Month: July 2018

For the Love of Writing

I’ve always hated writing prompts. You know the prompts that teacher’s give out to expand their student’s creativity. When I was a teacher, at the time, I thought that was the best way to get someone to write.

I was wrong, or at least I didn’t realize that there were more ways than one way to be creative when you write.

I have shared before that I have never considered myself a writer.  But I must admit that since I published my first book, I now have to admit that I am a writer.  I love writing and it will be something I do until I can no longer put words together in a sentence.

Image result for for the love of writingI still am not saying I am a good writer, just that I acknowledge that I am one.

I have learned a few things when it comes to writing. If someone gives me a prompt to write about, I freeze.  Writing exercises fill with me with fear, creating a barrier between myself and what I need to say. I require inspiration and an open field in order to write. Music is so important to how and why I write.

I had a teacher once, who I love and respect and whose passion for writing inspires me to this day. But I remember something she said at the beginning of the course that, at the time, struck me deeply, but which seems contrary to how operate as a writer. She said, “When people tell me they’re a writer, I don’t ask them what they write. I ask them when they write.”

She was getting at the importance of writing every day. Writers write. Right? I took that to heart and for many years I wrote everyday.

I now realize that there’s more than one way to be a writer. Discipline is essential, I think, but the degree depends on the individual. I need a good dose of inspiration iImage result for computer writingn order to write, as well, and writing every day eventually starts to feel robotic and kills my inspiration.

I’m more of a binge writer. I have to pull way back and let my creative pulse breathe. Then, at some point, I go in and I write and write and write. For so much of my life, I’ve known this about myself, but I’ve resisted it because I didn’t see this trait in serious writers. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to respect the cyclic nature of my creative life. To know what stage I’m in and act in ways that are supportive to it.

When I’m in the writing stage, then I can push. I can cancel plans and stay home to produce. Stay up to all hours of the night and never sleep.  Then it will stop for a while and I have to take a break.

After the writing stage, I’m revising and reflecting. I find homes for my thoughts and perspectives. I mentally paste the written stories on a wall in my mind and I will eventually place them in order for others to read.

I’ve learned that I write best, and sometimes write only if I write for myImage result for creative writingself. I have never been good at writing about a boy and his dog unless I am that boy.  My new protocol is to aim to please me, and me only.  Of course, I have to go back during the revision process and check myself and reckon with the person who wrote that. Which is, of course, is me.

In the revision process, my intended audience expands to others like me. I write for people who could relate to my journey. I write, in the hope that it would be a help to others. But I can’t get there if I don’t first write for myself. 

I actually finished my book, “Footprints in a Small Town” sometime in early 2017. It took until April 12, 2018, before it was published.  For many months I struggled with writing new creative “stuff” and I wondered if I would be able to write again.

That being said, I am now filled with inspiration and I am already deep into my next book.  The creative thoughts and inspirations are flowing freely and I hope to Image result for New Projecthave my first draft manuscript done before November. It will not be a biographical book like the first one, but it will be a book based upon my faith but it will include stories and experiences that you will be able to relate to. No announcements as to when it will be published. That will be up to the powers that be.

Sales continue to remain strong for my first book and I am so grateful for those of you that have purchased it. It is still available to order a hardcopy online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and a few other outlets.  The Kindle version is available as well.

If I could ask a favor… please pray for me as I write this next book, so that it will bring glory to the One who saved me (Jesus Christ) and bring honor to my God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Miss Out

As I read the news, watch the Twitter feeds, read my friend’s Facebook posts I realize we are missing something.

Our eyes are focused on what is wrong, what is going on around us and we fail to climb the ladder to see an amazing God working in our mess.Related image

We are missing the glory of God’s grace, His plan, His care and His love as we focus on the junk going on around us.

We are missing it, even in the midst of all the junk. 

We see the giants and miss the David. 

We see an ocean of despair and forget about a God who parts it. 

We focus on what we lack and never bother to ask a good God to fill it.

We grieve over a loss and never ask for comfort from the only one who can help us. 

We hear the noise and never find time to listen for His voice.

We are missing God in the midst of the madness.

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” 

It is the most profound question ever asked! 

Will we keep our focus on and faith in a good and loving God even as our world crumbles around us?  Or will we cower in fear and bitterness at all that is going wrong?

How do we forget so easily a God who made the Universe, who died for us, who loves us more than we can know? 

We are missing HIM even as we sit in church, sing the songs and hear the sermon. 

We are missing the God, the glory, the only hope we have in a world-shaking at the core.

Today, as I attempt to “be still and know that He is God,” I realize I am letting the world make me fearful

Related imageI don’t want to miss it.  I don’t want to live the rest of my life being fearful of things I cannot control.

I want to live life with the confidence that God is in control!!!

I want to re-commit my heart to believing and trusting that my God has got this.

I need to learn to trust Him in a more meaningful way.

How about you? Or… are you going to miss it?

The Last Night at the Fair

The Ottawa County Fair … the sunbaked, annual, end-of-summer celebration of food, music, rides, farm animals and carny games. It was an aimless, all-day, all-evening event of wandering around the fairgrounds. It always seemed to me to be the biggest, longest party of the summer.

Held for a Image result for ottawa county fair picturesweek on the sprawling fairgrounds located between Oak Harbor and Port Clinton, it was the last blast of summer. The last of the good times before the unforgiving timetable of the real world kicked in before fall.

Soon the whistles of the football coaches would signal the end of summer and a gentle reminder that school was just around the corner. But for now, the week was filled with life-long memories of being a kid in the middle of the county at the end of another summer. No matter how old you were or how many times you had been there before, you are always a kid at the fair.

The 4-H kids, in addition to the farm families, would all be present having driven in from the corners of the county to display their projects. Their prize livestock and Image result for 4hfinest crops were in the competition for bragging rights. People would arrive for the nighttime concerts in front of the grandstand; there would be harness racing, live radio broadcasts and when you were young, non-stop flirting with people you’d never seen before and probably would never see again.

Sure, it was corny. You weren’t supposed to take it too seriously. It was all supposed to be fun and maybe a wink to the past. Maybe it was to be taken with a grain of salt so that you could escape for a few days from what was really going on around the world. Nothing that took place during those few days of the summer was ever meant to be permanent except for good memories forever ingrained into our conscience.

Nothing extraordinary about any of it.

Except for everything.

As a young child, the highlight of each summer was marked by the annual county fair. For several days in July, kiddie rides, games of chance, concession stands, and fun houses were erected in the heart of our county. When I was really young, unlike some of my friends who would go to the fair every day, I was usually only able to get to the fair one day during that week. I looked forward to it for months.  I look back at the time now and realize that my anticipation for the event was much more exciting than the real thing. When my day finally came around, I spent the day shoving cotton candy in my mouth, riding the giant swing ride over and over and going to look at all the animals.Image result for swing ride at the fair

At the end of the day, I’d crawl sleepy-eyed into the backseat clutching cheap trinkets won playing everyone is a “winner” carnival games.  It was the highlight of my summer.

As my summers accumulated and I advanced towards junior high, summer life became all about friends. My small group of friends and I rode our bikes all over town on long summer days creating our own adventures to shake up this small-town life. Life was filled with little league baseball, Teagarden’s pool and most importantly… the fair. These were the most important aspects of our summers.  However, there was an underlying strange realization, we were just starting to discover but not ready to admit just yet, that girls weren’t so yucky after all.

Summer still ended with the fair. But instead of playing games and riding rides, the focus had shifted.  We now walked around the fair. We walked in packs. We were all just walking around trying to look cool.

We weren’t.

However, there was strength in numbers. Even though not one of us would ever admit to it, our pack walked around hoping to run into the group of junior high girls that were gathered safely in their own pack. We would walk until we grew tired. Tired of daring each other to do outlandish acts. Tired of acting like little immature kids. Tired of trying to act like we were older than we were.

The truth was… we really wanted to go ride the rides like we did when we were little.

But here we were suspended somewhere between childhood and being a teenager. It was all wrapped up in the security of living in a place and time where time seemed to stand still. All the people and all the houses that surrounded you were as familiar as the things in your own room. You believed it would always stay the same.

The dreams of life beyond the town limits of Oak Harbor were still off in the distance. But as much as we believed, something deep inside of us knew the truth. Related imageSlowly, a change was happening. Soon enough, little league baseball would end and we would be made to face the reality that only a few of my friends would continue to play baseball in high school.

I wasn’t one of them.

I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that I walked out of my childhood and into the next phase of my life. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay there in the comfort of the summer nights of Oak Harbor. But I knew I couldn’t. I was now fourteen. I slept under a roof that belonged to someone else and in a bed my father bought. Nothing was mine, except my fears and the growing knowledge that not every road was going to lead home anymore.

Things were changing. I would hear some of my own friends start to talk about making plans on leaving the safety of our hometown. I started to hear the other side of growing up in Oak Harbor. The negative. In my mind, the place was perfect, almost sacred.

Looking back, I know it wasn’t perfect and obviously not sacred. It was clear that my feelings were found in a place that was caught up in the reluctance to move from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.

Before I knew it, I found myself in high school.

Going to the fair was now focused on running into other kids from school and seeing who had coupled up or broken up over the last few months, triumphs or casualties of summer.Related image

We no longer walked in packs. I would usually just hang with my best friend Bryan Blakely. It kept the competition down and I would not have to be embarrassed by that one friend that always acted like an idiot.

During fair week, when the sun went down, that magical familiar feeling of youth slipped over me once again. Those exciting feelings of not knowing what would happen next would overwhelm me. I could not help but think that there was the possibility that the crush you had might see you and smile at you.

When it looked like no one was around, I worked up the courage to go on the Kamikaze, a ride that shuttled you in giant, nauseating upside-down loops. I screamed at the top of my lungs while “Do Ya” by the Electric Light Orchestra blasted through the ride’s crappy speakers, and I felt like a badass.

I wasn’t.

At the time, there was no greater disappointment than on the last night of the fair when they packed up and left town with all your wishes still unfulfilled.

That last night at the fair in 1976, in the darkness of night, Bryan and I walked home from the fairgrounds. Our ride left us, and we had no choice but to walk theRelated image four miles back to Oak Harbor. At sixteen, the premise of walking home on a hot summer night seemed to be perfectly logical. It was so dark that it seemed you couldn’t see past your next step. The only light coming from the moon.

We took our time. There was no need to hurry. It didn’t seem like there was that much to go back to.

Bryan and I talked about everything on that long walk home. We talked about our childhood, our families. We talked about music, what we liked and disliked. We talked about girls. We talked about our future. He told me what his plans were for his life. Bryan wanted to leave the tiny confines of Oak Harbor, Ohio, as soon as he could.  He wanted to see the world and the sooner the better. 

For me, I wasn’t exactly panicking about my plans. I don’t think up to that point in my life I had ever given a second thought about what I was going to do with my future. I was just sixteen years old. To me, the future was for someone else to worry about.

We had walked almost all the way to town when suddenly Bryan and I stopped talking. It seemed as if there was nothing left to say. I wanted to stay there, in that night, but I knew I couldn’t.

Things were about to change again.

Walking through that neighborhood I grew up in, I realized that there was a time I knew every family on the block, their kid’s names and the names of their dogs. But Image result for porch lights at night on old housemost of those families were gone now. The ones who stayed were not the same. The world was moving on. 

Only the porch lights remained the same.

Eventually, I made my way home and walking past each one of those homes, I started to realize something. I was beginning to understand that in each home, with its Ford parked out front, white bread on the table and TV set glowing blue in the falling night, there were people with stories. There were families bound together by the pain and the struggle to make it in life. I was just starting out on my journey to figure out what life was about. Growing up in Oak Harbor, protected by the outside world, I wasn’t even sure I knew what “real” life was anymore, but I knew I had a lot to learn and my quest to finally find it was a long way off.

Walking up to my driveway, I noticed what a beautiful night it was – lit by the moon.  The world smelled fresh and clean. I turned the handle of the front door and opened it.  Like always, there was my mom sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.  As I walked into the room, she put her paper down and stood up. She gave me a big hug. She never said a word and neither did I. We didn’t have to, for at that moment I felt like a kid again. Life and all its responsibilities were knocking on the door, but for tonight, they would have to wait.

There would be other nights that summer where we would hang out and try to be cool. We always failed. But the sad truth is there wasn’t ever another night just like that one.

Our brotherhood was forever etched in stone and would never end, but when that summer ended the remaining high school years that lay ahead would find Bryan and I moving in different directions. Once school started we never hung out again, at least not like we did before. The last time was that last night at the fair.

Bryan and I didn’t really accomplish anything that night. At least that is what I thought at the time. He and I would talk about it over the years when we would see each other.  I spoke about that last night at the fair and how we never went to the fair again… at his funeral.

It’s been well over 40 years ago since that “last night at the fair” and I still have not been back to the Ottawa County Fair.

Like all good memories… that night and the long walk home will always be set in my memory and in my heart.

Image result for Ottawa County fair

We Are All Hard of Hearing

Let’s be honest… we are all hard of hearing.

I’ll say that again in case you didn’t hear it. We are all hard of hearing.

Yes, even you… the guy in the back row who can chew ice and still hear a pin drop in the other room. The good hearing I’m talking about has little to do with the quality of the nerve endings in our ears, or the ability to tell consonant sounds apart. We’re talking about becoming masters of conscious listening—true understanding—which is something we can all attain.

We have lost the ability to listen. I mean… to truly hear. Most people don’t stop talking to listen to what someone else has to say… we only stop talking long enough to catch our breath and wait until the next time we can start talking again.

Everybody’s talking… and nobody is listening.

In many ways, the “deafness” that most people have is much worse than the legitimate hearing loss that I have. It is sad that people don’t listen to what other people have to say. For the most part, I have discovered that the people who talk loudly about how people should open to other opinions and perspectives are the same people that are talking so much that they never listen to opposing views or perspectives.

As I have grown older, my hearing loss has increased significantly. I will tell you that my hearing problem may reach the stage of total deafness. It is a real possibility. Apart from losing the ability to hear the voices of my grandchildren or the music that is so much a part of my life, becoming totally deaf doesn’t scare me.

While my hearing is worse, my ability to listen has improved and grown immensely in the last few years. I hear more than people who have perfect hearing.

I have listed a few points to ponder when it comes to listening, regardless of how well your ears work.

Listen carefully, (or read them carefully) and you will hopefully find value in my message. Print these points out, maybe tattoo them under your earlobes, and then apply them in your life until you can finally hear that metaphorical pin drop.  Hearing a real pin really doesn’t matter.

You don’t need to hear everything. 

One of the most significant challenges to being hearing impaired is feeling that you’re missing something… that you’re isolated, alone, and the world is passing you by.  As a card-carrying member of the hearing aid club, I used to get frustrated when I couldn’t hear something happening around the house, or if I was at a restaurant and couldn’tImage result for covering your ears hear the conversation at the end of the table. Then it dawned on me, did I really need to know that conversation? I finally came to the conclusion that I did not need to know.

What a feeling it was to realize that I didn’t have to hear everything to be a part of everything. It’s not an easy lesson to master, and I’m still mastering it. But it’s worth the effort when you realize that mastery can only be achieved with living in the moment mindfulness, which is far more powerful than any words you might have missed.

And regardless of how well you hear, the lesson is the same. We don’t need to be a part of every conversation, a part of all the noise in the world—the mindless chatter and empty conversations that do nothing to make our lives better.

It’s about learning to become selective with our hearing. Choosing what words and messages we will allow into our lives. And this includes all those voices in our heads that say we’re not smart enough, rich enough, young enough…good enough. This week make a conscious decision to listen only to the things that matter.

You’ll know what they are when you hear them.

Don’t believe everything you hear.

Some examples… We only use 10% of our brains, cracking your knuckles causes arthritis, the Great Wall of China is the only human-made structure that can be seen from the moon … Do you ever wonder where people get some of the things they believe? We live in a very dark world where rumors abound. Gossip abounds. Slander abounds. Even in the “Christian” community (so-called), tragically.

Like it or not we are dependent on the media to act as a go between, bringing issues to our attention. We rely on the industry to break down complicated issues so we can respond. But ALL media has its own agenda and influential forces. If we accept that we don’t have a completely objective companion, how do weigh what they say? How do we spot the lies and the bias?  We are called to be perceptive people. God promises to give us insight. The biggest challenge is for us not to swallow everything we hear before asking God to show us what He sees and how do we please Him.

Talk less.

Your mother was right. You shouldn’t talk with your mouth full. Or listen, for that matter.

And we all do it.

It’s called hogging the conversation, also known as the “all about me” syndrome—monopolizing the conversation with what we’re doing, what we believe, our problems, and our accomplishments. And be warned, this “all about me” affliction comes disguised in many shapes and forms, like:

  • Interrupting someone to make your point or making arguments in your head before the other person is done talking.
  • Filling in the blanks of a conversation because you’re too impatient to let others finish their thought.
  • Judging or dismissing someone else’s opinions, and even worse, telling people what they really mean, or what they should think and believe.
  • Hearing only what you want to hear.

If any of this is you (and at one time or another, it’s all of us), it doesn’t matter how state-of-the-art your hearing aids are (or your own ears), you’ll never turn hearing into understanding.

You’ll only hear words.

Embrace the silence.

Most of us avoid silence. I love it most times. But for many people, being left alone with only their thoughts is tough. It can be eerie, isolating, and uncomfortable. So, we turn on the noise. Raise the volume. Distract.

However, once we embrace the silence, the stillness can become engaging, even Image result for Embrace silencewelcoming and beautiful. But we need to train ourselves. It doesn’t come easy.

Take time this week to turn off the sound in as many ways as you can. Less conversation, TV, music, and empty chatter. Look for places to be alone. Seek quiet and stillness more often. No matter where you are on the hearing spectrum, embrace silence as an avenue to hear more. Be grateful for the solitude, then allow the silence to guide you to a deeper place. It will change your opinion and your perspective.

Learn other ways to communicate.

There is a voice that doesn’t use words.

Sound is great, but so is body language, touch, love, enthusiasm, and joy. These emotions (energy) are spoken without words. To master this language is to master the hidden nuances of life—to find the pearl inside the oyster.

You don’t need ears to tap into this conversation. You need awareness. Strive to hear in as many different ways as you can. Find connections and patterns. Use your eyes, your heart, and your intuition. Make it your mission to discover this new language—the universal language we all hear.

Ultimately, these are a challenge for us all to transform our relationship with hearing. More than that, they are a challenge that will allow us to turn our limitations into a whole new level of understanding—one that will help us hear what truly matters.

It’s called turning hearing into an artform.