Inspirational thoughts and random writings from the alumni and friends of Quad-Cities Christian Writers Conference.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Good Writer's Favorite Things

Learn everything you need to know about writing in two minutes and forty-five seconds. 
(To be sung to the tune of  "My Favorite Things." ) And a-one, a-two...

Show me, don’t tell me, write clearly concisely
Polishing, reviewing, re-reading, rewriting.
Sentences too long will never take wing
These are an editor’s favorite things.

Typewritten manuscripts with proper spacing,
Proof-read and re-read with accurate numbering
No run-on sentences with misspellings,
These are a publisher’s favorite things.

Authors with bios, a blog and a web site
Pictures professional, taken in good light,
Willing and ready to try anything
These are a marketer’s favorite things.

When you’re writing
Seems so frightening
When you’re feeling sad
Just simply remember these favorite things
And soon you’ll be feeling glad.

Use proper grammar, correct punctuation,
Be active, not passive, in all your creation.
Make sure each article tells just one thing.
These are a good writer’s favorite things.

“Don’t quit your day job, keep writing, keep trying”
Royalties, book lists and caffeine and whinning.
Words full of praise about all your writing,
These are a good writer’s favorite things.

Working at home in your bathrobe and PJs,
Feeling creative and smart on the good days,
Praising the Lord for the joy writing brings,
These are a good writer’s favorite things.

Tell your story,
For God’s glory!
Stop that feeling sad!

Just always remember these favorite things,
Trust God
And start feeling glad!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What’s Your Dream?

By Shelly Atkins

When we were little kids, we dreamed about the amazing things we would do when we grew up. Somewhere along the line, we gave up on these dreams. Maybe someone told us we didn’t really have the athletic talent an Olympic gold medal swimmer, or some one said hardly anyone makes it as a singer on Broadway. Or maybe it’s just not practical to jump on an airplane and travel the world. I mean, how would you make any money?

 And that’s what it boiled down to for me. I couldn’t possibly be a writer, how would I make any money. So I tried other practical things like teaching and journalisim. But those aren’t my passions. Not my dreams. Not what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d lost my vision, my dream for my future. I was letting life take me on a journey without a map. I didn’t like the direction I was going, but felt powerless to do anything about it. I had lost my vision. 

Without vision, we wander around in the dark both literally (if we lose the ability to see with our eyes) and figuratively (if we loose the ability to discern with our hearts.) The dictionary defines vision as “the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.” (from Isn’t that faith?

A few months ago, someone on a social network I’m a part of asked the question, “If you could change your situation, the way you fill your days, what would you do?” The answer for me was simple: I’d quit my job and work as a freelance writer full time. 

But the first rule of freelacing is: DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB.

I haven’t ever really been one to follow all the rules. The more I thought and prayed about quitting, the more I wanted to do it. But I was scared. What if all those fears I kept telling my self were true? All those fears that kept me in a job for years: What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I didn’t make any money? What if I quit and I hate freelancing? 

Last week I put in notice at my job at a local newspaper. I have a little over a month left. I feel free now to work on what I want to do, interview and research the things that interest me and fill my writing days with my own stories and ideas.

Quitting has taken a great leap of faith. But isn’t that vision? I have a vision now, I’m working on turning that vision into goals and setting steps to achieve those goals. I have a map and am dictating my own journey.

What’s your vision? Are you writing it down and working towards it? What do you need to get there?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Say it Now

By Helen Knueven

While I was doing some major organization in my office, I ran across an unmailed card.  It was addressed to my sister eight years ago.  Way too late to mail since she passed away about seven years ago.
“How did I luck out and get you for such a great sister and friend?  Thanks so much for listening to me the other day! Thanks for being you – that’s all you need to be!”
Tears welled up in me as I realized I never really said this to her. I hope that she knew while she was here how special she was to me! 
Why do I find it a huge challenge to have before me all at the same time: a card, a pen, an updated address book and a stamp?
Hours later as I was still organizing I found another card meant to be mailed to my mother-in-law.  I remembered how I spent hours wording and rewording it.  And here it lay unopened and unmailed!
Part of the card said, “After 40 years of marriage – you and Dad still light up the room!  Thanks for showing me what it means to ‘share your love’ with others.  You sure do! We are so lucky!”
It was just another Hallmark card that never fulfilled it’s purpose!  Mom has also passed away and I had not communicated my heart feelings to her.
I guess I would like to communicate one thing now while I have the chance: If it’s worth saying, say it now!
I have to believe that we say things with our lives that are never verbalized and are still felt.  But is there someone you appreciate far more than they realize?  Let them know in some way while you have the chance.  Maybe it’s a good friend that listens to you at critical times.   You won’t regret it and they won’t forget it.
The truth is most people hear more discouraging words than they do encouraging ones.  Even so, the power of one encouraging word is so impacting.
If you think I’m exaggerating, think back.  Can you remember an encouraging word someone said to you years ago?  Opportunites are time-sensitive, but when we take advantage of them, they can have lasting effects.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Coffee and Clutter

By Kristi Paxton

I fingered through a pile of magazines yesterday while waiting for my mammogram. “Good Housekeeping” was on top. Instead, I reached for “Men’s Journal.” I suppose this makes me ripe for gender counseling, but let me explain.

Men’s Journal’s cover promised topics about YellowstonePark, Training for a Triathlon and How to Build a Better Kitchen. Well OK, there was one lame title, “Golf Gone Wild,” but the full headshot of Jake Gyllenhaal more than made up for that slip-up.

In comparison, Good Housekeeping sported headshots of three movie stars aged 37, 44 and 55. Judging by appearance each had a personal trainer, a zillion dollars and a full-time makeup artist. Front page copy insinuated that women could be happiest at these advanced ages, and that sex and sit-ups (and cleaning house?) would guarantee it. I’m not buying.

Merely a title “Good Housekeeping” is enough to scare me off. In 1974, my boy-husband and I wanted to rent a dilapidated farm house and the landlord had only one qualifying question: “Is your wife a good housekeeper?” Granted, the 70s were unenlightened times, but I wanted to point and scream, “What about him?”

In 1994 and in full illumination of the women’s movement, I landed an interview for a coveted promotion. Same question. Shocked, I begged for clarification, “Are you asking about the organization of my office and safety of my workroom floor?” My interviewer replied, “No. How clean is your home? I can always judge a woman by how well she cleans her house.”If that question had been asked a male—well, that’s a moot point because it never has been asked of a male.

Today, I’m just using all of this as an excuse for not keeping an immaculate house and an excuse to rant about it. Most days I’d rather read a book, bake something yummy, paddle my kayak, attend boot camp or enjoy a root canal. Not clean house.

OK. I did peek inside the cover of that waiting room GH magazine and saw—buried in all the articles about glamour, sex and cleaning—one tiny title that caught my eye:“Good (enough) Housekeeping.”

Guess I’ll pick up the big chunks, do some laundry and enjoy a cup of coffee on the deck. Good enough!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Instant Pudding/Parenting

By Brenda Lysak

Sunday morning dawned with deep freeze temperatures. Azure and Zane, 5 and 2 year old grandkids had spent the night. They were coming to church with me. My church is a parking lot away from my front door. We got our breakfasts and pulled on our clothes and were soon ready for the short hike to church. As we stepped out the door the snow plow went by piling the snow into a meter and a half high mound all along the curb. The trail was not yet trampled down by school kids so we were going to have an adventure walking to church.

I had just joined a little neighborhood church. One sweet old lady introduced herself to Azure. She kindly explained that she knew her mom and dad and grandpa and to tell them hi for her. Her friendliness was met with cold rejection as only a child would dare.

When we came home after church my daughter made hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows for the children. I asked Azure why she hadn’t been nice to the kind lady at church. She said, “well, sometimes I’m shy.” I responded to this teachable moment with gusto.

“No Azure, you were not shy. You were snotty. When someone is talking to you need to smile and say hello and be nice.” I ended this teachable moment with the expectation that she would do better next time. I knew that my coaching had reached her heart when I overheard her teaching her marshmallows to be friendly.

I frequently babysit preschool kids and use these opportunities to build character. My heart is burdened by all the instant parenting I observe. Looking back on my childhood, I wish my parents and relatives would have loved me enough to invest in my character. My impression is that teachers and parents don’t want to be bothered with that level of involvement.

I do not know of another adult who enjoys small children like I do. I believe the difference is that kids are lovely to have around because I teach them how to behave. For example, when I decided to change Zane who is two, he protested as he often does for his parents. When I made the announcement that I was going to change his diaper and clothes for church he started a fit. I continued regardless expecting him to become compliant when he realized that his fit would not stop me. But his carrying on continued so I said sternly, “Stop it” and he did.

I have had a few such moments with his sister now five. That behavior has become extinct with me because she only receives the needed attention if she asks properly. Instead of rescuing her from her bad attitude, I coach her. For example; she gets frustrated if I don’t do everything for her. I coach her with soothing phrases like; sit down, use both hands, you are doing good, keep trying, be patient, and we have lots of time.

I learned from Kevin Lehman when my daughter was little that children know if they can push you and just how far. In his book, How to Make Kids Mind Without Losing Yours, he instructs parents to allow children to experience the consequences of their choices. The result is very little fuss when I address misbehavior.

With some common sense and wisdom children really are pure joy just as the Bible says. Interestingly kids are happiest in an environment where they must contribute in attitude as well as behavior. Building character makes parents, teachers, grandparents, and especially the child content. A child whose elders have invested in building character will be honored by the child.

Instant pudding or parenting seems easy but in reality grows more complex and discouraging each year. The world says the child will grow out of their selfish ways on their own. God says that discipline equals love and that we must do it awhile they are young.

Correct your children and they will give you comfort; they will also delight your soul. Proverbs 29:17


Thursday, April 7, 2011

God's Gracious Gifts

By Sharon Wilhite

Photographing a delicate snowflake,
a fuzzy pussy willow,
a glistening dew drop,
or a pollen-coated bee emerging from a flower gives me indescribable pleasure. It doesn't matter if my right hand is numb with cold, my backside frozen to its icy perch, my elbows and knees muddy from kneeling, or my neck stiff from looking upwards too long.
I'm doing what I love to do. What gives you great pleasure? What do you endure for your passions?

Is one passion better than another? It is pointless and unwise to try and compare oneself with others. God is the One who gives the desires and determination tailor made for the individual. In fact, God's gifts are to be likened to the most unique, personalized present one could ever receive. It can be a lengthy but wonder-filled process to unwrap layer after layer of beautiful wrapping paper to finally see the gift in all its glory nestled inside...then, to carefully take it out, gaze upon it, enjoy it privately and share it publicly.

One can only contemplate in amazement- in awe- the thought that went into the gift. (Psalm 40:5, 139:14,17) God Himself picked out this gift especially for ME! No sense of inflated self-importance or pride here. One doesn't choose, buy, or even give to others these unique talents. One just receives them.

Many unwise individuals choose to leave their gift(s), still wrapped and collecting dust, on a dark closet shelf. Others actually unwrap and discover their beautiful gift only to ensconce it forever in a glass display case. Admired but unused.

UNWRAP! ENJOY! USE!!! God delights in giving "good and perfect gifts." (James 1:17) In return, appreciate and delight in the GIVER and His gifts!

Further thoughts on gifts:
God's Best Gift - John 3:16, Romans 6:23
Use/Misuse of Gifts - Matthew 25:14-29

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Culture Shocks

By Charis Seeley

My husband, Matt, and I have been planning a vacation to Acapulco, Mexico for a couple months now and we returned from the trip just a few weeks ago. For the most part, we had a fantastic time.

While we were planning our trip, several sources warned us of things to expect south of the border.“Don’t drink the water!”. We heard this from anyone and everyone before we left. On the home page of our hotel’s website, they advertised “We filter our own water!”. Sure enough, whenever we ate dinner out, the waiter would bring us bottled water. Fortunately, we avoided drinking any contaminated water, which would have put us out of commission for at least a day.

The second thing we heard was “Is that really safe?”. I honestly didn’t think it was such a big deal-- until I started looking into it. Turns out there had been a fair amount of violence in Acapulco recently, including several murders and a case of beheading. However, all these events happened late at night, outside of a nightclub, and somehow involved cocaine. We assigned ourselves a curfew of nightfall to return to the hotel. We felt safe most of the trip, though one day we passed by a traffic blockade of Federal Police, who were wearing bullet proof armor, black face masks and carrying AK-47’s. While this was scary, but more upsetting is that we grew accustomed to the heavily armored police’s presence in only a week.

The local police had a much bigger impact on our trip. Matt had read online that local cops will pull over tourists driving rental cars, but instead of ticketing them, they’ll accept “instant fines”. This is also known as a bribe. Before we left, we decided “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” We did get pulled over, twice. Matt didn’t run a red light either time. In fact, there was no traffic light on either occasion. Both times the cops threatened us with a huge fine that we would have to come to the precinct to pay. They then turned on their good ‘ol boy faces, smiled and offered us an “instant fine”. When Matt asked how much that was, they both replied “How much do you have in your wallet?” Bribery? More like robbery.

The last shock of the trip came on our fourth day. We were walking downtown along the main road/highway, looking for an Internet cafe. I saw a young woman sitting on the pavement ahead of us. Next to her was a small white sheet covered with “jewelry” she was selling to tourists. (I use the term jewelry very loosely. It was all plastic and likely not worth the elastic that held it together.) She had two children with her. The eldest, about six years old, was taking a nap on the pavement, using his mother’s outstretched ankles as a pillow. The younger boy was about 8 months old and struggled to escape his mother. He could sit up and was learning how to crawl, but there was no sheet or blanket for him to play on. He was crawling on the rough pavement. I have a 17 month old toddler at home, and when she’s not into everything, she’s running everywhere. Highway traffic sped by this family, not five feet away. The little boy’s knees, soft, smooth, baby skin knees, would soon be scratched, scabbed and eventually calloused from the ground. My heart broke.

It broke for the baby and for his older brother who would have to take care of him when he learned to walk, but mostly my heart broke for the mother. Her only form of income was selling plastic junk on the sidewalk. I’ve never seen anyone look so beaten down by life. Helplessness is the worst enemy of every mother. The inability to provide food and shelter for our children is our deepest and most primal fear.

While these stories make our trip sound awful, it was actually seraphic. The sun was warm and inviting. We were free of stress and responsibility for a week. Perhaps a little culture shock is helpful every now and then, it can remind us of the gifts that God has given us and encourage us to not take them for granted.