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The first time an editor marked up an article I had written, I felt the air leaking (gushing) out of my emotional balloon. I had labored thoughtfully over every word, every comma, every simile – and she was picking it apart!
 

I gritted my teeth and went through each suggested change and answered her questions. I was prepared to disagree and defend the way I had written it, but as I examined her comments and made the suggested changes, I realized she had made my story tighter, clearer, and . . . yes, better.
 

She also helped me see the story from the reader’s point of view. I saw that I was so close to the topic I had forgotten to think about how a reader might perceive and understand the story.

 
Lots to learn

 
Even after this helpful learning experience, I still felt a twinge of dread each time I received an editor’s comments on my writing. But trying to be a big girl, a positive person, and a professional, I tried to welcome this helpful feedback.
 

When I wrote my first book, the editor’s insightful and challenging questions caused me to restructure the book altogether. Once it was finished, I remembered my original version and literally cringed.

 
A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune and the editor sent it back with about a dozen questions that required calling several people and re-interviewing the subject. But the worst was that I had to incorporate all sorts of additional information and still cut the piece from 750 to 450 words! That was a challenge. But when it was finished, I saw that all of the essentials were there and it was a concise yet informative article.

 
Two heads better than one

 
Today I can honestly say that I welcome editing. It’s a privilege to have someone with expertise in the field and a fresh set of eyes read my material and use his or her knowledge to improve it.

 
Now that I’m an editor too, I try to use what I’ve learned to make others’ books better. I completely understand when an author isn’t thrilled to hear from me, but I hope as we work together he or she will know that the editor is really a friend who shares the author’s desire that the book becomes a best-seller!

Snowfinal

Have you ever looked at something you’ve seen all your life and suddenly it looked brand new? Maybe when you first saw the world through the eyes of a parent, having just become a mother or dad for the first time. Wow – this little person is my child. Hard to comprehend, wasn’t it?

 

One such time for me was after my first book was published, not that I’m comparing that to the wonder of parenthood.

 

I was in a pizza place the night my book was accepted by the publisher, and honestly, it seemed as if the world had shifted – I was to be a published author! Today one can do that a lot more easily with Amazon ebooks and Create Space and other avenues, but for me at the time it was a dream come true. And pizza took on a new flavor for me that night when I, a soon-to-be published author, sat with my friends and ate a piece.

 

This winter has been a time like that for me as it pertains to snow. Yes, for most of my life after my family moved from the South up to New Jersey and then Illinois, I have experienced snow. This year we’ve had a plethora of snow – not sure plethora can be applied to snow, but it felt right at the moment I typed it. Tons of snow, gallons of snow, mountains of snow – however you measure it, we’ve had an abundance of that and bitter cold temperatures this winter.

 

I’ve always thought the first snow of the season was beautiful, especially if it produced a white Christmas, and I’ve always been partial to the ice that forms on trees, making the street look like a crystal cave surrounded by icy stalactites and stalagmites (the way I remember which is which is that stalactites have a “c” for ceiling and stalagmites have a “g” for ground, but I digress).

 

After the first snow and the second and third, it starts to look less pretty to me, but still I like the four seasons and snow is part of that.

 

But this year – this year! Not only have we had a ton of it, it has also been absolutely gorgeous. I’ve tried taking photos and I’m including a couple of them in this post. They’re not great but if you enlarge them you can see actual snowflake-shaped snowflakes captured by an obvious amateur!

 Coatfinal

The first time this struck me in a new way was on an evening I was visiting my friend Kay’s house and as I left her house, we could see this powdery, sparkly, fluffy stuff on the ground that literally looked like what they would use on a stage or movie set to sprinkle around when you need fake snow. In the snow you could see snowflakes that looked like plastic confetti, like something you would buy at a party store. They were absolutely perfect and about 3/8-inch in diameter, big enough that you could see their shape with the naked eye.

 

Today, a couple of winter months later, we’re again having snow. The piles on the sides of the driveway are probably almost four feet high – you have to be really careful backing out into the street. But when I got in the car this morning, I again saw those picture-perfect little flakes, perfectly formed and I again took pictures with my phone.

 

As I said, I have seen snow all my life, but snow this year is utterly gorgeous and points me in God’s direction because He set everything up so that snowflakes would be the amazing way they are. They say that no two snowflakes are alike, a claim I question because no one has seen them all, so how could you know?

 

It’s easier for me to believe that no to people are exactly alike because I’ve known identical and fraternal twins as different as they can be and it just doesn’t make sense that two people would have the same personality, intelligence, preferences, laugh, foot shape, and all the other things that go into each person being him- or herself.

 

My point, you may be wondering about. What is it? Just this: God set it all up so that snowflakes would form their perfect little selves, just like flowers would reproduce themselves as the gorgeous creatures they are. And He gave us these things to enjoy. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

 

If He has done all this, can He not help us, you and me, when we need Him most? Since He knows the number of hairs on our heads, as well as all of our needs, and has promised to take care of us, can we not trust Him? Even when the world seems to be spinning out of control?

 

God, would you please give each of us a new glimpse of you, so that when we feel like the world has tilted and is no longer the same – we will remember that you are still God and you are still taking care of us and loving us?

 

Let me know about a time you saw something in a new light, when the world tilted for you. I’d love to know about it.

Snow

In my neck of the woods, we’re in the middle of a huge snowstorm. We’ve shoveled multiple times, but it just keeps on coming. It is truly beautiful. The boughs of the forty-foot-tall blue spruce right outside my window at this moment, heavy with the thick white stuff, bob slowly and gracefully in the wind. They’re so heavy they can’t move very fast but seem to just float up and down with their burden.

 

I love snow – at least its clean, white, cozy appearance and the stay-inside-by-the-fire feeling it brings just to look at it. I even enjoy shoveling, which is good exercise to boot. But I don’t like to drive in it.

 

Anyway, the very best part of a big white snowstorm like the one we’re experiencing now is that it makes everything beautiful, hiding all the imperfections under a fluffy white blanket.

 

And that reminds me of what our wonderful God does for me, as He says in Isaiah 1:18:

 

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.’”

 

If that’s not a reason to praise Him, I don’t know what is. Because of Jesus, God covers my sins and sees me as white as snow. And He does the same for every person who loves Jesus – because He paid the price for our sins when He died on the cross and rose from the grave.

 

Hallelujah!

yard 10

We have two large maple trees in our front yard – maybe 70 or 80 feet tall. We never rake the leaves until around Thanksgiving time because they are very late to fall off.

 

But the changing of the leaves is dramatic and, to me, exciting–because overnight (at least it seems so) they go from green to a vivid yellow, making the yard look like a sunny day, no matter what the weather actually is. You look out the front window into a bright, beautiful day.

 

The first strong wind or rain splashes the leaves all over the front grass and then we have a sunny yellow carpet. It really is beautiful.

 

This year, this metamorphosis happened a few weeks ago and after the leaves were all off the trees, I spotted a squirrel’s nest up high in one of the maples, the first time I ever remember having one in the yard. If you recall my thoughts on Protection for My Nest, you’ll know that seeing the nest in my own yard after all the leaves were gone touched my heart as a reminder of God’s goodness and protection.

 

The nest was hidden all summer but, even so, it was providing a home and haven for the critters who lived there. It reminds me of one of my favorites Bible verses, “You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance (Psalm 32:7 NASB).

 
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

shutterstock_130073408

My 26-year-old son is being baptized today! He has long been a believer and in the last couple of years has been on fire for the Lord. His conversation is loaded with praise and he wants to obey God. He knows, as we all do, that we fail at that and fall short, and we are ever grateful that our wonderful God waits with open arms to forgive us and take us back to closeness with Him.

 

Another amazing thing is what led up to his baptism today. He recently completed a work assignment in Arizona and was driving back to spend some time here at home. On the way he stopped to see a close friend and his wife in Colorado.

 

The first night Andrew was there, he was sitting on the sofa with their dog, who suddenly snapped and bit Andrew badly in the eye and lip. They rushed to the hospital and after a long wait, he got 21 stitches in his eye and a couple in his lip. Of course his friend and his wife felt terrible.

 

Apparently, a prominent eye doctor had been summoned to the hospital a couple of hours earlier because of another emergency eye problem and he “happened” to still be there when Andrew needed him. He said there would be no damage to Andrew’s eyesight or eye and repaired the damage. Andrew said he was truly an artist, as the stitches were millimeters from his eyeball.

 

Here’s the first praise that led to the title of today’s blog post: Andrew came out of all of this praising God—for protecting him and preventing him from losing the sight of his eye and for having that doctor on hand to treat him.

 

The second praise is that Andrew’s friend Scott’s wife gave her life to Christ the next night!

 

The third is for God’s mercy and wonder and the incredible ways He acts. Here Andrew suffered a pretty serious injury and came out of it praising Him, and all three—Andrew, Scott and his wife—decided to be baptized today.

 

Thank You is never enough, but thank You, God!

 

 

hacker

You can call me either gullible or stupid (I prefer the former), but here’s an amazing thing that happened to me recently.

 

I got the blue screen of death on my home computer twice after having Microsoft help me with a problem I was having getting email.

 

After getting the blue screen the second time, I called Microsoft for some more help, mentioning that this had all started after my service call for the email problem, which had been fixed via Microsoft’s free help service.

 

The tech person I talked to asked me a couple of questions and said that my issue could not be fixed through the free service (surprise!) and I would need to pay either $99 for a one-time fix or $149 for a year’s worth of repairs.

 

Goodbye, blue screen of death

Despite the advice of my grown children, who said I should not pay for this (but I had had two blue screens, after all), I gave my credit card number and purchased the $99 fix. All well and good. The technicians ran scans for literally three hours, at the end of which they pronounced it fixed. It turned out I had had a Trojan malware worm-type thing, despite my McAfee subscription. So Vijesh, the Level 2 technician who had pronounced my computer cured, said he would call me the next evening at 7:00 p.m. Central time to be sure I hadn’t gotten the blue screen again.

 

The next night I was talking to a friend and colleague and I told her I had to hang up at 7:00 because Microsoft was going to call me. While we were talking, I got a call at 6:40, which I ignored because I knew that Vijesh would call at 7, so I could talk with her until then.

 

Vijesh called me back at 7:20 and instead of checking my computer, he said he would call me again the next night at 7 to be sure everything was okay. Not sure why the delay, but I said okay.

 

So the next night, I got a call at 5:40 p.m. and caller ID just said “out of area.” Since the Microsoft call had come in the night before at a different time from the one I expected, I picked it up, being thankful I was at home since I usually get home from work much later than this.

 

Under attack!

I could barely make out what the person was saying due to language differences, and I admit that I am slightly hard of hearing. But he said something like, “Your computer is being attacked. Microsoft has had alerts letting us know that this is happening and we need to get into your computer to block this from damaging your computer.”

 

Being dumb but not that dumb, I asked why the calling phone number said “out of area” and was told that Microsoft uses different numbers to call customers back, especially at peak hours. I asked to speak to a supervisor. The “supervisor” came on the line and I asked for the incident number and (stupidly, I admit it) said, “Last night I talked to Vijesh and he was going to call me back tonight.”

 

The fake supervisor said, “Oh, I’ll connect you with Vijesh now.” Good.

 

A Vijesh impersonator came on the line and said, “This is Vijesh. How are you this evening, Barbara?”

 

Relieved, I asked him what the problem was. Surely you can see how confusing this was since he was to call me last night and when he finally reached me he had only said he would call me back the next night. The situation was starting to seem like a cross between a Grimm’s fairy tale and the Twilight Zone where reality got very fuzzy indeed.

 

The evil impersonator

I swear his voice sounded like that of the real Vijesh from the night before. He said, “There’s been an attack on your computer and I need to get remote access so I can stop the attack for you and fix your computer.”

 

I said, “Why did your phone number come up as ‘out of area’?” and he said that’s what it does when they call customers back. I asked for his phone number and the incident number and he said he needed to stop the attack right now and would give me that information in just a minute.

 

Dumbly (yes, stupidly), I followed his instructions and gave him access to my computer, all the while insisting that he give me the incident number and the Microsoft phone number. As soon as the access connection was established and I was still asking for the information, he said he’d call me back in 15 minutes. I again reiterated my request for information and he hung up.

 

Finally, I got it. I immediately turned off my computer and asked for help from my son (kindly refer to Ask a Kid!) and he helped me unplug the computer and all its accoutrements.

 

I then put in a call to Microsoft, waited for quite a while, and while I was waiting the real Vijesh called me with his phone number showing up on caller ID as Microsoft. I picked up via call waiting and told him what had happened.

 

He didn’t smirk at my naivete, at least not in a way I could detect it, and he checked my computer and said to check my bank account and credit cards for the next several days. He said it looked like I had turned the machine off in time to prevent untold damage, for which I am thankful.
I asked if this scam had anything to do with my two recent Microsoft service calls and he said no, these things just happen randomly.

 

Not sure I agree with him, but I hope to do better next time in listening to warning signals and getting out fast.

 

Maybe you should too.

Assistance (with clipping path)

I have a lovely young friend at work who could chronologically be my daughter for sure. But we have just clicked. We have much in common, and we have differences too, which is fine. She is utterly brilliant – everyone wants her on their project because she creates amazing, beautiful, contemporary designs and artwork that bring any project to life – whether it’s a corporate strategy or a new training course. People want to fast-track her into the corporate hierarchy, but she just wants to do what she’s good at and loves and she declines these offers.

 

So that’s her professional self and I am privileged to get her on some of my projects, which always makes me breathe a sigh of relief because I know that our marketing efforts are going to be outstanding with her involved.

 

But listen to what she did recently! She read my blog post about my friend Linda and she contacted me and said Linda sounds like such a wonderful person whom she would like to reach out to with a random act of kindness. I gave her Linda’s name and address and, sure enough, she sent Linda a book, an encouraging note, and a check for $25. And she doesn’t know Linda from Adam! She just did this because she was touched as she read about a woman with a big heart and small to nonexistent resources.

 

Soon Linda called me to say she had received this anonymous gift and asked if I knew the person. Of course I said I did and Linda described the lovely soft and comfortable nightgown (she has chronic pain that makes most clothing painful) she had been able to purchase with the gift and how thrilled she was that someone would reach out to her like this.

 

So next time you get discouraged about the condition of the world, think of people like this who, just out of the goodness of their hearts, do something wonderful for someone else – someone she doesn’t even know and may never meet or even talk to. And have hope . . . because while I get discouraged at times about the future and some of the people I observe, I know that amazing people exist at every age. And they are actively doing surprising things that demonstrate goodness every day.

ask-a-kid

I drive a 10-year-old Honda that I love – would never have anything other than a Honda in the future. But months ago I started having an electrical problem in the car where the radio suddenly sounded staticky (a new word?) and turned off whenever it felt like it. It came back on sporadically – or not.

 

First the radio/CD player

No big deal, right? I use my radio/CD player mostly for audio books, but the same thing started happening when I had CDs in there. When I had the car in for an oil change, I mentioned the problem and was told I’d need to leave it for several days for them to observe what happened. But what’s to observe? The radio/CD player goes on/off at will and unpredictably. So I didn’t leave it for several days.

 

My adult daughter suggested that I turn down the volume so as not to bother the neighbors because the sound came on often at all hours of the day or night. I guess I have the volume turned up. I agreed and made this adjustment.

 

Then I went to Nashville – love, love Nashville and my relatives who live there – and left my car sitting in my driveway for four days while I was gone. Apparently, the radio/CD player had gone off and on so much during that time that it killed the battery. I had to get a charge when I got home because the car was dead – wouldn’t start at all.

 

Then the power windows

A few weeks later on my way to work, I noticed that the windows didn’t go down at all except, inexplicably, the driver’s window. Oh, no, another electrical problem. I decided I would indeed need to leave the car at the Honda dealer for them to observe the problem because this was becoming intolerable and even unsafe (see previous post about the danger of safety. I’m not a big fan of taking drastic and onerous action to provide “safety”).

 

A few days later, I was driving my daughter to the train station and she tried to open the passenger side window, which didn’t work. She asked me, “What’s up with the window?” I said, “I have to take the car in and leave it for several days for them to diagnose the electrical problem that’s now making the windows not work, in addition to the radio and CD player not working. I looked it up online and found that it’s all related – radio, windows, other electrical problems.”

 

She said, “Did you check the child safety lock for the windows?” “Where is that?” I asked, after driving this car for eight years and being the mother of three children who don’t need safety locks anymore. “Right there where the windows go down,” she explained to me, slowly realizing, as my son had when he encouraged me not to use my cell phone like just a “stick,” that it’s easy for me and I daresay others to miss the way technology works.

Bottom line: If something doesn’t work, before you call the repairman or make an appointment for your car, ask a kid. He or she will undoubtedly be able to solve it for you in less than three seconds and without any money being exchanged.

Navigating Home

I purchased a GPS after getting lost on a business trip in Texas (I live in Illinois) during which I spent three hours getting from the airport to my hotel, a distance of 1.2 miles. My adult children in Illinois helped me by using their GPS systems on their phones and patiently walking me back from my panic.

 

A couple of the highlights of the experience were seeing a highway sign with the symbol that the green toucan uses on Angry Birds to go forward and then circle back. I had never seen a sign like this outside the game and described it to my daughter, who laughed as she tried to help me.

 

Another doozy was when I stopped at a gas station to ask for directions and–I’m not making this up or exaggerating–the brick-enclosed building had no door! No door at all. As I gesticulated desperately outside the window, the clerk felt sorry for me and after unlocking what appeared to be several padlocks, stepped outside her fortress and pointed me in the direction she thought I was going. This was fairly early on, after only an hour or so of being lost.

So I came home and invested in a GPS and it was worth every penny.

 

But here’s my favorite thing about the GPS. When the computer voice, that of a woman, tells me what to do, for which I thank her often, she uses no inflection or emotion at all when she says, “In 1.2 miles, turn left on Route 20.” Flat, emotionless voice. Even if I make a wrong turn and she has to recalculate to figure out where I am now, her voice shows no judgment or anger or even impatience. She just calmly says, “Go 4.6 miles and turn right on Anderson Boulevard.” Some of her pronunciations are kind of funny, but after all, she’s a computer, so I give her quite a bit of slack.

 

But when I have finished my business or dropped someone off at the airport and am ready to turn around and go home, all I have to say to her is “Go home.” And her response is absolutely heartwarming.

 

“Navigating home,” she says. But it’s not the personality-less tone she uses for every other instruction. “Navigating home” is delivered in a way that makes me feel like saying, “Ahhhhh, I’m going home now.” Her voice drops down when she says “home” so that it really sounds like she knows I’m glad to be going there.

 

Today when I dropped two people off at the airport and told my GPS girl, “Go home,” and she gave her usual comforting response, it suddenly dawned on me that that’s what I, along with every other Christian, am doing here on earth–we’re navigating home. We’re traveling this world on our way to our real home–heaven.

 

And that thought–from my wonderful and beloved God, I believe–was even more comforting and exciting than the prospect of returning to my snug and cozy little house that God gave me fourteen years ago.

 

I’m on my way Home–to be with our Savior and our loved ones who have gone ahead of us, and they include my dear mother, my sister and my brother, whom I miss. I’m not in any hurry to get there, though, and I have, as Robert Frost said, “Miles to go before I sleep.” Miles and more fun times with my three darling children and maybe even grandchildren one day. And work that God still has for me to do.

 

God, help me to honor you with the rest of my journey here, however long or short. And thank you that I know where I’m going as I’m “Navigating home.”

least of these

Welcome to my blog. I have been writing many things for quite a long time and know that blogging is the “in” thing now. So I’m going to blog.

 

What I’d like to talk about is . . . well, lots of things. I’m a mother, a writer, a sister, a neighbor, a woman, a friend, and life is full of interesting happenings and fascinating people, isn’t it?

 

One of the most interesting people I’ve ever met is my friend Linda. Right now, she lives in a retirement home in another state and has no money. Literally – her Social Security check goes for rent on the place and she has something like $80 a month to spend. The place even has bugs that they try to tell her are “lint” and some anonymous person harasses her by banging on her apartment door at 4:30 a.m. many mornings.

 

So I grieve for her situation. Let me tell you about her amazing life.

 

Linda earned her living cleaning houses. Until she reached the age for Medicare, she had no medical insurance. She had no paid sick days or holidays, no pension plan or IRA. Linda’s mother died in childbirth and, as soon as Linda was old enough to understand the words, her father told her that she had killed her mother by being a “bad baby.” Not surprisingly after a start in life like that, Linda has struggled with depression for many years.

 

I first knew Linda when she cleaned my house, back in the days of my material prosperity. We became friends, and she worked for me for ten years. Over the years, we talked and prayed together, sharing victories and heartbreaks. Both of us are mothers, and we prayed together for our children.

 

Financial reversals ended my luxury of Linda’s household help, and ended my years of owning the house as well. But our friendship remained strong, and we talked on the phone and visited each other occasionally. During one particularly discouraging week for me, Linda called me.

 

“You sound down, Barb.  Has something happened?”

 

“I didn’t get the job I applied for, and I’m getting panicky about finances,” I said.

 

“What a disappointment about the job.  Let’s meet for breakfast on Saturday.  My treat,” she said.

 

I was glad to see her Saturday morning, but I felt guilty that she had offered to pay for my breakfast.  If I had handled things better when I had money, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Linda has so little, and yet she wants to take me out to breakfast, I thought.

 

After we finished our meal, Linda pulled out an envelope with my name on it and handed it to me.

 

“I really want you to have this, Barb,” she said.

 

“Oh, Linda, I couldn’t take that from you.  I just couldn’t.”

 

Her smile faded instantly, and she looked away from me, obviously hurt.

 

“You helped me years ago, Barb, and now I want to help you a little bit.”

 

I knew immediately that the right thing to do was to put aside my pride and guilt and accept her gift.

 

“Thank you, Linda.  I appreciate your help.”

 

After Linda paid our bill, we hugged each other and parted. I was touched by her kindness. When I got home, I opened Linda’s envelope, expecting to find a $5 or $10 bill. Instead, she had given me $128 in cash.

 

Surprised and overwhelmed, I realized that she had given me a full two days’ pay from her housecleaning work. Just like the widow’s two mites, I thought (from Mark 12:42 NASB). She has given out of her poverty, not out of her surplus. She gave me what she had to live on.

 

Another lesson learned by example.
Check back to learn more about Linda and other amazing people I know.