300 Years of Joy… And Counting

Y birth announcementCraig and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary in October, and today is my 60th birthday. I’m not very good at arithmetic, but I do notice that adds up to 100 years.

A nice round number, but it doesn’t include Craig’s age in the sum. (He’ll be 62 in two days.) So I decided to add a few more milestones into the mix and see if I could come up with another jolly, round number.

Here’s the result: It’s been 43½ years since my “rebirth day” when I began a new life in Christ. We’ve had a full and wonderful 37½ years of parenthood. And I lived 57 years in Ohio before moving here to Merryland.

It’s a little convoluted, but if you add all that up (40 + 60 + 62 + 43.5 + 37.5 + 57), we’ve accumulated the rough equivalent of 300 years of joy.

There are plenty of additional milestones I could add, but I wanted an even number for a total. Some of the other things I might include if I wanted to figure out how to work them in: Ten years of button-busting grandparenthood. For Craig, 6 years of retirement. More than 15 years of being debt-free. Almost 14 years since I started seriously to write.

I suppose I could look back and reflect on some of the unhappy days as well. But you know what? I’ve pretty much forgotten those. I know they occurred, but why dwell on them?

stormI am who and what I am today, in part, because of all my experiences, both pleasant and otherwise. Mostly, I am what I am because of the grace of God, who works all things together for good for those who love him. That’s somewhat of a trite saying, but it’s rock-solid true nonetheless. When in the midst of a storm, we don’t always see the good, but it’s always there, above and beyond the savage wind and the dark, thundering clouds.

Today, in this my 300th year of joy, I know there will be storms ahead. Sometimes the gusts will knock me off my feet. But big deal; it happens to everybody. In fact, God promises it will happen to everyone who follows him. But that’s just stuff that happens along the way; it’s not the end of the story.

Little Y about 1957I was recently reminiscing about a day when I was very small, and my mom was wrapping Christmas presents. She had a twin brother who was disabled, and because he couldn’t get out to shop, he ordered Christmas gifts from catalogs and had them sent to our house. My mom would then wrap them for him so he could give them to the family. Because none of the gifts she wrapped that day were for me, I was allowed to be in the room with her.

Being a little kid, I was mighty excited about Christmas and was probably getting under her skin. I asked several times, “How soon can we open our gifts? When’s Christmas?”

“About two weeks,” was always the distracted reply.

“Well, how long is two weeks? When’s it gonna be Christmas?”

I still remember her answer: “It seems a long time, to you. But to me, it’s just around the corner. The older you get, the faster time goes.”

I guess I’ve always had a very literal mind, because I went and looked down the hall, hoping to see Christmas “just around the corner.” It wasn’t there. Hmmm. Maybe only moms can see it…

Christmas tree 2007She was right, though: the older we get, the faster time seems to go, and I’ve been thinking about that truth quite a lot lately.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is the excitement I felt about Christmas back then.

I knew I was going to get presents. I didn’t know what they were going to be, but I knew I was going to like them. My grandparents would come over, and it would be a great day. I knew that with certainty, though I didn’t have a clear idea of when that “great day” would arrive.

That little kid is still inside me bubbling over with anticipation. But it’s not Christmas I’m anticipating. It’s Christ.

There are gifts in my future, of that I’m certain. I don’t know exactly what they’ll be, but I know I’m going to love them. All God’s family will be united, and it will be a great day.

I know that with certainty, though I don’t have a clue when that “great day” will arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday Situation Report

file0001354955594What’s the situation? Well…

I am making tomato soup even as we speak, with the intention of canning a few jars. I’ve never canned tomato soup before, but we have tomatoes ripe in the garden and have no need for any more canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I like Campbell’s cream of tomato soup (made with milk instead of water). I think it’s the only canned soup I like. Making it from fresh tomatoes is a lot of work just for a bowl of soup, so I don’t do it very often. But I need to do something with all these tomatoes, so I decided to experiment. I’m not comfortable canning something with cream in it, though, so I’ll leave out the cream. I can always add it later, when I open a jar.

2015-08-22 11.37.42Yes, we have tomatoes in our garden despite the determined efforts of the neighborhood groundhog. The tomatoes in the photo at left are high enough off the ground that the The Beast can’t reach them. The one shown below is in a less fortunate location. I wouldn’t say we’ve lost half our tomatoes to groundhog predation (if herbivores can be said to prey on vegetables), but the critter is making a significant dent in the crop. No pun intended…

2015-08-22 11.37.28Fortunately, we planted more than we needed, so we still have plenty.

I needed more tomato puree, so I planted some San Marzano “paste” tomatoes in addition to the round “eating” tomatoes 2015-08-22 11.39.11shown above. The plants are starting to die off, partly because of being grazed upon by The Beast and partly because it’s not uncommon for them to do that in late summer. The round tomatoes are still going strong, so The Beast should have plenty of good grazing for a few weeks yet.

We haven’t seen as many groundhogs here in Maryland as we did in Ohio. But where gardens are concerned, it only takes one! And here’s the problem: we live in town. In a neighborhood surrounded by houses and people. Which means we can’t handle the problem the way we did in Ohio. There, we had some occasional damage from groundhogs, but let’s just say that the same hog never visited us twice, if you get my drift.

These are suppose to be green bean plants. The Beasts calls them "lunch."
These are suppose to be green bean plants. The Beast calls them “lunch.”

We could legally trap this critter in a live trap, but what well-fed beast, for whom the whole world is a salad bar, would go into a box to get food? We borrowed a live trap for a while, but the only thing we caught was a possum. Don’t care about possums. And I’m pretty sure I heard the groundhog laugh as it passed the trap on its way to eat all my green beans.

Excuse me while I go stir my soup… Okay, I’m back. One more thing about that, and then I’ll move on: I like this tomato soup because, besides being yummy, it allows me to use tomatoes and carrots from my garden, basil from my herb garden, and chicken broth I made this spring and put in the freezer. It irks me that I had to buy onions, considering the fact that I used to grow marvelous onions in Ohio. But it’s still satisfying to make something yummy from things I have on hand, and to be able to preserve the result for use in the cold months to come. I can anticipate only one down side: I’ll probably never want Campbell’s tomato soup again.

This gives a glimpse of the lovely venue, the Tea Room at Gambrill State Park
This gives a glimpse of the lovely venue, the Tea Room at Gambrill State Park

Now, let’s talk about writing. I had the opportunity last weekend to go to a one-day “Writing to Inspire” workshop near Frederick, Maryland. Despite being a bit dragged down by a stomach bug that almost-but-not-quite kept me home, I had a good time. (Would have been a great time if I’d been feeling better!) Met some people I’m very happy to know. And hope to be able to go back next year if and when they do it again. This was the first year for it, and it seemed to be well received by all who participated, so I hope it will be the first get-together in a long tradition of them.

11781694_10204935433811036_3742185297715992323_nIn the pic above, you can see a back view of me along the left edge.  The picture at right was taken from the back porch/patio of the tea room. That white disk at the lower right corner is a table, in case you couldn’t tell. The view was lovely, but it was a hot, sunny day and only a crazy person would have sat out there.

Umm… okay, I guess I did sit out there for lunch. So I’m a crazy person, okay?

11898546_10204935414450552_8672716623010485690_n
Find me in this pic. I dare ya. (This is not a trick; I really am there.)

Anyway, here’s the thing about writer get-togethers. It wasn’t a place where everybody tried to sell their books. Actually, I did sell two of mine, but that’s not the reason I went. My purpose was to find a little inspiration/encouragement, and to encourage others. And I think both those goals were accomplished.

Nobody understands a writer except another writer. Being a Christian writer adds another dimension. If you’re a writer and a Christian, you’re a Christian writer, no matter what you write. A Christian has a higher standard and a greater purpose for whatever he or she does, and that applies to writing. So it’s helpful for those of us who are flopping around in this confusing land of Christian Writerdom to have a little company along the way.

So, speaking of “along the way,” what’s along my way in the way of writing? Well, now that I’m feeling myself again after the aforementioned stomach ailment (so wonderful to finally emerge from the fog!), I’m eager to move forward on three fronts:

c1b3b9b01) My friend whom I’ve been helping with her project, Dancing on Stones: A Quest for Joy, is at the point where it’s time to actively pursue publication of this thing. This is huge– exciting–and a long story. But I won’t get into it all now. I’ll just say I’m actually looking forward to promoting this book when it’s available. (Did I really say that? Yes. I’m looking forward to helping her promote it, because it’s a book I’m wildly enthusiastic about.)

2) I’m negotiating with another individual concerning my helping him with a memoir. This is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s always good to expand our horizons and learn new things. Besides that, I think the guy will be fun to work with.

This has nothing to do with this blog post. It's just pretty.
This has nothing to do with this blog post. It’s just pretty.

3) My friend Susan and I have agreed to hammer out new novels together next month — kind of like NaNoWriMo except less formally organized, and in September. Less pressure, too. We’ve just decided that it’s time we got cracking on these things, and a little determination, as well as accountability to someone one else, might help. I’ve actually already started this new novel — yes, I have written five sentences. So I’m well on my way, ha ha.

My soup is in jars and in the pressure canner now. (The acid in the tomatoes might make it okay to can in a hot water bath canner, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.) The kitchen is cleaned up, and I have some laundry going as well. Once I publish this post, I’ll be able to check off all the items on today’s must-do list. What a nice feeling!

2015-07-24 12.30.28And speaking of nice, I’ll share another photo I took a few weeks ago of the Rose of Sharons beside the driveway. This is a very popular shrub in these parts (they’re like belly buttons: everyone has one), and I’m glad, because I like them. They’re not only beautiful, but they also give me warm fuzzies, because my mom had one when I was growing up. But her one Rose of Sharon was nothing to compare to the ones planted along our property on two sides. When at their peak they’re just short of spectacular.

So there you go: a report of my situation this Saturday.

 

 

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Book Reviews: It’s a Jungle Out There

file0001570123023The farther I go on this writing journey, the more complicated it seems. Even something as simple as a book review has hidden pitfalls.

For better or for worse, Amazon sells more books than anyone. In an attempt to prevent writers from buying bogus reviews (a practice that at one time was prevalent), Amazon has strict review policies.  One of their rules is that a review cannot be paid for. If you’re given a book for free, you’re supposed to state that in your review. If Amazon’s records show you purchased the book from them, they’ll give it their “Verified Purchase” seal of approval. But if you didn’t buy it there, they reserve the right to remove/refuse your review.

You’re not allowed to “swap” reviews. That is, you can’t agree with a fellow author to review one another’s books. Of course that happens all the time — being an author, I know a lot of authors, and I’ve reviewed some of their books and they’ve reviewed mine. But if Amazon gets a whiff of your relationship, they can take down a review you posted of a friend’s book.

Review me! (But don't tell Amazon I asked you to.)
Review me! (But don’t tell Amazon I asked you to.)

Though every author loves having others praise their work, getting Amazon reviews isn’t just a matter of pride. The more reviews you have, the more your book sells as people read the reviews and think, “all these readers can’t be wrong.” Also, the more reviews  you get, the more Amazon recommends that book on their site. I believe the magic is supposed to start happening once you get 10 reviews. (Which is why I’m a bit frustrated that The Last Toqeph has been stuck at 9 reviews for months now.)

And then there are the paid reviewers, like the much-vaunted Kirkus. You can spend several hundred dollars on a paid review, but all that gets you is the right to use a quote from your great Kirkus review on your promotional materials. You can’t post it to Amazon, and you can’t use it to pay your electric bill.

The fact is, I don’t put much thought or effort into book promotion. I don’t track sales (other than to record the few bucks that are automatically deposited into my checking account each month). I don’t try to figure what marketing effort brings the greatest ROI (return on investment), seeing as how nothing seems to bring much return. (But then, I don’t invest much.) I pretty much do what I can without going broke and/or knocking myself out over it, and let come what may.

For that reason, when I saw a message on one of the Goodreads authors’ forums on which I lurk, I took notice. One of these organization that produces paid reviews (“like Kirkus” is the way it was worded) was running a contest in which they would give five winners a free review. “A $300 value!” (Or whatever the quoted cost was — I don’t remember the number for sure.) I took a closer look, and, seeing no danger involved in entering, I gave it a shot and then forgot about it.

But a couple weeks later, I received notice that I’d won a free review from Entrada. Huh? Oh, yeah, I entered that contest, didn’t I? Hmmm… pretty suspicious. I never win anything. Even more suspicious? Someone else on that Goodreads forum said he entered and won. Is it a case where five people entered, so everyone won? Adding to the sense of unease, if you google Entrada in general or Entrada Reviews in particular, this organization doesn’t show up on the first page of results. (It comes up if you search for Entrada Book Reviews, but I didn’t include the word “book” when I did my initial search.)

My unfounded guess based on nothing in particular? It’s probably a start-up company whose internet presence and reputation in the publishing world is not yet established, and this contest is a way to get their name out there. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially since they asked for no money from me — not for entering, and not for winning.

The only thing I was asked to send them was my ebook (so the reviewer could read it), a headshot and short biography — a typical request. As I sent the book file, it occurred to me they might try to sell the book on the black market or something, but who cares? My purpose in writing it was to allow people to read it, not to make money. So even black market sales will further my purpose.

Before Pella Book signing
Pella, Iowa May 2012. Photo by Glenda Mathes

So I sent what they asked for, and they delivered what they promised. Their review of The Story in the Stars is live on their site. It’s a good review — I’m happy with it. And I can use it (or excerpts therefrom) on my Amazon author page, my Goodreads page, or on any promotional materials I create.

I’m still not sure how reputable it is for a company to charge big bucks for reviews. But since I got this one for free, I’ll try to figure out how to use it. Gotta get my money’s worth, don’t ya know.

 

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What Characters!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Characterization is key to a good story.

Truthfully, there are several keys to a good story, and no one alone unlocks the door to success. (That is, creating a story that captures the imagination of the reader. Financial success is another matter.)

Even with all the other keys in place, a story won’t click with the reader unless its characters are people we can relate to. Every writer knows this – and we all think our characters are realistic and loveable. So when a beta reader or reviewer refers to them as “clichéd” or “cardboard cut-out,” we go into shock. How can you say that? I love my characters! They’re like real people to me!

And that’s good! If your characters aren’t real to you, you’re not going to portray them convincingly. But if they look flat on the page to others despite your love for them, what can you do?

One thing that keeps characters from being compelling has to do with the “show, don’t tell” principle. That is, don’t tell me what these people are like; show me. It’s a bit more work for the writer, but it can give a character facets that reflect the light of reality.

I recently came across an example of how this works in an unlikely place: my daughter’s blog.

Shelley isn’t a writer but is the mother of five kids aged 10, 8, 7, 5, and 3, and – when she find the time – blogs about their antics. In her latest post, she told about their first time at a roller rink.

file0001860567390These are my grandkids, so I enjoyed her descriptions because I love the kids. But then I realized that the post made the kids come alive for me not only because I already know them, but because of the technique she used to describe them. She unconsciously provided a great example of characterization through showing, rather than telling.

She was more than a little surprised when I asked permission to use excerpts from her post for this purpose. But once I explained what I was up to, she agreed. I’ve taken some minor liberties with the wording, because she was more concerned with conveying the scene than with proper writing.

And, perhaps, the only reason I like this is because I love the kids. But it seems like a good example of lifelike characterization. I don’t know. Just humor me, please, while I introduce you to my grandkids at the skating rink.

First, three-year-old Zuri:

Zuri clip-clop-slid over to get the walkers with me, quietly crying the whole time. “I… I… don’t wike it!” By the time we got back to the other kids, she snuffled. “Can I take them off now?” Of course! Once the skates were removed, she was content to watch… and fell asleep in my arms about 9:30.

Can’t you just see a three-year-old trying to move in unfamiliar, clunky skates, whimpering? This little glimpse of the action is much more interesting than simply saying, “Zuri didn’t want to skate and was content to watch the others.”

Now let’s take a look at Zuri’s ten-year-old sister. You can clearly see what kind of girl she is:

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 4.14.27 PMAvery cracked me up. She and Bennett chose roller blades rather than skates. They’d been on single blade ice skates, so this would be a piece of cake. But once the blades were on her feet, Avery found it hard to move. “I look good for a picture, just not a video!”

More about 8-year-old Bennett, mentioned above:

Bennett did not show his athleticism out there, but he skated all night with a fierce look of concentration on his face.

Here’s the five-year-old:

Everett held tight to that walker and stuck to the sidelines. He slowly worked up his nerve, going back and forth along the wall near where I sat. He never went around the rink, but his grin told me he was having fun, once he loosened up a bit.

And finally Mikaiah, the seven-year-old:

Mikaiah started off really wobbly but showed no fear as he made his way around the rink—roller-walking, not skating. He worked hard, and got really sweaty, and had fun!

So next time you’re tempted to write, “Wherever she went, she was concerned about what sort of impression she made” or “The little boy was timid” – resist the urge. Don’t tell us! Instead, put those darlings in a situation where they can show us what they’re made of.

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Who Doesn’t Love Free?

This post’s title suggests a number of interesting possibilities, but I really only have one thing in mind: free books!

New coverTwo of my fellow author-bloggers are currently conducting book giveaways on my behalf. Anna Weaver Hurtt is running a contest in which the winner gets a copy of The Story in the Stars, and India’s Crown blog is providing one lucky reader the opportunity to win The Last Toqeph.

Not only that, but both blogs offer the chance to read brilliant, scintilLost and Foundlating interviews with yours truly. That’s right, brilliant. Scintillating.

Or at least mildly interesting. Well, maybe not even that — if you’re a reader of my blog, you’ve probably already heard the answers to all their questions. But hop on over to both blogs anyway and enter to win a book or two. Even if you already own one, it’s nice to support the bloggers. And if you win, you’ll have a head start on your Christmas shopping.

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In Which I Relate Past a Adventure, With Photos and Everything

Yes, I know there’s no SEO value to either the title or the content of this post. I’m just going to tell you a story and not try to sell books, okay? (But if you want to hop over to Amazon and buy one or four, I won’t complain.)

On or about May 23, when our son Art and his wife Jennie were visiting us, we took a trip to the Paw Paw Tunnel. (I mentioned a visit there with the grandkids in a blog post earlier this spring.)

At the risk of boring you and taking up too much space, I’ve decided to share some of the information provided by the national park people. The first sign is kind of hard to make out, but you should be able to read the history of the place in the other two, if you feel so inclined:

sign 1 06.20.015 Sign 2 06.20.15 Placard 06.20.15

 

As shown by the sign below, there’s a trail that goes over the mountain instead of through the tunnel.

sign for Tunnel Trail 06.20.15When we were there with the grandkids, we were a little concerned about that “steep and strenuous” bit, so we just walked through the tunnel, went a little farther (where the kids caught salamanders in the canal and climbed the rock wall and otherwise had fun), then turned around and went back through the tunnel again. But when we were there with Art and Jennie, we decided to take the trail instead.

I didn’t bring my camera that day. Yesterday, though, Craig and I went back and retraced our steps (some of them, anyway) so I could illustrate the story.

This is a national park, and trails and things are pretty well marked. From the parking lot, you go up a path to the C & O Rail Trail, and there’s no question where to go from there:

signs along C & O trail 06.20.15

Because we wanted to go to the Paw Paw Tunnel rather than the town of Paw Paw, West Virginia, we went to the right and followed this trail for about half a mile:

C & O trail to tunnel 06.20.15It’s an easy walk along flat ground, nice and shady. You can’t see from this picture, but the Potomac River is on the right and the remnant of the old canal is on the left.

It was a hot, humid day, and entering the tunnel was a cool relief. In fact, the air temperature grew cooler even before we were inside.

Craig entering the tunnel
Craig entering the tunnel

Using flashlights, we walked through the 3,118-foot-long tunnel. We’ve made the trip often enough now that it felt familiar yesterday. It’s truly an amazing engineering accomplishment. I’m glad the park service has restored it and made it available for people to see.

Here’s a view of it from the other side (below).

Other side of the tunnel 06.20.15After leaving the tunnel, you follow the boardwalk and then it becomes a regular trail again. A short time after that, the Tunnel Trail joins it.

trail on the other side 06.20.15

 

 

 

There’s a sign telling you about the tunnel trail and pointing you in the right direction. So, last month, Art, Jennie, Craig, and I went up the trail, and yesterday, Craig & I did the same.

The tunnel trail took us back the way we’d just come, climbing to the top of that sheer rock face in the pic above, but it was a fairly gradual climb. Nothing “steep and strenuous” right off the bat.

Then we came to an intersection, and the sign was a bit confusing:

horseshoe arrows 06.20.15All four of us looked at it. All four of us said, “Huh?”

The trail continued on past this sign, and a wide gravel road joined it, going the opposite direction from what we wanted to go.

We were all in agreement: keep going straight.

The picture below left shows the trail we took last month; the one on the right is the road-like thing that went the wrong direction. Not only that, but isn’t the narrow path supposed to be the right path, and the wide road the one that leads to death?

the wrong way 06.20.15 this is the right way 06.20.15

 

 

 

 

 

I’m happy to report that neither trail lead to our deaths. However, the one we chose last month led to… well, it’s like this.

We followed it up and up and up and up (yes! steep! strenuous!), until… where’d it go? Oh, look, here it is! Take a zig to pick it up again. Climb some more, up and up. Pant, pant, pant… sweat, sweat, sweat. Brush away the gnats that get in the eyes, ears, and mouth. Climb, climb, climb.

Now, where’d that trail go? Anybody see it? Cast about in different directions.. Over here, guys! Climb some more. Where’s Dad? He’s back there resting. Who’s got water? (One of us, at least, had the presence of mind to bring some.)

Dad’s quit gasping quite so desperately, so it looks like he’ll be okay.

Pressing on…

After losing the trail the third or fourth time, it dawned on us that we maybe should have taken the road instead. But we’d meandered around enough that the chances of finding our way back the way we came were pretty slim. Better to keep going and try to figure out how to get back to the car.

I won’t give you a step-by-step description, but we wandered awhile. And, I have to admit, I enjoyed it. I might be the only one of us who did — everyone else was a bit put out by the situation. On second thought, Art might have had fun too, but with him, it’s kind of hard to tell.

After awhile, we found what appeared to be a hunter’s four-wheeler trail, though it didn’t seem to have been used in a couple of years. After a discussion about which way to go, we decided to go the left and see where it took us.

At least it didn’t take us upward again. After awhile, Art & Jennie were a little ahead of us, and Jennie called back, “There’s a road up there — I mean, a real, paved road! But I don’t know what road it is.” I replied, “Any road is good enough for me.”

The fact is, in this part of the country, you can’t ever get seriously lost. It might seem like wilderness, but you can’t go too many miles without coming to a house, a farm, a road, or something. But it had been a long, hot walk, and I wasn’t disappointed to learn there was an end in sight.

So, we came out onto the road, and a sign on a tree across the street caught my eye. What? Does that say what I think it says?

Are You Lost 06.20.15Apparently we weren’t the first people to follow the wrong trail! I don’t know who made the sign, but I’m thankful to whoever it was.

We followed the directions, which were a bit vague, but accurate. Here’s a picture of the dirt road mentioned:

road up the hill 06.20.15The directions said to follow it “to the top of the hill,” and, in fact, it started climbing immediately. Craig asked Art & Jennie if they’d mind going back to get the car for him. “This old man’s climbed enough hills for one day. You can come back and get me.” They agreed and took off up the hill. I waited at the bottom with him.

And waited. And waited.

Turns out it was quite a walk from there. They did, in fact, find the trail at the top of the hill, but it was a long hill, and it was along way back to the parking lot from there. By the time they finally made it back to the car, they were glad to sit down! And we were glad to see them when they came down the road toward us.

And it was the only vehicle we saw the whole time we waited. If we’d been looking for a kind stranger to come along to help, we might have been there till dark.

Craig and I wanted to try it again and do it right this time, so that’s why we went back yesterday. With a camera.

Go ahead and laugh at us for taking the wrong trail. When viewed with the benefit of experience, that horseshoe-shaped arrow on the sign makes sense. But all four of us were confused by it, so it wasn’t just me. Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure, unless it’s that the majority isn’t always right.

Hazy hills of West Virginia as seen from the dirt road going up the hill to the trail (which is in Maryland).
A glimpse of the Potomac River as soon from the road to the trail
A glimpse of the Potomac River as seen from the dirt road — the Potomac marks the boundary between West Virginia and Maryland.
road to the tunnel trail 06.20.15
The road to the trail
The place where the trail meets the road
The place where the trail meets the road
The Potomac as seen from the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail
The Potomac as seen from the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail (town of Paw Paw in the background)
The town of Paw Paw as seen from the trail (through a zoom lens)
The tunnel entrance as seen from the trail
The tunnel entrance as seen from the trail

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that when you follow the correct trail, it lives up to its “steep and strenuous” reputation (if you’re old like us), but it was a very enjoyable walk. We’ll definitely do it again sometime when it’s cooler out.

Not long after we left the tunnel, though, we started hearing thunder in the distance. First a little, far away, then a little more, a bit closer. It started sprinkling rain before we got to the car, but we never got wet. Except for sweat, which pretty well soaked us — some rain might have felt good! But I wasn’t disappointed that we weren’t caught in the woods by a thunderstorm.

All in all, it was a nice Saturday afternoon.

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Romans 8:31

Old_Oregon_license_platesLast winter, I wrote about some thoughts prompted by a bumper sticker.

Today, on the way home from work I followed a car with a North Carolina license that read GODIS4YU. Or maybe it was GODIS4U, I’m not sure. Either way, it was intended to say “God is for you.”

This got me to wondering if it would be more accurate to say that God is for me, or that I am for God. That is, God is God regardless of anything I think, say, do, or believe; and he created me for the purpose of giving him glory — not so that I might live a smooth, happy life. But I can choose to ignore him if I want.

There was also a sticker or decal or whatever on the car showing a silhouette of a nativity scene, underscoring the license plate’s message: God reached out toward us in a significant way.

Incidentally, at the bottom of the sticker were the words, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” a slogan I don’t particularly like. Why? Because from the beginning, Christmas was a pagan event. It’s not a matter of modern people keeping Christ in Christmas so much as it is the 3rd Century church cramming Christ into a celebration in which he didn’t belong, like a square peg in a round hole. No wonder it’s so hard to keep him there! I understand the “Keep Christ in Christmas” sentiment, but it strikes me as being a bit contorted. I’d rather see something to the effect of “Let’s keep Christ in the forefront of our minds every waking minute and worship him 365 days a year even if he wasn’t born in December.” But that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

SONY DSCAnyway, back to the license plate: While debating the question of whether God is for me or if I am for God, and examining the various facets of the argument instead of thinking about driving (no, I did not get in a wreck while my mind wandered! but I needed an image to illustrate this post), I, um…

…I lost my train of thought. Note to self: you might also find a railroad train image to add.

(…rereading what I’ve written to try to catch the train…) Oh, yeah, that’s it! While debating whether or not I agreed with the license plate’s statement, I thought of an illustration.

For several years, Craig worked closely with a guy whom we’ll call Fred (not his real name), and they were pretty good friends. We were also friends with Fred’s wife Ethel (not her real name either). Then Fred was in a motorcycle accident and sustained permanent brain injuries. After that, he couldn’t drive and couldn’t work, though he still had sufficient use of his body and his faculties that there were many things he still could do. In fact, he probably could have worked somewhere–he just wasn’t able to do what he used to.

file1641276604780Meanwhile, Ethel lost her job because she took off so much time to care for him. So then they were both unemployed.

Craig and I visited him in the hospital right from the beginning, then visited them at home, and did what we could to help and encourage them. But despite the advice of doctors, professional counselors, family, and friends, Fred wouldn’t get off his duff and go anywhere or do anything. All he wanted to do was sleep and drink.

Ethel was a drinker too, and drank more and more the farther downhill her husband slid.

Eventually and reluctantly, we washed our hands of them. When people are determined to continue in their self-destructive behavior despite others’ attempts to help, there’s really not much their friends can do for them.Raveningham Hall (2) cropped

So today, while tailgating the car from North Carolina so I could read the license plate and all the stickers and magnets decorating the car (there were others as well as the ones I’ve mentioned), I thought of how God did everything possible to pull us out of the fire, requiring nothing of us but to accept what he wants to give us. But if we won’t take him up on his offer of redemption, there’s nothing left to be done.

When we choose to turn our backs on God, he allows us stay on the train we’ve chosen (Romans 1:18-32).

I can’t honestly say Craig and I did everything possible to help Fred and Ethel. I do believe that doctors and counselors and family did all they could, and we tried to  help as well though I don’t claim there were no extra miles we might have walked. But it was heartbreaking to see them ruin their lives despite everyone’s efforts.

In God’s case, he truly did do everything possible for mankind. How it must grieve him when we reject him!

 

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