Blogging from A-Z – peace

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “P.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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PosterFrontWhenYoureAtPeaceWithYourself

I really don’t know what quality I possessed as a 17-year-old that would prompt my journalism teacher to give me a poster depicting a kitten asleep on a flowerpot with a message about being at peace with yourself. Baffling me even more was the note she wrote on the back:

PosterBackMissFeltsNote

Posters were Miss Felts’ graduation gifts to the 10 of us, her journalism class. That’s us, below. Can you pick me out? (P.S. I went by my exact middle name, “Sue,” instead of Suzy, in 10th through 12th grades; it was easier.)

SpiritOfThePioneerStaff1980
Juanita Felts (far right) and her journalism class, 1979-80.

If Miss Felts thought I was “at peace with myself,” I’m not sure what kind of Kool-Aid she was in the habit of drinking (seems to me she drank Tab), but I dare say that was not the case 35 years ago.

It is much more the case today.

I wouldn’t say I’m totally at peace with myself, or my life in general, but I have learned that what I used to believe brought peace (the absence of conflict, the outward appearance of competence, “enough” money) is just an illusion.

After having walked my faith journey for so long (all my life, but beginning in earnest when I was in college), I’ve come to understand the things that bring true and lasting peace. (I know that ultimate peace comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.)

Miss Felts gave me that poster 35 years ago – two-thirds of my life ago – because she saw something in me, and I’ve never forgotten its message. I’ve never ceased to ponder the message itself, why my teacher gave it to me, or why, in my yearbook, she said I had been “a great inspiration” to her.

On the contrary, she was a great inspiration to me. (Funny how that works.)

The poster stayed on my bedroom wall – just north of my headboard – until a couple of years after my dad died, when Mom sold the house I grew up in. I didn’t even realize we still had the poster until recently. It resurfaced when we started rearranging some rooms, going through boxes and drawers, purging clutter.

Finding it again was like getting a surprise visit from an old friend.

In high school, journalism was my favorite class, Miss Felts my favorite teacher, and every memory of that time happy.

Maybe she is the reason I had peace – or at least a high school girl’s version of it – for that nine months of my life (plus our time in sophomore English). I was as angsty as any other teenage girl, and Miss Felts was a calming force during that hour every day when we “practiced journalism.”

Or at least she tried to be. With half a dozen boys in the class, most of them pranksters, we didn’t have many dull moments. And Miss Felts could give as good as she got. When one of us whined, her version of “sympathy” was to rub her index finger around in circles on her thumbnail. Something like this:

“You know what this is?” she said the first time she used it. “It’s the world’s smallest record player.” Or sometimes she’d do another finger motion for “the world’s smallest violin.”

Translation: I’m playing sad, sad music for you poor thing.

(Imagine really dramatic music during the above 2 seconds of video. Please imagine that, because otherwise it just looks like you’ve caught me rolling a booger.)

I didn’t set out today to write about high school, journalism class or my favorite teacher – or even peaceful felines in flowerpots – but I guess those things began to converge when I got to thinking about my writing of late. I was reading Stephen King’s book On Writing (I reviewed Part 1 yesterday) and simultaneously pondering my P topic for today. On my lunch break at work, I had written parts of two drafts about “perspective” and was dissatisfied with both. I did a virtual crumpling of the paper. (Don’t you miss paper sometimes?)

Then, for some reason, “peace” came to mind.

As I read the book, particularly the section about good writing and bad writing, that “competent” writers can become “good” writers – and how that can come to be – I realized that I’m slowing moving from being merely competent toward being a “good” writer (at least in my own estimation, which admittedly is often skewed in my favor).

And the reason for that is that I’m at peace with my writing.

That’s not to say I’m satisfied. That’s a different thing.

I’m at peace.

I’m free. I’m unself-conscious. (Well, not really, but less so than I used to be. I still feel the need to qualify everything in parenthetical phrases. I still over-explain. I still don’t trust you enough to get what I’m saying on your own.)

Not perfection. Peace.

Not every day, not every time. But there is evidence that it’s true.

I’m comfortable writing about boogers. (If Stephen King can talk about the newspaper he created in high school called The Village Vomit, I can write about boogers.)

I didn’t say it was good evidence.

Peace is hard-won. It takes practice. It takes deliberate action. (Sounds contradictory, I know. Peace should be a passive thing. But it isn’t. It isn’t. You have to cultivate it. Water it. Give it light.)

Knowing I can admit things here, in this space, and not fear your reaction – you may call it self-confidence, bravery, stupidity, reading too many Anne Lamott books, whatever.

I call it peace.

Miss Felts, I’m raising a glass of Kool-Aid to you.

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Monday: Q is for … ??? Got any ideas? Toss ’em my way.

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Blogging from A-Z – Book review: ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “O.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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flanery-dont-know-what-i-thinkI’ve written before about my early-ish love of Stephen King fiction. (I discovered him in 10th grade, when I read his third novel, The Shining.)

In those years, I read a lot of his books, stopping somewhere in the mid-1980s with Misery. (Don’t ask me why I stopped; I guess I just outgrew the horror genre.)

Recently, after a shift in focus on my blog – new purpose, new goals – I was talking to an author friend about writing (now that he has published two successful novels, I refer to him as “my author friend”), and he suggested King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It had been on my To Be Read list for years and, coincidentally, I had just been inquiring online about getting a copy.

This seemed to be the perfect time; I downloaded it.

I forgot what a wicked sense of humor King has. He infused this piece of nonfiction with as much creative juice as he has in any of his bestselling novels. Now I’m not only a fan of his fiction but of his nonfiction.

Heeere'sJohnny
Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” 1980.

King ought to know about writing; he has sold in excess of 350 million books, including more than 50 novels, at least five works of nonfiction and a couple dozen other collections of fiction (200 short stories among them).

The first section of On Writing is autobiographical, although he points out that it is not an autobiography:

“It is, rather, a kind of curriculum vitae – my attempt to show how one writer was formed.”

He tells tales of boyhood (second son of a single mom moving from place to place, paycheck to paycheck), illness, outdoor adventures with his brother (the poison ivy story is a horror tale in itself), his first attempts at writing, at publishing, his early career as a starving artist supporting a wife and two kids, and more.

To be sure, each author has a unique approach to the craft, but there are basic elements that normally can’t be argued with. (At least if you want to get people to read your work.)

King has his own brand of advice about the art and craft of writing, and it’s hard-won.

He starts with his first attempts at storytelling when he was 6, although this consisted of copying comic-book tales word for word, “sometimes adding my own descriptions where they seemed appropriate.” After reading one of the copied stories, his mother urged him, “I bet you could do better. Write one of your own, Stevie.” He did, and his mother paid him a quarter apiece for them, a dollar total – his first paying gig.

The King household didn’t get television until 1958, when Stevie was 11, and he considers himself fortunate.

“I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bull—-. This might not be important. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far.

“Just an idea.”

King got a lot of his ideas from horror movies – namely, ripoffs of Edgar Allan Poe titles (yes, titles, not the actual stories). The first one, when he was about 14, was his “novel version” of one of those movies.

“I ran off about forty copies of The Pit and the Pendulum, blissfully unaware that I was in violation of every plagiarism and copyright statute in the history of the world.”

It was his first bestseller. By lunchtime the next day, he had sold three dozen copies to his schoolmates. (That the principal made him return everyone’s money did not deter him; come summer vacation, he sold about 40 copies of a new story, an original called The Invasion of the Star-Creatures.)

And then there was the night he got bored while working on his high school newspaper and came up with a rag of his own: The Village Vomit.

“That piece of dimwit humor got me into the only real trouble of my high school career,” he writes. “It also led me to the most useful writing lesson I ever got.” (I’ll let you read the story for yourself.)

King has a softer heart than you might imagine from a horror novelist (evidence: contrition at hurting a schoolteacher’s feelings with a story; sympathy for misfit classmates who were made fun of – the prototypes for Carrie; the tender way he speaks of his wife, Tabitha), but he’s practical in his advice about where good stories come from.

His unique spin goes something like this:

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

S&Hstamp

He illustrates this point with the story of “Happy Stamps,” the genesis of which came from his mother, whose tongue turned the color of S&H Green Stamps (remember those?) after she licked a few books of them. King sent the story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which promptly rejected it, although the notice arrived with a personal note from the great horror master himself, offering this helpful advice: “Don’t staple manuscripts. Loose pages plus paperclip equal correct way to submit copy.” Lesson learned.

If you’ve read a Stephen King novel (or seen one of the movie adaptations), you know he has a twisted way of looking at the world, right?

In On Writing, he talks about his love of movies. One of the two movie houses in his hometown Lewiston, Maine, showed Disney pictures, Bible epics and musicals when he was a teenager.

“They were boringly wholesome. They were predictable. During The Parent Trap, I kept hoping Hayley Mills would run into Vic Morrow from The Blackboard Jungle. That would have livened things up a little. … I felt that one look at Vic’s switchblade and gimlet gaze would have put Hayley’s piddling domestic problems in some kind of reasonable perspective.”

Perspective, eh? Gotta love him.

Sissy Spacek in "Carrie," 1976.
Sissy Spacek in “Carrie,” 1976.

Crediting his wife with digging the discarded first draft of Carrie out of the trash, King tells of his disbelief at selling the paperback rights to his first really successful piece of fiction.

“You’ve got something here,” Tabby said. “I really think you do.

She was right. Since its first printing in 1974, Carrie has sold millions of copies and spawned three films (including a sequel and a remake), a TV movie and a Broadway musical.

Just before he begins the section on “what writing is,” King talks openly of his alcoholism (including the fact that he was drunk when he gave his mother’s eulogy) and his drug addiction.

Some of his characters came out of an attempt to make sense of his alcoholism (although he didn’t realize it at the time), but that’s as far as it went. He doesn’t claim to have been helped creatively by the substance use; on the contrary, the clarity gained through his characters helped him give up the booze and the drugs.

“The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.”

He says he barely remembers writing Cujo.

“Substance-abusing writers are just substance abusers – common garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drug and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bull—-. We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.”

That sums up Part 1. There is so much to tell about this book, and I’m just getting to the part on “What Writing Is.” It includes the chapter in his life after the 1999 accident in which he was hit by a car. I’m saving those stories for Part 2. Come back in May (after the A-Z challenge is over), and I’ll tell you that tale.

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Tomorrow: P is for peace.

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Blogging from A-Z – The art of saying no

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “N.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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AnneLamottQuoteI don’t know whether Anne Lamott is the one who first came up with the phrase “ ‘No’ is a complete sentence,” but when I heard Oprah Winfrey quote it several years ago, it resonated. (I bet she got it out of one of Annie’s books.)

And I love this quote from really successful businessman Warren Buffett:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

A lot of us have trouble saying no. We have visions of being cast as self-centered contrarians who don’t want to pull our share of the load, who never want to have any fun or who just like being difficult (not that I know anyone like that). We don’t want people to think we’re NOT NICE.

In the past couple of years, I’ve developed the ability to say no (sometimes), mainly out of self-preservation. I’ve had some health issues, I’m getting older (and creakier) and my schedule is packed. At some point, I finally realized that it was time to STOP THE MADNESS, that it was OK not to be all things to all people at all times (I’m trying to teach my husband this lesson, too). I’ve learned that even if someone doesn’t understand my motives for declining an invitation or a request for help, that’s OK; I’m the only one who has to walk in my shoes, the only one who looks at my silly mug in the mirror every morning.

I’ve learned to prioritize what I need and want to do and trim out things that won’t help me maintain a healthy balance in my life. (Even with all the no’s, a healthy balance is challenging.)

Pleasestopthebeginning
Image via Hyperbole and a Half, hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com.

Saying no can be difficult when one of your main gifts is “volunteering” or “helping.” I’ve felt all my life that one of the things that gives my life meaning is helping others. It’s difficult when you belong to a church that has so many areas that need volunteers (all churches do, right?). I recently shared (unwisely, judging by the reaction) that I finally realized I wasn’t gifted to work with children. I love teaching adult studies (I’m a volunteer with a financial stewardship ministry), but I jokingly mentioned that a recent month helping out in Sunday school was like “a prison sentence.” I’m OK with the fact that God gave me a preference for adult ministry rather than children’s, but that is not always a popular admission among fellow churchgoers (probably not the best choice of words, either: prison sentence). Apparently this preference makes me a freak of nature (aren’t all women supposed to enjoy working with children?), but I learned a long time ago that I’m not like “everyone else.”

For years and years, I volunteered every summer at vacation Bible school, and I worked my tail off to prepare the lessons each day (I even had a co-leader say I did an “excellent” job with the lessons and was great with the kids). But I didn’t really enjoy it. I faked my enthusiasm. I had volunteered solely because I thought I was expected to (by others, by God, by the little Chinese orphans who went to bed every night without VBS).

Is that the person you want teaching your kids every Sunday (or for a week every summer)? Probably not.

Lots of people think this means I don’t like children. Please hear me. I like children. I actually love being a nursery worker, where the babies don’t talk or walk yet, where the most challenging thing is changing a poopy diaper, but I am not gifted for children’s ministry. I’m just not. (I could even tell you some of the reasons, but that’s not the point of this post.)

I finally got tired of faking it and started saying no to VBS and Sunday school requests. (Does that mean I stopped feeling guilty and sometimes defensive about saying no? No.)

Also, I stopped signing up for every women’s Bible study that was put on the schedule, whether as a participant or a leader. I was asked to lead a couple of them, and it was during a time when I was experiencing a lot of fatigue, so I did a crappy job because I was too tired to prepare properly and, to be frank, I was too exhausted to care. NOT GOOD.

Not good.

So … can you see where I’m headed? “No” is sometimes a good thing – a necessary thing – if you’re saying it for the right reasons. (“Too lazy” may not be the best reason, but “too tired” because of poor health or a demanding job – or both – may be. And sometimes “I don’t want to” is good enough; it just depends on the circumstances.)

Saying no takes practice. It takes some muscle flexing. But, just as with any muscle, with regular use the “no” muscle gets stronger and exercising it gets easier. (Then you get to move on to more challenging stuff.)

Here are eight tips for why and how to say no graciously:

8TipsForSayingNo

Can you think of a time you said yes when you should have said no? What lesson did you learn?

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Tomorrow: O is for “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – music

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “M.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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ConfuciusQuoteMusic4I would hate to live in a world without music.

Can you imagine? I can’t.

There’s something indescribable about music, something it does to your soul – a filling of empty spaces you never realized you had.

(And yet I apparently feel the need to try to describe it.)

Music can calm, uplift, unite, honor, inspire, rally, heal …

Read this story about a music rehabilitation program for severely wounded soldiers.

Music is transcendent.

Wrap me up in a symphony like a cocoon that keeps me safe and warm, and soon I acquire enough energy to become invincible. The harsh light of reality doesn’t seem so bright anymore …

… when I listen to music.

(Music awakens the feeble poet in me, just a wee tiny bit.)

Music is basic. It brings clarity, strips away pretense, speaks to our insides.

“For me there is something primitively soothing about this music, and it went straight to my nervous system, making me feel ten feet tall.” – Eric Clapton

And I suppose you could say that, sometimes, it can alter reality. Can you relate?

“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. … On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.” – Hunter S. Thompson

I’m never the same after I listen to good music, even for a few moments.

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono

And even a standard poodle named Django can appreciate a good Beatles tune.

That’s my friend Conrad and his musically gifted dog playing “Norwegian Wood” along with a music student.

What’s your favorite kind of music?

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Tomorrow: N is for No.

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Blogging from A-Z – C.S. Lewis

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “L.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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ScrewtapeLettersOriginalCover
First edition dust wrapper of “The Screwtape Letters.” Photo copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, Geoffrey Bles, or the cover artist. My use of the image falls under the “fair use” section of U.S. copyright law.

 

When the world lost renowned author, speaker and university professor C.S. Lewis, the event was barely a blip on the newswire in the United States.

Nov. 22, 1963

As England mourned the beloved creator of Narnia, Perelandra and Glome, the world was reeling from the shock and devastation of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination an ocean away.

(A third momentous death that day: philosopher and author Aldous Huxley’s – also overshadowed by the JFK tragedy.)

I was six days shy of my first birthday on this date, and it would be a quarter-century before I discovered the pleasures and intellectual stimulation of Clive Staples Lewis (known to close friends as “Jack”) and his unique way of expressing theological truths.

I can’t explain exactly why Lewis’ words resonate so deeply in my soul. They just do.

CSLewisMug
Clive Staples Lewis

Maybe it’s because he was an atheist-turned-Christian; for me, that gives his words greater weight than those of someone who has never really wrestled with faith issues. Lewis once called himself “the most reluctant convert of all time.” But, despite doubts, he weighed the evidence and came out on the side of God and the resurrected Jesus.

(I, too, struggle in my quest for truth; things don’t always make sense. But I keep seeking, and when I seek, I find. Lewis is one of the ways I find.)

But it’s also because he had a unique way of making complex ideas seem simple, using analogies from the everyday, the common. (A modern-day equivalent is Tim Keller. Apologists like Lewis and Keller help me work through my questions.)

In my opinion, my first Lewis book is still his best. The first time I read it, in my mid-20s, I found Mere Christianity to be complex and deep yet simple, albeit a bit intimidating. I read it again last year and found it to be profoundly wonderful, still complex and yet straightforward and simple all at the same time. (I wish I had his way of making this sound sensible.)

My second Lewis book – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Book 1 in “The Chronicles of Narnia”) – was equally wonderful but in a completely different way. The Narnia books have entranced not only me but millions of readers throughout the decades.

His way of expressing theological ideas engaged even young fiction lovers, with whom he corresponded:

“As to Aslan’s other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don’t you really know His name in this world? Think it over and let me know your answer!” 

– C.S. Lewis, in response to an 11-year-old girl who had sent him her
drawings and a letter of appreciation for the first three Chronicles of Narnia

Although these two books are perhaps his best sellers, Lewis wrote many others. I haven’t read them all, I confess. A few weeks ago, a longtime friend gave me a copy of Till We Have Faces, which I had never attempted to read. (I wish I had read it before writing this post.) My friend had such an odd reaction, and she was sure that I, too, would think the book extremely strange. So it sits on my nightstand, waiting its turn; I can’t wait to dig in.

Lewis also wrote about his conversion to Christianity (Surprised by Joy, [joy was a topic that came up frequently in his writings]), marriage late in life to Joy Davidman, Joy’s death (A Grief Observed) and heaven and hell (The Great Divorce). Another favorite of mine: The Screwtape Letters, a fictional account of correspondence between veteran demon Uncle Screwtape and his demon-in-training nephew Wormwood.

A movie, Shadowlands, chronicles Lewis and Davidman’s relationship and her death; the theatrical release stars Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger; the PBS version features Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.

Here are links to Lewis’ works:

And then there’s this exciting recent news of a discovered letter.

Two other books of note (not penned by Lewis but inspired by him) – one fiction and one nonfiction:

  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken and his wife, “Davy,” were friends and correspondents of Lewis’, and this book details the couple’s life and love, Davy’s death and some of the letters between them and Lewis. You won’t always agree with their choices, but you’ll gain something from this beautiful book.

Note that I’ve linked you to CSLewis.com for many of the books. I’m sure you can find most or all of them at lower prices at a mainstream bookseller such as Amazon. The choice is yours.

Happy reading!

UPDATE: After I published this post, I discovered that my friend Lois at Waxing Gibbous had also written about C.S. Lewis today. And it’s not even his birthday! (She wrote about Narnia. Check it out.)

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Tomorrow: M is for music.

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Blogging from A-Z – kids and running

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “K.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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RunningIsFunAt my small rural church many years ago, folks would file out of the sanctuary after the sermon and congregate on the lawn, the sidewalks, the parking lot … anywhere just to talk.

Or, in the case of the little kids, to run around and just be kids.

I didn’t realize how seriously the kids took this playtime until one day I heard an exchange between young Adam and his mom, who on this day apparently didn’t have the usual time for chitchat. The family just needed to load up in the car and leave.

Carol: “Adam, we have to go.”
Adam: “But I didn’t get to run!”

Simple enough. In Adam’s mind, post-church fellowship meant burning off energy outdoors.

For a kid, that’s what running is. It’s not the chore that we adults sometimes make it (me included). For kids, running is a joyful, freeing experience.

Funny thing is, they don’t think about it much.

Like the adults do. Obsessively.

One of the great things about being part of a busy running community – especially one with young families – is getting to see the kids run … for fun. Some of them – lots of them, in fact – win medals or trophies, but I imagine that most of them do it for fun, at least when they’re younger.

So, in honor of the kids in the White River Roadrunners club, the kids who run in our local races (around Batesville, Ark.) and just kids in general, here are a few scenes I like:

ErynnGoMile2014
Erynn finishing the Kids Mini-Mile at the Go! Mile, 2014.
ShawnJrPredictionRun2014
Shawn Jr. getting ready for the Prediction Run, 2014.
Clara, Darcy and Mom Amanda at the women's running clinic, 2012.
Clara, Darcy and Mom Amanda at the women’s running clinic, 2012.
Keira and mom Marie.
Keira and mom Marie.
AshleyAndTheBellerKids
Ashley Beller and her brood, from left: Millie, Esther and Elijah, 2014.

“There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.”

– George Sheehan

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Monday: L is for C.S. Lewis.

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Blogging from A-Z – ‘juvenile’ (type 1) diabetes

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “J.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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MaddyQuoteI can’t even come close to imagining what it’s like to be the parent of a child with diabetes.

Not by a long shot.

I remember when my cousin David’s daughter, Madisen, was diagnosed in October 2007. She was only 6.

David and Kelly freaked out for a minute, I think (wouldn’t you?), and then they got busy. They bought plane tickets to Oklahoma, where another cousin lives. Our cousin D.P. also has a daughter, Kara, with Type 1 diabetes (aka T1D), and David needed advice. He needed to hear from another dad that everything was going to be OK.

And it was, but it took a while to feel that.

He and Kelly were reeling with the new reality that their little girl had a problem they couldn’t fix. Even worse, it was a condition Maddy likely would be dealing with for the rest of her life.

Or at least until we find a cure.

Because “OK” doesn’t mean it’s gone; it means you find a “new normal” and you go with it. Whatever it takes.

You get educated. You seek advice. You get support from other parents. You use every resource you can find to help you – and your child – deal with it.

You fundraise, you walk, you advocate. You protect your baby girl as best you can.

KellyMaddyDave
Kelly, Maddy and David raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in 2011.

This is their reality, according to Kelly:

“She will never outgrow it, and every decision we make regarding her care today has lasting implications for her health many years to come.”

Talk about a heavy burden for a parent.

But Madisen also knows how serious this is.

“Dealing with Type 1 Diabetes is a constant balancing act. Sometimes I WIN and my blood sugars are good, and other times I don’t, despite all the hard work. There are no guarantees. Every day is a battle with this disease that I can treat but never control. I have always said this disease will NOT STOP ME from doing the things I love ❤.”

This girl is strong. (I suppose she has no choice.)

She doesn’t let T1D stop her from doing the things she loves. She shows her grit and strength by playing centerfield on a championship softball team:

“I love to play softball and currently play on the varsity team at school as well as on a travel team. My diabetes has sometimes interfered with softball. If my blood sugar is too high or too low the coach may make me sit the bench until my blood sugar is in a good range. This makes me so MAD! It is like I am being punished or something. It is frustrating because I cannot always know when my blood sugar is going to rise or drop. It is not like I can plan ahead!!”

Kelly considers her daughter a hero:

“This is an emotional and physical roller coaster of which we never get off! Madisen wakes up every morning to finger pokes, insulin injections, highs/lows and everything in between. Diabetes goes to school with her, where she must learn and grow as a student all while dealing with blood sugar. She has managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA all through school despite diabetes. She goes to bed each night with the fear of dangerous highs that wreak havoc on her body or even more dangerous lows that could send her into a coma or even death. We turn around and do it all over again the next day and the day after that. Sometimes we all wish we could get off this ride or simply take a break. We have learned that with diabetes there is no break!

I took this photo the day I met Maddy in 2006.
I took this photo the day I met Maddy in 2006.

Most of what I know about Maddy has been from a distance of about 2,000 miles; I’ve enjoyed her company a handful of times during all-too-brief family visits. But I follow her parents on Facebook and have seen countless photos and reports of her as she has grown from a grinning little girl (with a melt-your-heart smile) to a beautiful and generous young lady.

“She has a kind heart and wants to help other kids dealing with this disease,” says her mom.

In Maddy’s words:

“I have had the opportunity to attend an amazing diabetes camp through the Diabetes Youth Families called Bearskin Meadow, where I can be around people who face the same struggles I do. I have had the chance to meet people from all different cities. I will be attending teen camp this summer for 10 days. I hope to become a camp counselor when I am 18. I would like to pass on the important life lessons that I have learned and make a difference to young kids who battle this disease.

Maddy may not know it, but she’s a role model and she makes her family proud.

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SOME THINGS WE WANT YOU TO KNOW:

A group of T1D parents welcomed me recently when David invited me to a Facebook group that he and Kelly are a part of. It’s a place where parents can get information and support from one another, and even share their frustrations sometimes. The first question I asked was, “Do you call it juvenile diabetes, type 1, or what?” Then I asked what else they would like folks to know about T1D.

  • “I hate referring to it as ‘juvenile diabetes’ because everyone familiar with it ALWAYS assumes once my son is not a juvenile, he will outgrow diabetes.”
  • “There is a whole movement out there to rename type 1 since all the press and public health messaging is around type 2, but tends to be referred to as ‘diabetes’ so type 1 folks are sometimes treated like ‘well if you just behaved differently you’d get over it.’ It’s an easy correction, but unfair for a kid to have to do it.”
  • Finding the right doc can be a challenge: You have to have a Pediatric Endocrinologist Specialist in addition to their regular Pediatrician to treat their T1D. Most regular Endo Docs will NOT treat kids under the age of 18 with T1D because it is much more complicated (due to kids’ constant hormone changing as they grow, the need for 24 hour on call – usually in close connection with a hospital, and growth factors, etc. complicate the regulation of the A1C).”
  • “Life insurance is near impossible for our kids that have gotten onset as a juvenile … that [our daughter] could afford. … It doesn’t seem the insurance industry is catching up to the medical progress that is being made for T1D and still penalizing all T1D.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  • Diabetes Youth Families. DYF’s mission: “To improve the quality of life for children, teens and families affected by diabetes. The organization provides education and recreation within a supportive community, encouraging personal growth, knowledge and independence.”
  • Bearskin Meadow Camp.
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. On a mission to find a cure, JDRF is “the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF’s goal is to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people’s lives until we achieve a world without T1D.”
  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. The NDIC is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The clearinghouse “provides information about diabetes to people with diabetes and to their families, health care professionals and the public. The NDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications and works closely with professional and patient organizations and government agencies to coordinate resources about diabetes.”

Until there’s a cure, young ladies like Maddy and Kara will keep fighting.

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Monday: K is for (stay tuned).

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – Book review: ‘Intentional Walk’

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “I.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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BerkmanGraphicCardinal red runs through my family’s veins. Well … at least most of them.

For me it’s Dodger blue.

And when I say “me,” I mean Me, Myself and I. As far as I can tell, I am the one and only Dodgers fan in my family. (It started in the mid-1970s with Steve Garvey; I was in junior high.)

A couple of years ago, when our two teams met in the playoffs, things got a little tense at Mom’s house. (Bruce and I watch games there because she’s the one with the TV.) I had to watch in frustration as yet another Dodgers team fell just short of a World Series berth. Oh, well; I’ll always have 1978 (that’s the first year they won the pennant after I switched my loyalty from the Reds).

But once the Dodgers are out of a pennant race, I become a true-blue Cardinals fan and my mother and I can be lovey-dovey again. 🙂 (Bruce just sits on the sidelines and keeps his mouth shut – mostly – because he’s a fellow who knows what’s good for him.)

IntentionalWalkCoverI knew that my favorite Cards pitcher, Adam Wainwright, team manager Mike Matheny and left fielder Matt Holliday professed to be Christians, but I hadn’t realized that the team was known for having several Christians on its roster – until I saw Intentional Walk on the BookLook Bloggers list. Although I jumped at the chance to read the book, it has taken me a couple of years to get around to writing the review. (Don’t judge me. The BookLook folks don’t; they just won’t send me another free book until I post this review!)

Written by Rob Rains, the book is subtitled “An Inside Look at the Faith that Drives the St. Louis Cardinals.” In it, I learned the faith backgrounds of several players and crew members.

It didn’t go deep, though.

The book, while interesting, is uneven in spots and at times seems to have been written by a high school student who spent a few weeks doing research and then strung some interesting facts into a book report for senior English. The writing is a bit unsophisticated, and I’d like to have gone a little deeper with some of the stories. (I probably would’ve given the student a C+ … maybe a B-.)

Each chapter is a mini-bio of a particular player and his faith walk. And each chapter begins with a Bible verse, but many times I was left scratching my head as to what the verse meant to the particular player or how it related to the summary of his faith. The author did a poor job of connecting the dots. (Did he just pick a bunch of verses that sounded good and slap them on each chapter?)

But at least one reference made sense: “Kolten Wong’s faith is with him every day – his favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 3:6, is tattooed onto his back.” This revelation is in the middle of the chapter on James Ramsey and Wong, who at the time (2012) were just team prospects – they weren’t playing in St. Louis yet.

Despite some foul balls (sorry, I can’t help myself), the book does score on some levels.

The prologue alone is worth the price of admission. It gives insights into Matheny’s character and includes a letter he wrote to parents of a Little League team he managed in the late-2000s, after he retired as a player. In it, Matheny outlines what he expects of the players and their parents. I like his honesty:

“I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. … I think the concept that I am asking all of you to grab is that this experience is ALL about the boys. If there is anything about it that includes you, we need to make a change of plans.”

He outlines his three main goals for the team, then says, “We may not win every game, but we will be the classiest coaches, players, and parents in every game we play. The boys are going to play with a respect for their teammates, opposition, and the umpires, no matter what.”

And the chapter on broadcaster and former pitcher Rick Horton talks about a dark period for the team in 2002: the deaths – four days apart – of broadcaster Jack Buck, who had worked for the Cardinals nearly 50 years, and 33-year-old player Darryl Kile.

The story of Matheny’s reaction to Kile’s death is poignant. Matheny, a catcher at the time, was extremely close to pitcher Kile. I’ll let you read that story for yourself.

This is a decent book that gives an inside look into some Cardinals’ lives. I wouldn’t say Rains knocked it out of the park, but he didn’t strike out, either. (Sorry; I have a sickness.) It was a pleasant enough read, well worth the $2.99 on Kindle or, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Cards fan, maybe the full price for a hard copy at Christianbook.com ($11.99) or Amazon (paperback starting at $7.80).

I just wish it came with a box of Cracker Jacks.

BookLook Bloggers (formerly BookSneeze) sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. If you’re interested in receiving free books for writing unbiased reviews, visit BookLook here.

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Tomorrow: J is for ‘juvenile’ (or Type 1) diabetes.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – Highland games and Scottish heritage

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “H.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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Arkansas Scottish Festival 2015My dad used to say bagpipes sounded like “a squashed duck.” It was one of the few things we disagreed on. I’m in love with the instrument, which is most commonly associated with Scotland. (No, I don’t play it – I just enjoy listening.)

As we get ready to welcome the annual Arkansas Scottish Festival to Batesville this weekend, I’ve had some of the traditional bagpipe melodies running through my head.

My second-favorite part of the festival is the Parade of Clans and Bands, which happens at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the courtyard of the Lyon College campus. During this time, festivalgoers gather to watch all the pipe bands march in together, playing as one.

I have “Scotland the Brave” coursing through my brain even as I write.

The festival is one way Lyon showcases its Scottish heritage. Folks come from all over the world to celebrate Scotland.

Oh, the kilts.

As I think about the part of the festival that’s long been my favorite, I get a bit melancholy.

Alex Beaton, whose music was a popular part of the festival for many years, was paralyzed in an accident in 2011 and is no longer able to travel to the festival. You can read more at Alex’s website.

Even though he won’t be there, he’s a part of the festival’s history and I want to share a little bit of him with you.

Alex is a storyteller and has entertained crowds all over the world with his beautiful Scottish ballads, but his sense of humor also comes through in songs such as The Scotsman. This clip from another festival contains that song, along with “Mary Mack” and a song I’m not familiar with (“Come Along,” perhaps?).

We miss Alex and wish him the best. Say prayers for Alex and his wife, Linda. He recently endured a five-month hospital stay and seems to have continuing health challenges. (I know a bit about that, as I had a cousin who was a quadriplegic. There always seemed to be something to deal with.)

Here’s another clip where his personality shines through, and it also contains another favorite sad song of mine: “The Massacre of Glencoe.” I hope you enjoy Alex as much as I do.

But bagpipes and balladeers aren’t the only things you’ll enjoy at the Arkansas Scottish Festival. Besides food, traditional music and a British car show, there are dogs! …

Sheep dog demonstrations – another favorite part of the fun. You just need to go and watch.

… and there are contests – bonniest knees, dance, piping competition, caber toss – a feast & ceilidh, a Sunday morning church service outdoors, a book sale and much more.

This year they’ve added a Highland Adventure Race, which I would totally do if I weren’t a wimp (people, I would turn myself over in the kayak and drown). But it sounds like so much fun! (Can someone please explain the Asparagus Toss to me? Please don’t tell me it has to do with “losing your lunch”).

There just isn’t room to list all the fun, so you’ll have to go see for yourself (or click here to download the schedule and map). Take your dogs; they’ll love it too.

And did I mention that admission is FREE?

Arkansas Scottish Festival and highland games
April 11-12
Admission: FREE
Lyon College
2300 Highland Rd.
Batesville, AR 72501

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Tomorrow: I is for “Intentional Walk,” a book review.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – God, politics and the Ten Commandments

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “G.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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The Ten Commandments

I’m about to say something that might be considered sacrilege in some parts (including these here parts I live in – namely, the Bible Belt):

I don’t think erecting a Ten Commandments monument on government property is a great idea.

But Arkansas is headed there.

State Senate Bill 939, passed last week by the Senate and the House and sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature, will allow for the placement of a stone monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Arkansas Capitol.

“There are many historical monuments around the Capitol, and we’re just giving room to another one that has significant historical value,” said state Rep. Kim Hammer, as quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (Hammer is one of the bill’s 42 sponsors.)

I think that’s an oversimplification of the issue, and I think, as Christians talking about public issues, we tend to do that – oversimplify things – in an effort to make all things seem equal. But sometimes it means we want things to be equal for us.

Have we thought this through?

All things being equal, I’d agree with the state lawmakers who want the monument in public. I am a Christian who practices her faith daily (or at least I try to), and I believe that God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on two stone tablets, lo those many centuries ago. I’d even agree that the Commandments have “significant historical value,” as Hammer stated.

And I even agree with what SB939 states: everything from “The courts of the United States of America and of various 29 states frequently cite the Ten Commandments in published decisions” to “God has ordained civil government.” But I’m not sure that this …

“The placement of the monument under this section shall not be construed to mean that the State of Arkansas favors any particular religion or denomination over others.”

… is enough to convince the naysayers – or me.

Because not all things are equal, and not everyone in the good ol’ U S of A is a Christian. And significant historical value? I have to wonder if that was truly the sponsors’ motive. Hammer’s justification seems disingenuous. That’s usually the type of argument we come up with when we think our real argument will fall flat.

And maybe if the monument had been placed a century ago, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But it wasn’t, and we are.

So, as Christians, when we use an argument like “significant historical value” as a way to justify our position but what we really mean is that we want you to shut up and get out of our way, we lose an opportunity to connect, to really engage, with those we purport to want to reach with the Good News of the gospel. In fact, we shut the door in their faces.

I believe Christians are commanded to preach the Good News, and one of those ways is public declaration of our faith without shame or apology. But when it comes to displays of our beliefs on public property, I think we’re opening a can of worms we may not want opened.

moon_full_sky
photo courtesy of all-free-download.com

Our country was founded on the basis of religious freedom for everyone.

So if Christians place a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, what’s to stop a Muslim, a Hindu, a Wiccan, an atheist or anyone else whose beliefs with which I differ from placing a monument on that same state government property?

Nothing, in my opinion. Except maybe a passel of lawsuits and a bunch of acrimony. And a lot of lost time, money and goodwill. A bunch of slammed doors.

Is that what we want?

Is that what we as followers of Jesus Christ are looking for? To win some argument so that “our” form of government can dictate how others believe?

Like we could even come close to doing that. (As those liberals are fond of saying 🙂 you can’t legislate morality.)

I am all for defending religious liberty, but I’m also all for common sense.

I believe that each time we argue about a religious display on government property, or some other religious “liberty” that, in reality, is a way to force our beliefs down someone else’s throat, we’re placing one more wedge between “us” (Christ followers) and “them” (those we purport to try to reach with the Good News). Sometimes I think we just want to win.

But if we set up this monument, I think the best we can hope for is a tie.

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I feel the need to add a few personal thoughts:
  • I was extremely nervous about posting this. I’m not sure who will read it, and I am not looking to offend anyone or stir up a fight. I’ve always tried to stay away from controversial topics on this blog, so this is the first time I’ve written anything like this. (So, a little anxious.)
  • I could be wrong. Everything I stated above is my opinion, though, and I’m blessed to live in a country where stating an opinion is allowed.
  • I’m willing to change my mind if someone makes a persuasive counter-argument. Although I’ve made some definite statements on one side of the issue, there are a few topics I feel more strongly about than this one and am willing to argue more vehemently about. This one isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on.
  • I welcome others’ opinions. I really do. If you agree or disagree with my views on this topic, please feel free to post a comment. I ask only one thing: BE POLITE AND RESPECTFUL. I respect your right to disagree with me; please respect everyone else’s right to do the same.
  • I’m married to an atheist, who’s also a fellow “former journalist,” and I trust his judgment. I asked him to read this before I published it – not so he’d agree with me but so that he could tell me whether my writing contained gaps in logic. (I’m not a professional debater, folks; I’m just a gal with opinions.)
  • I prayed about this before posting. I can do nothing without the power of prayer to back me up.
  • Thank you for reading.

For further reading on this topic:

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Tomorrow: H is for home.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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