A Back-to-School Blunder

Kathy NickersonAugust 14th, 2018mercyNo Comments

Once upon a time, my husband and I made a serious mistake. We told our elementary school daughters that we would never again move until after they graduated from high school. We made that foolish promise one July. By May we were packing boxes. *sigh*

Our little girls had attended five schools in five years. I know how awful that sounds, but we weren’t vagabonds. The final years of Wendell’s medical training just happened to coincide with the first years of their education. Training required lots of moving.

Serenity took this final move the hardest. She is an August baby, so she had started kindergarten at the tender edge of her fifth year. (Our state has since rolled back enrollment to summer birthdays. Wise move.) Fifth grade had been emotionally difficult for her. She told us the work was not too hard, but she simply didn’t feel like a fifth-grader. The struggle lasted most of the year, and I often regret that we didn’t pull her out for a year of home-schooling.

Instead, we moved again. #ParentFail #NewJob #ManyTears

Early in the new school year, Serenity climbed to the top of something called “the spider” on the playground. An ornery little boy reached up and stole her shoe. He refused to give it back for several, irritating minutes.

So, do you know what Serenity did?

She married him.

Well, ten years later, after lots of middle-school and teenaged angst. But, I’m pretty sure she loved him from that day forward.

(That will teach a boy to steal a shoe. Now he has to buy them for her.)

And what did I do to help Felicity and Serenity cope? I started writing a book about a little girl whose parents uprooted the family to follow a dream. The Secret of Serendipity ended up being my third novel. Much like Michael and Serenity’s romance, it needed time to grow. The book was finally released when we had granddaughters entering middle school.

If you know a girl struggling with change this school year, maybe The Secret of Serendipity could help. I know your prayers will.

 

 

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Life Between Two Glasses

Kathy NickersonAugust 6th, 2018mercy2 Comments

 

I am definitely a glass-half-full kinda lady. In fact, I’ve been known to go fetch more iced tea if the glass appears to be dropping below the line. I can almost always find a reason to be happy or hopeful, even in hard times. A few things do ripple my daily optimism, though.

Seasons of transition are the worst. We once heard a preacher describe it this way:

Transition is like being the water that someone is pouring from one glass to another. 

Oh, yeah, Brother. I get that. You are up at the top of the arc being all cool and clear. You know exactly how it felt in the glass you left, and you have hope for how it will feel in the glass on the other side. But, right now, you are just hanging up here in the air. Anything could happen.

My hubs and I are the water between a few glasses these days. That happens when you reach a certain age. Our favorite doctor retired. So did our ophthalmologist. The restaurant next door is closing. Medicare is just around the corner. Rural medicine is changing faster than we can absorb, and our staff is changing with it.

So, what is the quivering water to do? I’ll tell you:

Be still and know that I am God. 

The Bible may not be a source of answers and solace for you. (Feel free to email me if it isn’t. I’d love to chat.) For me, the Bible truly is the living, breathing, eternal Word of God. When I recall those eight, small words, everything settles into place. It doesn’t matter how long the pouring lasts, I know we will be safe. Even if we splash a bit, things will work out in the end.

Because, He holds both glasses in His hands.

And, He is good.

 

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What’s My Job?

Kathy NickersonJuly 24th, 2018family, happy endings, mercy6 Comments

 

I frequently forget what my job is in life. Every few weeks, I decide my job is to become a traditional grandmother who stays home, bakes cookies, and magically lives in two different cities at the same time so I can be available for every grandchild.

That is not my job.

When I see someone struggling – wrecking their friendships, stressing their marriage, unsettling their kids – I think it is my job to fix things. To point them to a better way.

But, that is not my job.

Occasionally, I think it is my job to tweet something so pithy and brilliant that it will silence all the shouting and name-calling and chaos on social media.

Thank goodness, that is not my job.

It turns out, even in the enormous pressure and amazing opportunities of life, my job is still quite simple:

To do right, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. (Micah 6:8 NLT)

All the other things might fit into those words. Baking cookies, attending school plays, speaking truth to a friend, writing something world-changing. If so, it won’t be because those were my jobs. It will be because I’m walking humbly with my God, and He gave me the nudge.

The difference is subtle. But, it takes off all the pressure.

 

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Of Politics and Peppermints

Kathy NickersonJuly 15th, 2018mercyNo Comments

Several decades ago, I waddled into a voting booth at the local library to cast my first vote in a state election. My labor pains had started hours before the polls opened, but I insisted we wait until I had a chance to vote. It was a risky move, since this was our second child, which should go faster than the first.

(Yes, I had married and given birth before I was even old enough to vote. Don’t judge me. The threshold was twenty-one in those days. Boys went to war at eighteen.)

I hadn’t been interested in politics before. But a cattle rancher named Jerry Litton had come out of small-town Missouri to take on the corrupt political establishment of our day. It was America’s bicentennial year, and patriotism was popular for the first time since the Viet Nam War.

Despite my labor pains, I was determined to mark my ballot for the man who raised Charolais cattle, shook hands with small children, and somehow personified our hopes for the future. Both my husband and my mother suggested I forgo duty to country in favor of making it to the hospital on time. The blue-haired ladies handing out ballots seemed to agree. They rushed me through the process of marking an “x” beside the name of a man whose platform and party I no longer recall.

We made it to the hospital a full two hours before our perfect daughter arrived. Just before daylight, a nurse roused me and slapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. As she jabbed the thermometer under my tongue, she said, “Sure was too bad about Jerry Litton, wasn’t it?

“Oh, did he lose?”

She whipped off the cuff and scribbled on a pad. “No, he won. But on the way to the victory party his plane crashed. Killed him and his whole family. What a shame.” She rescued the thermometer before it snapped between my teeth and then breezed out the door, leaving me alone in the dark with my after-birth pains and the horror that washed over me.

I had felt this terror before, but it took a few minutes for me to remember when. And, when I remembered, I could barely  separate my eight-year-old self from the self who had just given birth.

•••

Mrs. Lowery had interrupted my second-grade birthday party that day. She came from her classroom and whispered something to our teacher. Then, they both stepped around the corner. They weren’t completely hidden, though. I could see them crying.

Mrs. Lowery was well-known for her ability to solve any crisis by dabbing away tears with her hanky and then producing a peppermint from her desk drawer. No peppermint could fix what she told us once she gained control of her tears. President Kennedy had been killed.

The universe seemed to spin dangerously close to the edge of control. I could not imagine what would happen. Would our enemies declare war since we didn’t have a president to protect us? Would the killer be hiding outside in the bushes after school? Unreasonable fear consumed me back in the 1960’s. And it threatened again on that August night of the late seventies.

I’m not sure who I cried for during those next hours – the Litton family, or myself, or the great American hopes which had died on a rural airstrip. Although I was politically ignorant and spiritually immature, I had given my best for the hope of a cause which had now disappeared.

But, of course, my hope was in the wrong thing.

It was right to vote. Even to sacrifice by voting through pain. Lots of people have endured much worse to make our voting possible. It is right to campaign, to argue, to defend, to stand up for what we believe. It is vital that we hope, work, and pray for a better future on this earth.

Yet, when all the votes have been counted and all the noise turns to other news, we will be left with the same thing we had back in 1976. Fallible human beings doing what they can to keep our boat afloat.

Do not despair at the thought, Dear Reader. For we are also left with something much better. It is an amazing truth recorded for us centuries ago by the One who holds all power. I did not yet know these words during the dark days after President Kennedy’s death. I didn’t know them immediately after Jerry Litton. Yet I experienced them in a reality I couldn’t explain.

“When the earth and all its inhabitants shake, I am the One who steadies its pillars.” Psalm 75:3 Holman Christian Standard

We were steadied. We were held. And we will be so again and again.

So, what shall we do? Well, let’s educate ourselves  in this primary season. Go online and look up state and local elections. Read an area newspaper. Find out what people stand for or against. Check their track record in lif.. And then, go vote. Even if it is inconvenient for you.

Once you’ve done all that, take a deep breath and sit down with the people you love. Enjoy a meal. Pop a peppermint. Talk of pleasant things. Because the earth will not shake off its foundation, no matter who loses or wins.

 

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How I Handle Cable News

Kathy NickersonJuly 2nd, 2018mercy2 Comments

Our fifteen year old granddaughter, Claire, is spending a few days with us. One morning, when Grandpa flipped on Fox & Friends, Claire said, “Is the news on twenty-four hours a day? Don’t those people ever sleep?”

We cracked up, of course. Out here in the country, we rely on satellite television. Claire’s family uses more selective surfing of channels in the city. They don’t have cable news. She made me think, though. Sometimes I consider unplugging all the news sources in my life, because they are such a downer.

Today, though, I read this quote from Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen:

“A real spiritual life does exactly the opposite: it makes us so alert and aware of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of our contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response.” Henri Nouwen (from James Emery White on Church & Culture.)

A free and fearless response.

Is that what happens when I hear about school shootings, immigration issues, and general shouting among  political parties? No. Not at all. My first response is, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” But, I don’t actually want Him to come back until everyone who is lost has a chance to be found. Instead of unplugging, I want to plug into the power of the Holy Spirit and figure out a new reaction to trouble.

So, today, our church started a new Bible reading plan. And one of the first selections was this:

He [Jesus] is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17, HCSB

Ah, there it is. The free and fearless response. He is before all things. All things. And, He holds all things together.

That includes nations, people groups, clans, families, and my own little circle of the world. He really does “hold the whole world in His hands.” No matter how gloomy life looks in the future, I plan to reach for that response.

Want to join me?

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What to do when Your Groove is Gone

Kathy NickersonJune 27th, 2018family1 Comment

Blame Summer – 

Nothing can throw off the personal and household groove like summer-lack-of-schedules. I’d call it the Summer Schedule, but we all know you can’t call something a schedule when it tosses ballgames, play dates, and late nights on the calendar at will. We don’t even have children in our house anymore, yet we sometimes get the feeling that we are on a strange planet.

This summer, our groove got lost because we decided to rearrange The Whole House. As in, turning the guest bedroom into a den. Which means emptying closets and finding new places for things in a house that is already too full. It’s been fun. I especially love the corner where I stacked forty-four years worth of loose pictures and old frames. And slides. (Not the kind you wear on your feet.) That mountain is tilting all kinds of directions in our bedroom right now. But, I am resolved that not a single shoe box shall go under a bed until I have SORTED the things.

So, what to do when everything seems as out of control as a toddler after six hours at the zoo? Here is my solution for finding my groove. (Nothing to do with Stella. Well, almost nothing.)

  1. Give yourself permission. To make sandwiches for supper. To do ten minutes on the treadmill instead of thirty. To eat homemade ice cream at the fair.
  2. Stay in the moment. Tune into your kid when she walks up to bat, and forget the laundry multiplying like loaves and fishes at home.
  3. Use shortcuts. Take those six loads of towels to the coin laundry. While they spin, read that book you meant to take to the beach.
  4. Keep perspective. Summer is short. Childhoods evaporate like puddles in July. This too shall pass. Quickly.
  5. Love the puddin’ out of your spouse. This happens to be the best marriage advice I ever received. I’m inserting it here, because everything in the world and beyond gets better when you take this piece of advice.

Now, your turn. Tell me how you stay sane during summer breaks or other seasons of structured chaos.

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Wednesday Writer: Flash Fiction

Kathy NickersonJune 13th, 2018writingNo Comments

Welcome to the Wednesday Writer. Let’s talk flash! Definitions of flash fiction vary, but basically, this is a short story of less than 1000 words. Sometimes as short as 100 words. It is a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. Flash follows the same simple story structure as a lengthy novel:

Hero + goal + obstacles to overcome= Good story. Most stories also have a sidekick or two, because we all need a little help from our friends to get through this bumpy life to the other side.

The only difference with flash fiction is everything is condensed. Flash relies upon Strunk & White’s advice to, “omit needless words”. Imagine that you’ve just walked into your scene (say the back seat of an Uber driver). Listen to a snippet of conversation and see if you can learn in a few sentences what the driver wants from life (maybe a long-term relationship), what is stopping her, (maybe her own busy lifestyle). And, how she is going to overcome that obstacle. (I’m not finishing this one. You can either read my version in Splickety’s Spark magazine, or you can write your own.)

Writing flash fiction is a great exercise for any writer. Like Twitter, it forces us to bring our writing down to the bare essentials. And, that is usually best. Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a scene in a novel, I flip over and write some flash fiction to rev up the engines.

If you want to learn more, check out one of the magazines at Splickety Publishing.

Or, if fiction isn’t your vibe, try writing a 100-word true story for Reader’s Digest.

The point today, my writing friend, is to have fun!

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Why We Can’t Walk it Off

Kathy NickersonJune 11th, 2018mercy2 Comments

I had this post scheduled long before another famous person died as a result of his battle with mental illness. My heart goes out to all the family and friends, and I pray they each find peace and hope eventually.

Neither the fashion world nor Hollywood are my spheres of influence or relationship. I can’t speak to their particular issues. However, I’m intimately familiar with another group where mental illness, especially depression, carries such a stigma that people suffer in silence for years. That group is church folks. ( I’m aware some local churches have wonderful approaches and services for mental health care. God bless ’em.)

A few weeks ago, I saw a meme from a church-goer that said researchers have proven exercise is as effective as medication in treating depression. I. Wanted. To. Scream. Of course exercise helps. We know exercise helps. It releases the same brain chemicals that medication replaces. Even a few minutes a day can make a huge difference. Here is the problem: We. Can’t. Do. It!

When my depression was at its worst, I curled up on the sofa in the break room at work and closed my eyes. And, I never got back up. I could hear everything going on around me. I knew when they called my husband to come carry me to the car. But, I simply could not respond. I became completely detached from every one and every thing.

Telling me to go take a walk right then would have been stupid. Even when I improved, I could not find the gumption to do the things I knew would help me. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t eat right. I couldn’t go about my daily tasks like washing the dishes.

I couldn’t write.

Years later, though, I wrote about depression in one of my novels, Rose Hill Cottage. The librarian, Flora, says depression doesn’t always come with grief. Sometimes it just comes with a Thursday. She describes depression as “a dark thing. It slithers into the room at night when you are sleeping. And it crawls up under your bed and coils itself around your bones. When you wake up the next morning, its poison has clouded your mind in this dismal, grey, nothing-in-this-world-matters-anymore scrim.”

The struggle has an added dimension for us church folks. We know God loves us. We know we are doing our best to love Him. But we can’t kick the darkness.

So, what do depressed people need? Well, I needed God. Church folks are right about that. I needed the power of the Holy Spirit alive and active in my life. For me, that did happen by Divine intervention, and I am forever grateful for a prayer meeting in somebody’s basement. The next morning, I laced up my shoes, put on my coat, and was halfway around the block before I realized I was walking!

But God doesn’t always heal mental illness by supernatural means any more than He always heals diabetes.

Instead, He gives men and women supernatural wisdom to invent medications. And, when our brains won’t produce the right amount of  dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, or endorphins, we sometimes need to replace them through medicine. We would never tell a diabetic church member that her pancreas would start working if she would just get up in the mornings, take a walk, and then pray for an hour.

But, that is what we tell depressed people, at least with our attitudes.

So, what should we do?

  1. Be honest. If you are struggling, find someone who will listen. If they tell you to just take a walk. Find someone else.
  2. Pray. Medication didn’t work well for me. I’m so glad that prayer did. Yet, I know several praying saints who are still plagued by this disease. If you know someone in trouble, pray with them in their suffering.
  3. See a doctor. My husband is a physician. He says that sometimes a patient needs help with their brain chemistry through medication before they can even think straight enough to seek God. I get that.
  4. Take a walk. (I know). If you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with depression, ask them to walk around the block with you. Maybe your encouragement will be enough to start the process for them to get help. (Don’t despair if they make excuses. See step #2)
  5. Be transparent. If you are willing to share with your church circle that you take medication for your thyroid, you can also tell them you are low on serotonin, and you take meds to replace it. If they preach platitudes at you, forgive them. Maybe the quiet, depressed person sitting in the corner heard your message.

Scientists are working on a blood test that will tell us exactly what chemical is lacking in the brain of a depressed person. That should go a long way toward diagnosis, treatment, and the lifting of embarrassment and shame. Until then, let’s be kind to one another. Let’s look out for one another. Let’s help one another remember that Jesus walks beside us through the valley of the shadow of death known as depression.

And through every other battle.

Epilogue: My depression has been mostly conquered for more than thirty-five years. I still feel it slither occasionally. When that happens, I call on the power of the Holy Spirit to help me do the things that drive it away. I pray. I sing. I walk. I love folks. (Especially my husband.)

And, I stay forever grateful for the mercy that set me free.

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday Writer: Moving into Magazines

Kathy NickersonJune 6th, 2018writing1 Comment

 

Welcome to this edition of Wednesday Writer. If you have been following this series, you know we’ve talked about starting small as a writer and learning the craft through books, magazines, courses, conferences, critique groups, and mentors. Today, let’s talk about breaking into magazines, both print and digital versions.

Editor Andy Scheer once told our conference group that he is a magazine evangelist. He said most books sell less than 2000 copies. (Don’t cry yet.) That means maybe four to six thousand readers, if you are fortunate. Most magazines have circulation in the upper thousands, sometimes the millions. Which place would you rather send your message about life?

(BTW, you have a message. No matter what you write, your worldview will seep through.)

Where to begin. Start with publications and websites or blogs that you enjoy reading. Look them up in Writers Market or visit their website to find writers guidelines. Even if you check Writers Market for an overview, visit the website for current guidelines. Sometimes these are hidden in the fine print of “contact us” or some other heading. You may need to use the search tool.

The best place to pitch your first article is in a column or department that is open to freelancers. These are fewer words, and they are less often farmed out to staff writers. Study the section you have chosen. Find three or four past issues and actually dissect the column. Does it start with action or description. Is there much dialogue? Does the tone feel light or serious? How many paragraphs? Does it wrap up neatly at the end or leave the reader with a question?

What to write. Most magazines include a section on their website called a press kit. This will give you demographic information on the readers. You can discern the same thing by looking at the advertisements. If the magazine advertises mostly diapers and baby food, don’t pitch them a piece on choosing your retirement destination. A magazine that advertises expensive cars and designer clothes probably won’t want your article on how to shop with coupons.

Once you have narrowed your market, write your best piece, using all the tools you’ve gathered along the way. Then, let it sit several days and revise. Repeat as many times as necessary. (Eventually you have to stop. I always want to edit the piece again after it comes out in the magazine. This urge never ends.)

How to open the door. You send a query letter. (Some publications will just ask for the full article. Check guidelines.) A query is just a question, as in, “Would you be interested in my article on how to help teenagers stay safe on social media?”. You can search Google for “query letters” and learn exactly how to write the perfect one for every scenario.

Write, polish, and send your query. Then, you wait. Sometimes several months. (Some won’t even respond. They tell you to move on if you don’t hear from them in eight weeks.)

While you wait, choose the next market you will target if this one turns you down.

Repeat until the article sells or until you are convinced it needs reworked.

Keep on doing this with other articles so you have several in various stages. That helps you stop hovering over your in-box for a response from anyone.

Okay, have fun! Let me know when you place your first article.

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Sometimes, We Stop

Kathy NickersonJune 5th, 2018Friendship, mercy2 Comments

My editorial calendar had a blog post scheduled for today. But, I couldn’t do it. A dear friend has gone home to Glory this week. Reward for him, sorrow for us. And, I could not bring myself to write about anything else.

(I know my last blog post was a memorial. I hope this doesn’t become a trend.)

When someone that I love dies, I walk around wondering why other people don’t seem to notice the earth has shifted. I feel as if we have entered an alternate dimension. Earth stuff seems so irrelevant. Yet, everyone around me keeps going on as if the morning news actually matters. As if they still care about clothes to wash, bills to pay, and arguments to win.

I just want to stop. I want to sit shiva as Jewish families did in Jesus’ day. (And many still do). Mourners took off their shoes, sat on low stools, and grieved for seven days. They had no other responsibilities but to absorb the new reality of their world. They were “brought low” during this time.

The friends of Jesus were probably preparing to occupy their stools when news came that He wasn’t dead after all. He had come back to life. Can you imagine the emotion of going from the low stools to the heights of glory in a few sentences? (Of course, they had to deal with doubt, betrayal, and misunderstandings, too.)

I am always brought low by death, and God understands that. He never intended for us to die. His original plan was for us to live forever in perfection. And, He has made a way that we still can.

Our dear friend has left his address here on earth. But he isn’t dead anymore than Jesus was. He is very much alive in a Heavenly realm that we can’t see or fully understand. In a little while, that reality will overcome our grief. We will get back up off our stools then. We will start to care a bit about the mundane details of life. We may even argue with one another.

But, for now, we stop.

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