Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans day -- God Bless Our Military

Today is Veteran’s Day. News and all social media reminds us to thank our veterans. And most of us do. But most have no idea of the true sacrifice our military makes. I truly don’t understand the sacrifices made. We hear on the news about some soldier losing his/her life in Iraq or Afghanistan, and we are sorrowful, maybe even share on Facebook, “remembering the family in prayer,” but it really hasn’t impacted our daily lives.

My first recollection of a military person was when I, as a young child, heard the whispered conversation of relatives discussing how my Uncle Paul had never been the same since his experiences during World War II. He thought it was the enemy creeping up on his foxhole, so he shot, but it was his best friend.

Uncle Paul seemed quite normal to me, but then, I never knew him before. As an adult, I have thought of him – he’s been in heaven for many years – with sorrow and gratitude for what he went through.

My granddaughter, Cierra’s husband, Zack, suffered PTSD from his time in Iraq. He is a quiet, gentle young man, and unless you knew, you wouldn’t know by his behavior or demeanor. The Army has determined he was traumatized enough to deserve disability.

My oldest grandchild, Ethan, and his wife, Rachel, both currently serve in the Air Force. Ethan has done two tours in Afghanistan and Rachel one. In fact, their tours overlapped once by three months. One was in Bagram and the other in Herat. During that time, their small children – my great-grandchildren – had to live with my daughter and her husband, their grandparents. When the two-year-old was hospitalized with pneumonia, there was a frantic couple of hours while phone connections were made to a worried mother in Afghanistan.

Ethan and Rachel are both in the medical field. When Ethan returned to Afghanistan, he requested to not be sent as an EMT again. It was traumatizing to work on his wounded friends, some who died. But, of course, medical is what they needed him for.

Another of my grandsons, Jacob, is in the Navy. While on a submarine for seven months, his marriage fell apart, and his wife left with, taking their toddler son. “I thought I could do this, but I can’t,” she said. When he returned, it took several months to reconcile, but they did. Thank God.

These are some of the sacrifices. So, with a heart filled with gratitude, I take this time on my blog to say THANK YOU to all military past, present, and future.  It seems an inadequate tribute to those who lay their lives on the line for our freedom. May God bless and keep you. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thank You Facebook, For Keeping Friendships Connected

I love and hate social media. I love Facebook. I hate Facebook. I love seeing pictures and updates of my military grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live in other states…or occasionally are deployed. I love keeping up with old friends and making new friends. However, I dislike the way some people use it as a platform for drama or to vent their animosity or to attack others.  

I am sixty-seven years old. During my sixty seven years, I have met a lot of people, and many others have crossed my path. One of the greatest joys I have from Facebook is connecting or reconnecting with friends from my childhood.

With a name like Leola, I am fairly easy to find. Really, how many Leolas are there in the world? Well, more than I thought, but still…..My oldest friend found me, who since has dropped off of Facebook -- Joyce…it was Owens when we were kids, but her last name changed a couple of times. I knew her when we were five or six. She was in a family of eight kids: Aubrey, Noel, Elaine, Paulette, Joyce, Iris, Leah, Rita.

Then another childhood friend found me on Facebook, Ginny (Virginia) when we first met in fourth grade. It has been so much fun to follow each other on Facebook, although she now lives in a different state.

The most fun I’ve had with Facebook, though, is staying connected with my friends from my church youth group days. Oh, the fond, fond memories of my youth group days – and the occasional not-so-fond memories. My closest friends then were Sande and Carolyn. But also dear friends from that era who are on Facebook: Josie, Barbara, Brinda. And my brother, Gerald, also on Facebook from my youth group.

If you are a writer and draw a blank – writers’ block – and can’t think of anything to write about, you have undoubtedly hundreds of story plots from your own life and the people you know. Use your imagination and build and fictionalize on events in your life. Sande and I got married in the same year…as young, starry-eyed teenagers. We had five babies each (she later had a sixth), usually in the same years. Carolyn was the pastor’s daughter. Sande married the pastor’s son. Josie married another of the pastor’s sons.

My life entwining with theirs gives numerous fodder for building a story. Thank you Facebook. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy "Back to the Future" Day - October 21, 2015

Happy “Back to the Future” day. Today is the day, October 21, 2015, that took place in the future of the movie Back To The Future. The future – now – doesn’t look like it was portrayed in the movie. Hoverboards? Time travel? It didn’t happen that way. And some of the clothing….well, I’m glad it didn’t make a fashion statement for today.

As a child or a teenager, did you have expectations of what the future held? Goals? Dreams? I’m sure most of us did. Even at my age, I still have hopes and dreams for my future. Hoverboards….naw, I don’t think I care, or I’d even be interested in a hoverboard. When I was younger, maybe. Imagine a great-grandmother with a look of sheer terror on her face, riding a hoverboard and praying out loud, interspersed with squeals of fear, while she tries to remain an upright position. Yeah, that would be me.

What makes our dreams and goals a reality? Well, hard work and perseverance, for sure. It would be interesting to see into the future. Or not. It might be frightening.

I don’t know what my future holds – it won’t include hoverboards for me – but I know who holds my future. I don’t just who it is, I know him personally. It has been the single, most defining event in my life, when I, as a fourteen-year-old girl, knelt at an altar and asked Jesus to be Lord of my life. He has never failed me or let me down.

When I was younger and more immature in my relationship with Jesus, I thought he let me down plenty of times. But looking back, Jesus always had what was best for me in mind, although I didn’t always do what was best for me.

Marty McFly and Doc, you can have your hoverboards and DeLoreans. I have Jesus, and he is more than enough. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Agent Meetings at the ACFW Conference 2015

This year was my first ever to attend an ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference. It was in September and held in Dallas, TX. I have attended two other writers conferences held by organizations. The first was ACW (American Christian Writers) held in Mesa, AZ a few years ago, and the other was a FaithWriters held in Portland, OR.

The ACFW Conference was certainly the most phenomenal – phenomenal in that so many of my favorite authors were there: Francine Rivers, Brandilyn Collins, Cara Putnam, Deborah Raney, and others.

I loved that they prayed over everything. I loved that they had a praise and worship band led by Rachel Hauck that truly was praise and worship and not just entertainment. I loved the general sessions, the meals, the workshops, and our opportunity to have a one-on-one with top agents, editors, publishing houses, and mentors. I chose four agents with my understanding that I would get to meet with at least one of my choices, possibly two.

I got to meet with all of my choices except one, Karen Ball, with the Steve Laube Agency, because Karen was unable to attend. If Karen would have been there, I would've met with her, also. I’ll share what I gleaned from these meetings. Three meetings when I was expecting one, maybe two. Yikes!

The first thing I learned is to more thoroughly research who I choose to meet with. Why? Because they all want something different. And some personalities are not a match for me. Once I submitted my four choices weeks before the conference, I soon decided I needed to change two choices. When I contacted the ACFW person in charge of appointments, the if-you-want-to-change process seemed too detailed, plus I was in the middle of three weeks of stressful computer issues. I decided to not change my choices and simply take my chances. In hindsight, I should’ve made the changes – not because the agents I met with weren’t terrific people, but because by the time I got to two meetings, I already knew it wouldn’t be a fit for me.

My first appointment was on Friday with Tamela Hancock Murray with the Steve Laube Agency. (I really like the Steve Laube Agency). I was nervous going into this meeting and it showed. I wasn’t nervous because Tamela isn’t a delightful lady – she is. I was nervous because, #1: What I had to pitch to her had already been submitted to Karen Ball (same agency) in July. It’s kind of a no-no to submit to multiple people in an agency. I had to be honest with Tamela and tell her the minute I sat across from her that Karen Ball had this proposal. #2: From what I gather from Tamela’s website, she mostly represents Harlequin’s Love Inspired authors. At this point in my writing, I am not interested in writing for Love Inspired. My appointment with Tamela was not fruitful, but she is a lovely and gracious lady and I am glad I got to meet her. If I decide to do Love Inspired, I would love her as my agent.

My second appointment, also on Friday, was with Chip MacGregor. When I wanted to change my appointments prior to going to the conference, I wanted to change Chip and Tamela. But, as previously mentioned, I decided to just leave my choices the way they were. Chip MacGregor. What can I say about him? By his own admission (I follow him on Facebook and his blog), he is snarky. Trust me, he is snarky. But he is probably one of the most knowledgeable about the publishing industry, and one of the most successful agents in our nation. I wasn’t nervous meeting him because I decided I didn’t care. I had already sat in on a workshop with a panel of agents, and another workshop panel of indie authors. I am going to be an indie author, I decided, so I didn’t much care what Chip thought of me. But it was a good meeting. He was kind – said my writing was good, but he’s not the least bit interested in the book I was pitching him. No surprises there. I could go into more detail, but won’t, except to say prior to this meeting with Chip, I had had two other encounters with him. He was kind and gracious both times. My opinion is -- and this is strictly my opinion -- he's only snarky if you disagree with his political and religious views. But as agent, he will push and fight for you.

My last appointment was with Steve Laube on Saturday at 4 PM, one of his last appointments, I’m sure. He looked tired, and I was tired. I wasn’t nervous meeting with him, mostly because I had definitely, without a doubt, decided I want to be an indie author. So I was going to feel okay regardless of what Steve had to say. I will say, he is probably one of the kindest people I have met in the writing/publishing industry. )Another kind person is Deb Porter with FaithWriters and Breath of Fresh Air Publishing, but she’s not my topic.) I pitched my book – a different one than I pitched to Tamela, but the same I pitched to Chip. This book contains a controversial topic for the CBA – Christian Book Association – because it has a brief reference to abortion (the heroine has an abortion when she’s a teenager), and the main theme is an evangelist, the hero, has a brief, passionate affair. These topics will not fly in most CBA circles, especially from an unknown author.

Steve was very kind and gracious. I enjoyed my appointment with him the most – not because I landed him as an agent, but because of his personality. A sincerely nice person. 

So what are the main things I learned from my agent appointments? * Research thoroughly. * Next time, pick at least one mentor or critique appointment.  * Relax, they’re just human. * Ultimately the one I most want to please in my writing is God and not people. Still, to be successful, people have to read what I write or what’s the purpose of my message?

Write on, dear writers. Read on, dear readers. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Off To My First Ever ACFW Conference

"We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of........"

Naw, I'm not off to see any wizard -- well, unless agents, editors, authors, publishers and the like could be considered wizards. I am sure that they are wizards......of a sort.

In my household, there has been a lot of family drama for weeks now, plus I've had computer problems. Major computer problems. To say that preparing for a major conference is stressful -- at least for me -- and then to have all this added stress with the computer issues and family drama.....let's just say, I could use any and all additional prayers.

As a side note: My husband and I hate drama and friction. We love living a life filled with peace and harmony. But often drama and friction slap us in the face anyway. *heavy heavy sigh* For a large - very large - blended family, we really have been blessed with very little friction and drama.

But back to the conference. I committed my writing to God in the beginning. Having done that, my requirement is to continually learning as much as I can about then craft of writing, strive to do the best I can, work diligently, and endeavor to be positive and bring honor to to God with my writing.

So why am I stressing? Because as humans, it's easy to say we give control of something to God, but it's even easier to take back control. Stress and worrying is exactly that -- us taking control. God is capable of handling our situations, circumstances, and needs. We -- I -- need to just let go and let Him.

Father God, I pray for everyone attending this conference from the leadership on down. You are ultimately in control of the lives of Your children, but only to the extent we allow You control. My destiny, as well as all destinies, of those who commit their lives to You. I thank You in advance for whatever I receive at this conference.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Last Post from Memoirs of Teen Challenge

Teen Challenge, a ministry dear to my heart, ia again featured in this week's blog. I worked in the heart of downtown Phoenix at Phoenix Teen Challenge from 1992 -2011.

There were also three Native American men who frequently dropped into the offices at Teen Challenge – Ralph, Dennis, and Virgil. My friend, Shelley Savage, who also worked there, had warned me, “Don’t give any money to Ralph or Dennis or Virgil no matter what sob story they tell you. They’re nice but they’re alcoholics and use their money for beer.”
            Okay! Well, I haven’t any money to give them anyway.
            I believe one, or perhaps all three, had checked into the program prior to my employment there. I know Virgil had, and Jeff Richards made the mistake of trying to get the street filth showered off of Virgil. Fortunately, Jeff lived to tell about it.
            Sadly, these men’s need for alcohol was stronger than any desire to surrender to Christ. But, for the most part, drunk or sober, they usually stopped by to talk with Jeff Richards, or to ask for food. They could occasionally be belligerent and itching to start trouble, although none of them was ever rude to me. Not even drunk Dennis who wanted to kiss me.
            It took Dennis a few minutes to maneuver himself through my doorway one morning because he was weaving so badly. He almost fell over once he was inside, but managed to grab the small ledge under the sliding window in front of my desk. He steadied himself and grinned. “Good morning,” he mumbled, his alcohol breath sending waves of foul odor over my desk
            “Hey, Dennis! What’s up?”
            “You’re purty.”
            “Uh, okay, thanks!”
            “Give me a kiss!”
            “No, Dennis.”
            “Why? A little kiss won’t hurt. I won’t tell.”
            “No, Dennis.”
            “You’re not married cause you don’t wear a ring, so it’s okay.”
            “I have a fiancĂ©, Dennis, now go away.”
            “Your boyfriend won’t care. Don’t tell him.”  He then puckered his lips and made smacking sounds while he tried to push his upper torso through the window opening.
            “Stop it, Dennis, or I’ll call one of the men to come in here.”
            “Come on, give me some kisses.”
            He was through the window past his shoulders and still wiggling to get in so I pressed the intercom for the living area where the staff member and students were. “Hey, someone, I need help in the front office,” I announced, backing my chair up because Dennis’s hands were reaching for me.
            Ted, one of the male staff, came rushing through the door and into my office. He grabbed Dennis and pulled him out of the window opening. “Leave Leola alone, Dennis. Go on now, get out of here. You’re drunk. You can come back later.”
            Dennis swayed. “I just wanna kiss.”
            Ted grabbed Dennis’s shoulder and pushed him toward the door. Dennis turned and threw a limp punch in Ted’s direction. Faster than I could blink, Ted’s fist shot out and connected with Dennis’s nose.
            Dennis staggered back. He grabbed his nose which was spewing blood. “Ah, Ted, you gave me a bloody nose. What’d ya do that for?”
            Ted’s eyes were wider than mine. “Sorry, man.” He awkwardly patted Dennis’s shoulder. Turning to me, Ted mumbled, “It was a knee-jerk reaction. I should’nt have done that. You got some tissue?”
            I inhaled and handed Ted my box of Kleenex to give Ted. I’m sure somewhere in the Policies and Procedures Manuel for Teen Challenge, what Ted just did was a no-no. Although Dennis continued to stop by, he never tried to kiss me again.
            Happenings like this were the norm, not the exception – not staff members punching people in the nose, but similar things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Teen Challenge Stories

The following is another excerpt from my memoirs of working for 19 years at Phoenix Teen Challenge -- a ministry near and dear to my heart.

           I was looking forward to attending a Friday night church service, though. Every Friday night there was a regular church service followed by a meal served to the homeless. News of ministries and organizations that provided meals always spread rapidly throughout the community. The homeless walked from different locations to attend. We also sent a couple of busses to CASS – Central Arizona Shelter Services – to pick up the homeless every Friday night.
            Various churches and organizations volunteered to bring a prepared meal. They also served the meal and ministered in prayer or a listening ear to those attendees. It will always stand out in my mind as the epitome of a true servant heart to the less fortunate.
            Angel Rosa often had guest speakers for the Friday night, and I decided to go when Iverna Tompkins would be preaching. I had read several of her books, seen her on Christian television, and had heard glowing reports of her preaching and Bible teaching. I was excited, and just a tiny bit giddy with awe about getting to see and hear her. Her book How To Be Happy In No Man’s Land had ministered to me after my twenty-two year marriage ended in divorce. She had had a husband who left and divorced her.
            After leaving work that Friday, I went home to change clothes and grab a quick bite for dinner. Church had started by the time I arrived, so I slipped in and found a seat near the back. Eddie James, the Music Minister for Phoenix Inner City Church, was still leading. I loved his style of black gospel music. He was, and still is, a gifted, talented young man passionate about serving God through music.
            When Iverna stepped behind the pulpit, I leaned forward with expectation. Because I was seated in the back where most of the homeless sat, I soon discovered they could be very distracting. They shuffled, wiggled, talked to each other, and hollered out responses to the preaching. The constant commotion would be unnerving to many preachers, but Iverna never missed a beat. I don’t recall what she preached about, but I do remember being riveted by it – or as riveted as I could be with all the distractions.
            They’re not paying any attention at all. They’re only here to eat a meal afterwards. They don’t care about Jesus.  I felt sad as those thoughts ran through my mind. I could see the Teen Challenge students seated on the front row. They were paying avid attention, and taking notes. Taking notes was something they were required to do. Their notes were turned in to a staff member. Rehabilitation, as Teen Challenge viewed it, isn’t for the non-committed, or just-biding-my-time person.
            Surrounded by the disruptions, the thought came to me that if Jesus walked in at that moment, he would find great delight in sitting among these poor souls. In fact, it would be his preference for where to sit. Jesus would have probably smiled with compassion when one of the men waved his arms and yelled, “Uncle Sam took our jobs,” in response to Iverna saying that God would meet our needs.
            The outburst startled me, and I jerked, but neither Iverna nor anyone else seemed disturbed by it. I guess you just get used to it.
            When Iverna Tompkins asked that we all bow our head for prayer as she gave the altar call, I dutifully bowed my head. As she asked for those to come forward who wanted prayer or wanted to surrender their hearts and lives to the Lord, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the shuffling of bodies and the stampeding of feet.

            They were listening after all! They’re going to the altar. When I opened my eyes, I was disappointed to see only a couple of homeless people at the altar.  Most of those who responded to the altar call were a few church members and several students. The stampede I’d heard was the rush to get in line outside the dining hall for the meal.