Monday, November 07, 2016

The Dive

In my imagination, like a dream, I’m not in a voting booth; I’m on a diving platform.

At the end I can see an Olympics-high board, 10 meters. Scary high, if you ask me. But it’s up on a massive cliff, next to the ocean, so the height is a reality. It’s just not a height I bargained for.

I feel queasy. And it’s windy. I walk to the very edge and peer down. I don’t know if I can trust myself to make a good dive from way up here. What happened to dives that felt . . . reasonable? The dark water below is rough, deep, full of rocks and crevices that make me feel anxious. I can’t see a clear path below the surface. I've taken this dive ever since I turned eighteen, but this time finding an exact landing place seems so difficult. 

Other divers, I know, can’t imagine my ongoing hesitation; my lack of, I don’t know, backbone? Conviction? Bravery? They made their decision long ago, sure of the dive despite the conditions, sure where they wanted to land. So sure that the thought of flying through the air, at such a height, into turbulence worse than anyone can remember, hasn’t disturbed their peace. Or at least not as much as I think it’s disturbed mine. 

As I listened and read a million others’ conclusions, I thought almost every conviction was infused with valid points. So, right or wrong, I’ve lived in a land of uncertainty. 

Now I’ve walked out to the end of the board, toes curled around its edge, wishing for certainty I know won’t come. There’s no more time. I turn my head, wishing Jesus was standing right there to give me the final answer. But I know trusting the Father for ultimate results in this life, no matter the heights, amid the rough and turbulent, is the final answer. My job is to make the best dive I can.

I raise my arms and launch myself, headfirst. As I sail through the air, I realize some of the heavy responsibility I’ve felt all along is easing. When will I learn freedom most often comes with the dive? Holding my breath, I feel my hands slice through the surface, then my head, then my torso. My legs, my feet, my toes. 

It’s a good dive. In the water, I follow through with the task, finding the forward motion so elusive before. Then I turn and push myself up, and my head pops above a wave. I take a deep breath and look around, treading water. 

A crowd is gathered on the shoreline, and they call to me. I didn’t expect cheers, but I’ve been afraid there would be no welcoming committee at all. Not for someone like me. I haul myself onto the sand and dry off.  “We’ll wait together,” they say, never asking what choice I made in the deep, never judging even if they think they know. Believing the choice for many has been hard. Still is hard.

Others take their turn, dive after dive after dive. We welcome each one. Then, together, we wait. For together is the only best choice. 

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Monday, October 10, 2016

What Can We Change in a Presidential Election?

This presidential campaign is a long haul, and many of us feel it's become one of the most disturbing election cycles ever in terms of choices and civility. Those of us who find it so would like change for the better, right now. But what change can we realistically expect?

Not one day since he walked down that Trump Tower escalator has Donald Trump become more qualified or suitable to be president of the United States. Not one day since Hillary Clinton announced for the 2016 campaign has her reputation, overshadowing her experience, become less tainted by at least some of her actions. 

These candidates won't change, not much. And I, for one, am unhappy with them both. I, for one, am dismayed to find us here. I, for one, have been upset about the choices we now have for leading our country in the next four to eight years, upset with those who defend the indefensible to get them elected. At times extreme frustration and even anger have gotten the better of me. It's been hard not to be ugly.

But now we must vote for one of the few candidates on our ballots, write someone in who cannot win, or vote down-ticket only. (I don't consider not voting at all viable.)

What we can change before then, though, is us. We can change our own ugly. We can treat others with dignity and respect when we're dismayed or even angered by the political opinions they dare to share, even as we share our own according to beliefs and convictions we hold dear.

We can change how we react to the onslaught of “breaking news” that feeds our angst or fear, not burying our heads in the sand, but not allowing an accumulation of excited pundit-ing to weigh us down or veer us off course to a land without reason. 

We can change how we pray for our country—in faith, not merely throwing up our hands in despair now that the election is "out of control," fraught with behavior that is never right. (If you have little or no faith, you can at least choose hope.) We can do whatever we can to make a difference for those who need a difference made, according to whatever others-centered beliefs and convictions inform the votes we cast. We can continue to be grateful because in this country we can vote.

This election is a serious matter. May I say it's hard? But what we can change, without a doubt, without a single vote, is us. What I can change is me.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

7 Quick and Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Manuscript (or Anything You Write)

I've got a post on Hoosier Ink today, the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Indiana Chapter blog. Here's a sample and link:

Self-editing is important. With a cleaner manuscript, you’ll get better results from your beta readers. If you hire an editor —especially one who charges by the hour—you’ll save a little money. And even if you decide to pitch to an agent or self-publish without professional editorial services (though I can't  recommended that!), your chance for success will improve. 

Yet I’m often surprised how many authors skip the easiest, quickest, most elemental methods for self-editing. Here are seven:
Read more here.  
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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Marriage: Bearing Witness to a Life

In the 2004 film, Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon’s wife character says about marriage, “You're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things . . . all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.’”

I love that.

Most of us have the blessing of others in our lives who bear witness to them, and many of us have as our primary witness the person to whom we are married. I have trouble considering many aspects of marriage more profound than that of witness. The fact that someone promises to “see” you, always, especially if they understand that promise as a lifelong commitment, is mind-blowing. And understanding how devastating it can be when, for some reason, spouses no longer “see” each other is crucial, especially as we strive to support dear friends and loved ones who divorce.

I think the wife in Shall We Dance had it right. (Also, the role of the husband was played by Richard Geer, but that should be beside the point for this discussion.) I’ve been married for, uh, a few decades, and I could tell you about my marriage, or everything I think about marriage, or what I think you should know about marriage. But what I most want to say is this:

Whether you are new to marriage or, like me, have been married for approximately eons, ask yourself what the idea of bearing witness to a spouse’s life means to you, and what you think it mean to others. And if you are unmarried, what does bearing witness to another’s life means in your relationships, now or in the future?  

Well, all right. I also have a post today on The Glorious Table in their marriage series, which is why I was thinking this much about marriage in the first place. You can find it below: “The Lists No Marriage Should Keep.” Enjoy! But seriously, think about this idea of witness too. Or at least watch Shall We Dance.

From The Glorious Table:

The Lists No Marriage Should Keep

This might come as a shock to any of you who are still completely starry-eyed about marriage, but no such partnership lives out its life in perfect harmony. You and your spouse will have what I’ll call differences. And even if you got many of those differences out on the table in premarital counseling or by reading the latest book on marriage a few weeks before your Big Event, the day-to-day realities of wedded life are going to reveal differences you had no idea could be lurking about while your heads were in the clouds. 

Read more here.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

The Privilege of Writing for Others

Whenever any one of us has the opportunity to share our thoughts and passions with others, it's a privilege. And any writer worth his or her words knows this. Whether a reader is tapping into a blog post, article, poem, or book to hear what we have to say, we need to realize they are giving us precious time that could be spent elsewhere. 

Today I have the privilege of sharing through this blog links to my thoughts on two other blogs for this month. And whether you choose to read one, both, or neither, I count it a privilege to have the chance to share and be heard. Thank you!

On The Glorious Table (, a community blog for women of all ages, I have the privilege of  sharing about the value of friendships with women of all ages.

On the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Indiana Chapter blog, I have the privilege of advising novelists to consider whose voice they are giving their characters.

On behalf of writers everywhere, thank you for reading our work whenever you have the time and are so inclined!

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Pulled Over

Years ago, I was pulled over by an officer while driving. It was after dark, and I was on a quiet street without other cars around. And something about the guy, though he was in a uniform, didn’t seem right. 

My unease was apparent to him before too long, and he explained he was an airport police officer. Yes, my supposed turning infraction had been near the airport, but did he have jurisdiction outside airport property? I had no idea. I was scared.

After a verbal warning, he let me go—and though relieved to have come to no harm, I shook all the way home. Once there, I didn’t attempt to find out if this was a legitimate stop, to report this man in case others needed to be protected from him. I told myself he was a real cop, and maybe he was, though I still wonder if he had any right to stop me and have been unable to determine that on the internet in preparation for writing this post. 

But after that scare, I promised myself that, if there was a next time, I would pull over only where there was more safety. I was never going to put myself in that position again. Soon, I forgot about it.

Until now.

I have never been pulled over again. Maybe not only because I am a careful driver, but because I am a white woman. I don't know. And I don't know what it’s like to fear law enforcement because the color of my skin could make me more vulnerable to an officer prone to abusing or misusing his or her authority or, as a police officer, what it’s like to be vulnerable to criminal intent simply for doing my job.

That’s the problem. I don't know. But at least on some level, I should, or at least try. And I tell myself this every time tragic events like our country has experienced in the last week "pull" me over.

In my heart and mind, I know we are a diverse society whose people must take steps to listen, learn, and do what we can to address systemic problems, on all "sides," both as individuals and through trustworthy officials we elect. We have to dig into who and why and how, in any way available to us, and make sense of them so we can make a difference. Easier said than done, but mustn't it be done just the same? More than caring, more even than prayer?

I don't have answers, and I don't have promises. I may never understand all the opinions, all the hurts, all the theories. Conflict and trouble make me nervous, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. I suspect I will fail more than I will succeed in any effort I make. I suspect I will think wrongly and act foolishly, when at all.

But I also know that, pulled over once again by events that horrify and sadden, by tragedies that affect real people of all walks of life, by reactions from some that speak hate, we can't afford to simply shake as we retreat into the safety of our own lives, tell ourselves the problems will resolve on their own, and forget. 

We don't have to wonder if the threat is legitimate. We don't have to wonder if there will be a next time. We don't have to wonder what God thinks of our failings as neighbors in this world.

We know.

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Friday, July 08, 2016

On Teachers, Editors, and Grammar

This piece was originally posted in January 2015,

Bertha was my English teacher in tenth grade, and, truly, she was not a nice woman. She embarrassed students and seemed to enjoy it. Not only were you in for it if you made a mistake, but once she even made fun of a student's name, in class, in front of all his peers. 

This, to me, was the height of educational meanness. We called her by her first name behind her back, a sure sign of disrespect we thought she deserved.

And yet, her meanness is not all I remember about Bertha, whose last name I can no longer remember. I remember she drilled the basics of English grammar into me, effectively building on what all my other teachers had taught. 

Fast forward to early in my career in publishing. One of the marketing guys was frustrated because his copy frequently came back to him from editors with changes of the it's and its variety. He finally asked one of the seasoned editors, who had been an English teacher, to explain what he had been doing wrong.

The time they spent together with some basic rules of the English language and grammar resulted in his copy improving almost immediately. Later she told me he said, "I'm a smart, educated guy. But no one ever taught me most of this stuff." What was obvious, of course, was that he had not had a Bertha in school, someone who ensured he at least had the opportunity to learn "this stuff." 

I was and still am grateful to my high school English teacher for what she taught me. I'd like to think I would remember Bertha for that gift even if she had been demanding and strict yet kind to her students.

We're told by colleges and universities that many students arrive these days without having learned grammar, without knowing how to write well in the most basic of ways. I am not a professional educator, so I cannot say. But . . . 

Here's to all the elementary through high school teachers—including homeschooling parents—who teach English . . . "this stuff" . . . and more to their students! And in cases where students have not been prepared, here's to all the university profs who encourage struggling freshmen to take advantage of campus writing labs.

Last, here's to all the authors who allow us editors to (nicely) help them keep the English language looking good on the printed and digital page. Whether or not writers had a Bertha, it's easy for them (and all of us) to make mistakes in the throes of storytelling and message making.

Please, just don't call us Bertha. 

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