Archive for March, 2009

And the Winner Is

By Kathy NickersonMarch 31st, 2009happy endings3 Comments

Our youngest daughter was on American Idol a couple of years ago. Actually, I should say “we were on American Idol.” She was the contestant who made it to the second round of auditions. I was just one of her groupies. Our little family group happened to be caught on camera while waiting in line that morning, and our faces flashed across America’s television screens for almost a full two seconds when the season opened. It was heady stuff.

The experience was surreal. None of us had ever been so close to Hollywood, and it pretty much fit my expectations. The longer I sat in the family room during auditions, the more I prayed God did not have this particular path in mind for Charity’s life. Even so, I was momentarily crushed when she didn’t make the second cut. 

On the way to the car, Charity described her brief audition. She told us when she stepped out the door afterwards, a camera man was waiting to catch her reaction. Some contestants had fled crying; others had vowed to fly to the next city and try out again right away. The camera man was expecting similar drama from Charity when he said, “So, what are you going to do next?”

Charity thought for just a second and then said,”Umm. I think I’ll go home and start a family with my husband.”

And so she did. Instead of going on tour with the Idol finalists the next year, Charity started singing lullabies to her newest fan. 
I think she won the best prize.

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Choosing Well

By Kathy NickersonMarch 30th, 2009Uncategorized3 Comments

I ignored the treadmill this morning. Of course, I regret that decision now because I’m sitting at my desk all sluggish and Mondayish, and I know fifteen minutes at 3.0 miles per hour would have changed my whole perspective. It is pretty shameful to admit that is my minimum daily requirement on the dreaded machine. Every expert will tell you thirty minutes per day is the least one should require of one’s fifty-three year old body. But those fifteen minutes are magical for me. They make all the difference in whether I feel energetic and optimistic for the next fifteen hours.

My writing discipline works much the same way. I can think of a zillion reasons to avoid my beautiful writing desk when I get home from work each night. Supper, dishes, laundry, the latest update on the Fox News Channel. (The first three are really lame excuses. My husband normally fends for himself after work so I can have time to write. He even does the laundry and vacuums the floor.)

And, if I obey my own rules and sit down with my computer for a few minutes, this amazing thing happens. I write. The blank spot in my brain suddenly clicks on as if someone hit the remote control, and words start jumping up and getting to work. When I finish a few hours later, I feel almost exactly the way I feel after a good trek on the treadmill. Energized, optimistic, and too wound up to go to sleep.

The thing is, I’m not sure how to overcome my own resistance to what I know is good for me.Well, that isn’t true. I do know. I know I always make the right decision when I allow the power of the Holy Spirit to work inside me. Left to myself, I usually choose the sofa and a bowl of ice cream.

So, I’m going to say a prayer on the way home tonight. Maybe I’ll do the treadmill (as penance) and then write a chapter or two. Well, okay, at least I’ll write.

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I’m Not Eighteen Anymore

By Kathy NickersonMarch 26th, 2009Uncategorized10 Comments

This week marks the anniversary of one of my favorite days in all of history after the Resurrection: the day Felicity was born.

I won’t tell you how old she is, but I will tell you I’ve come to an amazing realization: Our daughters are not girls anymore. 

I remember when Felicity was fifteen and I had the strangest sensation that I was really only about eighteen myself. I would seriously get up in the middle of the night, walk into the kitchen for a drink of water and think, Where did I get this huge house? How can I possibly have four teenagers sleeping upstairs? It was like deja vu only backwards. I would just hit these surreal moments now and then when the whole thing seemed totally unbelievable. Lovely, but unreal.

The sensation has changed some through the years. I don’t see our daughters as girls anymore, and I feel more like thirty-four instead of eighteen. I think the grandsons did it. Even after the girls married and started having sweet little babies, they were still “the girls.” But I realized this week it is impossible for someone to be a girl and also be the mother of a son who can make his own basketball bracket for March Madness. 
Felicity is a grown-up. So is Serenity, of course. Her eldest son can look me in the eye without standing on tip-toe. Fortunately, Charity is still hovering on the line for me since her baby is still tiny and can be considered almost a fashion accessory some days. (that is Charity’s line, not mine.)
When Felicity was born, I was immediately enthralled. The first three months of her life, I mostly sat in the rocking chair and stared at her in awe. I was so amazed by this creature who could take my breath away just by flicking her eye or making a soft sound. But Felicity is an adult now, and, evidently I am not really thirty-four. Some things don’t change, though. I walked into a room yesterday and saw her sitting at a table with a group of her colleagues
And she took my breath away.

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Facing Fear

By Kathy NickersonMarch 24th, 2009Uncategorized6 Comments

Today I faced two of my greatest fears: rain and bridges. Not that I’m technically afraid of either. I love listening to rain when I’m safely tucked inside my little house, and bridges can be lovely in pictures. But I hate driving in rain or over bridges. Today, I did both. Then I faced the fear of not-being-nearly-cool-enough-to-know-how-to-order-a-drink-at-Starbucks. That one is really silly, I know. But nothing makes me feel less hip than a place like Starbucks, since: 1) I’m not really a coffee drinker, and 2) I live an hour away from the nearest one and visit it about twice a year.

I was seriously counting my cash and wondering if I had enough money with me to get a hotel room and stay in town instead of crossing the Mississippi River again to go home. The rain was pounding my windshield and visibility was limited to one set of tail-lights ahead. Then I had a flashback: Youth group trip to Kentucky, 1990-something. 

Somehow I got stuck driving the mini-van that followed the moving truck that followed the school bus as our youth group toured area churches putting on a play. My passengers were one friend with a sore back, one friend who drove worse than I did, and one friend who was tending her baby in his car seat. For some reason known only to God and my frustrated high-school geography teacher, I thought Louisville, Kentucky, was a small town. The last small town we would go through before we finally reached our destination for the night.
I was wrong. So wrong. We reached Louisville at dusk on the tenth hour of a twelve-hour trip. I’m sure it was a beautiful sight. All those lights. All that water. I started getting nervous when the highway kept getting closer and closer to the river. And then, suddenly, with no warning sign that said, “Last stop! Turn back now.” we were driving under the river in a long, dark, tunnel at about 100 miles per hour with cars whizzing past us in the other lane.
I freaked. Completely. I started crying and saying, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. Somebody do something.”
Then, from the back seat came these kind, encouraging words. “Kathy! Snap out of it or I’m going to slap you!”
My friends went on to explain we are in a tunnel, for goodness sake. You can’t pull over. You have to keep going. They said these last words very slowly to make sure they sank into my deranged mind. And it worked. I gripped the wheel, opened my eyes, and kept going. 
So, you may be asking where the happy ending is for this story. I’m not sure there is one. Not the fairy-tale kind anyway. I didn’t crash the van that day, but neither did facing my fear magically cure it. Today the sun came out after I crossed the scary bridge and the drive home was gorgeous. But, life doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth, grab the wheel, and drive on through the dark tunnels of life. Just make sure you have some good friends in the car.

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Publishing Praise

By Kathy NickersonMarch 23rd, 2009family, writing3 Comments
I’m thinking today about my goal to “Write for Publication.” (the name of a class I took once.) I am pursuing that goal. I’m taking classes, going to conferences, studying my craft, sending out queries, and even having a few things published here and there. But my ultimate goal comes from Psalm 96:3

Publish His glorious deeds among the nations. 
Tell everyone about the amazing things He does.
I want to do that in books, magazines, film, public speaking and anything else that comes my way. But the most important place to publish His deeds is in my life, something I’ve learned by example from some of the most important men in my life, actually.
It started with my grandfather. He kept a daily journal all his adult life, although he told us he didn’t expect his little scratches would ever mean much to anyone. He lived through the depression, lost his first wife in childbirth, and forged his way as a young minister despite the resistance of his own family. I wish he could know how often I’ve faced a crises and heard his words echo in my heart, “There will be a way provided.”
My father would never consider himself a writer. The only thing he ever published are a few letters to people going through really hard times. He sent me one almost thirty years ago, and I could pretty much print it here from memory. We had moved our little family of six half-way across the state for Wendell’s internship. I had never been away from home before, and my dad knew I was suffering from homesick and all the other emotions that go with being a young mother with a busy husband. The letter was a masterpiece. Worthy of some kind of golden seal of approval. It was only two or three pages of squiggly writing on narrow, lined paper. But it reminded me to hold on to God and to be grateful for the daily miracles of life. It birthed gratitude in my soul and brought sanity to my mind. 
A few Christmases ago, my husband and I were facing a tough time. Really tough. The kind of tough that makes you think maybe you can’t hang on. The gift he gave me was a picture frame with a little wooden drawer in a shelf underneath. It holds a picture of baby Claire, our micro-preemie granddaughter when she was just a few months old. The look on her face seems to dare obstacles to get out of her way. On the card, Wendell said, “look inside the drawer and you will find the gift I really want to give you this year.” On a strip of yellow legal pad I found this word: Hope.
In my own writing career, I’ve only received one letter from someone who read something I published in a magazine. (and that is a story for another day!) But people stop me in the grocery store on a regular basis to comment on my neighborhood news column in the county paper or the three paragraph devotional on the front page of the church bulletin. Those things will never be widely circulated except by the janitors who sweep them up and toss them in the trash bins. But they are publishing His praise. And that’s my goal.

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The Sweet Spot

By Kathy NickersonMarch 20th, 2009writing8 Comments

I started writing my first novel more than two decades ago. We were driving by a life-sized Nativity scene, and one of our children said, “I wonder what happened to the shepherds after that?” A little shepherd boy popped immediately into my head, and I was pretty sure he would answer the question if I just gave him some time. 

The first draft was done on a manual typewriter between laundry loads when our children were young. After the first revision, an editor friend agreed to read the book. He worked for a tiny publishing house, and his advice to me was like manna. After the next revision, we started talking about contracts. Fortunately for the reading public, the project died. The publishing house went out of business, and the immature novel went into a drawer. It stayed there years at a time. Every now and then, I would pull it out, refresh my research, and write again.
Last fall, I finished the book. The child who asked the original question was now a parent, and the little shepherd boy had reached adulthood almost in real-time. I sent the book off to a highly-competitive first novel contest where it received absolutely no attention. The “Nice Try” letter praised my achievement for actually writing a book, and it noted the judges’ comment that the book “had POV problems and awkward interjections of exposition.” (Not that I memorized the phrase or anything.) Even though the words stung, I understood what they meant, and I knew the book needed a little more tweaking.
All writers know books are like children. We conceive them, labor over them, birth them, guide them through awkward adolesence, and then polish them up so we can present them to the world in their adult form. But, I found myself loathe to do so. I did not want to send my first child out into the cold, hard world of publishing to be rejected yet again. I put it back in the drawer and moved on to something else.
Then, our son left home. He was a grown man, of course, with a wife and two children of his own. But he had never lived more than three blocks away when he decided to move his family 900 miles cross-country to launch a career in law enforcement. As we helped them pack, I remembered something Joe taught me several years ago.
He was target shooting with a compound bow at the time. I have never understood exactly how that works, but evidently on the first stage of the pull, one feels the full weight of the sixty pounds of resistance. It is hard work. Then the taut string reaches a point where the pulleys take over. Sudenlly, the pulling is easy. “It’s the sweet point,” Joe told me. “You feel like you could hold that position forever. But, you can’t. If you wait even a few seconds too long, you will waver just a little. You may not even notice it, but when you finally let go, the shot will be off. The arrow won’t hit the center.”
Joe was only sixteen at the time, but he went on to tell me he supposed child-rearing was the same. Parents must reach a point where their children become their friends, where their efforts pay off and the task is pretty much pure pleasure. I told him that was true. We were reaching such a point even then. “Well,” he said, “Make sure you let go of us at the right time so we’ll fly straight.”
Letting go was easy when none of our children moved more than a few hours away from home. Joe and Chelle have spent the past five years literally living in our back yard. I came home almost every evening to find their little girls in my kitchen waiting for a snack. Joe’s prophetic picture had come true. Our kids really were our best friends, and watching a couple of them move across the country was pretty hard to take.
When I was contemplating the change one night, I said to my husband, “What am I going to do when those little girls don’t drop in every night anymore?” 
He didn’t even look up when he answered. “Write.”
And so I shall. The arrow who is our only son among three daughters has flown straight and strong. We are bursting with pride and planning our next vacation in the wild west. In the meantime, I’m savoring the silent nights. And, if you will please excuse me now, I have a novel to tweak.

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Alternate Endings

By Kathy NickersonMarch 18th, 2009happy endings, writing20 Comments

When I was fifteen, a boy broke my heart. If this were not my first ever blog post, I would now insert a little, blue link to an entry called Death to Dating. But I’ll spare you my philosophy on that for now. I mourned my loss for an appropriate length of time. Then I discovered an amazing balm. I rewrote the story. I sat down one teary afternoon with a yellow legal pad and a black Bic pen, and I turned the whole saga into my first piece of fiction, wherein the girl gets the guy and he ultimately gives her the world.

And, thus, I became a writer. Writing is dangerous business. If I spout off some craziness in my own living room, or even shout it on a city block, few people will be bothered. They will soon forget what I said, if they even heard it in the first place. If I write something I later regret, I can never take it back. Years later people can say, “Oh yeah. You are that lady who thought…” (Just fill in the blank. I’m not taking any risks today.)
So, I enter Blog World with some trepidation. I’ve enjoyed my identity as Occasional Commentator on several other blogs. Authorship brings a whole other realm of responsibility. I’ll do my best to add something useful and positive to the cyber-conversations. If you stop by again, you will learn I’m a generally positive person. I’m a direct descendent of The Nicest Lady in the World, also known as my mother, and I generally believe in happy endings whether I write them or not.
According to Thoreau, it is vain “to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” That makes sense to me. Unfortunately, some people have lived truly terrible lives and have then sat down to write dark, despairing stories as a result. For some reason, those stories are often counted as great literature while stories about honor, purity, and right living are considered less important or even frivolous. As I enjoy my sixth decade on this lovely, little planet, I find I prefer the latter. Maybe I’m simply naive or too simplistic in my worldview. But I prefer to drink from the glass half-full.
I probably tend toward this view because my own life has gone this way. Despite the foolishness of my own heart, God has captured me. I’ve still had my share of heartaches along the way, but together with my husband, our children, our grandchildren, and a host of family members and friends I am caught up in what author Ernest Gentile calls The Magnificent Obsession of knowing God through His Son, Jesus Christ. And this is the true source of my tendency toward happy endings. As my husband likes to point out, “I’ve read the end of the Book. We win.”

Here is the guy who ultimately gave me the world surrounded by several of the shining stars in our universe.

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