One More Step Away…

Hanukkah

Hanukkah (Photo credit: Itzike)

As one of my colleagues and I sat looking at photos of our children at the company Christmas party, the national news feed notified us that a gunman opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school, killing 20 children. Most of them younger than ours.

The sheer horror of the event turned my stomach. In my mind’s eye, I saw the interiors of my daughters’ schools, their teachers racing to put safety protocols into action, and children hiding in corners and under desks. They’d had breakfast that morning, gotten on the bus, learned a little math and punctuation, maybe took gym class, and then someone started shooting.

That’s when despair and disbelief fell on me. Darkness had weight and substance. Something clawed at my faith, trying to extract it. An echo of anger and loss said, “A just God doesn’t let stuff like this happen” and “It’s Christmastime. It’s Hanukkah. Seasons of light and hope. There is no hope here.”

In the last couple of weeks, several people I love have experienced struggles and losses – financial burdens, ill children, deaths of parents, cancer battles, uncertainty. I’ve walked many of those paths myself before and might again. I could feel their pain and fear. And I wanted to take it away or fix it. I couldn’t, and I also knew on some level it was happening for a reason. In some cases, I could see new directions evolving in their lives or priorities realigning, even if they couldn’t yet see it themselves. It wasn’t my place to say anything though.

I thought about a mom like me, somewhere in Newtown, drowning in pain, shock, and disbelief. There isn’t anything I can do for her. Saying “there’s a reason for everything” in a circumstance like that feels lame and insensitive.

It feels like we’re “leaving Eden” – our individual sacred places, places of safety and beauty – are getting further away, whether we walk away from them, or are driven out.

We have a choice.

If we look at life as a battle between good and evil, with evil taking every opportunity to disengage us from what is right and good, from our faith and human compassion, then looking at Newtown, Connecticut, it feels like evil is winning. If we start stacking up the injustices, inequality, and pure evil from around the world, evil is wearing a smug expression. “You haven’t the courage to beat me.”

“Leaving Eden” by Brandon Heath has been speaking to me on a new level. Some of it is about the fear of change, and the sorrow that goes with it (“feels like I’m further away with every step I take, but I can’t go back”). Life used to be one way, now it’s another way, and I don’t know if I like it.

But as Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Wipe the smug expression from evil’s face. For every sorrowful event that challenges your faith, steals your hope, and threatens to swallow you in darkness…light a candle of hope. Light two. Light 28 candles. For every injustice, respond with two acts of kindness. Wave to a stranger and see if he waves back. As my friend Julia posted on her Facebook page, “Speak truth, even if your voice wavers.” Refuse to let despair win.

We cannot undo the tragedy in Newtown. And pointing fingers isn’t going to do a damn bit of good – it hasn’t to this point, so why continue? We cannot “fix” the tragedies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t combat the darkness with light and build a new Eden.

“Leaving Eden” by Brandon Heath

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It was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Halloween Night House

Halloween Night House (Photo credit: Photo Dean)

Why is it that on Halloween Night I am seized by this urge to write a ghost story?

Cutting my teeth on Nancy Drew books as a child might be part of it. Being a sporadic NaNoWriMo participant might be as well. I’ve loved mysteries all my life – the real mysteries of genealogy and long-dead relatives, and the fictional mysteries of Mary Higgins Clark, Les Roberts, Tony Hillerman, and Mary Downing Hahn. My daughters and I love watching Masterpiece Mystery: Poirot, Marple, Foyle, Wallander, Lewis and Hathaway, and of course, Sherlock.

What would I do if I actually encountered a ghost?

I’d like to think I’d stay rooted to the spot, bravely facing the apparition with a mix of curiosity and trepidation, trying to communicate.

I suspect I’d scream and run like hell. Or it would take me so long to compose myself, the apparition would disappear and I’d spend days wondering if I’d freaked myself out so much I imagined it.

As an amateur genealogist and family historian, I see dead people all the time. They live in piles of statistics and the odd photo or two. But they’re not scary. They’re just telling their stories. They’re family, more often than not, and I love them. Even in their non-corporeal state.

If someone who’d been dead 200 years stood in front of me, I cannot guarantee your personal safety if you were standing near me as I retreated from the room.

We’ve lived in our house for 9 years. It’s only 35 years old – not even close to Victorian or Edwardian, which is where you’d expect to find a ghost. But I swear, one sunny afternoon, home alone folding laundry, someone sighed. It was a sigh of defeat and sorrow, and my own heart ached in response. For a few breaths, I thought I might not be alone. I looked around, wondering if the cats were responsible. Nope. Just me and a basket of socks and underwear. I shook it off and went about my business.

I think some of us have a secret desire to be completely freaked out, but not by something fabricated in Hollywood. We like a decent shock or surprise. We like to stare down the unknown and misunderstood.

Some us – the storytellers of the world – like to cause a stir. Spinning yarns of dusty attics and hidden journals, creaking doors and sudden chills, restless spirits and ancient injustices.

Millie entered the foyer from the parlor, the stale air heavy with dust and mildew. Her flashlight created a narrow beam of light through the thick darkness. Here and there, a pinch of moonlight found its way between the window boards, but not nearly enough to be able to see.

The only noise came from distant whisperings of Ericka and Lori debating whether to move forward or retreat to the relative brightness of the mansion’s overgrown garden. Lori seemed to be losing the argument.

Millie’s flashlight beam dusted the carved banister near the front door.

All right. I’m going up.

Out of the corner of her eye, a figure loomed. Millie gasped and jostled the flashlight as she faced the intruder.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” she whispered. Her own reflection stared back from a dusty mirror. “Millie, just get a grip.”

The cobwebs across the face of the mirror shifted…in a breeze that didn’t exist.

Eyes that weren’t her own looked back at her, from a masculine face. He gave her a sad half-smile, glanced up toward the second floor, then vanished.

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A September 11th Prayer

Heavenly Father, Creator of All, we are grateful for the beauty of this day. For sun, wind, earth and stars.

We thank You for the opportunity to gather together, to renew our hearts and spirits, to draw strength from Your word and from the testimonies of others. We are reminded that through faith, and with Your encouragement and grace, we can endure anything.

We ask for Your mercy and healing touch on those who are hurting – physically and emotionally. We are human and fragile. We break easily. But with Your hands to hold us up, nothing is impossible. We can not only stand, but fly.

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint…” – Isaiah 40:31

Today, we remember those who died in New York, in Washington, and in Pennsylvania in 2001. We remember all the soldiers and civilians who have died or were persecuted in the violence that followed. We ask for healing for their families. Dry their tears. Mend their hearts.

We pray for healing in our world – that rather than using the past to create wider chasms, we use it to build bridges of compassion and peace. Give us the courage to do what may be the toughest thing of all – forgive. Give us the courage to love our neighbors and refuse to succumb to hatred. Give us the strength to face our fears and the faith to seek Your help when we need it.

In our times of joy and pain, You are with us and will never let go. In the spirit of peace, in the Name of Your Son we pray – Amen

*prayer written for a service of healing and wholeness at Epworth UMC in Toledo, 9/11/2012

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“Don’t Get Hurt…”

Dear Dad,

When your journey ended 22 years ago today, mine began. I see that now. I’ve been told you knew your time had come. Sometimes I want to know what you knew, or see what you saw…but I know I was 160 miles away at the time for a reason. Just like mom and Dan were there. Maybe they were stronger.

I know now that, in time, I’ll get to talk with you about it. Just not right now. It’ll be at a time when I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, and we’ll have a family reunion that will make St. Peter roll his eyes in embarrassment. Until we hand him a properly grilled bratwurst with Stadium Mustard, and some of Gram’s potato salad, and Papa’s stuffed cabbage rolls. That potato salad can bring order to the Universe.

Then there will be a sandlot baseball game. Jesus should umpire, of course, but Gramps can be first base coach, and Uncle John can take third base side. Unless he’s off scouting some ringers for the home team. You should pitch, though. Nana and Gram and Aunt Mernie and Aunt Florence will sit in folding chairs under a tree and be the cheerleaders. Ask Uncle Steve if he’d rather have infield or outfield. Center field was never my favorite position. I always preferred infield.

Remember that time Annie ripped that flat pitch of mine back at the pitcher’s mound and it caught me in the shoulder? I lost the feeling in my arm for almost an hour. Thank God it wasn’t my face! What were mom’s last words before we went to the ball diamond?

“Don’t get hurt!”

Don’t get hurt…

It hurt to realize you weren’t coming back. If I hadn’t hurt, though, I wouldn’t have needed to heal. And if I hadn’t learned what healing is, I wouldn’t understand the difference between religion and faith. If I hadn’t walked out of God’s house and slammed the door, I couldn’t have come back. I never would have known grace or heard Him say, “Welcome home, child. Now…I have plans for you.”

I’ll bet when I argue with Him about His plans, you have a good laugh and look at each other and say, “Kids! Whaddya gonna do?”

There was a time when I wanted to pull an Elijah…lay down under a broom tree and say, “That’s it. I’m done. Take me home.” The grief was too much. But angels brought me food and water…and sometimes tequila and chocolate…and they made me move. Also like Elijah, I couldn’t hear God in the chaos. Only in the silence. Only after the storm passed.

And what I heard was, “I’ve always had My hand on you. You’re okay. Now, what are you doing here? Your journey isn’t done yet.”

Still the angels come. One gave me solace. One gave me courage. One set my feet on the Emmaus Road. One knows how I feel. One bound my wounds. One dried my tears. One told me, “Get out of your comfort zone.” Some guide my children. Some bring music and laughter. Some circle around me on a daily basis.

I miss you, Dad. And sometimes I’m angry or disappointed that you aren’t here to be a grandfather – you’d be awesome at it! I remember Gram telling me that just days before you died, you were playing soccer with cousin Steven. He was maybe two years old? Now he’s in Afghanistan. And he has a wife.

It’s taken me 22 years to even recognize that everything does happen for a reason. Sometimes it leaves you bruised or empty or outraged. Sometimes it feels like you’ve caught fire inside, or you want to spin in circles and laugh until you collapse is a dizzy, giggling heap. Sometimes all you have is awestruck silence and tears of joy.

I do wish you were here sometimes, so we could do all that stuff we  never got to do. But I just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you and everyone else who’s with you. The weather is exactly the same as 22 years ago today…

…and I am okay.

Love,

Beth Ann

Video: “The Hurt and the Healer” by MercyMe

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Reader Appreciation and the Power of Story

Let’s end June with a bit of fun!

I’ve been honored with a Reader Appreciation Award by author and blogger Michael Rupured. You really should read the wit and wisdom of his blog My Glass House. I’m not just saying that because I had the honor of editing two of his manuscripts: Until Thanksgiving, a wonderful work of romantic fiction, and his memoir Glass Houses, that illustrates in vivid color that it’s never too late to discover your truth and start again, and that in a crowded world it only takes a handful of the right people to shape a life. Michael’s a fabulous storyteller and his blog is an appetizer. The main course is coming.

Like Michael, I realize awards like these aren’t Pulitzers, but there are so many bloggers out there who write from the heart, write well, and tell stories of importance. We read each other’s entries, like them, share them, and support them. It’s hard to blog to change the world, but nothing says we can’t create a few ripples. I love and appreciate every award I’ve been given, and I try to pay it forward every chance I can.

Paying it forward is one of the stipulations of the Reader Appreciation Award – and you’ll find those recognitions below. I chose five individuals I’ve only begun following recently, and I hope you’ll check them out as well.

Having a little Q&A is one of the stipulations too. And again, like Michael said in his blog, if anyone wants to know anything about me, they just have to ask. But here we go…

1.   What is your favorite color?   Orange – from mimosas to sunsets to pumpkins. Construction barrels? Not so much.

2.  What is your favorite animal?   The South American Harpy Eagle. I saw one up close a few years ago…well, as close as one can get without becoming a snack…and I looked into its eyes. I understood at that moment why some cultures worship animals. Even in captivity, it radiated enormous power and dignity.

3. What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink?   Regular ol’ brewed coffee with half & half.

4. Facebook or Twitter?  I don’t have a Twitter account…but I’m not sure Facebook is a favorite hangout anymore either. Mostly because they keep messing with a good thing. I keep in touch with friends and family around the world though, and that’s a good thing.

5. Favorite pattern?  The tartan of the Isle of Skye

6. Do you prefer getting or giving presents?  Giving! Especially when I can give one for no reason at all.

7. Favorite number?  139. Psalm 139 changed how I viewed myself – my physical self and my better self.

8.  Favorite day of the week?  Friday! There’s a whooole weekend ahead!

9. Favorite flower?   Any that are growing in wild abundance. Picking one favorite is tough. Sunflowers are high on the list, so are zinnias and bachelor buttons.

10. What is your passion?   Storytelling. I enjoy sharing stories – verbally and in writing. I love helping other people tell their stories as well, whether it’s set on another planet or in their own backyard. Not everyone will have a best-seller that’s optioned to Lucasfilms or Warner Brothers…

But that does not make the story any less important. I had a memoir writing instructor tell me once, “Because you remembered, it deserves to be told.” The same could apply to fiction – because you imagined it, it deserves to be told.

On that note, I have five blog nominees to share…and a special kudo for a young writer who turned her NaNoWriMo effort into her first book at the age of eleven.

My fellow bloggers:

And a special Reader Appreciation Award for Hannah F., whose book Woodlands Fight will soon be available on CreateSpace. I know I appreciated being able to read it! And I know you have an excellent future ahead of you!

Write like your heart’s on fire…


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Final Salute Fights Homelessness among Female Veterans

I’d like to introduce you to Teresa Hillis, and through her, 13,000 homeless female veterans in the United States.

Yes, 13,000. Plus…their children.

Teresa and I met on my Walk to Emmaus last summer. She was a wonderful guide and spiritual leader. About a week ago, I learned she was running for Ms. Veteran America.

“My friend Amanda Thompson, who is serving with the 180th fighter wing of the Air National Guard, decided to run for Ms. Veteran America and sent me an email to go ‘like’ her Facebook page. I was so excited for her endeavors. I asked her a bunch of questions about the pageant. As she was explaining how she heard about it, she simply stopped talking and said, ‘Go to the auditions with me. You should do this too! Let’s do it together!’ Mind you, this conversation took place on Wednesday, June 6th and the audition was taking place in Washington D.C. on June 9th. After the initial, ‘I cant’s’, and ‘this isn’t my thing’, ‘I’m not pretty enough,’ and finally ‘I’m not sure what my husband will think of this’, I looked into it. That is where I discovered Final Salute, Inc. The more I researched, the more I wanted this.”

Final Salute is a not-for-profit organization which helps homeless female American veterans and their children by providing housing and housing subsidy assistance, and targeted support mentorship, through the H.O.M.E. (Housing Outreach Mentorship Encouragement) and S.A.F.E. (Savings Assessment and Financial Education) programs in the Washington D.C. metro-area.

According to Final Salute, there are a number of reasons why a female veteran might become homeless. Among them:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Ineligibility for or lack of availability of veteran’s benefits
  • Military sexual trauma
  • Domestic abuse
  • Lack of family support

“Women can be deployed with the guard unit, for example, and make decent money, but when they come home, they can’t find enough work to make a living. Maybe she was sexually assaulted during service and has trouble trusting men and male authority, and she’s too embarrassed to ask for help. These are normal women who had normal jobs serving our country. They just fell upon unfortunate circumstances. Almost 60% of the homeless female veterans are single mothers.”

According to a study conducted in 2009 on Veteran Homelessness by HUD and the VA, female veterans are more likely to be homeless than their male counterparts, and female veterans are also 4 times more likely to be homeless when compared to female non-veterans in the U.S. and female non-veterans in the poverty population.

The whole mission of Final Salute is to provide homeless female veterans with safe and affordable housing. They strive to create awareness about homelessness among female veterans; provide housing and supportive assistance; and instill in homeless female veterans that their situation is temporary and their goals are still achievable.

This is the inaugural Ms. Veteran America pageant. Fifty contestants from all branches of service will compete in Washington D.C. on October 7th for the title, but this isn’t your regular pageant. The contestants are all either honorably discharged or active duty. It’s not about how you look in a swimsuit. It’s about being a veteran and looking at “the woman beyond the uniform”, and in addition to providing 100 hours of community service, the winner of the pageant will be the spokeswoman for Final Salute, Inc., and the organization’s efforts to assist homeless American female veterans.

Teresa is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. She followed in the footsteps of her father, joining the Corps on Delayed Entry when she was 17.

“I’m a daddy’s girl, of sorts, and decided I was going to make my dad proud and walk in his shoes. My parents were apprehensive about me only choosing the Corps and encouraged me to talk to the other recruiters as well. Poor guys never stood a chance. If I was going to do this…I was going to be ‘the best!’”

She served at Norfolk, VA; Aberdeen, MD; and Camp Pendleton, CA.

“I still love the military and everything about it: God, Country and Corps. When this pageant came about and I saw exactly what the cause was, I knew this was my second wind. Between my huge heart and my love for the military, this was a no-brainer. These women need us!”

The contestants for Ms. Veteran America will be judged on interview, military history, talent, and evening gown. Judges will be looking for grace, poise, confidence, and personality.

Teresa’s talent?

“Dolphin Glass” by Teresa Hillis

I submitted a piece of glass that I engraved with a drill. I also submitted a video of me shooting my compound bow. I enjoy hunting and anything earthly, including canning and gardening. I have a passion for finding the ‘God Moments’ and they always seem to be related to nature. If it’s hands on, I just do it. And if I don’t know how, I figure it out. I love helping out at my church. Whether it’s with the small kids or the teenagers or being part of the women’s ministry board I am happy to serve. I teach art classes through our local arts council from time to time.”

Teresa also has her own “good news only” newspaper called The Good Stuff.

She says that although she would welcome the chance to serve as Ms. Veteran America, the pageant is really about Final Salute and the thousands of homeless female veterans and their families.

“I know there are many more female veterans out there than what we see. We don’t wear the ‘high and tight’ haircut. We don’t have the appropriate military insignia tattooed on our biceps. However, those of us who have or who are currently serving, love our country. We didn’t sign up for just something to do. The women who are struggling deserve the recognition. Honestly, they deserve a crown or a sash. Or maybe just a hug and some support.  After all, they are one of many reasons why we can still call it ‘The Land of the Free.’”

Learn more about Ms. Veteran American and Final Salute Inc. (and donate to the organization) by clicking on the links below:

You can also find Ms. Veteran America and Final Salute on Facebook, as well as pages for Teresa and Amanda (click on the links in the article).

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Faith and Philosophy Sundae

Forgiveness Mandala by Wayne Stratz

Forgiveness Mandala by Wayne Stratz (Photo credit: Nutmeg Designs)

When I sat down to ice cream for a little overdue one-on-one time with my teenager, I was not expecting to talk about faith, forgiveness, and Holocaust poetry.

My daughter with some kind of Chocoholic’s Blizzard, and myself with a Peanut Butter Bash sundae, we started out talking about  her mission trip to Chicago last year, and how on the way back they stopped for ice cream and she tried a Blizzard. She was hooked.

Then she said, “Hey, mom?” (This phrase usually comes right before something I may or may not be able to answer without a doctorate.)

“Hey, yeah?”

“What do you do when you believe in something…and then you’re not sure if you believe it?”

I contemplated adding one of my pastors to speed dial.

“Can you be a little more specific, kiddo?

“Well…,” she spooned a chunk of brownie from the chocolate ice cream, “how do you forgive someone who’s done something really awful? Like mass murderers. People who have done really terrible things…people who don’t deserve to be in this world.”

Whoa. People who don’t “deserve” to be in this world?

Part of me thought, This child thinks the world is an inherently good place and there are certain people who are damaging it. But “deserve” struck me as harsh coming from someone so young. It would take hours to debate who deserves what and why there are evil people in the world. And good and evil are perceptions. People do awful things because they’re convinced they are right. And people do evil things because they are ill. And others do evil things as an instantaneous reaction. Many shades of gray.

I chose to look past the “deserve” part and get at what she really seemed to be asking: how do you forgive? And what do you do when you believe in forgiveness, but can’t rationalize forgiving someone for something heinous?

Is there a correct answer?

“You can forgive someone because it’s what your heart or faith tells you to do. We’ve learned that we need to forgive someone 70 times 7 times, right?” She nods. “There’s more to it than just forgiving. It helps if the other person seeks forgiveness, and that other person should really want to change or try to do better. Some people are incapable of accepting forgiveness.”

I believe that to be true, but I wasn’t sure I was answering the question. So I went a different route.

“Forgiveness is for you. When you forgive someone for what they’ve done wrong – to you personally – you take back your life. As long as you hold on to the hurt, they will always have control over that part of your life.”

I added, “There’s human forgiveness and divine forgiveness. My take is we should forgive each other in order to heal. And prevenient grace says we’re forgiven by God no matter what…but that doesn’t mean we can just do whatever we want. We need to try to do better, and do the right things.”

She seemed to think about this. I know I was…turning over my own thoughts on faith and forgiveness. I remembered some of Jesus’ final words from the cross: “Father, forgive them. The do not know what they do.”  It reminded me that I’ve been forgiven many times – by God and by people I may have wronged. Knowing that I’m forgiven makes me want to try to “do better.” I might not succeed, but I keep trying.

Part of me is glad that my daughter is not one to follow blindly. She questions, and in my mind, that’s not only okay…that’s good.

Then she said, “There was one day in my world studies class, when we were studying the Holocaust and World War II, and our teacher gave us an unfinished poem that was written inside one of the boxcars of a train that took people to the death camps, and she asked us to finish it…”

The poem was actually written after the Holocaust and not literally inside a boxcar. It’s “written in pencil in the sealed railway car” by Dan Pagis – poet, teacher of medieval Hebrew literature, concentration camp survivor.

here in this carload
I am eve
with abel my son
if you see my older son
cain son of adam
tell him that I

Another translation shows the fifth line as “cain the human being”.

My daughter said, “I finished it to say ‘forgive him’.”

tell him that I forgive him

I’d never heard of this poem before, so my almost-16-year-old taught me something.

Forgiveness isn’t easy. I sat across from my daughter, marveling at how important this concept, this philosophy is to her. I know she’s forgiven plenty, including the boys who bullied her in junior high, and the girls who talk about her behind her back.

Part of me longed for an easy conversation about music or shoe shopping. Yet this person across from me, like many of her friends, are the answers we seek. The peacekeepers and peacemakers. Wisdom doesn’t always come with age. Sometimes it just comes from paying attention. The graduating classes of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015…they have their work cut out for them. But I think they know more and understand better than many of us ever will. I feel obligated to help them succeed.

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If I Rise Up on the Wings of the Morning…

Cessna Caravan of the Federal Express company.

Cessna Caravan of the Federal Express company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the United States, we have rapid transportation and reliable access to hospitals, urgent care centers, and doctors’ offices. A broken leg, a high fever, or a deep cut require either a quick ambulance ride to a nearby hospital, or transportation by a friend or relative. For severe accidents, we have air ambulances such as LifeFlight.

Now, imagine a single aircraft serving a region the size of Texas, populated by six-million people. There are no paved roads, and traveling just 15 miles on foot or bicycle can take an entire day. Seeking medical care and receiving needed medicines requires extensive planning.

It also requires Wings of the Morning aviation ministry.

Wings of the Morning consists of one plane – a Cessna P210 that seats six people – and one pilot – Gaston Ntambo, a United Methodist missionary educated at Davis College in Toledo. They serve the North Katanga Conference of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo, along with his wife Jeanne, also a United Methodist missionary, serving as a radio operator.

Wings of the Morning is not a new ministry. Since the 1960s it has brought healing and hope to many people throughout the North Katanga Conference. It has always been a ministry of the United Methodist Church. And for 15 years, Gaston has been on call 24/7/365 to do whatever is needed: deliver malaria and cholera medicines between towns, transport pastors and doctors around the conference, and airlift the critically ill and injured. It’s not a job for him – it’s a calling. And for the people who need Wings of the Morning, it’s free. Gaston and Jeanne also founded a recovery home for those discharged from the hospital, but still unable to travel. They can take the time they need to convalesce.

The current plane, with a full fuel payload, can carry only 850 pounds – that’s about five passengers with little or no luggage. Fuel cannot be purchased in the Democratic Republic of Congo for this particular plane; Gaston needs to burn fuel to acquire fuel before he can complete his mission. The aircraft is becoming more difficult to maintain. It’s time for an upgrade.

“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you are there, and if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise up on the wings of the morning and settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me. Your right hand will hold me fast…” – Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)

So this blog post isn’t about politics or religion…it’s about compassion and help. It’s no secret that the DRC has seen violence and struggle, and it’s people still deal with the landslide effect of war every day. And we can’t fix everything, as much as we might like to. But helping one man purchase one plane to continue doing what he’s been doing for years, only do it more efficiently and effectively, that can make a major difference in the lives of many people.

The West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church has always supported Gaston’s mission. Now, member churches are committed to raising the final $600,000 needed to purchase a larger, newer, more efficient Cessna Caravan to help Gaston continue the Wings of the Morning ministry. My church – Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo – has pledged $50,000 toward this goal, and all churches in the Conference will combine their contributions at the annual conference in June 2012.

Learn more about Wings of the Morning at these links:

www.woumcsecure.org

Video 1 on YouTube

Video 2 on YouTube

And, as my pastor would say, prayerfully consider donating to this dramatic effort, either directly to the West Ohio Conference, or mailing the contribution to Epworth (3077 Valleyview Drive, Toledo, OH 43615) noting that it’s for Wings of the Morning.

And on June 1st, 2012, if you’re in the neighborhood, come out to Epworth United Methodist Church at 7pm for a party to celebrate the Wings of the Morning aviation ministry.

On the Wings of the Morning – A Celebration will feature creative biblical storytelling from the Scripture by Heart team (myself and five spiritually motivated friends who love a challenge), high-energy worship music from Epworth’s contemporary praise band Hearts Afire, and a casual reception afterward with food (including, yes, WINGS) and more music! The whole event is free and open to the public, though free will offerings are welcome in support of Wings of the Morning.

So what do you say? Will you rise up on the wings of the morning too?

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

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The “Ghostwriter”

Text from Gospel of John 14,6 Русский: Текст Е...

Text from Gospel of John 14,6 Русский: Текст Евангелия от Иоанна 14,6 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been invisible for more than a month and I’m not proud of that. It’s incredibly frustrating…like watching grass go dormant during a drought. It’s not a creative drought though – quite the opposite. I’ve had tons of ideas. Time, on the other hand, has been elusive.

Parenting, writing, editing, consulting, teaching, ministering, and evolving all take time. So do eating, sleeping, driving, and plain old waiting. I try to wait effectively: I edit while I wait for choir practice to end; I write while I wait at soccer practice; I outline in my head while I wait at the red lights. I get the bird and a few loud horns when the light turns green and I’m still rearranging scenes in my head.

When you’re a writer, a creative, there’s so much to take in around you and so much to send back out.  Stuff gets inside you, whips around, shakes you up, and changes your perspective. As the Johnny Clegg tune says, it’s a “cruel, crazy, beautiful world” and the sources of inspiration are endless.

Over the last four or five weeks, these inspirations all caught my attention like sparkly objects in the water:

  • The uniqueness of the Gospel of John, and seeing what sets him apart from Matthew, Mark, and Luke as a writer
  • The Wings of the Morning aviation ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo (more on that in a future post)
  • All the amazing writers – the published and those still in there swinging – I met at the Western Reserve Writers Conference in Cleveland
  • Bird life in my backyard
  • An exciting blog called FullOn365 by the amazing Ana Neff (I can’t recommend it enough, along with her life-calling as a Ziji mentor. What’s Ziji? Well, you’ll just have to check it out!)

What really got me moving from “shoulds” to “oh-just-do-it-already!” was a recent post from Thoughts on Theatre called “Why We Write”.

She celebrates her 100th blog post reflecting on what she’s learned as a blogger. So as I sit here completing my 50th entry, I’m reflecting on her insights, and thinking how I can apply them to build a better blog and remain consistent.

The one that spoke to me the most was “Small Messages are often the Best Ones”, which reminded me that not every post needs to be an epic work of art. We don’t always have literary genius inside us. Sometimes it’s just a quirky little observation like “Huh. Guess what I learned today…”

The next idea that pushed me to try and get my groove back was “There are Few Things Better than a Good Laugh”. True that. There’s plenty of Serious out there. But whether it’s a full-out belly laugh or just a grin, we could all use a little more levity.

The third lesson on her list was “Keep Going”…and I’m going to quote her directly on this:

“No matter what. Life will pop up with it’s surprises both large and small, but let them push you forward instead of hold you back.”

I’d say that not only applies to consistent blogging, but living. Move forward, not backward.

In the spirit of moving forward, here’s an update on my Word of the Year progress:

  • Attended the Belly Flea Agora with my friends Jen and Craig, which reminded me just how magical dance can be
  • Purchased two exquisite hip scarves at said event, which was part dance show and part Moroccan bazaar
  • Landed a part time job as a copywriter, returning to a former employer (more on that in another post)
  • Submitted a 441-word story to NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction competition for Round 8. I pat myself on the back for completing and submitting a story, regardless of win-place-show or honorable mention
  • On the books to teach FOUR classes this summer at Owens Community College (look for more on that soon, too)
  • My first paintball experience – I discovered I have sniper tendencies. I’m like a paintball ninja!

I think if I’ve learned anything in 50 posts – and in life in general – it’s not enough to read about what other people are doing here in the blogosphere. You have to BE. You have to DO.

So get out there and have some fun – then tell me all about it!

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Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania Writers…

Garden with some tulips and narcissus

Image via Wikipedia

Yes, writers in Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Toledo, Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, Temperance, Lima, Westerville, Youngstown, Marietta, Athens, Bowling Green, Eastlake, Erie, Pittsburgh, and all points betwixt and between…this is for you!

What are you doing Saturday, March 31st?

Your spring cleaning can wait a week. Don’t even try to plant your flowers – you know we can still get freezing rain or several inches of snow well into April.

So there’s still time to indulge your creative side before you really have to even think about mowing the lawn or painting the porch, right?

I’ve got the perfect idea. Come to the Western Reserve Spring Writers Conference at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland. It’s a half-day conference – 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Choose from twelve different informative presentations, network with fellow writers, and ask questions of the experts at a Q&A panel at the end of the day. You can even sign up to meet one-on-one with professional editors (including me!) to discuss samples of your work.

I’ve participated in the last five Western Reserve Writers Conferences and enjoyed every moment. I leave the fall and spring conferences with new insights and more motivation every time. And as a consulting editor along with Nancy Piazza, I have the honor of reading the stories of others and steering them closer to publication. It’s my favorite part of the conference – meeting other writers and seeing what lights their creative fires.

The Western Reserve Spring Writers Conference is friendly and casual, and an affordable way to stoke your creative fires. Registration is just $69 or $79 if you include an editing consultation.

You do need to register in advance for the editing sessions, by the way, and there are only eight slots available, so grab ‘em while they’re available!

Speakers include:

  • conference coordinator Deanna R. Adams, author of Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl and Rock and Roll and the Cleveland Connection (she’ll talk about “Writing About Real People”)
  • blogger, author, and columnist Erin O’Brien (I participated in a memoir writing session she led a few years ago and it changed the way I look at writing) who offers two sessions: “Unleashing the Power of Google Docs” (I’m there!) and “Writing Food Memoirs”
  • My terrific friend Barbara Kussow, crime and mystery author and editor of Still Crazy literary magazine, will discuss “Writing for the Chronologically Superior”
  • Carole Calladine and I met at Deanna’s Women Writers Retreat and Carole then spoke at the 2009 Write Brain Workshop I coordinated. She has a gift for distilling the elements of story building and conjuring “ah-ha” moments in writing. She’ll present “The Yellow Brick Road to Storytelling”.
  • I am looking forward to Liana Laverentz’s sessions on “Writing Beginnings, Middles, and Ends” (each has their own unique challenges) and “Ideas to Boost your Creativity”.
  • poet, food writer, and radio and podcast host Gail Bellamy will talk about writing for trade publications; Diane Campbell Taylor will present the do’s and don’ts of critique groups; columnist and author Claudia Taller will help you connect with your writing life and focus your goals; murder mystery author Peter Grondin provides insights into self-publishing; and romance writer Julie Anne Lindsey helps you “Get the Facts, Make a Plan, and Get Published”.

And, of course, two editors are at your disposal to provide one-on-one critiques and helpful feedback. We don’t bite, I swear! We want you to succeed!

The March 31st Western Reserve Spring Writers Conference is fun and informative, and Lakeland is in beautiful, historic Kirtland. It doesn’t get much better than that. Register at www.lakelandcc.edu through the Continuing Education page (the deadline is coming quickly). I look forward to hearing about your project – and maybe even reading it!

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