Author: nancycgolden

Starting a Writing Group

I have had several folks ask me why I decided to take on such a complicated and time-consuming endeavor, with all of the work involved that forming a community writing group entails. A moment of insanity perhaps? Like the time I decided to coordinate a district science fair for my son’s charter school? Or start an ESL ministry at our church with four levels of classes? Actually, it is very satisfying to be operating in the areas that God has gifted me with, while helping others to be successful; it’s a “win-win” even if it’s exhausting at times.

To further my explanation, we have some tremendous writing groups in the DFW area of Texas, but none in Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas. I personally don’t want to drive twenty miles to Euless fighting traffic on a weekday evening every week, even though I am aware of a fantastic critique group that has met there for years. I thought perhaps there may be some like-minded writers in my area. I posted in our city’s community Facebook page and on Nextdoor to see if anyone was interested, and the response I received was HUGE! I created a Facebook group and now, in less than six weeks, we have had our inaugural meeting with twenty writers in attendance and have had forty members join our Facebook group so far!

The paradox for me is that in committing to this venture, I have actually reduced the time I have to write.  However, the payoffs have already been enormous. To see the excitement and enthusiasm our group is creating among our members is wonderful. To experience the generosity of Marshall’s Bar-B-Q and Carrollton Church of the Nazarene in providing free space for us to meet is gratifying. To reach out to established members of the writing industry in search of guest speakers and to receive an overwhelmingly positive response is marvelous.

So here we go – at the start of a grand adventure. I am learning as I go along, but we are blessed to belong to an industry that is known for giving back, so I know I am not going it alone. I am finding that starting a writing group is not easy, but it is also extremely satisfying to know that a real need is being filled:

Carrollton League of Writers exists to help writers in all genres and experience levels to improve their writing skills and to move towards publication if desired. We provide working writing sessions that include read and critique sessions and creative writing exercises. We also provide guest speakers to educate and inform from various facets of the writing industry, networking opportunities, and a chance to socialize and hang out with others who share the grand passion of writing.

If you are ever in the Carrollton area on a Thursday night – I hope you’ll join us. If you are thinking of starting a writing group in your own area – I hope you’ll go for it. It won’t be easy, but it will be well-worth it! Feel free to comment if you need help getting started. I am fairly new at this, but I can share my own experiences and perhaps help point you in the right direction.

The Danger of Snapshots

Daddy1We often view snapshots in a positive way. We try to catch that perfect moment and freeze it in time to remember forever. For some, we use a snapshot to define how we feel about a person. We look at a photograph and it evokes strong emotions. But snapshots can be problematic as well. I’m not talking about instagram or an old photograph but rather, the snapshots that we carry in our minds, that color our thinking. These snapshots can be an unfair representation of a person, yet it is the view we insist on having. Sadly, these mental snapshots may be influenced by comments from family or friends; people who have not seen the whole movie, only random snapshots that don’t tell the whole story.

Dadletter2I don’t talk about my Dad much, except that he died when I was fifteen. The years after his death were traumatic as my Mom, brother and I struggled to maintain a semblance of family identity. My brother and I were rebellious teenagers and having our anchor dislodged unexpectedly made for very rough sailing for all of us. As the years went by and I dealt with the consequences of my immature decisions, I thought of my Dad less and less. I’m grateful that my Mom remained steadfast – she was always there for me no matter what. But for some reason, we didn’t talk much about Dad. We may have done the occasional reminiscing about a family event, but we didn’t dwell on his absence. Perhaps each one of us had a hole in our heart we didn’t know how to fill, so it was easier to ignore it rather than to acknowledge it.

But for me, there was also something else. Mental snapshots I remembered, and mental snapshots that other people told me about. Like any family, we struggled with dysfunction. For my Dad, it was alcoholism. No doubt about it, our family suffered because of it. Yet, my father faithfully went to Alcoholics Anonymous, made a commitment to Christ, and was completely sober the last two years of his life. Sadly, my childhood friend chose not to remember that when we were reminiscing a few years ago, but emphasized his sin instead. So almost forty years later, I felt shame instead of pride when I thought of my Dad. That wasn’t right and I shouldn’t have let my friend’s words influence me. We all have sins we struggle with – some are just more visible than others.

Daddy3

How could I let my friend’s mental snapshots of my Dad influence my attitude towards him, when I have so many more snapshots that speak to the love he had for our family? I must have been around six years old when he took me on a Daddy-daughter date. I remember putting on my best dress and I was amazed it was just us at a fancy restaurant. I felt so special! He used to insist we be on time for our bedtime and if we were one minute late he would get mad at us. I would be so upset that I made him angry, I would lay in my bed and cry, then creep down the hallway where I could see him through the cracked hallway door, sitting in his recliner watching television. He would see me peeking at him and tell me to come over and give me a hug. I remember when I fell off my horse and broke my ankle (I was around eleven years old), a young man found me and put me in his car and brought me to his mother’s house. I had not shed a single tear until I saw my Daddy in the doorway – then I burst out crying because my emotion at seeing him was so overwhelming. I was truly Daddy’s little girl. I loved to draw pictures for him that always had the caption “Best Daddy in the World.”

 

Daddy2I remember a science project my Dad helped me with. He sold yard lights and he helped me build a street of cardboard and wire in yard lights in front of the houses. He bought his horse-crazy little girl her own horse, even though we didn’t have much money growing up. I remember waiting for him to come home from work so we could all eat dinner together. Afterwards, we would all sit in the living room (we each had our own chair) and I would curl up in mine and read while we watched the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Saturday Night Wrestling or Wonderful World of Disney. I also remember making him a bunny rabbit cake for Easter one year.

 

Daddy4Dad bought me my first Bible – I wish I still had it but somewhere along the way it has gotten lost. I can still see it in my mind’s eye – the picture of Jesus on the cover. He made every Christmas special with his famous lasagna and would take us to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. He didn’t have a very good singing voice but that didn’t stop him as he loudly sang to the Lord in church. The last time I saw my Dad, he had taken me to the church that our Explorer’s post gathered at to leave for our mountain climbing trip to Philmont, New Mexico. When we hugged goodbye I had no idea that would be the last time I would see him on earth. These are just a few random memories of many…and sadly those negative snapshots from others had the effect of my shoving all of the good memories I had into a closet – something I deeply regret. It wasn’t fair to my Dad and it wasn’t fair to me.

It is so important to think before we speak – Ephesians 4:29 tells us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Don’t let other people’s words influence how you feel about someone. Instead, examine the relationship for yourself and search your heart. And let us give grace to one another – for we are all imperfect and in need of it. This blog post was forty years in the making. Dad, thank you for everything. I miss you and I am looking forward to seeing you again someday. I love you.

Birthday Blog

beach-beautiful-dawn-40192When I woke up on my birthday morning (three days ago), the thought immediately came to me “Today is the day the Lord has made, Rejoice and be glad in it.” I was very grateful for that, because the day before I had been struggling. I was struggling with the fact that I have been battling lower back pain the last few weeks, the knowledge that my body is getting older and telling me that in not always so subtle ways, missing those who have gone on to be with the Lord, especially my Mom, working towards getting a literary agent for my book (which can be a long, arduous process) and seeking where God is leading next. So when God had so graciously placed that thought in my head, He positioned me to see my life from a completely different perspective. 

“Today is the day the Lord has made, Rejoice and be glad in it!”

Rejoice and be glad for:

A wonderful husband – Phil is my best friend and soulmate. He believes in my dreams, encourages me, and supports me.

An incredible son – Josh is seeking God’s will for his life and has recently been blessed with a wonderful job doing video work for a local church.

An amazing array of family – daughter Melissa – son-in-law Aaron – awesome grandkids / brothers – Eddie and Vinny / Sisters – Janet and Lynn / Sisters-in laws – Jane and Sara / loving nieces and nephews – the list goes on and on…

The gift of friends, near and far, many of whom expressed their Birthday wishes for me. Friends are truly a gift from God and I am grateful for each one.

Incredible experiences in my life – from climbing mountains to managing an engineering department. Leading an ESL ministry to being a college professor. Training horses and ranch work to writing two books. Preaching a sermon at a small country church to coordinating a school science fair. Getting to be a wife and mom and grandma. The list goes on and on, and I am truly humbled when I think of all of these blessings God has provided for me. Ephesians 3:20 comes to mind.

And most of all, for a Savior that loves me so much that He died for my sake and rose again to defeat death, so that I can be cleansed of my sins and have eternal life with Him. Not only that – He walks with me each day!

 

thanksbirthday

Thanks to everyone who took time out of your day to bless me with your Birthday wishes – I love you and I treasure them in my heart. And my prayer for each of you is that you too wake up each morning with the thought in your head:

“Today is the day the Lord has made, Rejoice and be glad in it!”

 

 

 

Book Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

book2I have always had a hard time slowing down and just relaxing when there is always so much to do, but between a WONDERFUL book to read on a cold rainy day and the perfect reading companion – I just couldn’t resist. Kathleen Baldwin has managed to win me over to the historical fiction genre in a big way with her novel, A School for Unusual Girls. I must admit I initially purchased the book for my fifteen year old granddaughter who I was sure would enjoy it, both for her love of history and for her strong and intelligent personality, which seemed to me at first glance to also be an apt description of the main character. As I scanned the book before giving it to her, I realized that it had also grabbed my own interest and I ordered a second copy, both coming from Amazon. I’m so glad I did! There is so much fun stuff, I don’t want to give it away – but just know to settle in for a captivating read filled with strong and spunky heroines, handsome heroes, scientific experiments that sometimes go awry with lethal consequences, and ultimately a journey of maturation and finding one’s place; all back-dropped by an unstable and inflammatory time in European history where the individual decisions of the residents of Stranje House are pivotal in influencing the events swirling chaotically at a rapid pace around them.

The author takes the reader on a journey that leaves one reluctant to stop. Not only does she transport us to another time and place, she manages to make us identify with these unusual girls who have troubled pasts and to root for them. A wonderful message of redemption for those who do not feel compelled to follow the established rules of society but seek to remain true to their own calling, is woven through the story’s themes of transformation, love, and responsibility. Kathleen Baldwin writes with a masterful grasp of plot and pacing, keeping the reader thoroughly enticed with just enough mystery and intrigue (and the occasional breathtaking hint of romance). She strikes that amazing balance of fully satisfying at quintessential moments, yet leaving us yearning for the story to continue. Fortunately it does, in the next novel in the Stranje House series: Exiles for Dreamers. I have already purchased my copy and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the next adventure that the Stranje House has in store!

You can learn more (including reading chapter excerpts), discover lots of cool extras, and check out Kathleen’s other writing endeavors, as well as find out additional places where A School for Unusual Girls is available for purchase, at KathleenBaldwin.com

 

 

A Lenten Valentine’s Day

ashwedI woke up this morning thinking about how to reconcile celebrating Valentine’s Day with observing Ash Wednesday, when I realized that there isn’t any need for reconciliation; the two events complement each other beautifully. As we reflect solemnly on our sinful state and the admonition that Ash Wednesday brings to the forefront in Genesis 3:19, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” it is certainly a time of repentance. But it is also a time to draw us to closer to experiencing God’s love through the Gospel.

heart2018So let me explain the correlation I think we have between these two seemingly dissimilar events. To begin with, it would be good to get a better understanding of the word love. In the English language we use one word to describe many things. We can love our brothers and sisters, we can have a more intimate love for our spouses, we can even love hamburgers, but none of these describes the love that God has for us. When we go back to the original Greek, we see that all of these types of love have a different word assigned to it. Family love or love of an object may fall under Storge στοργή. The brotherly love of friendship is expressed as Philia φιλία, and sexual love as Eros ἔρως. The love of God for man has its own word too. It is called Agape ἀγάπη. God’s love for us is relentless, incomprehensible, sacrificial and unconditional.

I read a quote about Agape love by Paulo Coelho that beautifully expresses the magnitude of God’s love for us: “This was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of man’s history.”

Godslove

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of love. The Scriptures tell us in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Ash Wednesday is a stark reminder as to why each of us needs that love. In Ash Wednesday we remember our mortality, that we are dust and will return to dust. We are reminded of our sin, but the Gospel message tells us we have victory over our sin if we repent and believe. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 gives us hope:

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:8 proclaims, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” The message is clear. We are to love one another. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 22:37-39 “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Today is a day we can celebrate love in all of its facets: the love that God has for us, and the different types of love that we have for one another. Today, Phil and I will contemplate the incredible love that God has for us as sinful mortals with gratefulness and repentance, and we will also celebrate the love we have as husband and wife. When you think about it, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that celebrates romantic love, but what could be more romantic than sacrificial love? Ultimately that is the type of love that lasts when the trappings of Valentine’s Day fades into the busyness of life.

JesusdesertAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and we have the season of Lent ahead of us. Another Lenten tradition for some folks is to “give something up” for Lent. The purpose is to recognize and share in Jesus’ sacrifice as he withdrew into the desert and fasted for 40 days. Another way we can share in this tradition is rather than give something up, we can commit to do something, as an expression of sacrificial love. For me, I choose to write one card of encouragement each day of Lent (to the person God puts on my heart that day), and mail it. One has to be intentional, and carve out time to do this. Not a great sacrifice perhaps, but it serves the purpose of giving time to God to bless someone else. Just another way to show that ultimately, Ash Wednesday and Lent, while a season of repentance, is grounded in the greatest love of all and is a great way to live out the command Jesus gave us in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

handheartAnother GREAT thing to do today is to forgive someone if you have been allowing bitterness to fester in your heart. I know many people who struggle with forgiveness, in that they are either unable to forgive themselves for something they have done or they are unable to forgive someone else for hurting them. When I think about God’s limitless grace and that it is through Christ’s sacrifice at the cross that we have received forgiveness for all of our transgressions – what is even more amazing is that God initiated it, we read in Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died for us knowing we were a mess, yet loving us anyway. His forgiveness heals us and if we are unable to forgive ourselves, or others, we are unable to fully experience the peace that comes from the healing power of Christ. If you are in this category, you can read more at my blog post: Forgiving Ourselves and Forgiving Others.

There are all sorts of ways we can live out loving one another. A friend of mine is planning on choosing one item each day from her family’s clothing closets, so that at the end of Lent she will have 40 gently used items to donate to those in need. Sounds like both a sacrificial and practical plan to me! May you find special blessings each day as you spend this time preparing your heart for celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. And if you have never participated in Lent before, you might want to give it a try. It’s a wonderful way to deepen your spiritual journey.

Happy Lenten Valentine’s Day!

 

 

The Secret to My Success

valentinedayValentine’s Day seems like a good time to recognize those folks around us who have had a hand in our success. Certain elements are required in order to be successful in any endeavor. In engineering, a strong foundation in your chosen area is essential. This may be acquired through education and experience. A desire and ability to learn continually (our field changes so rapidly that this is not a luxury but a necessity) is also required. Being able to work well with others is always important, even if the job is mostly solitary. There are still times when you have to interact with internal and external customers. But when I reflect on my own career, I can truly say that my success was in large part due to the folks around me that were willing to invest in me.

It all started with my first job out of school. I worked my way through college, and upon graduation I embarked on my career in electronics. I was hired to work for a major semiconductor company. When I look back at the uncertain young woman I was in 1990, entering a mostly male field and armed with an electronics foundation that was mostly theory but with no real world experience, I can see how those first months were pivotal for me. I was incredibly blessed to have an amazing co-worker named Curtis who took me under his wing. When I look back at how many times I asked him for help in that first year and his always patient and cheerful response that enabled me to complete the task I had been assigned, I can see how I became much more confident in myself and my ability to utilize my electronics knowledge because of his tutelage. rubberbandsHis love of Calvin and Hobbes and his willingness to forgive me when I shot him in the eye with a rubber band are fond memories I carry to this day. I was only at that job one year, but it was my important first one out of school and Curtis’ mentoring made a huge difference in shaping my future and helping me to be successful.

My next job was for another semiconductor company, where I would spend the next twelve years. During that time I was surrounded by incredible people who were willing to help a still fairly new employee learn the ropes and make her feel welcome. It was an amazing experience because those folks were truly a family and they welcomed me into the fold without reservation. One engineer in particular, Norris, is one of those few people that are incredibly intuitive in electronics. They don’t have to labor through understanding like I do. lightbulbSometimes it takes awhile for the light bulb to turn on over my head – Norris was born with the light already on. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t work hard, he does. In fact, he works harder because he also takes the time to mentor those that he works with. I could bring any electronics problem, large or small, and know that Norris would provide the guidance I needed to work through it. I learned so much from him and the other folks in our test engineering group that were always ready to lend a hand. I also learned to have a great work ethic that has served me well over the years.

JayJayAnother group of people that are often unheralded are the sales people that I worked with. These could be parts sales, equipment sales, or salespeople that represented several different manufacturers. Typically engineers and salespeople seem to be diametrically opposed in how they think and what their goals are. But the salespeople that were constants for me during my career have been phenomenal in providing support when I needed it. While there are too many to mention, I would like to share with you about one sales rep named Jay. Whenever I needed test equipment for one of my test racks, chances were, Jay was representing that particular manufacturer and I called on him often. He was the kind of guy that would do whatever it took to get you the product you needed on time. 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. He was supportive in all of my engineering endeavors, even those that didn’t bring him income. When I started teaching software seminars and needed an extra computer for a client to use – he loaned me one of his. When I created a web page for test engineering and the table I was creating was giving me problems, he came over and showed me the html code that would solve the issue. Beyond that, he helped me when my life took an unexpected hard turn. He was there to provide wisdom and tangible assistance during a very difficult time.

I met Jay in the mid-90s and although we both took different career paths since then, we pcbraceletalways managed to keep in touch, even if it was just a phone call months or a year or two apart, until recently. The last year and a half my husband and I stayed in much more frequent touch, walking alongside Jay and his lovely wife as he battled with 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.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of work and the responsibilities we have, but ultimately what really matters is the people doing the work. I am grateful for all of the individuals, too numerous to mention, that gave of their time and talent to help me to succeed. The folks at Design News are also in that category, providing many opportunities for me to grow as a writer. You may want to pause and reflect on the people who played a role like that for you, or commit to be that person for someone else. If you would like to honor anyone that played a role in your success, please feel free to share.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jay. Thanks for being my friend. I miss you.

valentinecandle

 

 

Our Need for Community

write-2930023_1920As writers, we often find ourselves working in a solitary place. For some of us, that is the only way we can unleash the thoughts in our head in a coherent fashion. It is time that many of us have to work hard to obtain – perhaps by shutting ourselves away from our busy and boisterous families by sneaking into the back bedroom for thirty minutes. For others it might look like a trip to the local library or Starbucks with our laptop in tow, hoping we don’t bump into someone we know, so we can use the precious minutes we have carved out of our busy schedules to actually write. Our understandable predisposition to gain solitary time in order to respond to our calling may become an obsession if we aren’t careful. It can become quite easy to duck out of social activities when our work-in-progress is tugging at our hearts. But many famous writers were notable as recluses, so what’s the harm?

lonestarActually, it can be harmful. I think it is important to recognize that God created us to be in community. Not only is it good as a writer to enter the social sphere, it is good for our souls. Writers are observers of life, and our writings reflect the truths we have found through our observations and experiences. You can’t observe or experience if you keep yourself segregated from the rest of humanity. Being in community also satisfies the yearning we all have to be part of something greater than ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. That is why I am so excited about the upcoming writing conference I am attending: Lonestar.Ink in Dallas this February. I have been a writer for many years, yet I have never made the time to attend one. I am not sure what to expect, but I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, I expect to leat-grandmaearn some good stuff from some successful authors and editors who are willing to communicate their knowledge with others. I am also anticipating that this will be an opportunity to network. But I also see it as something else – as an opportunity to break out of my solitude and connect with other people that have similar dreams and goals. People who will get my grammar puns and appreciate them without rolling their eyes (well, maybe…) and of course enjoy the conversations and debates that arise as writers compare notes on both technique and content.

Another strong reason to get out into the community (and attend a writers conference) is explained by developmental psychologist Susan Pinker. She reveals how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness, but could also be key to health and long life in an intriguing TED Talk where she explains that social interaction is the number one predictor for longevity. She explains that this isTED not limited to close acquaintances, but includes everyone that we interact with as we move through our day. Further, “Face to face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like vaccines, they protect you now in the present and well into the future.” As a matter of fact, her entire speech made me really glad I signed up for the conference. Her research shows that brain activity becomes much more engaged with a live partner. Recruiters from Fortune 500 companies thought the candidates were smarter if they heard their voices, compared to when they read their pitches from a text, email or letter. So theoretically, pitching an agent or publisher at a writing conference makes me smarter then sending a query letter…quaking knees and all.

Pinker says, “It’s a biological imperative to know we belong.” She points out the benefits of social contact, “Building inter-person interhyperboleaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas, bolsters the immune system, sends feel good hormones surging through the blood stream and brain, and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.” So now I can extrapolate from this information that attending the Lonestar.ink writing conference is a matter of life and death. Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating, but hey, it’s still a great idea and what’s a little hyperbole among friends?