When it’s time for a new lamp…

I need a new bedside lamp. My old one no longer works, and I’m tired of stumbling around the bed to find my way in the dark. I’ve even been dreaming about lamp-shopping for the last two nights. Then, today, in my devotional reading, guess which Psalm verse was included?

Psalm 18:28: For You light my lamp/The Lord my God illumines my darkness.

Okay then. I already knew that God has a great sense of humor, but now He’s giving me shopping advice. Apparently, I don’t need a new lamp because I’ve already got one – me. I just need to ask God to turn it on.

Kidding aside, this one verse contains a world of reassurance! The Lord of the universe, my own Savior and King, leads me through my life with His light. As long as I keep my eyes on Him, I can see even through the blackest circumstances of my life; on the other hand, when all I see is darkness, it’s a reminder to me that I’ve turned away from His light, and I need to redirect my attention to His lamp, His love and will for me.

It sounds simple, but oh-so-hard for us egotistical humans. We think we know what we’re doing. We think we can take care of ourselves, that we know what’s best, when the truth is that we live and move and have our being only through the favor of God!

And what a favor it is! We are not only called and chosen and beloved of God, but we have Him right beside us every moment, illuming our path. Today, hold your lamp up and let God light the way!

(PS. I’ve found that nightlights aren’t a bad idea, either…)

This devotional appeared earlier today at https://wichitafalls.faithhappenings.com/soulcare/devotional/64014

New Year’s resolutions…or not

But I can’t find my list of resolutions.

Anywhere.

So I either 1) put it somewhere I wouldn’t forget, and I’ll find it in another six months or so, or 2) the dog ate it, along with several grocery lists and the instructions for assembling my husband’s new bike, or 3) I never made a list in the first place.

I have a suspicion it’s door #3: I never made resolutions for 2017.

And here’s why:

  1. Years ago, I realized I didn’t have to wait for a new year to begin new habits or improve on old ones. Making resolutions is really procrastination, waiting for the right moment to begin a new project or make a change. Every writer I know has learned the truth – there is no ‘right’ moment to start writing. A new year is not going to magically make it happen. You just have to sit down and write. Now.
  2. Resolutions sugarcoat tough realities. Of course, a writer resolves to write a book every year. Some years, that actually happens. Yippee! Other years, that ambitious resolution gets buried by the nuts-and-bolts of marketing the last book you wrote, preventing you from even picking a topic or plot for the new book you wanted to write this year. Or you have a family crisis that demands all your attention and energy. Experienced writers know that life happens…and when it does, writing resolutions go out the window…until those same writers are ready to process what they’ve experienced and incorporate it into their next book, which may not be the next book they thought they’d be writing.
  3. Resolutions are limiting. Again, life is full of surprises, and when a writer feels tugged in a new direction, an old resolution can be inhibiting. Why keep hammering away on that novel you’ve worked over for years, when an unexpected opportunity to write (or co-write) a self-improvement book presents itself and you find yourself drawn to it? Good writers know they need to welcome growth opportunities, sometimes even before they finish old projects.

So you won’t find me writing resolutions for 2018 in the next week. Instead, I’m going to rejoice in all the satisfying things my writing life brought me in 2017: learning how to build my own website, hearing from a growing number of readers how much they enjoy my books, an unexpected nomination for a Christy Award from my publisher, invitations to speak to groups, returning to writing a blog, sharing my faith with published devotionals, and mentoring new writers.

Wait a minute. I am going to write one resolution after all. And here it is: Thank God every day for the gift of writing.

I know I can remember that. And I’ll never have to worry about the dog eating it, either…

Happy New Year, writers!

How about you? Do you make resolutions?

(This post appeared earlier today at https://wordservewatercooler.com/2017/12/26/new-years-resolutions-or-not/)

Awe – some thoughts from 3 am

I caught the tail end of the Leonid meteor shower this weekend, although it was more by chance than intention. I have a cold, and my cough woke me up at 3 am, and while I sat there coughing, I remembered that the meteor shower was this weekend. Not that I have it marked on my calendar (which is a really good idea, now that I think about it), but because I’ve always been interested in astronomy. Since I knew I wouldn’t be falling back asleep for at least a while – it was going to be another hour before I could take my next dose of Nyquil – I tossed on a robe and slippers and went outside to stargaze.

I wish you could have seen it.

Brilliant stars. Millions of them. And I even spotted a few meteors, streaking across the sky before disappearing in a wink.

No wind and no sound. I could have been floating through space like Matthew McConaughy in Interstellar or Sandra Bullock in Gravity…but without all the life-threatening drama, thankfully.

Seeing that night sky did make me feel sorry, though, for everyone who hasn’t witnessed the spectacle of a star-studded night. The distances and physics involved are mind-bending enough, not to mention the humbleness you feel in the presence of vast creation and the awe it inspires. It makes me want to snatch any kind of screen or diversion from anyone’s hand and shout at them: “LOOK! Life is all around you – get involved with it!”

Whoa.

That’s a bit over the top for 3 am, don’t you think?

I guess I could blame the Nyquil that was wearing off, but the truth for me is that I love this earth, this  life itself, and starry nights always take my breath away in awe and reverence for God who created it all. I wish everyone felt that way – awestruck, blessed, grateful.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind every writer

And so, since I am committed to transparency in my career, I confess that I, too, rely on a staff to help me produce books. Let me introduce you to Team Jan:

Eddy is my editor. His sharp eyes don’t miss much. In fact, he may be the most demanding editor I’ve ever had. After I’ve slogged and wrestled with a heartfelt devotional or a chapter of plot twists, he often wipes out what I have done with one (paw)stroke on the keyboard, requiring me to attack the material again. And without fail, I have to admit, the second version is always better. He teaches me that patience, diligence, and revision make a better writer out of a good one. I just wish he’d stop shedding so much on the keyboard.

Michael is my personal trainer. He knows that too much sitting stagnates the body and mind, so he insists on frequent breaks from writing to both tone my muscles and clear my thoughts. There’s nothing like a competitive game of tug-of-war with a 75-pound dog to take your mind off character development, and Michael makes sure I sweat through several rounds every day. Afterwards, I’m more than ready to bring a focused mind to my writing project. Or else I take a nap.

Gracie is my spiritual director. We start every day with a walking meditation and prayer that helps set my priorities for the day. Many of my best pieces of writing result from the inspiration I find while in her company; her ability to live intensely in the moment motivates me to pay attention to details in the world around me. Sometimes, she points me to hidden pathways, inviting me to stretch my horizons of experience, which then influence my writing. I try to be open to those new directions, although the one that unexpectedly dumped me into a muddy gully was not one of her better ideas.

And finally, there’s Otis, the perfect project manager. When I’m stressing about a deadline, he calms me down by modeling relaxed behavior, reminding me that too often, I’m the one putting pressure on myself to perform. His easy-going nature encourages me to take my career with a proverbial grain of salt – or in his case, with a couple of Purina Kitty Treats – because in the big scheme of things, writing is just one facet of my life. Like every good project manager, Otis knows the value of balance…and the value of a good belly rub every now and then.

Who’s on your team?

 

 

 

This post is also appearing today at https://wordservewatercooler.com/2017/09/07/behind-every-writer/. The WordServe Water Cooler is a blog “encouraging, engaging, and enriching others throughout their writing journey,” and its contributors come from the WordServe Literary Agency, of which I am most gratefully a part.

 

 

 

 

 

Capturing awe and wisdom

Maybe it’s my inner visual artist trying to escape, but I’m entranced by finding photos that resonate in me with a moment of awe. Even better, sometimes I find a great quote to go with them! My sister took this photo on her African safari a year ago, and I love the vastness it captures. When I came across this quote, I knew it fit perfectly with the shot.

May your life burst boundaries!

 

 

 

Fun at the dentist office?

My life is over.

Just kidding. My teeth aren’t that bad. It’s just that I hate to go to the dentist, and I’m not even sure why that is. I think it must stem from some traumatic childhood event involving my teeth, but if that’s what it was, it was so traumatic I blocked it from my memory, because I can’t remember it.

Of course, there are lots of things I can’t remember anymore.

Like where I was going with this post.

I lied. I know exactly where this post is going: to the dentist.

I was just trying to put it off as long as possible.

 

Suction tube rocks!

Actually, I’ve had some wonderful experiences at the dentist’s office over the years. I really like my hygienist, Peg. We’ve gotten to know each other from my twice-a-year cleaning appointments, and we always chat about what’s going on in our lives. Granted, it’s a little hard to enunciate clearly with her fingers in my mouth, but we manage.

And I really like that little suction tube she sticks in my mouth to suck out all my saliva. I wish I had one of those at home. I’d use it when I start salivating watching the Food Channel. Or I could use it on the sofa to suck up all the fur the cat sheds there. It’d be great in the kitchen, too, when my husband grinds coffee beans and leaves little piles of coffee dust on the counters. I bet that suction tube would clean that all up in no time. And – oh my gosh! – how excellent would that little sucker be for when I drop something in the car and it lands way back under my seat? I wouldn’t have to yank my shoulder out just trying to reach it. Yep, I could think of a million uses for that little dental vacuum tube.

I wonder if I could get Peg to get me one? It’s not just for teeth, anymore.

Inspiration on the ceiling

Another thing I used to like about going to the dentist was its inspirational value. No, I don’t mean seeing pictures of shiny, perfect white teeth. I mean the posters on the ceiling. When I tilted back for Peg to clean my teeth, I could read all kinds of inspirational messages, like about enjoying your life, taking time to smell the roses, hug your kids, call your Mom, kiss a puppy.

Now that I think about it, there weren’t any messages about eating chocolate, but this is a dentist’s office, after all. I guess they only ordered inspirational posters that were also dentally correct.

Actually, one of the most memorable experiences in my life happened in the dentist’s office.

(Just a reminder, here, for those of you who have really wild imaginations: this is a blog post in a public venue, so don’t expect it to get kinky. Unless that’s the topic for the day, which it definitely isn’t. This is about my going to get my teeth cleaned, for crying out loud!)

 

The evil root canal

So, about this memorable experience: I got my first root canal. Which in itself wasn’t the most fun I’d ever had, but what made it so memorable was how much better the root canal made me feel. I’d gone to the dentist with a pain in my tooth, and he said I needed a root canal. But it was the day before Thanksgiving, and he couldn’t squeeze me into his schedule for the work that day, so I’d have to wait till the following Monday.

Holy buckets! I was going to have to live with the pain for four days?

“I’ll prescribe a painkiller if you need it,” he told me.

I needed it.

And then I felt no pain at all. I also couldn’t function the next day, let alone cook a Thanksgiving dinner. I think my sister came over and cooked. Or maybe there were aborigines from Australia in the kitchen. I’m really not sure. I really didn’t care. By the time I was lucid again, it was Saturday and I refused to take another pill. Sunday was pure misery. Monday morning I was waiting at the door of the dentist’s office when he came in. The dental chair never looked so good to me as it did that morning. An hour or so later, my tooth felt wonderful – no more pounding pain with every breath I took. I could function again. I loved dentistry. I loved my dentist. I even loved the fish swimming in the tank in the reception area.

But I didn’t love any of them enough to want to go through that again.

 

Procrastination is my friend

So maybe that’s why I hate to go to the dentist. Somewhere in a dark corner of my brain, I’m afraid my dentist will find another pain in my tooth that will temporarily incapacitate me. The inspirational posters won’t help. Nor will Peg’s vacuum tube. And I’m not taking the painkiller again.

Wait! I have the solution!

“Ah, hi, Peg. I can’t make my appointment today. Can we reschedule….again?”

 

 

 

Johnny Appleseed, move over…

Harvesting wildflower and wild grass seeds has been on my bucket list for a long time. When I finally took training to be a Minnesota Master Naturalist, I figured my turn would come in the following summer’s end somewhere in the prairies…but we moved to Texas before I got the chance.

Little did I know that within two years, I’d be gathering the seed heads and pods from my own backyard. No driving two hours each way to get to the Minnesota prairies; all I have to do is step off my back porch and I’ve got days’ worth of harvesting. Thanks to all the bags of native seeds that my husband sowed our first year in our new home, we’ve got an awesome acre of mixed wildflowers and grasses.

So guess who gets to cross an item off her bucket list? Me!

Leaving a legacy

I’m not sure if my harvesting delight lies in living out the opening scene of the old TV series Little House on the Prairie (sans the homemade dress) or because I find walking in the yard such a soothing activity. (My husband says it’s my woo-way inclination to zone out amidst nature.) Mostly, I love the idea that we’re restoring native habitat, even if it only covers an acre and a half in our neighborhood. We’re already seeing an increase in butterflies and birds in our yard this summer, thanks to our determined efforts to plant more native plants and trees on our property. To think that we might have a thriving native oasis after a few years pleases me immensely; I like to hope our love of nature will be our legacy to our children, friends and neighbors.

(Besides, I couldn’t have written seven Birder Murder Mystery novels about birding and conservation and nature without it rubbing off on me, could I? Especially after researching and writing my fourth book, Falcon Finale, I became obsessed with the idea of legacy. I realized I wanted to leave behind me something more substantial than perfectly-folded laundry, and habitat restoration sounded like it had real possibility.)

On the path to stewardship

When I think more about how I came to this point in my life, I can see how different pieces of my life have combined to lead to me wandering my back yard, a canvas seed bag in hand and a big hat on my head. I loved playing outside when I was a kid. My husband has been an avid gardener his whole life, and though I haven’t always shared in the activity, I learned a lot from him about plants and birds and rocks and things. (Hey, wasn’t that in a song by America?) We encouraged our kids to enjoy nature and be mindful stewards of their surroundings and their personal gifts. And my whole life, I’ve always found God in the great outdoors.

Stewardship is what I can do today for a better tomorrow. Knowing that my actions will help restore natural habitat gives me both happiness and meaning, and so I’ll slide my gloves on again in the morning and spend a few hours pulling seed heads. In my mind, I can already see the results in our yard in the years to come…and it’s beautiful.

Have you thought about your legacy lately? Can you do something today to bring it a little closer?

 

 

 

Beyond the fence

Deer often visit our yard.

“You’ve got to come see this,” my husband called to me from around the corner of the house one morning. I followed his voice and found him pointing at our front yard fence. A large section, newly installed, had been pushed in overnight. But before I could express my dismay, my eyes wandered beyond the fence…to see the 200-pound Axis deer that lay dead between the fence and the road. Clearly a victim of a speeding car on a very dark night, the buck had apparently been fatally hit and knocked into our fence, where it had left a large, lasting impression.

Later, as I reflected on my first glance at the scene, it struck me that despite the deer’s size and its proximity to our fence, the big animal was not the first thing I’d noted – instead, I had focused on our damaged fence. Rather than immediately looking at the bigger picture, I’d zoomed in on what I expected to see: our fence. My mind had automatically narrowed onto the familiar.

Look for the big picture

I suspect that is a very human response – to focus on what is known, to see what is expected. Yet Christ repeatedly exhorts us to welcome the unexpected, to look for the big picture, to stretch beyond our fears in a complete trust in God. “But I tell you,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Could any instruction have been more unwelcome than this to the oppressed Jewish community of Jesus’s time? But by obeying this command, “you may be children of your Father in heaven,” Jesus explains in the following verse.

In other words, when we try to see the big picture that God sees, and do as He directs, we become most fully His own people.

Push beyond the familiar

Perhaps the most famous example of someone being pushed beyond the familiar into the bigger picture of life in God is St. Paul. Fanatically focused on persecuting Christians, he was literally knocked off his horse and blinded by the light of Christ. (Read about it in Acts 9.) When he regained his sight after his conversion of heart, mind, and spirit, his vision of his own life and the life of the early Church grew into the big picture of God’s plan for salvation through Christ. His former narrow focus on wiping out Christ’s followers totally transformed into an all-encompassing attention to advancing the Kingdom of God. Now, that’s seeing WAY beyond the fence of the familiar, wouldn’t you say?

Lord, help me to see the bigger picture of your will in my life and learn to welcome the unexpected in faith. Amen.

(This reflection originally appeared at https://wichitafalls.faithhappenings.com/soulcare/devotional/60632. I often contribute devotionals to FaithHappenings.com and if you like what you’ve read here, please check out the site online. It’s a clearinghouse of Christian inspiration, books, speakers, events, concerts that offers you local information across the US, and you can subscribe – it’s FREE – to receive daily reflections.)

 

 

 

 

Awe-full at the Houston Space Center

Not something you see every day in the parking lot: a 747 with a space shuttle on its back. Talk about a traffic-stopper.

Next stop: Mars!

My husband and I visited the Space Center in Houston this week, and it renewed my wonder and respect for everything NASA has accomplished since its inception. To be able to touch a rock that came from the moon, and appreciate even half of what that represents in human effort, imagination, and sheer guts, is an awe-full experience! One of the exhibits we especially liked modeled the surface of Mars and reviewed NASA’s projects that are aimed at putting humans on the planet. After seeing the exhibit, it’s clear that the movie The Martian borrowed extensively from accurate information collected by NASA scientists. The idea that I might live to see a person on Mars is mind-blowing…and reinforces everything I’ve ever believed about the incredible power of imagination to create new realities.

Brave hearts

Touring the Space Center in Houston also reminded me of the intrepid nature of humankind. When you see a Mercury capsule up-close, how can you NOT marvel at the risk astronauts take when they launch into space? My husband, stunned by the fragility of the Mercury capsule on display, said that early space travel was akin to sending someone into space in a tin can. What were we thinking?! When you examine the capsule, it’s terrifyingly evident that mere inches separated a person from the enormity of outer space. Not to mention those first astronauts who walked out of their capsules into the infinite darkness…just trying to think of that experience rocks me to the core! How much trust would that require in the humans who enabled you to do it? How much faith in yourself, and in God? Another movie I’ve watched comes to mind: Gravity. In that film, I caught a glimpse of what it might mean to experience total aloneness, floating in space, with only the bare resources of mind, body, and spirit at hand. The concept still sends shivers down my spine.

Touching the stars…or the moon, at least

In a similar way, I went speechless when I saw the Apollo module on display. It had actually traveled in space, to the moon and back, its skin beaten by cosmic radiation and the raw forces of nature. As a life-long astronomy fan, I’ve always been fascinated by the stars, the limitless frontiers of the universe, so to stand next to something that had physically entered those reaches of space was a humbling moment for me. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist the exhibit’s invitation to touch a tiny sliver of rock from the moon – it, too, had been somewhere I could only imagine. In a way, it felt like touching a dream, but one that has become very real. I have no intention of ever walking on the moon or Mars, but knowing that it has been – and will be – done, expands my own horizons, as well as the world’s.

Because I spend a lot of time outdoors, enjoying and appreciating the natural world, I don’t often think of human accomplishment as something of awe. NASA’s Space Center changed that for me. When I look at the star-studded skies tonight, I’ll be giving thanks not only to God for a magnificent creation, but for the amazing character of good women and men who have led us to explore and claim that creation more deeply.