Archive | November, 2013

What a Blessed year of Achieving Goals and Setting New Ones

23 Nov

This is my favorite time of the year. November begins a time when my brothers and me celebrate three birthdays during November. Halloween actually begins the month, and Thanksgiving and the excitement of the coming Christmas season always end the month. In Arkansas, deer season is anticipated even more than football season, and the college football season is winding down to the anticipated rivalry games. The fall colors have come and gone, duck season opens as the now harvested rice fields are pumped up again and filled with millions of visitors—all types of ducks and geese—making their way south down the Mississippi flyway to winter in a warmer climate.

The past year has been one of great blessings in my life, and the next year promises to yield even more of those blessings. I began the year with no published books. I ended the year with one book published, another to be released in January that is already complete, and a novel under contract. I have appearances scheduled for March, April, May and June of 2014, and I will schedule many more. The publication of the books has allowed me to now apply for tenured creative writing teaching positions, and this fall there were more of those positions open and soliciting applications than at any time I can remember in recent years. I am excited to think of where I may be this time next year.

So during this time of Thanksgiving I want to take time to thank God for all of his many blessings. My life is truly blessed by my wonderful children and their spouses, my family—including my brothers and sisters and mother, and my dear friends.

             Sometimes we do not understand the paths God may lead us down. But returning home a year ago last August was a blessing. I have been able to renew many old friendships, make new friends, and be a part of my children’s lives in a way I have not been able to be in many, many years. I have been able to exorcise a few of my own personal demons while struggling with a few more. But even though the uncertainty of the future can be a bit unnerving, knowing one has done all he can do to make the future a success tends to be a balm against that rash.
It seems to me the future should only be feared when we fail to take control of our futures and apply guidance, principle, dedication, planning, and perhaps most important of all, flexibility. I still believe that to do this it is important to have ten year, five year, and one year goals.

            I find myself in a unique situation as I have this year accomplished several of my five year goals that were benchmarks to my ultimate ten year goals. In the next months I will be forced to sit down and re-evaluate my goals and set new ones. My ten year goals will not change, but I am now closer to achieving those goals, so my five year goals(benchmarks) and one year goals(steps to take to achieve those benchmarks) now must be re-evaluated and re-calibrated to recognize the achievements I have made and the new efforts I must make.

          To some, this may sound daunting. To me, it is as simple as writing a story. I simply sit down and write the story I want my life to follow, and I plot it out, thinking through my scenes and settings. And just like a story I am writing, if I suddenly need to take an unexpected twist in the plot, I do, and I do so while realizing it is the unexpected and unplanned events in life that provide the challenges and truly make any achievement worth accomplishing.

            I made my greatest mistakes when I lost sight of my goals. As a college professor, I have had many students seek my advice on what they should do for their careers. I counseled them on their goals, and always asked what their ten-year goals were. Without exception, they had no ten year goals. I challenged them to sit down, and imagine reasonably where they wanted to be in ten years. Be honest with yourself and set those ten year goals. Then deciding on a chosen path becomes easy. Will this path ultimately take me closer to achieving my ten year goals? If the answer is no, then that certain path should not be chosen. Goals will provide guidance during the best and worst of times. Goals will keep you motivated and moving forward. Goals will give you benchmarks to measure your achievement so you may feel pride in what you have accomplished.

I challenge anyone who reads this blog to skip their New Year’s resolutions and establish a carefully considered set of ten year, five year and one year goals. Your ten year goals should be that ultimate achievement. Your five year goals should be the benchmarks necessary to put you well on-track to achieving the ten year goals. Your one year goals should be the baby steps you must take to get there. These are the little things you must do in order to be successful. For instance, if you want to publish a book in five years, you might set a one year goal of completing a quality manuscript and submitting it to 25 publishers a year. At the end of the year if you do not have a publishing contract, you can look at your one year goals. If you submitted to 25 publishers and got 25 blank rejections, it may be time to revise. But if you submitted to two publishers and got two blank rejections, how can you know where you stand?

Please challenge yourself with your goals. Goals must be attainable, but they must challenge you to do so, and therein lies the need for a sincere honesty with yourself and your situation.  But most of all, I wish you success as you struggle to meet those goals!

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The Story Behind the Story: The Reverend Elvie Simms

9 Nov

 

The Story behind the Story: The Reverend Elvie Simms

I was raised in church, and I have watched as people looked down their noses at others for doing things I know they had to be guilty of themselves. I don’t hate church. It is without a doubt the biggest single industry in our capitalized society. Yes, it is nothing more than big business.

I hate the hypocrisy of church. After attending church recently with relatives, I became disgusted after listening to a man I had long respected teach all Sunday morning that our president was the anti-christ. I couldn’t find another church that didn’t bash gays or preach that we were all doomed to hell if we allowed gay marriage. Christ was never a politician. He never joined a political party.  He taught the word.

But every church is full of people who are full of themselves—without exception. And some of the biggest egos belong to the pillars of the church—those who call themselves the deacons and the elders. But we all have skeletons in our closets.

So I had an idea for a story shortly after listening to an uneducated man trying to teach me how the Bible explained that Obama was the anti-Christ. How could I write a story that dealt with a pillar of the church with a secret the/she  needed to hide?

I have always been fascinated with the need of the families of the dying to call in a preacher to pray with them.  I guess there is always that need for a last confession or conversion. I was considering this one day when the idea for this story began to develop. Why not have a matriarch of a local church—a woman whose family had helped to build the church from the day it had first opened its doors—dying of cancer and summoning the preacher to her bedside. She needs to confess a sin she has kept from her husband.

 Now, what could be the worst sin she could have committed? She was a lesbian? She cheated on her husband and lied? I liked that one. But who could she have cheated with? Why not the preacher himself. Yes! Let the preacher come to her side, and let her tell the preacher she had to confess to her husband she had slept with the preacher. Her husband has asked her if she has always been faithful, but she lied, and now she knows she will burn in hell if she doesn’t confess to him. The preacher is afraid for his life, so he smothers her with a pillow, sending her soul to hell.

But this was too clichéd.  Half the preachers in America have banged the church secretary or one of the members of their church. I needed to fix this so it wasn’t just a normal cliché. Then I managed to attend a Sunday church service where another preacher started gay-bashing. Now remember, I am not gay, but I believe in the equality clause of our constitution—something in there about equal protection of the laws.

I sat there thinking “I bet you had a gay affair sometime and that is why you are this way.” Then it hit me. I heard the Lord Gawda speak to me in a loud and audible voice saying to me—“Now you have your story. Instead of a matriarch of the church having an affair with the preacher, let it be a head deacon.”

And I was frightened, and I said, “Yes, Lord. But where can this affair occur?”

And Gawda spoke to me again and said “In the baptistery. Where else!”

I had my story.

I assumed a preacher would have to sterilize the baptism tank after every baptism service. I could have him at church late that night when the head deacon comes in the door. I had to figure a good reason for the deacon to be there that late, and how to get him in the tank. Once again, Gawda  spoke to me and said, “Silly! He would offer to help the preacher so the preacher could go home early.”

Me being the doubting Thomas that I am, said, “Yes, Lord, but why did he come back?”

“You forget the vanity of my people,” Gawda said. “He would come back to get his watch that he took off while assisting his preacher with the baptisms.”

So, much of this story is due to divine guidance!

I had the story. After baptizing souls all Sunday, the church members went home. The preacher returned to sterilize and clean the tank. He is in his briefs, not expecting anyone to enter the church. His head deacon comes in, as head deacons will always have a key to the church-house doors. He forgot his father’s watch—a watch he took off and left beside the baptistery while assisting the preacher. And of course, he would insist on helping the preacher so they could both get home early. Now I have them in the tank in their boxers, and things literally get out of hand.

            So afterward, they go on for 25 years without ever acknowledging what happened, until the deacon is dying of cancer. He summons the preacher to tell him he must confess their sin to his wife. The preacher tells him to lie. The deacon says he can’t because he will burn in hell.

            I won’t tell the rest of the story

            However, this story came abut because of the never ending gay bashing that goes on relentlessly in Protestant churches across the country. Freedom of religion means just that. It also means freedom FROM religion! If I choose to get up Sunday morning and have two beers for breakfast as my Sunday communion, that is between my lord and me. Far too many people use religion as an excuse for their obnoxious, intrusive, rude behavior. I was raised in a family that believed Religion gave them license to say anything they wanted so long as the lord told them to do so. I was raised in churches that feel the same way.

 Religion does not excuse moronic behavior  no more than alcohol.

These stories are my ministry, ordained by the will of Gawda and sanctified with my own sweat and tears.

Sadly, the ones who need to hear these messages the most, the ones who continue to believe church is their business and not their calling, the ones who believe we should do as they say and not as they live, the ones always finding time to condemn but never having time to look in the mirror at the real sinner, will read these stories and condemn me.

            But they have been doing that for years anyways. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof!