All Things Wise and Wonderful

I don’t know Caryn and I’d never met the goats at the Seattle zoo.  It was hot yesterday, and I was tired. (Two rambunctious little almost-3-year olds really keep a body running!)  The little girls ran to the petting zoo:  a cow, a miniature donkey, a Shetland pony.  Bunnies and lambs and chickens, oh my!

But when we got to the goats, everything slowed down.

CC tiptoed over and gave the biggest one gentle caresses on his hairy back.  I could swear that goat smiled!

“Patient goat,” I commented to Caryn, the volunteer overseeing the goat pen.

“That’s how goats are,” she told me.  “When I’m feeling down, or a bit out of sorts, I can’t wait to get here.  There’s something about goats that is so calming.  They can absolutely change my day.”

Ahhh… That explains a lot.  I remember reading that goats were extremely important in the development of humankind.  They were the first animals to be domesticated–some  experts say as long as 10,000 years ago.  They don’t like to be alone.  If they don’t have another animal–or human–around, their lives will be short and unhappy.  Even so, they don’t flock together like sheep.  Each goat has it’s own personality.  Like the big one who let little CC be his special friend.

Thank you, Caryn, for sharing your secret to a calm life.

Thank you, big goat, for showing me your patience.

Thank you, CC, for being you.

Breathe in, breathe out,

Move on.

 

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The Best Things in Life

 

THE  BEST

THINGS 

IN  LIFE

AREN’T

 

THINGS. 

 

 

 

 

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Fame+Money+Compassion=A Better World?

Yes, yes, I know.  Money can’t buy happiness.  And fame doesn’t make a person important.  But it can attract attention to an issue, and it does influence people.  Oh, and money does funds projects.  So a famous, wealthy person really can do more than any old someone like…well, me.  Take George Clooney for example.  Yes, he’s good-looking. And he’s talented.  And, boy, has he got money!  He also happens to have the gift of compassion. I mean, who else was willing to go to hot, sandy, poverty stricken South Sudan?  At his own expense?  Sans publicity shots?

His father, Nick Clooney, was a news anchor.  George said that growing up around news made him a “big believer in the importance of information.” He not only learned the importance of getting solid news information, but he also learned that in real life hard news is too often scrapped for celebrity gossip.  “I saw my father doing really good stories and then getting bumped because there was a Liz Taylor story.”

George said that in 2006, when he learned of Sudan’s plight, his first reaction was to call his father. “I said, ‘Remember how you used to get all your stories bumped by Liz Taylor or something that happened in Hollywood?’  He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Let’s go to Darfur. You be the newsman and I’ll be Liz Taylor and let’s get it on the air.'”

In 2006, George made the rounds in Washington, D.C., determined to convince lawmakers and the president to start negotiations with China to intervene in Sudan against the country’s president, Omar Al-Bashir, an alleged war criminal. “What’s going on right there is exactly what we saw in the beginning of Darfur,” he insisted. “The three men charged with war crimes at The Hague are the same three who are now bombing innocent civilians with Antonov planes with 300-millimeter Chinese rockets.”

Realistically, he said, the U.S. and NATO are not going take military action to stop the Sudanese government from bombing civilians. So instead he called for the U.S. to first employ the same techniques it used to discover the funding channels of terrorist organizations, then to go after the money that supports the Sudanese “war criminals.”

But it’s not really about money, he said.  “It’s all about saving lives.  We’re going to stand where people are shooting rockets at us, and we’re going to stand where a bomb hit the ground and didn’t blow up, and that helps get attention to the story that we are trying to tell. That’s all we can do. I don’t make policy. All I can do is make it louder.”

That was then.  Today George Clooney is a married man.  Father of twin babies.  He’s not going to Sudan. But he hasn’t quit caring.  His foundation is in the process of opening seven public schools for Syrian refugee children.  Partnering with Google, HP, and UNICEF, the foundation will provide education for more than 3,000 refugee children.

Does Fame+Money+Compassion=A Better World?  No.  Unless the famous, wealthy, compassionate person is willing to use it all to do something great.  And not make it a photo op.

“Nobody wants to read about a good-looking happy person.”

Carrie Fisher

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Of Birthdays and Life

Nothing like a(nother!) birthday to make one think about life.  Mine, yes.  But not mine alone.

On my dad’s 98th birthday, I tried and tried to imagine what life would have been like back with he was little.  I couldn’t. His grandfather (my great-grandfather) celebrated his own 100th birthday by taking the Greyhound Bus from somewhere in Texas all the way to San Francisco to see us “one last time.”  Which struck us kids as funny since we’d never seen  him before.  Great-grandfather stayed for a week, then he took the bus back to Texas.  I don’t know how long he lived, but two of his daughters–my dad’s aunts–lived to be 105 and 107.  How strange it must be to have a three-figure age.

Here’s something even stranger:  Before 1800, no country in the world had an average life expectancy beyond 40 years.  Today?  Today there isn’t a single country that does not.

Nothing like a birthday to make one think about life.

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.~

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Love Story & Bridges Of Madison County? First Two Installments Of A Nonexistent Trilogy

Guest Post By Megan Edwards:

There’s no way to know what Erich Segal expected when his short novel Love Story was released on Valentine’s Day in 1970. A classics professor at Harvard, he was probably as surprised as anyone when the book rose to the top of best-seller lists. Fast forward to 1992. It’s likely that Robert James Waller was also surprised by the success of his similarly dim-inutive volume, The Bridges of Madison County. Also a college professor, Waller had no reason to believe his novel would take the reading public by storm. Both novels have been described as “coming out of the blue.” Why? Because neither author had written or pub-lished previous works of romance, and both had produced much that was anything but.

Without planning or collaboration, these two authors also accomplished something else unique. They penned the first two installments of a trilogy that does not exist and remains incomplete. Consider these six reasons why the world may be ready for a third tale of perfect love.

  1. Love Story was released in 1970, when the baby boom generation, like Jennifer and Oliver, was finishing school, getting married, and embarking on careers.
  2. The Bridges of Madison County came out in 1992, when the same readers who were gripped by Love Story were, like Francesca and Robert, now mid-career and raising families.
  3. The two novels captured and reflected the priorities and dreams of the same readers at these two important stages of life.
  4. Short but life-changing love affairs can occur at any point in life. Priorities may change, but the longing for connection never goes away.
  5. A love affair cut short is heartbreaking, but a relationship never tested by time and the tensions of real life retains its perfection in memories that last a lifetime.
  6. It has now been more than twenty years since Bridges was released. Readers who related to Love Story as young adults and Bridges in their forties have now entered a new phase of life. Many are grandparents. They are at the end of their careers or in retirement. It’s time for that third slim volume!

I first noticed the unintentional connection that Love Story and Bridges share about ten years ago. Later, when I began work on the novel that would become Strings: A Love Story, I realized I was touching on themes and including elements that echoed my thoughts about love at different stages of life. In Strings, Ted and Olivia meet at a California prep school in the 1960s. Circumstances conspire to separate them, but they reconnect years later in New York. Despite their love for each other, obligations and priorities again force them to part ways. Their love lives only in their memories until the serendipitous appearance of a legendary violin brings them together a third time.

While Strings is not the third title in the nonexistent trilogy I’ve described above, it is, like Love Story and Bridges, the tale of life-changing love. I’m grateful to Erich Segal and Robert James Waller for inspiring me with their timeless and compelling themes. I like to think that somewhere, another unsuspecting college professor is penning the words that will—out of the blue—become the third installment of a trilogy that doesn’t exist.

Megan says:  “In Strings: A Love Story, I realized I was touching on themes that echoed my thoughts about love at different stages of life.  In Strings, Ted and Olivia meet at a prep school in the 1960s. Circumstances conspire to separate the, but they reconnect years later.  But their priorities again force them to part ways. Their love lives only in their memories until the serendipitous appearance of a legendary violin brings them together a third time.”

The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out but I’m glad I had them.”

Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County

 

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Happy Birthday!

Today is my husband Dan’s birthday.  He is… well, older than he was yesterday.  His birthday always brings me pause, because mine is just a week after his.  Dan is the one who first told me Billie Burke’s observation that “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”  Well, I’m not, but it still does.  More to the point for me is Will Rogers’ observation:  “When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of Algebra.”  

That works.  Boy, does that work!  Mr. Kazaranoff was my algebra I teacher, and oh boy, did he…  Never mind.  Suffice it to say that Will and I are on the same page when it comes to first year algebra.  Here’s the thing.  Both Dan and I are too young to resign ourselves to old-folks-hood.  We still have a  lot of things to do.  Many places still to go.  Much work to accomplish.  We have a lot ahead of us that will make our gray hairs worthwhile.

So forget Billie Burke.  Forget Will Rogers, too–if you can.  The quote I want to remember is one from author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Here is what he says about aging:

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old.  They grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

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Not My Fire, But Still…

This year, June 27 came and went and I didn’t write a post about the Painted Cave fire that swept through Santa Barbara over 20 years ago, destroying our neighborhood and burning our house to the ground. It’s been long enough. Other things have happened to be sad about. Even more to be happy about.  But soon after that date, the weather turned hot and dry and windy.  Once again wildfires raged through California.

I no longer live in Santa Barbara. But when I saw pictures of the Santa Barbara Mission with billows of smoke rising up behind it–the  tell-tale sign of fire in the distance–I remembered all over again. 

Here’s the new fire.  It’s engulfing the same road as the old fire did.  I don’t want to watch, but I can’t turn my eyes away.  Still, I don’t want to see houses burst into flames, or cars explode and burn.  But what can I do?

Get out.  That’s what I can do.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I did when I left the land of flames for the land of water. (For our first year here we lived between two rivers, on Noah Street.  How scary is that?!)

Here’s the thing I learned from our own pile of ashes:  It’s just a house!  Just a bunch of stuff! And believe it or not, one year the date will come and go, and you won’t even think about the fire. Unless you see the smoke.  Or smell it in the air.  But even then it will pass and you will go back to counting your blessings.

It’s just a house!

“Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them.”

Charles Louis de Montesquieu

French philosopher (1689-1755)

 

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Of Governments, Right and Wrong

“There is something wrong in a government

where they who do the most have the least. 

There is something wrong

when honesty wears a rag, and rascality a robe; 

when the loving, the tender, eat a crust

while the infamous sit at banquets.”

 

* Robert G. Ingersoll *

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Guest Interview with Karen Kingsbury

If you are an author or a reader–or even if your aren’t–you have likely heard of Karen Kingsbury.  One of the absolute best storytellers of our time, Karen’s latest book, Love Story, has just been released.  And, yes, it is about the Baxter family.  (If you haven’t read books in this series, no worries.  Karen has included a prequel that will fill you in on all you need to know. It will also answer Baxter-fan questions.)

Karen has taken a bit of time out of her book tour to discuss Love Story with us. Please, pull up a chair and join in.

Kay: Karen, you use grandson Cole’s school heritage project to tell John and Elizabeth Baxter’s story.  I thought that was such a clever way to tell a long-ago family tale.  How did this approach come to you?

Karen: Thanks! I loved the idea of Cole being curious about his grandparents’ love story. I was brainstorming why John would be doing this, when my sister, Tricia, came up with the idea. “Maybe Cole has a project for class!” I smiled. “Brilliant!” And just like that Cole had a school heritage project! It’s fun when my family has thoughts about the Baxters! I believe that’s because my family is like many of my readers – they feel as though they know these characters personally.

Kay: This unique approach allows for various angles and viewpoints.  Does that make your storytelling job easier or more difficult? 

Karen:  From the beginning I’ve written my novels in multiple points of view.  I’m not sure if it’s easier, but it definitely tells a stronger story. It’s film-like. When you’re watching a movie you don’t stay in one character’s point of view. The story builds and becomes impossible to leave because several stories are playing out consecutively, and ultimately they will connect in a way that presents a resolution and ending. Also, I believe alternating character viewpoints allows for a deep third-person point of view. I am able to get into the heart and soul of my characters, complete with internal thoughts and fragments and run-ons where needed. Because that’s how we think. This gives us a deep connection to several key characters – something previously only possible when writing in first person.

KaySo true!  For any who haven’t read earlier Baxter family books, the prequel does a good job of introducing family members. But many already know that background. How did you balance information for new readers without making it redundant to Baxter family followers?

Karen:  In some ways, John’s and Elizabeth’s love story never has been told before. We knew bits and pieces, but we were never in John’s point of view when he first laid eyes on Elizabeth. So longtime readers are getting a piece of the story they’ve only wondered about. New readers are getting in at the ground level. It seemed like a win-win either way.

Kay: It certainly does!  Did this book inspire you to take a look at your own heritage? 

Karen:  Actually, yes! My husband and I were sharing a deep conversation on a walk   through our neighborhood. We talked about how one day our love story will be a legacy for our children and their children’s children. Our story isn’t like John and Elizabeth’s, but it’s a beautiful story, all the same. Our conversation that day reminded me of the countless readers who over the years have asked for a prequel to the Baxters, the love story of John and Elizabeth. It’s a story that’s lived in my heart for years. Now it’s finally on the page!

Kay: Can you share a story from your background that helped shape who you are today?

Karen: My parents always encouraged my writing. I stapled pages together and wrote my first book when I was five years old. It was simple, the story of a horse and a girl. Most of the words were misspelled, but my parents thought it was a masterpiece. From that day on I wanted to be a novelist. Through my growing up years my dad would say, “Karen, one day the whole world will know your writing.” Or he’d read a short story I’d written and say, “Someone has to be the next bestselling author. It might as well be you!” When I graduated from college, my mom presented me with a wrapped gift. Inside was that original first book. “The Horse” – with its crayoned, misspelled words, and its slanted lines of text. I’ll treasure it forever.  But one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is the gift of their support and belief in my dreams.

Kay: A great gift indeed! So how do you make your characters come to life so effectively?

Karen:  Again, thank you. I think this is also the result of writing in deep third-person point of view. Before I begin writing a book I truly get to know the characters. I know so much about them that they feel like real people. This allows me to write about them at the deepest possible level. Another reason is that I’m an extrovert. When I’m tucked away writing, my characters are my only friends. They absolutely need to feel real!

Kay: One of the most beautiful ideas in the book is that of being “beautifully broken.” When Ashley found the old pitcher Elizabeth had glued back together, Ashley said it was an illustration of God’s grace.  Not exactly like it was before, but still beautiful.  Did this analogy come from something in your own life?

Karen: Glad you liked that! Raising six kids we have had countless opportunities to see how brokenness can be beautiful. Our son Sean had a freak accident where he was catching a football and his ring finger was knocked off his hand. It was hanging by a thread of skin. A doctor’s assistant decided to try to save it.  After a half hour of struggling and praying, the finger was saved. Today it has a nasty scar, but it’s a reminder of God’s goodness in bringing healing to Sean. The scar is proof of the miracle. It was that way with the pitcher Ashley found. The vessel was still a pitcher. It still worked. But it bore proof that it had been through much. Same with the Baxter family. Same with each of us. The place where a wound has healed is often the strongest part of us – literally and figuratively.

Kay:  How important do you think heritage stories are to families?  What about the hard stories that are painful to recall and difficult to tell?

Karen: Heritage stories are so important. They remind us that we belong to a greater story. Our family started sending out a Christmas letter back when we first got married. Ever since then I write a brief history of the year and share it with the people we love. But all along I knew the most important thing about those letters was that we would have the written history. Decades later when we didn’t remember the details anymore, they would be written down in those Christmas letters. This past December, I put thirty Christmas letters into a Shutterfly scrapbook and called it “The Story of Us.” One day our great, great grandchildren will have the story of their heritage because we took the time to share it through the years. These tales of days gone by aren’t just important within our families, but within our faith. The Bible is full of heritage stories, all of which have lessons of belief in God, failure, redemption and grace that we can apply to our own lives.

Kay: This is indeed a love story—actually a compilation of love stories.  There are John and Elizabeth, of course, and Cody and Andi.  But also Brandon and Bailey, and Landon and Ashley.  Do any of these parallel your own story?

Kay: I’ve never really written about a love story like mine and my husband’s. That would be fun, but it’s not in my plans at this time. When I met Don he was seeking a relationship with Jesus. He was tired of the failed marriages in his family line and he wasn’t looking for a religion to solve the problems. He wanted to go straight to God, straight to His word. I was not in that same place. I was part of a denominational religion, but hardly a regular church-attender. Because of that, the greatest drama in our relationship was over this subject. Three months of tumultuous dating resulted in my throwing his precious high-lighted Bible on the ground and breaking the binding down the middle. As soon as that happened, I knew something was wrong with me. I couldn’t defend my man-made beliefs by breaking the Bible. I visited a Christian bookstore that day, bought a Bible and looked up my own thoughts on life. They weren’t there. It was like I could hear God say, “You can either fall away with your worldly views, or you can grab onto My Word and never let go.” I grabbed. Since then through the ups and downs, the highs and lows of having and raising children, dealing with health issues, moving several times because of Don’s jobs, adopting our three boys from Haiti–whatever life held around the next bend, we always had God and each other. I treasure every day.

Kay:  Did you consider adding a couple who did not have a happy ending?  How would that have changed the story?

Karen:  It’s important to have stories without happy endings, because that represents real life. In some ways that was Wilson Gage’s story, and it was also John’s, because these men lost their wives to illness far sooner than they had hoped or dreamed. At the same time, even the most broken story can have a beautiful ending when God’s redemption and grace is figured into the plot. That’s the story of the Baxters, after all.  In their trials, triumphs and tragedies, there is always hope. And with God there is always a happy ending.

Kay:  Wilson Gage, who fixed John’s car, witnessed to John through words and deeds.  His approach was gentle and effective.  Is this something you are able to practice in your own life?

Karen:  Absolutely this is how our family shares our faith. Every day we pray for divine appointments, so that I might be at the market or the doctor’s office or on an airplane, and a conversation will ensue. I might ask where the person goes to church. That usually opens up a window to their belief system. Some are closed off at that point, but through kindness and love, many people become interested. People get tears in their eyes and sometimes they think they’ve experienced something supernatural, something divine. It happened the other day at a hotel. We were on tour, a group of six of us – five of my sons, including two of our adopted sons from Haiti, and a Liberty University female singer. A girl working at the cafe in the hotel lobby kept staring at us. Finally she asked if we were part of a traveling fitness team. My boys smiled at that. No, we told her, we were mostly a single family touring for the release of my new book.  Just spreading hope and encouragement, inspiration that with God there is always a way. The girl grew teary-eyed and shook her head. “I felt drawn to y’all,” she told us. “God is with you. I think He wanted me to meet you.” She went on to say she’d been running from God for a long time, but maybe now it was time to live her life for Him. Amazing moments like that happen weekly in our family. It’s the fun adventure of faith. All people want to know they are loved by the Creator of the Universe, that their lives matter. The gentle, loving approach is the only one we know. It’s what Jesus modeled. We’re never perfect at it, but we certainly have an incredible Mentor.

Kay: What particular message would you most like your readers to take away from     Love Story?

Karen:  Sometimes I think about that obstinate girl I was in my early twenties, the one who threw the Bible on the ground and broke it just to make a point. I was warring against God and I didn’t even know it. But who would’ve ever thought that stubborn, prideful girl would one day be selling books that pointed people to the same God I was fighting? John and Elizabeth were young and in love. Neither of them had a strong faith, and John was set against following God. But through the brokenness of their story they found their way, not only to the Lord, but to redemption. In the process, Wilson Gage’s prayer was answered. John and Elizabeth would find God and one day all the world would know what faith and family looked like because of the Baxters. I want readers to see that no matter where they are today, God can use them. He can use their story.  Not just so that broken can become beautiful, but so that all the world might be changed for the better because of them.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

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Flying Low

My first airline flight was from San Antonio, where my husband had just graduated from Air Force Officers’ Training School, to San Francisco, where my parents lived.  It was great fun.  I had a roomy window seat in the cabin, a nice seat mate, and a delicious macaroni and cheese meal.  (That was after the peanuts and pretzels and root beer, and before the fresh fruit and hot tea.)  Since that first trip, I have logged up countless miles zipping around the U.S., then on to farther climes.  I’ve been to India 12 times, to China 3 times, Japan 5 times, and to African countries… well, I can’t remember how many times.  And that doesn’t count European and Asian countries, and trips to Australia and Hawaii.  As much as possible, I stayed faithful to my favorite airlines because faithfulness brought airline miles, and airline miles brought nice perks and rewards and even free trips.

Those days are gone.  Now airlines scrunch me into a skinny seat mashed up against the seat in front of me and next to a single narrow aisle where flight attendants wheel carts selling everything from box snacks to sandwiches to various drinks.  Sometimes I even have to buy water!

Problem is, airlines no longer need my faithful business.  They make their money by charging me for everything from the privilege of transporting my luggage to reserving me a seat to giving me the bare necessities of survival. At least that’s where I thought they were getting their money.  Now I find out they make as much selling miles to credit card companies as selling seats to passengers.  The credit card companies get the seats cheap, then give them to their own customers.  For some of the largest airlines, more than half their profits come from those sales.

I’m right now booking my next flight to India–14 hours for the first segment, another 5 for the next. I’m doing my best not to think about that first comfy flight from San Antonio to San Francisco.

“A luxury, once enjoyed, becomes a necessity.”

Historian C. Northcote Parkinson

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