Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Purposeful Struggle

I am struggling with the idea of purpose this week.

Not the inevitable "does my life have a purpose?" idea.

But instead I am debating "does my contemporary, Christian romance novel serve a purpose?"

As long as I can remember I have worn the teacher hat: playing school with my sisters, Red Cross swimming lessons, VBS and Sunday School classes, theater classes, aerobic and fitness classes, and now college communication classes.

I love teaching because I know and feel it makes a difference. With God as my guide in this teaching journey, we have hopefully changed lives for the better. I thrive on the knowledge that the teaching gifts I have been given have inspired others to better their lives or careers. A truly rewarding experience I would do for free and often have.

Without a doubt, this same God is leading me in a new direction now, and is urging me to wear a different hat: writer. But I struggle with the importance or value to others when we write Christian romance novels. Will I be making a difference with my writing? In this genre, do our plot lines and characters benefit readers and actually change their lives? Or is the life that will be undergoing change. . . . only mine? Perhaps I am over thinking it all.

When discussing this struggle of purpose with my husband, he smiled and drolly said, "Well, even Christians need some enjoyment in their lives." I think he has the right idea. Perhaps I need to relax the teacher in me. When I read contemporary Christian fiction it is for enjoyment. I like seeing characters dealing with some of the same issues our family has, but tend to read for the story that is presented.

I would love to have your input on this "struggle" of making an impact versus enjoyment. Have any of you been inspired or changed by reading novels in this genre?

From the writing perspective, have you writers of Christian fiction felt like you have made a difference to your readers or received feedback as such?

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's About Fair Time!

It is here!
A year of waiting is over!
Can you feel the excitement in the air?
The anticipation of a new thrills and sensory delights?
The State Fair of Texas begins today.

The State Fair is a much anticipated event for my family. For us it ranks as one of the unofficial holidays of the season. It is a tradition that reaches back to my childhood days and has now spread to countless nieces, nephews, cousins, boyfriends and girlfriends.

If any of you live within a 50 mile-radius and have never gone, what are you waiting for? For all those writers in blog land, let me assure you that you will come away with a wealth of material you can drawn upon for those future and current WIPs. A day at the fair will totally envelop all 5 of your senses in wonderfully, remarkable ways. Allow me to elaborate:

HEARING: It isn't long before we hear the rhythmic cadences of the fair "barkers". They are calling out to fair goers to come and buy the "best turkey-leg in Texas". Others smash their lips against the microphone and fuzzily beg you to "toss your pennies in the dish! Everyone is a winner". Each ride on the Midway has it's own throbbing, pulsing musical beat, often overlapping with it's neighbor. Each song pulls at the masses to hesitate and take a longer look. The rushing whirr of the rollercoaster rides and the joyful screams of the riders are just persuasive enough, and we stand in line.

TOUCH: The new cars are perhaps the biggest draw for our fingers. We glide our hands along the smooth shiny surfaces and move into the interior. Which do we prefer? Not sure. let me touch the coolness of the leather seats and then take in the softer finish of the cloth seats. No need to stop there. Let's go shopping at the Bazaar. Jewelry and earrings gravitate to our fingers and we have to touch the textured purses, scarves and clothes. I turn the corner to find my husband exploring the feel of the recliners and pull my son off of the display mattresses. Too much to touch.

SIGHT: The first sign of fall can be seen in the gorgeous yellow chrysanthemums that greet visitors at every entrance and all over the park. On the midway, the final rays of the sun have barely set before the brilliant white, red, and yellow pulsing lights of the rides beckon to their excited riders. For the quieter nightlife group, the magnificent light show on the plaza features synchronized fountains dancing in reds and blues as the strobe lights sweep the night sky. All sit in awe of the spectacle, and every adult momentarily experiences that child-like appreciation for something so unique, so different and so unexpectedly "cool".

SMELL: No place but the State Fair contains this strange combination of scents. Almost immediately our noses are intrigued by the delectable aroma of baking bread in the food building. Hooray! Free samples are ready and no matter the length of the line, everyone is patient. A few steps outside and the stench of animal waste rapidly overwhelms us as we approach the petting zoo. No need to linger there as the unmistakable lure of fried food is compelling us to find it's source.

TASTE: We found it! The Fletcher Corny Dog is the most famous dog in Texas. It is the reason we abandon our diets one day out of the year ( OK twice if you count Thanksgiving). One mouthful of the warm corn-dog smothered in your choice of mustard or ketchup, and you will swear off of the frozen wannabes. Nothing compares. . . well, almost nothing, except the sinful cinnamon rolls in the food court. After all, every corn dog deserves a worthy dessert and I have found it. These Texas sized rolls are handed out hot and in a dish complete with a fork. These heavenly concoctions are literally swimming in a vanilla frosting bath that is just like Grandma used to make. Fried butter is the newest temptation this year, but not sure my arteries will forgive me for that one. As the end of the night draws near we raid the cotton candy stand for the pink clouds that have become our children's yearly souvenir, enjoyed slowly, days after the fair has ended.

The long walk back to our car is always a great time to sum up our favorite memories of the day.

And now I am asking if any of you have attended the State Fair of Texas. If so what are some of your favorite memories , or not so favorite memories? I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mother and Daughter InTransition

Last month my daughter lived here and now she doesn't.
First came love, then came marriage and then came the happily ever after. But for me, somewhere along the way came the empty bedroom across the hall and the new relationship we are transitioning into.

My daughter, Natalie got married 6 weeks ago to the Christian man of her dreams, David. He makes her so happy and has such a kind heart, we couldn't be happier for the both of them. All during her college years and dating, Natalie chose to live at home and we knew that it would be quite a change around here when she moved after they got married. I know the Bible says that "the woman is to leave her home" and to "become one with her husband." and we urged her to adhere to this principle. I thought I was prepared for her moving out, but she is my first born and it has not been easy.

My sister and a close friend at church are also joining me on this journey of loosening the apron strings. Both have daughters going away to college and missing them as well. All of us have been surprised at the strange times and strange things that seem to trigger our tears: the empty cars parked in the driveway, the empty bedroom, and for me it was the lack of my exercise partner and the empty spot at the dinner table. For 23 years my daughter has sat to dinner at my table, and it will take some time to undo that. I miss not getting to touch her, stroking her hair and even her smell. Carrying on our relationship, primarily by phone, just isn't enough. However, unlike my sister and friend, their situations are temporary. Their daughters will be living sporadically back in the fold of the family again, especially holidays and summers. My situation has more permanence to it. This chapter is closed with my daughter and at least for the first three weeks it was an emotion akin to mourning.

(I know it sounds like she moved away to some foreign country, instead of 30 minutes away , but writers, not to mention mothers are very emotional people and feel so deeply. I am convinced that all of us writer/moms need to take stock in the Kleenex corporation.)

The good news is that 6 weeks later, no tears are falling and life is getting into a new routine, with a lot of our old routines mixed in. My biggest realization is that whenever she comes to visit, about 1-2 times a week, it is . . . different. While Natalie is still my daughter, she now comes to my house as a guest. Like our other friends and family, she and her husband call before they come, bring food to help out with meals, and help out with the clean up. My husband and I have found ourselves unconsciously playing the part of host and hostess. When we know they are coming I start cleaning up the living room, gathering all the newspapers and magazines. He starts working in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and cleaning cabinet tops. (Yes, I know I am lucky to have a guy who know how to load a dishwasher!)

It seems that when they are coming it is an "event" now and, of course, events must have homemade meals and desserts. My husband and I even discuss what will be on the evening's agenda for entertainment: board games? cards? DVDs? television??? Instead of heading for bed at first yawn, as I would do when they were dating, I feel that either my husband or myself need to stay up and see them to their car and wave from the front porch; just as all thoughtful hosts do. Why are we doing this? Natalie and David have seen this living room cluttered with newspapers. They know what the kitchen looks like in stressful weeks of school. Natalie was living in it all only a few weeks ago. What is changed?

I believe that marriage has somewhat leveled the playing field of adulthood. Without a word between us, our actions are signaling we accept them as adults. Our relationship with them is becoming more of a friendship quality and less parental. But that doesn't mean we always have to act like adults. We still tease, chase and play "bootie tag", a game of who gets the last slap on the rump. Natalie seeks out longer hugs and cuddles than she used to, as if she knows how valuable they really are and how long they have to sustain her until she comes back. I even hear her gently scold her new husband, "David, you are not supposed to be going through my parents' pantry now." I jump in and assure him he could still raid the pantry if he were hungry, just as he did when they were dating. "But mom," Natalie interjects, "you don't do that when you go to your mother's house." She is right. I realize I am patterning things from my own relationship with my mother. When I visit my mother , she always treats me as a revered guest and sends me on my way totally full of food, attention and love.

So what I think is a new transition in our relationship has actually been played out years before and I have subconsciously copied it. And why not. . . . it works. I am now looking forward to getting to know my daughter and son-in-law as certified adults. As usual, my mom was right as she advised me to stop looking back and start looking forward. But, be patient with yourself as you transition there.

I would love to hear how you are coping with transitions in your relationships.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's Hear it for Teachers!

Teachers should be paid for all those extra hours they work on their own time. As a part-time instructor I probably put in around 10 hours a week on my own time, but of course, no pay. I know that I am not the only one, as my best friend is an elementary school teacher. She spent weeks planning her room for opening day, buying so much of the materials on her own.

I am thrilled to be in a profession that I feel, changes lives. I love what I do and feed off of the energy of my college kids. I feel that I am supposed to be doing this and feel it is the perfect profession for the gifts that God has chosen to grant me. How many others have begun this profession with this same optimism and energy, only to have been discouraged that their jobs did not stop at 4:00. When they go home, another 4-5 hours of school related work is awaiting them. For some teachers I know, this adds up to a 60-70 hour workweek but only getting paid for 40. How many other professions have this kind of schedule and willingly put up with it? Doctors? Lawyers? Possibly many more, but you can bet their paycheck does accomodate their lengthy hours. Can we say the same of our public school teachers?

Some may argue that teachers are adequately paid because they get summers off. But do you realize how short that summer has become? Do you realize how many of these teachers are required to attend month-long seminars during their "summer vacations"? I know that my neice and best friend both were in month- long seminars to retain their certification this past summer and my neice had to pay for it out of her own pocket, not to mention the additional child care that was needed for her son. Just as she finished that seminar she had to begin to put her lesson plans together and decorate her room, all of which occupied weeks before school started. That was a "fun" summer.

I don't know of any current legislation that is offering to increase teacher salaries, but when it happens ,please support it. Teachers pick this profession for all the right reasons, but are leaving it for all the wrong ones.