FREE WATER-SKIING!

free waterskiing
My college roommate left the university paper on the counter for me to read. Was she trying to get rid of me for the summer? I read on:

“Water ski instructors needed for Camp Vega, an all-girls summer camp in Maine.”

Hmmm. I grab up the paper. My attention is now focused. Both my parents were competition water-skiers. My family grew up waterskiing throughout the summer in Colorado. Now, with the both my sister and I away at college, the competition ski boat was sold and we only sporadically, recreationally skied behind the old blue outboard boat we cleverly named “Bluie.”

“Four Competition Ski Nautiques. Ski all summer and be a part of molding young ladies lives. Must be able to instruct all levels of skiers and to safely pull skiers through the slalom course.”

No problem.

So I made the call. Throughout the phone interview and job details I heard, “Free waterskiing. Free waterskiing. Blah-de-blah-de-blah-blah.” Something about being a camp counselor, getting free meals and something about $800 for the summer plus $2oo for travel, and then I heard it again, “Free waterskiing all summer.”

I was in. I sold my sister on it too. Both of us were hired to be Water-ski Instructors and looked forward to a wonderful summer of free waterskiing in Maine!!
I should have paid closer attention in my geography class– Maine is that state all the way up there by Canada; with all the cold temperatures and a plethora of chilly lakes.

I should have paid closer attention in math class– $1,000 for the whole summer: June, July and August. Adding in the camp counselor part of the job, this was a 24/7 position. Break that down hourly and we’re talking about $0.37/hour. In 1991, you couldn’t even buy a Snickers bar for that.

Did I also mention it was run by a retired cop? He ran the place with an iron fist, keeping all in fear and ensuring the campers were safe and had the time of their lives. (As if being sued by the campers’ wealthy parents wasn’t enough fear!)

It was beyond exhausting. Days being tossed on the lake all day long with young girls whose ages ranged from six years old through to fifteen years old and at every level of aptitude. Some girls had never been in a lake while others were already competition slalom skiers. After a marathon day filled with that, I was assigned to “Saco;” a bunk filled with fifteen angst driven twelve and thirteen year olds mostly at this camp so their affluent parents could travel all summer.

Originally my bunk had four counselors assigned. Two quit before all the attention-starved campers arrived. Lucky them. Their positions were never filled.

Did I mention all that free waterskiing I did? No? I think I skied twice. I chose days where the water was warm enough so that I wouldn’t have to report to the nurse’s station for hypothermia and then I was already so exhausted from all the other duties, I could only summon two or three passes through the course.

Yet, I still have so many fond memories of that time. The trip across country with my sister will forever be re-told as the adventures grow through each telling; how we almost died when we ended up in the wrong part of Chicago, how we got stuck spending the night in a cockroach infested single-wide hotel in Pennsylvania, and the story of the lake spider (the size of Connecticut!) crawling up my sister during a ski staff meeting.

Heidi, my remaining co-counselor, became instant friends by sharing a bond forged in the “trenches of Saco.”

I (reluctantly) fell in love with all the girls by summer’s end. Tears stung my eyes watching Sarah who belted out the leading role in Sound of Music. I was hoarse from screaming encouragement at Ashley who scored the winning goal against the rival soccer team. And Jill, my very favorite camper, successfully skied the whole slalom course in the final water ski competition. On, and on and on the achievements and growth that happened over one summer. Until just a few years ago, I still maintained contact with some of those campers. Saying good-bye was one of the most emotional days of my life …

It was the toughest job of my life on many levels: physically, emotionally, financially…

Until now.

This writing thing is brutal.

I just received my first review on Amazon.com. It wasn’t very uplifting. It is from a family member.<br />
Don’t get me wrong, I am so very grateful for all who have spent the money and took the time to read my first novel “grace.” So grateful. And I am grateful for those who will take the time to write a review and to be very honest about it. So grateful.

Author Kristen Lamb summed it up for me in one of her blogs titled “HOW BOXING CAN MAKE US BETTER WRITERS—LESSON ONE.” She writes, “Think of this job like boxing. We’re in the ring. Outside (and even internal) critics are going to seek to gut-punch and knock the wind out of us. Their objective is to drop us to our knees and make us give up.”

The world out there is rough. Family has always been my “soft place to land.” I didn’t see this one coming.

Just like the end of that summer watching my favorite camper Jill’s face, eyes puffed and red from all our crying and hugging good-bye, as the yellow school bus shuttled her out of my reach and back to her parents on August 30, 1991.

Gut-punch.

On my knees, trying to catch my breath.

I think about the time it took for me to finish “grace.” The hours I spent writing, re-writing, editing, then re-writing, then re-rewriting, and revising and re-revising. Then more edits and more re-writes. The writing courses, the writing critique sessions, the weekends spent at my computer from sun-up to sun-down. Add it all up and I am not even close to a Snickers bar.

I’ll never forget the wise words of one of my upper division Creative Writing Professors. He said, “If you’re doing this writing thing to make the ‘big bucks’ you should get out now. It’s the rare occasion when a writer makes lots of money, but that is never why you become a writer. You do it because you love writing.” He went on to cite all these (now dead and now famous) authors who were penniless.

I didn’t write “grace” or any of the stuff I write to “make the big bucks.” I don’t write to become even remotely “famous.” I write because I have to. I write to honor the dream that God placed in my heart many years ago to be a writer. I wrote “grace” because I truly felt God nudging me, time after time, to put it out there.

Did my abilities get in the way of His message? Possibly.

I put a little bit of everything in “grace:” love, betrayal, murder, a football story, a boy with his dog, death and new life, and all in a beautiful location. A little bit of everything and hoping to appeal to everyone with the underlying message that true grace is available to everyone. My mistake is thinking that everyone will accept grace.

Determined to not give up, I arise from my knees.

That review aside, God’s message is still golden. His message is grace. Not my character in the book. The term grace has been described as “undeserved forgiveness.” Lots of people have problems with the idea of something they don’t have to work for–something free–something given to them when they don’t feel they deserve it.

I don’t blame them. I will be the first to yell, “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE WATERSKIING!”

And what Jesus did for us—the underserved forgiveness that He accomplished for us by doing what He did on the cross—it doesn’t cost us a thing. But don’t, for one second, think that it didn’t come at a price. It cost Him dearly.

As discouragement pricks at my eyes and my exhaustion from working long hours at these other “real jobs” so that I can have these other “free hours” to spend on writing and trying to honor what sparks God has put in my life to write about, I grit my teeth and remember another lesson I learned along the way–

It was another “not-so-kind” review from a former class-mate that I took too personally. I recall sharing my feelings with a third party who was also taking the course. His words got me through, “You didn’t write this for her anyhow.”

You got that right.

When I set out to complete “grace,” I decided that if it made an impact on just ONE person, then all the hours, all the late nights and early mornings, all the money I threw at it and the heart I put into it would be worth it.

As I tuck in my chin and raise my gloves, I prepare my armor for another day. I take heart in all the positive words of encouragement, the prayers, and the kindness of those who have supported me along the way and who continue to remind me of the Truth –I don’t write for reviews. I write to point the world to something greater than me and I do it to try to honor the “free” gift I have been given.

So grateful.

FEAR

FEAR

I sleep on my left side. When I was a kid, I heard that vampires only bite on the left side of your neck. So when I lay down at night, I trained myself in this habit of curling upon that side, sometimes stuffing covers and pillow around me for even more “protection.” I never took it so far as to hang the garlic wreath or anything with holy water or a crucifix, but you can bet that is where I started the nighttime habit of praying the “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake…” Sound familiar?
One of my favorite books of all time is called, “The Monster at the end of this Book.” It is a real page turner (all twelve pages!) The original horror book – probably what started me liking Stephen King. When I was a kid, my mom would read it to me and I would keep requesting it. Night after night. My mom is the most patient woman I know. Night after night, after night, she would tell the tale. She laughs as she recounts those readings; even though she’d done it over a hundred times, I still acted like I didn’t know who the monster was at the end of the book (and she never gave it away.) I would start listening in bed, tucked in and curled up on my left side and about half-way through, I would be at the edge of my bed, hanging on every word, willing her to NOT turn that page for it would bring that monster one page closer!
SPOILER ALERT!!! The monster at the end, the very one he was fearing, turns out to be lovable, furry, little, blue Grover himself!
Besides loving a good story, what was it that kept me requesting that one?
The old saying “hindsight is 20/20” comes into play here. Wouldn’t it be great if we all knew how things turn out? Would it make the ups and downs of life more fun knowing it all turns out okay in the end? Or is it just in the things we fear that makes us want to know the ending?

Figures from 2007 state that Americans spend more than $300 million a year on psychic hotlines alone. There are people who don’t do anything without consulting a psychic. The image I have of someone calling a hotline before they get out of bed, plan their day, order off the menu, apply for that job, go on that interview, accept that date or marry that spouse, isn’t an image of someone enjoying the crazy ride of life. Rather, it evokes an image of someone living in constant fear.

GAD – or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, panic disorder, PTSD, phobias, fears that I cannot even pronounce, and with new terms popping up every day for all the new disorders and all the new medications for those disorders – it would seem this is a society-wide phenomenon.

When I was studying Natural Medicine, I remember reading about breathing. How deep breathing can calm the nervous system. How people under extreme duress and stress forget to breathe deep and that the lungs, the lower part that expands in deep breathing, actually atrophies and dies in those who don’t breathe deep.

I am not immune to fears, nor do I think I have it all figured out. Yet, as I have grown and learned from my hindsight, I find rest in a new place. As I face fears, whether they be real fears– seeing the solemn face of your doctor as he or she tells of the latest test results, or false fears – lying sleepless in bed on your left side, tucking in the covers a little tighter to ward off vampires – I trust that no matter what I face, I have a God who understands; a God who is with me – The 23rd Psalm reminds us that “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.”

I love how Joel Osteen’s “The Hope Bible” states Romans 8:38, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

No doctors with their test results, no vampires with their fangs. Nothing can separate us from this love. NOTHING.

1 John 4:17-18 tells us “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.”

All fear is gone; nothing separating you from a God who loves you.

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”

No psychic needed. The end is known. Embrace God’s love – taking in a full deep breath – facing what it is you fear and enjoying the crazy ride that this world and life bring you!

HE STILL SPEAKS

HE STILL SPEAKS

I have a friend who believes that God speaks to her through license plates- those personalized plates. It may sound silly, but I totally get it. – She has shared so many stories of the evidence of this that it is hard to dispute!
For me, besides the Bible, church and prayer, I believe God speaks through nature. There are so many times when something in nature simply blows my mind – a spectacularly painted sunset, a tiny flower intricately designed with such beauty and care, the fragrance of purple roses…I wonder how people can experience the grandeur of nature and not understand that there is a loving God that designed all of it and can speak to us through it all. Yet, I also am grateful for all those scientists, archeologists and non-believers who set out to prove their lack of belief and end up finding evidence or artifacts in the natural world that end up proving supernatural like found in The Bible. (Check out Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.”)
The other day I saw a covey of quail. Living in Colorado most of my life, I didn’t know about this bird.
When I moved to Arizona and saw my first, I thought, “God sure has a sense of humor!” This silly plume placed atop its head; how they just hang out in the desert all day in their gang of goofy followers; how they have the ability to fly, but yet I mostly see them crossing streets and braving traffic on foot!
God equipped this bird with everything it needs to survive, yet it’s like they forget, “Oh yeah…I can fly!”
If one of them cuts it a bit close or they get frightened, they sometimes take flight together – but mostly they travel on foot –And this can be a costly mistake for them.
I have heard and read that there are certain traits and characteristics that, if left unused for long enough, will deteriorate and no longer be useful. Just take the Mexican blind cave fish. Evolutionary biologists still study this. In 1872 Charles Darwin wrote, “As it is difficult to imagine that eyes, though useless, could in any way be injurious to animals living in darkness, I attribute their loss solely to disuse.”
They still had their eyes, but have lost the ability to see after living in darkness so long.
I don’t doubt that things in nature are intended to show us something about God.
In Matthew 6:26 Jesus tells us, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
This weekend, my pastor, Jason Daye, reminded me of how Jesus sees each of us.
The Bible is filled with stories describing Jesus seeing value in people when others didn’t. The Samaritan woman at the well, the prostitute about to be stoned, the Roman soldier begging for the life of his son, the thief on the cross, the lepers, the children, the hungry and those that thirst, the lost, the broken, the meek, the merciful, the peace makers and the persecuted, those living in darkness, you and me – all valuable in the eyes of Jesus.
My hope and prayer is that – the next time you see a quail, crowned in glory with that royal red plume or you witness the majesty of an eagle taking flight and spreading its wings – you will remember that God values you even more than the birds of the air.
Isaiah 40:31 – “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles”

And don’t make the tragic mistake of the quail and forget that you were meant for flight.

WHEN I DIE

WHEN I DIE

It is hard to deny the power of music. How a song can take you back to an event, stir memories, sometimes even bring on the very emotions you felt the first time you heard it… I still get teary every time I hear Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe;”—not so much in the lyrics, but because it was popular right after my father passed away and it has been forever linked with that emotion in me.
I love all types of music. I have gone through various “music stages” in my life. Starting with the 80’s big hair bands, (one of my fondest memories is of a WhiteSnake reunion concert); to the head banger “angry music,” (I got backstage to meet and greet Disturbed); then alternative, (I won concert tickets three times in a row to Three Doors Down); and country music, (“Bubba Shot the Jukebox” got me through two marathons trying to memorize the words.) –I love all genres of music. Lately I am into the Christian music and pretty much anything K-LOVE plays.
Each of the five parts of my book “grace” begins with a snippet of lyrics from artists that created rhythms, lyrics and messages that were themes throughout the novel. I encourage you to find the songs on iTunes and take a listen before delving into each part.
One of these songs is titled “In Better Hands” by Natalie Grant. The song has been so powerful in my life and every time she sings the following lyrics I get goose bumps:
“It’s like the sun is shining when the rain is pouring down
It’s like my soul is flying though my feet are one the ground
It’s like the world is silent though I know it isn’t true
It’s like the breath of Jesus is right here in this room”
I know this is going to sound a bit morbid, but stick with me on this—When I die, I want this song to be played at my funeral. –I know where I am going. I know I will be with Jesus when I no longer walk this earth. I want those who would come to memorialize me to not worry but to feel the “breath of Jesus” as He whispers in their ear–telling them that I am okay—that He’s got me. And what better hands to be in than those of the One who fearfully and wonderfully created me in my mother’s womb?
So, I figure I should let someone in my family know, right? It is no fun to not know the last wishes of someone you love when you are left with the task of memorializing them. I learned that the hard way.
So, I told my mother.
She shot me down.
She told me (over the phone, but I could visualize her wagging her finger at me and shaking her head), “You had better go telling someone else that wish because there is no way in hell, I want to bury you before you have to bury me!” (That is a paraphrase, but real close to accurate.)
Not that she has a choice in this—when it is our time, well, it is our time. Only God has the power over death. And, with God, through Jesus, we have assurance of eternity with Him. And this idea of eternity (I’ll spare you all the clever ways people have described to grasp the concept) is a really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY long time.
I know too many friends and loved ones who are parents and have had to bury their child. (Frankly, knowing even ONE is too many). This crazy resurgence of heroine and overdoses that occur with even just one try of this drug, suicides, accidents, hit & runs, domestic abuses, drunk driving, okay—As Justin Timberlake sings, “Are you feeling me?”
Often all that is left is a gaping hole—a void—such loss and despair that each day is a desperate challenge to find hope to carry-on.
The “Why?” goes unanswered like wishing on a penny dropped into a bottomless well.
But this bottomless well doesn’t have to go on for eternity.
Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Forever.
I know this still doesn’t answer the “Why?” but I have found temporary peace in this temporary life believing there is a place where all the questions are answered-no pain, no sorrow, no death and, to quote the powerful words of Mercy Me, “In Christ there are no good-byes.”
So, when I die, please honor this wish of mine (and for my mom.)
And mom, put that finger down because I think you are off the hook 😉

Behind the cover of “grace”

The RiverOne of my favorite stories about my first fiction novel “grace” is about the cover. I had completed the manuscript and was struggling through the cover images for it.  A few years prior, I moved to the Scottsdale condo community where I currently reside. All my neighbors and community pointed out that I was closest neighbor to Heidi Rosner, the artist.  I knew nothing about her except that she was very well liked in the community and was an artist.

For the record, I don’t believe in coincidences and I am a somewhat private person. Yet, God kept nagging at me to talk with her about the cover.  Up to this point, we had only brief conversations and interaction as she spends much of her time at her other home in California and I was working three jobs at the time. Nonetheless, opportunities kept presenting this one particular day when I should have asked her, but I chickened out.

I was returning from getting my mail and Heidi approached me!  We began a light conversation: “What have you been up to?” “Not too much.  You?”  blah-de-blah–I mentioned to her I was self-publishing a book in the near future and sure enough, the chance came up for me to ask her what medium of art she worked with. When she told me she was a painter mostly focusing on landscapes and florals, I was urged to question her if she would be interested about doing a book cover.

“Well, tell me about your book.” Heidi asked.

I stammered on about the southern Oregon setting, the four friends that it centers around and their struggles with life, death, forgiveness, faith, etc.

“So what’s it called?” She asks.

“Grace,” and when I answered with this, I was not expecting her response.  Her lips quivered, jaw clenched and tears filled her eyes. “Are you okay?” I was stupified. What had I said???

“Julie, I have been feeling my mom’s presence with me today.  Really.  All day just feeling her talking with me.  She passed away just a few weeks ago. I recently returned from her funeral. Her name was Grace.” (this is a paraphrase but pretty darn accurate!)

Now it was my turn to have the lips quiver, eyes fill with tears, etc.

And that was how “the Heidi Rosner” agreed to do the cover of “grace” with her amazing painting of THE RIVER.

PLEASE COME AND JOIN IN THE “CELEBRATION OF GRACE” AT A FREE COMMUNITY EVENT!
JUNE 1ST AT ASU’S SKYSONG CONVERGENCE ROOM (SE corner of McDowell Rd and Scottsdale Rd)
Enjoy a free continental breakfast and hear a reading from “grace”
A book signing and Raffle will follow.
Event is FROM 10 AM TO NOON
(for more info check details at AZCentral.com, Phoenix New Times.com and on the events page at K-LOVE.com)
“grace” will be available at the event ($15.20 for SC, $33.75 HC and $5.00 for the e-book) and also at Amazon.com and other online retailers.