‘Crystal’ stories, Part 01

My dad started losing his hair in his early thirties.  My mom’s hair started turning gray in her early thirties.  They both tell me it was my fault.

People look at me now and can’t believe that I was ever a problem child.  I was never officially diagnosed, but I’m pretty sure I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  My mom once took me to the doctor to be checked out because she wondered if it was natural for a child to be so active.

These are a few of the ‘Crystal’ stories that the family tells when we’re sitting around the dinner table.

When I was just starting to walk, we were visiting my grandmother.  The women were in the kitchen preparing a meal.  Before they knew what happened, I had toddled through the kitchen, swiped a butcher knife off the table, and high-tailed it out the back door.  Since I was still unsteady on my feet, mom was terrified that I would fall and impale myself on that knife.  She knew that chasing me would only make me run faster and increase the chance of my demise, so she tried to act as if she wasn’t chasing me.   After pursuing me around the yard, she managed to catch me and retrieve the knife.

I was still a toddler when we went for an outing.  Mom got me out of the car and turned around to get her purse.  When she closed the car door, I was already running up the middle of the road.  A car came over the hill, and Mom must have lost a few years off her life.  Fortunately, the driver saw me and had time to stop safely.  Mom says I continued walking up to the car and patted my hand on the bumper as if to say, “I’m not scared of you.  Take that!”

Mark Lowry says that he was the church brat.  I was the church Houdini.  I kept escaping from the church nursery.  The pastor would be in the middle of the sermon, when the back door of the sanctuary would creak open as if by magic (I was too short to be seen).  I would then wander up and down the aisles calling for Mom.  This happened several times until they put three extra people in the nursery: two ladies guarded the two doors out of the nursery, and one tried to keep me occupied.

We lived in a rural area and had no mail-delivery service.  We received our mail at the post office.  Daddy usually picked it up on his way home from work, but this day must have been his day off, and he took me with him.  It would have taken him less than a minute to get out of the car, walk the few steps across the sidewalk, open the door of the post office, cross the narrow end of the room, twirl the combination on the box, remove the mail, close the box, and reverse his steps.  Nevertheless, in that time, I had managed to roll down the window and climb out.  I was hanging by my fingertips when dad emerged from the post office.  He was just in time to see me drop to the ground and take off across the parking lot.  Another ‘catch me if you can’ ensued.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t become a track star—and how I lived long enough to go to kindergarten.

Lessons from figure skating: part 04

Lesson Four: You don’t always win.

Michelle Kwan is the most decorated figure skater in American history.  She is a nine-time U.S. champion and a five-time World champion. Only a handful of people, from any country, have topped her record.

But take a look at the times she didn’t win:

1997—she lost the U.S. and the World title to Tara Lipinski.

1998—she lost the Olympic gold medal to Tara Lipinski

1999—she lost the World title to Maria Butyrskaya.

2002—she lost the World title to Irina Slutskaya.

2002—she came in third in the Olympics behind Sarah Hughes and Irina Slutskaya.

2004—she came in third at Worlds behind Shizuka Arakawa and Sasha Cohen.

2005—she lost the World title to Irina Slutskaya.

America’s most decorated figure skater didn’t always come out on top.  She never won an Olympic gold medal.

My favorite skater, Kurt Browning of Canada, is a four-time Canadian champion and a four-time World champion. He never won an Olympic medal of any color.

Even the best lose sometimes. Does that diminish their accomplishments?  Will Michelle and Kurt be remembered for the times they lost?  No. They refused to be defined by their setbacks, and they will be remembered for the total of their victories.

Lessons from figure skating: part 03

Lesson Three: Attitude is everything, because the world is watching.

At a competition, skaters have no privacy. Cameras are pointed at them while they warm up, while they perform, while they take their bows, while they come off the ice after their program, and while they wait for their marks in the “kiss and cry” area.

Their every reaction is seen by thousands of people in the arena on the Jumbo Tron, and by millions of others watching on large screen, HD television.

I’ve seen a skater disappointed by her performance, brush by her coach without a word. She sits in the “kiss and cry” with a scowl on her face and buries her face in her hands when the scores are announced.

Another skater comes off the ice all smiles and waving to the crowd. He doesn’t have a chance of standing on the medal podium, but he is exhilarated. He skated a clean program and met all the goals he set for himself. He landed that quadruple toe loop for the first time in competition. Maybe he even scored a season’s personal best.

I know which reaction I prefer to see.

I’m the oldest of four children, and I was often told that I needed to be a good example to my younger sisters and brother. They watched me; they expected me to behave in a certain way.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I once called my mother a bad name. We were having one of those mother-to-teenage-daughter moments, when my temper flared and out it came. Now this confrontation took place in the bedroom that I shared with my younger sister, Pam. She witnessed the entire ugly scene.

The moment that the word escaped my mouth, I knew I was wrong. When Mom left the room, it only got worse. I felt lower than snail slime. That Bible verse about honoring your parents played in my head over and over again. How was I supposed to redeem this situation?

I finally found Mom in the kitchen and apologized for being disrespectful.

When I got back to the bedroom, Pam was sitting on her bed, smirking at me. “I knew you were going to do that.”

How did she know? Because she knew me. She had lived with me and watched me long enough to know how I responded to life situations. She knew that God would convict me of my wrongdoing and tell me to make it right. She expected me to do the right thing. In this instance, I’m thankful that I lived up to her ideals.

The world is watching you too. How will you respond? You are a role model, whether you want to be or not.

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:16-17 ESV)

The God Who Sees Me

One of my writer friends has a four-year-old son, Moses, who prays the sweetest prayer, “Thank you, God, for to see us.” And yes, that’s exactly the way he expresses it.

He gets this prayer from the Biblical story of Hagar. She becomes pregnant by her master, Abraham, which causes problems for her with her mistress, Sarah. (Read the entire story in Genesis, chapter 16).

The Bible says that Sarah mistreated Hagar, and finally drove her away into the desert. There she meets with the angel of the Lord, who tells her to go back to her mistress. He tells her that she will have a son whose descendants will be too numerous to count.

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me.’” (Genesis 16:13).

This story is special to Moses and his family because Moses is being treated for an especially nasty form of cancer—spitzoid melanoma. It reminds them that God cares about their fear and struggles. He sees them.

And God sees you too.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one—God sees you.

If you face financial difficulties, struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over your head—God sees you.

If you are battling the evil monster of cancer—God sees you.

If you are fighting a chronic disease for which there seems to be no cure—God sees you.

If you are reeling, trying to find your way after a divorce—God sees you.

If you are lying in the hospital, ill or recovering from surgery—God sees you.

If you are on your knees, praying for a wayward child—God sees you.

If you are longing for that long-lasting, “’til-death-do-us-part” kind of love—God sees you.

If you are being bullied at school—God sees you.

He has promised to never leave us, and He has promised to walk with us through every storm life may throw at us. In this life, we will have trials, but He has promised that He will overcome the world. If He is for us, who can be against us?

Guest blog by Dee Kincade

Today’s guest blogger is my writer friend, Dee Kincade.  She writes science fiction and fantasy for the middle-grade and young adult markets.

Show your setting! Guest Blog by Dee Kincade http://www.deekincade.com

One of my favorite authors is J.R.R. Tolkien. I love his imagination and his pursuit to create new worlds, including languages, songs, dress, history, and culture for each being. It’s obvious that he spent years and thousands of index cards writing the Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbit.

While I thoroughly enjoyed his books, I have to admit and I may be the only person who felt this way, and if so—oh, well. I’m talking about pages and pages of descriptions describing the Shire. Tolkien also wrote many pages explaining the Hobbits’ simple lifestyle.

Today, most readers want some description, just enough to be able to picture the scene. However, at times, even a short over-view takes several paragraphs or even more in speculative fiction. How do we write what the readers want and keep it short.

I’ve been reading Elements of Fiction Writing – Description by Monica Wood. She advises writers to describe the setting through our characters’ action. Below is a paragraph from the first book of my Tirwine Series. In this scene, the heroine is following two men.

Sa’dora slipped around the bare trees, her feet silent as she hurried past the scattered patches of snow. Puffs of moisture appeared with each breath as she ran. She dropped behind a sandstone boulder to watch the men, a few paces ahead of her, stumbling over fallen stems in the moonless night. She heard a familiar voice. Mierra! A chill, not caused by the cold, coursed through her. What’s he doing here? A hint of a memory flashed through her mind.

What do you do to keep descriptions short?

Lessons from figure skating: part 02

The World Figure Skating Championships begin this week.  Huzzah!!  You know I’ll be glued to my computer screen

Here’s another life lesson that I see in figure skating.

Lesson Two: When you fall, get up, keep smiling, and keep going.

If a skater falls, he has to put that behind him and focus on what he has left to do.  An early mistake can’t be allowed to wreck his concentration and affect his entire program.  He has to forget about the mistake and keep looking forward to the next trick.

This past week, I was watching the men’s free skate from the European Championships.  A skater fell hard, taking the brunt of it on his wrist and twisting awkwardly.  He got up holding his hand, and it was obvious that he was hurt.  He skated around for a few seconds, as if he might stop skating. As I watched, his jaw firmed, his back straightened, and he continued his program. What a gutsy performance.  He didn’t skate half-heartedly, but went all out, leaving nothing on the ice.

That’s what I’m talking about!

The apostle Paul had some mistakes in his past. Due to his dogged persistence, Christians were arrested and put to death. Then, on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus. People initially doubted his motives. The leaders of the Christian church were skeptical of his conversion. It took a lot of trust building and the good word of a friend before Paul was accepted. Perhaps Paul was thinking of these events when he wrote the following words to the Christians in Philippi:

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13 ESV)

When God has forgiven our mistakes, they are in the past.  Let’s leave them there and look forward, not backward.

Lessons from figure skating: part 01

I finally broke down and bought a subscription to IceNetwork.com. Now I get to see all eight sections of every figure skating competition throughout the year. The trouble is…it takes so much time to watch. Yesterday, I spent four-and-a-half hours watching just one section of the European Championships. No wonder I don’t seem to get anything done during skating season.

But all this time in front of my computer monitor watching skaters has made me think about the life lessons to be learned from figure skating.

Lesson One: You have to be flexible.

Before each competition, there is a draw to determine the skating order. A skater takes a different approach depending on when she skates. If she is first in the skating order, she takes it easy during the warmup period, knowing she has to conserve energy for her performance. If she is in the middle of the pack, she can push harder during the warmup and have time for a breather before her performance. If she skates last, she works up a sweat during the warmup and then has to stay focused and keep her muscles warm and loose until it is time for her performance.

This is an area where I still need lots of work. I plan my day and have it all scheduled out, then something goes awry. I forgot to thaw the chicken I planned for supper. I get to the allergist’s office and find they aren’t giving shots today. On Saturday morning, Carlos suddenly decides we need to wash the cars.

Aaaarrrrrrgggggg!

Jesus told his disciples “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27 ESV)

All my growling and complaining will not change a thing. What they do—is ruin the rest of my day. I don’t need that.

Jerks Anonymous

My husband is a wonderful man, but there are times when he gets on my last, frazzled nerve. I think he lies awake at night thinking of new ways to bug me. For instance, when he takes the laundry tag off his dress shirt in the morning, he won’t throw it in the trash can next to his sink. He walks all the way across the bathroom to lay it on my countertop. I don’t get it. In what universe does that make sense?

After such an episode, I generally stomp through the house muttering to myself, “What was I thinking? Why did I ever marry such a jerk?”

God puts a hand on my shoulder and answers my question with other questions, “Are we talking about your husband? Carlos Acosta? The man who brought you flowers last month just because you had a bad week? The man who comes home to see you every night instead of going to the bar? Let’s be honest now. Is he really a jerk?”

“Well, nooo,” I admit reluctantly. Then my anger flares again, “But he’s acting like one!”

I hear God chuckle. “Crystal, don’t you sometimes act like a jerk?”

Busted.

I hang my head and mumble, “Yes.”

Then God puts in His parting shot, “He puts up with your mistakes and quirks, so you need to do the same for him.”

God has similar chats with me when I’m driving. When someone cuts me off, my first reaction is to yell, “You jerk!”

God asks me, “Have you ever done anything foolish or inconsiderate when driving?”

“Yesss,” I sigh. I know how the rest of that dialogue goes.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that we all act like jerks at one time or another. We should start a twelve-step program called Jerks Anonymous.

“Hello. My name is Crystal—and I’m a jerk.”

Sorry, gotta go. Carlos just came in…and you won’t believe what he’s done now. What a jerk!

Here we go again.

Bind up the brokenhearted

Christmas.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But for those who are grieving a loved one–experiencing that first Christmas without him or her—it can be the worst time of the year.

I was talking to my mom about all my friends who just lost loved ones and who will be having a hard time this Christmas.  She reminded me of the year that we buried my grandmother on Christmas Eve.  She said that this passage from Isaiah had given her peace and comfort:

Isaiah 61:1-3

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Yes, Jesus came to take our sins upon Himself and restore our relationship with God.  But He was also sent “to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn…to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit…”

So, to all my friends who have lost a loved one this year, I pray that the Savior born in Bethlehem would bind up (heal) your broken heart, anoint you with the oil of gladness, and give you a garment of praise this Christmas.

How to deal with a “black” mood

I listened to the voice mail on my answering machine.

“Crystal, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re supposed to wear all black tonight for the concert. “

My blood pressure immediately spiked.  Our choir usually wears black for our concerts—except for the one year we mutinied and got permission to wear red, green, and gold for our Christmas concert.

To begin with, I prefer vibrant colors like royal blue, emerald green, or cherry red.  Secondly, I don’t look good in black.  With my pasty, white skin, it washes me out.  Thirdly, I think we look like a flock of singing crows.

I asked myself why I was so upset.  It is not a big deal.  Tomorrow, it won’t matter what I wear tonight.  I tried to list five positive things about wearing black.  It is slimming.  It supposedly makes a choir look like a unified whole.  It could be considered more professional.  Perhaps the choir director likes black.  I couldn’t think of a fifth item.  My mood wasn’t improving.

Still inwardly ranting, I put on my mourning clothes, and my husband and I drove to church.  I had to find some way of dealing with this matter.  I couldn’t continue to get angry every time we gave a concert.

Then, I got an idea. and I started to chuckle.  I turned to my husband and said, “I may be wearing black on the outside, but on the inside I’m wearing hot pink and purple.”

We both laughed at this rebellious statement, and I didn’t feel upset anymore.

To our beloved choir director, Brother Kevin:  If you are reading this, I love you even though you have an obsession for black.