Prov 17:22

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

Friday, September 29, 2023


Whether it’s morning, the middle of the night, or the middle of the day, what’s the first thing you want to know when you wake up?

If you’re like me, your eyes seek the nearest clock. What time is it? needs to be established before the next thought can be thunk. If I don’t know the time, how do I know whether to roll over and go back to sleep, get up and go to the bathroom, or get up and stay up?

Over the years, I’ve come to associate certain numbers on the digital clock with other things. If I wake up and notice the clock says 2:22, for example, I think of the old TV show, Room 222.

Two minutes later, at 2:24, I’m most likely to think of my birthday—February 24.

If my glance at the clock reveals that it’s 3:16, the most well-known Bible verse comes to mind. You’ve got it, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

10:01 makes me think of our wedding anniversary, October 1, which is only two days away (46 years if you’re wondering. Yes, we were babies.)

But the number that consistently evokes memories is one you may still be awake for most nights. It’s 11:11, and every time I see it, day or night, I’m taken back to high school. I attended a Christian residential high school in South Dakota. In the seventies, enrollment was up enough that dorms were filled to capacity and we bunked three to a room, at least in the girls’ dorm.

Rules were strict. By 9:30, everyone had to be in their room. Lights-out was at ten. Shortly thereafter, our dorm counselor would lightly tap on the door and poke her head in to say goodnight and make sure we were tucked in. Thankfully, she didn’t check to see who may have dived under the covers fully clothed. Of course, no one could force us to sleep, but if the conversation or giggling grew too loud after ten o’clock, we could expect a second visit with demerits doled out.

While I might have happily drifted off to sleep at ten, my two roommates, Benita and Coretta, were night owls by comparison. It was probably me who initiated the idea that 11:11 should be our absolute cut-off time for whispered conversation. I remember keeping my eyes focused on those numbers that physically flipped over with a soft clunk, awaiting the magic time so I could announce, “It’s ONE-ONE-ONE-ONE!” (In fairness, there were probably times when I was the talker and one of my roommates brought the clock to our attention.)

It was actually a pretty good rule, given we rose by 6:00 in order to make it to breakfast between 7:00 and 7:20 … where no one forced us to eat, but we had to make an appearance all the same. Plus, there’d be boys present, so few of us were willing to look like we’d just dragged ourselves out of bed. And once you’re in the dining hall anyway… might as well eat.

One is not only the loneliest number, but it’s the only number that ever repeats itself four times like that on a clock. Unless, I suppose, you go by military time. A shuteye time of 22:22 hours might have suited me better, had I thought to argue for it.

Nearly fifty years later, I still think about Benita and Coretta when the clock reads 11:11. I hear the “announcement” in my head. I smile. I wonder if they think of me. Hopefully, I can ask them in person at our high school reunion next month.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Everybody Worships

I’m not one who listens to music while I write. Several authors I know make entire playlists to inspire whatever adventures they’re penning. I’ve tried. Even the lamest elevator music distracts me. Too bad. The idea sounds so cool, doesn’t it? Surely my World War II-era stories would somehow absorb more pizzazz if “The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” or “The White Cliffs of Dover” played in the background while I write. Instead, my brain automatically goes to the song lyrics and those are the words my fingers will type. Even if I’m listening to strictly instrumental.

What I can do while listening to music, however, are tasks that don’t require much brain power. Cooking, cleaning, pulling weeds. My genre of choice is Christian contemporary or worship music as the lyrics lift my spirits in ways no other songs can. I’m learning that I can sort laundry and worship God simultaneously. Chop vegetables, wash dishes… even scrub toilets. No, it’s not the sort of concentrated worship we do corporately on Sunday mornings, but it sure helps keep life in perspective.

Case in point. I’m folding my husband’s white tee shirts and listening to the radio. CHVN is playing MercyMe’s latest release, “Who Am I to Not Worship You?” I realize I have choices. I can grumble about the task, or I can praise God for so many things. For all the people smart enough to grow and process cotton. For those who blend it with synthetics to make the perfect, washable, soft fabric. For those who sew that fabric into shirts. For money to buy those shirts. For washing machines and detergent that make washing them so easy, especially compared with my grandmother’s day. I can thank God for the availability of water to wash them in. Plumbing and sewer systems that work, and for the people who keep them working. For my body that’s capable of folding and putting them in the dresser drawers. For the dresser itself. I literally finish the task before I run out of things to thank God for.

See how that works?

The novelist David Foster Wallace, not long before his death, spoke these words to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College:

“Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

You may not think you worship anything, but that’s not possible. Whatever fills your thoughts when your mind is free to wander, whatever takes the bulk of your free time, whoever you surrender to—that is your object of worship. Often, that someone is self. Could be another person. Could be money, work, hobbies, sports, sex. We humans are experts at making gods of anything. That’s because our Creator made us to worship. He knows we need it. He knows we can’t be fully whole without it. And He knows He is the only one worthy of it.

“Who am I to not worship You?” is a really great question to ask yourself today.


Friday, September 15, 2023

Deleted Scenes

I miss the days of DVDs when you could watch deleted scenes and bloopers from movies. Some disks came with so many deleted scenes, it was almost like watching the whole movie over again. 

Ever wonder why film editors decide to remove certain bits, whether it’s simply about keeping the final production to a certain length or for some other reason? Have you ever watched a deleted scene that you thought made the whole story make more sense and should have been kept in?

The same happens with books.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve just released another book. What’s different about this one is that I’m self-publishing it, which greatly reduces the amount of time between my final revision (the point after which I can’t make any more changes) and the book’s release date. I had just sent out the manuscript to my pre-launch team members who agreed to read it before its release, post their reviews on launch day, and help me promote the book before and after that day.

The next morning, while stepping into the shower, I thought of a scene in the book that I’d written in the original draft but which I couldn’t remember seeing in my latest revision.

As soon as I could return to my desk, I compared the two. Sure enough, that scene appeared in the first but not the last version. I then recalled what had happened.

If you’re an author, you know that working with an editor can sometimes feel like dumping all the puzzle pieces out of the box onto a table and having your editor help you put it together in a way that improves the picture. My editor, Shari, had suggested, and I agreed, that my prologue needed to go. I pulled a few snippets from it that I deemed important, worked them into the main story, and deleted the rest.

But I’d missed one. This particular scene didn’t make or break the story, but it did make the ending far more logical. Because Shari and I had both read that bit, it was already in our minds. It just wasn’t on the page. Now, although the ending made great sense to both of us, it would be less meaningful for readers.

Isn’t that like life? We base everything we do, say, or decide on our limited knowledge or experience, and frequently on the opinions we’ve already formed. We communicate to others assuming they have the same information we do—which, of course, they almost never do. What makes sense to us may not necessarily be so obvious to the other person and we wonder what’s wrong with them.

I’m glad the final revision hadn’t been released and I was able to put that paragraph back into my book. I hope I can remember this experience going forward. May God use it to make me more patient and considerate. More clear in my explanations and more gracious in my expectations. More understanding when others “don’t get it.”

And when I’m the one who “doesn’t get it,” may I ask better questions instead of writing the other person off like a deleted scene.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Back to School

Did you enjoy school as a kid? If so, chances are you continued your education in some form as an adult. If you hated school, you’d probably rather stick pins in your eyes. But you may be pleasantly surprised.

You probably know someone who returned to the classroom in their forties, fifties, or even older. Some completely changed career paths. The ones I know have no regrets, even if school was never their forte. I can think of several reasons why. One, they’re probably learning something they feel passionate about. Two, they are now paying for the course out of their own pocket and more deeply appreciate the cost of education. Three, they’ve matured enough to have developed a few study skills, self-discipline, and determination.

I returned to the classroom, so to speak, at age 50. Going to work at city hall gave me the chance to take the Manitoba Municipal Administration program by distance education. Even though municipal administration hadn’t exactly been a lifelong dream of mine, turning down the opportunity seemed foolish.

I won’t lie, studying was hard work. I didn’t enjoy all the courses. The professor who told me the Bible was an inappropriate source to quote in an essay on ethics made me throw up my hands. I felt humiliated by the one who suggested I take a basic writing class first. And I tore more than a few hairs out of my head over the accounting courses.

But, one by one, I finished the assignments and graduated with distinction after three years. No, it wasn’t a degree, but a certificate and the right to place the initials CMMA after my name. The experience boosted my confidence and helped me realize I wasn’t so dumb after all. It still comes as a shock when I receive emails or magazines sent to University of Manitoba alumni.

According to a May 2022 article in Harvard Medical School’s publishing platform, one of the best ways to keep your brain young is by stimulating it. Activities like reading, word puzzles, math problems, memorizing, learning another language, and taking courses all put our minds through “mental gymnastics” that keep the brain functioning. New connections between nerve cells are stimulated and may even help the brain generate new cells. This helps your brain retain or rebuild the neurological plasticity you naturally possessed as a child. Mentally stimulating activities can help you build a hedge against future cell loss. And if you can find an activity that requires both mental effort and manual dexterity, like painting or knitting, that’s a huge bonus.

So, keep doing your daily Wordle, crossword, or Sudoku. Force yourself to think. Learn something new.

And if you’re really brave, sign up for a course. You may just find it the start of something wonderful. I’ll be teaching the eight-week Creative Writing course offered by Red River College again this fall, on Wednesday evenings beginning October 11. I’d love to see you there.



Friday, September 1, 2023

When Life Hands You Plums...

A Facebook memory from 2016, posted during the Olympics, popped up the other day:

“And in the race between Terrie, the plum tree, and the wasp: it looks like Terrie's coming in first with a pail and a half of plums after overcoming a painful sting to her right hand and two pokes in the eye from wayward twigs. The tree takes the silver, hanging on to a few too-high-for-comfort plums. And the wasp, despite a promising beginning and fierce fight to the finish: dead last.”

In April 2013, when we first viewed our new home, the one and only tree on the property was exploding with gorgeous white blossoms and sashaying in the breeze like Marilyn Monroe over the subway grate. Though the tree looked and smelled wonderful in bloom, I suspected it might bear those sour, tiny plums that serve only to create a major mess in the yard. I wondered how long it would take us to hate the tree. A taste of its fruit in late July confirmed my notion.

But I was wrong.

I needed a little more patience. When our friend Noel saw the tree, he immediately identified it as a Pembina Plum and assured us it was healthy and would produce edible fruit. By late August, we were picking the loveliest, juiciest, sweetest plums and eating them simply for the pleasure of it. Over the years, I’ve made jam and jelly, smoothies and sauces, and fed many fresh plums to grandsons. And yes, the wasps and compost site have accepted their share of the windfall.

While standing on a step ladder picking them (wasp-free!) last week, I was reminded again of something we learned shortly after our move here. A friend told me that her dad planted the tree for his neighbor more than 50 years ago. I never met her father, nor the neighbor who built our house. I simply get to enjoy the results of their labor.

In Joshua 24, God tells his people, “I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.”

When you think about it, we each inherited things we held no control over. Maybe it’s your mother’s nose or your dad’s legs. Perhaps you were blessed with a genetic disease or the famous family temper. Maybe your parents handed down a legacy of poverty or alcohol abuse and you struggle with the same through no fault of your own.

But we forget the many good things that come our way through no fault of our own, every day. Think about your town, your school, your church. Others cleared the land, raised the funds, constructed the buildings, invoked God’s assistance, paved the streets, planted the crops, wrote the books, and invented the conveniences that enrich our lives. Others sacrificed so you could have. If you think about it enough, you can see this through every moment of your day, from the time your feet hit the floor in the morning. We are the beneficiaries of those who have gone before.

The 12th-century theologian and author John of Salisbury said, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

What are you planting today that future generations will reap?