Tuesday, July 24, 2007

August 26th Meeting Agenda

Open Sharing
Accountability check-in
Advent Devotional: 1) Review submissions, 2) Make adjustments to schedule, themes, etc.
Assignment: Write 2 devotionals for our Advent Devotional Booklet on any of the four topics. Submit to the group via email by August 19th. Should fill one 1/2 sheet (5.5" X 8.5") using 1" margins on all sides, in Arial, 12 point font, single spaced. Should begin with a key verse and end with a 1-2 line prayer.

Action: Please bring a copy of each person's devotions with you and your specific thoughts on them. We'll use our time for group editing in the next meeting.

Advent Devotional Information
Purpose: Help women to center themselves on Christ during the holiday season
Four themes for each week: Prepare, Rest, Hope, Enjoy
24 devotions, each person will do one devotional for each theme.
Will include an introduction, 24 devotions, a reflection/personal and family application for each week
Additional idea is to include extra pages throughout: recipes, reading recommendations, outreach ideas, history/Jewish roots, song lyrics...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Good Enough

Julie threw her overstuffed duffel bag on the bed in her stateroom. So far this vacation was shaping up to be a crummy one. They’d waited in a line for over an hour to get onboard the ship. Halfway through the line, her flip flop fell apart, leaving her to hobble through the line, feeling the eyes of everyone watch her awkward procession, especially the cute guy in the cargo shorts a few spots back. Once on the boat she realized that she’d forgotten to put her motion sickness patch on in advance, and the imperceptible waves beneath her feet were doing a number on her stomach. At this point Julie was ready to write an angry letter to the family therapist that had recommended her newly-blended family take this cruise so they could bond as a family unit.

Some family. She still didn’t understand why her mother had felt the need to alter the family they already had. Julie and her mom had been on their own for ten years, and in Julie’s opinion, had done pretty well for themselves. But about a year ago everything had changed. Robert and his daughters had barged into their lives and nothing had been right since. Robert was fine. His two daughters, Naomi and Margaret, were weird, but nice enough. She just knew that everything would change. Although Julie knew her mother’s remarriage was inevitable, her heart still stung when her mother finally confirmed the news. And now, here they were, six months into their new family on this vacation trying to act as if they were one big happy family.

The stateroom door opened and Naomi and Margaret walked in. “Do you want to go swimming with us?” Margaret asked. Julie remained silent for a minute, deciding whether or not to acknowledge her step-sister’s question. “Sure.” Julie mumbled. As she changed into her swimsuit she peeked at her reflection. Julie found it terribly unfair that at thirteen years old she already had cottage cheese thighs. But there was no helping that now; maybe a little sun would improve the situation.

Up on the deck, Julie looked around at all of the people who had claimed the desirable real estate close to the pool. If she hadn’t changed her swimsuit three times, perhaps she could have beaten the crowd. She self-consciously adjusted her towel as she scanned the crowd for fellow teens, especially of the male variety. She noticed Cargo Short Boy casually tossing his little brother into the pool. Sigh. A real family. And not a bad looking one either.

Julie finally found a vacant chair about fifty yards from the pool. She tried to read, but the ship had finally set sail and the wind was blowing her hair into her face, not to mention causing hundreds of little goose bumps to pop up on her newly-shaven legs. Argghh. Fine, she’d give up on reading and just close her eyes in hopes that her stomach would forget she was on a moving vessel. As the ship and her stomach rocked and lurched, Julie’s mind began to wander. She knew that she should just be happy. Not every teenage girl gets to go on a cruise. But of course, not every teenage girl has to pretend that she loves her new family just to keep the peace, either. As was often the case when these moods struck, Julie tried to pray. God, why did you put me in this family? You must love me just a little bit less than all the other kids who get to live with their real parents. And they probably don’t have to buy cheapo flip flops that break the second time you wear them. They look cute in their expensive bathing suits and Gucci sunglasses. . .

The next thing Julie knew, the sky had changed. How long had she been asleep? She looked around for her step-sisters, and caught sight of them playing shuffleboard. Man, those girls were weird. Shuffleboard? That game was reserved for retirees, wasn’t it? Then Julie sat up, alarmed, they were playing shuffleboard with Cargo Short Boy. This was the disaster to end all disasters! With no discernable social skills and hand-me-down bathing suits, Naomi and Margaret were probably completely humiliating themselves, and in the process, killing any chance Julie had of salvaging her pride after today’s flip flop debacle. As she lifted herself off her chair and rearranged her towel, she felt a faint stinging on her backside. Of course, in her haste to get to the pool, she’d neglected her sunscreen and now she imagined her back half was well cooked. Oh well, she had more pressing issues at hand. Julie casually sauntered up to the girls and tried to appear breezy. She quelled the rage that bubbled up inside her, imagining all of the dreadful things that had already transpired with Cargo Short Boy in her absence. Naomi, blissfully ignorant of the choppy water she was treading, made the introductions between Julie and Steve (so that was his name.) Julie immediately decided that she had been misinformed about the finer features of shuffleboard, and that it was a perfectly acceptable game for the under sixty set. It was a cruise ship after all.

The game was proceeding nicely, and Julie’s heart rate had almost come back down when out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Robert. Oh no. There was no mistaking her step-dad, as his inhumanly white chest reflected the suns rays and was thrown into deep contrast by the blackness of his socks, which were pulled all the way up to his knees. “How’re my girls?” he boomed as he grabbed all three of them and locked them in a bear hug. Julie endured the embrace as long as she could and then squirmed out. Robert looked at Steve and Julie half expected him to make some comment about the girls finding a handsome young man to play with, so she was relieved when all he said was “It’s almost time for dinner, so it’s time to go back and change clothes.”

Dinner was somewhat pleasant that evening. Julie’s mom seemed truly happy. Her sisters provided her with interesting information about the ports they would be visiting in the coming days. Her parents (that phrase sounded weird in her mind) had even uncharacteristically decided that she and her sisters (even weirder sounding) could attend the teen disco that night. As they hurried to leave, Robert must have noticed Julie’s apprehension about going because he pulled her aside and whispered, “Sweetie, just dance like no one’s watching. You’ll have a much better time, I promise.”

The teen disco was loud and dark. After sitting on a stool with the other wallflowers for about fifteen minutes, she was restless. Robert’s words replayed themselves in her head. Her sisters, neither of whom were gifted dancers were dancing their hearts out and by all accounts, having a good time. Julie summoned every ounce of her courage and joined her sisters on the dance floor. She wasn’t a very good dancer, but after this week she’d never see these people again, right?

After a rather rowdy rendition of YMCA, Julie knew her sweaty hair was not doing her any favors, and to her horror, Steve was coming her way. It was too late to salvage her look now. “You really know how to have fun on the dance floor, don’t you?” he teased. Julie smiled sheepishly. The DJ had decided to play the chicken dance, again, and Julie was not about to risk that level of humiliation in front of her newfound friend. They found a less obnoxious place and sat down. As they talked, Julie discovered that there was much more to Steve than his trendy cargo shorts. He’d recently lost his father to a heart attack; the cruise was his mother’s way of bringing a little cheer into a pretty rough season of their lives. They parted ways when the disco closed, Julie feeling oddly connected to him.

As Julie negotiated her sunburned posterior into her tiny bed that night, she reflected on the events of the day. She spent quite a while reconstructing her conversation with Steve, but after fifteen run-throughs her mind wandered to her family. She thought about her misperceptions regarding Steve’s perfect family and wondered how many of the other perfect families weren’t so perfect either. She wondered why she had been holding on so long to her resistance to form a new family. Yes, they were different. And yes, her mother was no longer hers to keep for herself. But hadn’t Robert referred to her as one of “his girls?” And hadn’t her sisters faithfully included her in all their activities, however strange they might have been? Dinner hadn’t been insufferable. As she drifted off to sleep, Julie felt her grip on a perfect family and a perfect life begin to loosen. Maybe this was good enough. . .
Sorry to preface...but this is written as a radio/journalism piece...fictional, of course.

“Hold on, Maria!” Around and around she swings gripping her mother’s hands as tightly as she can. Finally, her mother is as tired as her young daughter and they both fall to the forest floor in a heap looking up at the canopy of trees above them. Maria feels the corners of her mouth beginning to curl into a smile as she lies safely next to her mother. She is happy.

This is the recurring dream of Maria Anna Zapata Cortes. It is a memory of long ago and now it only seems to haunt her. She would almost rather not have these dreams. Being so real and so full of emotion, Maria sees them as a form of trickery. She knows full well that today will be like all the others and the rooftop she calls home will be here to welcome her upon her return.

The rooftop is actually a good choice for her, she says. From here, Maria can see for miles. She can see the entire village of Justo and every one of its eight hundred twenty-one inhabitants. She says she would rather sleep alone on the rooftop where she can feel the morning on her face. Her only complaint is battling the mice for space, but she says life is less complicated up here. The rooftop is her home on most nights except when it rains she climbs downstairs to a small apartment with her aunts, Esmeralda and Elvira, where she sleeps on a soiled mattress with at least three other people. Her aunts are her caretakers not necessarily because they love her and want her, but because they receive money from Maria’s mother in America. They manage to pillage most of the money for themselves buying beer and fancy clothes for the men they entertain. Maria says they only see her as a resource and for now, she is stuck with them.

Maria’s mother left when Maria was only eight years old for America. Times were very hard and her mother couldn’t provide enough for the both of them. Maria’s mother met a man and he convinced her to go to America with him. She promised Maria they would have a better life and that she would be back within the year. Four years later, however, all Maria has is a handful of phone calls and dresses she has already outgrown. Her mother’s departure, although many years ago, has left Maria visibly alone. Her hair is matted and her clothes are worn, and while she has a natural beauty about her, her eyes seem to have a glossy stare. But Maria is clearly not void of emotion. It is clear she feels all that is around her. And unfortunately, her story is all too common here. It is a new generation of orphans , abandoned for a better life and left with empty promises too hard to keep.

On this typical day for Maria, the sun greets her halfway through her journey lighting her path to the crowded port of Miguel. Here, Maria’s booth is one among many lined up along the pier to catch tourists as they depart and reboard their lavish cruise ships. It is a gauntlet of sorts for buyers to find the best deals among similar things.

Maria loves to observe all the different types of people that walk up and down the pier. White ones and brown ones, tall and short, young and old – they all amaze her. Some are European, a few Asian, but most often they are from America. The America that stole her mother from her, the America that lured her father away before he even had a chance to see her.

She studies these people. Some nights she hides in an alley way outside a local bar and watches as they chase tequila shots. She knows there are others, of course. She had once met the “missionaries” in the mountains who provided medical services and once pulled the tooth of a cousin when she was young. To Maria, it seems everyone blames their problems on this place called America, but yet they all want to be there. How can one place be so cruel and so lovely? And why do they come here if everything is so good there? Someday, she says, she will visit this place to find her mother and taste this freedom everyone is talking about.

On this day, the port is bustling with activity. At the end of the pier, a family starts making their way toward Maria’s booth. By now she can decipher someone’s nationality in a glance. This family is clearly American. The forty-something mother wears pearls, a straw hat and a fanny pack. As she bargains with Maria, she makes no eye contact. The father figure appears to be detached from the toddler around his leg and always has a hands length distance from his cell phone sitting snugly on his belt. And finally, a young girl quite possibly the same age as Maria. Her braids are perfect and their bows match the hot pink windbreaker that swallows her. As the family walks away with their trinkets in hand, the young girl slowly makes her way back to the booth not to look at merchandise, but to look at Maria. Maria looks at the girl strangely and is surprised since no one ever seems to take notice of her. “Que?” Maria asks after a long while. The girl looks into Maria’s eyes and all the way down finally to her tattered shoes that are two sizes too large. Maria is used to the barrier that language creates, but this look speaks volumes. The expression in the girl’s eyes is curiosity blended with compassion. It is a look that says, “Why are you this way?” And Maria does not have an answer. All the years of neglect from those that are supposed to love her and the torment from her aunts have given her calluses to the outside world. But somehow looks like this can penetrate past that. She can’t move. She just wants to disappear.

Later when asked about the girl, Maria looks down solemnly and begins to speak. Her maturity is apparent. She speaks of a rage that she has felt since she first realized her mother was not coming back for her. A rage that traces back to her birth. Why is she Maria Anna Zapata Cortes? Why was she born in the small village of Justo? Why was this girl born in America?

When Maria feels like this, she goes to the only place she feels safe. It is a clearing in the woods where she and her mother once had their bamboo shack. All that remains now is a rusted sink and memories of Maria’s life when she wasn’t so alone. She feels at home here. It is a place where she can talk and be heard, rest and not be bothered, imagine and not be shaken by reality. Here in the quietness, Maria is resolved to her life and her situation. If their freedom is a cruise ship and souvenir trinkets, then this is hers. It is a place of peace in the center of creation to enjoy all of its splendor. And so contently Maria rises to her feet feeling the earth beneath her and listening to the sounds of nature, she begins to dance beautifully, like no one is watching…and no one is.

Walking in Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1-2

The captain eased the bow into the harbor and finally brought the ship to a rest. A feeling of excitement and restlessness crept into the air as passengers readied themselves to disembark.

In Cabin 404A, a young mom, who was away from her eight month old daughter for the first time, sat on her bed, indecisive. Her best friend had convinced her they needed to come on this cruise for some mandatory rest and relaxation, but so far she had spent the entire time worrying about her family and feeling guilty for being so selfish to come. While she was excited about the idea of exploring this new port, the burden of guilt weighed on her too heavily to go out. She decided to stay on the ship this time, and maybe get off at the next port if she was able to connect with her husband to see how things were going...

In the main dining room, an older gentleman dressed in khakis and a neatly pressed pale blue button down shirt, sat reading the morning paper, unaffected by the bustle all around him. He enjoyed traveling around the world, but he felt more comfortable on the ship. He liked the routine and the comfort of knowing what to expect. Sure, he was curious about the places they stopped, but not enough to make him venture out into the unknown...

Down in the gym, a middle-aged woman checked her pulse, having just completed three miles on the treadmill. She considered taking a quick shower and venturing off the ship to explore the latest port city, but dismissed the idea when she thought of her messy cabin upstairs. She couldn’t possibly go out frolicking, leaving her mess for someone else to pick up. Besides, she hadn’t read anything in the travel guide about the city, so she wouldn’t even know where to begin or how to properly appreciate what was there. Next time she’d be sure to take care of those things in advance so she would really be ready to go out. She picked up the pace on the treadmill to run the last two miles to burn off that extra dessert she’d eaten at dinner...

It seems ridiculous to travel the whole world, and not really see any of it. Would you be content to arrive at a totally new and fascinating place, but never set foot on it, merely observing from a distance? And yet, when it comes to our freedom in Christ, we are often like these passengers. We have the opportunity to explore so much more than the inside of the ship, but we never venture out.

Perhaps we don’t believe we deserve that much freedom. Often we feel defeated and figure we can never really overcome our past history or our propensity toward specific sins. Despite our best intentions to accept God’s truth, deep down, the guilt and shame persist, and we begin to question whether that freedom is really meant for us, or just those who are less messed up. We wonder if God really could love people like us. And the prison door slams shut and the click of the lock echoes in our hearts.

Or maybe we’re too comfortable with our rules and regulations, and a little bit afraid of this unknown experience of liberation. We don’t know what “freedom in Christ” is suppose to look like, and we don’t quite trust ourselves to stay on the straight and narrow without the Law. We prefer to just be told what to do, and we’ll follow that, rather than simply following Christ. That just seems too esoteric, and a little bit scary.

Many times we’re still trying to earn our salvation. We think we need to get our acts together before we allow ourselves to encounter freedom. We slowly begin adding words to the Gospel message. The simple truth that should guide and permeate our lives becomes a complex set of rules. With good intentions, we implement an additional rule or requirement here and there to help us be “better Christians,” without realizing we are reverting to the Law to save us. Ever so slowly we erect bars around us, until one day we look up and realize that we are imprisoned again.

We were once enslaved to the Law, bound to fulfill every word or suffer the consequence of death. The purpose of Christ’s death on the cross was to purchase our freedom. We are now free to live a life that was once impossible; we are free to live a life of righteousness. We are free to follow our Savior, rather than being confined to the demands of our society or even of our “religion.” But when we ignore or refuse to accept that freedom, and continue to live under the yoke of the Law (or even sin!), then His death was in vain (Gal 2:21). He wants so much more for us than to just travel around on a ship; He wants us to get off and experience the freedom he purchased.

We must embrace our freedom, not to ignore the Law and live however we desire, but to pursue Christ and live in his abundance. This requires us to delight in Him and ask Him to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). We accept that He has already given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and we unload the burden of the past. We replace the shame and guilt with grace, extending to ourselves the grace that He has already freely given. When we fix our gaze upon Him, we can venture out of the boat without fear. For although we are in unknown territory and feel overwhelmed - or may even falter - we know that He is right there with us, granting wisdom to all who ask (James 1:5). If we abide in Him, then we will bear much fruit (John 15:5). We don’t need more rules and regulations because obedience comes naturally, out of our overwhelming love for who He is and our desire to please Him.

On deck, a young woman nervously smoothed her sun dress while waiting to disembark. It was the first time she ever left her hometown, much less the country. She had known there was so much more outside of the city limits, and she longed to see and experience other places. And she finally summoned up the courage to purchase the cruise ticket. So far, it had been an exciting, albeit sometimes nerve-wracking, adventure for her. She ate amazing dishes she had never even heard of before. She had danced like no one was watching to music she didn’t recognize. Now she was going to venture off the boat and explore a new place and culture she’d only read about in books. Adrenaline coursed through her body, and she didn’t know whether she wanted to run off the boat or back into her room. The crowd began to move forward. She took a deep breath, and stepped off the ship.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Chasing Freedom

As she relaxed in the swing on her back porch, listening to the sounds of the Texas summer night, Hannah didn’t seem to notice the humidity or the numerous mosquitoes swarming around her exposed skin. Any other night, they would have forced her back inside the house. But tonight, her mind was in a faraway place, re-living each moment that she’d been through during the prior months.

She could hardly believe that almost three months had already passed. It didn’t seem possible. Time prior to that seemed to crawl by, and she hated every minute.

She had found herself in a place she never thought she’d be. A seven-year marriage in which each anniversary seemed to mark off another year of confinement and move her one day closer to her release date. Or so she thought.

Her best friend Colleen knew all about Hannah’s marital strife. Her own marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was a cakewalk compared to Hannah’s. She’d wanted to counsel Hannah but could never find the right words. She knew that Hannah needed some time away to relax, so she did what every good girlfriend does--she planned a trip.

“Did the word ‘cruise’ just come out of your mouth?” Hannah looked at Colleen with astonishment; Hannah had wanted to go on a cruise ever since she had watched episodes of The Love Boat during her childhood, but she knew there was no way she’d ever get her motion-sick husband on one. So she had long since given up the idea of ever getting to fulfill her dream.

“Yes, I’ve talked to Greg, and he said that he’ll be away on business the first week of June anyway, so we might as well take a girls’ trip and enjoy ourselves. How does a five-day cruise to the Cayman Islands sound?”

“Perfect!! I can’t wait. I need this more than you can imagine, Colleen.”

With that, Hannah headed home, her mind racing with plans for the trip. She knew that she needed to talk to Andrew, but she wasn’t sure when would be the best time. No time ever seemed to be a good time to talk to him. He was always busy, or so he made it seem. When he wasn’t working, he was running. Not just physically, but emotionally. Running from his childhood, swearing not to duplicate the unspoken mistakes that his father had made. Trying to break free from some sort of invisible barriers that Hannah couldn’t see or understand.

All of Andrew’s working and running left Hannah alone and feeling the burden of loneliness. She felt completely detached from the man whom she had fallen in love with ten years ago. She didn’t know how to get through to him; she didn’t know how to make him happy. And so for many years now, they had been living in the same house, their parallel lives never intersecting.

As soon as Andrew came home from work, Hannah blurted out the news about the trip. As she had predicted, he gave her the go-ahead without showing much emotion, other than a brief look of what appeared to be relief because he knew that she would no longer badger him to go on a cruise. With that task out of the way, Hannah felt ready to start the real planning.

In the weeks prior to setting sail, Hannah daydreamed about the cruise and the escape that it would provide. She began to think about how she longed to be free from the isolation and monotonous routine of her married, yet separate, life. She didn’t have an exit strategy devised, but she thought that the time on the cruise might provide an opportunity to get her thoughts straight and allow her to plan her future.

From the moment she stepped on the pier, she knew that this cruise was going to be everything that she had dreamed of since she was a little girl. She spotted the name of the ship, Liberty, and had to laugh. She was excited about the journey that she was about to take.

As the ship pushed back from the only thing connecting it to solid ground, Hannah began to relax, enjoying the view now that they were free from being landlocked. Colleen, meanwhile, began to peruse the activities offered on board the ship. Her eye caught the title “Disco Night,” and she knew what they’d be doing that evening.

After a dinner fit for a queen and thirty minutes of persuasion, Colleen managed to coax Hannah to the disco. Many of the passengers had brought 80s attire specifically for this event, and Colleen and Hannah marveled at the outlandish outfits that had been thrown together. Colleen loved dancing and quickly merged onto the dance floor to do her best impersonations of a disco diva. Every so often, she’d dance over to where Hannah was sitting and urge her to join her.

“I don’t know how you do that Colleen,” Hannah screamed over the blaring music.

“It’s nothing. You just dance like no one is watching. Come on; just give it a try!”

But Hannah didn’t budge. She enjoyed people-watching and was content to vicariously enjoy the fun from her seated vantage point. It was during this time that she spotted an older, tender-looking gentleman. He looked as if he wanted to join the action but had resigned himself to watching the action on the dance floor because there was no one his age around to dance with. Hannah had almost convinced herself to go chat with him, but he got up and left for the evening.

The following night, the dining steward seated her next to the gentleman whom she’d watched the night before. She immediately began to strike up a conversation with him. She learned that he had recently lost his wife of forty years to cancer and that they had booked this trip prior to her death. He had chosen to come alone, rather than bring one of his children, because he wanted to have some time alone with his memories of their years together.

Hannah quickly lost herself in Mr. Allen’s stories. He painted beautiful pictures as he told of courting and marrying his wife, raising their three children, losing their youngest son to a rare disease, and just doing life together with his beloved. Before she knew it, she found herself asking him personal questions about how he and his wife had managed to survive forty years of marriage.

“Hannah, I’m glad you asked. I saw your wedding ring but haven’t seen any signs of your husband, so I’m guessing from that and your question that you are on this cruise to sort things out, kinda like me. I readily admit that I don’t have all the answers. I think some of the things that helped my wife and I were our faith in God and admitting to each other and to God that we didn’t know how to do marriage, or at least not all the time. I hope Alice felt that I loved her well. She sure made me feel special; she accepted me for who I was and gave me all the respect a man could ever dream of having. She never said an unkind word about me in front of anyone. Because of that, I think we were able to keep the lines of communication open, even when I didn’t really want to talk.

“Many people these days think that marriage is a little too confining. But there can be so much freedom in marriage; sometimes it just looks a little different than one might expect. I’d encourage you to ask other couples how they make their marriage work because everyone’s story is a little different.

“I need to be on my way. It‘s been nice talking to you. I appreciate your letting an old man tell his stories.”

Hannah did not see Mr. Allen for the remainder of the trip, but what he said never left her thoughts. His words were as fresh that late August evening on the porch as they were when he first spoke them on the cruise in early June. She had taken them to heart and done her best to put them into action. And good things had come from it.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the screen door opening, and she smiled as she saw Andrew. He sat down beside her on the swing and gently slid his arm around her. Hannah enjoyed the moment, thankful that her marriage was headed back to solid ground.


“But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Gal. 5:13)

playa de libertad

At home she played her part well, but this cruise threw her for a loop. She wasn’t quite sure of her role here. She didn’t have to worry if dinner would please him or if the towels were hung just so, but there were a whole new set of traps. She spent most of her days looking down, so she couldn’t be accused of looking at anther man – even on accident. She wasn’t sure how to dress. Too modest and he would complain and be embarrassed of her, too revealing and he would call her a slut or worse. That is easy enough at home, but on a cruise everyone wears tank tops and bikinis. Most of her wardrobe consisted of things to hide bruises, but there would be no hiding here.
She read a lot. Just books from the boat’s library and really she wasn’t reading. She was hiding. Books make you look occupied, they don’t invite conversation. She felt safely invisible behind them. He spent most of his time in the casino. Dwindling what little savings they had away. At night of course he would want her. She knew this role and it made acid come up into her throat. She swallowed it down and waited for it to be over. Sometimes she wasn’t sure what was worse, this or the beatings. She was thankful for the thin walls. Surely she would be safe here, at least as safe as she could be.
So far so good. The trip had been uneventful. She wasn’t quite enjoying herself like most of her fellow travelers but sometimes behind her book she caught herself breathing. Really breathing. Deeply and fully taking in the salty air. She didn’t know it yet, but each breathe was making her grow stronger. The days were ticking away and in 2 more days they would go home. Their home with a perfectly manicured lawn and very thick walls.
She liked the quietness of her cabin during the day when most people were on the pool deck and her husband was in the casino she just laid on the cool sheets and pretended to read and kept breathing. At least once a day she would wonder through the gift shop. It felt safe and there was something comforting about all the travel sized toiletries and overpriced t-shirts. She liked to read the postcards and wished she still had friends to send them to. She couldn’t imagine what she would write on them. “Wish you were here” didn’t seem fitting. On the third day she saw the clerk eyeing her closely and it occurred to her that her frequent visits were looking suspicious. She quickly grabbed a plastic magnet and hurriedly paid for it at the counter. It wasn’t until the clerk put it in the bag that she realized what it said. A silly ballerina and cursive writing “dance like no one is looking” in pink and silver script. Complete junk. Someone was always looking.
It was their last port and he wanted to venture out. She was expected to come of course not for the company but because waiting at tables at the Playa de Maya for the last 4 years had taught her enough Spanish to get by. She got them a cab and told the driver to take them to the closest beach. It was nice. The sun was shining on the white sand. The water was almost clear, not like the Gulf of Mexico that she was used to. If she remembered how she could probably have a good time. She hadn’t relaxed in the last 4 years and little white sand wasn’t going to do the trick. He put the little Spanish he knew to good use ordering one Cerveza after another. She brought a book and remembered to turn the pages at the right times. Occasionally she would rub sunscreen on the both of them or wade into the water all while he kept drinking. At home, watching him drink more than two beers was enough to make her tremble inside. The beach and sun seemed to have a calming effect though. He still wasn’t pleasant, pointing out each girl who was skinnier than her or had bigger breasts. She tried to laugh it off and promised to go on a diet. Secretly she wished he would take a liking to one of them instead. On second thought, she wouldn’t wish him on anyone.

The day crept by and at 4:00 she carefully started to pack their bag. The ship had been pretty adamant about their 5:00 boarding curfew. She heard it bellowing over the loudspeaker over and over when they deported. His wallet, sunscreen, camera……when she got to her towel she was extra careful. Slowly and carefully she pulled the corners up and carried it almost 100 yards away before shaking. She folded it perfectly 4 times, just the way he liked. As she added it to the bag, he turned to her. She was expecting a reproach, that she had folded wrong or something, but instead he said, “what’s the rush, aren’t you having a good time babe.”
“Yes of course honey, but we don’t want to miss the boat. They said to board by 5 and that they would be leaving port at 6.”
“six o’clock, we have two more hours then”
He ordered another beer and slowly sipped it. He noticed her looking at her watch
“Trust me babe, they won’t leave us, just go have another dip in the water. We can go after I finish this last beer.”
She resisted every temptation she had to try and convince him otherwise. She would just be wasting her breathe. She obeyed and walked to the water’s edge. She kept looking at her watch, 4:20, 4:37, 4:52, 5:07. She was getting nervous. It was a 15 minute cab ride and she didn’t like being late. This was a quality he had beaten in to her. She had to try to get him to leave even if it meant a fight. She turned back to their chairs and he was passed out.
She tapped him lightly, then harder and he only grumbled. She couldn’t carry him and she started to panic. They were going to miss the boat and somehow he would make it her fault. And then she did something unexpected. She didn’t think about it, because if she had she never would have done it. She grabbed the bag, walked to the bar and paid the tab. She left him there sleeping, sandy, drunk and slightly sunburned. She didn’t look back just quickly got into a cab.
For the first 1o minutes she was calm. In shock. She almost thought it was funny. She had his wallet, credit cards, driver’s lisence and passport. She would really be punished when he got back. But it would take him a while to get back without cash or an id. She was counting on it. And then it sunk in. She got the driver to pull over and threw up twice on the side of the road.
She got back to the port and got in line to board. She was late, but so were a handful of other travelers. She showed her id, walked through the metal detectors. She was shaking and barely made it back to her room before she threw up again. She half expected him to be waiting for her when she came out of the bathroom, but he was hopefully still passed out on the beach somewhere. She tried to remember how to breathe and finally began to at 6:44 when she heard the engines start up. She stood on the deck and watched the land disappear.
She didn’t sleep. Every footstep made her jump. When housekeeping knocked on her door she began to hyperventilate. They were just reminding her that they were expected to dock that afternoon in Galveston, to make sure she was packed and go over de-boarding procedure. Most of the cruisers seemed to be spending their last few tropical hours packing or on the pool deck. She was unpacking. She unloaded all of his clothes and things into the drawers. She tucked his suitcase into the closet and put her things into the smaller bag. The dress he bought for her remained on the hanger. She wanted to take as little of him as possible with her. The last few hours seemed to drag by. The unloading process was laborious and long, she followed directions and left when it was her turn. She kept watching for him around every corner. The sight of police made her jump as well. She half expected them to arrest her or question her even though she had committed no crimes.
Her car was exactly where they had parked it and she thought maybe she could breathe once she was inside and on the interstate. It was only an hour and a half drive to their Houston apartment, but she wouldn’t be going there. She paid the garage attendant and got off the island as fast as possible. She didn’t even turn on the radio until Leauge City. She plugged her cell phone into the car charger and pulled off I-45 for gas. While the gas pumped she opened up her purse. She looked into the small side pocket where she kept two important possessions hidden. One she used daily, and the other she thought she would never use. They were both wrapped discretely in a maxipad wrapper. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t look too closely there. The first item was where she hid her birth control pills and the second was a little card with a phone number they gave her at her last emergency room visit. She said she slipped on some bath water and hit her head on the counter, but they handed her this card anyways.
She threw the pills away and picked up the phone.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Avenues for information

Mary DeMuth recently posted the following helpful information on The Writer's View 2. If you want more information on how to subscribe to that list, let me know.

1. Subscribe to the WIN Informer. It's a great, great place to really know the insider scoop on things. http://www.christianwritersinfo.net/WinGuide.htm

2. Subscribe to Publishers Weekly daily (PW Daily). You'll learn so much. Be sure also to subscribe to Religion Bookline when you sign up. It's free. https://www.publishersweekly.com/subscribe.asp?

3. Subscribe to CBA's Aspiring Retail online (free version). You can do that here: http://www.cbaonline.org/nm/ARDigital.htm

4. Subscribe to the daily Publisher's Lunch. You can do that here: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/free/

5. If you choose to attend ICRS, beware of your feet. BRING COMFY SHOES or suffer dire consequences. And go in, eyes wide open, ready to absorb. You'll learn a whole lot, I promise. Here's more information about this year's show. http://www.christianretailshow.com/

6. Attend a conference. Here's a listing: http://www.christianwritersinfo.net/conferences.htm

7. Go to Book Expo. This year's was in NYC. Wow! I learned so much by going. Next year it will be in LA. http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/App/homepage.cfm?moduleid=42&appname=288

I hope that helps! There's really no reason you can't be informed about the industry. And most of these avenues are free. Of course, being a part of TWV 2 will help tremendously.

Mary E. DeMuth
fiction panelist

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Few Grammar Rules

Sunday night, a few people mentioned their desire to improve their knowledge and understanding of grammar. I thought I'd post a few rules that are easy to remember and hopefully will be easy to apply.

1. Punctuation inside quotation marks = ALWAYS put commas and periods inside quotation marks. All other punctuation depends on whether the text inside the quotation demands its use inside or outside. For example, a question mark goes inside the quotes if the quoted material is a question, but the question mark goes outside the quotation marks if the material inside the quotes is not a question (i.e., Did the girl say, "We want to go home"?)

2. Only use a colon if you could put a period in place of the colon.
We went to the store for three items: eggs, bread, and milk. (correct)
She asked for: eggs, bread, and milk. (incorrect)

3. Active voice is preferred by most editors.
Cain killed Abel. (active voice)
Abel was killed by Cain. (passive voice, not preferred)

4. The serial comma seems to be preferred, though this changes over time. The serial comma is the comma after "and" in a list.
While on vacation, we went shopping, ate at restaurants, and played games. (preferred)
While on vacation, we went shopping, ate at restaurants and played games. (not preferred)

5. Introductory adverbial clauses take a comma.
When we go to the movies theater, remember to bring a blanket. (correct)
When we go to the movies theater remember to bring a blanket. (incorrect)

If you find this to be helpful, let me know, and I'll see what other rules I can share.

July 22 Meeting Agenda

JULY 22 Agenda
Open Sharing
Accountability check-in
Assignment review

New assignment:
In 1500 words or less, use the following elements in an essay (fiction, non-fiction or poetry): Cruise ship in the setting, Freedom as a theme and incorporate the phrase "Dance like no one is watching." I liked how we did it before, if that's okay. Post it on the blog by midnight, Saturday, July 21. In the labels, include your name, "assignment" and any other labels you want to add.

Advent Devotional
We discussed writing a daily advent devotional, possibly to be distributed through the Women's Ministry.
*Discuss and plan the advent devotional schedule.
*Make assignments.
*Brainstormed ideas (so far): Jewish background, stress, traditions, difficulties, aspects of the nativity
*Action: Sarah talk to Jenifer about devotional (printing, distribution)


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Summer in Somerset

I was about ten years old when Granny invited me to spend two weeks of the summer with her. My brothers weren't invited, nor my parents, just me. Given the throng of our cousins and large family that typically gathered at the South Texas ranch, to be there by myself and have Granny's undivided attention was a real treat.

I'm sure we ate beans and tortillas every meal, I really don't remember. But I would remember if it had been something different, as that's the only meal Granny seemed to serve, period. And we all loved it. I especially loved the tortillas... big surprise.

Each day we walked up and down the dirt road from the house to the big oak at the highway. I forget how many laps made a mile, but Granny knew, and we walked 3 miles every day. I don’t remember constant conversation on those walks, though we would not have been at a loss for words. Being outside in nature was soothing for her, therapeutic, and she simply appreciated a slight breeze, the tall green grass that didn't have to be mowed, and swaying mesquite trees that provided pockets of shade in the sprawling front lawn.

We swam in the pool each evening and performed water ballet routines under the watchful eyes of cattle and horses grazing just beyond the barbed-wire fence. Granny's long, slender body every bit as agile as mine, I thought of her as a modern day Audrey Hepburn. Hair pulled back from her face, cheekbones prominent even without rouge, I can still see her sitting gracefully on the side of the pool with the silver Somerset water tower and huge oak trees framing her silhouette.

Granny told and retold stories, and I listened with delight, even when I already knew the ending. I’m sure I told my share as well. Granny appreciated stimulating conversation, so much so that she could dialogue with, laugh with, and even argue with animals out of necessity to keep her mind sharp. Even though I offered a mere decade of insight, she was interested in my thoughts and opinions on things like politics, relationships and movie stars.

We stayed up until wee hours of the night, and I mean really wee hours... we read aloud to each other from her stash of books filled with quotes, quips and jokes. She laughed loud and long at the jokes I read... as I would come across ones that amused her, I read them over and over again, her laughter never subsiding. She loved the written word, and in those midnight hours we celebrated the beauty of poetry and prose alike.

Granny told me later the highlight of our time together that summer was when we went to her weekly painting class, and her teacher recognized me as her granddaughter. "You must be here with Gladys," he said when he saw me, though I’d never met him before. Granny got a kick out of the fact that our resemblance was so strong.

I look back on that summer with great tenderness, grateful for the time Granny poured into me, and for the intimacy that comes with shared interests. And grateful for a strong resemblance...

The Toddler’s Guide to Summer Vacation: The Bathroom Amusement Park

Summer is here! All the Blue’s Clues are reruns and it it’s too darn hot for Mommy to drag herself off the couch and play with you outside. So as a healthy, active toddler you need to have options. Your parents may be planning a summer vacation for the family, but it will probably be filled with long rides in the car, pinchy-cheek family reunions and other things that are “good for you” and not any fun. What’s more fun is creating your very own playland, all from the comfort of your own bathroom.

First, there’s the “big potty” itself, with all its cold, splashy water. It’s a perfect home for your rubber duckies or Mommy’s cell phone. For added fun, make sure the big potty is unflushed before stirring it with your toothbrush. The big potty is also ideal for sticking any body part into. You can wash your hands in there. When your Mommy no long finds that quite as horrifying as she did the first time, you can stick your leg or face into the bowl. But there’s more to the bathroom than just the big potty.

There’s also the toilet paper, all glorious and white on its easy-to-use roll. What better way to spend a hot summer day than unrolling the paper as quickly as possible? While you’re at it, go ahead and wrap it around your feet a few times so that you fall when you try to walk and hit your head on the bathroom floor. If falling down and getting a little sympathy lovin’ isn’t your thing, you can always settle for eating the toilet paper or seeing how much of it will fit into the toilet bowl and then retrieving the wet, sopping mass and throwing it on the floor.

Finally, and most importantly, is the potty chair. Which brings us to the only rule in your bathroom wonderland: You must never, ever go pee pee on the potty chair. A lot of fun can be had telling Mommy that you need to go potty. You can even mean it sometimes (but really only sometimes or it’s not quite as amusing). The important thing to remember is to hold the pee pee inside until Mommy gets your diaper off and sets you on the potty. But don’t go yet. Make sure to find a reason to get off the potty before you go pee pee. Perhaps you can cry because last time you used the potty chair, it played music and scared you. Or maybe you can simply get distracted, wander off and refuse to sit back down, thus turning potty time into a prime opportunity for power struggle, which you know Mommy doesn’t want for fear of scarring you for the rest of your life. Possibly the most effective way would be to have Mommy’s phone ring while you are on the potty chair so that she turns her back, thus giving you ample time to get off of the potty chair and go pee pee on the newly-mopped bathroom floor. A word of advice: It is always a good idea to go pee pee near the potty (but never on it unless the lid is closed), so as to give Mommy the impression that you understand enough about the potty chair for her to keep scooping you up and scurrying you in there every time you coyly call out “Potty.”

Options for the bathroom are myriad, don’t forget about the laundry hamper, the scale and, of course the trash can. The important thing to remember is that the amount of fun you have will be in direct proportion to the havoc you can wreak.

It is our hope that this guide will provide you with all the information you need to begin your summer of fun.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two:
The Under-the-Sink Chemistry Set (You can eat it, too!)
Ok everyone, the code to my blog identity is broken! I posted under my blog name and its out there. It's my first post to someone else's blog and Tina told me how to do it anonymously, but I thought I might as well get it out there. And who am I kidding anyway, I only have 3 posts to my blog! And yes, I realize my 10 post goal was very ambitious...but I'm sure we'll talk about that at our meeting. And also, I'd like my name and not my blog name to post at the bottom sometimes - how do I do that?

Me & My Hoe

“You’re going to pay me what?!” I was upset my Dad was going to pay me, his own daughter, the same wage as his hired hands. There were absolutely no jobs to be had in my small town that summer and I was left to my last resort – my Dad’s cotton farm. The only bright side was that I was off to camp the second half of the summer. Until then, it would be my sucker-for-a-best-friend, Casey, (how I convinced her to work too is still a mystery) and our enemies – the weeds.

The job consisted of driving down row after row of cotton and killing weeds. If we were lucky, we only had to shoot the weeds with our spray gun, but depending on what kind of weed it was, we would have to hoe it. And of course we didn’t have to hoe the small weeds, just the ones that were taller than us.

The first day my Dad issued us each a hoe and a 3-wheeler. Naturally Casey being “company” got the better of the two, but that wasn’t saying much considering they were both well over 12 years old. My Dad had a knack, or so he thought, for rigging things to make them last longer, and both had no doubt seen his barn’s operating table more than once.

My 3-wheeler had a 1970’s style logo on the side that read “The Avenger.” I had met this beast before. I was four years old and my eight year old sister took it upon herself to let me drive The Avenger…by myself. I suppose she assumed I knew what I was doing because she failed to mention the basics, for example the brakes. I took off down the long, dirt road that led up to our house and as I panicked, I went faster. My joyride ended with a crash into the parked cow trailer and The Avenger directly on top of me. I managed to survive that encounter, but would I be so lucky this time?

As it sat before me with its handlebars stretched out like ears of metal ready to bake in the afternoon sun, I knew it was going to be a long 6 weeks. And did I mention that at this point it had no brakes and a turning radius of a semi? It was not my vehicle of choice, for sure, but it was better than footing it through the field with my hoe.

Days turned into weeks and we soon got into a routine on the farm. When a good song would come on our walkmans, we took dance breaks in the rows of cotton. Each day we had beanie weenies and a sandwich under the only tree in sight. We’d fill our water jugs and have water fights with the hose from Dad’s trailer tank until we found out it previously contained pesticide. Yikes.

All in all, it was a good experience for me to learn about this part of my Dad. But brainpower for me was lacking on the farm. As Dad put it, “Andi, you’re a smart kid, but out here you’re an idiot.” And he was right. That summer I managed to lose three hoes, run into the tractor with my 3-wheeler and run out of gas in the middle of nowhere on more than a couple of occasions. But at 16, this poor track record couldn’t keep me down because I was off to be a camp rat for the rest of the summer to make mischief of one kind and another

Greyhound Goes To Disney World

All teenagers go through phases, and during the summer of 1988, I happened to be going through my no-flying phase; I refused to fly on airplanes because of a bad flight I had endured on a previous vacation.

Unfortunately, the timing of this phase could not have come at a worse time. That summer, my family decided to take a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida; it was to be our first “real” vacation that wasn’t centered on visiting relatives.

After leaving me behind on several other family vacations that involved flying, my family decided that summer that they would do whatever it took to get me to Disney World. My mom has a bit of a driving phobia, so driving to Florida was not an option. We researched taking the train and quickly concluded that was not an option because it took over three days to travel each way. The only other option was taking the bus. And so we did, not knowing how adventurous the trip would be.

My mom, sister, and I boarded the bus in our small town for our first big stop in Houston. We quickly saw that a different class of passengers awaited us. We tried to avoid the prison and mental hospital escapees who seemed to abound at the Houston bus station. They were easy to spot because they were still wearing their jumpsuits and gowns. But, as much as we tried to avoid the weird people, I ended up sitting next to some pretty scary people. And the ones I didn’t sit next to still made their presence known.

In the middle of the night, we were awakened in Mobile, Alabama, during a driver change. The first replacement driver who stepped on the bus received an update from the outgoing driver--something about a guy who was high on drugs who had locked himself in the bathroom and would not come out during the ticket check. The replacement driver quickly disappeared. We then waited for hours for another replacement driver and for the police to arrive and drag the armed man out of the bathroom and off the bus, while we all sat in our seats. I don’t think that we slept the rest of the night because of how scared we had been.

On the way back from Disney World, the “clientele” seemed to improve, but we still did not sleep. We had an evangelist sitting behind us who preached all night to a non-English-speaking Vietnamese man. And the air conditioning vents leaked a mysterious red, sticky substance that was later determined to be Kool-Aid.

Somehow, despite all of this, the bus adventure of 1988 did not usher me out of my non-flying phase. Instead, that phase raged on for many years and outlasted my family’s desire to accommodate it. With the bus adventure of 1988 firmly imprinted in my mother’s and my sister’s memories, they couldn’t quite bring themselves to risk their lives on another vacation by bus just for me.

What I did on my Summer Vacation Essay or 500 words, give or take 1000

The infamous “What I did on my Summer Vacation Essay”, I’m not sure I was ever assigned that one. Suddenly I see myself in Junior English. I was 16, flat chested, boyfriendless, wanting desperately to have the whole fitting popular feeling behind me. And it almost was, but only almost because there I was sitting in my name brand jeans thought I probably spent all my birthday money on. I am also pretty sure that I woke up at least an hour before school started to get my hair just right. I am still clueless with what to do with makeup but that never stopped me then. I wish I had had enough sense to throw on those old comfy jeans. The ones with the holes in them ( not on purpose), a soft t-shirt and pulled my hair into a ponytail……but that wardrobe would have to wait until college.

But back to my 16 year old self, English was just a class. Not one I particularly looked forward to either. If anyone had asked my favorite subject I never would have said English. I dreaded the essays and sentence diagramming. I did look forward to the reading lists, although , I tried not to appear too eager. I complained as much as the rest as the class, but at home I read them. Cover to cover. Usually well before the deadline. I hated homework of read chapters one and two. I read books, like I later learned to drink beer. Fast until I finished. I couldn’t stop at the end of chapter two. I needed to know what happened like I needed another drink.

And I liked the excuse to read, at this stage I of felt like I needed one. Reading was kind of cool for a while. Me and Ramona Quimby were the best of friends in elementary school. I also went through a slightly embarrassing Babysitters Club phase, but am pleased to report that the Sweet Vally High Twins and I never clicked. Sometime in junior high those books seemed babyish, and replaced with talking on the phone, listening to music ( really bad music I might add) and learning how to French kiss. So when we got our reading lists every year I dug in.

So, back to the first week of English III. You already have most of the background, but what you don’t know is that I was more than a bit guarded. I didn’t like letting people in. Really in. Being vulnerable wasn’t exactly safe in my family and well not that safe for anyone in high school period. That being said I would have killed for our first writing assignment to be “what I did on my summer vacation”. Surely I would have written something amusing or satirical. I doubt I would have truly written about our beach vacation where more than likely my parents screamed at each other, I got 3rd degree burns and most of my family got drunk and passed out. Possibly even me. I can’t remember that summer in particular but they were all pretty much the same. Not to say there weren’t any warm memories from those summer beach retreats. Surprisingly there are many, but at 16 you kind of gravitate towards the bad stuff. The melancholy teenager hanging on to anything to give her a thick wall to build around herself. Yes, I would have written something light and clever and given it a really zingy title. I was well known for my zingy titles. Instead Mrs. Lampo asked us to write not one silly essay but a collection of private personal ones. I believe it was called a “me book”. I cringed as she described the assignment. Now, as a teacher I can see what she was trying to do. She wanted to get to know us. Who we were, what we liked, how we wrote, how to reach us. The problem was, I was 16 and she was one of them. A grown up. A teacher. A mom of a kid in our class. She was not to be trusted. How could I write all these essays on who I was, my strongest influences, the things I was most proud of etc.. Maybe later in the year. Maybe by April or something when we had a chance to feel each other out. Not now. Not the first week. I can picture her clearly. She was about my mom’s age. Short, with short dark hair. She was always very smartly dressed, much more stylish than my mom and with her toes perfectly pedicured. She always seemed a bit shifty to me. She had this large mole on her face that I couldn’t help but stare at as she lectured. It was about the size of a dime and I swear it got bigger as the year went on. It has made me really self councious about my own mole. I keep thinking about having it removed all because of the time I spent making fun of hers in the 11th grade. She was probably a pretty good teacher, although she made me uneasy. Usually good teachers fall into one of two categories: cold, hard and feared, but eventually that fear turns into respect and the cold starts to warm. This would be Mrs. Holmes my 6th grades science teacher and first F I ever received on a test. Next would be the warm and encouraging type. You learned so much simply because you wanted to please them. This would be my 10th grade English teacher, Mrs. Prejean who introduced me to Anne Sexton on the first day ( no damn summer vacation essays from her either). I wouldn’t have memorized that ridiculously long Friends, Romans, Countrymen speech for anyone else. Mrs. Lampo didn’t quite fit into either category. I suppose she was hard, but not especially challenging. I didn’t warm to her, nor did I truly respect her. I did, however, like to argue with her. This was her fault of course. She introduced our poetry unit with this long flowery speech about how no opinion or interpretation of a poem could be wrong. There were no dumb questions or bad observations. Once again, as a fellow educator I can see what she was trying to do. She wanted to create a safe atmosphere for us to speak up and discuss. The only problem with that was she announced to my class that my observation was dead wrong only 15 minutes after her flowery speach. I didn’t burn with shame, instead I took it as a challenge. Maybe this challenge was just what I needed to motivate me to prove myself to her academically or maybe all it motivated me to do was toilet paper her house and leave an egg in her mailbox with a threatening note about Thoreau.

Back to my first week assignment…These personal essays had a cold fearful grip on me. Usually my writing process involved mulling the topic over for a bit and then pouring it all out on paper the day or so ( or occasionally the period) before it was due. I didn’t proofread or spellcheck. I finished them in a flurry and handed them in. I think I was afraid if I gave them a proper reading I would be too embarrassed to even have them graded. My spelling was not something to be envied. I never quite got a great grasp on grammar either. To this day I couldn’t tell you what a gerrand is. I somehow managed to get As, although my papers were usually heavily marked with red.. These essays were different. I was supposed to reveal something about myself. To her. To someone who could be my mother…and that would be the last person I wanted to be unguarded around. Sometimes I still feel that way. I briefly just considered making it all up. Some fictional crap that would satisfy her little assignment and still get me a good grade. It might even be fun, making things the way I wanted them to be instead of how they were. I also considered doing what I usually ( yes still) do when I am a bit uncomfortable and guarded…being funny. Writing decent essays, but not digging in. Keeping them on the surface and full of satire. The struggle was I couldn’t do either. It felt like I would be cheapening it somehow. I didn’t trust this Mrs. Lampo or her mole. It was still too early to tell if she would earn my respect, but I realized the writing already had. That it didn’t just get to scratch the surface or be passed off as a joke. That it was bigger than my fear. So I did it. I wrote about my fears and my hopes and my proudest moments. I put it all on paper and fearfully turned it in. Who it was this 16 year old girl thought she was. I saved one of those essays. I think it is in my high school box up in my parent’s attic. I did get an A. I can’t remember if it was really any good or not. I didn’t sign up to be my high school newspaper editor or go on to pursue a degree in journalism. I didn’t spend all my free time writing short stories instead of watching 90210, but it did teach me that this writing stuff was real. It had to be vulnerable, and it was most certainly to be respected, big hairy mole and all.

What I did on my summer vacation...

No need for alarms that morning. Adrenaline sounded off like a bugle, calling my body to attention. The smell of freedom tickled my ten year old nose as if it were a fresh pot of coffee awakening my parents. That day kicked off a summer of playing outside with friends, riding bikes and running in sprinklers. It also marked the first summer I was allowed to stay home by myself. My mom arranged for me to play with friends all day and check in every hour with a family friend who lived in the neighborhood.

With a quick kiss goodbye, I escaped the house and rounded up Amy, my next door neighbor. Together, we pedaled as fast as we could to Kim’s. To my dismay, her friend Deborah had already come over. I didn’t really care for Deborah, but the excitement of the day soon overrode any feelings of discontentment. Then we encountered our first problem of the summer: Deborah didn’t bring her bike. Never fear! I could ride my mom’s ten-speed bicycle and Deborah could ride mine. At least, I thought that would be okay. I was allowed to ride it, but my mother was concerned that I could just barely ride it. But in her absence, I rationalized that the decisions of summer had been left to my good judgment. So off we went.

Unfortunately, Deborah was not experienced riding down busy streets with a group of friends. After only a couple hundred yards down the street from my house, the first car came upon us. Amy, riding near the back of the line, hollered, “Car!” Kim and I began to migrate toward the side of the road, into a single file line. Deborah, on the other hand, completely freaked out. She jumped off her bike, put the kick-stand down and ran. Normally, I would have found this amusing (and a little strange), but the parked bike was right in my trajectory. Unable to swerve around her because of the upcoming car, I did the only thing I could do: slam on the brakes. I’m still not totally sure what happened next, other than a huge crash leaving me lying on the ground.

I felt a little sore and my knee looked pretty scraped up and was starting to hurt. All I could think of doing was getting back to my friend Kim’s house to clean up. I hopped back onto my bike and rode the additional four blocks to her home. Her mom cleaned my knee out with hydrogen peroxide and called my mother. My friend Amy sat with me the whole time; the other girls said they just couldn’t look at my knee. When my mom arrived, she agreed to take me to the clinic, but didn’t think I needed stitches.

Three layers and twenty-four stitches later, we went home. The following day, my mom hired a sitter for the rest of the summer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I am who I am

That is what God told Moses (exodus 3:14)……..and I think it sums it up. That word am has to be one of the most important in the English language. You might argue that “is” and “are” are equally important. I disagree. Is is not personal. It is how someone else introduces you. Are is how you talk about someone else. Am is how you describe yourself. Obviously God did not feel the need to finish the sentence because He is everything. Everything good at least.
I am also a lot of things……although my resume is not as all inclusive as God’s but I am…… a lot of things. A mother, a wife, a child, a teacher, a friend, a sister, an aunt…you get the idea. Most of those are easy to say because they don’t require any desire. I was born, making me a child. I got married making me a wife. I get paid to be a teacher. Don’t get the wrong idea – they all take skill and work….but these are easy ones to admit and accept. There are some damaging I ams out there that I have learned to avoid. There are other I ams that are sort of wishful. Hopeful. Hesitant to come right out and say. I read Bird by Bird and decided that I wanted to be a writer. Notice I said I want to be…….not I am . Technically I am typing here. Using complete sentence ( well sometimes). I am writing……..but does that make me a writer? Of course. But that doesn’t roll off the tongue or pen so easily because it makes too many assumptions. I don’t assume to be good at this. I don’t assume that any one will ever pay me for it. I don’t want to say I am………and allow confidence in this hope or pleasure. I dabble. I blog. I read. Can I just be an amateur writer? I don’t think the word am goes too well with disclaimers. I run, but I see those skinny people in spandex at the gym or in races and think they are the runners and I well……..I am just barely keeping up. I think I have to be good at it to call myself that. Thankfully – the I am a Christian part doesn’t try and follow those same rules. I would look around at church and say those women, the ones with ironed shirts and memorized verses -those are the Christians. I don’t quite have it together….so I must just be pretending. Thankfully, it doesn’t really work that way. I am because of what I believe. I am because I want to be. So on that note, I am a runner, a soccer player, a good joke teller, a photographer and maybe just maybe even a writer.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

June 24 Meeting Agenda

JUNE 24 Meeting Agenda
Open Sharing
Accountability check-in (see Goals below)
Assignment review
Assignment: In 500 words or less, write a piece entitled: What I did on my summer vacation... (interpreted and embellished however you want)

Goals discussion
*Define a long term goal you have for your writing
*Outline any steps you know you need to take to get there
*If desired or needed, gather group suggestions
Prayer requests

General Information

Goals and expectations:
To provide feedback on how to improve our writing.
To provide some structure and accountability in being disciplined to write
To provide encouragement to one another and pray for one another

General format:
Open sharing
Checking in on accountability goals
Critiques or Assignment review
Prayer requests

New members:
Anyone can invite a new member to join, but the group would appreciate a heads up before you do so. It's not an approval process, but more of a courtesy. However, we did discuss using a lot of discretion in inviting new members right now. We enjoy having the group smaller, especially while we're just getting started and figuring out how this will work.

*Lesson - one person per month teaches the group something (something you've learned, a how-to, a tip, a review of a book on writing, etc); 10-20 minutes long