I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Art of Brevity

 by Teri Smith

William Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  Many other writers have advised us to keep our writing concise because no one enjoys slogging through many words for a nugget of a thought.

Sometimes after church, I review my notes for a “sentence sermon”. Here are a few examples from my recent notes:

“God says to you: There’s nothing you can do to surprise me.”

“Man keeps trying to make heaven on earth, but there’s only one heaven.”

“If there were no Jesus, we would just be humans longing for Him.”

I enjoy single, pithy sentences like these because the concept stays with me longer.

For similar reasons, writing teachers encourage their students to keep their writing concise.

James Scott Bell in his book, How to Write Dazzling Dialogue, encourages writes to “cut dialogue to the bone.”   

I’m astonished how applying that one piece of advice makes dialogue flow. If you add tension between characters within the dialogue, it sizzles.

Even high school English teachers caution their students to exchange weak verbs coupled with adverbs for a single strong verb. (Or at least they should!) For example, change “walked quickly” to “strode”. 

The Elements of Style, a classic book first published in 1918, remains one of best expositions on writing.  The author advises us to not overwrite, to avoid fancy words, and to not use two words when one will do.

So whether you’re speaking or writing, Shakespeare’s advice still stands. Boil it down to one word: brevity.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Antique or Classic? What makes the difference?

Delores E. Topliff

The word antique, from the Latin antiquus meaning old or ancient, describes collectible items usually at least 100 years old. They are desirable because of age, beauty, rarity, condition, personal or emotional connection, and/or other unique features. Representing earlier times, they show high-quality craftsmanship or skilled attention to design, and are usually found in antique shops, estate sales, online auctions, barns, old buildings, or may be inherited.

Classics earn their label when over time they are judged to be outstanding and of the highest quality, whether describing a classic novel, other literature, music, or classic cars, etc. To me classic also means something so well done, it can't be improved on, à la Dickens, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, the King James Bible, etc.

I had fun last week attending a public library event featuring Mark Moran, an antique appraiser often on the American T.V. program, Antiques Roadshow, described as “part adventure, part history, and part treasure hunt”. Appraisers like Moran are experts at finding the current value of objects and often, the fascinating stories behind them. I took a chair that was already an antique when given to me at my wedding many years ago. It is a well-made “Continental Hall Chair” with an ornate inlaid wood design in the seat, still showing original color. Moran says it was made in Germany or Austria in the 1880s, and displays nicely turned “Barley Twist” legs. 

Its value? The price of many antiques has dropped to about half of what they were even ten years ago because of changing popular tastes. Values are also affected by the availability of many well-made modern reproductions, which lower interest in authentic antiques. My chair, worth $400 a few years ago, would do well to bring $200 now. No, thank you—I’ll keep it and enjoy it myself. (Pictures of Moran and my chair are provided).
I learned there are both classic and antique cars, though the latter are not yet quite 100 years old. See this photo of a darling 1925 antique Ford Model T pickup owned in Minnesota by the same family for 71 years. Asking price? $10,950.  

It seems that in writing, art, music, and life, labels and values may change according to popular tastes and opinions. Even styles revered for centuries may fall and be replaced. I believe that objects or projects created and executed with excellence deserve to achieve and retain classic status. It seems the best guarantee for that is for artists, writers, musicians, and craftsmen, to create to conceive and achieve our very best so that its unique beauty is recognized and long remembered in the eyes of its beholders.

Your turn. What antique or classic possession do you own or love? What work of art or literature do you believe deserves a lasting permanent place high on the list of acclaimed and valued classics?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Crumbling Foundations

The Leaning Tower of Pisa demonstrates in a most infamous way what can happen when the foundation is inadequate. The tilt began while it was still under construction due to the ground being too soft on one side.

But I'm concerned about another type of foundation that seems to be crumbling in our society. The foundation of truth, honesty, what is right and wrong.

In our world, we can't even agree if there is a right and wrong. "It's how you feel about it," they say. Well, here's how I feel about it: if there's no right and wrong, then is that statement right--or wrong? Obviously we have a logical fallacy driving that sentiment.

But with mass murders, religious jihads, folks confused as to what gender they are, political disarray, abortions, greed, and other ugly traits squeezing the life out of our society, surely we can agree that some of our foundations are crumbling.

And that's not even touching some of the enemies of our country who would love to see us fail because of our national debt or other foreign meddling in our affairs.

King David asked in Psalm 11:3, "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" I think we need to take note of this question for our nation, our homes, and our personal lives.

Now just so you don't think I'm all gloom-and-doom, the Bible also tells us that we who believe in Jesus Christ have been built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. That's a foundation we can count on 100%.

What do you think we can do make sure our foundations are strong?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

There are fascinating origins behind most nursery rhymes.

Delores E. Topliff
I love discovering the history and origins behind most common nursery rhymes that bring added details on the life and times of real people and events. Children may singsong these easily memorized words and tunes on playgrounds which adults could noy openly say then for fear of punishment.

For example, some believe Rockabye Baby in the Treetops, dated to 1765, concerns the newborn son of King James II of England and Mary of Modena, Italy, who many believed was not their son but a child brought in and presented as theirs to insure a Catholic heir to the throne.

Goosey, Goosey Gander, dates to 1784 and involves religious persecution in the days when Catholic priests hid to say Latin prayers prohibited even in the privacy of home. In the original version, the narrator discovers an old man “who wouldn’t say his prayers. So I took him by his left leg. And threw him down the stairs.”

Three Blind Mice (1805) is thought to speak of “Bloody Mary” with the three mice representing three Protestant bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley, and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer who conspired to overthrow her rule and were burned at the stake for heresy. Their blindness describes the religious beliefs banned in her kingdom.

There are many more but lets return to modern times. The Bible instructs us to pray for our leaders and trust God to promote or remove them, but we often make comments about various leaders shown on national currencies, or the faces of presidents that should or should not be carved on America’s Mt. Rushmore.

I wonder what  nursery rhymes will arise from our times. I would not want to wear the shoes or bear the responsibilities of elected officials, but without being cruel or criminal, is there a catchy phrase you’ve heard or thought of concerning a current world leader or event? Also feel welcome to share an honoring phrase that fits real people and times.

In fact, I think I’ll spend the rest of today trying to coine up with one and share it next time. I hope you’ll join me.

Some credit to The Dark Origins of 11 Classic Nursery Rhymes, Jennifer M. Wood, http://mentalfloss.com/article/55035/dark-origins-11-classic-nursery-rhymes

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hot topic: Hymns!

What?? How could something so gentle and sweet as a hymn be controversial?

After all, no one can deny that the Bible promotes singing and making melody in our hearts. David wrote hundreds of Psalms meant to be sung. The disciples sang a hymn with the Lord at the Last Supper. Paul and Silas even lifted a tune in while in prison!

But I've met some folks who think hymns written  less than 50 years ago just aren't right. Some may even insist on going back 100 years.

Well, I have to admit I do love some of the old hymns like the one in the picture. I can sing that one and "Amazing Grace" at the top of my lungs...unless the words really get to me. Then I reach for a Kleenex and wipe away a few tears. And don't get me started on "Holy, Holy, Holy" or "Just as I am".

But do we really need these new, modern hymns? Well, certainly not if they're accompanied by drums! (Just kidding! I need a little help with the beat.)

So why should anyone write a new hymn? Don't we have enough? No, we never will have "enough" hymns. As long as the love of the Lord Jesus inspires the hearts of His people, we will never have too many. In fact, if there are no new hymns, I think it would grieve the heart of our Savior...as though His love no longer inspires our hearts.

As much as I enjoy both the new and the old hymns, I do look forward to one hymn in particular. "And they sang a new song, saying 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.'" (Revelation 5:9)

Now that's a choir I look forward too! And no one there will object to the tune or the rhythm.

What are some of your favorite hymns or spiritual songs? Do you have favorite Christian artists?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Funny Things Happen on our way to Written English - “Though the written word may stay you, the spoken word can slay you.”

Delores E. Topliff
If the above words aren’t already a famous quotation, they should be, since correct word pronunciation often trips us up. I remember being a dreamy sixth grader who loved practicing new words. One morning as I looked at the sunrise through our classroom window, I described, “winter’s roseate dawn!”
       My longsuffering teacher patted my curly head and said, “You’re been eating Coleridge’s poppies and honey-dew.” I didn’t know what she meant, but continued repeating and reusing any word I loved until I wore it (and my hearers) out. I ran into trouble though by learning words through sounding them out if I didn’t know how they were said. I once waved a hand and described something as “gigantic” using hard “g” sounds. When no one responded, I assumed they hadn’t heard me so repeated “gigantic” even louder with stronger hard “g” sounds.
         “Oh, you mean ‘gigantic’ like the word ‘giant’!” someone hooted. My face burned with shame as I noted that word, but I still have to stop and think each time I say it in public.
That experience made me sympathize when a bright college freshman I taught years later had also learned words based on how they look instead of how they sound. Kathy had written her essay on “Origins of the English Language” and confidently shared it out loud. Describing England’s transition from speaking English to French after 1066 she had written, “King Edward the Confessor died without an heir” but we heard her say, “died without a hair.” We swallowed our smiles as she continued. “And that’s why William of Normandy came to ‘press his suit.” That’s when we lost it and roared as we pictured a bald-headed man standing at an ironing board pressing his royal robe. She became a gifted writer and speaker, but that day we all learned a lesson in taking greater care to pronounce words by how they truly sound, not by how they appear
          For me, others words easy to stumble over include yacht, colonel, isthmus, aluminum, and Worcestershire.
I’m sorry for non-English speakers who have to learn our language and figure out our words and phrases that do sound quite different from how they appear.
What words challenge you or turn your face red as you mispronounce them? What tips can you share to make learning new words more manageable? 

Monday, March 20, 2017

What Can A Person do if Justice is Delayed?

What would a hot shot TV crime reporter do if her own sister was murdered? What if the convicted killer sat in jail with his execution date hovering over Reporter Andi Hollister's days?

Most of all, how would Andi react if a letter surfaced proving that the man was innocent?

Could anyone find a detective who would go far enough to find out the truth...and do it before the wrong person is executed!

My friend, Patricia Bradley, has written an excellent romantic suspense book with all these elements! Throw in some diamond smuggling, a murder, and the clock ticking on the possible innocent man's life, and you'll have a story that not only keeps you from putting it down, but also one that you'll think about long after you read it.

You can find a copy of Justice Delayed by Patricia Bradley at Amazon, Christianbook.com, and Barnes & Noble.

Let me know if you read it! We'd love to know what you think!

--by Teri Smith

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Southern Exposure

                                                                               Delores E. Topliff
Today I finish three months of great Southern living 860 miles south of Minnesota where when temperatures dropped to -26 northern Mississippi dipped to 23 above but rose to 71 in a few days.

I used to be amused by people who became snowbirds but find now I am one. It’s been a heartwarming and pain-free culture change. Mine has been better by having several good friends here whose many friends instantly become mine. Many things have made my first winter in southern climes truly enjoyable.

Here when you meet people for the first time instead of asking where you live or where you work, they ask, “Where do you go to church?” 

Some say this genteel town is like TV’s Mayberry, U.S.A. So far, I agree.

Southern warmth, hospitality, gentility, good manners, Christian spirit, and more are measurable here. My neighbors have brought cookies, quiche, and the best homemade pecan pie I’ve ever eaten—and teach me how to pronounce words with Southern flair. Even Walmart’s staff and clients are modestly dressed, well-behaved, and patient—far different from the frazzled super-centers I try not to frequent up north, especially after dark. In December, clerks and shoppers only said Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays, and horns don't even honk in traffic.

This friendly neighborhood is blessedly quiet and peaceful. At night, the back windows of this home face the lovely stained glass windows of a Baptist Church two blocks away with its large white lit cross.

Though it’s not yet officially spring, warm temperatures already make daffodils, forsythia, gardenias, and all fruit trees burst open in beautiful colorful blooms. Here are pear blossoms from my back yard. The pollen count is high but songbirds are singing. I head back north today with wonderful memories to eagerly return come fall seeking more Southern exposure.

Who knows—in time I may even acquire a little genuine Southern drawl.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Exploring the Concept of Beauty

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “beauty” lately. In some ways, our society is obsessed with it, and I don’t think I need to go into detail since we see that obsession every day in many ways.

But it wasn’t our society’s concept of what’s pretty and what’s not that made me stop and think about beauty. It was the splendor that I see in God’s creation. You can see it in flowers, trees, and cute little doggies.

But if you follow me on Facebook, you know I’m currently fascinated with sunsets. I post pictures like this.  

And more like this.

Each one is unique, and most days I watch for the sunset and run for my camera if there’s a pretty one.

So it started me thinking about God’s thoughts about beauty. What does he say?

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  So all beauty comes from Him.

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.”  That one made me smile because I usually don’t take pictures of feet.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls.” My mother gave me a strand of her pearls, so I do agree that they are gorgeous.

“Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!” I had to think for a while about that verse because when I think of God’s holiness, beauty isn’t what first comes to my mind. But when I thought about it, the truly ugly things in this world do come from sin: brutality, jealously, greed, etc. So, indeed, the holiness of the Lord is beautiful.

One thing I’ve noticed about the sunsets: the most spectacular ones have clouds. Maybe there’s a lesson here too. When God allows some emotionally cloudy days in our lives, maybe He’s going to also allow His light to reflect from those clouds and send another display of His glory into the life of someone. 

So I’m will continue watching the sky in the evenings and will run for my camera when God lights up the sky.

One last thing I’ve noticed. Every time I scurry outdoors to take a picture of the sunset, my doggie, Titus, goes with me. But he never looks up at the sunset.

Think about that one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day - Finding a Perfect Life Mate, Part 2

 Delores E. Topliff
For Part 2 of finding a perfect life mate, I’ll introduce you to my Uncle Johnny. As a kid, I found him fascinating. He collected all kinds and shapes of polished agates, had countless records of bird songs, stacks of National Geographics, and a few statues of naked alabaster ladies. Everything he displayed in his home was interesting, but he had not found a life mate. (I do wonder what the ideal candidate might have looked like). He joined a Lonely Hearts Club, and exchanged letters and photos with a promising candidate years before online connections were available. He boarded and rode the train from Washington State to New York City for days to meet her. She had told him the color of the coat and the hat she would be wearing as she stood at the platform where his train would pull in. Family legend says she was there, he saw her, but he did not get off the train. I do not know if she did not match her photo well enough. Or he got cold feet about pursuing a relationship, but he stayed on that train as it reversed direction and returned all the way to Washington State. I wish that story had a happier ending—I have imagined many alternate scenarios.
I knew an attractive 6’ tall young woman in remote northern Alaska who was encouraged to be patient, that God had a special someone for her, and would send him in time in answer to her prayer. With few prospects around, she said, “God would have to drop him from the sky.” That next summer when they had a forest fire, a handsome 6’ plus smokejumper floated down using their camp as a base. After his crew put out the forest fire, he began a blaze with that young lady, and they’ve kept their home fires burning ever since.
There are as many fascinating ways for people to get together as there are people. Please share your favorite story or suggestions for connecting. And Happy Valentine’s Day. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It's Almost Valentine's Day - Finding A Perfect Life Mate, Part 1

Delores E. Topliff
             With Valentine’s Day soon here, it’s time for practical advice on love and romance. In our day when TV reality shows like The Bachelor earn top ratings, and library shelves are overloaded with books on relationship building and successfully choosing life mates, everyone hopes to find gold at the end of our rainbow, and not just the pot.
Success stories range from the luck of the draw, to being in the right place at the right time, or knowing a neighbor or best friend from childhood to grow into love with. Others meet someone who sweeps them their feet (sometimes literally), or who saves their life from fire or accident or drowning. Some survive a car or airplane crash together and know they are destined to be together.
Should we team up with someone similar? Or opposite? Someone who completes us? Or mirrors us so very few adjustments are needed? Few of us are experts, but here is one tip and story worth remembering.
In church youth group, grown-ups gave tips on various life skills. My favorite was the happily married dentist who shared how he found his life mate. “I had a long list of what I wanted in a girl,” he said. “I wouldn’t date her unless she had enough of those qualities to come close, and after I got home from a date, I sat down and ticked off the boxes. I was making progress in narrowing down the field when I met Marilyn.” Here he glanced at his wife of some years. “I came home from my first date with her and threw away the list. I didn’t need it anymore, and I got serious about our relationship.” That sounds like a success story to me.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, but think about your favorite advice to meet someone. Do all the details need to fit together  just right? Or would he or she stand out in the midst of a field of rubble as if under Hollywood lights? Share the best story you know.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An Alabaster Surprise

My Bible class has been studying the book of John this year. We came to John 12 where Mary anointed the feet of Jesus. One of our references was in Matthew 26:7 where it says this: "A woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on this head..."

I love this story of Mary's devotion, and it always challenges me to think about ways I could show my devotion to the Lord.

But the "alabaster surprise" came to me this week as I looked at the bottom of a little dish my mother gave to me. It's alabaster! And yes, that's a picture of it.

As I examined at the dish, I saw that it appears it was sealed at one time. I don't know what it contained, but I'd like to think it was perfume...like Mary's.

Needless to say the dish is special to me just because it belonged to my mother. But I also realized just a bit more what a sacrifice Mary made because it was likely "costly" in more ways than one. Had someone special like my mother given it to her? Did she spend from her own money to buy it? In any case, the disciples scolded her, but the Lord saw right through to her heart of love.

Have you ever discovered a little treasure like this? What could you give to the Lord that others might think was a waste?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Garde lieu—or vocabulary building can be dangerous

Delores E. Topliff
The most fun college class I’ve created and taught so far was when students including my oldest son asked me to put together a college vocabulary class so their skills could grow. I found a great book and we were off and running. Call me sentimental, but I still have a few fun student compositions from their related writing exercises. “Take the 25-30 vocabulary building words we studied this week and incorporate them into a single story,” I’d say—and they did. The best book I found then that I haven't improved on is Vocabulary For the College Bound by Levine, still available in book form, PDF, and even on You Tube.

My enthusiastic students even acted out or pantomimed some word stories and we had to guess what was going on. For example, the Arms Race involved students racing across our classroom wiggling their arms. One student, now a mother herself, had a classmate lure me to my back porch while she hid behind my ideally-located upstairs window with an ice-cream bucket containing water with yellow food coloring and a few wisps of toilet paper floating in it to make it convincing when I unwittingly got into position for her to dump it on me. A courageous co-conspirator hid behind a nearby building with a video camera capturing my response. That week involved the vocabulary word Garde lieu, one of their favorites. It means “Guard yourself,” or more colloquially, “Watch out below,” rising from the historic practice of carrying chamber pots outside to dump them, or in cities tossing the contents out of windows into streets below. Therefore city streets had gutters at their edges and gentlemen walked on the outsides of streets, hopefully wearing raincoats or capes, while their companions were protected by walking closer to buildings.

This re-enactment was a great success as I was ambushed, but not totally drenched. Those students passed my course but the video tape showing my reaction was confiscated by our college administrator and disappeared. I suppose it’s nice to be highly regarded and make an impression on students. Most of us remain friends welcome in my home and I love visiting theirs.

Another origin that surprised us was “curfew,” and our college had one. It literally means a signal, usually with a bell, announcing the start of time restrictions. In medieval Europe it meant ringing a bell at a specific evening hour to announce time to cover or extinguish household fires. That’s the exact word meaning in its French originshut the draft on the fireplace or stove to prepare for night and send visitors home.

I love words and their meanings. They help me grow in vocabulary and increase reading and writing enjoyment. Please share the word origin of one of your favorite words to increase interest for the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The New Year

by Patricia Bradley
It’s 2017, and change is in the air. Everyone is setting new goals, and Rachelle Gardner had a great post way back in 2011 on this subject about looking forward to making those goals happen. Check it out.

Expectations abound. But what if last year’s goals resulted in dismal failure? As some of mine did. I did not lose the ten pounds I vowed to lose, and in fact added a few. I vowed to get my book in on time, but ended up missing the deadline and had to ask for a two-week extension. So this year I was a little fearful about making new goals.

Until I thought about…the farmer.

Yes, the farmer. Think about it. Every spring, regardless of past failures, he plants a new crop, hope and anticipation mixing with the fresh turned dirt. He plants his seed in faith, and then he waits. He’s done all he physically can do. He can’t make the seed grow or control the amount of rain that falls. Those things are in God’s hands.

Like the farmer, we set our goals, do the preparation and look forward to seeing the harvest. But sometimes our goals don’t get the needed rain or they stagnate, and we perceive that as failure. So we quit trying. We become afraid to try new things.

What is fear keeping you from doing? Not writing because you fear you’re not good enough? Maybe you’ve written the story God laid on your heart, but you don’t send it out because you fear rejection, or you’ve been rejected. Or maybe there’s something new you want to try, but the fear of failing holds you back.

A few years ago, when my mom was in her eighties, she learned how to program a VCR. Then when she was ninety, she wanted to learn how to use a computer but was afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her anyone who could program a VCR could learn how to Google. 

In a short period of time she was Googling and doing Face Book. She even had her own FB page. When she was 92, she decided to learn how to text. And she did--on a flip phone no less--in spite of her fear that it would prove too difficult.

So, if my ninety-two-year-old mother could risk failing, so can you. So can I. 

This week, I start a new book--the third book in the Memphis Cold Case Novels. I worry I can't do it again--come up with another story. But in my quiet time this morning, God reassured me that He was the Master Creator and He will give me the words. And to prove it, He gave me the nugget of the story I was missing. Now it's up to me to do the discipline and sit at the computer, typing the words He gives me. And always, the harvest is in His hands.

I challenge you to ponder and pray about your new goals, and then step out in faith.

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart...wait patiently for the Lord to act..." Psalm 37:4,7

Oh, by the way, Justice Delayed, the first Memphis Cold Case Novel, comes out January 31...here's a little bit about it: 

It's been eighteen years since TV crime reporter Andi Hollister's sister was murdered. The confessed killer is behind bars, and the execution date is looming. But when a letter surfaces stating that the condemned killer didn't actually do it, Detective Will Kincade of the Memphis Cold Case Unit will stop at nothing to help Andi get to the bottom of it. After all, this case is personal: the person who confessed to the crime is Will's cousin. They have less than a week to find the real killer before the wrong person is executed. But much can be accomplished in that week--including uncovering police corruption, running for your life, and falling in love.

 Preorder on Amazon