Trucks in dining roomI had a big deal “milestone” birthday in 2016–you know, one that ends in 0. I decided to take that year to refocus. I resigned from responsibilities outside my home in order to catch up and regroup and prepare to do more things that really mattered to me.  I would repair and renovate and bring order to our house. I would give attention to the abilities I have in art and music. I would continue to write and edit for publication in the local newspaper, and consult for doctoral scholars’ dissertations, but my writing  focus would be writing blogs and trying to publish the books I’ve written. I got bids from contractors, bought art supplies, and bought Blogging for Dummies. But then–LIFE happened.

My husband and I have four adult children and nine grandchildren who were then all between the ages of 1 and 10. One family lived in a city 5-1/2 hours’ drive away, the others each lived at least 9 hours away.  I always had them in my prayers and heart and often on my mind, but they weren’t part of my daily life in person. Then, within 2 months of my milestone birthday, two of the three families, including six of the nine grandchildren, relocated to within 20 miles of our house,  one just a mile away–you know, within walking distance. Suddenly my priorities and well-laid plans changed. A normal weekday might include an art class and/or home-school lessons around the dining room table, a Happy Meal at McDonald’s, an excursion to a museum or fair, or cleaning and re-filling a wading pool in the back yard. Sandwiches were now in the shape of train engines–I actually bought a cutter that would do that!  The dining room contained a truck depot, a blocks bin, and a game shelf. I bought six extra swimsuits just to keep at Grammie’s house, and kept bedding in the den in case a child suddenly wanted to sleep over. Sunday afternoons were filled with family instead of the internet. 

The wise king, Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” James wrote, “…you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” Having our plans interrupted, or our purposes delayed, ought to be just fine with us. Every day I need to be as intentional about joyfully believing that God is at work in my life and accepting changes as I was about making the plans in the first place. I have an incredible treasure house of unexpected memories from that year, and they’re especially cherished because four of the six grandchildren have now  moved a two-days’ drive away. A contractor is rebuilding a porch next week. I can read Blogging for Dummies now. My milestone year has come and gone.  It was used really, really well!

What was the best interruption of one of your plans? Use the Reply at the top of the page.

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Desk image for online After many years of teaching at the college level, I earned a doctorate in teaching and learning, then took early retirement and started a second career.  I coach doctoral scholars as they design their research, then serve as their teacher and editor while they write the dissertation. Completing years of doctoral course work makes scholars experts in their fields, but it doesn’t guarantee skill in writing a dissertation. Some clients realize that and take full advantage of all the expertise I can give them. Others hire me, then argue with me, doubt my recommendations, question my corrections, ignore my instructions, and essentially go through the whole process kicking and screaming, figuratively speaking, resisting me all the way.

I try to be gracious, and I’m probably close to paranoid about being honest. I work diligently every minute of every hour I bill.  I don’t spend work time writing flowery praise, or gently hinting about what is wrong and needs to be fixed.  I tell new clients they should expect concise, targeted advice. I ask for mutual trust, the assumption that whatever we type to the other was written in kindness, and a promise to reveal hurt feelings if they happen anyway, so I can apologize and ask forgiveness.

Sometimes communication still breaks down. I asked a client to send me a list of the interview questions he used, and waited, and he sent me the answers he got. So I asked again, and waited, and got another set of answers instead of questions. So I asked a third time, and waited, and got a summary of the first answers.  I got exasperated, and typed, “Please send me exactly the questions you asked your participants and no answers.”

Jesus had the same problem. He gave the apostles a clear, blunt, seven-point list of what was about to happen in Jerusalem, “but they understood none of these things” (Luke 18:34 ESV).  He kept them going toward Jerusalem anyway.  His own brothers didn’t believe He was the Christ, and mocked Him (Luke 7:3-5), but He stayed there in Galilee where they lived, anyway (v. 9). When his disciples didn’t have enough faith to heal a boy, he got exasperated: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?” Then He did the work others should have been able to do, but couldn’t, anyway (Mark 9:19).

I get paid to help scholars achieve their goals, but my ultimate job is to become more like Christ. No matter how much He was misunderstood or disbelieved, or how frustrated He became about that in any given moment, He pressed on and got the job done in a way that demonstrated love for those who had misunderstood and disbelieved. That needs to be my job description, too.

How about you?  What are YOUR job descriptions?




Brian Coaxing Llamas 8-28-11I have read reams of text, some comical, some cautionary, written by deft writer-jugglers who wrote while also doing something else–working as a chef, caring for small children, teaching all day and writing half the night. The greatest challenge in keeping everything going at once was prioritizing.  
Tonight I’m wondering if even well-known full-time writers sometimes find that life gets in the way of writing, and all the props being coordinated in the air are intentionally allowed to fall to the floor except one. I hope they do.
Two weeks ago I received an invitation from a well-known and highly respected literary agent to submit a proposal for the last book I wrote. I was excited–and thrilled! I thanked her for the opportunity and expressed my intention to submit it asap. Within the next week, however, my dear husband–the big, strong, fearless, llama-wrangling, tractor-driving, retired Christian school administrator-turned farmer, had three doctor’s appointments in our city and two surgeries in another city. Instant priority change! I let the agent know what was happening, and that my submission would be delayed. She was gracious and even prayed for him. (That’s the kind of agent I want!)
Both surgeries and most of the post-op visits are over now, and my husband doing even better than expected, so now I can start thinking about the proposal. But I’ve noticed a subtle shift. I’m more grateful than thrilled about the opportunity: I’m much happier that the surgeries were successful than that I received the invitation to submit the proposal. I hope that means that if I soon have the opportunity to juggle writing published books with the other things in my life, my priorities will be in order.

What are your greatest challenges in juggling priorities?

CONTEXT: Nine Months

14th St. Side of       Our House        10-15-12In July our older daughter and her family moved 850 miles from our city to Charlotte, NC, and she was invited to speak at the farewell dinner for them at our church.  She used the theme of 9 months.  She and her husband got their daughter nine months after they committed to adopt their first child; she carried each of the other three children for nine months (more or less); and the short stay they expected here in Quincy, Illinois, between her husband’s previous ministry in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago and his next pastorate became–yes, 9 months.

Imagine my surprise when I returned to my blog today and discovered that it has been 9 months since I posted!  And what changes the 9 months have brought!  I’m adding this particular photo from last fall to illustrate and symbolize those changes–NONE of our big, beautiful maple trees in the 2016 photo are left in 2017.

Future blogs will fill in some of the blanks of those months, but today that very particular time length seems like a promise of greater things to come!  I’m imagining a new design for my blog, more frequent but shorter posts, conversations with readers–a fresh start.  Please come along!

CONTEXT: Confused Seasons

14925278_10207742623219613_5201381353102620222_n  Today is November 14, and I considered mowing the lawn–it needs it. My vegetable garden is still producing peppers, and my zinnias are still blooming.  This is Central Illinois!  The trees are so confused that some are still green, some are bright colors, and some have shed their leaves.  Some are doing all three at once. I’ve felt like that myself–not quite sure what stage of life I’m in. Having one of those landmark birthdays last month didn’t help.

When I was young and single, the priority was the present.  Stage 1. When our children were young, caring for them was our highest priority and obedience to God, and that present priority had great impact on the future. Stage 2. Then they grew up and I went into Stage 3–work, study, earn a doctorate, retire, write articles and books.

And now there’s a new stage that wasn’t expected and I’m as disoriented as the trees.   One son was diagnosed with a chronic illness and is moving his family near us.  One son-in-law was brutally assaulted in a park, is still recovering, and that family has also moved near us. Instead of seeing our grandchildren a few times a year, I see them most days. I’m prioritizing the present to build the future. There is little time for writing.

But through the awful election campaign that just ended, I wrote on Facebook. It was my small way of trying to use WRITING as a tool for truth, integrity, and civility. When I posted a plea for fairness and critics castigated me for supporting one candidate, it gave me great pleasure to let them know that I wasn’t supporting either candidate, but was simply making a plea for truthful, fair, balanced information–opinions based on facts instead of innuendos. Civility instead of crassness. I think that’s a valid role for a writer–my one small step for mankind at any season of the year, or of my life. And now, I need to go prepare a meal. Our daughter is very ill and her four children are at my house for the day.



Zinnias & Morning Glories 8-16 Several years ago I decided to disguise the cyclone fence surrounding my vegetable garden by planting morning glories that would vine on it.  I planted the seeds, and they sprouted, and they grew, and the vines did, indeed, cover the ugly fence, and the flowers greeted me every morning that summer. And the next. And the next. And the next. Morning glories are persistent.

But then two summers ago, I put in the bed of  zinnias in front of the fence.  The morning glories did not get the memo that their services were no longer needed.  They again sprouted, multiplied, put out tendrils that wrapped around anything they touched, and grew many inches a day. They cheerfully invaded the whole flower bed of zinnias. Every skinny horizontal stem visible in the photo is a morning glory vine–zinnia stems are thick and vertical. The tendrils and leaves are even the same color as the zinnias, and make the plants appear, at first glance, to be lush and healthy. But the morning glory vines’ weight eventually bends the tall stems of the zinnias and pulls them to the ground.

Sometimes habits start out as good, purposeful, under control, and initiated with the best intentions, like my morning glories. But when we become more mature, more intentional, and ready to move on, their seeds are still there, buried in the ground of our mind and heart, and they sprout and grow, and their pretty, once-welcome, innocent-looking  tendrils wiggle their way right into the new life we lead and pull us down. We need to search for them daily and pull them out. Yes, they’re beautiful flowers, but if they destroy better things in our lives, they need to treated like weeds and be banished to the compost pile.



CONTEXT: Too Much Context?

Bible Open, Coffee IMG_7228I strongly believe that virtually everything we perceive is affected by its context, and we ignore that at our own peril.  But being aware of our context does not mean allowing it to dictate our actions or responses.

Recently I’ve been wondering if we allow our context to dictate how we pray.  I did an intensive study of prayer a few years ago:  I read books by men and women of widely different times and theological backgrounds, and the Old and New Testaments.  Jesus’ instructions and models are in the Gospels, and the Epistles contain a surprising numbers of Paul’s prayers.

The biggest surprise was not what I found, but what I didn’t find:  I found no mention of group prayer!  Kings prayed in front of Israel on behalf of Israel, but the king alone was praying. When Samuel saw Hannah praying in public, he assumed she was drunk, so he obviously wasn’t used to seeing public prayer.  Jesus often went off alone to pray, and sometimes he took his disciples, then asked them to wait and WATCH (not pray) while he went on alone.  After trekking with him daily for three years, they asked him to teach them to pray.  They obviously hadn’t been doing it together, or they would have known how. When he gave them specific instructions about how to pray, he told them to go in a room and close the door and pray “in secret,” and assured them that their Father would hear them.

Wow!  That’s a lot different from the seminary class I heard about in which students were taught to “preach in their prayers”!  So instead of really, personally talking to God, the future pastors were taught to say what they wanted their listeners to hear, and just pretend they’re talking to God?  Pretend that God needs to be reminded of the three-point outline of the sermon just preached? Or the meeting someone forgot to mention earlier in the service?

Last Sunday our pastor warned us against “performance religion.”  I’m wondering if we’ve become accustomed to “performance prayer.” Soul-searching time, here.