I Know It’s Fiction, But Puh-leeze!

8-18-17 fiction books blog pic

It disturbs me that so many contemporary fiction writers—who apparently don’t actually know any Christians, personally—consistently reach into their drawer of hackneyed stereotypes in order to round out their character lists. (This happens with screenplays, too, of course. But today I’m talking about a failure of imagination in the literary arts.)

What they invariably end up with is the standard, tiresome, pursed-lipped hypocrite who “tsks” and lectures her way through the dialogue and is universally despised by the other reasonable, open-minded types who populate the novel’s pages. This is especially apparent when two other ubiquitous characters, the token gay guy and the unmarried young mother, are introduced, only to be shamed by the Christian fusspot and affectionately accepted by those of nobler disposition.

Sure, there are plenty of obnoxious individuals out there—some of them claiming to be believers, some not. But a lot of the people I hang around with nowadays are Christians, and not one of them fits the unflattering typecasting I encounter in my bedtime reading adventures.

The fact is that we all do bad stuff. Some of us have accepted that fact and some of us haven’t; some of us feel remorse and a desire to overcome our baser inclinations, some have no grasp of those concepts. The Christians I know struggle mightily to reconcile their fondness for—and fear of offending—the particular, unrepentant sinner with their grave concern for his or her spiritual welfare.

This concern is an expression of love, not a judgment. After all, mere mortals didn’t write the rule book. The code for moral living comes from a much higher source. And it certainly wasn’t invented by the annoying, small-minded, holier-than-thou, pleasure-thwarting goody-goodies I come across far too often in the realm of cozy mysteries and mainstream story-telling.

This pigeon-holing trend makes me sad. Yet, like Christo-phobic Saul/Paul who was brought into the Light by a God who sought to turn his evil deeds to good, I was once among the stereotypers. I scoffed at anyone, especially people of faith, who dared to define shalts and shalt-nots in black-and-white terms. Ironically, I also condemned them.

Then I fell in love with an earnest Christian man. Met his delightful, fun-loving family. Saw true faith put into action as selflessness and generosity. Developed friendships with devout people who lived by conviction but were nothing like the disapproving Pharisees I had let myself be convinced they would be. These were kind, forgiving souls who accepted me right where I was—on the cusp of unbelief—and gave me plenty of elbow room to find my way home.

That’s my reality-based experience with Christians. Now, I urge the disseminators of the musty old cliché described above to step into the real world to research their next projects. Could be a revelation!

Meanwhile, back to gritting my teeth through the last few chapters of Murder at the Book Group. Is that Karma I feel nibbling at my derriere?

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August 18, 2017 at 5:41 pm 2 comments

Thundershirts for All!

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Pulled up from the archives, a revised version of a post from a few years back, with my best wishes for a happy Independence Day.

Some days, it doesn’t pay to tune in to the evening news. Between rogue doctors shooting up hospitals, raging wildfires in Central California, escalating murder statistics in Chicago, and urban gang violence closer to home, the fear and trembling can be tough to shake off.

Turn to the internet and you learn that common-sense efforts to protect our citizenry from preventable terrorism threats are being fought at every level of the judiciary system. So now I’m afire with indignation. That’s hard to shake off, too.

Yes, sometimes the world seems like an upside down and backward place, where staying sane and tranquil plays out as Mission Impossible. The ads between news segments—or yahoo headlines—offer plenty of pharmaceutical solutions for the disquiet caused by too much exposure to the raw facts of modern life. But I don’t fly that way.

Enter the pet care industry. I’m serious. Semi, anyhow.

A few years ago at about this time, I was complaining about the dreadful effects of booming fireworks on my eight-pound chihuahua-papillon pup. (Quaking like partially-set Jello in a 6.3 earth tremor and panting with anxiety—highly contagious responses, I might add—the clock had blinked 3:00 a.m. before I finally convinced her that the evil noise gods had retired for the night.)

That’s why my ears pricked up when, shortly afterward, I saw a promotion for the ThunderShirt®–a swaddling garment designed to calm and comfort your furry companion through storms and other loud events. Since I’m not big on drugs for my pets either, I made a point to look into the merits of this product.

Bottom line: My vet’s office offered it for a lower price than online outlets or pet warehouse chains, and the goofy looking little spandex kimono proved to be quite effective. We survived both the following year’s July 4th celebrations and seasonal thunderstorms with very little trauma for Muñeca or her owner, and sailed into the next day better rested and much less angry at the pyrotechnics industry.

Lessened anger is a good thing. It clears some emotional space for the angst that goes along with those nightly news reports.

But wouldn’t it be great if we could come up a human equivalent of the Thundershirt®? Maybe a stretchy, velcroed version of that ultimate in fad Christmas gifts, the Snuggie®? Please contact me if you are interested in a little joint-entrepreneurial effort in this area. I have plenty of ideas, but I’m a bit challenged in the action department.

 

July 5, 2017 at 12:38 am 1 comment

Hero Dads

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Ah, Father’s Day. A large dose of joy for those with children who venerate Dad with sincere tributes and meaningful gifts, and maybe even a kid-catered outdoor barbecue.

A little sliver of sadness for those of us whose fathers have long been absent from our third-Sunday-in-June celebrations; we who must settle for reminiscences and family photographs to satisfy sentimental yearnings.

A goodly slab of a heartache for those of us who have lost beloved fathers or husbands in recent months or years.

I don’t have any children, but my Sweetie had three. And from Day One of our courtship, he impressed me with his loving and forgiving fatherly ways. On June 20, 2010, I told him this in a one page letter.

Dearest Hank,

The approach of Father’s day inspires me to tell you that you are my hero. How so, you ask? Let me count the ways:

-Back in high school, when I learned that you had diabetes—a rare and exotic condition in 1965—I saw you handle that challenge with dignity and grace. Even then, I admired and respected you. Even then, while I was still a doofy adolescent and you seemed light years ahead of me in wisdom and maturity, you were a hero to me.

– Your gentle ways, your decency and kindness, these also shone through back then. I carried that image of you with me through the years following graduation.

Then we re-met in ’86, and I slowly came to understand your immutable values; to witness first-hand the way you lived your faith with integrity and consistency. And I knew even before I knew that I loved you madly that you were a hero to me.

-After we married, and I came to know the full story of your adult experiences, I marveled at your thoughtful approach to difficult situations and your sincere efforts to always put the best interests of your children first.

The patience you showed to those children through their most challenging years left me in awe. And oh, how that solidified the certainty that you were a hero to me.

-Over our years together—through failures and successes and medical challenges, through grief and joy and all points in between—I could always depend on you to help me put the rudders of reason and rational analysis to this ship built of raw emotion on which I navigate my way through life. For this I will always be grateful, and for this you are a hero to me.

This is only a partial list. I wanted to be brief . . . for a change; to leave the focus on the Man of the Hour: one of the most honorable fathers I have ever had the privilege to know—my Love, my Hank, my Hero.

Forever yours,

Hanes
—————————————————————————————-
Note to readers: If your father—or your husband—is your hero, please do tell him that today. Some things just shouldn’t be postponed. Besides, it will make a lovely dessert to go with those char-grilled hot dogs and burgers.
Blessings on your Father’s Day festivities.

 

 

June 18, 2017 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

Memorial Day Plus One

 

A number of sad-making events have occurred in my life over the past six months. The trouble with sadness is that it pushes you into yourself. Absorbs your attention like a thirsty sponge takes up water and wastes the energy you would rather be spending more productively.

 

Because I am so isolated these days, I write as a means of connecting with others. The irony in that is that my subject matter is often highly personal. I don’t question that paradox, I just follow where my instincts lead me. Hopefully you are willing to join me on the expedition, and God will provide the compass.

 

—–

 

May 30, 2017. I pick up a salmon-colored rock on my morning dog walk. My husband, Jack, was a rock collector. I pocket this interesting specimen out of habit, then grimace a bit. I will lay it on his abandoned dresser and hope that some like-minded visiting family member may take an interest in it in the future.

 

The gesture is interesting, symbolically. He was my rock, and today would have been our thirtieth wedding anniversary. I rummage in his top drawer, through the large collection of homemade cards he saved over three decades of my composing them for him. One in particular touches this tender spot inside of me that yearns to have him near on this special day. May it stir sweet memories for you, as well.

 

To My Love

 

L is for . . . the way your lower lip grows tight whenever you are deeply moved by something.

 

O is for . . . the overwhelming ache that invades my soul when I try to imagine how I ever lived without you.

 

V is for . . . the priceless examples of virtue and character you have given your children, a legacy they can treasure forever.

 

E is for . . . the exceptional qualities of patience and respectful forbearance that make you:

 

forgiving of my faults

 

my all-time favorite person to shop with

 

and

 

someone I can always trust to “not look” when lesser men’s eyes would wander.

 

***

 

I adored you so when we married that it brings tears to my eyes to recall.  But the depth and the breadth of my love for you now is my most treasured earthly blessing of all.

 

Happy 21st Anniversary

Wedding Day 1987

May 30, 2017 at 6:16 pm 3 comments

Survival Skills 101

  “Don’t forget to breathe.” This is Cristy calling out. She’s the trainer at my local SNAP fitness, where I spend seventy-five minutes of my day, six days a week. Cristy sits twelve feet away from me as I push out 48 repetitions on the biceps press machine this rainy afternoon. I had noticed feeling […]

Continue Reading May 19, 2017 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

Survival Skills 101

 

Weights

“Don’t forget to breathe.” This is Cristy calling out. She’s the trainer at my local SNAP fitness, where I spend seventy-five minutes of my day, six days a week.

Cristy sits twelve feet away from me as I push out 48 repetitions on the biceps press machine this rainy afternoon. I had noticed feeling light-headed earlier in the week after a session on a different machine. Chalked it up to hormones or lost sleep or the weather.

But Cristy’s prompting catches me up short. I am focusing only on counting down my presses. But doesn’t breathing just come naturally? Apparently not. Once I start consciously inhaling with reps one and two and exhaling on reps three and four, I can feel the difference immediately. Increased oxygen to my brain. Improved stamina. Even a little lift to my mood.

And wow, what a difference it makes. No more light-headedness. No more boredom with the counting regimen. No more feeling like I am just putting in my time.

I got to thinking about this incident on a recent dog walk, as I watched my never-in-a-hurry furry companion sniff her way around the same small patch of clover for the fifth time. This pup loves to stop and concentrate on the moment. Nose seeking out the breeze, she scoops up plenty of fresh air as we meander the neighborhood on our morning, midday, and evening strolls. Don’t have to encourage her to stop and smell the roses, or whatever. And I never see her lying awake at night, fretting, either.

So how often might we all benefit from just taking a deep breath? From pausing to reset our rhythm to a more natural pace and reprogram our minds toward a more prayerful approach to life.

Care to join me in the count-down?

-When your worry list expands past a fingers-plus-toes count of friends and family who face dire health challenges or tormenting personal relationship issues . . . don’t forget to breathe.

-When your own ties to dear ones are suddenly severed by forces and circumstances beyond your understanding . . . don’t forget to breathe.

-When visiting the past starts to seem preferable to living in the present . . .  don’t forget to breathe.

-When false accusations get hurled, your words twisted and used against you, your character subjected to brutal assaults . . .  don’t forget to breathe.

-When the world appears to be turned hopelessly inside out, with common sense declared “controversial” and so many falsehoods declared to be truths . . . don’t forget to breathe.

The buzzword these days is intentional: Intentional eating, intentional parenting, intentional relating, intentional needlepoint. Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. The concept translates to consciously tailoring our choices and our actions to ensure that they reflect our values, our goals, and our unambiguous understanding of right and wrong behavior.

So these breathing lessons? Let’s call them intentional refocusing. And let’s remind each other.

May 16, 2017 at 8:05 pm 2 comments

An Ode to J.R. Revisited

Our_Wedding

            An indulgence, if you’ll permit, to honor what would have been my dear husband’s 69th birthday: This condensed version of a 2012 post commemorating our 25th wedding anniversary—which I noted at the time was “a stark reminder of how quickly time scoots by, and how precious is each month, week, day, and hour, to be wrung limp with an appreciative squeeze.”  

An Ode to J.R.

            Fear not. There will be no declarations of devotion to a certain Texas-based, primetime soap opera character here. The focus of my devotion is the husband with whom I recently celebrated a 25th wedding anniversary–an occasion that smacked me right in the kisser with the awareness of just how much I have to give thanks for, and to cherish. I will, of course, elaborate.

            First of all, I am blessed with a life-mate who ignores, guy-like, the fact that I haven’t dusted in weeks, but listens intently as I ramble on about the specific kind of tank-top I’ve been searching for and then shows up a few weeks later, having hunted down six perfect matches.     

            A guy who waits patiently as I make multiple stops shopping for an allergy-elimination diet, then later sacrifices his lunch hour driving to the one health food store that carries Rice Dream dairy-free frozen dessert, to replenish my supply. Who seems not to be fully tuned in while I describe in tiresome detail what I am looking for in a watch, and then surprises me with the ideal model at the next appropriate special occasion, i.e., Happy Friday! 

            The man—and this will never cease to impress me—will patiently troll Kohl’s clothing racks looking for items he thinks I might like, while I’m locked in a dressing room, slogging through the tedious process of Trying On Clothes. And, while I am an animal lover, my husband is an animal liker. Yet he welcomed the feisty felines I brought into our marriage, supported me through related bereavements, and once back-tracked several blocks in the family vehicle because I saw a confused-looking kitty wandering around a commercial area and felt compelled to try to rescue it.

            His capacity for indulgence extends to rushing me to Wal-Mart to buy a cage and seed for the injured bird that had bounced off our front window and landed in the flower bed, only to discover on our return home that the stunned critter had recovered and flown away. U-turn back to Wal-Mart to return the emergency items. No drama, no recriminations, just a tolerant tending to the needs of the situation. My needs.

            While my sweetie and I are very much aligned in all the important areas, on some smaller issues, there is an occasional Venus/Mars split. I am pretty fanatical about conserving things, while my honey takes a more reasonable approach. Still, when he is finished with a shaker of body powder, a bottle of liquid soap, a tube of toothpaste, or a jar of mustard, he will open another, but leave the carcass behind for me to shake, scrape, dig, squeeze, or swoosh the very last drop from, knowing that it satisfies something within me to use the last drib and drab of anything.

            Then there was that phase I went through where I was reassessing how much toilet tissue I was reeling off the roll, and would sometimes lay the excess squares back on the dispenser for later use. Lesser men might have seen this as material for ridicule. My J.R. saw it as material for bathroom art, creating a Cottonelle sculpture gallery of the remnants that ranged from paper dolls to elaborate, three-dimensional palm trees..

            Ah, the everyday stuff. My guy always walks on the traffic side when we take a stroll, insistently offers his jacket even when I’ve foolishly rejected his pre-walk suggestion that I might want to wear one myself, and unquestioningly restaurant hops until I find a menu that suits my mood.

            After two-and-a-half decades, you’d think we’d know all there is to know about one another, but  just a few weeks ago I learned the reason he always insists on going with me to run errands. “Because I would never forgive myself if I was here and available to take you but didn’t, and something happened to you when you were out.”  Talk about a silver anniversary present to remember.

            Indeed, my multi-faceted husband continues to present new sides of his quiet self. Like the side that spends energy helping a reclusive neighbor with household challenges or time, polishing his Spanish to better communicate with our new friends down the block.

            And who knew he would become a fan of Bollywood cinema at this stage in life, and through that budding interest discover some true gems of touching, values-based entertainment that we can enjoy watching together—our own unique in-house date nights, no makeup required.

            What is no surprise is that he allows himself to be used by God in so many ways, as when the Lord led me-of-lapsed-faith to this decent, forgiving believer, and changed my life forever—and for eternity.

            Simply put, generosity is his heart. Cars, computers, an unexpected check; re-gifting all of his birthday cash to help out a struggling co-worker. This man of modest means has, without a second thought, carried on his parents’ legacy of giving to others whose need is greater, and we are both the richer for his servant’s spirit.

            I have a friend who is fond of saying of her husband, “He lets me be me.”  I am similarly blessed, but alas, all these years later I am still learning to be the wife God meant for me to be. Meanwhile, I recently came across the following crossword puzzle clue: Name which translates to “gift.”  Answer: Isador.

            My J.R. He is not perfect, of course; that would be intolerable for both of us. But he is my Isador, and that is definitely something to celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 5, 2017 at 7:59 pm 1 comment

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

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To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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