Sunday, December 31, 2006

Seeing the Old Year Out

It's done. Christmas is packed and put away.

Every year I try to be organized when I put things away--and yes, I'm one of those people who checks every string of lights and replaces all the burned out bulbs. I've wrapped everything, put it away, and climbed into the attic, where it's definitely hot (unusual weather we're having this year, isn't it?)

This year hubby and I even went to Home Depot and bought flooring to toss in the attic we've never used. I broke down and ordered an artificial Christmas tree on after-Christmas clearance, so as soon as it shows up next week, we're hauling the last of our holiday decorations into the new attic space and leaving it for an entire year.

Every year I pull out strings of lights and stare at the front of my house. I usually lay the strings along the flower beds, along the edge of the porch, over the porch railing. But now the hedges have grown up so you can't even SEE the porch railing, so this afternoon I sat down with a sketch of our house and drew in what I'm going to do next year--it might even be pretty. And organized. (The drawing is the front of our house--minus our now-fully-grown plants, of course.) Sorry, but I didn't scan in my finished drawing. At this point, it's all a matter of faith, anyway.
Whenever I have "free time" (defined as time without a deadline breathing down my neck), I tend to go into hyper domestic mode.
As I rearranged the house yesterday, I took down all my artwork and mixed it all up--different paintings for different rooms. The Klimt is now at the end of the hall, while the Monet has moved into the bedroom. (I don't have to tell you that these aren't originals, right?)
I dusted all the ceiling fans and painted over all the marks on the walls. I caulked all the cracks in the bathroom tile and stuffed new grout into all the cracked places in the kitchen.
I went to my favorite gift shop, where they had all floral arrangements at fifty percent off. Got two new arrangements which, with a couple of changes in furniture arrangement, make the house look different--to me, anyway. Went to Dillards and found some doggie cookies at 75 percent off. Gave them to Charley and Babe in honor of Charley's birthday.
Yesterday afternoon Babe and I sat on the front porch and simply enjoyed the quiet. I had to laugh--at one point a breeze blew across the porch, and Babe and I simultaneously lifted our chins so we could feel the wind blowing across our faces. Guess we both had the same idea.
And so we're ready to say goodbye to 2006 and hello to 2007.
My new year's wish for all of us--
May 2007 hold . . .
Enough joy to keep us smiling,
Enough tears to keep us tender,
Enough work to keep us busy,
Enough praise to keep us encouraged,
Enough honesty to keep us humble,
Enough trials to keep us praying,
Enough rest to keep us dreaming,
And enough love to keep us loving others.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy Birthday to Charley Gansky!

Happy fourth birthday to Windfall's Glorious Gansky, aka "Charley." What a love he is!
I want to thank all of you for your comments over the last couple of days . . . and the tone with which your comments were offered. :-)
I think it's interesting that Scripture lists stealing, greediness, drunkenness, and cheating right along with sexual sins--they're all wrong in his eyes. Sin is disobedience, period.
BUT--I do think it's important to know (and teach our young people) that sexual sins strike at the very core of a person. I was watching a TV show the other day where a young woman had trouble explaining to her current boyfriend why she wanted to break up. They slept together after every date, but while she was monogamous, he wasn't willing to be. She fumbled for words when he kept saying, "I'm just not at that point yet," and I wanted to yell: "But you've been BEHAVING as if you're at that point."
God designed sex to reflect the intimate sharing of two souls; of two people becoming one flesh. It's a living picture of the relationship between Christ and his church. But the evil one takes what is pure and holy and cheapens it by twisting it, overusing it, making it the object of scorn and a true trivial pursuit . . .
But now I'm way off topic.
Saturday fun (and yes, this is for real): At a recent gathering of animal rights advocates in D.C., the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (not the same organization as the folks in your city who take in strays) made a proposal. He said the word dog is unworthy of dogs. So they should be called (drum roll, please): Canine-Americans.
LOL! Of course that opens the door for Feline-Americans, Equine-Americans, and perhaps even Amphibian-Americans, but you get my point.
If you've read Unspoken, you know I adore animals. I believe they feel, think, and communicate in their way, and probably will speak in the new heaven and on the new earth. (I think they probably spoke in Eden).
But the hyphenated thing has gone way too far.
Call me a mutt-American,

Friday, December 29, 2006

Followup to Yesterday

A further word about yesterday's post. Anonymous was disappointed that I would include a "gay" character in my book, but if you define "gay" as someone who practices the lifestyle (I would), then if a person is not practicing, you are left with a person, period. He may be attracted to people of the same gender without committing sexual sin.
(People who are married may find themselves attracted to someone else, but if they don't pursue it, they haven't committed adultery. As someone once said, "I can't stop a thought from flying through my head. I can prevent it from making a nest.")

My Fairlawn character is a young man who loves the Lord and also loves to do hair and makeup. And I've known quite a few men who fit that description, and not all of them would call themselves gay.

I've often puzzled over the following scripture (Matt. 19:8-12):

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. 9 And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.*”
10 Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!”
11 “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. 12 Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry
* for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
* Some manuscripts add And anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Compare Matt 5:32.
* Greek and some make themselves eunuchs.
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible : New Living Translation., "Text edition"--Spine., 2nd ed., Mt 19:8 (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004).

And I have come to agree with the following interpretation:

The Lord Jesus explained that there are three types of eunuchs. Some men are eunuchs because they were born without the power of reproduction. Others are so because they were castrated by men; oriental rulers often subjected the harem attendants to surgery to make them eunuchs. But Jesus especially had in mind those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. These men could be married, and they have no physical impairment. Yet in dedication to the King and His kingdom, they willingly forego marriage in order to give themselves to the cause of Christ without distraction. As Paul wrote later, “He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32). Their celibacy is not physical but a matter of voluntary abstinence.
Not all men can live such a life; only those divinely empowered: “But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7).

William MacDonald and Arthur Farstad, Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments, Mt 19:12 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995).

My Fairlawn character would fall into that third group. Here's the scene from my book. Jennifer, the POV character, has just met Ryan, who surprised and startled her in the kitchen of the funeral home she's just inherited. After he leaves, she speaks to Gerald, the mortician, about him:

I wait until I hear the front door slam, then I collapse into a kitchen chair. I’m not sure which has unnerved me more—the stranger in the kitchen, the talk of corpses settling, or Ryan Evans himself.

I press my hand to my forehead. “He scared me to death, Gerald.”

“Apparently the reaction was mutual.”

“And . . . I don’t know how to say this, but he still scares me.”

“Ryan? He’s harmless.”

Has the man no eyes? No gaydar? “Gerald—” I lean forward and peer up at his face—“I don’t want that young man around my sons. There’s enough gender confusion in this world without guys like Ryan adding to the mix.”

Gerald looks at me, his eyes clear and direct, and in that instant I realize he understands exactly what I’m trying to say. “You’re new in town,” he says, his voice cool and inflectionless, “so I don’t suppose you could know Ryan as well as I do.”

“Of course not, but I know an effeminate man when I see one. My boys, Gerald, aren’t going to be seeing much of their father this year and—”

“We haven’t really talked about this,” he interrupts, “but are you a follower of Christ?”

The question steals my breath away. I stare at him in a paroxysm of wonder, shame, and indignation. “I—of course I am.”

He lifts a brow. “That’s good. Then you should know that Ryan is one of your spiritual brothers. He’s a Christian, too.”

“That doesn’t mean—”

“He lives in an apartment in the Biddle house. Because he loves the Lord, Ryan lives as chaste a life as Miss Biddle herself, and that’s saying something.”

“I’m not implying that he—would—could—” Because my words are tumbling over each other, I pause and draw a deep breath. I’m so confused I don’t know what I’m saying or not saying.
I wish I hadn’t said anything at all. I wish Gerald hadn’t felt it necessary to ask about my spiritual life.

I wish I didn’t feel so far away from the Lord.

I prop my elbow on the table, then drop my throbbing head to my hand. “I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted . . . on Ryan’s behalf.”

Gerald sips his coffee as I scoop up the pieces of the broken mug, toss them into the trash, and attack the coffee spill with the mop.

I’m so glad we won’t have to stay here. How could I expect my boys to form a proper masculine self-image if they shared a house with two women, an old man, a male makeup artist, and the occasional corpse?


Jennifer comes to realize that in judging another, she is actually judging herself . . . and she's found lacking.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Surrendering Our Desires

Last weekend my paper had an article on a new gospel band . . . it's like many other gospel bands, but this one is composed of gay members.

I had to sit and think about this a while. I've wanted to talk about it, but I'm well-aware that this is an explosive topic. If you haven't noticed, there's been a real campaign on television to move homosexuality into mainstream entertainment. ER, one of the few TV shows I watch regularly, had two plot threads dealing with it recently, and both plot threads are ongoing.

So, for what it's worth, here are my thoughts.

I do not hate--or even dislike-- gay people. I've had several gay friends--one of my dear friends and fellow singers died of AIDS, so I have felt that loss. I associate with the gay couples in my neighborhood, have had them in my home and I've been to theirs. I have written a gay character into the first Fairlawn book.

BUT--my character in Fairlawn is a gay man who loves Jesus, and as a result, he lives a celibate life. (I have to credit Lisa Samson, who did this first in her novel, Tiger Lily.)

The problem, I think, lies in how you define "gay:" does "gay" mean someone who is actively living a homosexual lifestyle, or does it mean someone who is attracted to people of the same gender? Sexual temptation is not sin. Sexual surrender is.

When I first found out that my friend Glenn was homosexual, I called him and begged him to come to my city to talk to a Christian counselor. He fit the stereotypical profile: a sensitive young man, difficult relationship with this father, an artistic bent. He assured me that he wasn't living "that lifestyle," but he said he'd felt "this way" his entire life.

Obviously, he lived the lifestyle at some point, because he contracted HIV and AIDS. But his comment made me realize that this is not a problem easily solved. As Jeff Watson says:

"While a heritable gene may predispose a carrier toward physical height, heredity does not require anyone to play for the National Basketball Association. Stated differently, even though a person may be born with a vulnerability toward manic depression or alcoholism, one’s personal outcomes can be modified by choice and by experience. If a boy with a sensitive disposition is marked as “different” by his father and is subsequently rejected by male authority figures, peers, and potential heterosexual partners, he may experiment with the temporary anesthesia of homosexual companions. What starts out as a relatively “free” act can become less so over time because of the biological power of repetition.

"Homosexuality can be changed. The vast majority of young people who adopt homosexuality eventually give it up.10 An overview of secular therapies suggests an approximately 50 percent success rate, with Masters and Johnson reporting 65 percent in a five-year follow-up.11 Successful approaches focus on treating social anxieties rooted in father-to-son gender-identity injuries12 and on encouraging Christian forms of abstinence, self-discipline, and mutual accountability.13"

Angie here again: The current "politically correct" stance holds that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, has the right to pursue sexual pleasure and gratification without limitation.

But Christians are commanded to follow the Scripture. We call Jesus "Lord," and by granting him that title, we are acknowledging a surrender of our rights. And what does Scripture say about sexuality to every follower of Christ ? Let's look at 1 Cor. 6:9-13:

9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.

Blunt talk ahead: I am married, so I am not free to have sex with anyone other than my husband. If I were single, I would not be free to have sex with anyone else. If I were widowed, I would still be commanded to control my sexual impulses in a way that honored Christ. I am a slave to Christ, not to my own appetites.
Battling sexual temptation--of any sort--is not sin, but surrendering to that temptation is. If we habitually surrender to sin, Christ is not Lord of our life. If we really love Jesus, we don't want to hurt him, we want to obey him . . . because we love him more than we love our rights.

So--about that gay gospel band. If it is composed of people who battle a common sexual temptation, okay, and why not have a band for gluttons (I'd join that one) or chorus for coveters? Surely we all have enough besetting sins that we could form clubs of all kinds.

I wonder if it's good to focus on our besetting sins--we are to focus on victory in Christ. We who follow Jesus have been cleansed and made holy. We may stumble into sin, but we do not make a habit of practicing it . . . because we love the Lord and want to please him.

No matter what our temptations and weaknesses--and we all have them--we can find victory in Christ if we are willing to surrender and trust him. But we have to come to that place of surrender.


10 E. O. Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 295.
11 M. F. Schwartz and W. H. Masters, “The Masters and Johnson Treatment Program for Dissatisfied Homosexual Men,” American Journal of Psychiatry 141 (February 1984): 173–81.
12 Joseph Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach (New York: Jason Aronson, 1991).
13 E. M. Pattison and M. L. Pattison, “Ex-Gays: Religiously Mediated Change in Homosexuals,” American Journal of Psychiatry 137 (1980): 1553–62.

Jeffrey A. Watson and Charles R. Swindoll, Biblical Counseling for Today : A Handbook for Those Who Counsel from Scripture, Swindoll leadership library, 189 (Nashville, Tenn.: Word Pub., 2000).

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible : New Living Translation., "Text edition"--Spine., 2nd ed., 1 Co 6:9 (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Preacher Brown

A simple email discussion about the song "Winter Wonderland" reminded me of Preacher Brown, a minister for whom I used to work in the days when I was doing any and all kinds of freelancing. Preacher Brown would send me audiotapes of his sermons and I'd transcribe and edit them, then send them back. He often spoke of one day putting them in a collection or something; I never knew what he did with them.

But I learned from the man. He was in his sixties when I edited for him, and the strong pastor of a primarily African-American church in Baltimore. I loved listening to his tapes, because he didn't shy away from preaching the gospel or the truth.

One of the most important things I ever learned from Preacher Brown was the practical wisdom of "tithe ten, save ten." Percent, that is. Out of every paycheck, ten percent goes immediately to God, another ten percent goes into a savings account. The rest you live on. I've been practicing that principle ever since I heard him explain it.

Preacher Brown was also one of the first to make the parable of the four soils clear to me. It's only that last group, I finally realized, who are true believers.

I drifted away from Preacher Brown and didn't hear from him again, though I often thought of him fondly. And so, on Christmas morning, as some friends and I discussed the political correctness of doing away with the "Parson Brown" line in "Winter Wonderland," I said I'd change the lyric to "Preacher Brown," who happened to be in Baltimore.

And then I googled him, just to see how he was doing. And I found this:

July 1, 2005: For over 50 years, the man affectionately known around the world as "Preacher" Brown has done nothing less than deliver the word of God to his people. His motto, "Keep looking up," is how he lived each day. Brown, the voice of the WRBS-FM 95.1, died on June 9 of cancer. He was 81. "[Brown ] never sought to glorify himself. It was about compelling souls to the Lord Jesus Christ," Doris Collins said during a homegoing service for Brown on June 17 at Manna Bible Baptist Church, the West Baltimore house of worship Brown founded 37 years ago.

It's sad to realize that someone you love has left this temporary world . . . and you didn't even realize it. But I know he's in heaven, probably grinning in that great cloud of witnesses as he sees this missive go out into cyberspace.

And I will look him up when I get there . . . and let him know how much he influenced my life, even though we never once met in person.

Preacher Joseph Brown. A godly man.


Joseph Merrill Brown, the only child of the late Joseph and Carrie Brown, was born November 15, 1923, in North Philadelphia.

“Preacher Brown” was educated in the Philadelphia Public School System.

In 1942, he met and married his wife of 63 years, Kathryn Moore, Preacher Brown entered the United States Army in 1942, and served until 1944, and while serving in the Philippines, during the battle of Saipan in World War II, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and had been serving until being called home, early Thursday morning, June 9, 2005. After leaving the Army he was employed by the United States Postal Service. Preacher Brown later left the postal service to begin his full service of evangelism. He received his initial education from the Manna Bible Institute. He received his Doctorate from the Bible College of California. He founded the Manna Bible Baptist Church in 1968. He later founded the Pimlico Bible Institute. He was a member of the National Religious Broadcasters Association. He was a former Protestant Chaplain for the Baltimore City Jail. He has been a speaker at the White House on three occasions. He was a member of the Advisory Board for Lynchburg Bible College. For over 50 years Dr. Brown was firmly dedicated to the Evangelism of the lost and teachings of God’s Word. Preacher Brown was officially licensed to preach in 1954, by the membership of Penn Memorial Baptist Church, Rev. Frank B. Mitchell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His life long ministry was the spread of the gospel, by radio and TV with the Manna Bible Baptist Church and through the Grade Memorial Hour which he founded. Countless souls have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior through his ministries.

Preacher Brown leaves to cherish his memory: his wife, Kathryn Brown; three children, Joseph Jr., Stephen and Sharon Simms; two daughters-in-law, Tina and Marlene; two sisters-in-law, Helen Tate and Blanche Moore; one son-in-law, Sterling Simms; six grandchildren, Stephen, Jr., Karyn, Sean, Michael, Shelton and Barry; twelve grandchildren; cousins; and a host of other family and dear friends.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pastor Buck

In catching up on my newspaper reading, I happened across a December 18th editorial in the Wall Street Journal about "Pastor Buck," a North Korean who has become an American citizen. Pastor Buck has spent his life helping refugees escape North Korea. Pastor Buck is not only a humanitarian--he is a Christian, which probably explains why he is a humanitarian.

The editorial, by Melanie Kirkpatrick, explains that Pastor Buck has rescued 100 refugees and helped support another thousand who are still on the run. For his "crime," he has also spent fifteen months in a Chinese prison. He spent last Christmas in jail. This year, he is celebrating Christmas with his family in Seattle.

I don't know about you, but I didn't know about the underground railroad that is working to ferry North Korean refugees out of China to South Korea and then to the United States. I have a great fondness in my heart for Korea--I visited there while I was in college, and that country gave me my two children. I have great respect for the Korean people, and I rejoice that Christianity is strong in that country.

The article spoke of another American, Steve Kim, who has been in a Chinese prison since September 2003, sentenced to five years for smuggling aliens out of the country. Kim, who is also a Christian, has funded safe houses and paid for refugees' passage on the underground railroad. Beijing refuses to grant him parole. His wife and three children, who live in New York, will celebrate this Christmas without him . . . again.

I need not tell you about the brutality of Chinese prisons . . . but I beg you to pray for these people who are being persecuted in North Korea and China. And if you hear of some other way to help, please let me know.


Monday, December 25, 2006

A Blessed Christmas to you and yours!

The Christmas brunch menu is planned, the Daughter is on her way home, and the Son is beaming because he GAVE some cool things this year.
I'm happily munching on bubble gum--my gift from Santa hubby. :-) The diet has taken a vacation.
The work has been set aside, and I think even the dogs know that this is a special, reverent time.
May you--those of you I have come to know by name, and those of you who lurk--and your family enjoy the calm of eternal peace that springs from one holy night.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Book Review: Who Really Cares

The Wall Street Journal recently ran Wilfred McClay's review by of the new book, Who Really Cares, by Arthur Brooks. (Dec. 22, '06).

Misters Brooks and McClay confirmed what I've known for years--religious people give more than political liberals who talk a lot about giving, but would prefer that the government empty its pockets first.

I don't usually talk politics in this blog because I know it's a quaqmire from which there is no escape. But it's so refreshing to hear this news, I couldn't resist.

The following is from the review:

"Mr. Brooks speaks here with the authority of a liberal who has been mugged by the data. 'These are not the sorts of conclusions I ever thought I would reach,' . . . He fully expected to find confirmation at every turn that political liberals 'cared more about others than conservatives did.' But his empirical findings simply refused to comply with his expectations . . . Mr. Brooks concludes that four distinct forces appear to have primary responsibility for making people behave charitably: religion, skepticism about the government's role in economic life, strong famlies and personal entrepreneurship. Those Americans who have all four, or at least three, are much more likely to behave charitably than those who do not."

  • people who attend houses of worship regularly are 25 percent more likely to give and 23 percent more likely to volunteer, and the religious give away four times the amounts of money than the secular do.

  • Conservative households give thirty percent more to charity than liberal households.

  • Redistributionist liberals give about a fourth of what redistributionist skeptics give.

Mr. McClay, author of the review, says, "One can hope that this debate will refresh our patterns of social thought by reintroducing some very old ideas: the importance of giving as one of the central activities of a free people and the profoundly spiritual paradox that giving is itself the ultimate source of our greatest wealth and happiness."

Can it be that one reason the country assumes that conservatives are stingy and liberals are generous is because liberals talk about giving to the poor while conservatives are mindful of the admonition to "let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing?" Some of the greatest gifts are given quietly, anonymously, without any fanfare. And those are the givers, I think, who enjoy the greatest reward.

Perhaps religious people give more because they recognize that what they have comes from God. And, mindful of their blessedness and unworthiness, they are quick to pass God's bounty on to the less fortunate. Or perhaps they are simply obeying the admonitions we find over and over in Scripture: blessed is the man who gives.

A friend of mine tells the story of Christ's advent something like this: Gabriel was planning a huge to-do for the son of God's arrival on earth--a display of shooting stars, a parade of angelic choirs, a heavenly procession through the clouds.

But God said, "No, I had something different in mind. He will come to earth as a baby, be entrusted to poor parents, and be born in a humble animal pen."

Gabriel was crestfallen. All his fantastic plans . . . would he not be allowed to do anything?

Not wanting to hurt the angel's feelings, God the Father relented. "Okay," he said, "I'll let you do something. You can use one angel choir . . . and one star."

This Christmas, let us not forget that we live . . . because God gave.

A blessed Christmas to you and yours!


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Nativity Story Update!

Tyndale House has just released a video, recorded last summer, where I talked about the writing of The Nativity Story novelization. Click on the link below to watch.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Product Review: Cover Girl Outlast

Okay, so this isn't the most earth-shattering of topics, but if you're female and you speak/sing/go/eat out in public, you'll appreciate it.

When most women apply their lipstick, it remains on for a few hours or until a meal is eaten--which isn't long. When I used to sing professionally, I used to carry a tube of lipstick in the elastic sleeves of my performance clothes for a last-minute touch-up--and try to discreetly apply it at the table, which everyone knows is Bad Manners. Occasionally I'd have to throw up both arms in a choreographed move, which sent my lipstick rolling up/down my arm and into my blouse, where it was usually caught by my belt . . . you see, you never know what's going on beneath . . . never mind. ;-0

Well--now we can all be well-mannered because one lipstick stays on! I've tried other "long-lasting" lipstick products, most of which kept their promise by sort of staining my lips and leaving them dry--not the best effect.

But some of my girlfriends have been shouting about CoverGirl Outlast, so I gave it a try. Last week, before our neighborhood progressive dinner, I applied it. The application is a two step process--first you apply color and let it dry, then you apply the "varnish" (my word, not theirs), which also dries.

I told my neighborhood friends about the miracle product, and after every course/every house, we all checked to be sure my lipstick was hanging on. It did. It hung on until 11 p.m., in fact, when I had to use eye makeup remover to take the stuff off. But that worked with no problem.

So--need a long lasting, glossy looking lip color? CoverGirl Outlast.

Now I wish I'd bought stock in the stuff.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Movie Review: Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Robin Lee Hatcher recommended the DVD of "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont," so I watched it . . . and loved it. The photo is of the book (with photos of the movie actors), and I thought it was interesting that the book was written by Elizabeth Taylor--who, I'm assuming, is not the movie star.
In any case, the story is about a restless widow who goes to live at the Claremont Hotel in London--a slightly seedy hotel where old folks go to . . . vegetate, mostly, until Mrs. Palfrey arrives and befriends a restless young man. These two form a real friendship, and each helps the other in unforgettable ways.
Joan Plowright plays Mrs. Palfrey, and she's wonderful. (Mom, this would be a good one for the next time you and your sisters have a sleep over.)
So--Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. Lovely and literary. Enjoy.
P.S. Thank you for the many birthday wishes. It feels great to be forty-eight . . . plus one. :-)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's that time of year again . . .

Yesterday I filled out a form that asked my age. I firmly wrote 48.

Today I'd have to write 49.

Oy! How quickly time flies!


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Boy, it's been a busy week and I feel like I haven't accomplished a thing--not a thing on my to-do list, anyway.

After meeting a mini-deadline last week, I needed to switch from nonfiction to fiction gear this week, but yesterday I took some time to write a proposal for an idea that hit me up side the head (the result of a year's percolation) and send it to my agent.

Today I spent most of the morning and early afternoon buying my husband a car for Christmas--now, don't think that I walked into the dealership and threw a stack of money on the desk. Ha! What I did do was pick out the car (via Consumer Reports), do the haggling over the phone (not hard, since the car went on clearance), and handled all the credit stuff. Signed our lives away for the next five years, and presto! New car hassles handled by the wife. Merry Christmas.

Finally got home, where a huge stack of pages awaited me--the first pages for THE ELEVATOR, which I have to go through for the last time before publication. So I've been busy, just not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Since I'm way off schedule, I wanted to blog about a book review I read last week in the Wall Street Journal. The review, by Danielle Crittenden, is of the book UNPROTECTED, by Anonymous, M.D.

The premise: young adults are endangering their emotional and physical lives by "free sex," yet no one wants to talk about it lest they be branded as intolerant. "Unfortunately," says Crittenden, "the young women described in UNPROTECTED have fallen victim to one of the few personal troubles that our caring professions refuse to treat or even acknowledge: they have been made miserable by their 'sexual choices.' And on that subject, few modern doctors dare express a word of judgment."

Doctors will warn people about fatty diets, but they won't tell young people that promiscuity can result in venereal disease now and cervical cancer later. They don't tell young people about the guilt and emotional trauma that can occur after a "problem pregnancy" is terminated by abortion.

The book's author, a medical doctor, treats Brian, a young homosexual man who is engaged in "high-risk sex" with several partners. But she can't insist that he be tested for AIDS. And if he were to submit to voluntary testing, and should it prove positive for HIV, she can't report the information to the local health department--even though she'd be required to do so if he had tuberculosis or some other contagious disease.

The author of the book, says Crittenden, "has published it anonymously precisely because she fears that if her employers and colleagues heard her unwelcome views, they would judge her negatively--and punish her, personally and professionally."

In this age of political correctness, we have found it easier to shut up than to be unpopular. But there are times when we must speak out. Someone, somewhere will be grateful that someone else had the courage.

Unprotected, by Anonymous, M.D. I'm going to look for a copy.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Make Your Own Holiday Sweater

This is too much fun! Make your own holiday sweater, upload your picture, and send it to friends. So cute!


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Don't Shoot Your Eye Out! (I love that movie!)

Okay, this is hilarious. Don't forget to hit the space bar before you click the mouse to shoot. What's your score?

My neighborhood is having a progressive dinner tonight, and it ends with dessert at my house. After church, I'll be home cleaning!


Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Word of the Year

I am totally wiped this morning. I worked this past week on my current nonfiction WIP from morning until night--in fact, I was in the garage late last night and found myself staring at my poor car, which hasn't seen the sunlight since last Sunday. (No wonder my cars never have any miles on them!)

But--though I feared I'd have to work today, I finished late last night, even battling through a migraine (Of course what I wrote may make no sense, but that's okay. I have two more drafts to polish.)

Anyway--looking forward to going out in a bit to get groceries and pick up food for the doggies. BTW, Babe, the new 180-lb. girl (who's as strong as an ox) has discovered that she can BREAK the stained glass in our front door. Oh, yeah. First it was one pane, the next day she broke two more. So now I've taped a huge cardboard box over the door, hoping to shield the UPS man and anyone else who comes up our sidewalk (that's what sets her off--approaching visitors. She acts like she wants to eat them up, which is probably not a good thing.)

Other than that, she's a sweetie. And yes, I've called the woman who installed my stained glass, and she's ordering new glass as I type. (The photo, come to think of it, is of the door. I had to email photos of the damage to the stained glass designer. If you click on the picture, you can see the broken panes . . . and the fact that I love Levengers.)

Anyway, to the topic at hand. According to dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster, "truthiness" best summed up 2006, so it's the word of the year. The word was coined by Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert, who defines it as "truth that comes from the gut, not books."

I've news for Mr. Colbert--a lot of stuff that comes from the gut is completely false (not to mention verbally flatulent), so I suppose a thing's "truthiness" is entirely subjective. A lot of books are entirely subjective, too, but I know at least one that isn't.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Elf yourself!

Suzanne is right, this is too cute! Visit the above link and elf yourself!

Note: I heard on Good Morning America that this site was getting so many hits it almost shut down! So if the dancing elf comes up without a face, you'll know it's just busy!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

21st Century Idols

I was reading in Isaiah the other day and came across these verses: "Those who trust in idols, who say to images, 'You are our gods,' will be turned back in utter shame . . . "
The prophet then talks about those who take a tree and use part of it for a fire and part to make an idol: "From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, 'Save me, you are my god.' . . .
No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, 'Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?' He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, 'Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?" . . .
(Isaiah, selections from chapters 42-46).
Now--it's not my intention to offend, but something really struck me this morning as I read the paper. At the bottom of the front page of the Tampa Tribune was an article titled, "As Home Sales Fall, St. Joseph Sales Rise." It included a photo of a St. Joseph statue, with a prayer to St. Joseph in a side bar. This is an excerpt from the prayer: "St. Joseph, I am going to place you in a difficult position, with your head in darkness . . . and you will suffer as our Lord suffered until this house/property is sold . . . Amen."
The article was about the slow in real estate sales and the corresponding rise in "St. Joseph sales kits"--the ritual? You bury the statue on the property and recite the above prayer every day in order to sell your house.
I'd heard of this before, but I don't think I'd ever read the prayer . . . which struck me more as an incantation. How--and why--should treating a plastic statue of St. Joseph in a cruel and vindictive manner result in answered prayer? And how is this a prayer at all?
Prayer is asking God to answer your request, and most people who pray acknowledge that God may have other plans--he is not at our beck and call. We are his servants, not the other way around.
I was simply amazed at how many people are willing to place their faith in a statue instead of in God. Isn't that what idolatry is?
I can hear you now--"what could it hurt? I'm not really worshipping St. Joseph. I just see it as a harmless thing to do." Then why do it?
Scripture clearly states that God detests idolatry. He doesn't need help to answer your prayers--even if he answers no. (And if he's answering "no," are you going to a different "authority" for a "yes" answer?)
Frankly, I'm more accustomed to seeing "modern" people worship/trust in education, humanism, astrology, mysticism, or their own intellect instead of God. Contemporary idols--and there are lots of 'em-- are usually of the intangible variety.
Please don't say I'm being anti-(insert the name of group here). I know that all kinds of people buy these statues and hope that they'll work. This willingness to place faith in something other than God is not confined to any particular group or denomination.
Why not wait on God? Maybe some people would rather trust a statue because God may not want to grant them their desires. How like children we are! If one parent doesn't give us what we want, when we want it, we run to someone else.
But God alone is God, and he alone is worthy of our trust and worship. As John writes, "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:20-21).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Odd Book Titles

From the 12/03 New York Times:

The Diagram Group's "Oddest Book Title of the Year" prize has been contested annually since 1978. The award is run by the British trade magazine The Bookseller, and is eagerly voted for by publishers and booksellers. Below are some of the winning titles:

2005: People Who Don't Know They Are Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It.

2004: Bombproof Your Horse

2002: Living with Crazy Buttocks
1995: Reusing Old Graves

1984: The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today

1980: The Joy of Chickens

and finally, 1978's winner: Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Do you Have an Accent?

HT to Robin Lee Hatcher ( for the following fascinating quiz.

I'll never forget the day last year when I was signing books at a school in South Carolina. This adorable boy came up for me to sign his book, so I asked his name. "Cly," he said.

"Clyde?" I asked, not sure I'd heard him correctly.

He shook his head. "Cly."

I tried spelling it: "C-L-Y?"

He shook his head again. "No, C-L-A-Y."

Oh. Clay. Which in my part of the country rhymes with hay, stay, and convey.

Then again, those words probably rhyme in his part of the country, too. :-)


What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Northeast
The Inland North
The West
The South
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Christmas Rush

Photo: Babe and her new Christmas tree.

I've had many Christmases, but this is one of the busiest on record--and it's been busy even without all the church musicals, rehearsals, and so many of the things that used to fill my Decembers!

Saturday hubby and son went out to get the Christmas tree. We pulled down all the boxes from the attic and spent the better part of Saturday afternoon lighting, trimming, and draping the tree. Babe lay at its feet and just gazed up at it--too cute! I think Charley's afraid of it.

Anyway, by pounding on the kitchen door, Babe got me up before the sun on Sunday morning. As I walked through the foyer, I thought something wasn't right--there should be a shadow just outside the doors of the library, but no, nothing. So I turned on the light and saw the Christmas tree snoozing at the foot of the stairs . . . amid a puddle, of course, and tons of brightly gleaming broken glass.

Eeek. Got the hubby up and began the repair mission. Had to wash and dry the tree skirt, sweep up dozens of broken ornaments (I thought I could move to glass bulbs now that the kids are grown), and reassemble everything. Hubby and I got the tree upright again, and it's still hanging on . . . for now.

As we were cleaning, I remembered last Christmas, when our tree went over at least half a dozen times. "But it never fell over in the years before that," I said. "Why?"

That's when we realized that last year was the first time we bought a tree stand--one of those plastic kind you fill with water. Every year prior, we'd always bought our tree at the Kiwanis place, where the guys NAIL a tree stand onto the thing. Not one of those babies ever keeled over.

Well . . . I suppose you get what you pay for. I figure we've already eaten up our savings in our do-it-yourself stand because we'll have to replace broken bulbs. But I'm replacing them with plastic.

A busy week ahead--working on my nonfiction project, hostessing a party Monday night, doing a couple of interviews for The Nativity Story book, trying to maintain my schedule for the novel in progress, and pressing on with my Old Testament class for my doctoral work.

Last night hubby says to me: "Well, the party Monday night will be easy. Since the caterer's cooking, you won't have to do a thing."
Not a thing, huh? I just have to vacuum, clean, and find places to sit thirty people for dinner. Then I have to find matching china for each table, plus napkins and tablecloths, plus I'll have to do a last-minute run through the house to wipe away any new dog drool . . . Oh, yeah, I'll be sitting and eating bonbons all afternoon.
But I'm not complaining because I really enjoy this party. It's for our middle school volunteers, and some of them have been with us nineteen years. They deserve a clean house.
At least I don't have to cook.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bible boo-boos

From the 12/03 New York Times:

A May 2006 Gallup poll that 28 percent of Americans believe the Bible represents the actual word of God to be taken literally word for word [in the original scripts!]. But not every translation has made it through the publication process without error. Look at some of these dangerous typos:

Camels Bible: an 1823 Bible that read: "And Rebekah arose, and her camels [damsels]."

The Child Killing Bible: Thomas Bensley's 1795 Bible read: "Let the children first be killed [filled]."

The Wicked Bible: printed in 1631, by Barker and Lucas, the word "not" was ommitted from the seventh Commandment, making adultery appear compulsory.

Vinegar Bible--in 1717 the Clarendon Press printed a heading in Luke "The parable of the Vinegar [Vineyard]."

"Sin On" Bible: a 1716 King James Bible where, in John 5:14, because of a transposition of "n" and "o," readers are exhorted to "Go and sin on more."

Price of Peace Bible: the 1966 Jerusalem Bible included a misprint exhorting us to "Pay [pray] for peace."


Friday, December 08, 2006

Lexical-Gustatory synaesthesia

Want a little mustard with that speech?

Have you wondered if people see colors differently? If my blue is your green? Have you thought about the possibility that in heaven, sights will have sounds or sounds will have tastes?

Well, there are some folks on earth who might be experiencing a heavenly ability now. They enjoy--or suffer from--lexical-gustatory synaesthesia. What is that? Okay, class, study the words. "Lexical" has to do with being derived from words; "gustatory" usually applies to food or digestion. And "syn" has to do with absorbing, while we see "thesia" in a process.

If you have lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, you can actually taste words. These people taste specific flavors when they hear certain words or even try to recall them, says Julia Simner, a cognitive neuropsychologist at the University of Edinburgh. Her study, "Words on the Tip of the Tongue" was published in Nature last month. (I'd have called it, "You'll Wish You Could Eat Those Words!")

According to the article I read, magnetic-resonance imaging proves that these folks aren't faking--and the experience can be unpleasant. One subject hates driving because road signs flood his mouth with every taste from pistachio ice cream to ear wax. And Simner has yet to figure out any logical pattern. For example, the word "mince" makes one subject taste mincemeat, but so do rhymes like "prince." Words with a soft "g" as in "roger" or "edge," make him taste sausage. But another subject, hearing "castanets," tastes tuna fish. Another can taste only proper names. "John" means cornbread for him; "William" tastes like potatoes.

No one can explain the mystery--the flavors are just there.

Gives new meaning to the proverb about a word fitly spoken being like golden apples, doesn't it?


Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'm Not Trying to Make Your Dog Jealous, but . . .

Since no one had any questions or answers, we'll proceed apace with our regularly scheduled blog nonsense.

All of you who have little wind-up dogs should take a look at this photo. Babe, our newest mastiff from mastiff rescue, plays basketball!

She needs to work on her technique, though, because she doesn't dribble . . . she drools. :-)


Sunday, December 03, 2006

BOM: The Research

BTW, I have just sent out my quarterly e-newsletter. If you didn't receive it and would like to, sign up in the "newsletter" box to the right, and I'll resend in a couple of days.

Though I was working from Mike Rich's excellent script, when it comes to research, I don't trust anyone to do my homework for me. Fortunately, I have an incredible research library, most of it computerized, and I use Ask Sam, a program that enables me to organize my research texts into a word-searchable database. So I took the same database I'd used for Magdalene and expanded it to include information about Mary, Joseph, Nazareth, Elizabeth, Zachariah, the Temple, Herod the Great, the Babylonian magi, etc. I relied heavily on texts from Alfred Edersheim, and the novel includes a five-page bibliography of all my sources. I want people to know I don't make details up. If you're going to be a historical novelist, I think you should go to the best and earliest sources you can find and verify everything possible.

As I watched the movie at the premier, I was struck by how differently I perceived several scenes. The movie shows Zechariah standing in the Temple before a relatively small crowd that includes women, but the women were only allowed in the Court of the Women, so there's no way they'd be waiting outside the Holy Place. Furthermore, the Temple would have been mega-church crowded at the time of the offering of incense.
I was personally curious about how Zechariah was chosen to offer the incense. All my life I've read that this priest was among those chosen by lot, and somehow I couldn't imagine the priests kneeling as they tossed a pair of dice against the wall. So the "lots" scene in the novel--where the leader counts fingers, not Israelites--is accurate. Fascinating stuff from Edersheim!
The movie also compresses the probable timeline--Mary stayed at Elizabeth's house three months, so unless she delayed her journey to Elizabeth's house, that's not long enough for her to feel the baby move--babies don't "quicken" until the fourth or fifth month.

In any case, as I wrote I made some quiet changes and clarifications. Nothing that changes the story, of course, but hopefully some things that make the biblical account clearer.
Let's talk about Mary and Joseph arriving at Bethlehem. First of all, all the cities were walled in those days, and each city had a well inside the wall. Jewish tradition stated that whenever people went to a strange town, they would go to the well (which served as a community gathering place), where they'd meet up with someone who would inevitably invite them home for the night. Because Abraham extended hospitality to the angels "unaware," this was a longstanding tradition among the Hebrews. In an ordinary situation, Mary and Joseph would have gone to the well and waited until someone invited them to stay overnight.

But this was no ordinary time. The census had uprooted all kinds of people, and the Romans had erected "katalumas" outside the city--structures rather like an open tent. Since the city was crowded and every family had taken in all the guests their homes could hold, the overflow folks were staying in the katalumas--with their donkeys, chickens, sheep, whatever. This is where Joseph and Mary first sought shelter and found the area too crowded.

A note about "inns": the idea of a hotel/motel was foreign to the Jews (because they had a strong tradition of hospitality), so traditional inns usually served Gentiles (with whom no devout Jew would share the same roof). Furthermore, these places were usually frequented by prostitutes, another reason for devout Jews to stay away. Proper inns, however, were rarely found in small towns, so if you've always thought that Bethlehem had a hotel . . . time to adjust your thinking.

If Mary and Joseph made it into the walled city, they would have asked for shelter from people at the well. Most poor people lived in one-room houses, and they bedded down the family goat or donkey in the house with them. It is therefore possible that a manger might exist inside the house. Wealthier people, however, might have larger homes, and if they had many animals, they might have a small stable area attached to the house. This easily explains why the shepherds found the baby in a stable and the wise men found him in a house. Different ways of saying the same thing.
After the night of the baby's birth, it's entirely possible and probable that a family took Mary and Joseph in.

Now--did the wise men really arrive two years later?

I don't think so, though I'm amazed at how many people think that's gospel truth. The primary reason some people have speculated that the wise guys came much later is because of the stable/house references, and the fact that Matthew uses the word "padion," a word for older child, while Luke refers to the "brephos," the word for infant.
We do know that Mary and Joseph remained in Bethlehem for at least forty days, the time of Mary's ceremonial uncleanness, before she had to go to the Temple (a short journey from Bethlehem) for her cleansing and the child's dedication. There was no reason for M&J to remain in Bethlehem any longer than that--they would have gone back to Nazareth if the angel had not sent them on to Egypt. Likewise, it would have been silly for them to go all the way back to Nazareth between the birth and the Temple dedication, especially since Mary was ceremonially unclean during that time . . . and undoubtedly exhausted.

So it is completely plausible that the magi saw the star and followed it before the child's birth and arrived soon afterward. The movie condenses this time line and has the magi arriving on the same night, but in writing the novel, I made it clear that M&J remained in Bethlehem forty days, then went to the Temple, and then headed to Egypt. I believe the wise men showed up at some point during that forty day period . . . and how convenient their arrival was, since M&J needed money to pay their Temple taxes. God always supplies.

If you've seen the film and read the novel and have any questions about historicity, be sure to ask and I'll do my best to field an answer on Q&A day.

Tomorrow: the writing