Searching for The Star

A children’s story I wrote several years ago. Hope it brightens your Christmas.Star

“Wake up Ahmad!  Bring me the big star chart!  Ahmad!”  Ahmad rolled out of the bedroll and stumbled to the shelf where the scrolls were stored.  He hurried back to his master carrying the star chart.

His master fumbled with the scroll, spreading it on the ground.  He looked at the scroll, then back to the stars.  He was every excited.  “I found it again – just where it was last night,” cried his master, Melchior.  Ahmad was told to load up the camel they were going on a trip.

Ahmad worked all the next day packing for the journey.  He packed a tent, food, clothes, star scrolls, quills, ink, and gold.  As the sun was setting Ahmad and his master set out on their trip.  They traveled all night and rested during the day with his master writing notes along the way.

The second day was like the first, traveling at night, stopping to make notes, and more walking.  They spent the night at an inn where many people were staying.  Ahmad was so tired that all he could think about was getting some sleep, but first he had to make sure the pack animals were taken care of and their things stored.  Then it would be time to rest.

His master was sitting at a long table talking with two other travelers, their servants standing nearby.  Like Ahmad, their servants looked tired.  Ahmad took his place near his master.

All Melchior and the other travelers talked about were the stars.  While his master finished eating Ahmad stood quietly waiting so they could get some rest; he heard them talking about the very different star they had just discovered.  The star did not move like the other stars in the heavens.  It stayed in the same place day after day as if it marked the spot of something important.  The travelers were going to where the star was pointing to see what was there.  Ahmad’s master and the two travelers were all going to the same place and decided to travel together.  After more conversation, they decided to rest and then they would leave as the sun set.  Finally, Ahmad could get some sleep.

Ahmad was still sleeping when his master called him and asked if the camels were ready to go.  Ahmad hurried out to prepare to leave.  Outside the other servants were getting their camels ready to go also.  Ahmad introduced himself, and they said their names were Dawud and Hanif.  They had been traveling for four days.

The servants helped their masters onto the camels, and then they were off.  Heading westward, just like the last few days.  As they walked along, the masters talked about the star.  Sharing information about when they first saw it and wondering what could it mean.  They agreed it had to be something very important.  On they traveled.

Ten days later, they neared Jerusalem.  The star seemed to be very close, but it was not standing over Jerusalem.  The travelers decided they would go to Jerusalem, the home of the king of the Jews, and ask what the star meant.

Ahmad was sent to the king’s palace to deliver a note requesting a time the travelers could visit the king.  He waited for a reply and was told to come back tomorrow.  The next day they went to the palace.  The king of the Jews, Herod, was delighted to have distinguished visitors.  He prepared a feast for them.  After they had eaten, Herod asked what he could do for them.  They explained about seeing the star and how they believed it meant something important was nearby.  They wondered if Herod knew what the new star meant.

Herod sent for his kingdom’s wise men.  They thought a moment and then said that the prophets of old had written in the town of Bethlehem the king of the Jews would be born.  Herod told the travelers what his wise men had told him about Bethlehem.  And he asked if they found the new king, to please come back and tell him so he could go see.

The next evening there was the star, brighter and bigger than ever.  The travelers started towards Bethlehem.  When they arrived, there was the star standing over at a small inn.  The travelers went in to find that a couple was there with a baby boy.  Ahmad watched in disbelief as his master, a man of wealth and power, bowed down on his knees in front of the child and then the other travelers did the same thing.

Ahmad’s master sent him to get the gold they carried.  Ahmad brought in the gold.  His master took the gold and gave it to the parents of the baby.  It was obvious this couple was very poor and had never seen this much gold.  The other travelers gave valuable gifts also, frankincense and myrrh.  The couple thanked them.  They spent the next few days at the inn.

Ahmad was bringing in some water for his master when he heard the baby crying.  He looked and saw that no one was in the room with the baby.  He went into the room quietly to look at the baby.  As he approached the baby’s bed, the baby stopped crying and smiled.  Ahmad stood there looking at the baby and realized he was looking at a very special child – a child different than any before.  Like his master, Ahmad fell to his knees and bowed his head to the ground.  He didn’t understand why he should do this but knew that he was in the room with a king and should show respect.  Shortly the child’s mother came in the room.  He was afraid she would be angry, but she smiled and said thank you for watching over Jesus while she was away.

Jesus, so that was the baby’s name.  That would be a name he would never forget.

 

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Growth is Not Comfortable

Schemeekly Path“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” Unknown.

Be honest for a moment, you prefer to be in your comfort zone. We all do. Where is your comfort zone? It is the place, the activity, the time when you feel you can relax and handle whatever comes your way.

This zone is many things – security, reaffirming, peaceful, etc. – but what it isn’t is growth. When we accept (or are pushed) a new challenge, we grow. This growth is uncomfortable, it can challenge your perceptions and causes you to wonder if you are up to handling the task or wonder why you accepted it.

The growth process is scary; it is much easier to stay in the comfort zone where you know what is going to happen. But once you start the process it can be exhilarating. The thought you don’t know what is going to happen, that you are changing the way you think and act, trying new things, and the admiration others share with you for being so brave. Wow! It’s like a “Superman” high.

When you finally complete the task, you find several things. First, you aren’t the same.  Whether it was a good or bad experience, you are changed by it. Second, you have confidence that you can handle the task, and it can become part of your comfort zone.

A couple of times when I got out of my zone were entering the NaNoWriMo and publishing my book Canyon Riddle. The scary part of the NaNoWriMo was the question of whether or not I could write 50,000 words in 30 days. I found I can. Canyon Riddle is a novel for adults (or at least not a young child). I am comfortable writing children stories, Bible studies, and such but a novel for adults? That was scary. But since then I have written three more adult stories, and I know that I can do it again.

One of my latest growth opportunities is I am learning to knit. That may not sound scary to anyone but at my age (I remember when the Beach Boys were young) learning a new skill that you have spent most of your life avoiding, is not easy and certainly is not in my wheelhouse. But as I knit, purl, and unravel over and over, I see small glimpses that I can do this, and my comfort zone is expanding.

Every time I step into an unknown situation, I grow. Not all the experiences are pleasant, but I do learn from them. Where there is an unpleasant outcome, I try not to repeat it. That is also growth.

So the next time opportunity presents itself to take on something new, give it a whirl. Keep those brain cells active and grow your comfort zone.

How I Won NaNoWriMo 2015

nano-2015-winner-badge-large-squareNaNoWriMo is officially over for 2015. How did you do? Me? I wrote over 52,000 words during the month of November but didn’t finish the story until December 2.

The experience this year was very different than previous years. The common thread was the push to write every day. The reality was I wrote fewer days but wrote more each day. And I didn’t feel anxious about not writing every day. No nagging feelings that I shouldn’t be out with friends when I need to write a thousand words. Not sure why this change but I believe it has to do with my confidence that I could write enough words to be a “Winner.” This was the fourth year for me to participate in NaNoWriMo.

In previous years I had a lot of uncertainty about having enough words to meet the goal. My writing style is a “pantser.” I don’t outline, write a story brief, or anything that organized. I set down with the roughest of ideas for the start of a story and then I write. Characters grow as the story progresses and when I reach a point that I’m not sure what is going to happen next, I have one of the characters do something. It may be something as small as calling a friend to talk, or taking a walk, or looking through a photo album. From this action, I create a situation of what happens, what they learn, etc. and then work the story from this new information.

The ending of the story came as a surprise to me. I was writing but didn’t know how to end the story. As I wrote about what was learned through a phone call one of the characters made, the ending just appeared. And it’s a great ending! (No false modesty here.)

Thanks NaNoWriMo for helping me develop as a writer.

Words to Live By

17-17When asked for a quote that I try to live by, I’m quick to respond with this Bible verse. As a child, I learned the first part of the verse – “A friend loves at all times” – and thought that was a great thing. When we are young we are taught to be friends, treat each other nicely, to share, and such. All of these things are good ways to live your life.

This verse fit nicely into my childhood ideas of what a friend was/is – someone I can count on, someone who laughs with and not at me, a secret keeper, a companion when causing trouble. I had very few friends growing up that met this criterion.

As an adult – yep, it took me that long to look at the complete verse – I discovered the second part of the verse – “…and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Now that gives an entirely different meaning to the proverb. The first part is much easier than the second part.

What does it mean to be “a brother”? A brother (or sister) is family. Family loves you regardless and is there to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you when times get terrible. The family is where you turn to carry you through, sometimes to provide material needs (shelter, food, etc.), and always to provide moral support.

I know from first-hand experience that sometimes blood relatives fail you. This verse is talking about the person (and usually there is only one or two in your life) that is there regardless. Land in jail – they show up with bond money and a lawyer; so sick you can’t get out of bed – they bring the chicken soup; so sad or happy you have no words – they are the ones that instinctively know the right words (or no words) to get you through.

So how do we find this “brother” for our time of adversity? That isn’t the point of the Proverb. The point is, are you the “brother” for someone else’s adversity? This is the way I try to live my life. More than a fun-loving, trouble making friend but that I’m the “brother” someone can rely on at all times.

 

Crazy Writing Time

Writing Work AreaJust about half way thru NaNoWriMo and things are going well.

I am spending a big portion of my evenings shut up in a room with a computer where I write like a crazy person. Pouring out ideas, creating characters, talking aloud to the walls, and crafting a plot or two while watching the word count increase.

The words flow from my brain to my fingers to the computer screen, but I fear I’m missing words during the transfer process. At the end of the month, I will stand with my arms raised high and shout “Winner!” and then it will be time to cry over the words.

Now, is the time to toss caution to the wind and be brave and daring – to attempt plot lines that loosely hold the story together, to write a scene that you’re not sure is believable even in your pretend world, and to leave all the adverbs and passive sentences.

But maybe I should cut back on the amount of caffeine I’m ingesting and try getting a little more sleep.

Armed for Battle

IMG_1559It’s November, end of the beautiful fall colors in my area of the country, cold weather is creeping down from the north, and it is the start of short daylight hours. Just thinking about going and coming home from work in the dark depresses me. Watching the sun set at 4:00 is difficult but knowing it won’t be above the horizon until after 7:00 adds to the sad feelings I get. But the bright side to all this darkness is hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate is what I crave when the daylight gives way to darkness. I am sure this is my body fighting off the depression caused by the lack of sunlight, officially called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I don’t have SAD, but I become moody and uninvolved with long periods of no sunshine. Which really bothers me since I’m usually an upbeat person.

That brings me back to chocolate, loaded with substances that cause the brain to release endorphins – the feel good chemicals. The problem with chocolate is it tastes so good. It takes only a small amount of chocolate to activate the happy endorphins, but your mouth wants more, which overloads the brain. So how to find the perfect balance. For me, it is a cup of hot chocolate. It is hot which means I have to drink it slowly giving me a longer time to enjoy the flavor, and it is a controlled portion of chocolate that keeps the brain happy.

So bring on those long dark winter days, I’m armed and ready to take it on.

Two Words that Make Me Smile

alligatorI was asked to write a post about a two-word phrase that makes me smile. It took only a second to realize those words are “Later ‘gator.” Just saying them is pleasing to the ear. It’s the rhyming thing. This phrase is from childhood that I still use when trying to be funny, or to make goodbyes not so sad.

I have an Uncle Ray that would tease me when I was a child and I thought he was so cool. His visits were like a spotlight that came on and you never knew what the next act would be.

Uncle Ray would sing “The Battle of New Orleans” when it came on the radio. As he sang, he would dance and act out the song. He looked so funny, but he didn’t care, he was having a great time.

Saying goodbye to him was never sad. He would give me a hug and as he was leaving he would wave and say “Later ‘gator” and then wait for me to respond. I would giggle and reply “After a while crocodile.” Now how could that silly exchange do anything but make you smile?

So what two-word phrase makes you smile?

For Love or Money?

For Love or MoneyI have a friend, Renae Brumbaugh, who has written several books. Her latest is For Love or Money. I was flattered when she asked me to read it and to let her know what I thought of it. I don’t read many romance books. I don’t have anything against romance stories, as you would see if you were to visit my home where I have an assortment of romance books on my bookshelves. Read them all – they are not for show. But this genre is not my first choice in books. Her story I will re-read and recommend.

Why do I recommend it? There are several reasons; first it is a well-written story with interesting characters. I’ve met people like the characters in her story. (We should all have an Aunt Doris in our lives.) A good story line and great characters make it easy to get into the story.

Second, it is a historical fiction, which is one of my favorite genre of books. The setting is Chicago after the great fire, before the World’s Fair, electricity is being introduced and questioned (do you really need it?), and the Moody College is a hub of activity with D. L. Moody participating in the education of ministers and missionaries.

The time is a time of manners and propriety in how we deal with each other. Not so much class but the correct and respectful way to address each other, expectations of how you are treated, and such.

The story revolves around a young lady, Grace, who comes to the aid of a sick (dying) friend who single-handedly runs an orphanage. There are seventeen children from babies in a crib to young teenagers old enough to work but with no place to stay. During this time in history, orphanages were common, and conditions were never very good. But Grace’s lifelong friend, Anne, was trying to make a difference in the children’s lives that came into her orphanage, even though the building is crumbling around them. The building is in the area of Chicago that was devasted by the fire and has been ignored by the city and neighboring community.

But an important thing about this book is that it is a Christian romance. You will find the gentle expressions of the Christian faith throughout the story, but not preachy. Don’t expect pages and pages of heated explicit sex scenes. Expect a great story and you will not be disappointed.

You have a book club looking for a book, put For Love or Money on the list to be reviewed.

NaNoWriMo Preparations

For the past 3 years, I have participated in the NaNoWriMo. It has been great fun and way to get me focused on putting the story floating in my head on “paper.” Starting NaNoWriMo for the first time I had many questions including could I write that many words that fast? But my first year’s NaNoWriMo story, Canyon Riddle, has been published. Yeah, I’m a fan of NaNoWriMo.

I am beginning my preparations for my month long hiatus.  Preparations include:

  • Putting a few rough notes together from all the random thoughts that keep me awake at night.
  • Translating the random thoughts that were written in the middle of the night.
  • A trip to the story’s location to refresh my memory of the place and to give me a weekend away.
  • Prepare research notes on some key (or obscure) ideas that will be (or not) incorporated into the story.
  • Make sure I have a good supply of tea, caffeinated soft drinks, and lots of water.
  • Computer area cleaned and reference materials organized.
  • Tissues for those emotional moments in the story or a runny nose from a cold.
  • Extra vitamins to keep me a little healthier since I won’t be sleeping much.
  • NaNoWriMo account activated and resetting of my password, which I have forgotten.
  • Write notes and place in strategic locations to remind me to be very nice to my best supporter, my husband, who has to put up with being abandoned for the month.

But the most important thing is the Halloween candy selection. The month of November is for NaNoWriMo. So it follows that all the leftover Halloween candy will be part of my sustenance, inspiration, and morale booster for the month. I am not very picky about candy, but there are some that I prefer and I need to make sure there is plenty leftover.  Of course, I will hand out candy to all the trick-or-treaters that come to my door and I will be generous (after all I have a reputation to uphold). Having an abundant supply of my preferred candies will help ensure there are leftovers for a month of creative thoughts.

If you haven’t participated in the NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to try it. Consider my preparation list as a starting point for your writing adventure.

3-Hour Cruise

It is difficult to believe it has been 50 years since Gilligan’s Island first appeared on TV, or that I am old enough to have seen it when it first started. Back then it was in black and white, with a peppy theme song that gets stuck in your head. As a kid, it was a show that I could hardly wait for it to come on in the afternoons. Summer boredom was made easier thanks to the show’s reruns.  Island Palm

Imagination ran amuck thinking about what it would be like to be stranded on an island. Of course, on Gilligan’s Island there were a lot of things going on that did not happen on the island of Tom Hanks’ Cast Away. There were many visitors to Gilligan’s Island even a return visitor in Wrongway Feldman.

The fun things from that show always gave me good memories. I took advantage of one of my characters in my book Canyon Riddle to relive a favorite childhood memory and a real life opportunity to “touch” a part of Gilligan’s Island.

Over the past 50 years my taste in television programs has changed, but given an opportunity to watch a Gilligan’s Island episode (didn’t care for the movies) and I will sit back and watch the adventures of a 3-hour cruise mishap.