Start With A Smile

Here is an interesting premise to write about. Imagine that you are going to live in a foreign country. Your company has transferred you there, and you are expected to adjust to your new surroundings and begin work immediately. You have learned the language in a classroom, but have had very little, if any, conversational practice. Your physical needs of food, shelter and transportation are provided through your employment. But when you venture out, it is into completely unfamiliar territory. And while your co-workers are very nice, they don’t have a lot of time to provide guidance. If you are going to explore your new home, you must be brave.

I have recently been hired to help three young adults from Japan, here for one year, to learn Business English, while they work for their company and interact with American clients. When I spend time with them, it amazes me at how courageous they are. They have been living and working here for only about two months, and are driving our highways, shopping in our grocery stores, and venturing out on their own to experience American culture, which in so many ways is very different from their own. Something we take for granted like going to an American grocery store is very bewildering since it is much different from grocery shopping in Japan. I can be brave in my writing by exploring new places on paper, but these young adults are doing it for real.

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One of the great things about being their teacher is that while they are learning from me, I get to learn from them. That opens up new ideas and ways of thinking, enriching my own experience as I enrich theirs. Just because I have been hired to teach them Business English doesn’t mean it has to stop there. Conversation and cultural immersion will greatly facilitate their success in their goal of becoming proficient at conducting business in the United States and promote understanding between our two countries. We took them to ride my horse this weekend, and what a blessing it was to introduce them to this part of American culture. Their smiles were priceless. Lunch at a local country cafe with real Texas chicken fried steak and mashed taters topped off the day. It was fun to see the waitresses equally fascinated with my students and smiling – they were showing each other the signatures on their master cards which were in Japanese. The great thing about smiles are that they are universal, they transcend any language.

If you are wondering what you can do to get inspiration to write about something new, just look around you. You don’t have to be a teacher to befriend someone who recently immigrated here or is working here for an extended period of time. Sometimes it takes bravery on both sides to reach out to someone different from us, but the blessings you’ll receive by doing so can turn into lifelong friendships and may even turn into a great story for you to write about someday. And it really is not all that hard – all you have to do is start with a smile.

It’s Not About the Candy…

Yesterday I was thinking about Valentine’s Day. I usually don’t think too much about it, because it doesn’t hold that much importance to me anymore. I must admit that before I was married to Phil, Valentine’s Day used to mean a lot more. It was with much anticipation I awaited its arrival during those times that I was in a relationship, as an opportunity for the person who professed love for me to show it in tangible ways such as with flowers and candy. The irony is that because those relationships weren’t that great,  I needed them to prove their love by remembering me on the holiday that is a celebration of love. (No ruffled feathers here please – for those of you in great relationships that still love Valentine’s Day – enjoy!)

But for me, as the years have gone by, its importance has grown less and less. Phil works hard to support our family and spends his free time doing things with us and for us. So on those occasions when he forgets to get a card or pick up a present, it seems ludicrous to me and unfair to him to get upset. Rather, I am grateful because I am incredibly blessed with a loving husband whose actions show me his love for me every day, not just on holidays.

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So when Phil came home from Walmart today – not with a big candy heart, flowers and a card, but instead with Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Altoids (which he knows are my favorite treats), it made me want to cry (and I did a little). Not because he gave me the candy (although I’m glad he did – Yum!) but because of the heart-spoken message behind it. In those packages of chocolates and Altoids was a message that said “I love you so much, that I know what your favorite things are and I want you to have them.” No, it’s not about the candy, but it is all about the love behind it. And if he didn’t have time to do anything or he forgot, it would have been just fine. Because it really is not about the candy…

Called to Write

pensunsetI read a blog post the other day with the compelling title One Thing Every Writer Needs, by Janet Kobobel Grant of Books & Such Literary Management. Ms. Grant talks about the importance of “belief” as an essential component for any writer and she defined belief in the context of believing in oneself, having others who believe in you, and writing as a calling.

That got me to thinking about calling. What is my calling? That can be tough to figure out sometimes. We may have many different things in life that we are passionate about. For me, I absolutely love being a wife and mom. Those are and always will be at the top of my priority list, but what about other areas of my life? How do I determine what I should be doing when I love to do so many things and those things are so different from one another? For me, the challenge is how do I reconcile my different interests which all touch on my professional career, but in vastly different ways. Merriam Webster defines calling as a “strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work.” Ms. Grant writes regarding writing as a calling, “The ones who thrive best under the heat lamp of the publishing industry are those who believe they are called to write, that they must write, that life would be so much less if they stopped writing.” According to that definition, writing is my calling. But what about everything else?

I think that is one of the best things about being a writer: writing can go across many interests. I have always been a writer and in each of my jobs having that skill has always helped me to be successful. As a teacher I could develop my own course curriculum, as well as develop course curriculum for courses within my areas of expertise for others. In my small business, Golden Cross Ranch, I wrote all of the text for both our website and for all of the extensive instructions that come with our trail obstacle plans. As a test engineer, I also did the documentation for the test sets I built and created. I was a Certified Testpoint Application Specialist and taught a seminar on the use of Testpoint test and measurement software. I created the book that we used in those seminars. Currently I am a contributing writer to Design News, where I use my writing gift to write about my experiences as a test engineer. On a whole different level, I have been able to use my writing abilities to create a ministry book for starting an ESL ministry for local churches that many churches in our area have utilized. I have also used my writing gift to write inspirational messages that comfort and encourage. Upcoming writing projects include both a sci-fi novel and a nonfiction book to help couples understand and successfully cope with the effects of prostatectomy.

Ms. Grant also writes, “You know that writing is an expensive task: It requires all of your heart, soul and mind.” While I may be called to many different things in my life either out of passion for an activity, a need to minister to a hurting friend, or taking care of family, I am grateful that every experience I have adds to the richness of my knowledge. Perhaps by using my pen to record those experiences I can be a blessing to others, just as writers across the ages have blessed all of us with their unique interpretations of the human condition in all its many forms. It does indeed require all of your “heart, soul and mind,” to write, but I believe that is what any calling is all about. On the flip side, when you are living your calling, you are living who God created you to be and there is no greater joy than that! It was very exciting for me to realize that writing is a calling that encompasses all of the areas of my life. You may want to take some time to reflect on your own calling and see where it fits within your present activities and the things you are passionate about. You might just find that you have much to say on some topics that it had not occurred to you to write about previously, but would be a great way to respond to your own call to write!

[image courtesy of surasakiStock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Cam Newton: Casting a Better Vision

superbowl50Okay, first of all I want to say that I called it. If you read my “about” page you will know I liked the Broncos for the Super Bowl when everyone around me said Panthers. I just had to get that out there…Von Miller and the Bronco defense were amazing, as I am sure we would all agree. It was nice to see Peyton end with a pass on the two point conversion.

At children’s church during our regular church service a couple of weeks ago, the pastor asked the kids who they would most like to be like. Being church, the correct answer for kids is typically, “God, Jesus or the Bible.” After several answers of God and Jesus, the pastor asked, “Okay besides God and Jesus, who else?” A little boy shouted out “Cam Newton!”

I think we can all agree that being a celebrity, whether it is an athlete or an entertainer, carries with it a heightened awareness by the public of their existence and in conjunction with that, a perception of who they are. Regardless of how close to reality that perception is, they are stuck with it. Some feel obligated to work at a perception that is not really them, because their fans expect it. That isn’t always easy. Others obviously don’t care and that is not necessarily a good thing either. Whether they like it or not, they are also role models, and I think that is a responsibility that goes along with celebrity status. The little boy that shouted out Cam Newton’s name is obviously looking up at him as a role model.

By reaching celebrity status, they are also forced to give up their “normal” lives. The onus of not being able to go anywhere without being recognized and approached by fans may sound attractive at first, but I am guessing it gets old pretty quick. While being a celebrity carries lots of perks and is often the result of very hard work and dedication towards a goal, when they achieve celebrity status it brings its own stresses. Cam found out in a big way what that means during and after the Super Bowl. He has not learned yet how to accept all situations on camera with grace. It’s a tough lesson but considering the stakes that were involved, I think we should cut the guy some slack.

It is easy to be gracious in victory, the truer measure of a man (or woman) is how they respond in defeat. But that also comes with maturity. Cam has a lot of great years ahead in the NFL. Everyone around me thought Carolina was a sure thing. It’s hard to keep your head on straight when you are a central target of Super Bowl hype. Yes, we all wished Cam would have done better in how he conducted himself. But he is human, like the rest of us – everyone of us falls short. Unfortunately for a celebrity, when they fall short it happens for the world to see. I think the best measure of Cam Newton will come in the months ahead as he responds to what happened. Grace and humility are a life-long process. I think we need to step back and let Cam learn the lessons of Super Bowl 50 with an expectation that he will. People respond to the vision others cast for them. Rather than focus on his failings at just one game, let’s respond with grace and cast a better vision for Cam and give him a chance. The rest will be up to him.

[image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

A New Beginning

newbeginThis morning has been rather exciting. Yesterday I had an epiphany regarding my struggles with the opening chapter to my MG fantasy novel Sword of Fate: If I want it to be good, I must not settle. Just because the words flowed easily when I first wrote them, doesn’t necessarily mean they belong there. I read a description of what makes an MG novel yesterday, “Fantasy books for kids are often ‘first time’ books for their young readers–the first time visiting a world that’s truly strange, the first time meeting the talking animals who come to the aid of the hero, the first time the magic sword is found, or the monster slain” and I said to myself, “Yes! That is Sword of Fate!” Like the article says, my protagonist Rugal is “faced with new, strange challenges that rock the foundations of their worlds, and their stories involve growing up, figuring out who they are, and how to be strong and keep going when hope seems far away.”

Then I reread my first chapter and faced the cold hard truth. While I have a solid manuscript, the first chapter doesn’t do the rest of the book justice. I have read over and over how agents hate getting a manuscript where the author points out that it gets better after the first 10-20-30 pages. So why did I have such a hard time applying this knowledge to myself? To be honest, it was because I was determined to make what I had already written work. I finally realized that by holding onto that attitude like a dog on a bone can be detrimental to the entire project. Sometimes you have to let something go in order to make something better. Actually, this is a much better situation than the first chapter being great but the rest of the book not doing it justice, because it means most of my revision will take place in the first chapter while tweaking the manuscript to accommodate any newly revealed information that may need adjusting.

So I am all about a new beginning today. The ideas started percolating in my head last night and became a hastily typed paragraph. I’m already up to 1200 words, I’m having a lot of fun, and best of all, I already can see improvement. I wonder why I hung on so long but I think that is our tendency as human beings. It’s hard to let go of the familiar and try something different. But if we can bring ourselves to let go and try, amazing things can happen. That applies to life in general too…sometimes we need to let go and try something new. God may have something much better for us ahead that we can’t see from our vantage point, but it requires us being willing to try something different in order to get there.

[image courtesy of paladin13 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

It’s Gonna Be Okay!

It’s a new day with new possibilities! You know you are a writer doing what God made you to do when you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to start writing. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, today is a fresh start with boundless potential. Last night I finished my latest Design News article which included a tribute to a dear friend, one of the many people who have played a part in my success as an engineer by their willingness to mentor me. Jay was a test equipment sales rep. He was also a very smart guy and would share his knowledge to help solve problems, even if it wasn’t related to the sale. He was generous with his time and he celebrated with us when we did well and when we weren’t doing so good, he did everything that he could from his end to help things improve.

JayJayThe last year and a half my husband and I have been in much more frequent touch, walking alongside Jay and his lovely wife as he battled pancreatic cancer. Being able to laugh with him, cry with him, and pray with him, was a privilege of our friendship that started so many years ago, when he was a salesman and I was a test engineer. Jay is with the Lord now and isn’t suffering any more. The last time I saw Jay, I told him that I was really glad that God had brought us together. I would not have traded our friendship for anything. I miss him a lot and in times of trouble I can still hear him say as he frequently did, “It’s gonna be okay.” And so I look to this day and realize that each day is a gift. We don’t know how long we will be here and we have many ways we can spend our time – it is up to us to choose wisely. As for me, I am working on my next project as I await responses from the queries I have sent out. I’ll take some time out to spend with people I love, doing things I love. And I will make sure to do something nice for someone else. As for yesterday’s rejections – “It’s gonna be okay.” Because it is a new day, a precious day full of possibilities!

Around the Corner

rejection3Well, I was going to wait until tomorrow to post this, but having just received two rejections five minutes apart, even though both agents were very kind in their responses, I decided I needed to post this now, to remind myself of what I already know…

I understand that rejection is inevitable when one writes – part of what makes life so interesting is that we are all very different, but that makes our perception of what is publishable correspondingly different as well. Regarding the writing life, I really appreciate something Victoria Marini, a literary agent for Gelfman Schneider / ICM Partners, said when asked what advice or encouragement she would give to aspiring writers. She responded, “Practice resilience, patience, and generosity of spirit. Practice being happy for others. Keep going. And going.”

I think that is a great philosophy, not only for writing, but for life in general…

It’s hard not to take rejection personally because we are exposing ourselves, we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable when we offer the results of our hard work to a stranger and await their response. But isn’t that what we do when we offer ourselves in friendship to others? Our most satisfying relationships started in the realm of the unknown, and I think that is a little about how it is when offering your writing to someone. You are taking a chance, but it may just end up to be one of the most satisfying relationships in your life. And if it ends up in a rejection, than just like those folks that you didn’t strike a chord with when you were testing the friendship waters, it simply wasn’t meant to be and something much better for your specific manuscript may be waiting around the corner.

So while I am momentarily discouraged, I will refuse to stay there and instead I will choose to follow Ms. Marini’s advice, “Practice resilience, patience, and generosity of spirit. Practice being happy for others. Keep going. And going.” If I can do that, it changes everything.

[image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]