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Friends

You are there…

when I don’t know where to turn

Amid the confusion and despair,

you are there, my friend.

If my plans are thwarted

and success seems as distant as the furthest galaxy,

you remain in control—steadfast as the rock of ages

nothing shakes you.

If the stars I wish upon tumble into the sea

their vacancy leaves room for you

to extend your hand and say…

“This is the way, walk in it.”

So I place my hand in yours

and know…

Your conclusion is so much better than any I could write.

My Northern Lights Experience

Brrr! Even though I dressed in the warmest layers I own, I still shivered as I stepped out of the bus into the cold air. I wondered, “How am I going to survive this night?” My eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness as I trudged across the packed snow to join the group of stargazers carrying iphones.

What was a Floridian like me doing miles above the Arctic Circle in Maze, Norway? I was searching for the Northern Lights, of course.

Here is how the evening unfolded….

About fifteen minutes after my arrival, a gasp went up from the small crowd. “Look!” A guy pointed toward the western sky, where a faint mist appeared.

Someone cried out, “It’s beginning!”

A few minutes later the mist rose higher and began to vibrate. Unlike a cloud, the mist began to glow and shimmer. That’s when I realized I was actually looking at lights.

I continued to hold up my iphone 12 and snap photos. The camera captured the colors I couldn’t see with my naked eye. It seemed magical!

The dancing lights changed into a new shape which reminded me of a paper airplane. The plane soon changed into a luminous green flying V. Wow!

I blinked and the flying V transformed into a singular light which streamed down, down, down to the earth below.

Everyone cheered! What could be better? Some of us had traveled thousands of miles to see this. We endured numerous regulations put in place by our governments due to Covid. We stood outside in fourteen degree temperatures. We felt like this light show was our reward. Indeed, it was worth it all!

Was I looking at a vapor? A light? What are the Northern Lights?

  • The Northern Lights are caused by activity on the surface of the sun.
  • Solar storms give out clouds of electrically charged particles.
  • The particles are drawn toward the north and south poles where the earth’s magnetic field is stronger.
  • Upon entry to earth’s atmosphere the particles heat up and begin to glow.
  • The unique drapery like folds of the particles are caused by lines of force in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Forget the legends and stories of the ancients… science can explain everything, including the various colors. Different gases give off different colors when they are heated.

  • Green is due to oxygen in the atmosphere.
  • Purple, blue, or pink, are due to nitrogen.
  • Red is due to very high altitude oxygen and is only present when the particles are very energetic.

I hope my scientific explanation hasn’t destroyed any ideas you might have about the mysterious Northern Lights. In my opinion, the phenomenon is still more art than science.

In nearby Alta, a church reflects the beauty of the Aurora. Known as the Cathedral of Northern Lights, the building is a landmark, and serves as a local parish.

Winters are long and dark in this part of the world, and the long bright windows lift the spirits of the community.

The interior of the church inspires worshippers to look up toward the heavens.

A bronze figure represents Christ’s sacrifice for mankind’s redemption.

Dear Reader, if you have not experienced the Northern Lights, add them to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed. In closing, I want to thank Herb Burton for coming up with the idea to book a trip to Norway in January. Viking Cruises offers a wonderful tour. What are you waiting for?

How Buddy the Beagle Stole the Christmas Candy

Yes, Christmas 2021 has come and gone. The tree ornaments and lights are boxed up and stored until next year. But we still have a few pieces of my favorite chocolate sitting around. And even though I’ve started my diet, I allow myself one or two, just to brighten up another dull January day.

We have to be careful where we set the candy bowl. A few nights before Christmas, Buddy gave us a scare. When it was time to turn in for the night, I realized Buddy wasn’t in the living room. I called his name and he wandered out of the spare bedroom.

I checked the bedroom and discovered a pile of chewed up foil wrappers on the floor. Buddy had gotten into the one bag of chocolate I’d purchased earlier that day. The bag was labeled “Lumps of Coal.” I thought I would put one piece in each of my loved ones stockings as a joke. Now the joke was on me.

Chocolate is toxic to dogs. The hour was late, and we did not want to make a trip to the local emergency vet clinic. So Herb accessed information about dogs and chocolate on the internet. He found a chart which listed dog weights and how much chocolate they could eat and still live. Buddy weighs twenty pounds and he would need to eat one pound of chocolate before he would be seriously affected. We also learned dark chocolate is more toxic to dogs than milk chocolate.

I hurried back to the bedroom and looked at the paper label from the bag. “We’re in luck!” I called out. “The candy contained more peanut butter than milk chocolate and the weight of the package was only three ounces.”

Buddy usually sleeps in his crate, but that night we carried it into our bedroom and so he could sleep near us. I’m sure he felt like he had won the lottery that night. In the morning he was fine.

The moral of the story…. “life happens and chocolate helps” only applies to people. On that note, I think I’ll have a piece of chocolate.

“Take Heart” in 2022

Welcome to 2022! Are you excited about what the new year might bring?

I can relate to those of you who feel exhausted right now. I’m worn out from fighting each variant of the pandemic. I’m tired of the interruptions, the cancellations, and the nagging fears.

Christmas was not very merry at our house this year. Our son contracted Omicron and was isolated from the rest of the family. Thankfully he recovered after five or six days. I laughed when he told me he gave his Omicron experience a “better” review compared to his first bout with Covid in 2020. Apparently the virus is weakening. At this point, I’ll take any good news I can get.

Even though I’m tired of all the bad news circulating around me, I’m trying to stay positive. Throughout the centuries a new year has always been a time for starting over. A time to forget about the disappointments of the past and expect good things. But it’s hard to have hope when every time I turn on the news I hear more bad news. Who can I turn to for hope in a such a hopeless world?

When I feel hopeless I find encouragement by reading Scripture. Then I remember God’s unlimited power can do more than I could ever think or imagine. Even though I’m in a hurry to throw off the past, maybe I need to take some of the past with me. When I reflect upon all the times God strengthened me last year, I remember He is the same …yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Sometimes He brings a blessing into my life when I’d least expected.

I realize this year’s journey can and probably will bring more trials.

In the words of Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Be encouraged, friends. Take heart knowing an all powerful God still loves you. Focus on His power to carry you through these dark times and give you hope. He will never let you down.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”__Corrie ten Boom

A Christmas Story

A friend and I like to walk on the bike path which circles Lake Baldwin in Orlando. The strip of land between the lake and the path is a natural habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Bald eagles and coyotes are among the local residents and I am always on the lookout for photo opportunities.

One morning something seemed out of place in the green landscape. We stepped closer to see a small package wrapped in red paper nestled among the needles of a bushy pine. “I think this the beginning of something,” I chuckled to my friend. In addition to the package, a shiny piece of garland adorned one side of the tree. We agreed the decorations must be someone’s idea of a joke in order to tease passersby to add more ornaments.

A few days later I walked my usual route and noticed many more decorations on the tree. A red and green bow served as a tree topper and bright ribbons spiraled the limbs. Then I noticed a note at the base of the tree inviting the community to add more ornaments in memory of “Bob.”

The author of the note shared a few details about Bob’s life. He loved to walk the path around the lake and started the tradition of decorating the small tree in 2020. Sadly, two months later Bob died from Covid 19. His family wants to continue the tradition in his memory and refers to the evergreen as the Community Tree of Baldwin Park.

The note touched my heart. This was not a joke but a serious memorial to a husband and father I never knew. This humble tree is very different from all the glitz and glamor of the Christmas tree in the Neighborhood Center of Baldwin Park. I prefer Bob’s tree because it represents the people from all walks of life who frequent the bike trail.

I never knew Bob, but I have a feeling I would like him. We have a common bond. He loved nature, walking, and Christmas.

December is a bittersweet time for many folks. I pray the Community Tree comforts Bob’s family as this will be their first Christmas with out him. Tomorrow I think I’ll visit the tree again and if there’s any space left, add a small token to tell Bob’s family they are not alone.

Like Iron Sharpening Iron: The Power of Critique Groups

My hand trembled the first time I distributed my one-page poem to my critique group. The reader to my right launched into the first stanza with gentle enthusiasm. A strange feeling came over me when I heard my words tumble out of her lips. My poem described a childhood memory and while she read, I felt overcome with sentiment. A tear slid down my cheek. Embarrassed, I lowered my head, fumbled through my purse for a Kleenex, and hoped no one noticed. Only one hundred twenty words, the last line came quickly.

Then, the members of the group picked up their pens and began scribbling comments. I squirmed in my seat and wished I were somewhere far away, anywhere but here. What made me think I could ever write? I tried not to make eye contact with these seasoned writers and dreaded their remarks.

One by one each member finished and smiled in my direction. The leader signaled the person on my left to begin. He looked me directly in the eye. “A good poem takes the reader to a new place, and you have succeeded to do that here.”

I’ll never forget those words. Relief washed over me from my head to my feet. As each member continued to share their reactions to my work, I discovered something I didn’t know. I am a writer after all.

I have participated in Word Weavers critique groups since 2013. Over the years this community of writers has greatly influenced me. When writers share their work with others, they learn how to better communicate with an audience. Mistakes can be caught through the process of hearing someone else read your work aloud. We refer to this as a “cold read.” The quiet time after the reading gives each member an opportunity to evaluate the degree to which the author achieved his or her purpose. The final part of the critique involves verbal suggestions for improvement, but not at the risk of discouraging the author.

The “sandwich method” of layering criticism between two compliments nourishes a writer’s growth. I can testify to the effectiveness, because over the years I have published numerous poems, an article for a children’s magazine, and two children’s chapter books. Fallen Leaves is the title of the first poem I ever submitted for critique.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 ) This verse applies to critique groups. Writers become more efficient through interactions with other writers. Most authors reference those who have influenced their work in the acknowledgements section of their books.

Word Weavers began in the Orlando area in 1997. Their mission is to help members find their unique voice and raise their writing to a publishable level. This is accomplished through Christian community, critiques, and conferences. Word Weavers offers in-person and online groups.

If you live in the Orlando area, stop by our booth at the Longwood Arts Festival this weekend. Eight members of Orlando Word Weavers will be selling and signing their books. If you are a writer, we’d love to meet you and encourage you on your writing journey.

America’s Supply Chain Disruption

I’m sure by this time you may have been affected by the disruption in our country’s supply chain. If not, you could be affected, since the news media predicts shortages of toys, Christmas decorations, and turkeys for the upcoming holidays. Unfortunately these predictions often contribute to hoarding which increases the problem and perpetuates the cycle.

Even so, the shortages are real. Who is to blame for the problem? The crisis is a result of Covid-19 disruptions paired with an increased demand for goods. Yes, Covid-19. The gift that keeps on giving. (Or taking… depending on how you look at things.)

I need a new pair of athletic shoes. I like to try on shoes before I buy them, so I shopped at a local sporting goods store. I found a pair in my size, but I didn’t like the color. The salesperson checked the warehouse inventory and told me I was in luck. The warehouse had one pair in stock to fit my size in the color I wanted. I paid for the shoes at the checkout and was told to expect my delivery in two to seven days.

To my delight the package arrived in two days! I tore open the outer wrapping, eager to see my purchase. When I took the shoes out of the box, my excitement changed to shock. The left and right shoe were different sizes. On closer examination I realized size wasn’t the only issue. Each shoe was a different style. But I did get something I wanted. Both shoes were black and white.

The moral of the story: “If the shoes don’t match, don’t wear them.” The next day I returned the mismatched pair to the store.

The manager shook her head. “Someone sure made a big mistake.” She apologized and refunded my money. Consequently my search continues.

I admit for most of my life I’ve been spoiled by the abundance of material goods our wonderful supply chain has supplied. The supply chain crisis is something new to all of us. In the midst of everything, let’s try to not let our patience grow short as well.

How about you? Are you keeping your cool in the midst of the shortages? Leave a comment. You can cry on my shoulder. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m a good listener.

The Vacancy

Hold the shell to your ear.

You can hear the sound of the surf

Echo deep within.

Something lived here once.

It moved out

Having outgrown the small dwelling.

It moved on

In search of breathing room.

No one knows where it lives now.

Someone lived here once.

The pencil lines on the bedroom wall

Show the heights of a child

Through the years.

She moved out

Having outgrown the confines of this space.

She moved on

In search of breathing room.

And I hope someone knows

Where she is now.

Whatever Things Are Lovely…

Have you ever had a night when your sleep was interrupted? Last night our smoke alarm began to chirp at one a.m. We solved that little problem and then Buddy, our dog, whined nonstop from his crate. Although I eventually drifted off to dreamland… morning came sooner than I would have liked.

I stumbled into the kitchen feeling grouchy and desperate for coffee. After my first cup, I opened my book of devotions to this verse of scripture:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

I admit, considering my rough night of little sleep, I couldn’t immediately think of much loveliness in the world. In fact the world appears to be a very broken place. Yet, the bible directs us to search for those things which are excellent or praiseworthy as if we were searching for treasure. And when we unearth something lovely, we are to praise God for it. Furthermore, telling people about our discoveries helps them find beauty and meaning in their lives.

Suddenly I remembered an incident which happened at a recent book signing. A man approached our table and looked at Buddy with adoring eyes. The stranger reached into his wallet and handed me a twenty dollar bill. He said, “Please give a book set to any child you wish.” Then he walked away.

I was amazed at his generosity. Soon, a family came by with four young children. Their eyes widened in surprise when I told them they could have a set of books for free.

To me, this was a good example of something praiseworthy. I thanked God for the stranger’s generosity and decided to share the incident with you. Loveliness is not far from any of us. May you find beauty and meaning in your life today.

Ruffled Feathers

Nudged out of my comfort zone

I open one eye,

turn my head

and wonder,

what just happened?

Beneath my plump bottom

something stirred my nest

calling me out of my cozy cradle to arise.

Standing on two feet

I see the great emptiness

where I have never gone.

My Father directs me to stretch my wings.

Then comes the push!

I flap and flutter through space

gasping with surprise when

I plummet.

Soon I hear the brush of his pinions.

My Father is near.

He swoops down

catches me on his wings

and carries me until I’m ready

to fly again.

This poem was inspired by Deuteronomy 32:11. Like an eagle with its young, we can count on the Holy Spirit to call us out of our comfort zone in order to accomplish God’s will. Yet, our heavenly Father does not leave us alone. He carries us when we feel weary or inadequate for the task.

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