Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year's 2021


 Just because the year changes doesn't mean things will suddenly change. God willing, we'll gradually see the end of mask mandates, social distancing, and Covid-19 in general. Personally, I expect that the immunization will gradually induce immunity in the community, but until then we'll be good and try not to be spreaders.

Meanwhile, we'll celebrate 2021 (I've just now learned to write 2020) in our usual fashion--asleep well before midnight. However you choose to usher in the new year, may you be safe and well. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas, 2020



"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."


May you have God's peace in your heart, not just as you celebrate Christ's birthday, but every day in the year to come. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"Put Your Oxygen Mask On Before Helping Others"


In the latest edition of the otolaryngology academy newsletter (yes, I still read it), the current academy president got my attention with that word of instruction, followed by these words. "I encourage us all to offer words of support and a listening ear to colleagues, friends, and families. We all need each other to get through these challenging times" 

I had just been meditating on how different Christmas will be this year. There won't be as many around our table and tree. Admittedly  I was feeling a bit down, and then I read those words. "Put your oxygen mask on before helping others." In other words, take heart yourself and then help those with whom you come in contact who might be feeling down. 

This is Christmas, whether celebrated by a multitude together or one by one. The message remains the same. God has given us a Gift--one not wrapped in shiny paper but clothed as an infant--and that Gift means eternal life to those who will receive us. Pass it on. 

I'll be taking the rest of the month for some time of "vacation." May you each have a Merry Christmas. Take time to reflect on the meaning of the day--then pass it on.



Friday, December 11, 2020

A Texas Christmas


 I've had several requests to republish this. Hope it makes the Christmas season more real for you.  It did for me while I was writing it. 


The young couple knew the long trip would be difficult, but it was the Depression, and although there was no work in the small Texas town where they had started their married life, the husband had heard of work in California. So they packed up their car, praying that it would hold up for the trip. The wife’s father slipped a couple of crumpled bills into her hand and said, “In case of emergency, Honey.” Her mother stood nearby, twisting her apron, obviously worrying about her daughter but just as obviously trying not to show it.

The couple used up the last of the daylight driving. They had reached deep West Texas when they realized it was time to stop for the night. “We can’t spare the money for a hotel,” the husband said. “I’m going to see if the folks at one of these farms will put us up for the night.”

They pushed on between pastures marked by sagging barbed wire, the road a winding black ribbon in the flickering yellow headlights. At last the driver spied a cluster of lights in the distance. “I’ll try there.”

The man who came to the door wore overalls and a gray, long-sleeved undershirt. He didn’t seem to take to the idea of this couple spending the night, but his wife came up behind him and said, “Oh, can’t you see she’s pregnant. The hands are out in the north pasture with the herd, and the bunkhouse is empty. Let them stay there.”

In the middle of the night, the young husband was awakened by his wife’s cries. “I’m in labor.”

“But, you’re not due until—“

“Just get help. Please.”

He did. In a few minutes, the rancher’s wife bustled in, laden with towels and blankets. “Just put that down,” she said to her husband, who trailed her carrying a bucket of hot water in one hand. “Then you two men get out.”

Soon, the men tired of waiting outside and the rancher grudgingly invited the stranger into the kitchen. They’d almost exhausted a pot of extra strong coffee when they heard a faint cry. Then, “You men can come back now.”

The two men were halfway to the bunkhouse, following the faint light of a kerosene lantern, when three weary cowboys rode up and climbed off their mounts. “We saw lights on here. What’s going on?”
            
“Come and see,” the young husband said. And they did. 

When he saw the mother holding a wrinkled, fussing newborn close to her, the gruff old rancher turned to his wife and said, “Well, Mother, I’m glad you talked me into letting these folks stay.”

“We had to,” she said. “It was a wonderful gift for me, seeing that little baby born. Who knows? Maybe he’ll grow up to be someone special.”

Now imagine that the scene wasn’t West Texas, it was Bethlehem. It didn’t take place in a bunkhouse, it occurred in a stable. And it wasn’t just a baby—this was God’s own Son--the Christ child was God in blue jeans, as one of my friends puts it. Does that make it more real to you? I hope so.

During this season, as you think about Jesus’ birth, don’t put him in spotless white swaddling clothes in the middle of a Christmas card. Picture him in the most humble surroundings your imagination can conjure up, the Son of God Himself in a diaper, born to give each of us the best gift we could ever imagine. 

Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Christmas Without Them


 It's been almost 20 years now since the death of my first wife, but I still get requests for this piece that I  wrote after my first Christmas without her. Covid-19 has brought some changes, but it's still a tough time. I've been gratified at the continuing ministry of my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death of a SpouseDespite having had multiple novels and novellas published, this work of non-fiction remains the most satisfying among them all. I hope this piece ministers to those who are finding this season especially tough.


                                THE FIRST CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THEM
         After the death of a loved one, every holiday that follows carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year. 
         After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.
         Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season. 
         The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.
         For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to your local food bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Consider a local emphasis like Toys for Tots or the Angel Tree--shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.
          When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods and cell phones. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and Wal-Mart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even if you celebrate it alone, you can remember the true meaning of Christmas.  

Friday, December 04, 2020

Writing: R.U.E.

Anyone who's taken a writing class or attended a writing conference has probably heard the initials R.U.E. I learned "resist the urge to explain" at my first real conference, when I sat in a group taught by Gayle Roper. She had each of us read a section of our work in progress, but didn't let us answer questions about it. The reason, of course, was because we wouldn't be present looking over the reader's shoulder to explain. We had to make it self-evident, and if it wasn't, we should rewrite it. The author should give just enough information for the reader to draw his/her own conclusion, but not so much that the person looking at the book bogs down with explanations. It's a fine line that we have to walk, and some are more successful than others.

Maybe your heroine is Amish, and she does something that those of us unfamiliar with their practices would find unusual. How do you work it into the story? Perhaps you use a word that isn't familiar. How do you explain its meaning without sending your reader scurrying off to look it up?

As a writer of mystery novels that have a medical component, I have a dual task. I have to sprinkle any necessary clues into the novel without being obvious about it. I also have the task of making it possible for the reader to follow along and understand any technical jargon--any "doctor talk" if you will--without being obvious about it. Thus far, I've been fairly successful, but every once in a while I find myself going too far. That's when I have to back off and tell myself, "resist the urge to explain."

Have you found this to be a problem in some books? Any tricks for hitting the middle ground, not going too far in either direction--not explaining enough or too much? I'd like to know.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Facebook...or Not?


I'm faced with a dilemma. Not what to write about. I've already got a WIP (work-in-progress) with about 15,000 words written and the rest in my head--I'm just not motivated to write, with everything else that's going on. No, my dilemma is the social media sites. Should I continue on Facebook and Twitter, or jump to Parler and MeWe? 

On one hand, I'm used to the "old standards." But on the other, I've really gotten tired of some of the "rules" and algorithms these sites have put in place. Do my posts and tweets really reach the same audience as they once did? For that matter, will they reach anyone at the new sites?

I find myself going back and forth, without making a commitment. Maybe I should post on both the "old" and "new" sites for a while. What is your opinion?