Can a Writer Get Laryngitis?


blank pageWhen you first dabble in writing, no, when you start to get serious about writing, there are questions. What should I write? What am I meant to write? How should I write it? If anyone pretends to have the right answer for that question, run. Run away quickly. Because the most thoughtful and most helpful will tell you, “You have to find your voice.”

Unfortunately, they can’t tell you what it sounds like or even where to go looking. Read, they say. Write, they say. Listen, they say. And if you’re patient, dedicated and diligent, you’ll find it. The “it” is not a thing. It’s a way. A way you are when you write. A feeling you have. A rhythm, a sound, a pitch, a tone. It’s the way you would sing if you could sing. But you aren’t singing; you are writing. And when it pours out of you, it sounds like you.

A voice isn’t something discovered in a classroom, though you can go looking there for clues.

A voice isn’t something to be inherited, though you may discover that others before you have written in their own voices.

A voice isn’t something to be grown exactly, though it can be fertilized and watered by useful application and tender care.

But a voice can go missing.

It is a bit concerning, after all the work it took to discover it, that it can up and leave. Scamper away without a trace. And there you are, searching for something you cannot see, listening for something you cannot hear, calling to something without a name. How do I find you? I miss you. I need you. I am not whole without you.

And so you sit and try not to cry. But it’s so lonely. How odd, when a few short years ago, we hadn’t even met. Now, without you, I’m not whole.

What can I do? Well, write, of course. It goes badly, at first. There are gaping holes with expressions that don’t sound like me. Perhaps they resemble an earlier, stern, factual me. They are gruff and un-inspiring, coarse and ineffective. They read like I’m trying too hard. But trying hard is all I know.

And then I cough a bit and clear my throat, and for just a moment I sound like myself. My voice! It’s still there! Perhaps I have just had a case of writer’s laryngitis – inflamed vocal cords of the writerly sort. It will take some time for those to mend. Will my voice be the same when it comes back?

All I know for sure is that I will recognize it when it comes within shouting distance. Now I see that it must be free to come and go as it pleases. How glad I am to welcome it home – for as long as it will stay.

You remind me of your father


We said our final goodbyes to Dad this weekend. What a collection we were, gathered there to pay our respects.

  • The golf group – who remembered the yips he got on short putts like I did
  • The bridge partners – who remembered the joy the game gave him
  • The business partners and employees – who remember the mind and the method of a man on a mission
  • The Starbucks cohort – who remember the tall, black coffee and ready conversation
  • The family – who realize how much of this man they didn’t know

2010-11-01_16-13-00_99A bit of an enigma, this guy. But put us all together in one room and have us share stories, and lo and behold we’re all talking about the same guy! yips, joy, mind, method, coffee, conversation…the common denominator: working together to make it work better.

Funny, as I made the rounds people would greet me with…”I knew your Dad from…” They all fit in a category. I joked with Adam, a young man whom Dad had employed and mentored over the last 5 years, that we all needed colored t-shirts corresponding to the John-team we were on. “That’s exactly what your Dad would have said,” he told me.

We all laughed.

I loved chatting with an athletic looking, sport shirt-clad man named Mark, who also happened to be in a wheelchair. Mark was a golfer. He had an assist device that allowed him to stand from his chair so he could swing the club. But Dad felt, in looking at him swing, that if he had something on his chair that widened his base of support, he could really improve his game. That, according to Mark, led to connecting him with the head golf pro at the Atlanta Athletic Club to see how this could be created. Mark told me he had just discovered such a device in use by another disabled golfer who could now hit the ball 300 yards. Mark lamented that he had shared the video of this, but Dad didn’t have time to see it. “He would have loved it,” Mark told me. Made me smile; yes he would have.

“You have your Dad’s smile,” Mark said. “That twinkle.”2011-07-15_14-22-16_765

Yep. That spark of an idea. There’s something more we need to do with this. There’s an idea here ready to be uncovered, ready to be acted upon, raring to go. That was Dad. Not trying to make a fortune. Not trying to get attention. Just trying to solve your problem, and yours, and yours. He lived simply and was completely satisfied, but he didn’t settle for that.

This was not discontent for him; it was purpose. He did not want what you had, he wanted what you wanted and immediately activated on helping you realize that desire. But only if you were in honest pursuit, which meant you were willing to work hard and apply all your resources to the project. That was his directive in every day.

Some people who came to the Service did not know my father except through his wife Melanie, whom he adored. They came on this day because of her. Even these introduced themselves to me and offered honestly, “We didn’t know your father, but now after hearing you and seeing you, now we do.”

What treasured words those are. ‘We didn’t know the father, but now we have seen him and we know him.’

That would be enough. If I could live out my days in such a way that people remarked, “You remind me of your father,” I would be content. Joy, mind, method, coffee, conversation, connection, solution…everything but the yips on my short putts, please. But yes, I even had those. Guess I’m more like my father than I thought.

What a privilege. What a responsibility.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” ~ John 14: 15-20


What is it about night time?


Ian, a dear young man fights for his life in the ICU all day long. Things look promising. His “numbers” improve. Everyone is hopeful. And then the night comes…and all bets are off. Tomorrow, they do this all over again.

What is it about the night fall? When darkness settles over the land. Things quiet and still.

Oh, in the ICU, nothing stops. Nurses rush in and out. Buzzers beep and indicators signal. Lights are on, though they may be dimmed, because in a split second things must spring to life. Rescuers are poised to respond.

No, there is no rest in the ICU. But somehow night is still there. A young man, fighting a courageous battle, barely knows who comes and goes, but his body knows it. He knows the night and his family prays against its coming.

Why did God make the night?

We’re told in Genesis,

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

But why? Why make the sun to shine on a rotating earth? Why couldn’t we be flat and always illuminated like a grow lamp on a garden? Everything sunny and delightful. Everyone happy and content.

Why is there darkness? Sorrow? Pain? Suffering? Why do we have dark nights of the soul? Depression in our depths? Why do Ian’s numbers plummet at night?

I don’t know. But somehow God has made the night necessary.

In human terms, even plant terms, we need the night time. To grow. To change. To re-orient. To shift. Not even just to rest. Rather, we need the night for night’s sake. Yes, night leaves us vulnerable, robs us of our accustomed visual senses. We grow restless. Fear may come. But we are not “turned off.” Just like the ICU, there is just a different level of processing, a shift in responding, a gearing down but not off. But God created the night and the day; God called the darkness night. Somehow I find that comforting.

For Ian and his family. For all others who walk through the night with a sick child or friend or family member. Even those who walk through times of darkness in relationships, including their relationship with God. I think God is powerfully at work at night. Healing. Holding. Repairing. This may be the hardest work “we” ever have to do. It takes every resource available. Exhausts all our resources. Perhaps that’s why the night comes and why it sets us back.

God promises the new will come in the morning.

This morning I smiled and celebrated a hint of light in the morning skies as my daughter dashed to the high school bus. (That was my only reason for smiling as I had just dragged her out of bed 10 minutes before and did not bring a sunny disposition to the scene.) But, the morning light teased me. It caught me by surprise.

“Look here,” it said. “It’s no longer night time, but day is dawning.”

Ah, the light comes. The springtime beckons. Hallelujah! Everything looks new and promising in the light of the morn. New possibilities. Sparkling and refreshed. God has been working this miracle for me, for us, all winter long.

So to Ian and his family, especially, I pray a beautiful morning sunrise and many, many more. May God work mightily in His healing and the night become the day.

Ian Peterson

Stillness is a Stretch for Some of us


Here we go, readying for another Christmas season. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It can be exhausting. But it’s worth it. I just plan to keep the whole thing in proportion this year. Maybe look at it as an endurance event and try to keep my pace even the whole way.

The challenge for me is the temptation to get caught up the current. I start out well and then somehow I find myself in the fast lane. Reminds me of the time I showed up so late for the start of my 5K race that I took off with the lead pack. They were actually racing the thing. I literally had to run for my life. This only lasted about 100 meters because I was overcome by the sharp jab of a side stitch and tripped up by the shoelace I hadn’t had time to secure.

I guess taking just a little time to prepare and then finding your proper place in the pace is really quite a healthy thing. It doesn’t take long. Just requires you show up with a few minutes to spare.

So, in my few minutes to spare during this season, I’m going to put myself in my proper posture with this stretch and its prayer.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfLkd9bWpm4?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

I think it may make the season brighter. I know it will make me more flexible. And that may be the key to sustaining myself in the race all the way to the finish line which, of course, is Christmas Day.

Out of Order means It Doesn’t Work


My husband said to me, “Here. I’m bringing you a gift.” And in his hand he held a dozen or so empty hangers he had pulled from his shirt rack.

“Thanks. You can just put them in the laundry bin,” I told him, “I’ll take it down when I go downstairs.”

He looked at me in utter disbelief. “But then they will get all messed up!” (This man is 50 plus years old and he is serious.) I just stared, incredulous.

“They’ll be out of order,” he said.

I look to see him holding them neatly by their handles so that all the hooks are aligned. And, knowing his sense of order, I suddenly realize his cause for concern. If he tosses them in the bin, this will all fall apart. Someone (that would be me) will have to re-order them. But this is not really his concern. What he holds in his hands, ordered as it is, works. Out of order is out of the question.

I’m pondering this as I fold the rest of the shirts and I see, in my mind’s eye, the ‘Out of Order’ sign on the vending machine. To me that always meant: this machine doesn’t work, someone needs to come fix it. But now I am realizing that the ‘out of order’ sign means something much more simple. It means that the order of operation has been disrupted. Something has come out of line, causing this to malfunction.

Wow. What a description of sin: a misaligning of the intended order. God created us all lined up. A multi-color arrangement, many shapes and sizes, all with our handles oriented in the direction that hangs on the pole. When we were tossed down into the dirty clothes bin, of course, we got all messed up.

To someone like my husband, who incidentally will tell you he believes in God but won’t claim to know Christ, this is unthinkable, instinctively. No one in his right mind would take something perfectly ordered and disrupt it. It won’t work right. It will need a repair man, a service woman…oh, someone to come fix it.

Because of people like me, Christ came and, ever so carefully, turned all the hangers the right way.

When do we get around to doing what can be done anytime?


“When can you call on God?” we asked the young people in our confirmation class.

There was silence, and then a hesitant, “Anytime. He’s always there.”

“Yes!” my co-teacher said enthusiastically, “He’s an anytime, anywhere God.”

Other people might celebrate where this class discussion ended. And so might I, if this were a class of young children, but with a group of 8th graders, this response left me concerned. Yes, it was the “right” answer, the one she’d been taught in Sunday school, even the one that scripture offers, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” What had me worried was …when do we get around to doing what can be done anytime?

I know I respond best to deadlines and urgency. I belly up to the project that looms largest, the problem that screams loudest, or the news just in. The things that sit quietly – the ones that can be done anytime – tend to scroll down in my inbox. They can wait until I have more time or more energy. Often, they just get forgotten.

I wonder if this will be so for these young people and the God that is available to them 24-7. In their world where everything comes at them fast and demands an immediate answer, I worry that the God who is “there whenever we need Him” may be relegated to the “get to later” category. Then, when they are faced with a crisis, a real need, a tragedy – the stuff that intercedes in all our lives – will they recognize the God who is there with them?

God hasn’t set a deadline for us. He seems to tell us, come to Me in your own time. But I would so like these young people to invite Him in ahead of time, before they “need” Him. Into the deadlines and the urgency and the breaking news. Self-sufficiency is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be a lonely thing. God powered self-sufficiency…now that sounds like a dynamic conversation.

How do we move God from anytime to first thing?

Thanksgiving, a non-denominational holiday!


Frankly, I have been surprised and pleased by the good humor of people this week. I have been to the grocery store several times, the bank, the coffee shop, run errands, and all of it’s been peaceful, fun, even collegial. People are chatting while waiting in lines. Waiting patiently, even while you bag up your 17 items in the 15 or less aisle. Everybody is in such a good mood. I think it must be Thanksgiving.

And why am I so surprised? I hate to admit it, but I think it’s because, on the inside, I am fast-forwarding to the days before Christmas. No, not thinking about Christmas lists, just making the parallel: the shopping, the crowds, the cool weather, the traffic, the lines. In the midst, I am leaping ahead. When I come back to the present, I am surprised.

There everyone is, wishing a Happy Thanksgiving. Everyone. You can wish it to a whole line at Starbucks and they’ll all smile and wish it back. You can smile and wish it at a total stranger walking around the block and he’ll wish it back. You can wish it to the people of every race and color who are tellers at the bank and they’ll wish it back.

Happy Thanksgiving is safe to say…to everyone. Because it’s non-denominational. You don’t have to worry if you’re offending. Everyone can give thanks, in one way or another, for something or other. And wishing happiness, well, it’s a given, when are grateful.

I just wish, somehow, we could make the Christmas season as peaceful. I suspect thanksgiving is a good place to start.

Giving the leftovers to God


I’ve always had a bit of trouble with this story told in both Matthew and Mark’s gospels of a Canaanite woman who pleads with Jesus for help to save her demon-possessed daughter and ends up begging for even the crumbs from His table. (Matthew 15:22-28)

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Today I am thinking about how many times this is exactly what I offer my Lord. The crumbs from my table. The leftovers when I’m done with my meal, done with my work, done with my day.

This morning I woke early. I had heard there was a meteor shower that could be viewed before sunrise and the skies would be clear. I stepped out into the cold and the dark of the morning and looked upon the most lovely of twinkling lights. Constellations in every direction. Darkness interrupted by pinpoints of glistening magnificence. Not a meteor to be found, but I stood in awe, surveying the broad expanse of the masterpiece displayed on the canvas of the pre-dawn sky. Every light perfect. Clarity that defies any human light, any human sound, any human thought.

And the words of songs and hymns, of prayers and psalms sprung from …from where? I’m not sure. They were an impromptu offering. I was praising a God who provided this wonder every morning, first thing. Before He attended to anything else. God’s first fruits, just for me, just now.

And here am I, offering Him the crumbs.

God said, “Repeat after me…”


God said it. The He said, “Now, repeat after me.”

God showed it. Then He said, “Now you try.”

I bent my head 
and furrowed my brow.
Sweat beaded on my forehead
and tears splattered onto my page.

God said, “My love. Don’t try so hard.”

And I breathed in the breath just breathed out by God.
I did.
I erased.
I did again.
I laughed.
And I looked. 
There was God smiling at me.

And God said, “There now. That’s just as I showed you.”

And it was good.

The Feel of it


I walk into the coffee shop with a pristine 3 hours before me. Computer in hand, notes aboard, I waltz in and discover…no seats. Nada. And this is a big place! I set my things down, order my coffee and low and behold, someone gets up and offers me her seat. She is leaving. It is nice comfy chair. Kind of private and out of the way. There is even an electrical outlet to fire me up. Perfect. I’ll take it.

Two hours later I have trudged through a couple paragraphs. Cut and pasted some sections. Pulled out my notes to see what I had planned. Discontent, almost anxiety is building in me. Here I was gonna be so diligent this afternoon and look, nearly nada.

Now there are several empty tables and I wonder…Okay. I pick up all my stuff and haul it over to the crumb-covered deuce. Not the one with the playing board on it but the other one.  No outlet here but not a problem. Now I only have about 30 minutes before I really should be heading out to my next activity. I sit, plunk the computer before me, pull up the screen to a nearly new chapter, (It has a working title only) and my hands fly across the keyboard. Ideas are flooding in. Thirty minutes are an instant. I check my watch and consider whether to bypass my next appointment to continue writing.

I, ever the diligent and obedient one, pack up my stuff and move on, making it with about 30 seconds to spare. While I wait, I wonder. What just happened? Did my brain really just respond to the position my body was in? Off, when I was “comfy” and on when I was stiff?

Well, this has possibilities! I always thought my brain controlled my body. But I am wondering if there isn’t some reverse psychology going on. What if my body facilitates my brain? What if putting myself  in writing posture opens the door to creative writing?

I know it may just be a conditioned thing. I am used to sitting and writing like that. But later my daughter tells me she can write anywhere. And I have seen this in action – the couch, the bed, the floor. She can probably hang upside down and write.  But, apparently, not me.

I am created kinesthetic. Not only do I do things by feel, but apparently I think things by feel. Or at least tune into creative thinking when I am feeling just right, physically. So perhaps it’s not about waiting for inspiration to descend on me; it may be I just need to sit and put hands on the keyboard. Just so.  And let the rest take care of itself.

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