Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Habitat For Humanity

"This one is going to be my room!" says one of the children.

"I even got to paint my own closet," says another.

Each child gave me the grand tour of their new home, pointing out their favorite aspects of the house. Then we went outside again.

"I even got to mow the grass last night."

"Me too." added his sibling, wanting to be included.

"GOT to mow the grass?" I asked. What child in 2006 speaks of this chore as if it is a privilege rather than a punishment? I had to learn more about this family.

This family, by the way, is one of the newest families to partner with Habitat for Humanity to build and earn their own home. The attitudes of the recipients impressed me. Gratitude and hard-earned pride filled their hearts and spilled over into their conversations.

We set up a sprinkler to give the transplanted sprigs of grass a drink. The three children ran through the bubbling fountain with abandon, joyful to experience this for the very first time. It was as if they were on a famous water park ride somewhere, rather than working hard to get their house ready to move in. The family witnessed a rainbow in the air, arcing the spray of water with hope and promise. Hope for a new life and promise of a home of their own.

When I checked out the Habitat for Humanity Web site, I found this statement, “Habitat is founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a simple, decent, affordable place to live in dignity and safety."

All who desire to help with this worthy organization can volunteer to partner with future homeowners. Any time invested with the recipients isn't just about building a house; it is about mentoring and teaching them, while sharing encouraging options.

Habitat is a faith-based group. Each homeowner is presented with a Bible at their house dedications. Their Web site says, "The work of Habitat for Humanity is driven by the desire to give tangible expression to the love of God through the work of eliminating poverty housing."

Habitat has built more than 200,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1,000,000 people in more than 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.

When I left the project site that night, I couldn't help but think that Jesus would be pleased. When we have been kind to "one of the least of these" it is as if we have been kind to our very God. In this case, I'm not sure this family is "one of the least of these" because, if truth were told, they impacted my life in a much bigger way than I could ever impact them. Reciprocal gifts of this kind, perhaps is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He encouraged us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. In the end, we are all blessed.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Recipe For Surprising A Friend

•E-mail and call friends of said friends and plan a party

•Make sure said friends aren't accidentally on the bulk e-mail list

•Limit whispers of party to 5 decibels, in case one of the two said friends has super-human ears (this one does)

•Decorate for party while honorees are at choir practice, make sure they don't see you hauling in supplies

•Bring in plenty of food, carry-in style. Hope that nothing is carried-in in plain view of said friends.

•Whatever you do, do NOT mention any congratulations to these friends about their one year anniversary as church staff (and their Sunday School leaders). Act like you forgot all about it.

•Make sure they don't go home after church by assigning someone to shadow their steps.

•When everyone is in place, shut the door, assign a couple to go get the Sunday School teachers to be honored, and explain that you really need to talk to them about something important up in the classroom, acting like you need counseling, and hang heads just a bit to show just how serious it is.

•Open the door to the classroom and allow all well-wishers to yell "Surprise!" really was!

We have pastored churches where the congregation didn't honor our anniversary of how many years we had been at the church, but here is our Sunday School class making sure the day didn't go by without them honoring our day.

How sweet to see the smiling faces, hear the kind words, taste the special recipes, see the festive decor and even a money tree (which we joked that we wanted to plant and see if it would grow MORE money).

Cost for total recipe? Priceless. (Sorry-I couldn't resist.)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Grateful Gratitudes

Often, when things frustrate you, if you think of the opposite, it helps you come up with a gratitude list. Here are some I discovered, just be turning my little vents into thankfulness.

1. I'm grateful for fluffy towels. I discovered just how much this simple pleasure means to me when I went to a little roach motel that offered us crusty, thin, raggedy pieces of abused terry cloth they called towels and wash clothes. I no longer take for granted my Egyptian cotton bath towels. Call it a simple indulgence. Cheaper than therapy!

2. I'm grateful for my pets. I was away for nine days and had to make do with enjoying the company of my Mom's cat. I didn't realize just how much I care for Libby (10 year old calico cat) and Jazzy (six month old Boston Terrier). When I got home, I found out one of my friend's dogs (Sam/Samson) had been hit by a car and killed instantly. I can't even imagine the level of grief Amy is going through. But I can appreciate my pets more. They have received extra snuggles since I have been home.

3. I'm grateful for television. I know that sounds funny. I can live without it. One summer I went the whole summer without t.v. While at Mom's last week, I went 9 days without watching a single show. But you know what? Sometimes, as active as my mind is, it actually helps to slow my mind down, to engage in a television show. It may be an escape, but so is reading books, or doing anything else that brings pleasure. But, after the escape of choice, the mind is refreshed and ready to face whatever is ahead. While at Mom's-I read seven books. So that was my escape-my vacation from reality. And now, I'm ready to embrace whatever each day deals me. Since being home, I've heard some awful news from several different people I care for. I think I was ready to be there for them, because I had just come off of a time of retreat when I recouped from some of my own losses.

4. I'm grateful for Russ-my spouse. Now I don't want to brag too much, or one of you might kidnap him! I missed his companionship so much while I was away. He even cleaned the house while I was away, and organized some of our "stuff." The hardest part of being away for any length of time, is being separated from Russ, and from other heart-friends.

These are just a few things for which I'm grateful today. I can always find something to be grateful for just by thinking of those things I don't like, and then being thankful for the opposite of what I don't like. I don't like raggedy towels, but I do like fluffy ones. I don't like being away from my pets, or thinking about losing them, so that helps me realize how much they mean to me. I don't like to always have to be "on" mentally, so it is nice to have a break from reality with television or books. And I don't like being away from my husband, so I try not to take him for granted, and to appreciate the time I DO get to spend with him.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pass On Your Heritage

"You pert near gave me a heart attack!" Granny grinned ear to ear at the sight of her two daughters and granddaughter entering her nursing home room.

What a blessing to be with my mother and grandmother on Mother's Day. A first for us. Three generations together on the day of the year to appreciate mothers. Normally I didn't get to come home on Mother's Day because I was busy doing church functions at my own church or speaking for banquets and teas hosted by other churches. This year I planned a break from the goings-on and flew from Kentucky to my old Paris, TX home, where Mom now dwells. Granny resides in a nursing home in Marlow, OK, so the three of us made a trip up to surprise her on this special day.

I couldn't help but reflect on how important my family tree is to me. They helped make me who I am today. Granny influenced Mom, and Mom influenced me during my most developmental years. I found out the reason I do some things a certain way is not just because that is the way Mom did it, but also because she copied her Mama from what she had picked up. For example, cornbread was always to be baked in a heated, greased cast iron skillet.

Especially on Mother's Day, my childless state stares me in the face. I realize all those gems I picked up along the way cannot be passed down to my own children. But they can still be passed down to the next generation. Being childless doesn't diminish my opportunity to mold and shape a segment of humankind.

I realize, after seeing the joy of the 3 generations together, how important it is to express your love and support for others. There's just something about a Granny who says, "I love you" in a sing songy way, and then always follows it up with, "and I'm proud of you."

I want to live my life so she will have a reason to be proud of me, but mostly so that my Lord will be pleased with my actions. What does He want me to pass on to the next generation? It won't be my belongings, because I certainly don't have much. But I can pass on the integrity and character traits He has instilled in me. And as I look back, many of those traits were passed on to me from multiple generations.

What can you pass on?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In The Garden

Today I strolled through the Butterfly House and Gardens at the Adult Probation Department in Paris, TX. The experience left me refreshed and relaxed. There's just something about nature—the greenery, the flowers, the scent of a recent rain that overrides any stress and burden. The Probationers work hard to keep up with a vegetable garden used to feed people in special programs. The process of gardening has the capability of changing lives for the better. No one can be involved with God's green Earth and not be touched by His hand of blessing. Anytime a person witnesses the plant breaking through the seed, the bud opening into a beautiful flower, or a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, they are changed.

God provided a garden like no other when He planted Adam and Eve smack-dab in the middle of the Garden of Eden. They had no worries, and little work to do. They were fed from the fruit of the garden, and the walks through the garden with their Lord entertained them. I believe God started a precedent by surrounding the first of humankind with nature. We were designed to get pleasure from being in the garden. Not just fed physically, but also spiritually, emotionally and mentally. One of the best places to talk with your Lord is in the quiet outdoor sanctuary of His creation.

When was the last time you took a time out to breath deeply and see clearly? If you are like me, we allow our schedules to get too busy and our pace to be too hurried to really see the beauty around us. Use all five senses to soak in the Lord's handiwork. Today, I smelled the aromatic plants and tasted of their flavor. My eyes witnessed the beauty. My ears heard the birdsongs and the whispering winds. Taste, touch, hear, smell, and see that the Lord is good.

Our God is good anywhere and everywhere. But oh—in the garden—life is good. He knew what He was doing when He created the Earth and all its goodness, for His good pleasure, and for ours. Let us thank Him for this beauty.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Saturday Update

I just got home from Barb's funeral. It was a great celebration of her life. Her sister-in-law, Pam, eulogized her in the PERFECT way, remembering many funny and poignant stories about Barb. Russ and I were asked to sing, "I Can Only Imagine." We had never sung it before. It went fine in rehearsal, but I had tears pooling up in my eyes during Pam's eulogy, and we were to follow. By the time we approached the podium, I realized my contact lenses were swimming in the tears-just sort of floating around haphazardly, making clear vision difficult. So much for seeing the words. But the song went off well, in spite of the floating contact lenses, and I made it through the whole song without breaking down.

It was a beautiful day for a burial. A warm sunny day with bright blue skies and green green "bluegrass" and a caressing breeze. Hard to believe I just said goodbye to such a good friend. I actually said my goodbyes on Sunday, but this one seemed so final.

The first time I had a real conversation with Barb was almost a year ago exactly. I complimented her on her funky flipflops at our Memorial Day picnic. Next Sunday, she was bringing me a pair to match hers. The week she was diagnosed with cancer our Secret Prayer Pals were revealing identities. Barb was my Secret Pal. The gift was to be a clue to who our pal was. I opened a straw bag STUFFED with flipflops. There must have been 4 or 5 pairs of these NICE fun flipflops, in all colors. Barb was just like that. Battling cancer and still thinking of others. I almost wore those flipflops today, but some would not have appreciated the humor in it (although I have it on good authority that Barb was wearing Micky Mouse socks hidden by the lower part of the casket lid).

I was cleaning out my purse last night, and I found a thank you note that Barb wrote us on April 21st. Not that long ago, but an eternity ago.

Today, as I was driving home, the radio was playing the song we had sung today, "I Can Only Imagine." It was THEN that it hit me. What it must be like for her. Maybe the song should be "I Can't EVEN Imagine." Heaven is too grand, too worshipful, too filled with God for me to be able to comprehend what it will be like while I'm on this side of death's door. But BARB knows.

To her testimony there were two people who attended the funeral rather than being in the hospital. One was being checked out for heart problems. He spend one night in the hospital, and when they cleared him of a heart attack, he asked to be released so he could attend the visitation on Friday. He was a good friend of the family and will go back for more tests this coming week. Another woman, an daughter-like friend to Barb, was to have her baby this weekend because her blood pressure had been creeping up. She had already been hospitalized once a couple of weeks ago. She asked if she could wait two days to have the baby, so she could honor Barb by attending the visitation and the funeral. Not many folks these days put someone else first (as evidenced by the rude drivers who did not stop for the funeral procession), but anyone who knew Barb put their "stuff" on hold this week. There were at least 475 at the visitation. Several flew in, and several drove great distances.

Yesterday she would have been 51.

Living Out Loud Biz Report for April and up to May 6th

I wasn't sure whether to keep typing out my monthly business reports or not. Some see it as bragging, and I certainly don't mean it that way. It is more of a way for me to keep accurate records, and at the same time be accountable to keep plugging along at this writing thing. Also, I've had writers say it inspires them to keep at it as well, and gives them good ideas for approachable markets. So, because of all these things, and most importantly because I want it to be a "Thank you LORD" list, I write it here. Scroll past it if you are uninterested.

•"Scimitar's Edge" book review was used by Mike Parker with grassroots music and truetunes. But he is no longer their editor, so now I am finding other markets for my book and music revie

•I queried Book Talk News and they have accepted reviews for books "Abiding Darkness" and "Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man." They pay three times what my previous editor paid, so this is a step up. Progress! Also, the editor welcomed me to write her informal letters now, about book reviews, rather than formal query letters, so we have a great working relationship. I've been reading several books for review.

•Now when I see a book come out that I want to review, I write the author and ask if I can have a galley copy. I'm getting enough of a name, especially with Glass Roads Public Relations, that it is working! I might never have to buy another book. haha!

•I was given a work scholarship to go to a small writers conference here in KY in June. I will only have to pay for hotel and meals. They will find a woman for me to share a hotel room, to save on cost. I'll be helping with registration and their bookstore, but will get to go to all the sessions and will get to have a book table for my product, as well. AND they have asked me to consider speaking at the conference next year, and they are looking at my portfolio. How cool!

•Glass Road Public Relations with Rebeca Seitz has asked me for my editing samples, to consider using me on her editorial team. This would be HUGE! I'm going to send them a sample of a fiction book chapter edit, and a sample of a nonfiction article edit, as well as my portfolio (resume, bio, and references). Pray with me that I get this gig!

•I've picked up a few editing jobs that pay by Pay Pal, so that is a nice little bit of income (and I do mean little bit, but still nice!). I edited an article for Virginia Tenery, and hope she gets an acceptance letter from the publisher.

•Made several editorial bids.

•I've written several articles for Blessed Lady ( and now we are talking about me having a regular monthly column. She hasn't confirmed it yet, so we are still "negotiating." This is a paying gig. All of these have been so far. Except this next one:

•I've been asked to be part of the team at It isn't for pay, but is a nice outlet for my work, and part of my "pay it forward" philosophy to help other writers. They will be picking up my column about editing called The PUGS That Bug You (PUGS=Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, Spelling). I'm hoping this will be good exposure so I can build up my editorial business. This column is used at, so I will send to a month behind, according to the one-time rights agreement for a one month time period I've given dabblingmum. I'd like to self-syndicate this column.

•Today's Christian Woman rejected my query for "Why They Stay," an article about why abused women stay in relationships with their abusers. So, I turned around and queried "Hope For Women" magazine. I hope to hear something soon.

•I queried The Lookout for an article on "Top 10 Ways to Have a Healthy Church." I'm still waiting on a reply.

•I submitted an article for a book project called "Forever His." Now we wait for their reply.

•A couple of articles on speculation are sitting on Spirit Led Writer's desk, waiting for approval or rejection (she had accepted the queries upon speculation).

•New weekly inspiration columns were written for The Paris News.

•Was asked to be co-moderator of The Writers View. This is a listserve for advanced and professional Christian writers of all kinds. I'm blessed (and humbled) to get to rub elbows with some of the best in the business.

•Wrote an article for The Ready Writer.

•Am almost ready to send my monthly column to This one is about the use of ellipses.

•Continued writing mentorship with Carmen.

•When my mind has a free moment, I've been mulling around several book proposals.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

No Thornless Roses

No one ever said being a Christian would guarantee us a bed of thornless roses and a life of happiness. This week proved that point for me. How can so much heartache befall a people at one time without their hearts bursting from the pain? I could list several things that have afflicted us as a church family over the past two months, but I'll just mention the most recent—a close friend in church, named Barb Burklo, passed away quickly from ovarian cancer and septicemia. She was just 50 years old.

There have been many tears this past week. Those rose bushes surely do have thorns. But just as they have thorns, they have roses. There has been laughter, as we remembered the hilarious pranks and sayings of our dear friend. The psalm is true that says, "Joy comes in the morning." I'm sure it could just as easily say, "Joy comes in the mourning."

Dark clouds of sadness, burdens, fatigue, disappointment, frustrations, worries, and concerns plague every Christian. Anyone who says all things are hunky-dory for Christians are looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. So how are we to deal with these times? And why should we?

Why does God let this happen?

I know the saying that it rains on the just and unjust, but I also know that God is all-powerful and He could reach down and interfere with a disease process and allow a person to escape death. When He chooses not to, does this make Him any less of a caring God?

I say, No. Not the God I love. He knows things we don't know. He could see how this disease would progress, and in His mercy He stooped down from His Heaven and scooped up His beloved Barb in His arms, rescuing her from a certain suffering. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts, not our thoughts. We try to figure out why He does things or doesn't do things based on our mindset, but we do not have all the knowledge of all times (past and future) at our disposal to make wise decisions. In fact, if we are honest, we want Him to do things based on our FEELINGS more than our FAITH.

Our God IS a loving God, He just shows love in ways we don't always understand. Face it. Who among us can claim to understand Christ dying on the cross, but that was the ultimate act of love.

So, I will not say that my Christian life is devoid of problems. Those who promise others a pain-free life as a Christian are disillusioning others. But I will say that my Christian life is filled with the Problem Solver. And the Peace Giver in the midst of the problems. I can't say the garden has no thorns, but I can focus on the fact that it DOES have roses.

And that, dear reader, is the blessing.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

10 of My Simple Pleasures

I've been tagged by Carmen to list 10 of my favorite simple pleasures. My brain is in a bit of a fog, but here goes my list for the day (I'm sure to change my mind on any given day!):

1. The quiet peace of prayer.

2. Just allowing myself to "be" engulfed in God's creation.

3. Music (all kinds!)

4. Holding a hand, sharing a kiss.

5. Scents that evoke memories or feelings.

6. Freshly laundered sheets.

7. Bath and Body Works products, slathered on and sucked up by my parched skin.

8. Hearing a child laugh.

9. The unconditional love of a pet, even when they share sloppy kisses and pet rocks.

10. Hot baked bread with butter oozing out the sides.

These are a few of my favorite things. :-)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Barb Graduated

So many have written me to say they are praying for my friend Barb that I wanted to write to let you know she passed away during the night, about 1:00 a.m.

She coded again last evening (Monday night) and afterward she was nonresponsive, her pupils did not respond to light. The doctors explained that the ventilator and medications were the only thing keeping her alive. Around 10 p.m. the equipment and medicines were removed, and she passed away about 3 hours later. It was the toughest decision the family ever had to make. We didn't know they had disconnected the equipment, and went to bed thinking someone would call us when the end was near. We had 3 phones by our bed (my cell, Russ's cell, and our home phone). This should show you how eager we were to know whatever news was going on.

We did not hear about it until this morning. I had an appointment scheduled for an MRI near the hospital. After the test, we went to the hospital to visit with the family again and to check in on Barb. We didn't know the equipment had been removed. You can imagine our heartache as we searched waiting room after waiting room to find the family, and they were nowhere to be found. I was starting to feel frantic, wanting to see a face I recognized. None were to be found. Our gut told us what our heart didn't want to hear. We asked information for help, and they were unsure of Barb's location. Then we called the operator, and she said Barb was not listed as a patient. Our hearts sank. Then Russ called Pastor and confirmed the information I just shared with you above.

I have to admit to you that it was hard not to hear the news when it happened. Finding out by basically seeing and empty hospital bed (figuratively speaking) is no way to find out. We are used to pastoring when we are called right away, and being a staff position is hard when it comes to things like this and we don't get called, especially since we have been there so much with the family. The grieving husband felt HORRIBLE when he found out we weren't called-he thought someone else was going to let us know. These things happen. So, that meant our people didn't find out until later this morning, because I'm the contact person for getting the prayer chain going. But our pastor was with Greg when Barb passed away, so that was the important thing. They have attended that church with Pastor as their pastor for about 32 years.

We went to visit with Greg as soon as we heard this morning, and he is doing as well as can be expected, staying busy with plans and getting stuff together. He said they had a good time together as family last night remembering some special things about Barb, and he wants us all to focus on our memories for her rather than our pain at her passing. They were meeting as a family at 11:00 to talk about details for the funeral, and then with the funeral home later today.

Thank you again for praying. Barb is no longer suffering, and that is an answer to prayer, even though we already miss her. Continue to pray for the family during this time of loss.

You all are the BEST at caring and praying!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dream World

Hum the music to Twilight Zone, and you will have the proper backdrop for what I'm about to write. I don't put a lot of stock into those who evaluate dreams or have New Age type thinking. But I've always had a vivid dream life. Russ, on the other hand, rarely remembers his dreams, and sleeps like a log.

But two night's ago, before Barb was put into the hospital, we both had creepy dreams. Not only did we have them, but at lunch Sunday we could still remember enough about the dreams to tell each other what we dreamt. That is most unusual. Normally we have dream amnesia when we wake up.

I dreamt that I was sick and on a ventilator and Russ was having to make the decision about whether or not to have the vent disconnected. He chose to "unplug" me and released me to whatever might be.

Remember that Twilight Zone music? So weird that I dreamt it, and then less than 24 hours later Greg is having to make decisions about using a ventilator for Barb. (See previous posts to get caught up)

This was not something that we had been discussing. But it was obviously on my mind, in some deep dark corner.

While I was tossing with this personal dream grief, Russ was dreaming more of a horror movie. He said there was this evil ugly being that could cause the death of another just by having the other person look at him. Some thought they were strong enough, or doubted they would die, and looked into the face of this evil ugly being. No person who challenged this entity survived. Russ said he could look at the being if he looked at him through a mirror. Many carried around rear view mirrors just so they could see if this evilness was nearby. I think part of the dream was how to catch the entity and save the world.

I don't interpret dreams. But I can't help but wonder if the entity represented death. Some think they can beat death. They they think are untouchable. But all must face it.

Maybe we both had much more on our minds when we went to bed Saturday night than we realized. We had eaten a normal dinner (no anchovy pizza) with friends and had a light hearted evening of fellowship. But our sleep life made us face what our subconscious was dealing with.

Who knows? Just one of those weird things that makes you scratch your head and move forward-try not to make too much out of it.

How to Feel

I'm lost somewhere between feeling too much, and not feeling at all. My friend, Barb, coded tonight in the E.R. They brought her back, but she is in critical condition, nonresponsive and on a respirator with septicemia and cancer and ???

Something inside of me said, "Go see Barb Saturday" and so we did. I took some cards, and just had a brief visit because she was feeling ill and weak from her first chemo treatment on Wednesday. After we left, she told her sister-in-law, Pam, "I just KNEW they would come today." I'm glad we did! Because tonight at church we heard she was at the E.R. with dehydration, infection, and low blood pressure. We had a special prayer service tonight (which had already been in the works for a couple of weeks, to pray for several things on the hearts of our church family, including Barb). After church we went to Wendy's with our class members, and found out Barb was worse. We rushed to the hospital about 8 p.m. and not even two hours later she had coded and they were administering CPR. More phone calls were made, and before we knew it, there were over 30 of us there.

Russ and I stayed until almost 1 a.m., and by then his contacts were glued to his eyes (he is NOT a night owl). She was stabilized, but still in critical condition. So we came home, but I can't sleep. I can't feel, but I feel too much. I'm numb, but I hurt. My eyes are parched, but they are tear-filled.

How to pray in a time like this? "Father knows best." I don't want Barb to suffer any more, and don't want her to stay here on earth because of our selfish desires for her to be with us. But I don't want her to go, and miss a special friendship. She has a new grandbaby due in the next 3-4 weeks. So much for her to be around for. Fifty is too young.

The woman I saw in the bed tonight wasn't Barb. It was the illness. It was the cancer. It was the fever and the fluid retention. It was some chemo-laced cancer color between yellow and orange. It wasn't Barb. But I've seen great miracles happen. In three days she could be off the ventilator and on the mend. It all depends on how much the cancer has ravaged her body.

So odd, to go from a special prayer service, where we spent the entire hour praying for special needs in groups of prayer topics, to hardly knowing how to pray or what to say. Simple prayers now. Just like taking a breath in and blowing it out.

"God, help us. Help Barb. Help Greg. Be near to the family. Lead and direct the doctors and nurses. Keep her with us just long enough, but take her to you when it is time. Let us not prolong that homegoing, but let us not give up on her if she is still fighting to live." Such a paradox.

Only trusting, trusting only
In the One Who understands
Lead and guide in all things knowing
What is best, Thy will be done.