Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's All About People

Last week I shared in my blog about writing my memoir about the 19 years I spent working at Teen Challenge. Here's an excerpt from my WIP title Teen Challenge - Repairer of Broken Walls

Isaiah 58: 12 NIV
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

When my ninety day probationary time was completed, I met with Jeff Richards and Angel Rosa for an evaluation. It was easy to see the love and camaraderie between these two men. They spent the few minutes I was with them in lighthearted banter with each other, and bragging on me.

I was flattered, but answering telephones and manning the front office didn’t take a P.H.D. When I said that, Angel responded, “Well, it’s not the typical type of front office visitors and phone calls. It takes a certain personality to deal with it, and a heart full of Jesus.” He grinned and chuckled.

I chuckled too.  “This is definitely more exciting than I ever imagined it would be. I love it, and wouldn’t change a thing about what I do.”

That it was exciting was an understatement. Every day something out of the ordinary happened. If something exciting wasn’t happening, then working with some of the zaniest, quirkiest, and all-around awesome staff made it exciting. Going to work every day was like reading a good novel or watching a great movie.

There were several homeless people – some called them street people – who frequented our doors.  It’s easy to label all such persons in this category as a certain stereotype – mental illness, drug and/or alcohol addictions, no desire to get off the streets, deviants – but some sincerely were caught up in situations beyond their control. Most, however, that were frequent visitors at Teen Challenge did fit into one of the mentioned stereotypes.

There was the lady who came in at least once a week demanding food. The kitchen workers – and by kitchen workers, these were mostly students assigned to kitchen detail –  usually gave her a donut, or a piece of fruit. Our policy was that we didn’t give away food because it wasn’t always easy to provide meals for the students and live-in staff.

If this lady didn’t like what they gave her, or if they had nothing to give her, she would curse, stomp off, slam doors, and occasionally throw something. I had finally given up on greeting her with a cheerful hello because she just snarled at me. But I would smile politely if she looked my way.

Summer heat in Phoenix is brutal, especially to those who worked or stayed outdoors. The homeless are particularly vulnerable. Many organizations such as the Salvation Army set up stations around the downtown area to give out cold bottled water.

It was on one of those scorching days of temperatures over one hundred ten degrees that I had an encounter with this snarky woman.

Using the restroom was not a simple task for me. I usually would page into someone else’s office and ask them to answer the phone for a few minutes, or snag an intern as he walked by. This particular day, I couldn’t rouse anyone to help me, and I had to go. Since the restrooms were located in the breezeway in front of my office door, I decided to make a mad dash.

When I flung open the restroom door, there stood snarky lady. She was nude from the waist up, splashing water over her head and soaking her blouse and bra in the sink. Fire spit from her eyes as she let loose a stream of obscenities and kicked the door shut in my face.

I stumbled backwards, my mouth agape, and slunk back into my office, only to have her slam my door open in a few minutes, hair and clothes dripping water, and call me a foul name. Although I was compassionate toward her need to cool off, I knew I would not want to run into her in a dark alley. 

(this excerpt is taken from page 4)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Writing A Memoir

I’m writing this blog post today because I am working for the next three weeks at Phoenix Teen Challenge, therefore I will miss my blog time with my friends tomorrow, Wednesday. We meet every Wednesday morning at Crossroads Books and Coffee where we blog, drink lattes and espressos, and chat.

I worked at Teen Challenge from 1992 until 2011. It was some of the most fulfilling, exciting times in my life. Last year I filled in for a month for director’s wife while they went on vacation. I am doing it again right now. 

I love this ministry. Most people think of Teen Challenge only in the terms of a Christian drug and alcohol rehab, but it’s so much more than that. At least it is in Phoenix. Just this past weekend, they did a Back-to-School Bash outreach where they served meals to 1,900 people and gave out over 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to kids. 

Churches, individuals, and organizations donated the backpacks and supplies. A local fire department donated hot dogs, chips, and drinks. Not only did they donate the food, they were there to grill the hot dogs. Teen Challenge does many other outreaches to the community, plus house up to fifty men in the residential rehab.

I’m happy to be back there if only for a few weeks for reasons other than I just love this ministry. I recently started writing my memoir of the time I spent working there. Actually, I began writing this to enter a non-fiction contest. I typically don’t enjoy writing non-fiction, but I am enjoying this. Ah, the memories.

It was fun, it was exciting, it was heart breaking, it was sad, and overall, it was a tremendous blessing. If you think about it, please whisper a prayer that I can do this justice.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t want to go back to work there on a permanent basis. I miss the people and the ministry, but I don’t miss working every day. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Recommending A Book

I love watching movies based on true stories. I especially love when at the end of the movie they show pictures of the real people. I also like to read books about real people with unusual or interesting life stories. It’s an added bonus if I have ever met the person, or know of the person.

I recently read such a book. It’s by Corinne Smelker, Cori, and title is Answering Hannah’s Cry. I met Cori last year at a FaithWriters’ Conference in Portland, Oregon. She was teaching a workshop. I was immediately intrigued when as part of her introduction, she said she was the mother of five biological children, but she’d given birth to six others as a surrogate.

Having had five children of my own, surrogacy always was a little mind blowing to me. I assumed most women did it purely for the money. Labor and delivery weren’t the part of childbirth I didn’t like, it was the pregnancy. For me, the only way I would endure for someone else the violent morning sickness I always had, and the discomfort of pregnancy was if I was paid some seriously big money.

Cori’s book was an eye-opener. I’m sure the money helped, but she just wanted to bless others who longed for a child of their own, and for whatever reason, it didn’t or couldn’t happen. Cori did gestational surrogacy only, where it’s the mother’s eggs and father’s sperm.

This book, and the characters included, came alive for me through Cori's descriptions. I felt like I was right there in the examining room, in labor and delivery. It’s a beautiful, touching story that focuses not only on the minute details of what Cori went through, but the love and support of her husband and children. If this sounds like a story that would interest you, you will definitely enjoy Cori’s book. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Giving Book Reviews

Over the years I’ve gone to more “parties” and spent money I didn’t have to buy something I didn’t really need at an inflated price just because a family member or friend ask me or invited me to attend. Premier and Lia Spohia jewelry parties, Pamper Chef, Party Lite, Tupperware, and the list goes on. You get what I’m saying.

As I’ve joined more writing groups and become friends and acquaintances with other writers, I have a tendency to buy books by authors I know, or have become acquainted with. I do it to be supportive of other writers, but mostly to check out their writing style.

So far, I’ve only come across a couple of duds. I have to ask myself, “How do I handle giving this writer a review on Amazon or Goodreads?” The answer for me is simple. I don’t give a bad review. If I don’t like the book, I just don’t give a review, period.

Then I ask myself, “Is that fair?”  If someone didn’t like my book, wouldn’t I want to know the reason? Until I find a solution, or the courage to be honest, that’s my game plan and I’m sticking to it. Sometimes it’s hard to be honest when the mercy side of you doesn’t want to hurt or offend someone.

“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” Yeah, I know, it’s a silly, childhood rhyme. Marketing is a must for authors. Much like all the parties I’ve mentioned above, sometimes we can feel pressured to buy someone’s book and then give a five star review. I, as a writer, feel the marketing pressure to pressure (I know. It’s an overuse of the word pressure) my friends and family to buy my book and give a good review.

The difference between those parties and buying books? I absolutely love to read. To me it’s not like buying a piece of jewelry I’ll never wear, or a pan or bowl I’ll never use. (sh! I turn around and sell some of that overpriced stuff I just bought on eBay. At a loss, no less. Grrr)

But if I’ve read your book and don’t give a review, it’s probably because I didn’t care for it. Maybe it’s not my favorite genre, and I wouldn’t count anything off from that, but did it get and keep my attention? Was the writing good?

We only get one shot to draw a reader in, so make it good. **sigh** The things I’m learning as I go along. Titles, opening lines and chapters and their importance. Be fruitful and multiply, dear writer friends. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ACFW/CWOW - Christian Writers of the West's Rattler Contest

Do you love writing contests? Or maybe you hate contests. Well, I hope you enter this one and support one of the writing groups I belong to. CWOW -- Christina Writers of the West -- is a local division of ACFW -- American Christian Fiction Writers. I am secretary of CWOW, so I'll be sharing this repeatedly over the next several weeks.

Christian Writers of the West Blog: The 2014 Phoenix Rattler Writing Contest


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Be True To Your Voice

Have you ever said or done something that someone misunderstood or put a whole different twist to it? Of course you have. We all have. The worse thing, though, is when someone assumes something and you’re left scratching your head and going, “Huh?”

When Simon Cowell was on American Idol, he would irritate me. To him, talent didn’t matter if the looks weren’t there. He made rude comments to overweight contestants. But what really upset me was when a young person would sing a gospel or Christian song. His response was usually, “I didn’t get that song.” Or, “That’s a poor song choice. Most people don’t understand.”

No, Simon, YOU didn’t understand. YOU didn’t get it. They must’ve gotten complaints or someone decided that Christian music is popular because that ceased after awhile. There’s a definite market for Christian artists.

Have you felt discouraged or frustrated because others don’t understand your writing – some or most don’t get it? Is there a Simon Cowell, or several of them, criticizing your work? Maybe, just maybe, it’s them and not you.

We all need and desire affirmation. It will come in God’s timing. Trust your instincts. Trust your gut feeling. Follow your heart. Be true to your “voice.” You have a story only you can tell. No one else will feel your passion or tell it in just the exact way you do. You have an audience, a platform, unique to you.

Perhaps there is only one person in this whole world who needs to hear what you have to say, and you’re the only person they will read. Maybe they’ll just stumble across something you’ve written. God has you right where he wants you.