Short Story Long

Here’s the rest of the story I alluded to in my recent post “Persona.”

For the first five of our nine days in Liberia, I tagged along with the team, attending church and visiting the local supporters and sister charities BESTWA is connected with. We met many people–children, medical personnel, teachers, the elderly, cooks, government officials, hospital patients, pastors–and got a feel for their culture and the challenges they face.

Daniel relaxing after a productive week

The one thing I didn’t get was any quiet time with our Liberian Field Director, Daniel, to listen to and record his stories. I’d recorded only a few conversations in the car, complete with road noise and music. And the occasional roar as we downshifted to charge up a particularly steep hill.

Anyway, by the fifth day I was beginning to panic. How am I gonna write a biography if there’s no time to interview the subject?

But soon the Lord brought me around to Romans 8:28. Oh, wait… He is working everything out for good. That helped me relax and submit to His sovereignty through our leadership. After all, information can be sent electronically. The main reason I needed to be in the country was to absorb the feel, the sounds and smells, the manners and personalities of ordinary citizens, the cadence of speech.

And that, I was doing. Nooooo problem.

Then suddenly, on the sixth day, we had no place to rush off to after breakfast and the team meeting. Daniel and I sat in the dining / conference room, fan humming softly in the background, and he told me about his childhood. His struggle to become educated. More struggles to survive and care for his family during the long civil war.

Daniel had overcome challenges that left my little frustrations in the shade.

Working with this courageous, unassuming man of God is a huge honor for me.

And now I have a framework to start assembling Daniel’s life story, and will have more opportunities to talk with him as the project goes along.

God was right. He knows what my project needs better than I do. He took every apparent obstacle and turned it into a blessing that benefits the work.

I hope you find my story encouraging. Whatever you’re doing, God knows what he’s doing and he has your best interest at heart.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Happily, by Chauncey Rogers

I’ve just read a delightful new book that I heard about from Kim, on her blog “By Hook or By Book.” Happily is an imaginative twist on the Cinderella story, told from the viewpoint of … well … I’ll let Amazon.com tell you about it.

Image from Amazon.com

Here’s their descriptive blurb:

If the shoe fits, wear it.
If it doesn’t, make it.

Laure is a teenage street urchin just trying to get away. Where the rest of the world sees an enchanting love story, Laure sees royal incompetence and an opportunity to exploit it. She’ll have wealth and a way out of a life she detests, if she can only manage to hoodwink the royal family and survive to tell the tale.

I might as well admit it, my favorite thing about this book is the snarky, almost curmudgeonly voice of Laure, the main character. That, and her desperate, hare-brained schemes to escape the city and her destitute lifestyle. I don’t want to give spoilers, but this is one kids’ book that even we grandmas can enjoy.

What a hoot!

Er, I mean, what a Great Weekend Read!

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Squirrel Stuff!

I love to laugh. You know that, and I know that.

What I don’t know is how I came across this website in the first place.

It was years ago, after my parents finally moved to a small house on a lake, where Dad could fish and they could watch birds. They parked their binoculars and bird book by the living room windows and put out a nice bird feeder.

Aaaaand started doing battle with squirrels, the little birdseed burglars. Were Mom and Dad successful?

Let’s just say that when we visited with our sons, Dad would invite them to bring along their Airsoft rifles.

Anyway, somehow I happened on this website called “Squirrel Stuff” — named, not after the birds that its customers love, but after the pesky little rodents who help themselves from their feeders.

Right away, I ordered these two coffee cups for my parents:

Mom and Dad LOVED ’em!

I find SquirrelStuff’s tongue-in-cheek humor refreshing, and thought I’d pass it along to you. Who knows, maybe you’re looking for a squirrel-proof baffle for your bird feeder. Or a coffee cup decorated with the guilty squirrel’s mug shot and rap sheet.

Here’s the link: http://squirrelstuff.com/

Your turn: Do you have any animal-pest war stories? It doesn’t have to be squirrels. Moles, armadillos, rabbits, mice, crickets… anything will do. Tell me about it in the “Leave a Reply” box below, and you will make my day.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Wonder, by R. J. Palacio

I may be the only person in America who has still not watched the movie Wonder, even though I really wanted to see it in the theater. But at least I’ve read the book, thanks to the local book club that formed recently.

Even if you are one of the rare birds who hasn’t seen the movie, you’ve probably seen trailers for it. So you know the premise: Auggie has been homeschooled because of his facial deformities and surgeries. For fifth grade, he goes to school for the first time, with plenty of angst about how the other students might treat him.

What I like about the book (and can’t imagine coming across well in the movie, but what do I know?) is the way Palacio shows events and characters’ actions through one point of view at a time. For instance, we see an action of Auggie’s classmate through Auggie’s eyes, then later see the same exchange through the classmate’s eyes.

Most of the pivotal characters have a section giving their point of view and in their own voice. Only two exceptions: No adults, not even Auggie’s parents, tell their story. And the only major child character whose point of view is not included is the Really Mean Boy.

I found the story heartbreaking and inspiring. It changed me by showing me how to better treat people with any kind of obvious handicap. As a bonus, it helped me understand why people can be well-intentioned, but still act in a less-than-desirable way.

I highly recommend this Great Weekend Read.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Persona

Lately I’ve been thinking about authenticity. See, I have this deep-seated need for approval, which often leads me to put up the appearance of being what I think people expect me to be. Never admit a weakness:

Now, I don’t try to impress everyone. But those people who share my core values? I want them to believe that I live out those values better than I actually do.

It’s easy to project an image, especially from behind a computer screen. I can highlight my good qualities and cloak my flaws like nobody’s business. But I go beyond wanting to appear “strong enough.” Any time I sense someone has a specific expectation of me, I want to live up to it.

Case in point: Before I went to Liberia with the BESTWA team, a few friends suggested that the trip would change my life. These folks have gone to foreign countries and local neighborhoods to tell people about Jesus. They have seen people trust in Christ, seen their faces light up with the joy of the Lord and the joy of receiving eternal life.

Mine wasn’t that kind of trip. This was more a check-on-things, deliver-donated-items, encourage-the-national-staff effort. Which I didn’t even expect to be involved with. My sole job, I thought, would be to work on a writing project for BESTWA.

Long story short (which I might share in a later post), for the first five days in country, I could never quite get down to the work I expected. Frustration rose as I worried that my trip was a waste of time.

The Lord helped me adjust my attitude and trust that my actual experience would contribute to the work better than if I’d experienced the scenario I imagined. (Something about God being smarter than people.)

Nice, but nothing that really rocked my world.

The problem is, when I returned and people asked me whether the trip was life-changing, I said “Yes” because… you guessed it… I thought that’s what they expected. So here I go again, trying to give the right answer.

It’s the same with emotions I think I’m supposed to experience. Sometimes, all I feel is detached from the deep sense of wonder or joy or sadness that affects others. That’s hard for me to admit, so I often default to pretending.

Which makes me a hypocrite.

Ouch! I need to cut that out right now and purpose to live authentically.

After all, “fake” is for the news… right?

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers

I’ve heard about this book for years, and finally read it for our book club. Then I got detained out of state and missed the meeting, but it’s all good.

Anyway. This romance, set in gold-rush-era California, echoes the gnarly biblical story of Hosea and his marriage. The main character, Sarah, was rejected by her father as a young girl. Before she was ten, her mother abandoned her and a naive uncle accidentally sold her into sex slavery.

If you’re thinking romance is not gonna come easy to this girl, you’re right.

When a farmer named Michael sees Sarah walking in the city during a supply trip, God tells him to marry her. He has to pay and go into the brothel to even talk with her.

Romance isn’t gonna come easy to Micheal, either.

Though it takes place in the lawless Old West, this novel eerily reflects our current sex-trafficking crisis. It woke me up to watch out for any judgmental attitude about people caught in situations they didn’t ask for.

Redeeming Love is long and I thought it dragged a bit in a few places. But hang in there! It offers plenty of suspense–which makes it a Great Weekend Read.

Thanks for reading!
Jan
PS: You might need a long Weekend.

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The Power of Negativity

Recently I studied Proverbs 18:21* and got to thinking…

Everyone knows that a positive attitude can bring positive changes, boost your success, and improve your relationships with colleagues, family, and friends. But do you realize that a negative attitude is just as powerful?

Mmm-hmm. Sure is.

This topic is especially relevant now, since our culture seems to be generating a huge supply of negativity. It just spews out willy-nilly. No one seems to give it a thought.

You might say our negativity is all stressed up with no place to go.

Let’s look at some of the powerful things negativity can accomplish!

1. Got almost-perfect weather? Try complaining about the one thing you’d like to adjust. Like, the temperature should be two degrees warmer (cooler), or you’d prefer a little more (less) wind. Your complaints can turn “almost perfect” into “lousy.”

2. Let’s say some stranger on the highway changes lanes in front of you, cutting it a bit close, but doesn’t so much as touch your car. You could take a breath and say, “No harm, no foul,” but where’s the satisfaction in that? You’d display much more power if you lean on your horn, shake your fist (or some variation thereof), and cuss out the offender. Congratulations! You’ve gone from ruining zero people’s day, to ruining your own and someone else’s. See how this increases your output? Sooo efficient.

3. Is your mate pretty dang wonderful, but has a few quirks or flaws? Why express appreciation for the good qualities and exercise patience with the shortcomings? Instead, you can grumble about every little thing. Not only does this crush your mate’s spirit, but at the same time you can set off a defensiveness showdown that makes both of you feel isolated!

As near as I can figure, living in ALL CAPS, ALL THE TIME makes a huge impact on your life. People will sit up and take notice of you, all righty. And that’s worth a little high blood pressure and a few broken relationships…… isn’t it?

Thanks for reading,
Jan

* “Death and life are in the power of the tongue. . . ” Proverbs 18:21, New American Standard Bible (NASB)

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