Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Holding your published memoir in your hands

Picture this: You’re holding your published memoir in your hands for the first time. Just imagine!

What emotions will race through your being?

What will the cover look like?

How will the pages smell?

Imagine opening the cover of your memoir.

Turning the pages.

Reading the words—your words.

How fantastic will that be?!

If you persevere
if you never give up, 
if you stick with it, 
your dream can come true:

You can publish your memoir.

And when you do, be sure to tell all of us here at SM 101.

That me, holding Grandma's Letters from Africa.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bullies and their victims

When you were a kid, did someone bully you? Or did you see someone bullying another child?

Or were you the bully?

Bullying is more than a childhood problem. Adults bully adults, too. Have you been victimized by an adult bully? Have you witnessed someone bullying another adult?

Or are you the adult bully?

Bullying is a form of abuse!

I applaud those who, in recent years, have set up school campaigns against bullying. It was long overdue. God bless every person who has stepped forward to prevent bullying!—and those who try to bring healing to innocent victims of bullying!

What stories can you write
to teach your kids, grandkids, great-grands,
and other readers about bullying?

Writing about bullying can be difficult.

It took me more than half a century
to write a story, below,
about bullying I witnessed in sixth grade.

Don’t let the pain involved
keep you from writing your stories!

Shine light on the darkness of bullying.
Just think of the dear innocent ones
who could benefit from your story.

At the bottom of this post,
you’ll find links
to help you write about bullying.
If you were the victim of bullying,
don’t miss

So, here’s my story. Let me know if you spot typos or have suggestions to make it better. Thanks!

I thought highly of Mrs. C, my sixth grade teacher. I admired everything about Mrs. C, even her fingernails—so much so that I filed my nails into sharp points just like hers. She ran a tight classroom but I always followed her rules and the two of us got along fine.

     I still remember the day Mrs. C patched together my dignity at a time my parents were struggling financially. My shoe’s sole had torn apart from the leather upper and it flapped every time I took a step. Sensing my humiliation, Mrs. C whispered, “Let me slip this rubber band around your shoe to hold it together.”
     Until age eleven, I viewed teachers, especially Mrs. C, as saintly, set-apart beings, more honorable than average people. I knew the rest of us would do well to revere and model our lives after them.
     But in the latter half of sixth grade, when Tom Durr joined our class, he showed me what a saintly, set-apart being looks like, for he was more honorable than the average person, and the rest of us would do well to revere and model our lives after Tom rather than our teacher.
     Tall and slender, Tom had moved from Texas, or so I remember, and unlike the rest of us suburban Seattleites, he wore dark blue jeans and a jean jacket every day, pressed and perfectly clean.
     When Tom joined our class, I witnessed a different side of Mrs. C.
     At first I misunderstood what was happening. I thought Mrs. C was treating Tom the same way she treated all students who misbehaved. For example, if, Mrs. C was teaching a lesson about the Gettysburg Address and noticed Mike pulling Diane’s braid, Mrs. C would stiffen and shout a question Mike probably couldn’t answer, like, “Mike! What year did Abraham Lincoln give The Gettysburg Address?” More likely than not, Mike didn’t know the answer because he had been preoccupied with his naughtiness and had missed what Mrs. C had just told the class. The threat of public humiliation resulted in Mrs. C’s hoped-for outcome: Rarely did anyone misbehave.
     The first few times our teacher narrowed her eyes and spit out such a question at Tom, I assumed she had spied him misbehaving. As the days passed, however, I noticed that unlike the other students, Tom knew the answers to her questions.
     “Tom! What is 12 times 12?”

     “The answer is 144, Ma’am.”

     When that happened, Mrs. C acted surprised, and then angry, and then she sneered, swiveled in a huff, and changed the subject.

     I started paying closer attention to Mrs. C’s outbursts and I discovered, consistently, that Tom had not been misbehaving. Nevertheless, with regularity our teacher spewed out tough questions trying to stump Tom.

     She never did.

     But why did she treat Tom that way? Why did she target him in a way she did not target other students?

     My young heart puzzled over the hatred she displayed in public.

     Did she hate him because he didn’t wear the same kinds of clothes we did?

     Did she despise him because he came from Texas? And if so, what was so bad about Texas?

     Day after day I fretted, but then I figured it out. Tom had a birth defect: a cleft lip. Back then people called it a harelip because it resembled the cleft, or split, in a hare’s lip—a rabbit’s lip.

     I started to see, through my young girl’s eyes, that Mrs. C loathed Tom because his face looked different from her other students’ faces.

     She humiliated him in public because his face looked different from her other students’ faces.

     She inflicted emotional pain upon him because his face looked different from her other students’ faces.

     And here is what gets to me—really gets to me—still, half a century later: Tom responded to Mrs. C’s taunts with politeness and evenness, and he always addressed her as “Ma’am.”

     I tried to put myself in Tom’s place, treated so cruelly because of his birth defect. Surely he was a tortured soul.

     And he was only a sixth grader.

     I wondered how I would act toward Mrs. C if she treated me that way. Would I strike back? Would I cry in humiliation and frustration? Yes, I know I would have.

     Then it occurred to me that Tom must have hated going to school every morning. I began to recognize that Tom, all day, five days a week, faced public abuse that would defeat the average person, yet he just kept doing what was right.

     How did Tom do it? How did he keep coming to school day after day? How did he always reply politely to Mrs. C?

     With that, I began to marvel at Tom’s composure, his strength of character. Without an ounce of arrogance, he held his head high.

     And then one morning, a few weeks after Tom joined our class, he didn’t come to school.

     Someone asked Mrs. C where he was. Through tight lips she hissed, “He moved away,” and changed the subject.

     I never saw Tom Durr again or heard anything about him, but I have always remembered him and the lessons he taught me during those few weeks. The questions I had back then have only multiplied over the decades.

     Had our teacher’s cruelty given my classmates the idea that they, too, should treat Tom with scorn? Had Mrs. C’s humiliation carried over to the playground? In those days, we girls played only with girls so now, years later, I wonder: Did the boys exclude him? Humiliate him?

     And what did Mrs. C hope her public scorn of Tom would make him do? I understand how humiliation in a classroom setting could motivate students to change behavior, but Tom could not change his face. He could not remove his harelip. So what did she expect Tom to do? What did she hope to accomplish by heaping contempt upon him? All these years later, I remain appalled at her hateful, barbaric behavior.

     Did Tom beg his parents to let him stay home? If I had been in Tom’s place, I would have fallen apart in sobbing and tears, and I would have begged my mother not to make me go to school. I’m certain he didn’t want to go to school each morning, knowing he’d face another day of disdain.

     But where did he get the courage to do go anyway?

     Where did Tom’s will power come from?

     Did anything or anyone give Tom hope?

     Did Tom have parents that encouraged him? Did his family value him for who he was and not what he looked like? Were his parents good listeners? Did he feel safe talking with him at night about the harsh treatment he received? Did his parents help him gain perspective and courage for the next day? Did they tell him to hang on, moment by moment, because his persistence would pay off?

     Did his parents pray with him before he left for school and pray for him throughout the day?

     Were Tom’s parents the reason he could say “Yes, Ma’am” and never reply with anger or impatience? Did they encourage him to stand tall?

     Oh, I hope the answers are Yes! I hope so much that he had loving, supportive parents! I can’t bear to think that Tom faced the cruelty of Mrs. C, and perhaps that of his fellow students, without strong, loving, involved parents!

     But maybe Tom’s parents didn’t sense Tom’s pain, or maybe they didn’t care. Or maybe he lived with grandparents, or with foster parents.

     Perhaps Tom didn’t have involved, protective, proactive adults in his life.

     If that was the case, then, all on his own, Tom possessed a rare, humble nobility of spirit that enabled him to value himself for who he was and reject the vile contempt heaped upon him. That must have been the hardest thing he’d ever done—many a time he must have wanted to give up—but somehow he mustered the conviction to cast aside Mrs. C’s voice and every other voice that tried to demonize him.

     From somewhere deep inside, that eleven-year-old boy chose to reply with dignity, remain composed, and speak with patience. Tom must have defied his own fragility and, instead, hoped for a better future. But how did he protect his heart?

     Did he know Eleanor Roosevelt’s words? “Nobody can make you feel inferior” she said, “without your permission.” Did Tom understand and embrace that message? Or, all on his own, did he just sense it within himself?

     Did he know he was made in God’s image and thoroughly loveable? And of great value?

     For more than half a century, I’ve wondered if Tom recognized his goodness. And his strengths. Did he know he was a significant role model for our classmates—if only we’d watch and ponder?

     For 54 years, I’ve wondered how life treated him: Did someone ever befriend Tom? Did anyone accept him into their circles?

     Did Tom’s suffering make him into a better man? Did his hardship inspire him to reach out to other lonely, excluded people?

     Or did Tom finally give up? Did hateful people wear him down and break him? Did he give up trying to fit in? Did he give in to self-loathing? I don’t suppose any of us could blame Tom if he grew weary of the battle and became bitter and angry. But, oh! I hope he didn’t! I hope he didn’t!

     I wish I could tell Tom that his actions and attitudes were not futile, they were not wasted. I wish I could tell him I’d been watching. I learned from him. He showed me how to overcome, minute by minute.

     The book of James in the New Testament points to people like Tom: Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.… The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13, 17-18)

     Tom was born with a physical birth defect, but he was in no way inferior. Indeed, he was more honorable than the average person, and the rest of us would do well to revere and model our lives after him.

     He was a humble young man of distinction, and I am a better person for having known him.

     I wish I could find Tom Durr and tell him he has always been one of my heroes.

Copyright © 2017 by Linda K. Thomas

Additional links:


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Your stories serve an important purpose

Your story is important. God can use it to help shape the lives of your children, grandchildren, great-grands, and anyone else who reads your story, including the “spiritual” children God has given you. Not all of us have children, but we all have “spiritual” children who look up to us and model their lives after ours—more than we realize.

You know from personal experience
how powerful other people’s stories can be.
Many of them inspired you,
opened new worlds,
sent you in different and better directions,
and made you who you are today.

Believe this:
Your story can impact readers
in the same way.

Pray for God’s help in writing it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Do you think of yourself as an ordained writer?

You’re writing a memoir. Is it a hobby? A pastime? Something you do in your leisure time?

If so, I encourage you to view your writing as a ministry. A sacred project. A high and holy calling.

Eugene Peterson suggests that the church should ordain writers in the way they ordain pastors. 

“There are never enough storytellers,” he says. “There are a lot of people who want to write stories but they don’t want to go through the discipline, the agony, the immersion in life it requires…. I think writing is one of the sacred callings. I wish, in fact, that the church would ordain writers the way they ordain pastors….”

 Is that a new thought to you?

If so, make time to answer this question:

How different would your writing be
if you saw yourself as ordained to tell your story?

Can you—will you—consider yourself
ordained to tell your story?
Will you believe you have a sacred, holy calling
to write your story?
I hope so.

We writers, like pastors, need God’s help to carry out our jobs.

We need His help to improve our skills—through classes, workshops, conferences, critique groups, and books and blogs by pros.

We need His help to be disciplined, committed, persevering writers.

We need His help to finish our manuscripts and publish them.

And to do all that, we need His encouragement, so here are verses to cheer you on:

  • Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. (Galatians 6:4, The Message)
  • See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord. (Colossians 4:17)
  • I want to suggest that you finish what you started to do…. Let your enthusiastic idea at the start be equaled by your realistic action now. (2 Corinthians 8:10-11, The Living Bible)

I pray you'll hear God’s voice while he helps you "remember the wonders he has done" (1 Chronicles 16:12), those important things he wants you to tell others. I also pray you’ll find the time necessary to write.

Remember, what you write on any given day does not need to be perfect. Just get it in writing, and edit and polish it later. When your story is the best you can make it, be sure to give it away!

“We become obsessed with our words. We become caught up in the euphoric high of stringing 90,000 words together into a manuscript. And we forget the Orator of these words. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, these are not your words. This is not just your passion…. Do you take time to hit your knees before you write? Because this isn’t about you and what you can do. It’s about what God can do through you as His vessel. Do you dedicate your writing time—no matter how small or large that might be—to your Creator? Without Him, there would be no you. No you to write these words and stories only you can write….” (emphasis mine)

Pray! And write!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Don’t miss this opportunity to become a better writer!

Amber Lea Starfire, at Writing Through Life, has begun her new Reading for Writers series, focused on memoir, beginning with Beryl Markham’s West with the Night.

Amber’s goal is to help us read like writers
in order to make us better writers.

Participants discuss tone, voice, pace, structure, the writer’s style, and word choices.

I encourage you to read the book and participate. Markham’s writing style is one of my favorites—I often read her passages several times to take in the beauty and art of her words.

She’s a master wordsmith.

Ernest Hemingway said of West with the Night, “Written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer…. [Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers….”

From the back cover: Markham’s “storytelling easily earns her a place on the shelf with contemporaries (and friends) such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Isak Dinesen. West with the Night is one of the world’s great adventure stories, a true classic of twentieth-century literature.”

Even if you don’t read the book, I hope you’ll read Amber’s weekly blog posts and take part in the discussions that follow. Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy a masterpiece as well as to grow as a writer.

Click on Amber’s post for this week,

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Pinpoint the “So what?” in your memoir

In writing your memoir, pinpoint the “So what?” of key events—the crises, victories, surprises, and discoveries.

Ponder this: Your memoir is about happenings that impacted you: you lost your job—or after overcoming obstacles, you landed the job of your dreams; your house burned down; you made the college varsity team; your child died; you survived cancer.

After you’ve written a rough draft of a vignette, ask yourself: 
  • Why was that event so important to me?
  • Why does this memory stand out when I’ve forgotten so many others?
  • How did the event change me?

In other words, So what?

Memoir involves: 
  • pondering,
  • exploring,
  • unraveling,
  • reflecting,
  • examining,
  • untangling,
  • mulling over,
  • analyzing,
  • musing,
  • sorting out.

Peel off layers one by one until you can answer these questions:

How do you see the experience now, in retrospect?

What was going on beneath the surface?

If the event had not happened, how would your values, goals, perspectives, and relationships be different?

And, if your memoir has a spiritual dimension, how was God:
  • orchestrating,
  • managing,
  • directing,
  • holding the reins,
  • choreographing,
  • and arranging the details,
  • to carry out His best plans for your life?

Connect the dots: To what new place did God lead you? How did He shake you up, change your mind, melt your heart, revise your goals, and make a new person of you?

“Many memoir writers in workshops I’ve taught,” writes Victoria Costello, “encounter trouble with the reflective voice.… If this is a stumbling block for you, here are some phrases that can help ease you into a reflective voice: 

Here are additional reflective phrases you can use:
  • I couldn't have put it into words back then, but now...
  • It would be years before I understood that...
  • I didn't understand it at the time, but...
  • When I remember those events, I...
  • If only I'd known back then that...
  • Ten years later I would ask myself...

Search your heart
for the deeper lessons
within your stories.
Only then can you pass on
those treasures
to your readers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: If you lack confidence, courage, and discipline to write

“Many beginning writers believe
the writing process requires great confidence
and unfaltering courage.

I’ve learned the writer’s journey requires
the ability to admit we’re not brave
or altogether perfect.

As Christian writers, we fare well
if we possess the wisdom to ask God
for the strength and discipline needed
to buckle down
and type the words He gives us.”

Thursday, February 2, 2017

What do you need to remember?

Upside down.

Inside out.

I had turned my heart and my dreams upside down and inside out in order to say “yes” to God and move to Africa, far from my kids—and from future grandchildren I was sure would join our family soon.

Originally I had strongly resisted the move but over time, God helped me believe His dreams for me were better than my dreams, so my husband Dave and I set out for Africa—I was willing to go even though my heart felt shredded.

After only four months on African soil, I’d fallen in love with the place and her people, and Dave and I eagerly embraced our new ministries.

And then it happened.

We received word our first grandchild was on the way. The news ripped open my recently-healed wound and broke my heart: I didn’t want to miss out on knowing and enjoying my grandchild!

Suddenly I doubted, I questioned: Why, God, did You have to send me so far from home?

But then I remembered.

With a leaden, hammering heart, I took a deep breath and remembered:

I had given God many months to clarify whether He wanted us to move to Africa, and He said “yes.”  Only “yes.”

And I remembered:

On our way to Africa, we had spent a few days in England in an old World War II barracks. A poster in our dorm room displayed Psalm 126:5-6, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping…will return with songs of joy.”

I pondered those words at length because I didn’t know what they meant for me specifically, but I did understand about tears—I had shed so on my way to Africa because I couldn’t see our kids, and now our new grandbaby, for four long years.

But what about tears turning to joy? Could I believe it? Would I believe it? Would I believe that God could turn my tears into joy?

I thought about it for a couple of days and then, there in our dark little barracks room in England, I stood before that poster and told God I’d give Him time to show me songs of joy in Africa. (from Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 3)

Four months later in Nairobi, with news of my first grandbaby, I did what Priscilla Shirer said: I raised my hands in surrender to my God, trusting Him for His best outcome for my life and that of my kids and grandkids.

I lifted my heart to God and recommitted myself to living where He placed me and to the role He had for me in Africa as well as in His larger agenda.

I told God, yet again, that I’d give Him time to turn my tears to joy.

Some of you have had heartachesall because you said “yes” to God and His purposes. Initially you had set out with conviction and enthusiasm, but then something happened and turned your world upside down, and maybe you questioned God and doubted your decision to go where He pointed you.

What do you need to remember today?

Think back on your conversations with God—and write about them.

Remember how He confirmed His direction for your life—and write about it.

Remember what you committed to Him, and remember the Bible verses that inspired you to make that commitment—and write about all that.

Remember your joy in setting out—and write about it.

Remember all the ways God walked hand in hand with you when you stumbled through rough spots, through dread-filled times, through your anguish—and write about it.

Remember raising your hands in surrender to God, trusting Him for His best outcome for your life—and write about it.

And remember the ways He brought you to a new and good place—and write about all of that.

And take joy in your writing!