Monday, November 28, 2011

Counting Words

I just returned from a weekend of solitude at a Christian camp all by myself so I could write a short story for submission due in a few days.
                “Have a nice time,” people would say when they heard about it.  “Really,” I would usually think to myself.  “A nice time? What is so nice about being locked up in a room by yourself for over 48 hours to write.”  I was in fear.  I had backed myself into a corner with the deadline.  I had never done anything like this before.   And I had never submitted a story for publication either.  Needless to say I had lots of doubt.  But I was a ‘woman with a mission’.
                I heard about this story submission after joining the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association back in September.  It was one of the first emails that I received as a member.  I knew as soon as I saw it that it was tailor-made for my story.  It was a story about mother/child healing.  But I didn’t act on it. 
All of this writing stuff was so new to me.  I had just started my blog and was writing devotionals for my church.  Was I ready to take on a project where my writing would be competing against other writers?  I was sure that there were lots of writers with stories about healing.  After all, my story of healing was what led me down this writing path in the first place.
As the deadline approached, a kept getting a nudge from God to submit my story.  Of course, then I ‘argued’ with him.  “But what about my book?” I would ask him. “If I do this story, then I may never write my book.”  His loving response was to just trust Him and to stop questioning it.
So as I committed to do the writing and prepared to write, I received several confirmations that I really have lots of material for a book.  Writing this story submission was not going to detract from the bigger book.  In fact, I started to embrace the idea that regardless of the outcome, that my weekend of writing would be a step I needed to take in my quest to become a ‘real’ writer and that none of my work would be wasted.
It was with that attitude that I sat down at my laptop at the camp this past weekend—alone and away from family on Thanksgiving weekend.  But I wasn’t totally alone.  During one of my meals with the camp staff, I heard the story of a woman whose mother-in-law was just diagnosed with cancer.  They were in the process of deciding her course of treatment and weighing the options for quality of life.  The options were all very grave.  I almost started to cry as I had just finished writing about my mother’s illness and the quality of life choices we made for her.  Thank you God I thought to myself for this 'kiss' and confirmation that I am not alone in this.
The internet and cell phone were also available for me to reach out when I needed a break.  On a lighter note, I found out that Facebook now has the capability to do video calls.  I placed my first video call late one night.  Having some ‘face’ time was a good break that gave me the momentum to write a few more hours into the early morning.
Aside from these few human interactions, my best companion I had over the weekend was God.  He kept me out of my ‘head’ much of the time in my writing.  Every day my devotional spoke words of confirmation and encouragement for my mission.  It was the ‘kiss’ that I needed each day to tackle this project.
The one place I couldn’t get my ‘head’ out of my writing was with my word counts though.  With a word limit of 5,000 to 10,000 words, I became very much aware of my word count to track my progress.   I started the weekend with 2,000 words already written.  By the end of the first day I was up to 4,600 words.  By break time on Saturday night I was at 7,600 words—twice as many words as my recovery testimony.  When I realized that, I was a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I was doing.  That writing took me over a month to write.
By the time I left the camp on Sunday afternoon my first full draft of the story was 9,188 words--right on target.  Last night as I read the entire draft for the first time, I started to cry.  It is a beautiful story.  Someday I know it will be published.  I have my friends to thank for their prayers and encouragement as I go down this road.  Above all else, I am thankful that God is giving me His words to tell it.
            And by the way, it really was a nice weekend.  Word count = 842, but who's counting?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Overtaken By Blessings

Yesterday I officially celebrated my 50th birthday with an anointed group of 12 dear friends.  It wasn’t really my 50th birthday as I turn 52 tomorrow.  That’s because two years ago when I was ‘supposed’ to be celebrating my 50th birthday with friends, some painful life circumstances intervened that pushed my celebration to a very low priority.
My mother, JoAnn, whom I had rarely communicated with over the past few years, had a major stroke that left her partially paralyzed and virtually unable to communicate.  God was doing some major heart surgery on me as he called me to spend my ‘first’ 50th birthday at the feet of my mother.  It was very humbling and bittersweet.  She gave me life and now I sensed that I was giving it back to her.
JoAnn never recovered from that stroke and she never regained her voice.  Her life continued to deteriorate until the Lord finally took her home in February of this year.  So yesterday’s birthday celebration was my rescheduled 50th birthday party—my first birthday since she passed. 
Yesterday’s party wasn’t a party in the traditional sense of fun and games or cake and ice cream though.  It was a celebration with connecting hearts, inspiration, hope, tears and laughter too.  It was a celebration of life’s richness, healing and transformation.  It was a celebration of how God does turn our mourning into gladness--not just for me but for my new family in Spain as well.  It was my gratitude to God and the people in my life who have helped me carry my burden these past two years.
Today I embark on the start of a new journey and I am carrying a new burden.  It is the responsibility that God has placed on my heart to write this story.  It is not a small task.  It will require lots of discipline and the openness to relive and process all of the pain and the joy over and over again.  I know that God will see me through it.  My purpose is clear.
My devotional reading for yesterday, titled Overtaken By Blessings, couldn’t have been more appropriately timed by God: And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 28:2)  I have been overtaken by blessings.  I am on the mountain top.  While I know I can’t stay there, I can choose to carry His love for me in my heart and to gratefully remember that I am going down this path for Him—one day at a time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Leaving A Legacy

A neighbor passed away this week after a long battle against cancer. It is never easy to hear about someone's life being taken from them at middle age or of their struggle with a terminal illness. 
When I got the call from another neighbor, I was shocked, but not totally surprised.  I wept, prayed and offered condolences and help.  Today as I drove by his house for the first time since hearing the news, I was overcome with the memories of what this man gave to our neighborhood and our community.
His name was David Parkinson and he was well known in Sammamish and beyond for his display of Christmas lights.  Over the past 15 years Dave put up a massive display of lights that grew to 60,000 bulbs, assorted blow-up characters and wire displays.  In recent years, Dave got the attention of the media and was listed in newspaper and television station reviews as an address to view his display of lights.  After that happened, it wasn't unusual for the cul-de-sac to get backed up with cars slowly driving by.  Waiting behind a string of cars to pull into my own driveway was only a minor inconvenience.  It was offset by the evenings I would sit in my living room and watch the cars go by.  It was a reminder that these families were taking time out of their busy holiday schedules to enjoy some of the wonder of Christmas.
Dave's mission and passion was clear and simple--to create a special display of lights for people to enjoy.  In order to achieve that goal in time for December viewing, he would start putting up lights on Labor Day weekend.  He was very consistent and deliberate with his planning and creativity.  Before he got sick, his family would host a neighborhood lighting party every year.  It was always the highlight of the holiday season.  And then there were the nights that I caught Dave outside monitoring the lights, doing some repairs or talking with the passersby. 
Dave delighted in the lights.  He delighted in giving this back to the community.  But Dave didn't just give us this talented display of lights.  He also gave back to the community by putting up a drop-off container for food donations to Northwest Harvest.  It was like his own mini-food drive.
December is nearing and the lights were barely started this year.  Now that he is gone will there be any lights?  Will the family or community rally around to finish his work?  I wonder what Dave would want.
So with the sorrow in my heart over Dave's passing, I can't help but also think about the legacy he has left.  He has left a legacy of sparkling lights and holiday cheer.  He gave a gift that lifted up our holiday spirits and reminded us to slow down and enjoy the season.  My scrapbooks are filled with photos of his holiday lights over the years as a memento of this holiday tradition.  Thank you Dave for sharing your vision with us and leaving a legacy of lights that we will never forget.
For a few brief minutes, Dave's passing made me think about the legacy I am leaving.  What do I want to be remembered for?  Am I living in God's will?  Thankfully the answer is that probably for the first time in my life, I really believe that I am being missional and on purpose with the legacy that God has ordained for me. 
Are there things that I could change in my life?  Of course.  Am I content in all things?  Probably not as much as I should be.  But if God took me tomorrow, I wouldn't have any regrets about where I invested my time and my talents.  It certainly hasn't always been that way, but thankfully, God has been giving me a legacy worth leaving.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

For the Love of Music

I love music!  I always have.  As I think back on my music 'history', I've realized that I have done some pretty crazy things for the love of music.
It started when I entered puberty.  It was at the height of the 'era' when Donny Osmond and his brothers were all the rage.  My bedroom wall was plastered with posters of Donny.  As an adult I still listen to his music.  I went to one of his concerts with my husband when we were young.  It was 'dreamy'.  Like a true groupie, after the show I waited outside and got to shake Donny's hand.  I swore I'd never wash that hand again.  
Several years later I met Donny again and was on TV with him on 'Northwest Afternoon' in Seattle.  It was just one of those things that I had to do--to fulfill that 'teenage' dream.  I even have the occasion forever immortalized in my 'music' scrapbook.
When I went to college, I outgrew my Osmond phase, but not my love for music.  I became the music director at the college radio station where I got better acquainted with my future husband, the radio station manager.  Music is what brought us both together.  Although we have varying tastes, we both love music.
In recent years, my love of music has turned almost exclusively to contemporary Christian music.  I have many favorites like Stephen Curtis Chapman, Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Third Day and Chris Tomlin.  I have seen them all in concert many times.  These concerts are not just concerts to me.  I love their music so much that they are generally more like a spiritual experience for me.  The music is inspiring and uplifting.  It is worshipful.
Over the last year, my music taste has taken on a whole new dimension.  Thanks to Pedro, my son from Spain, I have taken an interest in modern piano—and Spanish music too.  Producing the CD of Pedro’s original piano compositions has opened up a whole new array of musical interests and pursuits for me.  Afterall, he reminds me that I am his American manager.
Last week, I was at the 'Meet and Greet' for Steven Curtis Chapman while he was performing in town.  My son Cameron and I attended with a friend who got free tickets because of her role in an adoption ministry.  It wasn’t much of a ‘meet and greet’ as we shook his hand, he answered a question or two and was gone.  But with my friend’s encouragement, Steven ended up with a copy of Pedro's CD in his hands.  Afterwards, my son jokingly said to me, “I’ll never wash this hand.”  Déjà vu.
And then tonight a similar situation presented itself.  I have been researching how to make Pedro's music more available online.  That research took me to the Jim Brickman concert.  I barely knew who Jim Brickman was a few months ago--and only then because I knew that Donny Osmond had accompanied him on some songs.  As I'm preparing to get Pedro's music available for sale online with itunes, Amazon and Spotify, I discovered how similar his music is to Jim Brickman's.  So I met him tonight too and gave him one of Pedro's CDs—all for the love of music.
I have no idea if anything will happen because of these bold acts of blind faith that God has me pursuing.  It runs totally parallel to the boldness I have been walking out in my journey with Christ this past year.  All I can do is go where He leads me, and when things aren’t quite what I thought or I veer off course, pray that God gently leads me back on His path.  Because ultimately it’s all for the love of Jesus.