For the Birds

Reading words that you’ve painstakingly written down on paper or typed out, can be exhilarating. And those same words can flow out of a mind like a waterfall. But also? They can dry up like a creek bed in a drought.

Sometimes, I think to myself, “Writing is for the birds!”

It turns out, it only takes one.

Bird, that is.

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Inspiration is hard to find when the words aren’t there. Or the discipline to just get in the chair and bleed onto the page up and walks out the door. One book I can return to again and again for the proper motivation is Bird by Bird Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

Alternating between the drill-sergeant mentality to just get your butt in the chair and write at the same time every day, and the empathetic friendly advice to ‘take it bird by bird’, Lamott inspires. And she expertly provides tools and examples for exactly how to do it.

She also provides laughter along the way. And, I think we all know by now I’m all about the humor in life.

Mostly, though, anyone with writerly thoughts is reminded to start with what is real to you and to keep it that way. Embellishments aside, reality is (if we’ve learned nothing else about modern television programming) vastly entertaining. Emphasis on vastly.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal.”

I’ve found that most feelings kept stuffed down inside are universal once they finally bubble to the surface.

And the universe is vast, so there is bound to be something to write about.

Yes indeedy.

 We are on Day 20 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. To read other posts in my series, Best Books Ever, click the button below.

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Passionate Fiction

After reading a fictional account of a woman so desperate to hide her beauty that she would pour Drano on her face to end it all, I realized that Lisa Samson’s characters would never bring me comfort.

I’ve now read every piece of fiction that Lisa Samson has ever written. Not one character or story left me comfortable. But, each character certainly did beckon me into their hearts. Every one has invited me to question my own motivations – spiritually and personally.

And the stories that Mrs. Samson concocts are riveting.

In the The Passion of Mary-Margaret, I was moved to tears. It wasn’t just the stunningly crafted sentences or the angst of longing for a life that isn’t meant for you. It wasn’t the harrowing way the main character, Mary-Margaret, and her precious Jude ultimately reunite. What could possibly go wrong when a nun and a man living in the red-light district come together?

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Tears fell as I saw my propensity to love only on my own terms. They fell again as I saw the enormity of shame’s shadow on a person’s soul. And they fell, yet again, as I could only imagine sacrifice on the level that Mary-Margaret was able to pour out.

The best books do that, don’t they? They transport you into a world where anything is possible. Even ultimate sacrifice. And it somehow makes perfect sense.

I will tell you that this book was not wrapped up in a nice neat bow of finality. That played with my mind for a good long while after I read the last word. But the end is just right for these characters.

Lisa Samson is a writer who is expert at pointing to the light refracted in the midst of dark lives. Our humanity, Samson constantly points out, is no match for God’s Divinity. And His mercy and grace take forms we can only begin to make out in the murk of ordinary living. In the very first pages of this, one of my favorite pieces of fiction, she writes:

“The mercy God gives us is our own  to receive, and while sometimes it overlaps with others’ like the gentle waves of the bay on which I now sit, for the most part, the sum and substance of it, the combination of graces, is as unique as we are.”

Truly. I have experienced this for myself time and again. Reading it only heightens my awareness of just how often Grace comes and mercy reigns.

And once again, I’m drawn to a book where Love wins. I probably always will be.

As I’m also continually drawn to Grace. And, I pray I always will be.

Yes indeedy.

If I could break out in song, I would totes start singing “Livin’ on a Prayer”, right now, because I’m halfway there! My participation in the Write 31 Days challenge was tentative at best, this year. But, I heeded the call to just write, and I’m so thankful. If you’ve missed any of my previous posts on the Best Books Ever, click the button below.

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In the Pits

Around the time I was eight or nine years old (I’m sure I’ve blocked the exact date out in my memory), I did something incredibly stupid. Wet socks snugly encasing my feet, I shimmied along the edge of the electric stove to get to the cupboard above it that held the Oreos. That same stove top had a pot of The Nana’s homemade spaghetti sauce boiling on it.

Yes.

Exactly what you are imagining could have happened, did.

And, in case you weren’t envisioning anything, I’ll give you the short version.

Girl wants cookies. Mother says she can’t have them before dinner. Girl’s mother goes next door to borrow more oregano. Girl, dripping in still-wet socks from playing out in the rain, lets desire for chocolate override all intelligence. Girl shimmies along, gets a shock and jumps up. On her descent literally and figuratively, girl’s foot catches handle of pot. Girl lands on kitchen floor bum-side-up and boiling sauce lands bum-side-down.

The next days are a blur, in my mind. I do, however, vividly remember ice baths and laying on a bed, bum-side-up, while there were daily “dressing” changes.

There was one silver lining to this incident.

Yes.

I got to sleep in the guest bedroom at the back of our ranch-style house, because it had a bathroom, en suite. This allowed me to shuffle the shortest amount of painful steps to the facilities each time I needed them.

But also? The guest bedroom is where the bookshelves were.

The bookshelves that housed all of my mother’s favorite books, books to be read, and cast-offs.

I got a glimpse into my mama’s mind.

And it started with being in the pits.

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If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries – What Am I Doing in the Pits? by Erma Bombeck was my first taste of humor writing.

And it was delicious.

From there, I picked up anything I could find by this funny female. It wasn’t until college that I learned of her struggle to get published. It wasn’t until I hit the big 4-0 that I became brave enough to enter her writing competitions.

And, while I could choose about 30 quotes from Erma Bombeck, alone, the following is still the one that gets me every time.

“I am not a glutton – I am an explorer of food.”

Clearly, Erma got me.

Yes indeedy.

This post is part of my series, 31 Best Books Ever. I’ve joined in the Write 31 Days challenge. Click here to visit over there and see all of the topics people are writing about. Click the button below, or here, to see my previous posts. Happy reading!

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Day 4 in Which I Learned How to Read a Book

Picking up a heavy book and feeling the heft of it in my hands and thumbing through the pages and smelling slighty musty papery pages is bliss to me. Anyone else? #booknerdsunite

But, before beginning to read through each page, it’s good to have an idea of how to understand an author’s meaning. That is the aim of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book.

 

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Mr. Adler does for the art of reading what Sun Tzu did for in The Art of War. He breaks reading a book, down to its most simplistic forms. Take understanding an author’s terms, for example. Adler helps create a reader who is able to mine the pages of a book for all they’re worth by first becoming sure of what an author means by using a specific word in a specific context.

Sound a little too detailed?

It is! But, deliciously so for those of us who adore letters strung together to form words, and words sewn together into sentences.

At 389 pages, this might not be the best beach read. But, with a list of “The Great Books” in the final chapter, it is worth every turn of every page.

Learning how to read a book thoroughly allowed me to see the truth of this quote, from Adler:

“…a good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life.”

Yes and yes.

And what’s more, my writing journey began as a reader. It’s true! In fact, my favorite quote from How to Read a Book confirms this (although, I would add that this is true for any of us calling ourselves Writer or Author):

“The great authors were great readers, and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.” 

Ask any author how many books they’ve read. Almost all will say a TON! Maybe not in that exact terminology, but pretty close (and there are some authors for whom I would love to know what their favorite books are!).

So, to sum up:

If writer, then How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler.

If reader, then How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler.

Yes indeedy.

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Did you miss the first three books in my Write 31 Days Challenge? Click the button above, or click here and you can catch them all. Tomorrow, I’m in the pits.

One Wonderful Kindness

Jesus calls us to be light. Not to be liked.

The two words may sound the same, and I’ve done my fair share of confusing the two as I seek to be liked light in my community, but they are different. This side of Glory, they are so very different.

Those of us who long to be more like Jesus and less like us, are also called to a higher standard of caring for one another. Both the other that we know, identify with, and like, as well as the other that we don’t.

I come a little late to this discussion, but I’ve been giving The Pool Party incident a lot of thought. As I’ve wrestled with strong feelings about both sides of the story as it was initially presented in the media, I realized what it comes down to, for me. This is a story about the depth of our willingness to forgive each other and then pursue reconciliation.

And smack-dab In the middle of this whole news story, I find myself faced with the opportunity to, as a fellow writer I deeply admire recently wrote, “stay at the table”. As I read this article by Deidre, over at the Washington Post, I was reminded that we are invited to spread the Good News that Jesus came to restore.

By living that way.

By speaking that way.

And every single time we choose to love, by not engaging in an argument over who is on the right side of fence, and why, Love wins. Each time we lock eyes with the human on the other side of the table and stay in it, determined to find where our humanity intersects with theirs, Love wins.

Call me an optimist, but, I want Love to win.

Ultimately, of course, it does.

But, I’d like to see it win a few times here on this side of Glory, too.

On this side of the fence.

So, with each new conversation about who was where they shouldn’t have been, and when, or who should teach respect and who should learn it, I choose Love.

I choose to remember how many times I made choices that were so very wrong. Yet someone, somewhere, showed me kindness anyway. I choose to recall the times I should have been in control, but wasn’t, and was given grace.

And still are.

I choose to remember that it doesn’t have to be a “they’re wrong” or “we’re right” kind of discussion. It could be, it should be a discussion about how we can love one another better. It can be another golden opportunity to show wonderful kindness, much like we have been shown.

Not a dismissal of sin.

Not an ignorance of peril.

Not a diss of this or that or them.

But Love. And grace.

Like we first understood it, the first time grace was poured out over us and our own mess.

I might not understand the daily perils of being part of this group or that organization, but I surely do know that God’s grace is one wonderful kindness. I’ve experienced it a time or a thousand.

Have you?

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Oh God…let me pass on your wonderful kindness to another.

Help us all to pass it on, one to another.

Yes indeedy.

They Will Come

When I look for the best ones needed for a situation, they will come.  Often, though, after far too much time has passed to use them to any effect.

If I attempt solitude, I can assure you that they will come, and fast and furious.

The right ones will come at the wrong time. And the wrong ones…

Too often.

They hover, menacingly, when I most need to swallow them down.

They scatter and float just out of reach, when I most need to push them out.

And sometimes, I it’s a grace to write them down in honor of the thoughts behind them.

But always, always, I can count on my words to speak for themselves.

When they are good and ready.

I’m linking up with my brave Writer friends for Five Minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo Baker‘s online home. We commit to getting those words out for five minutes, unedited. Click the button below to join in or to read along.

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