Friday, November 23, 2018

Breakfast With a Side of Inspiration

It's the kind of opportunity you hope for as an author -- the unplanned moment when you get to connect with a young writer. 

The moment snuck up and tapped me on the shoulder in a most ordinary way: I was getting my bowl of oatmeal at a breakfast buffet in Colorado.

The woman next to me commented she loves the rugged west, and that she is from Pennsylvania. "Where in Pennsylvania?" I ask, and we are off and running. She's South of my hometown, toward the middle of the Keystone State. She's a grandma, visiting with family. We bond over the fact that we are both widows.

Soon I am introduced to Daniel, her 9-year-old grandson. She is thrilled to tell me Daniel wants to be a writer when he grows up.

I weigh the situation, guaging whether I am intruding on a family's breakfast; my instincts tell me it's okay to have a seat. 

I'm at eye-level with a young writer. It's a heady feeling. The first thing I tell Daniel is he's not "going to be a writer" ... he IS a writer, present-tense, because he wants to create stories. This unique and driving desire to write is the magical entrance into the very realm of creativity.

Daniel and I connect. Instantly.

I ask him, "Do you like to be alone? Do you prefer it?"
"Yes!" he nods. 
"This," I tell him, "is going to be one of your biggest challenges: seeking out solitude to write, yet needing to be fully immersed in people and things and events, so you have the ideas to launch from.
"Yes!" he so gets it.

I ask Daniel what he's reading now. 
"All kinds of things," he enthuses. "Mostly enchanted stuff, mysteries. Harry Potter. A Series of Unfortunate Events." He rattles off a few more titles, including books he means to get to soon. This kid already knows, to write well is to read. Voraciously. 

Understanding this is a wonderfully orchestrated appointment, a fleeting moment, my mind is racing. I remember the classifieds: "Daniel. Do you know a great place to find writing ideas? The classifieds!"
He looks mystified. "The classifieds?" he says. 
I give him a brief rundown of the classifieds, and how they are spring-loaded with story and character ideas. 
His parents nod in agreement. They agree the classified ads can be a treasure trove of intrigue, humor and drama. Such as: Why would this person get rid of all their action figures? Why do they need the money? It's a story idea just waiting for a pen and a premise.

Daniel wants to go as a writer for Halloween. We talk about pocket protectors, reporter's notebooks and maybe a pencil behind the ear.

I love this rich exchange between the generations and I truly hope young Daniel carries something - anything - from this conversation into his writing life. 

He is so blessed to have his parents and grandma -- his biggest fans. I'm also hoping the teachers and mentors in his life will catch the vision and point the way. 

The window of time narrows; it's time for me to cut away from this table of light. 
I leave a business card with Daniel and his family, so they can look up my books. They are grateful for this impromptu meeting, seemingly enamoured with meeting a published author. 

But I'm the one keen on this lovely encounter - beguiled by a young creative, just getting ready to grace the world with his unique style.

Follow your own voice, Dear Daniel. I'll be watching for your byline.

I invite you to look for my books, Breath of Joy! Simply Summer and Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn.
This blog supports, timely gifts for Autumn and Christmas.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Memories of Squirrel Hill

The Squirrel Hill mass shooting near Pittsburgh has sickened me. I could spend many paragraphs describing the depth of my outrage, but we all share it as we try to comprehend what has just taken place inside a haven of friendship and fellowship —  the very place many of us seek out for refuge.

Having cut my broadcasting teeth on Christian radio in Gateway Towers, I spent a couple of culturally rich years learning to appreciate the ethnic diversity that is Pittsburgh. WPIT-AM and FM reached the Tri-State area with Christian programming; they still do.

Squirrel Hill brings back fond memories of learning to drive in the city, after having grown up in rural Russell PA. My late husband, Roger, wanted to acclimate me to the busy network of highways. On Sunday afternoons, we would leave our Wilkinsburg apartment and drive to Squirrel Hill to begin. From that historic community, we would wend our way closer down into the labyrinth of one-way streets that used to frighten me; with his help, I became more and more confident, eventually joining the ranks of the most assertive Pittsburgh drivers.

My station manager in the 80’s, Michael Komichak, honored every cultural community-group in the listening region by programming Saturdays to a wonderful array of programs heard nowhere else: The American Slovene Hour, The Ukrainian Radio Show, The Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage Hour, the Slovak Hour and The Blarney Hour, to mention a few. In those days the hosts would pre-record their programs, including everything from polka music to Irish ballads — it was a melting pot of old world heritage, a gathering-in of listeners from every background and country of origin. We aired news from home and music for listeners with roots in Slovenia, Poland, Serbia, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary and Bulgaria. Truly, it was an audio feast of language and music, even if one didn't
understand it all.

I’m sure, if they wanted a spot on the program, the Hebrew community could have done so. That was Mr. Komichak’s heart.

Mr. Komichak looms large in my memory as a leader always looking to fill a need; promoting the surrounding neighborhoods was his idea, and it was not always popular with the folks crunching algorithms and measuring target audiences. After all, they said, ours is a contemporary music format — why put on shows on the weekends that sound so different from our programming Monday through Friday?

But Mr. K kept at it until his final broadcast days in the 90’s just prior to his death. To this day his legacy continues, on-air and in the grateful hearts of the diverse communities that nestle tightly around Pittsburgh.

What happened Saturday at Tree of Life Synagogue has now been tagged a hate crime: lives stolen and families left devastated because of a heart filled with hatred. Let’s pray for the loved ones struggling to comprehend what has happened in Pittsburgh; a city that will continue forward and lead the nation in healing the unthinkable.

This blog supports
I invite you to look for my books, Breath of Joy! Simply Summer and Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Hello, Gorgeous
As it happened, I flew to Denver on my wedding anniversary; it would have been our 32nd. Ten years ago, all such celebrations were suddenly halted when my husband, Roger, suffered a massive heart attack while watching his favorite TV show, Gunsmoke.

That first year without him, on the occasion of what should have been our 22nd year of marriage, I wept. Not the Hallmark Movie kind of pretty weeping — it was ugly crying with deep guttural sounds I didn’t realize were coming from the depths of my aching, broken heart.

On what would be our 23rd, I posted pictures and wrote pretty words; a shaky facade of bravery over a still-jagged heart.

Fast-forward to our 25th ... I was resentful and jealous of my friends posting their mile-marker anniversaries as still intact, living and breathing couples.

This is the part where I dearly wish I could tell you I finally came to terms with one-sided wedding anniversaries. But I’d be lying.

I will never come to terms with one-person wedding anniversaries, even if I live long enough to carry our torch to our 50th.

And this is why: We had something significant. Honest. Gritty at times, messy always, with intervals of stony silence between us.

Still, it was a rare blend of stubborn love, failing, trying again, loving under the protection of a sacred promise and showing up every day.

We had planned to grow old together.

Instead, I was left to soldier on without my 6-foot-4 German policeman-farmer. Left to raise two daughters, find jobs, lose them, quit them, start over again.

Move away. Move back.

Sell the farm. Endure what would become a family rift over a piece of acreage.

Live to tell about it, but never quite recover from family rejection.

Eventually, the anniversaries sort of tiptoed in cautiously, unsure of my response. My friend and fellow sojourner had reminded me of the necessity of putting a vacation or some kind of special occasion on the calendar, in place of the abyss of an important yawning date. Like an anniversary. Or his birthday.

Eventually, I made a truce: celebrate the happiness of others instead of lingering over my loss. That simple, small act of the will has resulted, over the years, in a genuine, deep sense of joy over my friends’ anniversaries.

Because each and every arrival at another year is an affirmation of the vows; a collection of timeless memories; a demonstration to the young people that they can stay together, if they’d just slog through the hard parts.

And so on this, my 32nd remembrance, I am flying over my beloved Rockies and coming in for a landing in the very place we kept our promises and raised our daughters and went to work and found lifelong friends.

On this flight my heart swells with gratitude at the sweet sight of an elderly couple grasping for each other’s hands during liftoff. “Hello, Gorgeous!” He says, as though they’ve just met.

Upon touchdown I notice the same couple instinctively reach across the aisle again to clasp weathered, wrinkled hands in a grip of graceful knowing.

At the gate my heart is warmed by the sudden glimpse of a young man holding a large bouquet of roses, scanning the travelers for his beloved. I like to think they are anniversary roses.

So, dear Reader, I have not lost love; I have sustained a love that mattered. I have carried my memories into a treasure vault of love I can experience again and again, because what we had was enduring.

And in that moment of knowing, I can look around and be exquisitely happy for the couples still within physical reach of each other; still slogging through, still showing up, still growing old together.

On this, my 32nd, I have quietly realized this one thing: my story is bearable if I tell it.

This blog supports, timely gifts for Autumn and Christmas.

Although I didn't sign up for it, I have become well acquainted with the grief journey; you can read more of my journey toward joy in the books, "Breath of Joy! Simply Summer" and "Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn".

Saturday, April 14, 2018


It's been a rough week, a roller coaster ride of emotions. I'd had a promising meeting packed with dare-to-dream possibilities. I rode high on the crest of that wave for an entire day.
On Day #2 my hopes were challenged but not dashed.
By Day #3 my natural optimism began to waver.

Day #4: I am a lump of misery, belly crawling across a cold indifferent floor.

Hugely disappointed. Feeling pushed to the margins, overlooked; undervalued.

A wise friend came alongside and re-framed my sad story: "Love people, trust God."
Love people? When they promise BIG and deliver SMALL? Love people, when they say they will call back, and I tether my phone to myself day and night for nothing but echoes of silence?
Love people?!
When common courtesies and professional behaviors are profoundly missing? Seriously?
Love people.
Trust God.

Because, she explained, people are not trustworthy -- that's why they desperately need to be loved. God is the One Person you can always trust, and trusting in Him enables you to love people.
When you choose to love others, you learn that you, too, have dropped the ball. You have missed the mark, forgotten a promise, overlooked an appointment. And you hope against hope you will be forgiven.
Human beings simply cannot maintain a trustworthy track record; we are goofy, ravaged shadows of our best selves.
Which is why we need God, who is our Constant.
"He's got this!" she affirmed.

I'd love to report here that Love showed up and I rose triumphantly from my puddle of gloom.

It hasn't been that tidy. After fits and starts, tears and residual anger, a slow infusion of truth began to pulse through my veins: Placing my trust in The Sovereign re-calibrates my story and deepens my capacity to love.

This is Day #5.
This is my day and it could take me anywhere. 
The possibilities are tugging at my sleeves, pulling me back into the sunshine.
I will risk.
I will show up.
I will believe.
Speed bumps will slow me down, with odd and unseen bends in the road.

Sometimes it's not a path through enlightenment; it's a numb slog through the muck and mire.

I may have to learn it again and again: Trust God, Love People. Embrace their shortcomings in much the same way God embraces mine.
Watch and learn.
Choose not to send negative ripples into a world already quivering with acrimony.

Whenever necessary, call my dear friend who gently nudges me back into the Light.

This blog supports,  timely gifts for Autumn and Christmas.
Although I didn't sign up for it, I have become well acquainted with the grief journey; you can read more of my journey toward joy in the books, "Breath of Joy! Simply Summer" and "Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn".

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Don't Bury the Alleluia

Of all the things I can give up during the Lenten season, it won’t be singing.

Even though there may be some grateful individuals in my family (you know who you are), I refuse to “bury the alleluia”. 

This tradition of burying the alleluia dates back to the Middle Ages in Babylon. It’s a kind of verbal fast, a practice of intentionally omitting “alleluia” from the liturgy. 

The idea is, when the alleluia is removed for a season, it rings even more jubilant at the Resurrection of Jesus. All that holding back during Lent will just burst the banks – an anthem of released rejoicing on Easter morning.

Liturgy or not; custom be scuttled! I will let my alleluia ring out. All through Lent, and afterward, and forevermore.

Seriously. I think it will ring all the sweeter on Easter Sunday, for not having squelched it at all.

The alleluia is my shelter in the storm.

It is my exclamation point in a world of question marks. 

It is my red umbrella in the gloom.

The alleluia is my cure for curmudgeonly lapses; my go-to response for difficult people, pet throw-up and silent mailboxes.

It’s the alleluia that falls out of my mouth when God flings another magnificent sunrise into the sky.

The praise comes naturally every time I hear the sound of my children’s voices.

It echoes in my heart as a cry of breathless joy when I hear church bells, or Beethoven, or John Denver, or when I sing the PSALM HYMNS.

“Alleluia” cannot be buried because it buries all despair in four resounding syllables.

The Psalmist, David, knew it all along. So did Handel, when he composed the Messiah. As do the birds, who fill the not-yet-Spring trees with exaltation. 

So does anybody who climbs out of the combat zone into the sunlight, blinking dazedly into the surprise of a healing or a reconciliation or a second chance.

Don’t withhold the hosanna!
Don’t lay off the litany!
Don’t shush the shout!
Don’t quench the canticle!
Don’t dis the descant!
Please, don’t bury the alleluia.

Give up something else for Lent, if you so choose, but not the very thing that keeps you upright and breathing. Keep the alleluia and belt it out as often as possible; it will bolster you up and jolt the passers by.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Construction Sites and Prayer Gardens

Billy Graham passed away today, February 21, 2018. We’ve lost a national treasure, and he has left an indentation on our culture as deeply carved and distinctive as the faces on Mt. Rushmore. It really didn’t matter what faith background you held; this beloved man simply brought the gospel, unadorned, to the masses. He did not worry about seekers, yuppies or progressives, but he did focus on the lost.

And he told us how to be found, loved and eternally secure. He did this, many times through an interpreter and he delivered his simple message all over the globe during a generous lifespan of 99 years. He was the friend to politicians, royals and everyman. He filled stadiums and lit up televisions, yet remained humble.

While sharing the sadness of Dr. Graham’s passing with a friend, I related a wonderful story about the woman who reached heaven before him: Ruth Bell Graham.

On a visit several years ago to see the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, I discovered an inviting walkway leading to a tranquil, woodsy Prayer Garden. I quickly realized it is also the burial site of Ruth Graham. On her tombstone it says, “End of Construction - Thank You for Your Patience”.

It struck me as funny and deep, all at once. I needed to know the story behind the epitaph. A volunteer explained the Graham family was on a road trip, back when the children were young. Ruth noticed a construction site along the highway.  She was completely drawn in by a large sign announcing in big bold letters, END OF CONSTRUCTION - THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.

Ruth turned to Billy, who was at the wheel, and told him she wanted this exact phrase to be on her tombstone. She explained she was a work in progress, and her death would render her complete; finished; the person Christ had designed her to be. Furthermore, a lot of people had to be patient during her journey to completion.

Billy, not knowing she would cross into glory before him, remembered her request. He had that pithy, humorous and deeply profound phrase etched onto her stone.

Nestled among native flowers and situated in a peaceful spot, Mrs. Graham’s parting statement is a beautiful echo of laughter. I was glad to hear the story.

All these years later, I’m comforted to remember it, and to think of Dr. Billy Graham entering heaven with his own hard hat and a tool belt laden with funny stories to share with Ruth.

You may also want to read other evangelical writers from the southern U.S. who honor the same Lord that Dr. Graham and Ruth Graham honored. The Whispering of the Willows if a redemptive read by southern author, Tonya Jewel Blessing. I support

Friday, January 12, 2018

Crosswords and Life Clues

Sometime back, my mother nudged me into crossword puzzles. I’ve never looked back.
Being a self-proclaimed word nerd, I revel in word clues, feeling a smidge of smug satisfaction when all the spaces are filled in.
There is some buzz on the medical front that doing crosswords staves off the onset of Alzheimer’s. Other experts are saying the activity of putting pen to paper engages the human brain in ways our handheld devices cannot.
Still others say it’s a great and entertaining way to improve your vocabulary.
Here’s why I love puzzling with words: the clues are mini commentaries on life.
I was working a puzzle the other day. In the “Across” column, the hint was, “protects the petals”. The 5-letter answer was just beyond my reach, but in short order I had the first letter, “T”. After a bit of maneuvering in the “Down” category, I had my answer. Thorn.
Thorn protects the petals, as in the petals of a delicate, fragile rose.
That pithy little phrase, “protects the petals”, became a metaphor in my heart’s memory. My late husband, Roger, was a tall guy with a hearty laugh and a fierce love for his family. In some ways, he was gruff and prickly – like a thorn. After you got to know his personality, you realized it was his outward protective way of sizing up each new situation, ensuring everything was okay.
Just like a thorn discourages a would-be picker from grabbing the rose, so a giant of a man in his Sheriff’s blues, shields the vulnerable; the defenseless; the unguarded ones.
And, just as a bramble keeps intruders at bay, so Roger shielded “his girls” (our daughters and myself) from anything untoward.
The one thing he could not protect us from was his own untimely death, 10 years ago.
In the space of one devastating moment, we three girls were knocked sideways into a jarring reality. We became vulnerable to unwise counsel, harsh comments, impossible decisions and predatory people. Our shield, our buffer, our go-to-guy, was gone.
Worst of all, we developed barbs against one another in order to protect our own shattered hearts.
Thorns. Protecting the most precious flowers, people, and dreams.
All this clarity came marching into my awareness, just because of a crossword clue. Who knew?
All word nerds know, intuitively, that words are a map. They are clues. They are pieced together like one messy, random puzzle. Ultimately, the words make sense. This is magic.
One puzzle offered a clue. That clue triggered a memory. That memory throbbed warm and alive in my heart.
I will always remember him in new ways.

Plus, now I have a new appreciation for the solemn trustworthiness of thorns.