Prov 17:22

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

Friday, May 28, 2021

Does this pandemic make me look fat?

I’ve been told what we’re experiencing does not match the precise meaning of the word “pandemic” and we should stop calling it that. Merriam-Webster’s definition says, “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and affects a significant proportion of the population.”

I still don’t see how this doesn’t qualify as a pandemic, but I suppose the word “affects” and the word “significant” are both elusive enough to make it unclear. While 100% of us have been indirectly affected, those directly affected (that is, who have actually contracted the virus) are one in every 31 Canadians. Is that significant? I’d say so. Then again, stats tell us the number of deaths in Canada from all causes in 2020 was the same as previous years. Confusing, ain’t it?

All I know for sure is, everyone’s tired of it.

And most of us feel caught in the middle. On one extreme, family members are reluctant to leave their homes for fear of catching the virus even though they’ve received the vaccine. On the other extreme, friends are prepared to march with the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, openly rebelling against health restrictions. We see people squabbling on social media like little kids. “I’m not scared, YOU’RE scared!”

Between the two sit the majority of us who feel unsafe raising a question, lest we be labelled “anti” something. Don’t we all have questions? Here are four things that confuse me.

1. The House of Commons held a moment of silence for the 13-year-old girl who died of Covid-19. I don’t mean to diminish that family’s pain, but did any other 13-year-old Canadians die that day? That week? This year? This feels like a dangerous precedent.

2. Some faith groups are calling the health restrictions “persecution.” I could buy that if theaters and concert halls and sports stadiums were allowed to fill while churches were not. Be careful what you call persecution. This too feels like a dangerous precedent.

3. I’ve heard the argument that Jesus wants his followers to stand firm before a government greedy for control. After all, didn’t he make a whip to brandish around the temple, standing up for what was right? He sure did. When Jesus did it, he was railing against the religious leadership for exploiting the poor, not at the government for stepping on his rights. When an extremely controlling government sent soldiers to arrest him, Jesus went “like a sheep to slaughter.” Was he setting a precedent for us?

4. Most mind-boggling of all: how did all my clothes get too tight just because of the pandemic?

Truth is, we’re all pretty confused. Even those with the answers. Those charged with making the rules and those charged with enforcing them. I have no idea what conversations go on behind closed doors. I have no idea who’s arguing for what even while presenting a unified front.

I’m choosing to focus on four things I know for certain.

1. We’re not all going to die of Covid-19, but we are all going to die. We try with great determination to control how and when, and sometimes that is met with a measure of success and people get to stick around a little longer. Often, we fail. Either way, death comes to all.

2. Whether you have five days or five years or five decades left here, it’s only a blip on the scope of eternity. If you are unprepared to die, you are unprepared to truly live.

3. When you know your afterlife is secure, you can trust the One who secured it to hold you whatever may come. You can move forward with respect for your leaders, for your neighbors, for the laws of the land, for those with different opinions, without fear.

4. You don’t have to understand it all to realize life is too short to quibble about hills not worth dying on. You can use these difficult days to grow. You can pray for those who must make unpopular decisions.

What if this shared experience makes us all more kind, patient, and gentle? More aware of what really matters? More grateful for life?

“[The godly man] does not fear bad news, nor live in dread of what may happen. For he is settled in his mind that God will take care of him.” (Psalm 112:7 TLB)

Friday, May 21, 2021

A Writer's Life for Me

I used to assume that authors wrote one book and moved on to the next. Partly true. Once released, the writing part is over. In many ways, though, the real work has only begun.

With my first novel, I could focus all my attention on that one story. Whether I spent my limited writing time revising or researching or pitching to agents, I gave little thought to a second story. Why bother, until I knew I could write something people would buy?

Since then, I’m discovering the more books you have out, the busier you are. I currently have four books out in the world, a fifth releasing this summer, a sixth releasing in November, a seventh that my agent is pitching to publishers, an eighth sitting in my computer rejected and lonely, and a ninth still in its first draft.

So, in any one week I might be typing away on #9 when I need to lay it aside because my agent wants me to make some changes to #7, hoping to make it more appealing to potential publishers. Meanwhile, the editor who is preparing #5 for release needs me to collect endorsements from other authors. Then my cover designer for #6 sends his latest draft and needs a yes or no.

A local friend calls to ask if she can stop by for an autographed copy of #4 for her mom’s birthday present. Then I find out #2’s publisher is putting it on sale for the month, so I need to send out a newsletter and let readers know and spread the word on social media. Meanwhile, a book club is reading #1 and wants to know if I can join them on a Zoom call. Then our local bookstore calls to say they’ve sold out of my books. I pull some from my shelf, sign them, prepare an invoice, and cart them to the store.

When I return, I find an email inviting me to judge a writing contest. Another asks me to participate on a panel in a Zoom tutorial. I say no to one (this time) and yes to the other. I spend time creating memes to promote my books. Another day, I give my book launch team a virtual tour of my home office via Facebook just for fun.

Then there’s the relentless deadline of a weekly newspaper column.

And keeping track of income and expenses so I don’t run into trouble at tax time.

And continuing to develop my craft by reading good books and attending online conferences.

And growing a thick layer of skin to handle negative reviews and rejections.

Somehow, I figured retiring from my day job would allow all the writing time I needed and then some. But, as most retirees say, I’ve never been so busy. Some days I feel like a one-armed juggler. I could spend zero time on actual writing and still call it a full-time job.

Honestly? There’s little of this I don’t love. I thank God every day that I get to do this, and I ask Him to partner with me in all of it. To empower me, stabilize me, give me both confidence and humility. To use me and my work for his purposes. To grant me the grace to accept His outcomes when they don’t look the way I’d hoped—which happens a lot.

Seems like a full-time job for God, too. Thankfully, time is nothing to Him. He wants to partner with each of us—with you, in whatever you do, whatever your passion. Invite him into your world and your work. Watch what happens.

But be warned. You may become busier than you’ve ever been.


Friday, May 14, 2021

Too Dense to be Condensed?

Do you remember Reader’s Digest Condensed Books? Early in our marriage, with bookshelves in our home but little with which to fill them, I subscribed. Four times a year, I’d receive by mail a hardcover containing four recent bestsellers, condensed to fit into one volume. Reader’s Digest provided this popular service for 47 years (1950-1997) before renaming it Reader’s Digest Select Editions. As far as I can tell, the current version operates the same way. The books provide an opportunity for readers to stay abreast of latest bestsellers with less investment of time, money, and shopping.

At some point, I cancelled my subscription but began buying these books at thrift shops and libraries for 25 or 50 cents apiece. Their matching, faux-leather covers looked fantastic on our shelves and I read most of them. They also served as a lovely way to fill bookshelves on stage for more than one theatrical production over the years.

After I became a novelist, I wondered how authors felt about their work being condensed. Surely some refused to participate. What if favorite scenes were eliminated? What if glaring plot holes left readers with unanswered questions? On Wikipedia, you can find a list of every book published this way, with dates—nearly two thousand in all, sometimes with different selections for the Canadian market. Clearly, Reader’s Digest must pay authors well enough to make the pain of deleted words worth the sacrifice.

Taking shortcuts is not uncommon for human beings. For decades, students have relied on Coles Notes and Cliff Notes study guides to help them bypass heavy reading assignments, though the company would never endorse the practice. Since the first “for Dummies” book came out in 1990, that company has released more than 2,500 titles to teach you about almost anything as quickly and easily as possible. In 2016, an app called Joosr released, which reduces nonfiction books to a 15-minute read. Horrifying? To some. But if the choice is between that or not reading at all, maybe the idea holds merit.

Is it “cheating” to read a shortened version of a book? Is it okay to claim you’ve read it? How about condensed versions of long classics you’d never otherwise read in full?

As more books poured into our home and with both of us reluctant to part with any, our shelves eventually became overladen. The simplest solution? Pulling down all the pretty RD condensed books and donating them to our local MCC Thrift store, bypassing the need to consider every single book. Hubby agreed, and I performed the task during one of my spring-cleaning frenzies. I cleared three shelves (which quickly filled again once I reorganized and rearranged our remaining books.) I’m happy with the outcome.

Imagine my surprise when I unloaded them at MCC only to learn they cannot take those RD books, at least not in large quantities. Not enough space, not enough demand. A pleasant young man helped me reload the six boxes into my trunk. I trundled them off to our recycling depot with a twist in my gut. (If you would have loved to receive them, please don’t tell me. My heart’s already wracked with guilt for not trying harder.)

In a warning to his son in Ecclesiastes, Solomon said, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body … here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

And yes, I condensed that a bit.