Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Weathering a Marital Depression

(It is difficult to write about such a painful time, but it occurred to me that sharing our story might help someone in a similar situation.)
Our first wedding--two clueless kids
How could our marriage have gone so wrong in just six years? Lack of money was a source of constant conflict. When our oldest son was born, he had colic and screamed for three months, and I must have had post-partum depression because I wasn't fit to live with. The hospital job seemed an answer to our prayers since it was a big career step for hubby and provided a good salary and benefits.

But in less than a year he was laid off in the worst possible way: He was made a scapegoat for a problem he'd tried for six months to remedy. It sent him into a deep, dark hole of depression. He quit going to church. He wasn't motivated to find a job. We spent all our meager savings. I tried to work, but our two-year-old son was feeling the effects of his parents' problems and was "kicked out" of three different daycares. I thought I was being supportive, but I had no idea how to help my husband. He didn't realize what he was saying, and didn't even recognize there was a huge problem. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to forgive him.

So I left him. I took our son and flew to another city to stay with friends. I had no intention of ending the relationship, but I realized it would take something drastic to fix it.

Within a few days my husband contacted a counselor and asked me to come back. I told him I would return to town, but I didn't think we should live together until we had made sufficient progress working out our problems. So he moved in with a friend, got a part-time job as a security guard with a hotel, and saw the counselor twice a week: once alone and once with me. Within a short time we were making great progress. We spent time together every day, really communicating, rebuilding our relationship. He returned to church, and we prayed together again.

After about three months we decided things had progressed enough that we could get back together, but we wanted to renew our marriage vows to make that commitment to God and one another.
Six years later, a little older, a lot wiser
I had lost so much weight from worry and stress that I was able to fit into my wedding dress again. A preacher friend "remarried" us in his living room with his wife and family as our only witnesses. They kept our son while we had a short second honeymoon to begin our new life together.

Twenty-nine years later we're so glad we didn't give up. By honoring our vows before God, we were able to weather that storm, and all the other ones since then to build a strong and happy marriage. And it truly has been "sweeter as the years go by."
Last December--35th anniversary

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Einstein was right

The older I get, the faster time flies. But does time really "fly" or is it just our perception of it?

When we are children, waiting for a birthday or Christmas or other anticipated event takes FOREVER. Each day drags on, and a whole month seems like an impossible distance across the abyss.

Now a month passes between blinks, and birthdays come much faster than I can mentally process them.

I've figured out why. When we're children, each year is a bigger percentage of our entire life, but as we add years, each one becomes a smaller and smaller percentage and so seems to pass more quickly.

The oldest living thing is the bristlecone pine pictured above, which by its rings is over 5,000 years old. That venerable tree has seen quite a lot of history come and go.

In contrast the mayfly in its adult form lives less than 24 hours. Its only purpose is to reproduce. But if you could ask a mayfly if it felt cheated compared with the bristlecone pine, I doubt that it would care. From its perspective a successful life means completion of its purpose.

When I was in my thirties I started noticing how many "famous" people in history died in their thirties: Alexander the Great, Mozart, George Gershwin, Lou Gehrig, Martin Luther King, Florence Griffith Joyner, most of the astronauts of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia, and many, many others. I started researching to write a collective biography entitled "Thirty-Something" but couldn't find an interested publisher. I did publish Christa McAuliffe's entry as an article with the magazine Cricket, at least (she was the teacher astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion).

Even though they didn't live their full "threescore and ten" these people managed to accomplish a lot in their short lives. The number of years is not what's important. As Gandalf says in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Or as Paul wrote about 2,000 years ago, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Time is our most valuable commodity. Einstein was right--it is relative, and relatively speaking, shouldn't we make the most of what time we have remaining?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Cost of Ignorance

It has been said that "ignorance is bliss." There sure are a lot of blissfully ignorant people in this country.

Sometimes I envy them. Often I wish I didn't know what I know.

But because I choose to be a truthseeker, I turn over many rocks that expose ugly crawly things living in dark places.

Who is behind all the evil in the world? Satan, the father of lies. He is real, and even though he has already been defeated by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his mission is to take down as many of us as he can to join him in eternal torment. (Hell, BTW, was prepared for the devil and his angels--Matthew 25:41.)

Why is ignorance a bad thing? If we're "ignorant of Satan's devices" he will get an advantage over us (II Corinthians 2:11). A person does not sleep alone outside in the area where a man-eating lion has been known to hunt. A prudent person is watchful, on guard. And that takes knowledge. "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour." I Peter 5:8

Some people serve Satan willingly; others serve him and don't even know it. We must judge each person's words and actions by the yardstick of truth and not let smooth words deceive us: "Satan changes himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness...." II Corinthians 11:14-15

Jesus said, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Matthew 10:16

We can't remain ignorant and be wise to the way of the devouring wolf or lion.

"In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Goose Principle

Consider the goose—a seemingly ordinary bird.  Many of us have seen a flock of them flying in "V" formation.  Have you ever wondered why?

Staying together in their tight formation a flock of geese can fly 70% farther than a single goose flying alone!  The leader, the point of the “V”, takes the full force of wind resistance, making the going easier for the rest.  When the leader tires, another takes its place, then another, so that no one goose has to constantly expend its energy for the sake of the flock.

If one goose becomes injured and cannot keep up with the flock, two other geese will stay with it until it either dies or is well again.  The geese do not abandon their own!

We, too, are taught to act like geese.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us that “two are better than one . . .for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow:  but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up.”

Every organization in which I have been a member (church, homeschool support groups, Boy Scouts, Little League, Daughters of the American Revolution, etc.) is kept alive by a handful who are willing to lead the rest.  And just like leading a flock of geese, after a time leaders "burn out" if no one is willing to step up and take a turn leading, in order to allow the point man or woman time to recharge batteries.

Imagine how much more could be accomplished in our organizations if all the members took their turns at leadership, or at least being more actively involved.  Just as geese fly in their formation, our groups will keep soaring if we take turns serving one another in leadership roles.  Instead of being "takers" who are only concerned about our own desires, we can invest ourselves in the success of the group by becoming "givers" and therefore care about the success of each individual, desiring that no one burns out and falls from the formation.

Unlike a flock of mindless sheep following whichever way the majority drifts, a formation of geese works together with a specific goal or direction in mind, even calling out encouragement to one another while they're flying.

Honk if you plan to be a better goose while flying in your formation….
Geese I saw in Branson, MO a few years ago.

Friday, April 11, 2014


In the summer of 1986 we had an almost-four-year-old son, an almost-six-year-old foster daughter, and a four-month-old son who'd been a preemie (only weighed 8 pounds when he came to us) and wore a heart monitor which apparently was defective because it went off several times in the middle of the night for no reason. It was a challenging summer, to say the least.

My husband saw how frazzled I was and encouraged me to find something "grown up" to do, just for me, and he would watch the kids. So I signed up for a continuing education creative writing class at Baylor University which met once a week on Thursday evenings.

The first night of class, the instructor had each of us tell the class why we were there and what we liked to write. There were about ten of us, mostly older people, except for one young woman who appeared to be about my age (I was 28 and she was 25). She boldly stood up, said her name was Pamela, and admitted in front of all these strangers that she loved Lost in Space as a child and wanted to write fantasy and science fiction.

That's when I first decided she and I could be friends! I liked Lost in Space too, but I wouldn't have admitted it to strangers. Her spunk drew me in, and her brilliant writing captivated my imagination. Soon we were getting together outside of class to share more of our writing. Not only was she a wonderful writer, she could always see what I meant to write and had great editing skills. Pamela and I were truly "kindred spirits."

About two years later Pamela married, and she and her husband moved about two hours away. It wasn't far, but it was just far enough that we couldn't get together very often. We wrote letters occasionally, and occasionally sent pages or chapters back and forth, but it wasn't working very well.

Then she invited me to come for the weekend, and we began a yearly ritual that has lasted for more than 25 years. Once a year we spend 2-3 days eating Chinese food, visiting every Half Price Books store we can find, walking and laughing and watching crazy TV shows (when we're at her house, since we don't have TV), and of course, reading and commenting on one another's writing. Sometimes we have a LOT to read if we've been prolific over the previous year, but we always manage to get it in, even if we have to stay up all most of the night.

We have had this annual slumber party/writer's fun weekend at her house much more often than she has come here for the simple reason that I have a good sense of direction and she doesn't. The first time she visited our first house across town, I had told her I'd leave the door unlocked in case she arrived before I got home from a class I was teaching. (We live in a small town that used to be safe enough to leave doors unlocked.) When I came home, she met me at the door, grinning sheepishly.

"What?" I asked, since I could tell something was up.

"It's a good thing you have trusting neighbors," she said.

She had read the directions backwards and went inside the house on the other corner, which was also unlocked. After sitting down to wait for me, she started noticing that there was nothing familiar about the place and realized she was in the wrong house! We laughed about that for a long time.

Everyone should have a BFF, but no one could ever have a treasure like Pamela.
We didn't even let babies stop us from getting together (hers is the smallest one).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A hard truth for new writers

In the last couple of years since I've been on Twitter, I've read the first novels of many new acquaintances. The authors' exuberance and excitement is understandable--it IS beyond exciting when your dream comes true and you publish a book!

However, the books themselves have been a "mixed bag" as far as quality of writing and editing. The stories have been good and worth reading, for the most part, but the execution in terms of plot and writing style (and mistakes in grammar and spelling) have sometimes made me cringe. In a few cases I couldn't finish the story and wanted to throw my Kindle against the wall in frustration.

I am reminded what happened to my first novel (its several drafts were typed on a--gasp--typewriter). The story idea was original. I spent about a year researching the Dogon tribe in West Africa (before the internet--I went to many libraries and ordered books through inter-library loan) in order to make the details authentic. I sent out the manuscript many times by mail in a cardboard box with high hopes each time.

It was never published.

At the time I was bewildered. After all, I loved the story. I had worked so hard on it! I shelved it and went on to other things. About ten years later I tried to read the novel again and could not get through it. I had (thankfully) developed as a writer enough that reading my first attempt at a novel was PAINFUL. It could NEVER have been published, and thankfully I did not have the option of self-publishing back then, or in my first-novel excitement I might have been tempted to do it.

After I was diagnosed with cancer nine years ago and took a soul-searching look at my overstuffed office (not quite as bad as the picture above but close), I realized I did not want my family to have to go through all those papers once I was gone, so I bagged my two copies of the novel and a stack of research notes and photos about twelve inches thick and threw them away, along with dozens of short stories that were not publishable either. They are rotting in our town's dump even now.

Sometimes I wish I had kept at least one copy of the manuscript. Or the notes. After all, the Dogon culture is fascinating. But all the editors who rejected that story were right to do so and saved me from embarrassing myself with the two-dimensional characters, improbable plot, purple prose, and newbie writing errors.

Yes, it's difficult for writers to be objective about their work. The stories come from the deepest part of our hearts, and even when we try to read them objectively, our emotions can get in the way. If our beta readers are friends and family, they won't want to be honest about mistakes because they (hopefully) love us and want us to succeed.

A good critique group is a great resource and place to get honest feedback. But whether publishing the "traditional" way or self-publishing, a good editor is vitally important to every story in order to make it the best it can be.

Notes from critique group's honest ripping feedback.

First page of ripped manuscript ACCEPTED by MZB for her anthology.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sober Friday: What are we doing here?

Don Gilbert, timpanist
At last night's symphony practice I learned that our exemplary timpanist, Mr. Don Gilbert, had passed away in his sleep the night before. He had not been well for the last year (his heart) but it still made me sad that I'll never hear him play again. Until this season I sat beside him (new risers required a rearrangement of the percussion section, and Don and his timpanis moved to the other side of the stage). We used to joke between songs and help one another keep our places during long rests. But more than that, Don was a true professional, always 100% prepared, and a perfectionist with even the most simple notes. He was also humble about his accomplishments. He'd graduated from Eastman School of Music, earned a Master's from Michigan State, and performed at Carnegie Hall. Our symphony was so blessed to have him play with us the last several years, and I don't want him to ever be forgotten.
Don in action and me the flutist closest to him
Between Don's death and my writer friend Jan, it's made me think about how life really does go on. Even when people we know and love and admire die, and their passing leaves a great emptiness, life has to go on. It has to. No one is irreplacable; there will always be someone to step up and fill the void.

Perhaps we're to learn humility from this and never let our ego grow so large as to think WE are irreplacable. It was a great shock when I was sidelined by cancer to realize people could go on without me, and yet that's how it has to be. We're only here for a short time, so instead of focusing on selfish interests, we ought to focus on the One who brought us into existence and Who desires our love and obedience. Then we can fully experience the purpose of this life as expressed by the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:13, "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."

Or put another way in Micah 6:8, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"