Friday, September 30, 2005

Go Cats!

Tomorrow the Kansas State Wildcats (3-0) open Big 12 play at Oklahoma (1-2). But don't be deceived by the Sooners' record -- those losses were to UCLA and TCU, whereas K-State's wins are against Fla. International, Marshall and North Texas (though Marshall is a good team). And K-State hasn't won in Norman since 1996.

But, of course, I'm still rooting for K-State. Go Cats!

Random Friday

So here it is, Friday again. It's a lovely day here in Kansas — fall is definitely in the air. Yesterday was my daughter Megan's birthday — Happy Birthday! I called her last night and her dad and I were weird on the phone and made her laugh. That's a parent's job, by the way — to be weird. Kids think you're weird no matter what, so you may as well just embrace your destiny.

Moving on from the weather and birthday musings, I have a few links to share.

Mick posted this week about Two Loaves and Fish. It's more of his thoughts related to what God can do with what we have to offer. If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to do so.

The New York Times likes Serenity (free registration required). Joss Whedon is a good storyteller and this film continuation of his brief series Firefly sounds like another winner.

It looks like a lot of people are submitting stories for the Faith in Fiction conversion story contest. If you want to read some of them, people have been posting links here and I think Dave will post a more comprehensive listing after all the entries are in. I've read some of them and there's some pretty good stories here. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, it's great to see how other writers handle the challenge. (Mine is on my other blog.)

Later note: I have by no means read all the stories people have posted, but thus far, here are a few of my favorites:
Dee Stewart's "Exodus"
Mark Bertrand's "Holy Sonnet"
Chris Mikesell's "Legacy of 'Loco' Komoko"
Chris Fisher's "The Fellowship of the Golden Emerod"

Man, there's some good stuff in this contest!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

More impressions

I've been trying to figure out a feeling I had while we were driving around Mississippi last week. I felt a bit like a voyeur, poking around in other people's tragedy.

I think a disaster strips people of their privacy. Their stuff is scattered to the winds. The flaws in their character, the cracks in their facade are exposed -- much like the frailty of human structures was exposed.

I've been wondering a lot about motivations. Are we tourists of tragedy? Are we trampling people's dignity when we drop in on their lives this way?

I think I should add that no one we met in Mississippi seemed unhappy with our presence. No one said, "Go away, we don't want you here." Many invited us to see what the hurricane had done to their homes. They wanted to tell their stories, they expressed their appreciation. We were blessed as much as we were a blessing.

So it's not that I think we shouldn't go and try to help when there's a disaster. I believe it's important and it's Christian. But I think we should be aware of our motives and be mindful of people's dignity. I worry that it's so easy to feed our egos with mission trips and relief trips. I recently heard a song one of the worship leaders at our church wrote a few years ago. One of the lines goes "pour me out so You can fill me up." I think that's the attitude we should have -- I must decrease so that my Lord may increase.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Notes from the Windowsill

I've started writing a column for my church's monthly newsletter. It's supposed to be anonymous (though there was a little glitch with that this time, but I'll be anonymous from now on), and I sign it Eutychus. The first column, Falling for Jesus, explains why. I've posted it over at my other blog, so you can read it if you want.

This isn't deep theology, but it gives me a chance to use a couple of my gifts and I appreciate that.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A few pictures

These pictures are just a few from Biloxi. This boat was right beside the street. We were a couple of blocks in from the bay I think.

This is the house in the middle of the street. It's not very far from the boat above, and it's just a few blocks from the casinos.

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "have it your way," doesn't it? (I'm not making light of a tragic situation, but none of us could resist the novelty of the boat in the drive-through.) This was in downtown Biloxi, too, and not an area anyone ever expected to flood.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Impressions of a catastrophe

I'm back from Mississippi. Just to recap -- I left Monday morning with a group from my church and community to take some relief supplies to Mississippi. We drove through Monday and arrived south of Jackson, Miss., (where we met up with the semi full of stuff) by about 2 a.m. Tuesday. About 6 a.m. or so we headed on south and were in Bay St. Louis around 8:30 or so. We first went to Hancock Medical Center, the hospital in Bay St. Louis, where we unloaded about half the truck. We left lots of medical supplies as well as water, clothes, toys and personal care items. This hospital was pretty hard hit -- as were all the people who worked there. The marketing director there said that never in their wildest imaginings had they ever thought the hospital would flood. But it did (the first floor, where most of the medical services were located). But it was heartening to see the hospital staff working together to clean it up. There's still a lot to do, but they're determined to get it up and running again. On Wednesday, we went to Biloxi, and delivered the rest of the stuff we brought to the hospital there. It seems to have weathered the storm better, but Biloxi itself is still a mess. We started driving back Thursday and got home Friday about 4:30 p.m.

I'll probably have some pictures Monday, but for the time being, here are some initial impressions, in no particular order. I'm still processing what I saw and trying to make some sense of it.

• Water is terribly destructive. Bay St. Louis and Biloxi were flooded by a 27-foot storm surge. The force was enough to completely demolish homes along the waterfront, lift huge casino barges from their moorings and deposit them several blocks inland, snap the sections of a bridge from their pilings so it looked like dominos that had toppled, move houses off their foundations -- I could go on but I hope you're starting to get the picture. One woman we talked to in Biloxi said her husband broke out the windows of their house because the water was pushing in on the walls. By breaking the windows, it allowed the water to come in and equalized the pressure. Her house was still standing, while most of the houses in her neighborhood were demolished or completely missing.

• The scale of Hurricane Katrina's destruction is more than I had ever imagined. Even north of Jackson, you can see tree damage. South of Jackson, the highway is lined with piles of broken trees and brush. This is what had to be cleared off the roads before anyone could get to the coast. Once you get to the coastal towns, it's simply mind-numbing. Even three weeks later, power is not fully restored in places. Biloxi has running water, but it's not potable. The city is under a curfew. The houses that are less damaged still may not be livable for a while. An older woman and what I assumed was her granddaughter were cleaning out the older lady's house. It didn't look too bad, but it had been flooded. But they've discovered that the plumbing is ruined and the house will have to be rewired for electricity. Fortunately, this lady has been staying with family, so she didn't have to try to live under those conditions. She also said that as bad as it was for her, she knew there were others who had it a lot worse.

• We met a woman in Bay St. Louis who lived within sight of the bay. There used to be lots of beautiful homes on her street -- they're all gone now. In both towns we saw a number of places where there were foundations and front steps that led to nothing. Not even a stick. But the woman I just mentioned, her house was still standing, though it wasn't livable. She had evacuated, then had come back about 9 days before we met her. She was camping out in her yard and didn't want to go to a shelter because she couldn't take her dogs -- she had 4 Boston terriers. She was trying to salvage what she could of her antiques and fine glassware. She said people came by to check on her and the Army brought her water. We dressed a cut on her head -- she had been hit by something falling on her porch the day before and the cut still looked kind of bad. I wonder if she's been rained on by Hurricane Rita.

• We drove through several neighborhoods in Biloxi on Wednesday afternoon. We handed out cases of water, bags of personal care and first aid supplies and talked to people. A lot of people seemed happy to have someone to tell their stories to, and to say thank you to. On the one hand, I feel like what we did was just a drop in a very big bucket. But I know that we were able to touch specific lives and left much needed supplies. We were able to minister in a real way to the hospital employees at Bay St. Louis because we got to talk to some of them while we were unloading.

• We haven't really begun to grasp the human toll from Hurricane Katrina. People spoke of neighbors who died in the storm, a lifetime of memories washed away, landmarks vanished -- there's a lot of grieving that needs to happen and it's going to take time. This will not be something that can be fixed quickly. We must not forget.

• Disasters force us to reorder our priorities. Many people that we talked to in both towns lost all their possessions, but were thankful that they hadn't lost any family members. They were experiencing real hardship, but they knew they had what mattered most. Many people talked of a sustaining faith and that was heartening.

• On the other hand, some priorities don't seem to get reordered. I understand that it's important to get the economy moving again and businesses need to be reopened. We actually saw a lot of small businesses with signs prominently placed amid the rubble -- Now Open or We'll Be Back. But here's what bugged me. As we drove around Biloxi we passed through the Vietnamese section of town. I understand that a lot of Vietnamese people came here and were shrimp fisherman. I'm sure their lives are very hard now. We saw down a side street that a house was still sitting in the middle of the street. A whole house, right in the middle of the street. Debris removal has been slow -- it's a mammoth task. A couple of different guys we talked to said they'd had to do it themselves, or their neighbors had done it.

But back to the house in the middle of the street. A few blocks away from the Vietnamese neighborhood is the point where the casinos stand -- or what's left of the casinos. And they're positively bustling with workers cleaning up and clearing up and rebuilding. But there's still a house in the middle of the street a few blocks away. I know it's private industry that's working on the casinos (at least I hope so), but it still feels wrong to me. Why couldn't someone from the casinos send some work crews around the neighborhoods to help clean things up there, too? What about the mom & pop grocery stores and restaurants and hairdressers and gas stations? Those businesses are important for a local economy, too, and are less able to absorb the cost of rebuilding. I hope help comes to them, too.

I'm still trying to grasp what God is teaching me through this. I was very thankful last night to be home in my own bed, under my own roof, with my husband to hold me and my sons to make fart jokes. And I don't want to forget what I saw and heard on the Gulf coast of Mississippi.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Doing something

I'll be taking a bit of a vacation next week -- from blogging and from my normal way of life. Monday morning I'll get in an RV with five other people from my church and my home town and we'll take a little road trip south -- about 20 hours south, to Bay St. Louis and Biloxi in Mississippi. A truck driver and his wife will also leave, but Sunday afternoon, for the same area, taking the relief supplies people in my hometown have donated. The leader of our group is a doctor and he wanted to do something specifically to help the medical personnel who have worked tirelessly since Hurricane Katrina destroyed their communities. But of course, these people lost everything, too. So we hope to be an encouragement to them and supply some of their needs.

I suspect that I have no clue what I'm doing; but fortunately, God does. Please pray for us as we travel and distribute supplies. Thanks.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Write with passion

The Celebration of Christian Fiction for September is up over at Mary Demuth's Relevantblog. There's lots of good stuff to read, so you'd better start now. And my entry is here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Loud music and a few good words

The last couple of free-download-of-the-week songs I got from iTunes: -- Get Stoned by an Oklahoma City band called Hinder, and Through the Iris, by a band called 10 Years. They're satisfyingly loud. I really like them.

Tomorrow I will be 48 years old. Many people my age no longer like loud music, or maybe they just don't want to admit they like loud music. After all, we're the generation that came of age to the Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and (name your favorite hard rocking band here). But whatever it is inside me that loves loud music didn't just disappear when I turned 40. It's still there and I'm not just stuck in the classic rock era, either. Here's the list of songs I was just listening to. It's a playlist I call Rock Steady:

Through the Iris by 10 Years (The Autumn Effect)
Fire Woman by The Cult (Pure Cult - The Singles 1984-1995)
Jumpin' Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones (Hot Rocks 1964-1971)
Get Stoned by Hinder (Single)
I'll Stick Around by Foo Fighters (Foo Fighters)
Evil Ways by Santana (Santana)
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana (Nevermind)
She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult (Love Rock)
Rockin' In the Free World by Neil Young (Neil Young: Greatest Hits)
Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (So Far)
Won't Get Fooled Again (Full Length Version) by The Who (My Generation - The Very Best Of The Who)
Bang a Gong (Get It On) [Single/LP Version] by T. Rex (Electric Warrior (Remastered))
Any Way You Want It by Journey (Journey: Greatest Hits)
Slow Ride by Foghat (1970's Classic Rock)
Kickstart My Heart by Mötley Crüe (Dr. Feelgood)
Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet (Single)
Rattlesnake by Bride (Snakes In the Playground)
Don't Stop Believin' by Journey (Escape)
Even Flow by Pearl Jam (Rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991-2003))

This not by any means a complete list of loud songs in my collection. There are just times when only loud music will do. I don't know how else to explain it. You may think of me what you will, but I suspect I'll still like loud music no matter what age I am.

I will close with a few good words (with apologies to Albus Dumbledore):
sublime (I love that Tom Petty got that word into Runnin' Down a Dream)
lurking (as in "The man lurking in the doorway looked a tad bizarre.")
smite/smote (I knew I would like Peace Like a River when Lief Enger got the word smote into the first chapter.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Links, I have links

If you pay any attention to the links at the left, I've added a few. Megan, my younger daughter, and Rebecca, my childhood best friend, both have Xanga sites and they often have thought-provoking or amusing insights.

I've added The New Pantagruel because it's such an interesting online journal, and it's also where you'll find Mark Bertrand's most recent short fiction, Midafternoon Apocalypse. I think I mentioned it before, but it's worth reading more than once.

I've been reading Jordon Cooper's blog for a while now -- I appreciate his perspective and his spirit.

Randall Friesen is another Covenant blogger (and another Canadian) and I got tired of hopping over there from Covenantblogs.

And I've added Charis Connection, which is where a number of Christian writers share their thoughts -- usually very good and instructive thoughts, I might add.

Wandering through a garden of verbal delights

I’ve been trying to write this essay for a couple of days and my thoughts have taken a wandering path around the reasons why I care about the craft of writing. Come along as I retrace that path. I promise we’ll reach our destination, and I’ll try to signal before I make any sharp turns.

I’ve been reminded recently of the importance of being genuine. It’s so easy to wear our “good Christian” masks and pretend that everything is OK, even when it’s not. I’m not suggesting we should inflict our every mood on the people around us, but we need to let the masks down a little, be a little vulnerable. We become brittle shells, trying to hold ourselves together on the outside, when the inside is rotten and weak. Sooner or later, that shell breaks and all the awful stuff inside comes pouring out. But if we let what’s inside show, we open the way for people to come along side us and help us bear the burden, and we can let God heal the hurts. I’ve seen too many examples recently of people who seemed to have it all together on the outside, but were suffering and didn’t ask for help. I love the line in U2’s song “All Because of You” – “I’m not broke but you can see the cracks, You can make me perfect again.” God sees the cracks in our facades, even when we insist we’re not broken, and there’s no shame in asking for his help to fix them.

So what does that have to do with the craft of writing? Hang on, I’m getting there. Last week Mark wrote on The Master’s Artist about suffering for our art. He can wax quite philosophical about such things and I get a bit lost following his train of thought, but one stop along the way held my attention: our art, our writing, arises from a view of God’s world as it truly is. What that tells me is that I need to tell the truth about God and about his world. Sometimes the truth is hard to look at, but God looks it right in the eye. And we can learn to see the world as he does, at least a little.

Can you see where I’m headed with this? How can I tell the truth about God, about his world, if I can’t tell the truth about myself? Maybe I don’t have to bare my entire soul in everything I write, but I’d better be coming from a place of honesty with God when I sit down at my computer and begin to type. The very act of writing these words, which I know to be true in my head, is convicting to my heart. But I know that God is good, if not safe, and he is the one I truly can trust with all my innermost hurts and joys and desires and dreams.

There’s another place along this path toward the writing craft and it has to do with learning to handle the tools of the trade. I’m talking about more than the words – I mean grammar and punctuation and spelling and word usage – all the ways the words go together to make sense. The mechanics of the craft come easier to some than to others, but it’s stuff that can be learned. We’re writers, not mathematicians so it’s a good thing it’s not rocket science.

But why does it matter that much? Just let the words flow, you say. Who cares about stodgy old grammar? That’s what editors are for! But I believe it goes back to being able to tell the truth about God’s world. We may have marvelous insight, we may have a wonderful gift for storytelling, but if we say it in such a clumsy way that our meaning is lost, then we haven’t really accomplished our goal. We haven’t told the truth.

Mary DeMuth challenged us to write about our passion for the craft. I’ll bet she didn’t know she was leading me down the garden path.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What happened?

Today I got an e-mail from a friend I have known since college days. He and his wife are getting divorced. They've been married almost as long as Bob and I have. We took our oldest daughter to their wedding when she was six days old, so that means they were married almost 27 years. The news came as a complete surprise to me. But I know it's hard to know what's really happening in a relationship when you only see them once or twice a year. Still -- 27 years and now they've split up. I don't know the circumstances, I don't want to take sides, I just want to pray for them and for their grown daughter who must be hurting so to see her parents separated. I'm very sad for them today.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Freebie Friday

I am a free software junkie. There's just something magical about that four-letter word that draws me like chocolate. But I try to be careful about what I download. Most of the applications I mention here I found through Macworld or, and I haven't had any unpleasant experiences with them. But, as always, your mileage may vary. (By the way, this is all Mac stuff. When I refer to Cocoa-native applications, it means those that were made to integrate fully with OS X.)

MacJournal is a truly nifty and useful journaling program. It allows you to have multiple journals related to different topics. I have one devoted to work stuff; one for personal thoughts, articles, random cartoons; and one related to writing. It's very easy to use and it's a Cocoa-native application, which means that it works with OS X's services options. I can highlight text in Safari, for instance, and save it to a journal entry. It also allows you to preserve formatting. This comes in handy when I'm wanting to illustrate a tip for InDesign so I can remember how it works. Another excellent feature is that you can upload entries to Blogger or Live Journal. In fact, I'm writing this entry in MacJournal even as we speak. I'll be able to upload it, with links intact, to my blog and not have to tweak it. I use the free version, but Mariner software bought it and has put out a newer version with even more features, but it's still pretty inexpensive. But the free version does everything I need and it's still available.

Hallon is another little application I use all the time. It lives in my menu bar where I can access it whenever I need it. (by the way, hallon is Swedish for raspberry, and that's the icon it uses) Hallon allows you to bookmark items on your computer. It works best with Cocoa-native applications such as iTunes, Safari, Mail or the Finder (it also works with Firefox), and its functions are fully available when it's a start-up item. (You don't have to make it a start-up item, but it doesn't seem to work as well.) I've found it most useful for accessing the publication files I'm currently working on. I have hundreds of files on my computer related to extension pubs that fall under my "beat." They're organized, but it's still time consuming to scroll down to where the particular pub I want is. With Hallon, I can select a folder, choose Add Quickly in the Hallon menu, and then when I want to work with that pub, I just find it in the Hallon menu. I use this application every day and I like it a lot.

Meteorologist is the menu bar weather bug I use. It's another start-up item and I've found it quite functional. (We haven't upgraded to Tiger here, yet, so I don't have the nifty weather widget.) One neat thing about Meteorologist is that I can have weather info about multiple cities. So at a glance, I see the Manhattan, Kan., weather, but if I click on the weather icon, I can also see that it's 48 degrees right now in Soldotna, Alaska, where my daughter Megan lives. Another neat feature is the little icons displaying what the weather is actually doing. The application will also take you directly to pages. Very cool. One thing I've discovered about Meteorologist, it doesn't show up in the menu bar when some other applications are active, but that doesn't really bother me. I just click on the desktop and then check the weather.

So that's a little glimpse into my addiction. (When we upgrade to Tiger, I suspect I'll go Widget crazy!) I could tell you more, but I'll save that for another edition of Freebie Friday.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

S.E. Hinton speaks -- a little

I first read The Outsiders as a freshman in high school. I still consider it one of the best books I read as a child. I think part of what fascinated me was that it was written by a teenager -- a girl, as I later found out. Today, the New York Times has an interview with the reclusive Hinton and it's interesting. (free registration required)

So here it is

If you want to read my entry in the Faith in Fiction short story contest, it's here. It's called Lost and Found. You can leave a comment with the story if you want to.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I'm back

After a nice long weekend, I'm back at work.

My daughter posted a thoughtful entry over the weekend about response to the hurricane. It's good stuff.

I got my Atlantic Monthly this weekend and the article about Abraham Lincoln's melancholy is excellent and thought-provoking. I grew up in the Land of Lincoln and he's always been one of my favorite presidents. This article provided some interesting insight into what shaped him. And after reading it, I wonder sometimes if we're too quick to want to find a "cure" for everything. There are times when it's good to remember that confronting the difficulties in our lives can make us stronger and wiser.

I submitted my story today for the Faith in Fiction conversion story contest. It's not due until Sept. 30, but the longer I keep it, the more I keep fiddling with it and I suspect I've reached the point where I need to let it go. Not that it's perfect or anything, but I just needed to submit it and stop fretting over it. So I did. We'll see what happens. (Note to dFm: ham and cheese sandwiches are made (and presumably eaten) on page 6.)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Friday reading

It's Friday. Yay! Long weekend ahead. Yay! (Not that I'll be going anywhere, but sleeping in is always good.)

A few worthwhile things to read this weekend.

Jordon Cooper and friends have posted the first issue of Resonate Journal. What I've read so far is interesting. The theme this month is liminality -- the concept of threshold, which I first became familiar with as a grad student in mass communications. An anthropologist named Victor W. Turner talked about it a lot (and converted to Roman Catholicism) and I always found the concept applicable to our life in Christ. We are on the threshold of the throne room, we are always in a state of process, of moving from one thing to another. Anyway, there's some good stuff here and worth thinking about. (Also, Jordan has become a permanent fixture on my prayer list as he deals with extremely serious health problems.)

(added later): Jordan added some thoughts today about "church." Jordan's comments about the fact that a lot of people who need Christ can't get to church at the traditional times because they have to work resonates with me. But how does the church deal with that? He points to an interview with a guy named Pete Ward who wrote a book called "Liquid Church." It's an interesting concept and there's some validity to the idea that the church is people much more than it is a place. (I'm married to a nonconformist who always questions why we need buildings, so this is not a new concept to me.) I'm not ready to give up gathering with a local congregation on Sunday morning, but being a part of the body of Christ is always much more than just going to church. Interesting stuff here.

J. Mark Bertrand has added another publishing credit -- a very good story in The New Pantagruel called Midafternoon Apocalypse. He also discusses the story in his post today at The Master's Artist.

Dave Long, at Faith in Fiction, asks some good questions about Writing Despite the Bible. The post has already generated a ton of comments.

Stay safe and have a good weekend. Keep praying, for victims of Hurricane Katrina and for others. As a nation, we believe that taking action involves going somewhere, giving money, doing something. God reminds me that prayer is doing something, too.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Prayers, and more, for victims of Katrina

All around the blogosphere today, people are posting links to organizations aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina. I think the magnitude of this catastrophe is only beginning to sink in. Hundreds of thousands (or more) of people's lives have been changed forever by this. A list of charities you can support is at the Truth Laid Bear.

Covenant World Relief, the national and international relief arm of my denomination, is working with World Relief International to provide aid, channeling most of it through local churches. It's a good opportunity for God's people to be his hands and feet, providing assistance to people in need. Keep praying and donate as God leads you.

You can find more links at Technorati by checking the and tags.

I'm going to add a link to a poem Chris Fisher wrote and posted today over at his blog, Rejection King. Read it, pray and do something.