, flashlight, and battery-powered radio. Park our vehicles in a garage or under the awning at Sonic. Gather our family so everyone is ready to take the situation seriously when that fifth tornado siren goes off. Check into social media every ten minutes to write funny posts so it doesn't sound like we're scared. Charge our phone battery so we can record video when the floods come and hail falls.

And go one more round with Mother Nature to see who wins.

Of all our standard severe weather practices, the most important one is that we never let a tornado take us by surprise.

Which means we live in vigilant fear for one season and constant dread the other three.

Keep an Eye on the Forecast


We don't actually. We're just aware that bad weather does come. It always comes. We won't make it through this season without it so being shocked when it arrives would seem...well...stupid.

Spring comes every year. And bad weather comes with it. Every. Year.

You cannot separate the two, just like you cannot separate life from problems. The former doesn't come without versions of the latter. Believing we can get through life without facing disappointment, difficulty, challenges, or struggles would seem...well...stupid.

But I do it anyway.

You?

The only thing to fear is schizophrenia itself


I'm that person always warning others there are rumblings on the horizon. It's obnoxious. Trust me. But I can't seem to help myself. I see patterns in life my friends believe is a side effect from all those drugs I took in the 60s.

But I've been doing it forever.

My guess is it's leftover hypervigilance from a few traumatic experiences of my childhood. You don't get tossed off the roof of a burning house as a child and it not make an impression. Or get yanked out of a church building on an Easter morning while the floor is collapsing under your feet and not wonder if you're a marble and the planet is a Hungry, Hungry Hippo.

For years, my life was so exciting I didn't need an imagination.

Beware the Ides of the Other Shoe


Accepting that life can be an obstacle course has rarely been my challenge. For me, it's believing that life isn't only an obstacle course.

But if I can do it, anyone can.

Yes, we must face the harsh realities of life. When we don't, we become those people who sob on the front lawns of universities when we realize anything of value costs money.

Let's never be those people.

But acceptance doesn't mean obsession. Or fatalism. Even though the weather, our circumstances, life itself, often tries to convince us the struggle will never end. It does. It will. Just hold on.

Because, outside, the weather is going to do its best to convince us every day is nothing but another chance for the wind to draw blood. But that isn't the weather always and won't be the weather forever. As most Oklahomans know, not every breeze turns into a storm. Not every storm turns into a tornado. Not every tornado causes irreparable damage.

Eventually, the new norm changes into another new norm. The winds die down. The sky stops churning. The thunder rumbles off. And spring, each and every year, turns to summer.

So, while we wait for this tumultuous spring season to pass, whether that's the weather or our circumstances, I'll leave you with a blessing my grandfather often repeated that's been a comfort to me:
"May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace." Numbers 6:24-26
And I'll add: May your storm shelter be fortified, roomy, and have wifi.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

7 Unwanted Emotions and the Uncommon Advice To Overcome Them


You don't want to feel what you feel, but you do. You don't want this emotion, but you've got it.

Oh, I've been there, am there, was there, will be there again. Rotten feelings are normal and expected. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. Or succumb without a fight.

When negative emotions get their hook in, we need a way to yank them out.

Carefully.

Painlessly would be groovy.

At the very least, thoroughly.

First and foremost, I recommend prayer and honest, quiet, focused scripture reading. But, sometimes, we need to add some fresh perspective to the mix. We need someone not in our head to give us a new viewpoint.

Recently, I had a series of meet-ups with friends. All of whom are brilliant. Brilliant and interesting. A necessary combination.

After each conversation, it struck me how all their insight, advice, or just conversational thoughts - collectively - touched on a variety of negative emotions all of us face. And usually repetitively.

It was stuff too good not to share. So...my friends...here's some words from...my friends...on dealing with 7 of the most common negative emotions:


When you feel Defeated: 

“You’ve got to live your life. Not anyone else’s. That means it moves at your unique pace. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that."
I loved this freeing thought because I'm definitely at war with time. I have exactly one clock in my house. One. That's all I can stomach. But, even though time is rarely our friend, it doesn't have to be our captor.


When you feel Jealous: 

“The way I look at it, I still have something to work toward that others with more than me don't. I haven’t achieved everything I want in life, yet. That means I have desires that motivate me to keep moving forward and gives me something to look forward to experiencing." 

This thought reminds me of a scene in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael, a movie my girlfriends and I watched too many times in our teen years.


Gerald Howells: Gosh, I want to kiss you so bad, Dinky.
Dinky Bossetti: It's good to want things.


When you feel Anxious: 

“Your shoulda’s will kill you. I should’a done this, I should’a achieved that, I should’a had that by now. That’s what builds anxiety. You have to stop setting these rules and simply accept your pace of life.”
Those shouda's really will kill you.


When you feel Confused: 

“We don’t see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." 
Acceptance is the first step to recovery. And clarify.


When you feel Disappointed: 

“When you look at the horizon, all you can see is a comparison of where you are and where others are. And you’ve got to let it all go. God wants to step in, but He’s waiting for us to move out of the way.”


That song from Frozen got stuck in my head for a solid four hours after.


When you feel Hopeless: 

“The relationship was dead. I’d given up. There was no saving it. But God showed up and, I tell you, it’s amazing what He can do.”
Hope until the end. Hope with your last breath. Life is simply too mean, too harsh, too cruel to face it without hope. And, make no mistake, holding on to hope may be the hardest thing you'll ever do.


When you feel Offended: 

“Don’t you need confrontation to face things you haven’t faced on your own?”
It's time for brutal truth to make a comeback.

***


I'll leave you with one of my own favorite quotes. I honestly don't know if I compiled it from a compilation of scripture and other quotes or I stole it verbatim. But it's awesome so I'll take credit until I'm challenged:

When you feel Despair:

"God loves doing the impossible because He's the only one who can." 



Until next week.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Everything needed to be happy I learned from an outhouse




Grandma Birdie was a natural redhead, a color my tomato bisque turns when I add extra cream. She laughed frequently, listened intently, and anytime she had Keebler fudge striped cookies, I went home with a handful of them.

She made sure of it.

What she didn't have was indoor plumbing. Visiting her and Grandpa on their rural Oklahoma farm meant traveling back, back, baaaaack to an era where water was pumped from a well and the bathroom was a good 100-feet or more from the house.

Trust me. You wanted it that far.

They lived on the original 160-acres my great, great grandfather claimed during the Oklahoma Land Run and raised their four children in the original settler house, which consisted of three rooms - the kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom.

Visits to my great grandparent's farm meant lots of time sitting outside under an enormous elm tree and, yes, hiking to the wooden outhouse when nature called.


Just do your business.


You didn't dawdle in Grandma and Grandpa's bathroom. You got in, got done, and got out. In between times, you tried to ignore the smell, the flies, and the wasps buzzing overhead.

This was the beginning of my love affair with plumbers.

Water was found in two metal bowls in the kitchen. One was for washing your hands. One was for drinking. Both were filled by pumping the water out of a natural spring well, which kept the water abnormally cool and super duper delicious.

Just don't confuse which bowl was which.

That's so unfair.


I don't know how that remarkable woman lived every day where simply going to the bathroom at night, in the cold, or in the rain was a miserable chore. But she did.

Every morning, Grandma headed to a local restaurant where she worked as the cook, while Grandpa farmed. Then both came home, sat in their comfy furniture, ordered Chinese take-out, and binge watched 24.

Yeah, no. They came home and worked more.

You were never around either of them and heard a word of complaint. Or even a grouchy attitude. They were lovely people. Funny and smart. Quick to laugh, quick to give out hugs, and always thinking of others, even when others had so much more.

(Is that kind of strength and graciousness hereditary? Um, some. My mother has it. But it skips a generation.)

Thank God for every flush.


Ask me what I want in life, and I could rattle it off alphabetically. Ask me what I'm grateful for and I need a minute to think.

Hey, I'm a work in progress.

Grandma Birdie was the opposite. She never focused on what she didn't have but what she did. And it served her well.

I think of her nearly every time I turn on my faucet, take a shower, run a load of laundry, get filtered water from my refrigerator, or stumble to the bathroom at night. She's the image in my head reminding me that, no matter what happens in life or what I face, I can always live with a grateful heart. And it'll serve me, well, too.

It's really too bad more didn't have the chance to know her.

Maybe then the people complaining about not having free college and free healthcare, demanding raises they didn't earn and a lifestyle they can't afford, emotionally distraught over opposing viewpoints or lost elections, could find happiness in their self-imposed misery.

Because - and I'm only guessing here - I bet they have a toilet that flushes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love's a Lover AND a Fighter

I'm repurposing this blog from 2014, with a few added revisions and thoughts. It fits me most Valentine's Days because the fight of life doesn't take a break even for a day beautifully dedicated to chocolate consumption. (I'm a dark chocolate junkie in case anyone is itching to send me some.) If your day is more about warring than loving, know you are loved even when you are called into war. 
X's and O's
Tara Lynn



"Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, 
and endures through every circumstance." 

1 Corinthians 13:7

Love, I've wondered, may be made out of mohair.

It's warm, fuzzy, cute, and when you're wearing it, everyone around you and everything you touch is sprinkled with a little piece. Strands of mohair also stick to your lip gloss and love might do that, too.

That's the cutesy side to love. The flowers and candy and such. The fat, diapered baby with arrows. The rom-coms and date nights. And there's not a bloody thing wrong with any of it.

So it's cheesy. So what?

Revel in it, my friends. Enjoy the ridiculousness. Life has lots of serious moments so never discount the lighthearted ones.

The soft stuff, however, isn't what I'm thinking about today. Today of ALL days I'm thinking about fighting. Real left hook/right hook kind of fighting. No holds barred style. The kind that hurts and usually draws blood.

In other words, today I'm thinking about love.



This song by Switchfoot found me months ago on a day too heavy to live underneath. A day I was driving myself to the hospital, yet again, to get more bad news, yet again, and all I could think about was how I didn't have any fight left in me.  I was tapped out.   

At that moment, I'm not sure I loved anything enough to throw a punch for it. Not even my own life. It was a day after a long siege of days where pain and struggle and uncertainty were the only things on my horizon or scheduled for tomorrow.

I drove, but I drove without hope. And that's when this song came on.


Down but not out


Life at that moment wasn't worth the fight. Neither was my future, my dreams, my faith, or my hopes, which had faded like draperies in east-facing windows. But I had no options but to keep moving forward because, in life, there's no such thing as reverse.

So I drove. And I listened to this song.

This is what the Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman said once about the thoughts behind the song:

"From time to time we all come to those difficult moments of struggle when life becomes a fight. Maybe we are depressed and can't seem to find a way out. Or maybe we're dealing with the loss of someone we love. And maybe in that existential moment we begin to wonder what we're living for, what we're aiming for, what we're struggling for."

Love, he explained, is the only thing worth fighting for.

Take it to the mat 


In the middle of nothingness, when I'd lost all purpose and heart to take one more hit or go one more round, God was showing up to tell me if all I had was Him, then He, alone, was worth the fight.

Not the life I had wanted but didn't have. Not the plans I had designed but couldn't complete. Just God. Just love. That's all I needed. If He was the only thing left about my life, then it was still worth fighting for. And He would be its Savior.

Again.

During recovery, this song became my anthem. I played it A LOT. Still do. And on days when all I can do is put one foot in front of the other, I still put on my headphones, turn on this song, and put one foot in front of the other.

If this finds you in that kind of a moment, or that kind of a month, year, or decade, then all I have is one piece of advice:

Love, all by itself, is worth fighting for. Even in the moments you don't feel it or see it. Even if you think all you have is the hope of love.

Don't give up, my friends. Don't grow cold or hardened or detached from the hope that things can and will improve, that God will answer you one way - one day - or another. Whatever in your life has died, you have a Savior who specializes in resurrection.

Happy Valentine's Day.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Prove the doubters wrong. The audience'll love it.


At halftime, the game was over.

The Patriots had gotten on the board, but only by the instep of Stephen Gostkowski, who scored a field goal as a backup plan. By the third quarter, the scoreboard was napping. The Patriots hadn't drained the Falcon's first quarter juice. And, with Tevin Coleman sipping Mai Tais in the end zone, the 25-point lead could be cemented and left to dry.

The pundits. The fans. The experts. Everyone knew Super Bowl 51 was done. Just ask them.


If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your Super Bowl predictions.


People are calling it the "greatest comeback in Super Bowl history" and it's the first to ever go into overtime.

The year of the underdog, apparently, isn't over. Not even after the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA finals, Coastal Carolina won the College World Series, Brexit won in the UK, Donald Trump won in the US, and the Chicago Clubs' defeated the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Everyone destined to lose just keeps winning. How glorious.

If anything, 2016, and now 2017, is teaching us there are no guaranteed winners and no written in stone losers. What is guaranteed, however, is that there'll always be a buttload of doubters.

Discouragement approaching from the north.


Whatever your hopes or dreams, you've likely faced opposition, naysayers, questions, skepticism, and doubt. It all comes as a standard package.

But separating the doubters from someone only speaking the hard truth is like peeling apart two layers of phyllo dough. Pieces of one often stick to the other. Even people only doubting for doubt's sake often have historical precedence and even reality on their side.

Think about it. Who wins a Super Bowl in overtime? Until Sunday, no one.

So how do we tell the difference between what is doubt and what is reality?

Um, yeah. I don't think we can. But do we need to? Fourth quarter comebacks are only thrilling when we don't know they're coming.

Take doubt with a stiff upper lip.


I have a doubter in my own life. (Several actually, this guy's just more vocal about it.) He thinks my dream of being a novelist is a joke that just keeps on giving. I try to avoid him but my tries don't always work.

When we do cross paths, I'm forced to go through the exact same conversation every time. Not kidding. Exact.
"So...sold any books lately?" Laugh, laugh, laugh. 
"Yes."
"Really?"
"Yes."
"Are you going to write another one?" Laugh, laugh, laugh. 
"Yes."
"Really?"
"Look! Up in the sky! Is that an asteroid on a collision course with earth?" Run, run, run.

Now is not the time to take a knee.


If you're struggling to see your dream materialize, I hear you and I'm with you. But, even in my most difficult moments, I know I can't stop moving. Even an inch forward is forward.

We will get discouraged. There's an entire world out there itching to predict our failure. But no one can see the future. (Refer to, pretty much, the entire freaking year of 2016 for evidence.)

Tom Brady could have slowed down, let the inevitable happen, and accept what everyone else was seeing on the scoreboard.

But, he and the Patriots decided...nah...we'll keep playing football.

I love how one sport's writer explained the game's sudden shift in the fourth quarter, "Brady was making clutch throw after clutch throw..."
Confession: I had no idea what that meant so I looked up the definition of "clutch" and it's awesome.

Clutch:
"...the phenomenon of athletes under pressure, often in the last minutes of a game, to summon strength, concentration and whatever else necessary to succeed, to perform well, and perhaps change the outcome of the game." 

Whatever else. Whatever is necessary. Whatever energy you have. Whatever talent is untapped. Whatever diligence you can maintain. Whatever ideas you can execute. Whatever courage you can summon. Whatever humility is required. Whatever hard knocks you have to take.

Whatever else is needed to prove the doubters wrong. Do whatever else.

What's my whatever else? Book number two. It's coming out this year, hopefully. And, who knows, maybe the next time I see my doubter I can hand him an autographed box set.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Can anything calm the nation's civil unrest? Well...there is this one thing.



"Who is your God?"

A guy asked me this once, while my dad slept in St. John's Surgical ICU after having emergency brain surgery. It was my 26th birthday. And, to celebrate, my dad had a slow-bleed aneurysm.

We do birthdays big in my family.

I was, understandably, upset. But calm. It's a sleight of hand trick I do with my emotions:
See the emotion? Perfectly normal emotion, yes? Now...watch closely. Don't take your eyes off it. Poof! It's gone. Where did the emotion go? 

The guy, someone I was casually dating until that exact moment, decided this was a great time to instruct me. I mean, why not? I was at leisure. Just hanging out listening to my digestive juices feed on my stomach lining.

Because I wasn't weathering this emergency with zen-like faith, because I feared for the future, he believed it was a good time to question my love for my father and for God.

I decided to get some air. So I went outside and set a limo on fire.

It's the end of the world as we know it.


People are upset, apparently. You can tell by all the genital costumes. The current national climate, if nothing else, is doing wonders for the poster board business. There's nothing quite like an angry, violent mob to make you thankful your parents spanked you as a child.

I get that people are anxious. I think some are even genuinely so. But, like all mob mentalities, some are just there for the feeling of mobraderie. Others because they're paid. A few because they like playing in the street. And some because they're pyros.

For those truly afraid, I'm sorry. Fear sucks. Whether founded or unfounded, it's a lousy emotion.

And, since you're afraid and this is the perfect time to ask, "Who is your God?"

He is Who He says He is.


The question comes off jerky, right? I thought so, too.

The crazy thing about jerks, though, is sometimes they put their foot in their mouth and say things that bring comfort instead of their intentioned rebuke.

Poor jerks. Can't catch a break.

When that guy asked me that question oh so long ago, I began to hear the "who" as a homonym (** a word that sounds the same but has a different meaning.**) Not "Who is your God? Is it your father?" but "Who is your God? What's He like?"

What is His character, heart, personality, and what has He promised He will do? If I could remind myself WHO God is, wouldn't that help me face what I feared?

So, in that moment of terrible unrest, while my father underwent yet another emergency brain surgery only a few days later, I asked God to remind me Who He is. And His answer helped me then, has helped me since, and I hope helps you now:

"Be strong and courageous for I will never leave you. I will never forsake you (Deut. 31:6). I watch over you and I never sleep, never slumber (Psalm 121:4). I never take my eyes off you. I hear every cry of your heart (Psalm 34:15). I am here now, holding your hand, and I'll help you always (Isaiah 41:13). Calm your troubled heart and trust me (Romans 15:13). I will give you peace even in the midst of your fear (Philippians 4:7). And, wherever you go, I will be with you (Joshua 1:9)."

I hope this helps. May you find peace even while crazed people burn trash in the street. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How much difference could one life make?


Lucas Donovan on a walkabout with Grandpa.

I call him Little Bean. When he's a teenager, he's going to love me for it.

When my 43-year-old brother told me he and my sister-in-law were expecting, I thought, "expecting what?"

My family long ago gave up on babies. I've never married, so they weren't coming from me. My brother and his first wife, also, never had children. My parents were grandparentless. And, yes, we lived with heartache.

Things changed a few years ago when my brother remarried. His wife, Jody, had three young daughters from a previous marriage. So now our family had kiddos! I've loved being an aunt to these girls. But a new baby?

Nah. Never going to happen. And for years, it didn't.

Lucas and his daddy.

Life loves surprises.


On Valentine's Weekend 2016, I got a call from my brother late one night. "I need to talk to you," he said. "Something has happened."

Oh geez. Here we go. "Okay, what's going on?"

He blurts out, "We're expecting..."

I added the ellipsis (...) to the quote because that's how I heard it. I kept waiting for him to finish the sentence, while I quietly freaked out, 'How bad is it?! What could he possibly be expecting?'



Brendon, Jody, and Little Bean


Then it hit me. 



Ohhh....expecting.



Got it.




Every life starts small. 


Oh the nephew smooshiness. 
My brother gave me the delivery date and we laughed and cried and debated dimensions. We figured, at this stage, he was roughly the size of a pinto. Or a lima. So I nicknamed him Little Bean.

I wanted to mark the moment his life entered mine. But, also, to give him a nickname that would embarrass him for decades.

I did good.

Lucas with Mommy

Suddenly, this little guy, all by his little self and all before even being born, made me hope again. Dream again. Wonder if the impossible was, at times, possible because - for my family and for this moment - it was.

I laughed louder at jokes, cried harder at movies. I wasn't the one pregnant, but my hormones didn't know it.

This kid made me view any difficult day with less angst because, no matter what happened, life was still coming.


Life begats more life. 


Lucas loves Grandma cuddles. 
He's had a big impact for one little dude. His life has forever altered the lives of his parents, grandparents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the list will only go on.

One little boy.

One life.

Since the passage of Roe v Wade in 1973, we've lost 58.5 million lives to abortion.

I'll just leave that right there.





"The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy
I am come that they might have life
and that they might have it more abundantly."

 John 10:10 KJV


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The more I know the less I understand



Don Henley told me that once. I was listening to my radio in 1989 and he was on the other side of it trying to get down to the heart of the matter. Albert Einstein listened to Henley, too, because he once said, "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know."

What a peachy fact of life.

Recently, I celebrated a big birthday, the birthday-that-shall-not-be-named. Every time I say it out loud, I black out.



What's shocked me more than the number is reaching this point in life and still struggling with basic life questions, like:

  • Where to from here?
  • What should I be doing with my life?
  • What's my purpose?
  • Why haven't I purchased an easy grip jar opener by now? 

I mean, really, how many times do I need to bruise my palms before I accept there are jars not meant to be opened?

Stupid pickles.

The not knowing.


Many of these questions we wrestle with our entire lives. I get that. Part of the struggle will always be finding peace with the mystery. Still. I don't know about you, but living in the unknown is antithetical to my personality.




Problems need solutions.
Ignorance needs education.
And all mysteries must be solved. 

Faith asks for something quite different, though. It says to believe without seeing. Hope without reason. Move forward on a darkened path.

Dadgummit. 

The second harvest.


But I have a theory.

What if there was more to find? We traversed life harvesting what we could, but what if there was grain left behind?

I got the idea recently after reading the story of Ruth, who found her future in a field.

A common practice in ancient times was for the poor to go through fields after harvest and gather what was left behind. And God made sure there would always be something left behind.

"When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 23:22 NLT

By following after the harvesters, Ruth found food for herself and her mother-in-law. This sustained them until Boaz, the owner of the field, redeemed her in marriage. Together, they had a son, Obed, who ended up being the grandfather of King David.

Not bad for a poor girl gleaning a second harvest.

The next time around. 


To celebrate the birthday-that-shall-not-be-named, I've decided to set aside my plans to take a European, yet also tropical, vacation, while throwing a massive party extravaganza for myself after checking off all the items on my bucket list.

Instead, I'm taking a trip into the past.

Because I'm a girl who likes cheap, meaningful experiences.

What I hope to do is visit the people who have impacted my life up to this point. Not to reminisce. The past is nearly always best left where it lands. This is to remind myself what I gleaned from them the first time and, if my theory stands, glean more.

This is me walking the fields after the harvest. Like Ruth. Except for the whole sneaking down into the threshing floor scene. Breathe easy, men, I won't be uncovering anyone's feet. (Hey, that's a decent joke. If you didn't get it, read Ruth 3.)

The rules.


If this inspires you to do the same, join me! Here are the rules, which I can't actually enforce but I hope you follow them anyway.

1) Do this in person. 

We are far too disconnected as a culture. We text instead of call, converse on a thread instead of at a dinner party. Face-to-face time is a crucial element to building intimacy and closeness in relationships. So sit down together. Share a cup of coffee. Take a walk. But do your second harvest in person.

2) Don't visit bad memories.

This adventure will become dangerous and unhealthy if it turns into digging up graves and exhuming bodies. When you make a list of people you want to revisit, focus only on those who left a positive impact. Not on settling scores or getting closure. This is not that.

3) Take what comes. 

This journey will have a mind of its own. Which means you may not unearth any life-altering revelations. You may discover something entirely unexpected. So go forward with excitement, but not expectations.

4) Tell them their impact.

We rarely know what impact we have on the lives of others. But wouldn't it be cool if we did? This is your opportunity to pay that forward. Give to someone else what you'd love to get. Besides, if you don't tell them what they've meant to you, who will?

5) Share!

Comment below. Blog about it, which is what I'll be doing, too. Post and tweet about it. And, if you do, use #My2ndHarvest so I can find you and I'll share your experiences, too.

The first harvest may have ended. But the fields are open for a second round. Go out there and gather some grain, my friends.