Monday, September 27, 2010

Ten Years and a Big Party

I made it. The United States Post Office says my contest entry is now out for delivery. There’s such a sense of accomplishment in being able to check off that block, especially after working so long.

Next, in the writing arena, I’m reworking a screenplay and in the month of October, I have an extra huge project I’m tackling…huge for me anyway.

I’m having a party, and it’s lasting the whole month. Most everyone knows October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Well, I’m a breast cancer survivor, and I’m celebrating ten years of living cancer free. I’m pictured left with my daughter at my first Relay for Life Event in 2001.

The American Cancer Society sponsors “Bloggers for more birthdays,” and my goal is to post everyday in October. I’m giving my blog a new look just for this month, buying the dog a pink collar, and wearing pink myself every day. (I know it’s scary that someone could have that much pink in her closet, but I do. Not the pale baby color, though, but the big, bright, happy shade.) I think you may even expect my husband to show up with a touch of pink.

When I was first diagnosed in May of 2000, the word went out and so many people prayed. I thought the ten-year marker would be a good place to stop once more and say a big “Thank you” to all of those folks—to let them know that all those prayers have helped me stay with my precious family. The prayers have also helped me experience Psalm 118:17: “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”

All of this will hopefully encourage someone else to get her mammogram, because early detection has helped breast cancer rates decline.

So, three more days till the party begins. That will give you time to work on your pink wardrobe and scout out that ribbon pin. Join me here as I celebrate, count my blessings, and give thanks to God for all he has done these past ten years.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Two Cats and Being Faithful


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out of us. Hebrews 12:1

I really don’t think the crowd flanking me in my office right now is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” I’m sure he had someone less furry in mind.

I’m coming up for air from editing a manuscript. I want to submit it to a contest, and the deadline is bearing down on me. I’ve worked on this manuscript for a couple of years now, but I‘ve recently been trying to add another seven thousand words to meet the contest guidelines. I’m close, really close. I only need to add a little less than a thousand words at this point--hopefully good words--compelling words. I’m not going to invent a new plot line to accommodate those extra words, so I’ve just got to plump up what I already have—oh, so tedious. And I have to do it without disturbing anything else I have going on or leaving a blazing red thread dangling to which I never return. I heard someone once say that writing a novel is like playing ten games of chess at one time. Yeah, I got that. If I’d been writing fiction for twenty years, I probably could knock those words out in thirty minutes, but I haven’t and I can’t.

The contest is really a long shot, but it’s a goal I’ve set for myself. If I only entered contests in which I felt qualified, I would have never entered the first one. But getting back to that cloud of witnesses. I just want to be faithful to the gift God has given me like those of faith who’ve gone before. Madeleine L’Engle used to speak often about “serving the gift.” What she meant was no matter the size of the gift we have, we must use it, develop it, and be thankful for it. So to that end, I set writing goals like the thousand words a day I’ve written about before. However, I also set yearly writing goals I want to accomplish like this contest.

So, here I am today running the race God has for me--word by word.

As you can see though, I’m not lonely on my journey. And yes, that's a tea tray one of the cats is sleeping on. It’s one of her favorite spots.



Monday, September 20, 2010

Dawgs, Hawgs, and Losing

On Saturday, even though the hot sun bore down on Sanford Stadium, it turned out to be a dark day. I was there for the Arkansas Razorback’s defeat of our Georgia Bulldogs. Well, there until the third quarter, at least. I confess because my nephew plays trumpet in the Redcoat Band, the main event for me is half-time. I left shortly after the band played and didn’t see the Bulldogs rally late in the game—a rally which raised the hopes of loyal Dawg fans, but wasn’t enough to stop Arkansas’ final game winning score.

The headlines in a local paper read “Razor Burned.” Witty, but since my husband used to play football for the University of Georgia, the headline was not well received at our house. Yes, a Georgia loss almost feels like a personal loss here and is always followed by a period of mourning and a lengthy armchair discussion of what might have turned things around.

Losing’s not much fun. When he was young, my son played on a soccer team that had a few dismal seasons. We tried to focus on the character building opportunities all those losses provided—like learning to lose with dignity and grace, understanding winning is a privilege not a right, and having the opportunity to learn from mistakes, persevere, and do better next time.

It was hard; at times, it felt like all that character was going to do us in.

There’s one thing about losing that we really need to latch on to, though. At times in life, it may feel like we’ve lost not only the game, but also the whole season. When we’re down for the count, that’s when we have to reflect on what’s important. And what’s really important are the things that last—eternal things. Paul said to the Romans in verse 8:18 that “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” In other words as the Message says there’s no “…comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times…”

I’ve had a good many losses in my life, and I try to remind myself of this truth. It helps me to reframe the losses—to see them from a different perspective. It helps me keep up my hope.

The Bulldogs are headed off to Starkville next Saturday for the Mississippi State game, and we’ll be cheering them on via television. I’m hoping for a big win, but in the event Georgia loses, I’m going to TJMAXX. I’ve learned it’s best to let the dust settle before I start quoting scripture.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Interview with Author Rusty Whitener

Award winning screenwriter, novelist, and actor Rusty Whitener recently agreed to answer a few questions for me about his debut novel Season of Miracles. Rusty also wrote the screenplay by the same title which won second place for the 2009 Kairos Prize and is in pre-production with Elevating Entertainment Motion Pictures.


What inspired you to write the story in Season of Miracles?

Rusty: I have always been haunted (in a beautiful, sentimental way) by my childhood and my time playing Little League baseball. I still love baseball and consider it unique among sports, in its rhythms and combination of team concepts and individual contests (batter/pitcher, ball in flight/fielder, etc.). But I guess the real inspiration to write the story was the way I see how people who are “different” (like Rafer and his autism) seem to have particular insights into truth and beauty that some of us “normal, boring” types do not have. I think this is often particularly true of spiritual truth. So, I guess my inspiration was a combination of my passion for baseball, my love of the callow innocence of youth, and the spiritual questions that “different, extraordinary” people answer better than “normal, ordinary” folks.

Who are your writing mentors?

Rusty: I think I am probably a little strange this way. I can’t see myself being comfortable with the normal mentor/apprentice relationship, because I am in some ways a very private person, especially when I am writing. As far as screenwriting, Barbara Nicolosi and Linda Seger have greatly influenced me. But a number of novelists have influenced me as well. I re-read “old standards” like C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, and Graham Greene. I don’t read much contemporary stuff at all, not because I don’t appreciate it or have some bias against it, but because I want my head and sensitivities to be swimming mostly in what I know is exquisitely fine writing. Ouch, that sounds so elitist or patrician. But honestly, my writing sensibilities have been protected so long from contemporary influences, and I guess I’d like to see if there’s any merit in this sort of “old school” approach.

I read on your website that you’re now working on a suspense/thriller story. That’s quite a departure from Season of Miracles. Why the genre switch?

Rusty: Several reasons. First, I have this silly habit of seeking out ridiculous challenges. Writing a suspense type story would be another challenge for me. On a deeper level, I feel like our culture at large and the Christian subculture does not have a healthy, informed view of the reality of Evil. I capitalize Evil because I believe a real, personality (the Devil) exists. Of course, I believe the Messiah has crushed the head of the Serpent and won the victory, but we are still making our way through the smoke of those still occurring battles. I am actually trying to write the sequel to A Season of Miracles as a type of suspense story. So, “thriller” may not be the right word, but “suspense” may be about right. It will still be reflective, funny, and maybe even sentimental. Actually, I can’t really think of another type of novel that is in the tone of what I would like to do in this new book, which I’m sure sends up red flags to any publisher. Who’s going to buy this weird novel? It has baseball in it too, so it’s a sort of an odd combination of genres.

What do you hope readers will take away when they read your work?

Rusty: That pain and suffering are real. And that innocence is fragile. But that redemption is possible. I want people to be encouraged and inspired and to believe that change is possible and often immensely beneficial. I would like my readers to have a larger vision of life than the narrow blinders of their obligations, sufferings, and even a larger notion of the import and meaning of their joys and triumphs. These are the things I want myself to recognize in my own life and in my reading. It is a large hope, a daring quest; these consequences of our reading and writing are what make stories so heavy with benevolent power.

Wow, thanks, Rusty for sharing with us. I’m so glad to count you and Rebecca as my dear friends. You both have such amazing ministries. For those of you who don’t know, Rusty’s wife, Rebecca, is a prayer warrior and intercedes especially for those in the arts.

If you haven’t bought Rusty’s book yet, please do. I know you’ll find his poignant writing touches your heart and changes your life as it did mine.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Healing Winds

Last night I had the privilege of attending another University of Georgia Wind Ensemble concert. ( bands.music.uga.edu/ensembles/wind-ensemble) According to the University of Georgia bands website, the Wind Ensemble “…includes the most accomplished graduate and undergraduate UGA music majors…” Did I mention my nephew, Christopher Todd, plays with this group?

Granted, I may be a touch biased when it comes to Christopher, but I thought the concert was fabulous. An accomplished trumpet player, Christopher also plays and is a section leader with the storied University of Georgia Redcoat Band. It’s been interesting to watch the development of Christopher’s musical skill through the years, a journey which has included many awards. From all outward appearances, his success came easy to him. But I know the whole story.

You see Christopher was born with serious respiratory problems. His first weeks and months on the planet included several hospital stays, lots of medicine, and intensive nursing. Sometimes, my sister would have to sit by his bedside while he slept to check for his breathing problems. Many people prayed for him. In the years following, he would continue to have respiratory problems, which were only relieved by the extensive use of prescription drugs. More prayers went up.

Christopher’s love of music evidenced itself early as he was hardly ever seen as a child without some sort of musical instrument in his hand. He’d often direct his own imaginary orchestra when he saw Mickey Mouse directing on Walt Disney’s Fantasia. At first, it seemed Christopher’s main instrument would be the violin, but as he approached middle school, he switched to trumpet. We all wondered if he wouldn’t be more successful with the violin because it didn’t require lung exertion, but he was insistent the trumpet was his instrument. And so, the trumpet it was.

The instrument required hard work, especially for him. Practice, practice, and more practice. All the while lung function tests never reached the normal range. He played faithfully in church and school through the years, and in high school, we were excited when he made the Georgia All State Band as a sophomore. However, his junior year, we learned after his audition for All State that he did not make the cut. At first devastated, Christopher came back and soon redoubled his efforts, as we continued our prayers. With the help and encouragement of his high school band director, Scott Wilcher, and his dad, Foy Todd, also a former music major, he made it his senior year. Not only did he make it, but chosen from among thousands, he received the honor of being selected first chair trumpet in the prestigious Georgia group.

Now, he’s a senior in music education at UGA. He’s headed toward graduate school and his lifelong dream of directing a band himself. And his lung function—it’s normal. That doesn’t mean he’s medicine free--he’s not. However, he’s light years away from those early struggles. You see the thing that was the hardest for Christopher to do, was in fact the thing that helped bring the most healing to him. All that blowing for all those years strengthened his lungs in a way hardly anything else could.

It’s true in so many ways that the hard thing heals. Sometimes, I don’t want to hear that, but experientially I’ve found it to be true. I could make a list from my own life. The challenges I've most resisted often wound up being the things that rescued me in the end.

I’m putting out a new picture this afternoon of my trumpet playing nephew and giving thanks for all that God has given to him and through him. And I’m reminded once more of Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rock of Remembrance

“Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come…”

These words from the hymn,“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” are close to my heart. The word "Ebenezer" here refers to I Samuel 7:12 where Samuel announced, “Thus far has the Lord helped us” after he put up a stone as a memorial to God’s help to the Israelites in overcoming the Philistines. Ebenezer means “stone of help.”

If I could, I would find a very large stone and put it in my front lawn today. And when the neighbors walked by with their dogs this evening, I’d be out there to answer their questions.

“Yes,” I’d say, “it is a large stone. But, it’s a reminder of the huge thing God has done for me. You see, thirty years ago this month God rescued me from a life spiraling into darkness. He gave me a future and a hope, a family and more than I could ever have dreamed or imagined. He’s healed me from horrible trauma, set my feet on a journey to heaven, and given me, yes me, a ministry to those who have similar pain. Out of my own struggles, he’s inspired music, songs, screenplays, novels, and devotions. So, the rock isn’t even big enough to say what I really want to say--just know mighty God has been my help.”

I don’t know how my neighbors would respond, but it sure would be fun to see.

And while I’m remembering, I want to say that the first person in to help me during that terrible time in my life all those years ago was Dr. Warren Lathem. Warren and his precious wife, Jane, have been lifelong friends. After a stellar ministry in North Atlanta, taking a church of less than 100 to over 10,000 in seventeen years, they continue to have several ministries including “Venezuela, Now”—an outreach they started in Venezuela, after the death of their beloved son, Ray, in the 1996 ValueJet Crash. Ray's plane went down on his return from a mission trip to Venezuela. The work in Venezuela includes a seminary which now has the first graduating class in the field reaching Venezuelans for Christ.( www.venezuelaforchrist.blogspot.com ) I owe the Lathem’s my life in so many ways.

So, if you cruise by my house and see me rolling a big rock out to the mailbox, you’ll know why. You might even want to know where I got it, because you, too, might need a rock of remembrance.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Season of Miracles

I found so many things to love about Rusty Whitener’s debut novel Season of Miracles just out from Kregel Publishing. Rusty really knocked it out of the park with this book. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist a baseball reference.)

I’d read Rusty’s screenplay about a little league baseball season set in 1971 some time ago, so I knew the story in advance of reading the novel. I thought it might take away some of my enjoyment of the book, but not so. In fact, I’m going to read it again. You see, Rusty has the rare gift among novelists of being not only able to tell a great story, but he also leaves the reader with many things to ponder long after the book is finished. It could in part be due to the Doctor of Ministry he received from Gordon Conwell, or maybe it’s just Rusty being Rusty, but his insightful dialogue and narrative had me wanting to reach for a pen to jot some of it down for future reference. An example from early in the book when the lead character, twelve-year-old Zach, encounters Rafer, a child with autism: “There was a gap, a breach between my words and his mind. Later I wondered if I was really some distance behind him, not the other way around. Time shifts perspective; life’s angles reverse. The weak become the strong and the strong are worn to dust.”

Though Rusty deals with difficult and at times sad situations, his writing is infused with hope from beginning to end. When I finished the book, I felt much the same way I do when I finish my morning devotions--encouraged and uplifted--strengthened for what lies ahead. That’s because of the scriptural truth Rusty has skillfully woven throughout.

Rusty is an actor as well, most recently appearing in the movie The Bill Collector and being cast in the upcoming Alone Yet Not Alone. The scenes in his book spring to life, because Rusty is a player as well as a writer in his stories.

I’ll have an interview here on this blog with Rusty in a few days, but meanwhile read the book. Rusty’s screenplay of the story won second place in the MovieGuide Awards in 2009 and is in preproduction with Elevating Entertainment Motion Pictures. So, I’m sure we’re going to hear and see much more about this lovely tale.

At one time, Rusty had a portion of Philippians 3:10 as part of his email signature, “I want to know Christ…” Thank you Rusty for writing Season of Miracles, because you’ve helped me in my knowledge of Christ.

You can catch Rusty on his website at www.rustywhitener.com, or at http://www.aseasonofmiraclesbook.com/

Thanks to Muse Watson

I just wanted to thank Muse Watson for reposting my blog link for “NCIS and Impossible Situations” on his Facebook page. Muse has such a great heart. Looking forward to that new NCIS season.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

NCIS and Impossible Situations

My husband, Jerry, is a big NCIS fan, so he’s seen all the episodes. More than once. Most more than twice. That’s why he was so excited before I left for this year’s Gideon Media Arts and Film Festival (www.lifeway.com/gideonmediaarts) because the keynote speaker was Muse Watson (www.musewatson.com) otherwise known as the character Mike Franks on NCIS.


As you might guess, Muse was a popular person at the conference, but I had the privilege of sharing lunch one day with Muse and the conference directors, Lori and Rodney Merritt. Muse is quite a storyteller, and regaled us with several tales which we all loved.

What really touched me, though, was Muse’s keynote address where he humbly shared the story of his recovery from alcoholism--how his sister and her husband (who were there that evening) helped him find his life again. I had an opportunity to speak to his sister later who, as you might guess, is so proud of her brother.

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up your hope for someone who’s caught in a terrible cycle of destruction. It’s hard to believe for a wonderful outcome. I’m sure in that agonizing time when Muse struggled, his sister and brother in law might have had trouble even imagining his wild success today, but they didn’t give up. They kept loving him and hoping for him to break free. And Muse did break free.

Muse’s story is such an encouragement to me. I, like probably everyone reading this blog, have had situations that seemed to have no resolution. My hope has wavered, but I've tried to remember God is bigger than just today. And he’s bigger than any seemingly impossible situation we may face. Jesus said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27. Sometimes it takes longer than we want for the tide to turn, but I’m thankful for the truth that nothing is beyond God’s reach.

So, the next time you hear Mike Franks call Gibbs, “Probie,” be encouraged for those who struggle in your life. Armed with this new information, my husband now has an even better reason never to miss an episode.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Meet Lucy

“…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

We shed many tears over the loss of our old lab Freckles last week, but on Saturday we pulled ourselves together and started looking at shelter and rescue dogs. I really don’t know how anyone chooses, because I’d take them all. Somehow, though, my daughter found an eleven-week-old chocolate lab mix that seemed to be ours from Disaster Response Animal Rescue. Our joy in the morning came in a package we named Lucy. She’s a handful(did I mention I only slept three hours last night?), but she sure makes us smile. Her reception from the felines in the house was initially chilly, but undaunted Lucy continues to pursue them. She and Isabelle at least seem to be making friends. I think Misty still misses Freckles.

According to their website, Disaster Response Animal Rescue formed just after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Since their beginning efforts of pulling cats and dogs from the murky waters engulfing New Orleans, they have rescued and found homes for over 8000 animals. At the time we took Lucy home, her brother still remained available for adoption.

At our house, we try to do our part in taking care of creation. Through the years I've reminded myself while cleaning up after an animal that the family memories we have with the dog or cat are far more important than keeping our carpets and floors pristine. I have a lot of wonderful stories about our animals. I don't have any about our floors. If you feel you’re not doing your part  in caring for God's creatures, there are plenty of shelters around who’d love to talk to you. Maybe you can’t handle a puppy, but there are lots and lots of older dogs who need homes, and they’re much harder to adopt. In our search we found a dog that had just been surrendered to the Oconee County South Carolina Humane Society (www.oconeepets.com) by an American serviceman who was being shipped overseas. Sherri from the shelter called me a couple of days ago and said the dog was so sad. I made a phone call, and Thor now has a fabulous new home. I’m sure you’ll hear more about Thor later, but in the mean time this shelter and many others like it have dogs that are earmarked “urgent.” That means they need immediate homes to avoid being euthanized.

Please, if you feel your family is ready for a pet, call a shelter or rescue organization. Give a cat or a dog a chance at a wonderful life. And you, too, can find some of the joy we’ve had.

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