Treasure the second chance

Of all the attributes of love, mercy and forgiveness are perhaps the most cherished. I marvel at the many times God has shown mercy to me, and I remind myself that He asks me to extend that same forgiveness to others.

But do we treasure those second chances? Or do we presume that there will be more of them? Do we think that our responsibility to grow and change does not matter all that much?

God gives us the freedom to choose our actions, but not the consequences. And those consequences can be tragic.

Dale McConachie
Dale McConachie. Click the image to hear Dale read from Romans 8

On Wednesday my friend, Dale McConachie, was killed when his car was struck from behind and pushed into a concrete struture. You will search long and hard to find a more compassionate, encouraging, kindly man than Dale. He wore many hats: play-by-play sports broadcaster, radio announcer, teacher, and follower of Jesus. To his wife and daughters his loss is especially profound, and we mourn with them. Today his class on 2 Corinthians, “The God of Encouragement,”  was set to begin. That classroom will be empty.

The young man responsible for Dale’s death did not learn from his second chance. In 2014 he completed an alcohol diversion program, designed for first time DUI offenders. This meant, among other things, that his car was rigged with an ignition interlock device. If he drank at all, even a tablespoon of Nyquil, not only would his car not start, but the offense would be recorded. Apparently during Diversion he was successful, but not for long after that.

Joshua Vann, 25
Joshua Vann, 25

Because at the scene of Wednesday’s accident, his blood alcohol level was 0.36, more than four times the legal limit. He was taken from the hospital to the county prison. With bail set at $260,000, I don’t think he’ll be going anywhere soon. He is only twenty-five years old.

Dale would urge me to have compassion instead of bitterness, and I’m working on it. After all, I have been forgiven of much. And Joshua Vann will have many sober years in prison to grapple with what he’s done. Finish high school. Pull his life together. And perhaps become like Dale, a follower of Jesus.

Who knows, maybe he will listen to Dale’s beautiful voice. It could happen. Dale considered the opportunity to record the Bible to be the biggest blessing of his vocational life.

If you’ve ever considered purchasing an audio Bible, this is the one. Dale said that his goal in recording is for you to feel, when driving down the road, as if your best friend is in the front seat, reading the Bible to you. Click on Dale’s image to hear him read Romans 8.

And let’s treasure–and learn from–our second chances. Because life on earth is wonderful, but so very brief. I’ll be leaving in a few minutes for service, and will doubtless walk past that empty classroom.

Friendship Affirmations

I do take notes, and sometimes I find them.

Friends Forever Photo Credit: Ahsan Saeed (Creative Commons Flickr)
Photo Credit: Ahsan Saeed (Creative Commons Flickr)

I am for your best interest.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

I will help you become all that God wants you to be.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

I will continually seek God’s help in being a good friend.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:12-14)

Powerful words from my friend and mentor, Gary Dozier. Today, right now, do you need to hear this as much as I do?

~ From Gary’s talk to students titled How to be a Good Friend ~

Swimming in the Guppy Tank?

SharkTankMuch as I enjoy the TV show Shark Tank, I can see that I’m a guppy. Like the Cowardly Lion of Oz, I play it safe. I’m afraid to strut my stuff. And according to the Sharks, being bashful about my fiction is the wrong way to think.


My sons and I love this show for its banter, crisp intelligence, and excellent advice. Episode by episode I am learning to do more than develop goals and the drive to pursue them relentlessly. I must also be myself. Not only in the classroom, but also as a writer and in the world of social media.


Likeability is important. Sure, hard numbers count, but so does being likable. Really? Don’t the nice guys finish last? Not necessarily. Even power brokers like the Sharks are not immune to the pull of personality. It’s more than having a quality product and being willing to work. Winsomeness carries powerful appeal.

Wishful thinking and good intentions do not get the job done. Being able to deliver on time and consistently is key. This means, of course, I must write more, not less.


Surprise! Passion counts. How many times have I heard one of the Sharks marvel, as the disappointed contestant walks off, that he or she did not defend their business. Where was the drive, the burning desire to succeed? Having “skin in the game” counts, but so does a passionate commitment to the product.
KevinOLearyGut impressions count too. “I’m going with my gut on this” is seen as a legitimate reason; nobody rolls their eyes. I’ve seen Sharks back away because the truth comes out: a contestant is too smooth or lazy or unprepared or (ha) selfish. On the other hand, support from one Shark will often draw other Sharks to reconsider investing.
Our failures can be our best teachers. The Sharks are where they are because they have taken risks. Is every business venture successful? Of course not. (Will every book I write be a bestseller? Nope.) The key is to get back in the game and move ahead.

So it’s time for me to grow and change and take baby steps in a better direction. Because I am an entrepreneur. And surprise, success in business isn’t as “Me First” as I once thought.

Mapping it, more or less

My plot map for Darcy By Any Other Name, such as it is.
Here’s my plot map for Darcy By Any Other Name, such as it is. So many midstream changes!

In the journey toward my book release, I feel like a cat chasing his tail. Round and round I go. First this, then that. Crank out another chapter, then tighten up the outline with the changes.

Pesky story elements keep popping up like weasels. Events that I foreshadowed in earlier chapters and forgot about. I sigh, go back, and write them in.

And then there’s social media to keep up with. Find a better author photograph (I did!). Come up with a better presence on Twitter and Facebook and Medium. Blog, comment, tweet. (“Lather, rinse, repeat.”) But engagingly, because I’m communicating with people. Not at them.

As writers of the Digital Age we have a much higher chance at success than any writer in history, but we also have more *work* than any writer in history.
~ Kristen Lamb

What do you mean my Facebook page was never published? Apparently I didn’t push some button, so it languished with only four Likes. That explains a lot, but still. There’s so much to do and all at the same time!

This week I am concentrating on my plot map. You know, the ending. Because in my eagerness to finish I’ve lost track of a few things. Like what day it is. Or what the weather is. Or what phase the moon is in. (A few times characters gaze up at it and sigh–and I can’t have the thing be full for a solid week!)

If you’re going to have a complicated story you must work to a map; otherwise you’ll never make a map of it afterwards.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Once everything’s straight, there’s the work of thinking out the ending. Ha, the hardest part. The finish must be clever, unexpected, and emotionally satisfying. I take comfort knowing that I am not alone in my struggle.

Even my favorite writers have struggled to find ideas. When I discovered the quotation below, I gasped. No ideas? T-tolkien? But he wrote so many hundreds of pages!

Yes, Tolkien did come up with more. Eventually. But only because for years he kept working at it. If he had given up (like I feel like doing), how much the world would have missed.

A map drawn by Tolkien
A map drawn by Tolkien
“I find it only too easy to write opening chapters–and at the moment the story is not unfolding. I squandered so much on the original Hobbit (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, on writing The Lord of the Rings

Quantity, not Quality, Time with the Muse

Photo Credit: Mararie (Creative Commons)
An Astronomical Clock // Photo Credit: Mararie (Creative Commons)

When my sons were little, the debate over Quality Time versus Quantity Time was in full swing. The idea was this: if a parent spends meaningful time with a child, then that cancels out the need to spend large amounts of time together, right? Umm…

Having worked in daycare, I already knew the answer: Quantity Time wins. It does. Always. And this doesn’t only apply to very young children.

Fast forward to Mom’s Weekend at Oregon State. I would show up Friday night with my sleeping bag, ready for their sofa. Since each son also worked, he would put in his shift and return to their apartment. We watched movies (ha, of my choosing!) and talked and took walks by the river. I treated them to dinner at a local Chinese dive. And bought pizza and snacks and sodas and coffee.

Ah, but when did the meaningful conversations emerge? I think you can guess. Not until we were having our farewell coffee–as Starbucks was closing! I was facing a 90-minute drive and school the next day, but I was always late coming home. Because it wasn’t until the end of our weekend together, after I’d put off my departure several times, that the real questions would come up–about girls, or a work-related conflict, or the news of a failing grade.

The meaningful stuff bubbled up because I stayed around. Because I spent time–what felt like unnecessary time–connecting. We were able to get comfortable together, and one by one the barriers came down.

With Roslynn in beautiful Ventura
With Roslynn

It’s the same with my writing. This is Roslynn. On the last day of the 2014, we had lunch in Ventura and spent the afternoon talking–ha, until the coffee place closed! As usual, I was sighing over my lack of progress with the novel. Then she asked, “Can you be done by the end of January?” My response: “Oh, of course I can.” And I meant it.

When a deadline is far-off, it sounds so simple to meet. After all, it was New Year’s Eve and finishing seemed attainable. Heck, anything did. The sun was shining, tail-wagging dogs pranced by, and gulls soared in a cloudless sky. 2015 was just over the horizon, fresh and unexplored and new.

Last Thursday, I looked at the calendar–really looked at it. I was not even close to making that finish date! Eight chapters–the forecast length had grown by four–with only sixteen days in which to write them. Ah, but I had two three-day weekends in which to work–but only if I spent Quantity Time with the muse.

“A long way to go and a short time to get there.” And so, mindful of my promise to Roslynn, on Friday I settled into my self-imposed Writing Marathon. With notes and outlines and pages of ‘My 500 Words’ sketches of scenes, I put (almost) everything on hold and dug in. “A chapter a day,” I told myself. “It’s only a chapter a day.” For me, this amount is huge.

So I went AWOL from the Internet–I kept slapping my hand when I peeked–but I accomplished my goal. Three chapters–finish-quality work, close to 8,000 words–all because I spent Quantity Time with the Muse. As with Mom’s Weekend, the longer I kept at it, the more good stuff came bubbling up.

There are still five chapters to write. Next weekend will be more of the same, except that I have report cards to finish. I’m signing off now, in fact, to grade papers.

One way or another, I will finish this novel. And then it will be time to begin another…

In class today, the film Marty

Marty Piletti and MaYes, my students rolled their eyes at me. A movie from 1955? In black and white? But after the success of While You Were Sleeping, they have learned to trust me. Sort of.

Marty is a classic film that no storyteller should miss. It’s a time capsule, pulling us into an ordinary working-class neighborhood in the Bronx. For students whose concept of 1955 comes from Back to the Future, it was kind of an eye-opener. Times and fashions may have changed, but the struggles of the human heart have not.

Paddy Chayefski’s screenplay is exceptional. Who doesn’t get Marty, the socially awkward but good-hearted butcher? How we smile at the antics of his friends and family, because we get them too. My dad, a nice guy who didn’t say much, loved this movie. I think he saw much of himself in Marty.

“Ma, sooner or later, there comes a point in a man’s life where he’s gotta face some facts. And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain’t got it.”

Ernest Borgnine won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Marty Piletti. “You don’t have to be tall, dark and handsome to be a movie star,” he said after winning the Oscar, “but I was the first one to prove it.” The film also won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

“I played Marty because I was Marty,” he said. “I was the kind of guy that was a wall flower. I didn’t know how to dance. To get a girl — my goodness, that was beyond comprehension for me, because I could see myself being turned down and I wasn’t the kind of person that liked to be turned down, you know? Why bother to ask if you’re going to be turned down? So I never asked. That was it. But time went along and I went into the service, and I grew up. When I saw that script, I said, ‘My God, that’s me.’ I was very happy to do it, because it gave me the opportunity to play something that I could easily play, and I knew that I had in my heart exactly what happened.”

Today I also learned how much high school students love Netflix. All I was thinking was that I’d saved myself a trip to the library, you know? But to them the thought of accessing Netflix at school was like opening a wondrous portal of delight. Oh, to be that young again!

"So whadda you wanna do?" "I don't know, whadda you wanna do?"
Some things never change. “So whadda you wanna do?”
“I don’t know, whadda you wanna do?”

A writer, not a wroter

My workplace today
“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” ~ Jane Austen

The fireside for the Cricket Writer,
The wheatstack for the Mouse,
When trembling night-winds whistle
And moan all round the house…

(With apologies to William Allingham and his “Robin Redbreast”)

On this dark and rainy winter’s day, I am home alone. After a week of teaching talk-talk-talk, the silence of a quiet house–with only the snap and pop of a wood fire to bear me company–is almost heaven. And I am writing.

Meaning that today I am a writer, not a wroter. Lately I’ve been looking to find enjoyment in the process of putting words on the page (a writer). Instead of my usual thing, which is to revel only in the polished, finished work (a wroter).

I’m also loving every minute of dodging my frantic to-do list. Who needs housework, right? This chore-avoidance is called “selective neglect.” Without it, books stay unfinished.

Do you enjoy being home alone? Read on. We are not the only ones.

“Stay, stay at home, my heart, and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are happiest.”
~ Henry W. Longfellow

*   *   *

“There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireside.”
Nullus est locus domestica sede jucundior.
~ Cicero

*   *   *

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”
~ John Ed Pearce

*   *   *

“If ever household affections and loves are graceful things, they are graceful in the poor. The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud to home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of the true metal and bear the stamp of heaven.”
~ Charles Dickens

Power to the Pomodoro!

A pomodoro timer and Darth Vadar too? Snap! (Photo Credit: mlpeixoto
A pomodoro kitchen timer AND Darth Vadar too? Snap!
Photo Credit: mlpeixoto (Creative Commons)
“The hardest part is getting started.” That’s what my aunt, a self-made multi-millionaire, used to say. It certainly worked for her.

“The next-hardest part is staying focused.” That’s my corollary for the busy age in which we live. So many distractions (like reading this blog post), so few of them productive.

Send in the tomato! The Pomodoro (“tomato”) Technique takes its name from an Italian kitchen timer. The idea is to stay focused and working for 25 minutes without interruption–no Internet! No texting! –before taking a short break.

This technique can be especially helpful with writing. I stay at it long enough for “flow” to take over. Pomodoros also help me grade papers and tackle housework. “Twenty-five minutes won’t kill me,” I tell myself as I vacuum or mop the floor or deal with dirty dishes. Or grade another ten-page paper.

These days everyone struggles to be productive. If you’re interested in learning more about the Pomodoro Technique, I’ve linked a short video below.

For the new year, a single word.

EngageThis year I’m skipping the New Year’s resolutions. Mine don’t last long. A week, maybe. Or until the plate of fudge is passed round. (Diet? What diet?)

Instead, I’m choosing one word for the year. The idea is to have clarity and sustained focus. Plus, a single word is easier to remember.

My word for 2014 was READY. Instead of something passive like CONTENTMENT or COPING, I chose something proactive and expectant. After all, I’d been asking God for success. If I pray for wind (like Hudson Taylor did when that ship was becalmed), then I ought to put up the sails.

Did READY change my life? Not in a dramatic way, but yes. It highlighted my need to do more than tread water and be patient. READY challenged the way I approached my in-progress novel, too. It pushed me to keep moving forward, and as a result the book is set for an early-April release.

My word for 2015 is ENGAGE. It’s another “step-up” word. No hanging back, no sitting on my hands, no remaining in my “safe” introvert corner. ENGAGE brings me into contact with people and prods me to join the conversation. I’m in for an exciting ride.

An encouraging word from our friend, Aslan. Because choosing to ENGAGE involves courage,oh yes. (Image Credit: Lancia E Smith. Photo links to her website)[
An encouraging word from our friend, Aslan.
(Image Credit: Lancia E Smith. Photo links to her website.)
How about you? Would you like to choose a word for 2015? Check out

This article was also posted at Jane Started It! and also at a new site, Medium.