To become a follower to Darlene's blog, click on the "follow" tab at the very bottom of the screen.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Giddy Gladness

In the weeks since the anniversary of Jolene's death, I have often felt happy, almost hilariously happy and giddy. Today I ran across a verse in Jeremiah that ascribes the joy I've felt as a product of God's great love.

Jeremiah 31:3 states "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." Later in the chapter, in verse 13, it states "Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well"--versions of my silly shower songs--"I will tun their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow."

Thank You, Father, for giving me gladness, comfort and joy in place of the sorrow that weighed me down. Let me turn the memories of Jolene into moments of praise and not despair.

In the words of this month's praise song at church (The Blessing by John Waller): "Let it be said of us that we lived to be a blessing for life."

Monday, May 25, 2009


Today I wanted to write a moving blog about Memorial Day (I did cry during church yesterday, grief for Jolene overwhelming me).

But all I can think about is moving. I have hit the project hard this weekend: about 20 bags of trash and maybe 10 boxes of stuff to give away. Mom's closet, 2 bureaus and 1 hope chest left to sort through. It's close to being ready to sweep through and throw everything into boxes.

However, last night my knee informed me that it had had enough. As good an excuse as any to take it easy for the day.

Mom asked me if I've found anything that makes me happy. It has been fun to run across bits of Jaran and Jolene's childhoods that I had forgotten: a story Jaran had written. Jolene's first "picture." Even photos of me as a child. A bulletin from the church where I came to know the Lord. A letter to Mom from the grandfather I never met ... interesting, yes.

But mostly it's just plain hard work. I've watched the entire season of Castle and Cupid via the internet while I've been sorting. And made a dent in episodes of NCIS that I missed.

I'm rambling here, I know. I can't wait for the work to be over and to be in Oklahoma with my family. Less than 3 weeks to go!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Listen for the Rooster's Crow

Reading Mark's account of Jesus's trial, I noticed that Jesus warned Peter he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed twice.

Mark tells us the first time the rooster crowed: right after Peter denied Jesus the first time. The question crossed my mind: Why did the rooster crow twice? Was Jesus giving Peter a warning to stop and think about what he was doing?

But like so many of us, Peter didn't stop and think about Jesus words. In his fear and confusion, he went ahead and fulfilled Jesus's prophecy. He denied his Lord two more times before the rooster cried again.

Comparing my upcoming move to Peter's denial seems pretty silly. But I hear the rooster crowing, nonetheless. Until I get settled in Oklahoma, I think I'd better cut back on my blogs to twice a week: back to my Monday and Thursday schedule.

And the next time I'm tempted to do something God has warned me against--pray that I'll hear the rooster crow the first time.

Jolene Speaks

June 17, 2001

How graceful are the mountains
Mountains that guard the singing prairies
Who beckon me as they call my name
Their beauty and grace shall I find thee
In the mountains I call my home
On the prairie I shall stand by the majestic mountains
Who watch all they see

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Writer's Mind: Passive Voice

If you haven't guessed, I don't have a set curriculum about writing.

One bit of advice for writers hasn't changed in all my years as a writer. Editors repeated it again, many times, at the recent conference. Avoid passive voice.

A friend asked me, "What is passive voice?"

I could direct you back to high school grammar, diagramming sentences and direct objects. "To be" verbs are passive. I am, you are, he/she/it is. I was, you were, he/she/it was. "Feel" and "seem" fall into the same category, and "to have" verbs are also weak.

Here is an example from my current WIP (work in progress):

I could have said, "It was cold."

Instead this I wrote this: "their breaths formed identical puffs in the frigid air."

Passive voice also refers to sentences where the subject of the sentence is being acted upon instead of doing the acting. I know, that sounds as clear as mud. Consider the difference between the following sentences:

My house was robbed by a stranger.

A stranger robbed my house.

She was upset because of her bad grades.

The bad grades upset her.

The solution to this problem with passive voice usually involves switching the second half of the sentence with the first.

I am featured today at Go on over and check it out!

Mountaintop Ramblings

I've been to the mountaintop, literally and figuratively. Perfect weather attended the three days I spent at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Elk wandered around the campus, crisp cool air soothed skin heated after hours in the crowded classroom, I met many friends new and old, and God opened so many doors I don't know which one to enter first. I even sold $80 worth of books (and believe, the competition is fierce.)

So when God showed me the following verses from Isaiah 49, I felt like shouting "Hallelujah!" (Formatting mine.)

The Lord
--Called me before my birth.
--From within the womb called me by name.
--Has hidden me in the shadow of his hand.
--said, "You will bring me glory."

That's how God sees me. What's what wants me for me. That's His calling.

But how do I often see myself?

I replied
--My work seems so useless!
--I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.

When I think all that I've strived for has come to nothing, God wants to use me for His glory. After writing for 18 years, I can get caught up in feeling it's all been for nothing. I have little to show for it.

God reaffirmed His calling and His purpose. Whatever happens with the open doors at this conference, I know that God has a purpose in all that happened on the mountain top and in the days to come. Amen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Colorado Christian Writers Conference

In an uncharacteristic last-minute decision, I am headed to Colorado Christian Writers Conference at the beautiful YMCA of the Rockies for the weekend. Hoping to see several of you there!

Jolene Speaks


When I panic You calm my spirit
When I am fearful You make my soul have peace
I shall sleep within You arms
and angels hover over my bed.
I thank Thee.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One Writer's Mind: Critique Groups

Beyond reading and writing, I have learned the most about writing from taking part in a critique group.

At the time I began writing (back in the early ‘90s), ACRW was still a gleam in the founders’ eyes, I didn’t yet have a computer, and the internet age was still in its early years. I didn’t have access to the tremendous helps available to writers today.

What I did have was a faithful critique group. We met in Vickie Baker’s home 2-3 times a month, every month, for almost ten years. I would take my typewritten pages to a nearby grocery store to make copies. We would meet for however long it took to critique everyone’s work. Janet Garmon was the first to have a book published (Home Run Rudy and His Tattletale Teeth); Vickie followed with her autobiography, Surprised by Joy.

In the crucible of those biweekly meetings, I learned accountability (who wanted to go to a critique group and not have anything to share?) and caring and ... yes ... what worked and what didn’t in good writing. What did “show don’t tell” look like? What were active verbs? Vickie made a point of writing her book without using any passive verbs except in conversation.

How did we structure the group?

We wrote all across the board. Vickie was a trapeze artist before a broken back gave her a life sentence to a wheelchair. Janet wrote mostly for children. Others wrote poetry, short stories, devotionals, science fiction. We represented the major genres of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

We read our own contributions out loud. We tried to follow the critique sandwich—something nice, something that could be improved, something nice. When we received something back without red marks on it, we wondered “was it that good ... or that bad?:

We also came from all levels of writing. Our core group started as rank beginners and grew together. Others came and went, but we always welcomed newcomers to the group.

We functioned as much more than a critique group. They walked me through my 40th birthday and my son’s difficult teenage years. When Jolene finished her difficult freshman year of high school, they threw her a party. When Vickie grew terrified at the coming millennium, we helped her through the crisis.

The group finally disbanded when Vickie went home to be with the Lord in 2003.

Could I have grown more quickly with a critique group that specialized in romance fiction? Perhaps. But I will always credit my initial growth as a writer to that committed circle of friends.

I’m part of a critique group of published authors now. Anyone interested in hearing how that differs from the earlier group, the pros and cons?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Willful Disobedience

My cat Talia has taken to disobeying me every chance she gets. You see, she loves green grass. With the advent of spring and recent rain, the lawn is positively lush.

So every time I open the door, she dashes out. Let me restate that. She dashes out, as long as I'm going out at the same time. Of course, I'm only going outside when I'm leaving. I don't have time to chase after her.

She runs away when I call her (of course). She doesn't understand that my concern is for her safety. Cats make tasty tidbits for coyotes that occasionally roam our neighborhood. She was a stray taken to the animal shelter when I got her ... that's another possibility. She could disappear one day, and I would never know what happened to her.

So I warned her, exasperated, of the danger she was in. That if she persisted, I would have to lock her up in the bathroom when I leave to prevent her running out the door. And what kind of day would that be?

Not that she understands. She just knows that I'm angry with her for some reason. Oh, and yes, she knows I don't like her to go outside.

I recently finished listening to the prophets of the Old Testament. God warned His people over and over again--If you persist in disobeying Me, you will suffer the consequences.

They didn't pay any more attention than Talia does. They knew what they wanted and didn't quite believe the warnings God sent through the prophets.

The next time God warns me about something, maybe I should listen.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Prepared to Give an Answer

Last night our music minister shared from 1 Peter that we should be prepared to give an answer for the reason for our hope in Christ whenever someone asks.

And I thought about work. I've become the "go-to" person when someone has a question about the Bible. Recently someone asked "Who was Cain's wife?" They also don't forward dirty jokes to me. I'm thankful for that reputation, but that doesn't share my hope.

No, that comes less often. But those opportunities do come. The week after I celebrated Easter, a co-worker said she was going to color Easter eggs with her son on Friday night. It turns out that she was raised Orthodox, and they were celebrating Jesus' resurrection a week later.

I had overheard this same person telling someone else (we sit in the same cubicle, I can't help but hear) that she struggled with believing what couldn't be seen or proven. She's a trained scientist. So I was surprised that she would follow a religious ritual.

She shared how her faith is important to her ... but her husband grew up in war-torn Bosnia, the victim of religious conflict, and wants nothing to do with religion. He doesn't want their son raised with any faith. "Let him make his own decision when he is old enough."

She said, "But this much I will do. I will celebrate the resurrection with my son."

One of those times when the Holy Spirit pokes me and says "so, say something." I shared something ... I don't remember what ... whatever I said, I felt inadequate in addressing the problems she and her family had faced. I'm not convinced her "religion" is by faith and not an expression of her culture (1st generation immigrant from Macedonia.)

But one advantage of working in a secular office are these one-of-a-kind conversations. I pray God will use my words to speak to her heart. As I walked through the valley with Jolene last year, God opened many such doors.

I'm also thankful that people in all walks of life will read my books because they know me; people who would never walk into a Christian bookstore or join an inspirational book club.

For someone who felt called to full-time ministry, I found it in the most unexpected place--a secular satellite tv giant.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jolene Speaks: For Mother's Day

This isn't a poem and wasn't intended for anyone except for me. But it meant a lot to me when I read it as I went through my files.

Picture a boy and a girl dressed in old-fashioned, hobo-like clothes, standing on a traintrack. The verse says "On the road of life ... it's not where you go but who you're with that makes the difference." Jolene filled the blank space with her hard to read handwriting and this is what she said:

Your love and supporting got me to where I am today. If not for your sacrificing I would not be as adult. You taught me so much about life. Money. Debt. Choosing a house. Detention. Good employee skills. On the road of my life you were always there.

Taught me about God is first, be my first. You came as a role model as well as anything I can dream. God is love, and He knew we would need each other. You rock me still, you rub my back. I cannot tell you in words how much I love you. My heart reaches out with God, surrounding you, to give you a hug.

Here she drew a picture of arms hugging a heart, with the words God, me, Mom written in the middle.

Love, Your Little Bit (nickname) who is no longer a kid but your adult daughter who will always be your little bit.

On the envelope, Jolene wrote To my mother: For I could not wish for a better mother on earth, it was destiny for us. With all the love in the world, your JoJo.

Thank You, Father, for the words from beyond the grave. You and my girl are still hugging me tight.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

One Writer's Mind: So You Want to Write

One question frequently comes up in interviews.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I always say the same thing. It's two-fold.

Read, read, read.

And--you guessed it--

Write, write, write.

I confess I go a little overboard with reading. I carry at least one book in my purse at all times--two, if I'm nearing the end of the book. If I find myself out without a book--gasp!--I buy one. It doesn't matter that I have 20 unread books at home. I have to read.

But if you want to write, you must first be a reader. Read specifically in the genre that interests you (magazines? memoirs? horror? chik lit?). Read widely. Read bestsellers (what makes them so appealling?), new authors, and old favorites. Read classics. Read anything--but read.

Writing is equally important. Vickie Baker, my earliest writing partner, said that she told people she was going to write for six months before she ever put words on paper. The practice of writing consistently--even if only for five minutes a day--will improve your skills more than five hours altogether once every few weeks. The more we write, the more we grow in what we want to say and how to say it.

That's my challenge for this week. Read and write.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Encouragement from Caleb

Today, on Senior Appreciation Day at our church (I don't yet qualify by almost a decade), the guest speaker preached a sermon aimed straight at my needs. Isn't God great!

From Joshua 14, he shared how Caleb boldly stated that "I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me"--forty-five years later, at the age of 85. He demanded "give me this mountain!"

Exactly how I'm feeling. "Give me my dream!"

Over the last few days, I had realized that I didn't fear being rejected (a real possibility). My fear focused on having my dreams crushed. And since I definitely can't realize my dream of writing full time if I don't risk rejection--I went ahead and sent the proposal on.

Today God didn't promise that I would get the contract (He'll let me know through ordinary channels)--but He did assure me that He was pleased with me. That I had acted in obedience and faith.

Pleasing that audience of One is all I needed.