Of Names and Mysteries

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Delbert.

Who was he?

I didn’t know much about him or the other people whose names graced the pages of the books that weigh more than my cat. She, ahem, is not particularly slim. As a title-abstractor-in-training, I am growing accustomed to all that it is involved in tracing a piece of property’s history. The house doesn’t matter. It is all about the land.

And, for me, the people who once owned it.

I wander courthouses and research the history, deeds, and other documents associated with a particular parcel of land. In essence, I am an amateur detective without having to sneak around the suspect’s house. Since I tend to giggle at inopportune times, I don’t think I would succeed as the detective.

detective-152085_640Title Abstracting allows all of the thrill and none of the might-face-off-with-a-killer-armed-only-with-a-toothbrush. I am fascinated by the random stories pieced together from the mere legal documents surrounding real estate. Why did a couple divide their property after thirty years of marriage and still remain one another’s heirs? How did a random couple end up on a deed they had no claim to? Why did the divorce degree have to include a clause about the wife leaving the house clean?

I suspect the divorce was not amicable.

My trainer encourages me to keep my mind on the task and admits they, too, sometimes find themselves falling down the rabbit trails of the whys and wherefores of these lives that I investigate without ever knowing.

Through it all, I collect names. The unique ones. As a writer, I love names. Ora Lee, Flossie, and Florence. Arno and Hattie.

Although I didn’t find the latter two in the courthouse tomes. I found them in the pages of a book my friend wrote. She was inspired by the letters her grandparents wrote during World War I. Letters found in an old tin. If I was writing this book, I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect idea for the discovery.

She confessed that she had to let go of the real Arno and Hattie in order to create a novel and fill in the gaps left by the correspondence, but the magic of reading a story about people who were almost real remains. Cover reveal

I seriously wish the courthouse kept old letters so I could fill in the gaps left as a title abstractor.

Then again, I really wouldn’t get any work done.

Or maybe I would be inspired to write a book like Three Little Things by Patti Stockdale.

And I might just call my hero Delbert.

 

 

 

The Word Not Chosen

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Like most people, I am starting 2020 with multiple plans to start the new year right — and a plethora of highly silly jokes about having perfect vision because it is the year 2020.

Sadly, I still need glasses and life doesn’t come with a ten-step program of the exact correct thing to do. One might pray and ask for God’s leading, but in the end, it is up to them to actually take a step forward.

As my friends posted their chosen words for the year, I was surprised. I had never thought about choosing a word that would be my guide for a year. I have written New Year’s resolutions, but I have never thought to contain all of those many goals — weight loss, more exercise, and traveling to planet Mars — in one single word.

Then I realized that for many years, I have had a word. Oh, I didn’t write it down or make a lovely meme. No, I pasted it in my brain and allowed it to consume me. “Perfection.”

egg-2048476_640Perfection doesn’t sound like a dangerous word. On the surface, it might even seem like a good word. We should always be striving to be better, purer, godlier.

But like an egg that looks smooth, porcelain, and easy to hold on the outside, you crack open perfection and you find slime and slipperiness. It oozes from your hands and is impossible to hold onto.

Perfection forces one to refrain from trying anything unless it is without any mistakes on the first try. Perfection leaves one spiritually struggling because every sin seems impossible to find forgiveness for. Perfection can leave one scared to press post on a blog or comment because there might be a misplaced comma or misspelled word.egg-943413_640

Perfection can leave one stuck.

We are told to be perfect as God is perfect–but we are also told to strive, press forward, and run the race. As someone who recently fell in love with biking, I can tell you that the first time I rode I didn’t go very far, and my legs suffered from jello-itis. The next time I rode farther. And as the distance grew, the residual pain and stiffness lessened.

The truth is we can’t be perfect without God. We won’t be perfect in this life. Yet, in Christ, we can find new life. Hope. And someday, through Him, we will be perfect.

silhouette-683751_640So maybe 2020 has brought me clearer vision. I haven’t picked a word that will define my year. I have picked a word that will not define my year.

So, do you have a word that will define your year? Or a word that will NOT define your year?

 

 

Merry Christmas

Whew, what a ye.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas as you celebrate the Savior’s birth!

A Short Devotional

When God selected those who would be mentioned as the visitors to His newborn Son, He could not have chosen two more different groups.

First, He chose the shepherds. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Luke 2:8. In this time in history, shepherds were the lowest of the low on the social scale. They were uneducated. They spent their time tending sheep. They were poor. They were nearby.

Second, He chose the Magi. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea…, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.” Matthew 2:1. These men were so highly educated, they are known by the synonymous name of Wise Men. They not only noticed the new star, but they also had the means to travel to Judaea to discover its origin. They were well-respected. They were rich. They brought expensive gifts from a faraway land.

The shepherds were almost certainly the first to visit the newborn King. The Wise Men were almost certainly among the last before Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled to Egypt.

Why does it matter who visited the Christ-child? Perhaps, we can learn that anyone can be saved. God can save the rich and the poor. God can save the educated and the uneducated. God can save those who are near—raised in Christian homes—and far—those who have heard the Gospel only once.

As we celebrate the Christmas season, may we also “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15

Read my short Christmas story at https://sparkflashfiction.com/winter-2019-issue/

 

A Child’s Guide to Paying a Compliment

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They (those mysterious purveyors of all opinions) say to write what you know. Writers will agree that real life situations inspire them. Listening to conversations improves your dialogue-writing skills.

Only, it is very important to consider the source of inspiration.

As he approached, the butterflies in her stomach gave up fluttering and adopted clog dancing as their activity of choice. He embodied the romantic hero of every fairytale. She smiled as he neared. “Hi.” 

He grinned. “I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that you look old and weird.”people-1316454_640

As my poor female character makes an awkward exit, let me assure you that I have heard those very words from the lips of some of my nephews and nieces. Thank you, kind children. Nothing bolsters one’s confidence more than hearing they look weird and old.

My sister once received her own “compliment.” When introducing herself, a little girl misheard her name. Upon being corrected, the little girl said, “Well, if it had been Amy, it would have been a pretty name.”

I sometimes think God put children into the world to help man overcome the sin of pride. 

Now, another nephew of mine was slightly more creative with his “compliment.” As someone who appreciates the finer wardrobe in life — like jeans and t-shirts — I have never considered myself a fashionista. Still, I had recently bought a long sweater. Blue, soft, comfortable, I wore it on a visit to my sister’s house.

wizard-1454385_640I tell myself it was the long blue sweater that inspired my nephew to comment, “You look like a wizard.”

As I searched for a mirror to double-check that I had not grown a gray beard, I thanked my nephew for his touching compliment.

Before my nephews reach the age where they go a-courting, I am resolved to give them a brief lesson on how not to compliment a lady. “You’re beautiful” might be generic, but trust me, it’s a far sight better than “You look like an old, weird wizard.”

In spite of their lack of complimenting skills, I love kids. After all, “children are a gift of the Lord” (Ps. 127:3NASB).

And part of the gift they bring is humility.

What’s the weirdest compliment you have received from a child?

 

E-bikes and Me-Powered Bikes

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I have recently discovered that I am a biker chick. No, I am not revving the engine of a motorcycle and dressed in black leather. My one attempt to ride a motorcycle ended with a broken mirror and me miraculously not hurt…but that is another story.

I prefer a regular old bicycle — fitted out with a motor. In short, an e-bike.

After a visit from my uncle where he talked about the long bike rides he took with my aunt, I was looking forward to trying out an electric bike on my next visit to Oregon. I saddled up on my electric bike and prepared to see the world from the back of a bicycle.

Of course, me being me, it wasn’t quite that easy.

Although I hadn’t ridden in years, riding a bike is like, you know, riding a bike. The addition of a motor just made it nicer. When faced with a hill, all you do is turn your wrist and the motor takes over. Okay, so I also might have made use of the motor when there were no hills in sight. My aunt led the way and my uncle remained in the back to help any stragglers. Spoiler alert: I was a straggler. My first time out, I turned the motor up to full throttle as everyone else in the group pulled away. bicycle-1300317

As they disappeared from sight, my uncle checked my bike and realized that I had the motor on the lowest setting. Even with it maxed out, I could barely approach a decent speed. After he told me how to fix it, I took off with the wind blowing in my hair. We rode through the countryside and neighborhoods.

Nothing could stop me now.

Until I started to hear a flapping sound. And my bike felt a little sluggish.

Yes, I had a flat tire. My uncle drove home to get a pickup.

The next day, we headed out again with the tires on my borrowed bike once more in working order. We raced along the route with my aunt in the lead. As we passed the place where my tire had given out the day before, crowds threw rose petals and trumpets blew — or maybe my fellow riders jokingly congratulated me.

Not too long after we passed the point of victory, my bike seemed to grow a lot heavier on the way up a hill. In fact, it felt like my motor had given out entirely. I checked my speedometer and realized that the reason my motor felt like it had died was because it had died.

For the remaining distance home, I was on me-power and me-power only. The wind still blew through my hair, but not quite as strongly as it had before.

Our visit ended before we could go for another bike ride. I think this is probably a good thing, since bad things come in three, and I kind of wondered what would be next.

Flat tires and tired motors aside, I realized I love biking. I have now started riding back home. There’s a lot to be said for biking. One can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. One can exercise. One can breathe fresh air.emotions-2713109_640

And if one is me, one can find a lot of excuses to laugh.

“A joyful heart is good medicine.” Proverbs 17:22

 

 

Exhaustion and Dining Companions

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Moving is exhausting. Writing conferences are exhausting. Vacations are exhausting. So, of course, it made sense to pack them as close together as pickles in a jar. In the last few weeks, I moved from the house I lived in for ten years, prepared and left for a writing conference in San Antonio, and decided to drop in on friends and family in Oregon–it was only a few thousand miles out of the way–before heading back to Indiana.

As you can imagine, finding time to write has been about as easy as finding a place cold enough to wear a parka in San Antonio. This trip was my first visit to the city, and I struggled to keep my body from morphing from solid to liquid form in the overwhelming heat.

I wonder how I ever survived living in Brazil.

I’ll be sharing more about my conference experiences in my newsletter (to sign up click here), but first I would like to tell you about some of my dining companions.

We were walking along the San Antonio Riverwalk when we stopped for lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant. Our dining companions greeted us before the waitress.

Mrs. D was quite the hungry dining companion. At first, she was polite in her requests that we share our meals. Gradually, she grew more insistent as she did her best to clarify that she would really like a bit of sustenance. Her method of accomplishing this was to tug at our pants. When we ignored her, she tugged harder and still harder as she struggled to make us understand. She vocalized her needs, but we–cruel people that we are–ignored her. Her family and friends hovered nearby.

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Mrs. D

Then there were the rest of the audience who were silent but gawked at us with open mouths. They each wore bright red lipstick to outline their gaping mouths, which they opened and closed to demonstrate where the food would go should we choose to share.

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The Lipsticked Audience

We finally rewarded their persistence by crushing leftover chips and throwing them into the water. Lest that sound rude, I should probably clarify that the dining companions were ducks and tilapia.

Eating on the sidewalk café may have been hot–and left me with a sunburn on only one side of my neck–but I always will remember my dining companions.

Even if they were a bit less than human.

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They were finally rewarded for their patience.

Have you ever had a unique dining companion?

 

Litbits, Bitbits, and More Inspired Bits

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I recently received a Fitbit. Although I am still getting used to all the functions, I find it fun to have a personal trainer on my wrist who yells at me, encourages me, and celebrates my fitness victories with black and white fireworks.

A Fitbit basically takes me back to my childhood where taking three steps or finishing lunch without creating an art installment entitled “A Study of Spaghetti On the Wall” garnered me the praise of both my parents.

My Fitbit is equally as encouraging — until it isn’t. Yesterday, I was in the car for an hour and a half trip. My Fitbit popped up a reminder toward the end of the trip that I only had 250 of 250 steps to reach my hour goal. Sadly, I opted not to stop my car at the side of the road and march around it like the children of Israel marched around Jericho.target-2045924_640

Having a Fitbit has also inspired me to think up other kinds of “Bits.” Why not a “Litbit” that encourages me to read and pops up messages about only having 40 words left to reach a goal? Honestly, though, I would like to know how many words I read a day — whether the ones I’m writing, reading for enjoyment, or just glancing at on a cereal box.

Or what about a “Bitbit.” Primarily because Bitbit is fun to say, but this bit tracker would read the size of hole you needed for a screw — and then help you find the drill bit like a metal detector helps you find gold.knitting-1430153_640

Then there could be the “Knitbit.” I don’t knit, but this tracker would tell one how many stitches they create. Another setting would celebrate inches of knitwear created. Unfortunately, people who crochet or embroider are out since “Crochetbit” and “Embroiderbit” simply don’t have the same pizzazz as “Knitbit.”

Nor does the “Christ-Likebit,” but think about how the world might change if we had a tjesus-3135229_640racker on our wrist capable of encouraging us to say that extra prayer, extend love to someone who needs it, or warn us that the anger roiling in our stomachs isn’t exactly Christ-like.

I would write more, but my Fitbit needs sustenance.

What is a unique “Bit” you can think of?

 

Should books have warning labels?

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I’ve never understood why a bag of peanuts needs a warning label to inform people that the bag may contain nuts. I rather hope that the bag of nuts I bought actually contains nuts. Then again, I also question a box of lemon cookies that is excited enough to emblazon across the front that it is flavored with REAL lemons.

Uh, as opposed to what?caution-943376_640

What is equally surprising are all the places where warning labels do not appear. Such as songs. Why isn’t there a disclaimer at the beginning of a song that it is likely to get stuck in your head and stay there on repeat until one is ready binge eat a carton of mysteriously-flavored chocolate cookies that don’t contain chocolate?

croissant-690646_640And what about books? Have you ever seen a caution that a book is likely to cause one-more-chapter syndrome and one will stay up way past their bedtime –much to the detriment of their ability to function the next day.

Shouldn’t coffee have a warning label that it is likely to keep one awake if consumed too close to bedtime — unless one is drinking it to stay awake and finish the aforementioned book? What about chocolate and the temptation to eat more than one square?

These seem to be rational warnings that need to be posted everywhere. Instead, we are gifted with cautions about hair straighteners not being intended for use in one’s eyes. Hair dryers warn against using them while you are asleep. Letter openers suggest the use of safety goggles during operation.

Because, apparently, every office should come equipped with safety goggles.

Why don’t we have warnings that babies will cause an excess of awws and so cutes. Salty wind blowing off the ocean might tangle your hair. Stars might cause one to wonder at their own significance and God’s greatness. tree-736885_640

So while I might wonder why a chainsaw needs a warning to not hold the wrong end, I am grateful that we have a God who both warns us of our need for Him and inspires us with awe.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”    Romans 1:20