Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas, 2021

 "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.
(see you in 2022, Lord willing).

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

A Modern Settiing

 I saw this on another FB post (thanks, Dan Walsh), and had to post it. Every time I look at the picture, I see something else that makes me smile. Then I realize, He's with us today, the same as 2000 years ago. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Writing: Publish A Christmas Book?

 For those authors with contracts from a publisher, the choice has already been made for you. Your editor, or the publisher, or someone will decide whether you should write a Christmas book, contribute to a volume of Christmas stories co-written by others under contract to the same publisher, or even if your book (which may or may not have a Christmas theme) should be published in December.

For those who, for one reason or another, have chosen the "indie" route--those publishing independently--these same avenues are open to you, except that you alone will be responsible for making those same decisions, and more. You feel like an NFL cornerback, whom I've heard described as "being on an island." The difference, of course, is that your decisions may follow you for a long time, while the cornerback has a new chance in about 45 seconds.

Honestly, I was ready to give up my writing (again), but my wife--my second blessing--kept saying that she thought I had another book or so in me. I tried the premise she suggested, and it just didn't work. But when I threw out that premise, I didn't completely start over, because I had gotten to know the characters, and--by and large--I liked them. So I took it further, and pretty soon a novella had taken shape. And, since it wasn't Christmas-themed, I made the decision to release it in January.

As my Christmas present to you, the Kindle version of Medical Mystery will be available for 99 cents until the official release date of January 18, 2022. I hope you'll enjoy it. Despite all the problems I had to solve to get it ready for publication, I enjoyed writing it. So maybe my wife was right. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

What Has Christmas Become?

As we hurry, hurry, hurry, I find myself asking, "What has Christmas become?" 

We hurry to get the cards out, some of them going to people we hardly know, but they sent us a card last year, so we'd better send them one. We hurry around, checking items off our lists (either physical or kept in our heads) and keeping track lest we spend a dollar more on the gift for A than on their sibling, B.  We hurry to get the gifts wrapped and delivered, already planning the menu for the Christmas dinner and wondering whether everyone will show up. What if there are more...or less? 

The churches do their part, of course, with Cantatas and Christmas music, but the spirit of the season often gives way to the secular once we leave their confines and step into the world once more. Someone (I don't remember who, or exactly the phrasing) suggested that we take a step back and reflect once more on the gift that came down to all mankind, a gift that keeps on giving if we'll only receive it. All the rest of the trappings pale in significance when we truly consider the ramifications of this gift. 

So Happy Birthday, Jesus! And Merry Christmas to you all. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

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.

Note: I'll be back on Friday, and think I'll have some good news for you. Hurry back. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

The First Christmas Without Them

 It's been over 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. I've remarried and my wife has showed me that it's OK to smile, 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.

         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, in September, 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 03, 2021

Writing: Don't Try To Write The Lost Chord


I hadn't thought of it in years, and had to look in Wikipedia to be sure of my facts. It's a fascinating story, and I recommend that you read it sometime. But the thing that stirred these recollections in my mind was encountering some words from one of my early books, words that I did not recall writing, but which touched my heart when I read them. My writing has always been of the style that is not planned out. I set down the high points of the story, populate it, and see where it takes me. But I am convinced that along the way, God has a hand in what I commit to paper, if I just give Him the freedom to do so. And sometimes the words are His, not mine.

The point of this is to be conscious of what we write, but not to the point where we are so anxious to write something "memorable. " It's not just to put down on paper some words that will touch someone an editor or agent, but rather to let God help us put down those words which may be just the ones that will touch a reader at some point in the future. In other words, don't try so hard to write something memorable to your own glory, but always for His. Or, as the author's notes in all my books conclude, Soli Deo Gloria. Because, after all, that's why we're writing--or should be.