Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Story of Gratitude . And Forgiveness

A Story of Gratitude. And Forgiveness


We often speak words of thanksgiving this time of year. Even those who seldom make those sort of remarks sit at the table with loved ones and friends and voice something for which they are thankful. Many of those are words of gratitude for a big Thanksgiving dinner. I realize some of that may take place virtually this year. But we are people of tradition. Traditions bring us as much comfort as turkey and dressing. 


So this week I want to share a story of gratitude. 


My maternal grandmother lived a hard life. By anyone’s standards. Both of her parents died when she was young, leaving her, along with her brothers and sisters to fend for themselves. An uncle was supposed to care for them, but he didn’t.


At my grandmother’s funeral a man told me a story his own father told him. The neighbors—we’re talking farms here with neighbors often living miles away—took turns checking in on the orphaned children. Early one morning, this man’s father decided to travel over the mountain on his way home so he could check on the young ones living alone. 


The children were standing at the fence. His greeting was met with fingers to the lips and a plea to “Shhh…” Slowly he approached. “We have to be quiet. We’re waiting for the chicken to lay an egg so we can have breakfast,” one of the youngsters explained. 


I am thankful I have food. I’ve never gone hungry.


And no one. Not. One. Person. Ever left my grandparents house hungry. Not One. I’m not sure how my grandmother did it, but if a crowd of unexpected guests arrived on her doorstep, she could seemingly throw another potato in the pot and make enough for everyone. With leftovers.


Grandma’s secret ingredient? A heart filled with both gratitude and forgiveness.

Ophia Bingham Woolum
My Grandmother

 Grandma had a tough life, but she forgave her uncle for the injustices he exacted on the family. She praised God for all the ways He protected her and her siblings. She was a "silver lining" kind of woman. 


She was appreciative for the simplest of things. Things I often take for granted. For that reason, though I will cook a meal and share it with my mother, I will not mourn the fact I am not with my children and grandchildren. I will praise God for what I do have: my mom, good food, and a God who meets my every need.


So what is next? 

The pandemic has not only claimed lives of many, it has disrupted the income and food distribution of millions. One in four children in the United States will go to bed hungry on Thanksgiving Day. As they do every day. One in four. That is a staggering statistic. I’m packing bags of canned goods, rice, and dried beans I have in my pantry and dropping them off at a local food bank.


What can you do? Cook a meal and take to someone? Donate funds to the Food Store or an organization providing meals? Last year I was able to pack food as a volunteer. COVID-19 makes that impossible this year. But we can find ways. We need only to look.


“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 


Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’


The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of he least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”  Matthew 25:35-40



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Who Is My Neighbor

 When I was a little girl, I lived for a time in Tucson, Arizona. My parents treated it as an adventure, though they moved there for my health. I had asthma. My strongest memories of our time living “out west” are of my best friend, Moey. She had another name, but her nickname was Moey. I remember playing dolls with her and climbing on the fence in her back yard. I have fond memories of watching her mother make tortillas on the hot flat iron skillet, turning them with her fingers. Moey taught me my first Spanish words. Moey was Mexican. And she was my neighbor.


In the middle of first grade, we returned to Ohio. I supposedly had outgrown my asthma by then and my grandfather had a heart attack. We moved to the “little farm” tucked in behind Grandma and Grandpa’s big farm so my dad could help Grandpa. My parents had dear friends who had three boys. The Hubbard boys took turns spending time with us at the farm. The boys were basically city kids. I was basically a country girl. They went to a city school. I went to a country school. It didn’t matter. Sure they lived far from us, but most farm kids are used to having their friends live a good distance away. The boys were like brothers to me. They were my neighbors.


I walk in my neighborhood now. It’s a suburban community and at first glance some may think the only diversity is the style of homes and the make of cars. There are also campaign signs for both sides of the political fence. Still.


The neighbors on one side of my house are a young couple with two very young children. On the other side is a couple closer to my age. 


Then there’s the family down the street who moved here from France for his work. Their children love it when I speak a few phrases in French. They are a long way from home and during this pandemic, they don’t know when they will return. 


Around the corner is Rosa, a woman from Italy. She praises me for my pronunciation of the few Italian words and phrases I know. She enjoys talking about her life in Italy. Sometimes we walk along together. Socially distanced of course. 


Two streets over is a family from Macedonia. We’ve had much to talk about. I lived in that part of the world for a while.


Down the street is a black family. The man is often out working in his yard when I take a walk. He had opened his home to his brother-in-law and his family when their home sold faster than their new home was built. Building slowed at the beginning of the pandemic so they had a full house there for while.


         Different people. Different backgrounds. Different views. Some even speak different languages. But these are my neighbors. It is one of the things I love about living in the United States. We are all different and yet all want the same kinds of things for our families: a safe place to live, food on the table, the freedom to share our views, the freedom to worship. 


And the freedom to take a walk in the neighborhood.


I’ve visited many parts of the world. I’ve met wonderful people everywhere I’ve traveled. But outside of the USA things look different. People struggle to have a voice. I’ve been to places where beggars are trying to gather enough for their next meal. I’ve been in countries where police turn away from crimes. 


I remember when I first came to realize the vastness of the United States. I was an adult and on my first visit to the British Isles. An Irishman visiting Scotland was staying at the same place we were staying. We were in the swimming pool when he spoke of his visit to America. He spoke of it in terms of time zones. 


I had traveled the US, but it didn’t strike me as that large until I heard him speak. 


Later on that same trip, when we drove through Europe, the places that appeared so big on my world history map in school were actually small. We could visit several countries in a days drive.    


Yes we are a large country. But we are Americans.

We belong together.

We stand and fight for each other.

We’re neighbors.

And neighbors should be friends.



Tuesday, November 10, 2020

So You Think You're ALL THAT...Give It A Minute.

 If you think you're "All That," you sometimes need a reminder of your limitations and frailties.

Some would call it a rude awakening. I call it a blessing; A way of keeping me focused and grounded. Here is an example. I offer it because I think we can all use a good laugh.

The year is 1998.

I was thrilled to be hired as a professor at  Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary shortly after graduating from my doctoral program. My first week of school, I managed the small education classes I was hired to teach without incident. 

However, I was also asked to participate in a team taught class on human development and learning. It was a large class representing a wide range of students in programs other than teacher education. I was a bit nervous. The other two teachers were far more experienced and well prepared after years of teaching the course. 

I worked hard to get my lessons ready. This was during a time before we had access to Power Point or online technologies. I outlined my lecture and put together what I hoped were interesting transparencies (clear acetate sheets) for the overhead projector. Each of the overhead sheets represented a point I was making in my talk.

The day finally arrived to deliver my first lesson to the students assembled in the large room. I stood up, introduced myself, and launched into my well-rehearsed presentation on child development. I looked to my numbered acetate slides neatly stacked beside the overhead projector.

I turned on the projector and put the first transparency on the light box. I looked up to make sure the image was clear for the sophomores and juniors taking the class. 

It looked pretty good except for the long cord hanging down from the ceiling. I walked over and pulled the cord aside so my students could see the image and continued with my lecture. 

I was gaining confidence. I walked back to the overhead projector and replaced the first transparency with my second one. I looked up. 

Everything would be perfect if it wasn’t for that stupid cord in the way. 

I walked back toward the wall and pulled the cord aside. I never missed a beat with my prepared presentation.

Finally, one student timidly raised her hand. 

Good. I’m connecting! Someone has a question.

“Yes?” I said as I nodded her way.

“Uh, Dr. Waters, I think if you pull that cord down it’s a screen.”

I looked at that inconvenient cord and pulled on it. Sure enough, a large screen came down. 

I had been displaying the transparencies on the wall. 

I stood there for a minute shaking my head back and forth, smiling at my own inadequacies. When I turned around, the students were trying very hard to not laugh. They were most respectful. That alone endeared that group to me forever. 

“Don’t you find that hilarious?” I asked.  I laughed out loud and soon they joined me. It was not planned but certainly the best icebreaker I could have hoped for in my first semester as a professor.

God reminds me on a regular basis that I'm "not all that." 

"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." Romans 12:3

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philippians 2:3" 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

That Good Kind of Tired

 That “Good Kind of Tired”


I’ve always said, “The things that make you tired are the things you leave undone.” 


I must have read it somewhere. I’m not that brilliant.


But it’s true. When you don’t complete a task, it hangs over you like a dark cloud. A cloud that grows bigger and darker and more daunting with the passage of time. That’s why time management folks say to put the big projects first on your “to do” list. 


“Getting stuff done” breeds energy to do more. Getting it done, no matter the task, is what my mom calls, “a good kind of tired.”


My first novel, Breathing on Her Own was released in March 2014. It was fun. An accomplishment. In October of that same year, I started outlining another story set in Indiana. I was playing with the idea for that story when several friends in an online writing community started talking about NaNoWriMo. 


It stands for NationalNovel Writing Month. I did some research, checked out a book at my local library by the founder, Chris Baty, and decided to join the fun. 


The idea of completing 50,000 of a novel in November by writing a bit each day was doable. At the time, Tom and I were in Ohio, selling our house. We were traveling back to Florida at the end of the week, November 1. 


I told Tom about the notion of writing a book in a month. He was all in. We made our plans. I would write in November and edit in December. We intended to take our camper to the Florida Christian Writers Conference in the Spring 2015 to pitch two other novels I had already completed.


I think the Florida Christian Writers Conference was in February that year. I honestly can’t remember. I never went to it. I never wrote the book. I never participated in NaNoWriMo.


I had a title for the book. I called it The Edge of Quiet

I had something of a loose outline for the novel.

I had considered the characters and the problem facing them.

I prepared to write. 


I always wrote a little every day. Tom rode his bicycle every day for his health. 


After lunch, On October 29, 2014, three days before we were to leave for Florida, I headed back to the computer to get a few details about the setting for my new story. Tom left for his daily bike ride. 


My sweet husband died a few hours later from injuries he sustained that day from a bicycle accident. You’ve heard me say this before. When Tom died, the ink ran out of my pen. 


I had no desire to pursue…anything. I lived in a fog.


I picked up the Quiet manuscript file from time-to-time, feeling guilty for not writing a story I figured God had given me. 


The book was left undone.

NaNoWriMo was left undone.


In February of 2018, while living in Europe, I was asked if I could submit a novella to an anthology. The publishers wanted stories written by Ohio authors that take place in Ohio. I cut 45,000 words from one of my works I intended to pitch at the conference I never attended, Courtesy Turn, and received a contract for it to be published in From the Lake to the River. I submitted Libby’s Cuppa Joe to a publisher online and received a contract for it as well. 


From the Lake to the River released in the fall of 2018 and Libby’s Cuppa Joe released in March of 2019.


You would think those successes would have given me the energy and inspiration to finish The Edge of Quiet. But they didn’t. I prayed about it and continued to play with my writing, crafting this blog, a few Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, and a handful of devotions.


The undone story was exhausting to think about. 




Then this fall, something happened. I can’t tell you what it was exactly. 

At some point in time I came to the realization it was time to write The Edge of Quiet


I printed out every bit…every outline, paragraph, sentence or thought I had put in the file. I tried to sort it out. I consulted some of my writer friends at our online October retreat about my possible next step. And I prayed some more. 


I decided the time had come. I would finish the book by the end of October and write a companion book to it during NaNoWriMo 2020. 


I finished The Edge of Quiet on October 31. 

With a few hours to spare.  I launched into The Edge of Disruption (working title only) on November 1. 


To complete the challenge of NaNoWriMo, I need to write, on average, 1667 words a day. And I will do it.


The Edge of Quiet may never be picked by a publisher. I don’t know. The 50,000 words I put to paper this month toward The Edge of Disruption may never be read by anyone but me. And my mom. Maybe my daughters.


That’s okay. It is not about publishing. It is about conquering the task. It is moving forward and releasing the creative spirit that tugs at my heart and soul. It is trusting God. Always.


It is about finishing. 


Finishing The Edge of Quiet buoyed my spirits. It gave me a sense of purpose and energy. Finishing NaNoWriMo will do the same. These were the tasks I left undone in 2014.


So this is my plea to my readers…do that one thing hanging over your head.


You have a project you never completed. You may have something you’ve always longed to do. Do it. 


It need not be perfect, but getting it done will replace that feeling of exhaustion with that “good kind of tired.”