Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Write Your Story. . . Now

One of the most unpleasant tasks I’ve had in mentoring other writers is to tell them there’s hardly any market for a memoir unless a writer has a huge social media following. Non-fiction publishing is almost entirely platform driven. I’ve long considered it a miracle I received a contract for my book, Faith in the Fashion District, because it is a memoir and I didn’t even have an Instagram or Twitter account when I received the contract. Just goes to show anything is possible with God.

But, just because a memoir will not make it in traditional publishing is no reason not to write it. In fact, I had a recent experience that well proves that point.

I was discussing an element of our family history with one of our children (who will remain nameless because they don’t like to be discussed on the internetI get that). That child gave me a blank expression, “I didn’t know that.”

I thought it was sarcasm which meant, “I’ve heard that a million times, so don’t tell me again.” But it wasn’t. That child had never heard or didn’t remember that segment of our family story. And it was important. I would say pivotal in terms of what God has done in our lives.  

We want our children to remember our histories, because those accounts lay the foundation for who they may become. Those stories give them hope and help in the future. Life is so hectic when they’re young and we discuss so many things. We think they will remember what’s important. Then they go off to school and we lose that daily time with them. We still think they carry the significant details of our history.

Let me tell you from my recent experience, they don’t. And even if they do, details can be lost or the stories may morph over time. That’s why it’s important to capture those stories in a tangible way for the futureto write them long hand in composition books, type them on your computer, or record oral histories.  

Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, and other details, just get those stories down. You can always go back and edit. But if you don’t get out a first draft, you won’t have anything to edit.

A friend of mine has been working on her autobiography for her children. She’s written about sixty pages. She told me, “I have a new respect for you as an author while I’ve been writing these stories.” It takes a certain discipline to stay at the writing. I can find all kinds of reasons not to begin even use laundry as a procrastination tool. You need to set a goal. Even a small one. Long time Atlanta Journal Constitution Writer, Celestine Sibley, had so many writing assignments she had to do for the papers; she didn’t think she had time to write a book. A writer friend suggested she write just fifteen minutes a day toward one. She said it was the best writing advice she ever received and wrote many books that way.

Maybe you’ve already had a nudging to do this, but a voice in your head says you’re not a good writer.  Ignore that voice. Do it anyway. Do it even if the decibel level of that voice grows exponentially. A lot of us write with the negatives blaring in our head. Think of this writing as part of your legacy. You are leaving something behind that will perhaps inspire generations of your family.

It may very well be one of the most important things you do in life.

Start right now during this Corona Pandemic, while the distractions in our lives are less. Just begin. You will always be glad you did.

“Write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done, so that people not yet born will praise Him” (Psalm 102:18 GNT).



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Pandemic, Hard Places, and New Beginnings


“This day 2000, I found I have breast cancer,” read the words inked in the margin on May 18 of my Streams in the Desert volume.

I celebrated 20 years as a cancer survivor yesterday. Even in a pandemic, we have to mark these days of significance that altered our lives and perhaps set our course on a new path. I am so grateful to be here.

It’s interesting what the devotion says on that day.

“The pressure of hard places makes us value life. Every time our life is given back to us from such a trial, it is like a new beginning, and we learn better how much it is worth, and make more of it for God and man. The pressure helps us to understand the trials of others, and fits us to help and sympathize with them.”

That hard place of cancer helped me commit to home school for eight years, persevere in prison ministry for twelve, and galvanize the next chapter of my life in becoming a writer. I realized that each day is indeed a gift. The gift of these days has helped me see my children and grandchildren grow up and I’ve been able to rejoice in the milestones in their lives.

I have to wonder what the hard place of this pandemic is going to do. What will our new beginning look like? How will we make more of our lives for others because of it? How will it help us with our compassion toward others? Hopefully, the answers to these questions will arise out of a true realization  of whose we are.

God has allowed this pandemic just as he allowed me to have cancer. At the time I had such a strong sense of His presence and guidance, I knew He could have altered the course but He did not. I don’t know all the reasons why, but the experience has opened up many ministry doors of prayer for and encouragement to others, which would have previously been closed to me. By the grace of God, the fact that I am a twenty year survivor is in itself a beacon of hope to those who are just diagnosed.

I believe this is a time for seeking God’s heart in discerning how he would use the hard place of this pandemic in the future.  It is for sure an event which could pivot our lives in unexpected directions or perhaps move us toward a calling we have long resisted.

I’ve used this quote before but it bears repeating. Fred Rogers said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” Friends, though it may feel as if much of what we called normal in the past has come to an end, we ARE at the beginning of something else. How that something else unfolds depends on how we allow God to guide us in the choices we make moving forward.

So, here’s to new beginnings of hard places.

To God be the Glory.

“. . . By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onwardto Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back” (Philippians 3:13-14 The Message).


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

My Covid-19 Life (and maybe yours, too)

Some have indicated for historical reasons, we need to document our lives in these unprecedented times.

So, if you’re a researcher in 2120, and you need to know about the life of this writer during a viral plague, here goesthe funny, the sad, the frustrating, and the hope that sustained.

I’ve heard others say their lives have not changed much. To a degree, that’s true. Jerry and I have continued to work at home, as we have these past years. At the outset, when the pandemic unfolded at warp speed, my racing mind found it hard to connect threads in a book length project. After a few weeks, I was able to focus enough to get the train back on track and am now finishing a Christmas novella. So, the writing at least has remained somewhat the same. 

But, and I say a big but here, not much else is as it was.

A meme circulating at the outset of the pandemic featured a woman with a video camera. The text read something like, “And just like that, all the preacher’s spouses turned into audio visual experts.” In a small membership church like ours, there’s not a team of experts doing this. It’s just the one here with the preacher, which happens to be me, which is the case for many, many churches.

I am thankful I’ve been able to order root touch up, so I can spray my balding scalp because of the takes, the retakes, the interruptions, and the lighting problems. Praying someone else will soon take this job. Doing it now for Jesus and Jerry. But we are thankful at least for being able to stay in touch with our people this way even though it is far less than ideal.

Buying groceries takes more effort. Because of our underlying conditions, for eight weeks, I did all ordering online and picked up curbside. I found supplies limited and wait times for pick up extending to as much as a week or more. Some items like cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and baking powder were not available at all. Before bringing items in the house, I wiped everything down. We were told initially this was not necessary, but I did it anyway. Now we’re told that maybe it is necessary. That has been one of the frustrations for us all. Advice changes as research progresses, because there’s so much we don’t know. Last week, I ventured to the grocery during an early shopping hour for the first time since the pandemic began. I used to despise grocery shopping, but I was giddy with excitement to be in the store again. My how my perspective has changed.

As to the whole toilet paper thing. A friend of ours observed, “Who knew someone could eat a bat on the other side of the world and cause a toilet paper shortage in the US?” Yeah, who knew? Jerry felt proud of himself at the beginning of lockdown when he found toilet paper online and placed an order. One April day after we returned from a walk, I opened the mailbox to retrieve the mail and found a package.

 “Did you order a pair of shoes?” I asked Jerry to which he shook his head. When I slit the package open, I found twelve rolls of toilet paperall in a package the size of a shoebox for the low, low price of around eighteen dollars. The cardboard tubes were larger than normal with about thirty sheets wrapped around each one. Guess where it was made? That place on the other side of the world where all this started. “Didn’t you read the reviews?” I asked Jerry.

“There weren’t any,” he said. But when we looked, they’d started pouring in. “Doll house toilet paper,” said one. “Joke,” said another. “Terrible rip off,” another comment read. It has since been taken off the market. We at least got a laugh out of it.

In Jerry’s calling as a pastor, funerals have always been part of our lives, but they were balanced with weddings, baptisms, and other joyful events. But during this time, it’s been all funerals. And they are more painful than before. I often ride with Jerry to show respect to the family, but up to this point cannot attend because attendees are limited to family. I sit in the car as the family gathers at the graveside. They maintain their six feet distance unable to comfort each other in the usual way. Just before the service, I step outside the car with a large red heart I’ve made to express my love. Jerry walks up and delivers the message maintaining his distance. Then he leaves. No reception afterwards. The families go home to grieve alone.  

He’s made no hospital visits in months. Families for the most part cannot be with their hospitalized loved ones. So incredibly challenging and frustrating as a pastor family.
Then there is the mask shortage. A nurse practitioner friend who works for a large metropolitan hospital is allotted one N95 mask per week. I set out to make cloth masks for her to extend the life of the N95 as well as surgical caps which are also in short supply. Then I added other nurses to the list. I made a few masks for our daughter's PT practice. The county government wanted one of our winter homeless shelters to reopen during the pandemic, so I made around 20 masks for the homeless so they could open.  The list goes on, but to date I’ve made over 130 masks. Don’t be the least impressed. A woman in a mask making social media group I’m in has made over 600. I’m sure she’s not the only one. I keep sewing because I don’t see an end to this until we have a vaccine.

We have celebrated Easter alone, Mother’s Day alone, with no family or for that matter anyone in our house in eight weeks. I’m pretty sure none of that is changing anytime soon.

When I feel sorry for myself, I pray for my friend who has a daughter in Northern Italy and has no idea when she will see her again, friends who've lost a sister, a spouse, and a child during this time. I remember medical professionals who are isolating from their families or living with the anxiety of spreading the virus to someone they love. My heart is burdened for the third world who is struggling with devastating problems related to the virus.
Some things haven’t changed, but much of my life is different and I imagine will be for some time. When it feels as if this pandemic is a nightmare I can’t wake from, I remember these words, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I put my hope and trust in the One who is unchanged by this Pandemicthe One whose love for us endures through any hard timethe One who is a companion in our loneliness and a comfort in our grief.

If you’re a hundred years in the future and researching our lives during this time, or you’re in 2020 and  looking for a way to make it through these days, turn to Jesus. He will help you with your COVID-19 life or your life in any other time, as well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Healing is Hers. Joy is Mine.

Guest posting today is my dear friend, Andrea Flanagan Edmunds. She recently said a final goodbye to her special needs daughter, Presley. I have known Andrea for many years and she exemplifies joy in the midst of great challenges. Today she writes about that joy and God's purposes in her daughter's life. You will be blessed by the words she shares. Welcome to One Ringing Bell, Andrea. 

My precious, seventeen year old, special needs daughter passed away two weeks ago. She has been ultimately healed and is in heaven with a new body, walking for the first time. I miss her so much my heart literally aches, yet I do have joy. Joy knowing she lived this life and fulfilled the purpose God set out for her. Joy, because this verse rings true: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11).

Some told me after her passing that she was probably “better off.” I shake off those words meant with good intentions, because they do not reflect what I know to be true. Yes, heaven is a far better place than this world. But, to be “better off” implies her life was miserable and pointless.  

I, however, know the truth.    

Presley’s life verse from the first days and one we fervently declared over her life was Jeremiah 29:11. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.’” At the time of her birth, I didn’t know what God had in mind, but I trusted Him and in His promises.  

When Presley was twelve, I was able to see one of many examples of God’s plan and purpose for her life.

After I graduated college in 1998, I traveled to Brazil to teach
English as a second language where I became fluent in Portuguese. Fast forward sixteen years and I am a mother living in Georgia with three kids (Presley and her two little brothers) with a full-time job and absolutely no reason to speak anything but English. In 2014, I was invited to go on a mission trip to Rio de Janeiro, and after  only a few days into our trip, my Portuguese miraculously started flowing again. 

On the bus heading to the  last church on our visit, I was told to be ready to share my testimony.  Much to my relief, we finished the first service without anyone calling on me. Afterward, while drinking coffee with a new friend, Adelia, I met Norma. She was preparing our lunch in the kitchen and happened to join in our conversation. As Norma stood by, Adelia asked about my life, so in Portuguese I told a bit about myself. Suddenly, I sensed God say, “Tell them about Presley.” 

I ignored that impression and continued talking about my job as a teacher. Again, I heard, “Tell them about Presley.”  

“OK, Lord.” Still with reservations, I told Adelia and Norma about Presley. “My oldest child, Presley, is twelve. She wasn’t breathing when she was born, so she can’t walk or talk. She is precious, though! She laughs and smiles. We love her so much!”  

Adelia smiled and nodded, but Norma said, “I had a little girl like yours.”  

The hair on the back of my neck stood as I listened to Norma telling us about her daughter’s disabilities and her early death.  

“What did I do wrong?” she asked. “Women in my neighborhood who were drug addicts, prostitutes - they had beautiful, healthy babies. I am a Christian, I love God, and yet I had a sick little girl that died. What did I do wrong?”  

My heart pounded, and blood rushed to my ears. The purpose for God nudging me to share my testimony became apparent. “Nothing,” I cried. “You did nothing wrong!” I shared the verse in John 9 when the disciples asked why a man was born blind and if it was the sins of the man or the sins of his parents that caused it. “Norma, listen! ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus said, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.’” As I spoke with her, she began to cry and rejoice as the bondage of pain and guilt she carried for almost twenty years was broken!  

This was one small part of God’s plan for Presley’s life, just as it was, with her disabilities and all!  

Before and since Presley’s passing, people have said my faith in God during these times has been an inspiration to them, drawing them closer to God. That is simply the grace of God. To me, her birth caused a ripple effect that lasted all seventeen and a half years of her life, affecting those closest to her and spreading out to people we have never even met.   

Maybe you're struggling to understand God’s purpose in a difficult time. Maybe you have lost a job, have an illness, or perhaps, you too have lost a child or someone close to you. Hear me when I tell you God has a plan for every single one of us! Here are three things that will help:  

1. Study His Word. God wants us to know Him intimately by reading and studying the Bible and praying. His word is our guide and encouragement!

2. Trust Him. Our trust in the Lord can grow with each day. Trust Him fully, knowing that victory is His and He will carry us through all the storms we will face.

3. Be willing for God to use you.  In spite of all of your imperfections, God can work through your life as a testimony for His works.  

Before Presley was born, I had a close relationship with Jesus and afterward, it became closer still. Because of God’s extraordinary grace, for the most part, I could trust Him each day, because I felt that she was His and I was blessed to care for her. But through the difficulties, like weeks of only four hours of sleep at night because of her illnesses, waking morning after morning not knowing if she was alive, or scheduling everything around feeding and meds,  I had to speak aloud to myself, “God knows what’s going on! He’s not surprised, and He has a plan!” 

In the first years of her life, God gave me this verse: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

It was my hearts desire that others see Christ in me, so I said, “Here I am, Lord. I’m a scoundrel and a cracked pot, yet please, God, use me anyway.” And, I believe He did!  

At the end of Presley’s life, it is my hope that God’s plan for Presley was fulfilled. I know it was to demonstrate the love of Christ and to draw us all closer to Him.

My dear friends, healing is hers.  

Joy is mine.  

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13).

 Andrea Flanagan Edmunds is a mother of three and teaches fourth grade. She enjoys reading with a pup by her side and going for treks in the woods. 

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