Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Everybody's Getting Younger But Me

 On a reckless whim the other day, I decided to turn 54 years old. It’s not bad, but everywhere I go, the strangest phenomenon is occurring. Other people are getting younger.

I recently traded bosses at City Hall. The old one was a year older than I am. The new guy is several years my junior. If this trend continues, in a few short years I’ll find myself working for a five-year-old.

My dentist looks like he should still be in high school.

My pastor is young enough to be my nephew. Which actually works out quite nicely since I am his aunt.

My last visit to our local collegiate baffled me. Did you know they now allow 17-year olds to teach and 10-year olds to take Grade 10? That’s just wrong.

My naturopathic doctor, the infamous Dr. Lisa, is slightly older than my own children and sometimes I wonder why I’m taking advice from and following the orders of this mere child. Or, as people of her generation so eloquently say, “Really? Seriously?”

Last week, I travelled to Colorado for a writer’s conference.  On the way home, waiting to board my flight in Minneapolis, I sat with a group headed for Winnipeg. The lady next to me leaned toward me and asked, “Is that our pilot?” 

I looked up in time to see a young man in uniform walk by. I swear he wore the same costume I saw on one of my grandson’s little buddies last Halloween.

“Looks like it probably is.”

“So young,” she said, shaking her head.

“I know. They get younger every year.”

“Aren’t there child labour laws for this sort of thing?” she asked. I shrugged.

A few days later, I spent an hour on the phone with a literary agent I’m hoping will sign me. And trust me, if she does, we’ll see some celebration going on at the Todd residence. But upon spying out her website and Facebook accounts, I learned she was born the same year as my eldest. And I’m thinking of entrusting my writing career to this juvenile? What is the world coming to? When I bemoaned my late-to-the-starting-gate status, she encouraged me with this: “Oh, don’t let your age bother you. Julie Lessman didn’t start writing until she was about 50. I think she might be 62 now and still writing.” 


It was one thing when they allowed kids to deliver newspapers and bag groceries. But doctors, pilots, and city managers? Isn’t that going too far?

They tell me it’s only going to get worse. Next time I turn around, my grandsons will be teaching school or driving semi-trucks or performing surgery. Maybe sitting in parliament. Deciding the fate of my generation.

I think God is trying to teach me something. With age might come great wisdom, but it also brings plenty of opportunity to humble oneself and quit with the age discrimination already. The young have plenty to offer, and I don’t mean just technical support. Besides, this trend is inevitable, so I may as well embrace it. Or at least, get used to it. 

I’ll just keep celebrating birthdays and let the rest of the world grow younger. But mark my word, if one day I find out I’ve surpassed my own mother in years – that’s it, I quit.

This photo of me was taken 3 years ago. Hmm, maybe I'm getting younger after all!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pennies (stolen) from Heaven

Canada’s decision to do away with the penny reminds me of some pennies I once purloined. From God.

I was still a preschooler when, each Sunday morning, my dad would give me two pennies to drop in the offering plate. It made me feel like part of the church family to make my own contribution, even though I’d done nothing to earn the money.

One Sunday I watched as the plate passed down the rows of adults. I noticed the occasional person simply passing the plate without contributing, or gently shaking their head at the usher to indicate empty hands. It occurred to me the offering was optional.

It also occurred to me that if I were to hold back my pennies and save them, I could buy myself a treat. Five cents was enough to buy a chocolate bar; ten cents would procure a bag of chips. Yes, I’m that old.

As much as I would love to blame one of my big brothers for planting this sinister idea in my impressionable little mind, I suspect it got there all by itself. I began to implement my plan. When the usher came by, I shook my head “no” like I’d seen the grown-ups do and kept the pennies in my little red purse. Each week, I stacked them higher on a shelf in my bedroom, no doubt rubbing my greedy little hands together like Dr. Evil and congratulating myself on my cleverness.

One night when Dad came to tuck me in, he noticed the growing stack of pennies, now up to six or eight. I must have been holding out for the bigger prize of chips. Delayed gratification began early in my family.

Photo by my friend and photographer extraordinaire, Gayle Loewen
“Where did you get the pennies?” Dad asked.

“Um. I don’t remember.”

“Sounds like you’re having a little memory trouble. Did you forget to put them in the offering?” Like he didn’t already know.

I might not have slept much that night had I known the story from the New Testament about the married couple who sold some property, gave a portion to the church, and agreed to tell others they’d donated the entire amount. Their story does not end well. (You can read it in Acts chapter 5.) Though they had every right to keep some of the money, their lying and conspiracy got them in deep enough trouble to be made a disturbing example of.

Dad was far gentler. Eventually, I fessed up. We talked about the plans I’d made for the money and Dad explained how it belonged to God and had come my way only by grace in the first place. I’m certain Dad didn’t realize he was giving me an accurate picture of my heavenly Father. Like Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery, Dad did not punish or condemn. His “go and sin no more” message got through, and I knew I was loved.

I wish I could say I never dreamed up another naughty scheme in my life. My schemes only grew more sophisticated with age. But each time I fail, I know where to turn for forgiveness.

Just think. If I’d kept up my deceptive hoarding, I’d have over fifty bucks stashed by now. That’s a lot of pennies! Before they’re gone for good, I think I’ll stack a few pennies on a shelf as a gentle reminder. For even if it were a million dollars, it could never begin to replace the lesson Dad taught me that day: genuine treasure comes in the form of mercy, love, and grace.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Solid Treasure

Someone asked me recently to describe my ideal writing desk. After giving it a little thought, I couldn’t come up with anything better than what I’ve already been blessed with. Let me tell you about “my” desk. It’s the only piece of furniture in our eclectic collection I’d hate to part with.

In 1978, Jon and I were newlyweds living in Longview, Texas where Jon studied at LeTourneau College. The campus originated as a World War II army hospital with the kind of barracks and supplies you’d expect. After the war, the LeTourneau family turned the facility into a training school for veterans. Today it’s a full-fledged university with beautiful new buildings and state-of-the-art everything. But while we were there, many of the old buildings and furnishings remained. In the school’s ongoing quest to replace things, Jon was given a chance at a free desk. Ugly and heavy as the dickens, it was still a big step up from his folding card table, and we wrestled it home to our under-furnished apartment. It served Jon well as a student and when we moved back to Manitoba in 1981, the desk came along.

A few years later, we hired Portage ARC Industries to strip off the depressing grey paint from the outside and the unbelievable red paint from inside the drawers. Underneath, we discovered gorgeous oak. From there, our friend Paul Caslor finished the job and we had ourselves a beautiful, solid piece of furniture—five feet wide and nearly three feet deep. 

For years, the desk occupied a corner of our bedroom because there was no other place for it to go. To protect its surface, we kept it continually buried in paperwork and clothing. In 2005 when our last birdie left the nest, we turned a bedroom into an office and moved the desk. That’s the same year we found a garage sale computer desk which Jon claimed for himself. The big desk officially became mine.

Although it could use a hole in the top for computer cords, I’m not sure I’d want to spoil the desk by modernizing it any way. Down on the left-hand side, what looks like three drawers is actually a door that swings open to reveal an old-fashioned typewriter shelf. Occasionally it swings open of its own accord, as though a ghost inside needs some fresh air. The shelf slides out and pulls up to lap level with a mighty yank – no hydraulics or electricity required! 

On the right are three actual drawers. The top one holds really cool diagonal wooden slots for sorting paper.

The middle drawer above the knee space might have been designed to house massive ledgers or maps. With some modern-day organizers, it holds an abundance of supplies, many of which were not even conceived of when the desk was built more than 70 years ago, like data sticks and felt highlighters. The lock encased in this centre drawer would lock the entire desk if we possessed a key.

At this big old desk, I’ve tapped out my first novel, 125 Out of My Mind columns, and various and sundry other articles, stories, scripts, emails, and blog posts. Not to mention far too much time spent on Facebook. Sometimes I wonder about my desk’s history before it fell into our hands. If it could tell me the stories it has witnessed, maybe I could write a best seller!

I’ll have to settle for its sturdy silence and make my own stories, I guess. Little did I know when we first dragged it home that I would grow to appreciate it more with each passing year. It’s a keeper.

Now if I could just learn to keep it tidy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

De Jour List, Day Three at Writing for the Soul

Best line of the day: “I’d rather be boiled alive in yak fat.” –Steven James
Temptation of the day: the quiche and the various offerings of pastries, bagels, and coffees at breakfast. (While there was plenty of fruit to fill my plate and tummy, when you’re paying for it all, you just want to eat it all.)
Wish of the day: I wish I didn’t need to use the little free time I have to sleep. There’s so much to explore here, but so little opportunity. It's so exhausting, I don't know why. Shortage of oxygen?
Treat of the day: soaking up a few moments of warm sunshine on what feels like a nice spring day.
Lessons of the day: learning fiction writing from Deborah Raney and hearing about her own writing journey.
Appointment of the day: with Steve Barclift at Kregel Publications, who wants to see my complete manuscript and proposal.
Humbling moment of the day: Walking confidently away from that appointment and straight into the ladies’ room where the mirror revealed one of the hanging straps from my dress had been sprawled across my throat the entire time.
Puzzle of the day: the hallway leading to my room is lined with photos of famous people who have stayed here over the years. Not sure why they haven’t got around to putting mine up yet.
Encouragement of the day: hearing Steven James read samples of his many rejection letters.
Precious moment of the day: praying with my buddy Pete before we said good-bye. He’s leaving at stupid o’clock in the morning to get to Boise and back to work Monday morning.
Biggest take-home message of the day: Do. Not. Quit.
Prayer request of the day: for safe travels home tomorrow. It’s gonna be a long day.

Having failed to take any photos of people or the gorgeous outdoors today, here's a couple more from inside my corner of The Broadmoor:
One of the many lounges. That fireplace is enormous, yet is dwarfed by the size of this room.

Same room, different angle.

Friday, February 15, 2013

De Jour List, Day Two of Writing for the Soul

I apologize to friends and family who've been waiting to hear the news. They keep us so busy here, I've been too exhausted to blog. You probably gathered by now I did not win the Operation First Novel contest. Again. Hate to say I told you so.

Here are the highlights from today.

Awesome service of the Day: At midnight last night I discovered that, a) I had misassembled my comb-bound proposal that I might need first thing in the morning and b) I left at home all my one-sheets that I would most definitely need first thing in the morning. I took apart the proposal and couldn’t get the plastic binder thingy back on by hand. It cost me some sleep and much beating up of self. This morning, the hotel’s business center a) printed my one-sheets, in colour, without charge; and b) rebound my proposal with the same binder, by hand. All before 7:30 a.m.
Unbelievable God-orchestrated event of the Day: In my very first appointment of the morning, Julie Guinn from B & H Publishing told me they are putting together a series of women’s fiction from WWII that take place in OTHER countries. They did not yet have one from Canada. She loved that my novel takes place in Canada, she loved that it goes back and forth from the historical to the present day, and she said it’s the perfect length. She took my proposal, invited me to submit the whole manuscript, and said if they like my book she will try to help me find an agent among the ones who are already on board with this project.  Not wanting to count any chickens here, but it sure gave me a needed boost.
Observation of the Day: Americans hang mirrors everywhere. Either they are carnival mirrors that make everyone look skinny, or… jeepers, I am skinny.
Emotional Moment of the Day: Hearing Christopher Yuan tell his incredible story and weeping even though I just read his book and knew what was coming. If you have not read Outof a Far Country (and especially if you have a prodigal family member), you need to read this book. (FYI, the Portage library has it.)
Annoyance of the Day: Speakers who say “turn to your neighbor and say…”
Take Home of the Day: “You mothers out there, beware of your prayers.” – Christopher Yuan
Shameful, superficial thought of the Day: “Oh no. That woman with the dreadful hair is wearing the same shoes I am.”
Encouragement of the Day: my “group” (Jim, Mike, Clarice, Peter, and Kimberley) emailing their support, making me laugh, sharing my disappointment,  and offering to flog this year’s winner for me.
Quote of the Day: “If you are impressed with yourself, there is a lot of heartache ahead.” –James MacDonald
Regret of the Day: eating that dessert. My belly is just one big groan.
Proud Mother Hen Moment of the Day: Seeing my buddy Peter, last year’s winner, signing his books.