Tuesday, May 27, 2008

They Were Animals!

Last weekend I made a trip with blog friend Kathleen to the Yellow River Game Ranch. The game ranch is the home of Georgia's famous groundhog/official weather prognosticator General Lee, who is very popular. Of course, as Kathleen pointed out, you can tell the Game Ranch is in the South when you visit the other general in residence:

Poor little skunk.

The Game Ranch was a fun experience, because we didn't just get to look at the animals but also interact with them. Deer and ducks follow you around, begging for you to feed them--which is allowed, provided you stick to approved treats. Although you have to keep a safe distance from critters like bears, many of the cuddlier types just wander around the park and will eat right out of your hand.

The animals had different ways of approaching visitors and snagging their snacks. In many ways, visiting the Game Ranch reminded me of attending a writers' conference. If you've been to a conference, you know what I mean. All us poor writers fighting for attention, for scraps of hope from editors and agents. And we all have different ways of going about it.

Some of us will do anything to get that editor's attention. We'll overcome any barrier...

We don't care how silly we look, or how strange our story about the old lady abducted by aliens from the produce section of the supermarket sounds...

Others of us are above all that. We know our writing is wonderful, and frankly you're just very fortunate we came to share it with you...

Sometimes it all works out. We strike up a wonderful relationship with an editor or agent or fellow writer, and it's great on both sides.

Where do I fit in this picture? I had a nagging feeling I'm like this bear. Good things were being tossed at him, opportunities were all around him, but he was just too lazy to reach out and grasp most of them. Unless the snacks landed either right in front of him or right in his mouth--I'm not making that up. He sat with his mouth open and actually caught an apple and a couple of crackers--he just couldn't exert the effort to see it through. In fact, a cracker landed behind him, and he reached back with a paw and tried to drag it. But after a couple of tries he gave up, totally exhausted.

Okay, I think I'm learning my lesson here. I think I'll go home and do LOTS of writing tonight.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Milestone or Stumbling Block?

Here's the guest post I promised you, from my niece, Kristi. She has some great thoughts about perseverance, waiting, and trying to find God's will for the next phase of life.

Recently I had a major milestone in my life. I graduated from college at the not-so-tender age of 34. This is such a blessing, and I thank God for it, because He gave me a second chance. Because it is such a wondrous event, something I had hoped to do for a long time, and because it was something I had to work extremely hard for the second time around, the expectations of what would come next were, and are, incredibly high. They have been so high, in fact, that as I come back down to earth after graduation, I am having a hard time finding my footing. It makes me wonder, am I enjoying the milestone of my graduation, or turning it into a stumbling block on the path to the next thing?

The road to this point has been one which certainly required perseverance. The main perseverance which I experienced came not from myself, though, but from God. My past is filled with many things of which I am not proud, which is one reason I did not make it through school the first time. Although I always believed in Christ and really felt that I did love Him, I spent lots of wasted time living my life the way I wanted to. I took advantage of God’s amazing grace. But His love truly persevered. He never gave up on me, and I look back on some of those moments and am truly amazed at the extent of God’s incredible mercy towards us. I wonder sometimes why it is that I am so loved by Him, that He should care so much about someone who has lived such a life. But it is really not about me, but about Him. That is who He is, and He will never give up on us. We can see this in the Bible over and over as He dealt with Israel through the centuries. He would punish them and be seemingly at the end of His mercy with them, but there was always more. There was always that open invitation to come back to Him. Thank God His love and mercy are not dependent upon us, but upon Him. He enabled me to quit smoking and get registered for school, all while going through one of the worst periods of my life. He got me through school, and supplied me with a great job while I went. That is God’s power at work in my life.

The next display of perseverance came from my family. I would not have made it through the last few years if it were not for the incredible love and support of my mother, my father, my wonderful grandparents, and yes, even my sweet aunt Robin. These are people who have seen me go through many difficult times, many of them self-imposed, and who never once said, “You are on your own.” If they could help me, they have helped me.

I remember one really dark day back in 2005. My marriage had fallen apart, and I was having to leave the house which had become my home over the previous three years. I was faced with the awful task of going back several times to this house where some of my things still were. Barely a week had passed and my soon to be ex-husband had already replaced things I had taken, such as the washer and dryer. Redecoration and reworking of areas in the house were underway that quickly- and I had to go back in there and see how easily I was replaced. In the middle of all of this, my car broke down, and needed a repair that would cost $5oo.oo. My mother and my aunt took it upon themselves to make the 100-mile trip, bring a truck, and help me haul the rest of my things out. I never had to go back to that house. Then, my family selflessly helped me in getting a new car. So, I persevered, but I didn’t do it alone.

There have been many long, long days and nights filled with lots of work and practically no social life, but they were always with that goal in mind- to graduate, and I am so thankful to God that I did. I don’t want this at all to seem like I’m not happy about my graduation. I just don’t want it become a stumbling block. Now what, I wonder, and so far, the answer has not come. Most of us probably understand that this does not mean there is no answer, just that God is not ready to show it to me yet. And most likely there is not ONE answer, but many answers along the way. I have been looking for a giant beacon which leads me to that grand destination- that thing that God put me on this earth to do. Probably, the real truth is that there are lots of steps along the way, lots of things for me to do. It is a difficult thing not to feel a little lost these days, after having been so singularly focused over the last 2 ½ years, but as long as I stay on God’s path for me, He will guide my way, most likely a little at a time. If I keep my eyes on Him, and remember how He brought me through and always had a plan for me, my graduation will remain a milestone, and will not become a stumbling block.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Princess of Perseverance

Last week I had a very proud moment as my niece, Kristi, graduated cum laude with a degree in Theatre and Performance Studies. In the area of perseverance, she's frankly humbling me.

First, because this degree has been a dream of hers for so many years. Second, because at a bad time in her life, when she could have settled for depression and pitying herself, she jumped back into life full force. She worked, went to school full-time, and did lots of extras like producing and directing a film, acting in plays and taking part in story-telling festivals, and even being a street character at the Renaissance Festival.

Okay, Kristi, you can slow down now. You're frankly making me look bad. I whine all the time just because I have to go to my job, cook dinner, and then find time to write.

Anyway, I asked Kristi to share some thoughts about the journey she's been on recently--as well as her reflections as she finishes up one big goal, only to find there are even more questions out there. More decisions and frustrations. More waiting.

Tune in Friday for Kristi's guest post. I've gotten a sneak peek, and it's good!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Final Report on the Disaster

Thursday morning, I returned to work for the first time since last Sunday's tornado. Folks had told me how bad the campus where I work had been affected, but I still wasn't prepared. And I was seeing the damage four days after clean-up began.

There are now open vistas across the campus, where before you couldn't see anything but trees.

God was very kind. No one was hurt, and most of the buildings are okay. There are people in our city that are really hurting right now. I've seen pictures of homes torn apart. The poorer areas of town seem to have been affected most, and I've heard of some people whose food spoiled from the loss of power, and they're having trouble just feeding their families. So I realized how blessed my family and my college were.
Our grounds people are fabulous at landscaping and gardening. They'll take this mess and make the best of it, I know. Weeks or months from now, visitors to campus may not realize how different things are.

That's part of what makes me sad. So I want to give a brief eulogy for what used to be--and then I'll thank God for his protection and move on.
There was the walking trail through the woods by Lake Knee-Deep. I would say 95 percent of those trees were snapped in half and were destroyed. The woods will be gone. Future visitors may see a grassy field--or a new building under construction, who knows? They won't even know about the woods and the trail.

I may sound like I'm making a very sudden change of topic here, but there is a connection, so bear with me! A couple of days ago, I started hearing about a novel called The Shack, by William P. Young. Apparently it's quite controversial among Christians, with some praising it and some condemning. As I understand it, the main character interacts with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are in the forms of a homey African-American woman, a Middle Eastern man, and an Asian woman. I haven't read the book and can't really comment on the controversy. However, I get a little concerned sometimes with the sheer number of books and movies out there that portray God as the guy next door. Someone on your level, someone you would never be afraid of.

And then I see something like the power of this tornado, which reached out and destroyed a little forest in a couple of minutes. And I realize that tornado is just a tiny tool in the hands of God. He made the woods, and in a few seconds, he can destroy them.

I long for books that show God's love and mercy, yes--but that also remind us of his power, his holiness. Remember how the Israelites couldn't even bear to look at the face of Moses after he had been in the presence of God? They couldn't even face a tiny reflection of his glory. I'd love to read a book that makes our mouths drop in awe of the Lord.

Even more, I long to be able to write that book. Maybe someday.
I don't think it's coincidental that these lines were in our call to worship this morning:
"Eternal God,
you are the power behind all things;
behind the energy of the storm,
behind the heat of a million suns."

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Comforting Thought for the Frazzled

After another one of those frazzled days where my plans came to nothing, where interruptions seemed worthwhile but frustrating, I came across another quote from The Overload Syndrome by Richard Swenson:

"God is the multiplying coefficient for our labor. We might only do fifty percent of all that we had planned tomorrow and yet accomplish five hundred percent more in terms of eternal significance--if our efforts are sensitive to the promptings and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. . . Someone has said, 'God can do in twenty minutes what it takes us twenty years to do.' Let's trust more and do less." (p. 72)

Need I say more?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another Natural Disaster

Just about this time last year, I told you how my family's vacations tend to attract natural disasters. I got back from vacation this past Saturday evening to a new twist on that tradition: a natural disaster at the end of the trip, in the form of tornadoes sweeping through my town.

Around 5:45 Sunday morning, the tornado alert sirens woke us up and we headed for the basement. I even managed to get my squirming, protesting cats down there with us. We huddled down there with the alarms sounding for almost an hour. The power went off after about 30 minutes. Honestly, though, the weather didn't sound that bad as we sat there. My town sometimes has a tendency to "cry wolf" with those warnings, so I didn't think it was that bad. Especially when I tuned in our news station around 6:15 and listened for about half an hour to the Sunday Magazine show and the normal five-second weather report, which said we were in for clearing skies and wind gusts. No mention whatsoever of the storm.

Obviously, if anything important had happened, the news station would be all over it, right?

With that thought in mind, I sent my poor friend from Savannah out onto the road for home. She had gone to Florida with us and stayed over Saturday night, intending to make the rest of the trip Sunday morning. I already hated that she had to be there for tornado sirens. She went through a tornado a few years ago. In fact, a tree ended up crashing onto her bed. I hated it even more when I turned on the radio right after she left. NOW the news people had come to life. NOW they managed to tell me that I-16 to Savannah should be avoided at all costs, because it was completely blocked by trees and debris and traffic was backed up for miles. About an hour later, she was back at my house and had to wait until Monday morning to try again.

All the pictures are from my husband's workplace. (And bear in mind that this area was not the hardest hit.)

Our house and my parents' house are, praise God, just fine. The college where I work is a different story. I don't have pictures because people were told to stay away for a couple of days. The buildings mostly had minor damage, but hundreds of trees have been destroyed. The campus was so beautiful, I dread seeing it. My library's director told me that the woods by the lake are basically gone. A bulldozer couldn't have done a better job. The college grounds are designated a botanical garden, and even the parking lots had shady trees up and down the rows. I'm told that most of that is destroyed, as well.

But as my boss said, if it had to happen, 5:30 on a Sunday morning is about the best you can hope for. I am very grateful indeed, for that.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A New Contest and a Blogging Break!

I'm going to be on vacation in (hopefully) sunny Florida all this week, so I'm going to take a break from blogging.

In the meantime, you can start entering my new contest. Leave a comment on the blog by May 31 for a chance to win your favorite--a $25.00 amazon.com gift card! Each comment from now until May 31 will get you one entry in the drawing. All subscribers will also have one entry.

Have a great week!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Are You Highly Productive or Highly Sensitive?

A few days ago, I introduced you to an amazing book I'm reading, called The Overload Syndrome by Richard A Swenson, M.D. Today I want to tell you about a section that gave me a real "a-ha" moment.

As I've mentioned, since becoming a member of a large writers' group featuring the multi-published, the talented, the successful, and the energetic, I've felt a lot more stress than usual over my writing. If anything, persevering has seemed harder because no matter how hard I work, I just can't seem to keep up.

Swenson addresses this phenomenon, first by saying there are two rules about people and overload: 1) Everyone is different. 2) Everyone is the same.

We're all the same, he says, because as human beings, we do all have limits. We are all susceptible to overloading those limits. As if reading my mind, he broached the question, what about those people who seem to be able to do it all--and on two hours' sleep? Who can run a business and have ten children and do volunteer work and never get tired?

I love his answer. "Indeed such stories are breathtaking. But this does not mean that I should feel guilty if God has not given me those same abilities. We should not be in the business of telling God how He should arrange the personalities in His Kingdom." (p. 30)

Which brings him to the discussion of point 2: Everyone is different. Swenson says that in the area of overload, people are somewhere on a spectrum from Highly Productive People (HPP) to Highly Sensitive People (HSP). Highly productive people are those we just discussed. The ones who can turn out ten novels in a year while working full-time and volunteering in a soup kitchen. Swenson enumerates their wonderful qualities, including their work ethic, great vision, ability to accomplish amazing things. But one downside? "The highly productive person often sets up unrealistic standards for others." (p. 32)

Can I get an "amen"? Swenson goes on to explain that, because such accomplishments come easily to these energetic folk, they expect the same from everyone else.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum, the Highly Sensitive People. I don't have to wonder where I am on this line. Right here at this end, as far down the spectrum as you can go. Here are some qualities of the HSP:
  • Have antennae up for social discord or discomfort;
  • Sometimes seem antisocial. Not truly reclusive, but their "batteries are discharged" by a lot of social interaction.
  • Often creative. "They live in a world in their heads. They are good company for themselves on long car trips, and they don't mind solitude. They dream a lot."
  • More susceptible to overload. "They pay a higher emotional price for almost everything...They wear down more quickly." (pp. 32-33)

Swenson then addresses one other category of people--Christians--because they often say they're exempt from overload. You know, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." So, then, saying you're worn down or tired becomes a lack of faith, not a physical or personality issue. Swenson equates the overload issue with other physical ailments that afflict humankind, like flu epidemics. Yes, God may heal supernaturally, but it does not mean that Christians are automatically exempted from catching the flu.

Swenson ends with a warning. "Beware of the presumption of overextending. What if we are out on a limb, doing one hundred and fifty percent of what we ought and then get into trouble?...[God says] 'Remember. You are the creature. I am God. Use my power, not your own.'" (p. 34)