The Season for Gratitude

Give ThanksDuring this holiday season, cultivating an attitude of gratitude is at the top of my to-do list. Family is top of the top, hands down. After family, my top 10 for 2016 is:

10.)  Election season being over! Nationally as well as locally. My day job is in a political office, which makes election season ultra stressful.

9.)   Chemotherapy and radiation. If you just said, “say what?!?” I totally get it. But as evil as these treatments can be, it’s what we have to kill the killer–cancer. It’s what made the cancer-free diagnosis for my dad possible. And it’s the hope for a dear friend who’s battling cancer.

8.)   The opportunity to attend an amazing Writer’s Conference, Colorado Gold, in September. It helped me grow as a writer in skill, confidence, and productivity; and the opportunity to participate in a 5-week online writing workshop hosted by the University of Iowa.

7.)   Spending priceless time with my kids and grandkids, and preparing to welcome another granddaughter to the mix!

6.)   My husband, a man of honor, integrity, and faith, retiring after 40 years serving in law enforcement, the last 21 years as Chief of Police. I couldn’t be more proud.

clint-i-2

5.)   Publishing two books this year, Shear Deception and Finding Abby, and hosting a successful book event that included several local authors.

4.)   The finances and job that allowed me several trips back to Minnesota to help my parents as my dad battled cancer.

3.)   Just three weeks away from 5 years of sobriety which led to the rebirth of my writing career.

2.)   Friends, old and new, who have each left a handprint on my heart.

1.)   God bestowing millions of blessings on my life throughout the year. All that and the year isn’t even over yet! 🙂

mother-teresa-2

 

Nature’s Voice

On a morning run recently I was running behind a squirrel who had a large plastic wrapper in its mouth. The wrapper blocked his view, so he was running in a zig zag fashion trying to get away, failing at his endeavor. As I got closer, he ditched the wrapper (literally) and bee-lined in a straight line climbing a pole to safety.

On my cool down walk, I got to thinking about the squirrel. He reminded me of how we oftentimes get so caught up in what we’re doing and where we’re trying to go that we can’t see where it is we actually need to go. We take off running helter skelter on a course we’ve designed for ourselves rather than ask Him to guide us. We pick up garbage along the way and it blocks us from seeing and following the One who can get us where we need to go safely. We let the garbage in life prevent us from tasting life’s goodness. Take the following, for instance:

  • We allow the judgements of others to dictate who we are.
  • We compare ourselves to others, blinding ourselves to our unique goodness.
  • We believe we don’t deserve goodness because of what we’ve done in the past. (ie: I’m an alcoholic/addict/thief/liar–or whatever your vice may have been–and have hurt people in the past. I don’t deserve forgiveness.)

When the truth is:

  • We are each and every one unique and equal.
  • Despite the fact we may make poor choices, it doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us human. Humans are fallible.
  • Whether a stay-at-home mom or a high paid executive, you are exactly where you need to be at that very moment in time. Bloom where you’re planted, learn as you grow. And just my humble opinion, stay-at-home mom’s are priceless. 🙂

At the end of my cool-down walk, nature spoke to me yet again. I passed a pavilion in the park, under from which came swallows diving at me from every angle trying to divert me from my path. Satan’s fiery darts attempt to do the same thing. The question is, are we going to let them? Or are we going to stand firm in our beliefs and values?  Are we going to succumb to those who attempt to thwart our successes and goodness, or are we going to rise above it and prevail?

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” ~George Washington Carver

2015-09-18 18.49.51

 

 

 

 

 

Love One Another as I Have Loved You

Love one another as I have loved you.  -John 13:34

Estes, 8.1.14 024

For those of you who have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know my husband and I like to go bike riding. We have a stunningly beautiful trail that follows the river and goes into Denver, about 30 miles round trip. It’s also a trail that attracts many homeless men and women that set up camp along the river and under the overpasses.

Also, for those of you who have been reading my blog for the past couple of months, you know my sisters and I, as well as others we recruited, had a 30-day prayer challenge where we tuned into those around us and prayed for a stranger each day. That trail gives endless opportunities to pray for strangers in need.

And here’s where the two tie together.

About a month ago on one of our bike rides, I saw a person way up ahead crawling on the concrete trail. I watched as several bikes passed by this person, swerving around him, barely taking notice. As I approached him I heard him groaning, struggling to continue on. My husband was a ways behind me and I stopped by this young man, who was clearly homeless, and asked if he was okay. During this time, more bikes passed by, and those that looked, quickly glanced away. I asked him if he was okay, he said he was fine. We exchanged a few more words, he insisting he was fine. I got on my bike and continued, slowly, until my husband caught up to me. But when he did, I stopped. Something was keeping me from continuing. I couldn’t leave this man, hurt, in the middle of nowhere. I told my husband I had to go back and see what I could do.

Now, given the professions in which we work (my husband is a police officer and I work at a District Attorney’s Office), it’s all too easy to become skeptical and jaded about humanity. My husband didn’t think it was a good idea, thinking he might have been high on drugs or alcohol. But I insisted it didn’t matter if he was high or drunk, he was hurt. I could feel it in my gut. My husband agreed to turn around with me and go back.

As it turned out, he was hurt. He’d fallen the night before, thought his foot was likely broken, and was trying to make it into Denver. I asked him if I could call someone for him, he said he didn’t have anyone. I asked if I could call 911, he said he didn’t have any money, to just go ahead and he’d be fine.

I’d decided as soon as we reached Denver I would find someone who would know how to help this man. And the next mile was spent doing mental gymnastices trying to figure out how I could help him.

And then it happened. I heard in my head, the unmistakeable message, “You can’t help him, Rhonda, but I can. Ask Me.”

It was a clear message that gave me goosebumps on every square inch of my arms. God had placed this man in my path and I’d been so caught up in what I could do, that I nearly missed what I could do. This man was my stranger for the day, the one I was to pray for, and I nearly missed that golden opportunity.

When we reached Denver, I told my husband what had happened, and how it changed my heart. Once again, it struck me that praying for others blesses the person praying as much, if not more than, the one being prayed for.

On the way  back we saw him again. He smiled at us and we stopped. My husband pulled out his wallet and tried to offer him some help. The man said he couldn’t take the money, that he would be fine. That statement changed my husband’s heart. A homeless person refusing money??? Finally my husband said, “Please take it. It’s for me, not for you.” The man’s eyes pierced my husband’s heart, he took the offering and said, “Thank you for your blessing.”

Say what?!?

I believe God put that man in our path that day to change both my husband and me. My heart broke to see so many people pass by as if the man, crawling on the pavement, were nonexistent. As if they were afraid to notice him or too caught up in life to notice someone struggling. And it saddened me to think that that’s what has become of our society. Those that are homeless are every bit as precious in God’s eyes as anyone else. They are His children. And if someone passed by my children when they were struggling and hurt, it would rip my heart out.

Helping one another, helping to make life that can be beyond difficult easier for someone else, giving to another the grace and mercy that is so freely given to us–isn’t that what life is about?

Mother Teresa

Time to share – Tell me about a time you’ve helped someone else and how it changed you in ways you never expected.

 

 

Writing Communities

Pen

For a writer, deciding to belong to a community of other writers will be one of the best choices you make. Writers understand other writers and the struggles we all go through like no one else can. It’s similar, I suppose, to any group of people with like interests.

Cops can understand each other’s black humor and often use it as a healing method, when the rest of society might think they’re crazy and a sandwich short of a picnic.

Alcoholics draw strength and support from one another that they can’t get from anyone else, hence the huge success of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Christians find peace, joy, and acceptance from brothers and sisters in Christ among other Christians, as they come to know there is strength in numbers.

Victims of crime find comfort in the presence of those who have gone through a like experience. Other human beings who understand the pain, the shame, the healing, and the rising from the ashes.

And on and on. You get the picture.

Paulo Coelho

For writers, the benefits of belonging to a community are endless. There are groups on Goodreads for just about everything writers experience; there are online critique groups as well as in-person critique groups; there are local writers groups as well as online writers groups, some with local chapters; there’s the blogging community to connect with those who have similar interests as you or to broaden your knowledge base; and let’s not forget the magazine community (think Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writers, and The Writer.) And these are just a few of the groups out there.

It’s in these groups that you will get ideas on how to manuever through the publishing process, whether you’re aiming for traditional publishing or going the indie route; it’s in these groups that you will get ideas for and help with:

Marketing and Promotion – One of the most difficult aspect of being an author is how to market and promote your book after it’s published. It’s here an author learns that writing the piece was actually the easy part. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it. Building from one another’s successes and learning from each other’s failures make the load a whole lot lighter to bear.

Formatting and Editing – For indie authors, formatting a manuscript for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or the old-fashioned paper format, can be a daunting task. Especially for those technologically challenged. Like yours truly. The knowledge from others in the group that are technologically savvy is priceless. And giving back in an area that is your strength is beyond satisfying.

Support and Encouragement – When a writer gets a bad review, isn’t selling any books, is having a serious case of self-doubt or writer’s block, who better to get support from than the very people who have gone through the same exact thing. Over. And over. And over.

Reviews and the Chance to Review – The truth of the matter is, as much as we would like them to, our books don’t sell themselves. Many readers depend on the sum of a book’s reviews to determine if they want to read it. Swapping reviews gives you a chance to get your book reviewed by someone who’s well-read and offers the chance to review another’s, which in turn only strengthens your own writing.

Critiques – What a better way to perfect your writing than by having other writer’s critique your work and having the opportunity to critique theirs. It’s a win-win.

photo (15)

I have my blogging community where I share, learn, connect and make friends. I belong to local writer’s groups, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Northern Colorado Writers, where I learn by listening to other writers, taking classes and attending writer’s conferences. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, of which we’re starting a local chapter, and Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime. I belong to several groups on Goodreads, and participate in NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, both of which take writing communities to a whole new level. 🙂 It’s in these communities I find myself improving and growing as an author. And it’s in these places that takes the joy of writing and turns it into a thrilling adventure.

What groups/communities do you belong to? How has it benefitted your growth?

Birthday Blessings

Seize the Day

I’ve heard people talk about 50 as being “over the hill,” “half of a century old,” “on the downward slide,” etc.

When I woke up this morning, having turned 50 myself, the first thing that came to mind was:

I AM SO BLESSED!

I got out of bed, got dressed and headed out the door for an early morning run. As I ran, I reflected on my life. What a better time than a milestone birthday, right? And as I strolled down memory lane, my heart nearly exploded with gratitude. I am, at 50 years of age, at a place in my life that is the best it’s ever been. The heart breaking moments and tragedies of years past are a direct connection to where I’m at now. If every one of those crises hadn’t happened, my life literally would not be what it is today. I think of all the prayers I’ve prayed, disappointed when they weren’t answered, only to realize that they were answered. Thankfully not the way I had hoped for at the time.

So today, at 50 years old, let me share with you some of what makes me the richest woman in the world.

First of all, the people who have been placed in my life by God, at the exact time and in the exact role that He knew I needed exactly when I did.

  • An amazing husband, Clint, who has given me the marriage, friendship, and partnership in life that I’ve always dreamed of.
  • Two amazing boys, Ben and Alex, who have taught me the true meaning of unconditional love and acceptance.
  • A granddaughter, Zoey, who brings unmatched joy to my life, and a chance to experience part of her father as a little one all over again.
  • A step-daughter, Jennifer, and five step-grandchildren who have accepted me into their lives, my life all the more beautiful because of them.
  • A step-daughter, Becky, who enriched my life with her kindness, sparkle and beauty–inside and out–who has gone ahead to greet me at the gates of heaven when I’m called home.
  • Parents who gave me the gift of life and the foundation of family and faith. It took me a while to catch on, but I eventually got it. 🙂 And while they waited, they taught me patience and perseverance.
  • Sisters, Sandy and Brenda, my best friends chosen by God for me to share life with from beginning to end.
  • My grandma Cielinski and my Uncle Earl who helped carry me through some of the most difficult times of my life.
  • Mr. Rude, my high school English teacher, who made such a difference in the life of this high school student with a love of writing.
  • My “Brighton Group” (you know who you are), who have accepted me exactly as I am, broken and flawed, who have taught me how to live a clean life, honest and true, how to love, and how to be a friend.
  • A Church and Church Family that lifts me up.
  • A blogging community with which I’ve grown as a writer and as a person.

And beyond these angels in my life, I’m blessed with and grateful for:

  • A job in which I’m blessed to serve victims of crime. Since I was a victim of crime at one time, I’ve come full circle, blessed to use my tragedy for good.
  • The ability to sponsor three kiddos from Africa (Togo, Burkina Faso, and Tanzania) through Compassion International, helping to release them from poverty and give them hope. Alex, Amede and Mamounata have taught me compassion, that the gift of giving blesses the giver, and the power of prayer.
  • The ability to be a sponsor to Amazima Ministries in Uganda, furthering the work of Christ as he reaches the unreachable.
  • The ability to be a donor to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I mention these things because it is not me or my money that helps in these areas, it’s all because of an amazing God who has laid these passions upon my heart and has given me the resources to be able to do so. And it’s this giving that has changed my heart as nothing else could ever do.
  • The gift of writing, which brings me so much joy and satisfaction. I published a book last year, The Inheritance, a dream I’ve had as far back as I’ve been able to dream, and another book, Shear Madness, due out next month.

And the blessings just go on and on. Go back to my thirties? Not a chance. Not even my forties. My best days, my best life, is right here, right now.

And as a side note, at the end of my run, still dancing on my pink cloud, I nearly stepped on not one, but two, squished flat as a pancake, messy toads. If that was the enemy’s way of bringing me down from my high, it didn’t work. It simply made me drive more carefully than ever to work. Just in case… 🙂

Carpe Diem

 

 

Throwback Thursday–on Friday

My friend Rachel posted on her blog about her kindergarten teacher and it got me thinking about school. (Yes, I can remember that far back 🙂 ). Her post prompted me to look through my old writing files, including much of my poetry I wrote back then. It made me sad to see how much of it was written about lost love and heartache. I was only in junior high and high school for goodness sake! It’s a reminder that back then I was such a lost soul desperately searching for love and acceptance–which eventually I found in alcohol. So happy and grateful that part has changed! What hasn’t changed is my love of writing and expressing life through words.

This particular poem, however, made me laugh. Being a rebel hasn’t really changed so much, and I’m okay with that.  🙂

PoemCarpe Diem

 

 

The Act of Writing vs. Being a Writer

photo (15)

A lot of people write and a whole lot more have the desire to write. If you’re writing, you are, indeed, a writer. If you have the desire to write but haven’t actually put pen to paper–or fingertips to keyboard–you haven’t crossed the line yet from dreamer to writer. That being said it’s never too late to start. Here’s proof.

I wrote a post a while ago about finally calling myself a writer. And while that was a huge step for me, this past month it has come to mean even more. Sometime in this past month I began to realize that I’m not a writer just because I like to write. That would be akin to calling one an alcoholic just because s/he likes to drink. But rather, I couldn’t imagine my life without writing. Writing is so much a part of my desires and my life, that without it, I wouldn’t feel complete.

Pen

Examples that drove that point home to me are:

  • If I don’t write–and lately that means every day, at least something–I feel empty of the positive and consumed by an intense need to release that creative energy.
  • When I’m at work or play and when I’m not writing, I find myself studying people and their mannerisms, behaviors, word choices, etc., creating characters in my head.
  • When I’m on a road trip, whether it’s five miles or five hundred, I take in the scenery as if constructing the setting of my next novel.
  • The world is my creative playground.
  • I cherish my writer’s notebook like it’s another limb and it goes everywhere I do.
  • What others say about my love of writing doesn’t matter; it’s important to me.

In Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, he recommends getting motivated by writing a statement of purpose. I chose to do that and it is readily visible on the first page of my writer’s notebook. Mine begins as his does and then branches off a bit. My statement of purpose reads:

Today I resolve to take writing seriously, to keep writing no matter what, to learn everything I can on the craft, and to strive for my words to make a positive difference to even just one person. I am a writer.

What are your writing aspirations and dreams?

Carpe Diem

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
Anaïs Nin