Saturday, November 9, 2013

Celebrating "Laryngitis"

By Linda Grupp Boutin

My friend and writing partner asked me if I had posted anything on my blogs recently. I explained that I had had a case of writing "laryngitis." She sounded confused about such an odd description. I have always had a tendency to lose my voice...both literally and figuratively. Some alchemy between my early experience in a large, confusing family and the trials of adulthood require that I sometimes sit back, observe, and search out order in my world. When life becomes a bit too crowded, my tendency is to find a small hiding place and wait to see.

And so my waiting continued for a month and more. Knowing that I needed to post something new, but just not able to find the words to fill the page. And I continued waiting and wondering why the wait needed to be so long. I have learned long and hard techniques for developing patience and rather than getting upset over the "laryngitis" I kept the faith that my voice would return when the time was right.

Then it happened! My voice re-emerged in the excitement of sharing the good news from a friend that her submission had been accepted for publication! Wow, I had a voice enough to carry on a conversation with her for hours. We both stood amazed that so much time had passed by getting to know one another just that much better.

In a way, I had been nurturing my voice, treating it with honor like lemon and honey soothes a sore throat. And by Wednesday I found myself typing up a personal essay. Almost 2000 words, it just sort of flowed out naturally and no evidence of my malady remained. I had found my voice and was just so grateful for its return. 

Another friend asked me how my week had gone and I said it was busy but fun! And it has been. Sunday we celebrated 3 friends birthdays together just for food and conversation with our spouses. Monday night I walked with one of my speakers through her CoffeeBreak presentation. Talk about a faithful woman who followed God's lead every step of the way. She sounded so comfortable speaking in front of 175 women or so sharing how the Lord has worked in her life. After she spoke her son came up on stage and joined her. He sang a song he'd sung to her while she battled cancer and the love for his mother overflowed into tears. We in the audience sat in amazement at the family solidarity worked in this Mom's favor to overcome a very serious disease.

Wednesday night I spent coleading the Aspiring Writers' Forum with more discussion of stories submitted for publication. One of our members had not heard either way about the anthology she had submitted a story for consideration. I advised her that maybe she should e-mail the editor just to check because our other writer who was accepted hadn't heard from her either. 

She went home from the meeting and searched out the editor's e-mail address. Within minutes she had her answer too. Yes, her "fun" family story had been accepted! Long and short of it, both of their stories had been accepted but because the stories needed no editing, the editor hadn't contacted them about their acceptances!

So although I have had a touch of writer's laryngitis, the seeds I have sown over the last 5 years for storytelling in CoffeeBreak and for writing in the Forum have sprouted and borne fruit. I am so thankful that the Lord allowed me to overcome my illness in 2006 & 2007 because now I feel like I have finally found the correct path He wants me to follow. I spend my days immersed in story, thinking about how to best portray my friends' stories and watching while they reach out and touch others with their poignancy. I have found my niche and enjoy the passion I feel for what I am doing. PTL!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Strength in Community

By Linda Grupp Boutin 

We watch history unfold before our eyes every day. The very first historical day I remember with clarity was a November day, crisp and cool despite the sunshine bathing all around me. We were summoned from our 3rd grade classroom to the playground where we held all-school assemblies. The principal told us that we were being excused early that day because the President had been shot in Dallas. From that moment until JFK was buried, we joined the rest of the country first praying he would be okay, then mourning the loss together, finally admiring his son saluting the casket of our fallen leader.

My parents had required we watch as rockets left the earth and allowed us to watch history unfold as witnesses to a presidential assassination. That wasn’t the only assassination I saw, there was the time George Wallace was shot—hit by a bullet and confined to a wheelchair for life. We lost Martin Luther King and I was watching the night RFK took a bullet. It seemed to me that a public life could be a very dangerous thing. 

There had been a Cuban Missile crisis that I could not understand except that my mom was terrified for my brothers in the US Marines. We prayed for their safety. Many young men I knew dreaded turning 18 and being forced to sign-up for the draft. My sister’s husband received a high number and we tracked the Vietnam War nightly on the TV.

I understood nothing was assured on this earth, but though traumatic, these events seemed distant, rarely touching me on a personal level. Events paraded through my life, Apollo space capsule fires, earthquakes, floods, tornados. I watched when the shuttle exploded just after liftoff killing all aboard. I knew this world to be dangerous.

So when 9/11/01 rolled around, though the world certainly wasn’t safe, I never expected the day to unfold as it did. I woke to my dog curled behind my knees a bit earlier than normal. I switched on the news to watch The Today Show and was shocked into full alert. A huge fire burned in New York City and it took a few minutes to realize a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. I woke Gary and he joined me just in time for us to witness the second plane crashing into the second tower.

Time entered a strange warp with us consuming every detail as it was reported by CNN. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, they grounded all flights, President Bush came on the air to help the country cope, Washington DC was evacuated, another plane crashed in a field. About then the phone rang and Gary’s interview for a computer job was cancelled; the company had been headquartered in the now melted Twin Towers. My boss at the library called and said we would not open that day and to stay home. We stared at one another in horror, how could this have happened? We heard commentators begin to whisper about terrorism and the pieces began to fall into place.

Nervous energy compelled us to do something, anything to try and cope. We decided to go and stock up at Costco and when we arrived at the store it was evident we were not the only ones to think this way. We put everything away and wondered what to do next. I wanted to go to church, but didn’t want to leave the news feed. Praying silently I petted my dog and tried not to imagine how many were in the destroyed buildings. Gary could not sit still anymore and pulled out a square canvas he had built.

I watched fascinated as he took a pencil and string and drew concentric circles on the canvas. The company he had hoped to work for never recovered. Eventually the library reopened, but they kept the TV on every moment they were open monitoring the level of alert the country was in. Not quite willing to accept that another attack was not imminent. CVCC contacted the congregation inviting us to attend all church prayer. Shell-shocked and stunned, I can’t remember anything about the service though I seem to remember we went.

Days passed by and Gary’s pristine white canvas filled with images and colors. The circles remained but filled with red and white, the center turned blue, the exterior of the circle orange and black. Stars filled the field of blue, the largest centered on the canvas. The damaged towers rose again to the right with a US flag filling the opposite side. A strange, dark earth appeared at the bottom covered with an equally dark hand. Fireman and helicopters appeared near the towers, the first responders coming to the rescue. Finally a snake wound its way down from the top, threatening but not overcoming the red, white and blue…

A picture can say 1,000 words, but this one says so much more to me. It says keep the faith, better days can come if we join together and strive to repair after an attack. Thirteen little colonies joined together to defeat the pre-eminent world power of that day. Shortly thereafter, the fledgling country had to reinforce the lesson of freedom. Smaller wars came and went, older countries decided they wanted freedom too following our footsteps, and Civil War tore us to shreds only to come back together in unity to free the enslaved and give all an equal chance. When we come together in unity with our community, we are the strongest country in the world. Let’s all join together and rebuild our country again today, overcoming as we did in the Great Depression. We can do it all again, if we choose to join one another and try.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Celebrating an Unexpected Heroine

By Linda Grupp Boutin

In the midst of drums of war pounding in Syria, celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and the fuss over one 20-year-old dancing at the MTV Music Awards, did you miss the story of Antoinette Tuff last week? If so, you missed hearing about an unexpected heroine demonstrating how to save lives while solving a small part of the problem of misuse of guns in America.

She started her week following her normal routine. And despite personal problems in her life, she showed up to work as a school bookkeeper at an elementary school in Georgia. Little did she anticipate what the work week would bring. Because by Friday, she found herself sitting across from Anderson Cooper on CNN being interviewed and introduced to the 911 operator who helped keep her calm while she faced the unexpected challenge of a mentally unstable man with an AK-47 and almost 500 rounds of ammunition standing in the school office.

Usually Antoinette would have been in her busy at her desk on a Tuesday morning, but had been diverted to take a phone call before settling down to her usual work at the school. She shared with Anderson Cooper that she had received bad news, but not the exact nature of the problem she had learned about on the call. The next thing she knew she was calling 911 while talking to Michael Hill holding the gun and telling her he didn't care if he lived or not.

What would you do if faced with such a situation at work? Turns out Antoinette had training in handling crisis situations. After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook last December combined with shootings at schools for far too many years, administrators have realized their employees needed some preparations. But it turns out, according to what she shared in her interview, that she also had learned some critical skills on Sundays and Wednesdays from her pastor at church.

Through her fears and despite her own problems, Antoinette saw the hurting human inside the gunman. She spoke to him respectfully calling him "Sir" and finding their common cord of humanity. She relayed his instructions and requests to the 911 operator who sent the messages to the police surrounding the school. After some more talking, Michael placed his weapon down, set the bullets aside, took a drink of water, and laid on the floor to surrender to the police.

Although he had shot some rounds off, not one person died or was wounded on the scary morning at the school. Antoinette's coworkers warned the teachers to lock the doors and protect the children, but the gunman never got near the classrooms. A calm and understanding woman talked Michael Hill into turning himself in and every parent of each child and the loved ones of the workers at the school were able to hug their family members thanks to a very special woman named Antoinette Tuff.

As the police prepared to come in and arrest the gunman, she took the time to tell him that she was proud of him for not hurting anyone. She also told him that she loved him and that we all have problems in life and that he could get through his problems too. She encouraged him and acknowledged his pain and found the words to disarm the armed man thereby saving countless lives.

Goodness won out last Thursday morning at a school in Georgia. And though this week's news challenges us to see the goodness in life, let's celebrate together an unexpected heroine who provides for us the role model for a Christian putting their faith into action and walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Celebrating All the Summer Days

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Summer, nothing better in life to celebrate than those long, warm days playing in the sun, catching up with friends, allowing time and space for God's Word to manifest itself in my heart. This season I've experienced a special sense of catching up and celebrating all the Lord has given me. I waited with breath held for the final meeting of the Aspiring Writers' Forum in mid-May. Once past, I let the long days wash over me, sleeping late, trying to heal some wounds, taking each moment one at a time. When we slow life down a bit, it allows time to reset our priorities. 
My co-leader Coleene VanTilburg and myself

Two clocks measure my time these days. I am committed to working with writers in the Aspiring Writers' Forum (AWF). From September through May, every Wednesday evening devoted to encouragement, discussing writing, reading and sharing what we have written. While in these meetings, time revs up seeming to disappear before we can complete all we want to do. This is the first summer in 4 years that I have taken a complete break from meeting with this group. By allowing time to recharge, I have renewed energy and enthusiasm to get back to work. And for the next few weeks my partner Coleene and I will be signing up those who want to embrace Christian writing through next May. So AWF will take up a major portion of my thought, time and energy starting again in September.

The second clock measuring my days revolves around a special women's ministry at our church called Coffee Break. One Monday evening each month we gather together to share coffee, tea and desserts, games and worship songs, and listen to one woman from our congregation share her story. I work with the speakers ahead of their speaking date, preparing them for the experience. I have never been involved in anything so satisfying in my life. I hear about miracles of faith from the past and witness growth in the speakers' lives as they prepare. When women accept this assignment to speak, they cannot anticipate how this single act of obedience can change their lives.

Signing up writers for Aspiring Writers' Forum

The next meeting will be in October and I have been working with the speaker since April so she can practice and polish her presentation. In so doing, we have developed techniques to help inexperienced speakers feel relatively confident when they tell their story to an audience ranging from 100-150 women. After 3 years and 21 speakers, we listen every month about how unique each woman's story is and what each one uses to cope with the challenges she encounters in her life. Many of my summer days are spent in reading and advice in writing these stories out.

A process has developed and most of us think this sounds far easier than the actual doing turns out to be. Today our pastor defined sanctification versus justification in the Christian life. The sermon spoke directly to my heart as I have witnessed the growth in my life and others who have spoken for this ministry. 

So I have celebrated this summer by immersing myself in "story," time well spent reading, writing, encouraging and recharging. Our lives bring different seasons during which we are afforded the opportunity to learn a lesson or two. My take away from this season is to listen carefully, both to those around you and to the Holy Spirit in your life.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Loving All the Many Days

By Linda Grupp Boutin

This year I must especially appreciate all the days the Lord has granted me. The challenges got revved up in January when my kidneys shut down. It took me by surprise that once again my body could revolt and not do what it needed to do to keep myself well. I should not have been taken unaware, I know all too well the hazards my digestion pose. But still, who wants to live life looking over your shoulder constantly. Checking that you are
Celebrating with creme brulee
replacing as much or more than all the fluids you lose. And watch out especially when the Crohn's cranks up and starts forcing fluids out of your digestion at lightning speed.

So yes, I enjoyed a January Sunday morning, shared lunch with my hubby at a restaurant, and spent 12 hours fighting the losing battle of staying hydrated. After the third bath and uncontrollable charley horses in my legs, back and feet, I relented and went to the ER. The next week disappeared while prayers combined with the skills of nurses and doctors to coax my kidneys back to doing their job. The following Sunday, after discharge and a bath in my own tub, Gary and I drove over to attend my nephew, Alex's, Eagle Scout Court of Honor. I rejoiced that the Lord allowed me out just in the nick of time to be there for him.

And 2013 has repeated the theme over and over to take better care of myself. With chronic illness, this takes both focus and consistency. The payoff is being able to do the things I want or need to do on my timetable. By July I felt well enough to celebrate my birthday with my brother Greg and his wife Donna. They brought us to a fabulous restaurant. We sat on the patio overlooking Orange County with the Pacific Ocean off in the distance.

Greg, Linda, Gary, Donna (left to right)
The meal was memorable, but the company and conversation stuck with me. There are special people in our lives that make such a big difference and for Gary and me, that is who Greg and Donna are. Their counsel over the years has helped us through many a difficult moment. They made it possible for us to live in our current home. Their steadfast support through fun and tears make life worth living.

So though this birthday adds one more year to a life now entering senior citizen status, I say love all your days. Appreciate the many things in life you might be tempted to take for granted. Be generous with your time when people need you. What you give comes back tenfold, so share what you have. As Jesus advised, love God and love your neighbor. Treat others like you want to be treated. And never forget to celebrate the wonders of life all around you. It is from this gratitude that contentment grows.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Walking in Freedom in the USA

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Psalm 119:45 (NIV)

I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

With Independence Day here, I could not possibly skip posting about our First Amendment in the United States entitling those blessed enough to hail from America to air their thoughts. According to Wikipedia, the text of the First Amendment reads like this:    
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

In one carefully crafted sentence our Forefathers set the tone for what our country would become. They gave us the right to practice religion with no laws telling us what or how to do so. They provided us the freedom to Celebrate Our Voices, to read or publish whatever we choose, the chance to assemble and associate with whom we decide to, and the opportunity to question our government and require accountability of our leaders. Think about what King George would have thought of that!

So what responsibilities do we bear because we live in the Land of the Free? Some are obvious, like voting in each election. Taking your vote seriously and researching the candidates and ramifications. Even the special elections, especially the elections that don't involve a president. We have one coming up in July this year and Gary and I will go in to cast that vote, though only one decision is required this time.

When I think about it, the person who influenced me most about the importance of voting and the blessings of being an American carried a green card for many years. Yes, Gary was born in Montreal, Canada and only arrived in Los Angeles at the age of 12. French ruled in his family's homes and he learned English to come and join his mother in the states after a prolonged separation as she got settled in their new home.

It took me by surprise when on our first date Gary pulled out his green card proudly to show me. He said, "You Americans, you just don't realize that you live in the greatest country in the world." The year being 1975, I certainly didn't agree with his opinion. We had been through years of protest against the draft and Vietnam War. As he continued to speak I quickly learned that he could have returned to Canada with no shame when his draft number came up #2 of the young men born in 1952. Having a brother whose birthday came up in the high 300s, I knew that draft would have called Gary to serve in the Army and go overseas to fight a seemingly hopeless undeclared war.

So what did this man do? He didn't wait for the draft, but instead signed up for the United State Air Force. He served 4 years and in October 1975 tried to resume a normal life as a civilian. In those days, you didn't get any special help with citizenship just because you had risked your life for the USA. One of the first things Gary wanted after we got married was to become a US citizen.

And we started the saga of going to the Federal Building in San Diego, waiting in seemingly endless lines, paid fee after fee. Meantime, Gary studied our government and took classes to try and lose his French accent. On one great day, accompanied by 2 family friends we went one last time down to the Federal Building for Gary to test and fulfill all the requirements to become a US citizen.

After what seemed like forever, Gary came out of a meeting with shoulders slumped. His sponsors and I asked what had happened and he said the judge would not allow him to take the test. I got upset and asked why not. That's when he said he might already be a US citizen because Gary's long deceased father had been born in the great state of Maine. He had a list of documents that would be required for Gary to establish himself as a "born" US citizen because of his father's birthplace.

Now we spent 2 years gathering over a dozen documents including birth certificates, his father's death certificate, notarized letters from family and friends in Montreal, his parent's marriage certificate, the list went on and on...Oh and because Quebec had decided all documents would be printed in French, we would need to pay for official translations of any French documents into English. Meeting followed meeting, the judge required a variety of hoops for us to jump through, but eventually we fulfilled everything needed.

This time, only I went to the Federal Building with Gary. This time while I waited Gary came out of the judge's office in a flash. The moment I saw him, his wide grin told me we had accomplished his dream. "I am an American! I always have been!" And tears rolled down my face just like they are now.

So the next time you want to complain about our country and its leaders, consider the young man who came to our country at 12 and made it his home and fought to protect us and fulfilled all the bureaucratic rules and regulations to be able to declare, "I am an American." And he declared it with pride and pleasure.

And if you remember, next time someone belittles our country or how we do things or complains that things could be much better, it is YOUR JOB to stand up for our country. It is the responsibility for all of us to declare that the United States of America is a special place with special privileges and heavy responsibilities. It will be your turn to make the difference and just maybe the story of a young Montreal boy might inspire you to be brave enough to undertake the fight for freedom. After all since The Revolution, Americans have been fighting to protect our land and our freedoms. And then you will join the ranks of those of us who say they are: PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Enjoying the Blessings of Good Health`

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Southern California has experienced a severe heat wave this week. Many have been shocked by the toll 105+ degree heat takes on their health. Indeed most of us tend to take our health for granted never considering the myriad items our bodies cope with every single day. In today's post I want to take the time to celebrate the marvelous workings we are blissfully unaware of every day of our lives.

How often do you consider your heart beating? We understand intuitively the importance of the continued work our heart does, but when was the last time you gave thanks for the organ that circulates night and day, awake and asleep, sending oxygen and nutrients to the most far-flung parts of you.

The heart is one thing, but how about the largest organ of the body? Do you even know what that is? I'm betting you give it little thought, but to a burn patient each piece of healed skin eases pain and decreases the risk of infection. It is the barrier that keeps you separate from all that surrounds you, good and bad. A primary function on a hot day is to keep you cool when your body knows to sweat so that the fluid evaporates cooling you down. If you stop sweating, then you know you'd better put a stop to your fun in the sun because with no perspiration you will quickly overheat to the point of danger. The body signals this to you by getting dizzy, nauseous, and you just don't feel well.

Then there are the lungs and respiratory system. Everything from the nostrils throughout the system work together to protect you and provide the oxygen fueling the systems of your self. And don't forget about the kidneys, thyroid, liver, not to mention the brain. All contribute vital functions that keep you feeling like you and ready to put your muscles to work to accomplish everything you do from typing to painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

So don't take all this for granted, but celebrate all the things your body and its organs allow you to do. Take a moment to thank the Creator for setting this very sophisticated system up and giving you one that works just about right most all the time. Without this gift, where would you be...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Opening the Magic Box

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Do you remember it? The waxy smell when you cracked it open that first time. Your eyes filled with colors unimagined begging you to try them on crisp white paper just to see them better. That wonderful teacher who demanded the big, 64-color box with the sharpener and a real gold and silver crayon. For me, it happened at the beginning of school each fall. Holding the precious recommendations of school supplies, inevitably a new box of crayons headed the list of needed items. Some years, only 8 or maybe 24 crayons might be required, but I could count on a new box of fresh, unbroken crayons.
Brand new set of 108 crayons!

Opening that box, I tried to keep the brand new smell, look, feel to those colors. I wanted to always return one of those soldiers to the position assigned by Crayola. Each vibrant shade and hue of the rainbow had a proper place in the box. Alas, it never lasted. Somewhere along the line, I needed more than one precious stick at a time. Where does this one go? How do I realign them to return to their proper comrades? Ah well, rearrange them now according to my preference, all the blues together, greens grouped nearby, purples near reds, oranges with yellows on the other side, and a white and black along the edge, easy to find.

Now to see what I could do with these magical tools that could transport me beyond the walls of the schoolroom. The Mediterranean Sea took on a deep blue hue, the boot of Italy green and dangling dangerously down into the water, France floating serenely above the sea with a combo of brown mountains and green valleys, Spain and Portugal taking up the position to the west leading temptingly out to the Atlantic Ocean...Or perhaps my glance might take me out the window into the mountains surrounding the San Fernando Valley. My picture always showed the splendor of those nearby hills in purple and blue hues. No amount of arguing could convince me to use an ordinary shade of brown or even green. My mountains shouted out to be painted in brilliant colors. Okay, so I didn't get an A in art, but I had a good time demonstrating my perspective on the subject.

Those magic boxes carried dreams inside, dreams of childhood, dreams of fame, dreams of acknowledgement of our small voices calling to a much larger world. No, though I loved my crayons, visual arts didn't work out for me. Instead I employ words to transport you to another time and place. I celebrate that words can be as vibrant and alive as the most fabulous of reds, the verdant greens, the peaceful blues.

But no matter what your medium might be, visual, fine or folk; writing, short or novel length; singing, gospel or modern, express that element in your soul you wish to share with the world. Don't critique yourself, just follow where the Spirit leads you. Some art explores the beautiful and easy, some brave ones look into our darker sides in a effort to illuminate that other part of the world. Either way, only you can sing your song, so trust it and celebrate that voice the good Lord gave you. By opening that magic box of insight inside you, you will make this world a better place to be because of you.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Celebrating the Joy of Life

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Today a friend tagged me on Facebook. She said a particular video made her think of me ( I clicked on the link and enjoyed a belly laugh watching a video featuring this dog bounding through golden fields, jumping high in the air to clear the tall strands, disappearing again completely enclosed by the plants in the field. Considering I have a blog writing about my love of dogs and the antics of my basenjis, I can see the association she made with me. But I also must say that I envied that dog and his pure joy in life, leaping and jumping, celebrating all he saw around him.

I try every day to celebrate the joy in life because not a one of us has any guarantee that tomorrow will come. We take it for granted that we will have another day, and another, and another. But we all know that one day this life will come to an end. One time speaking with my 86-year-old father he told me that the first thing he did every day when he awoke was to thank God for keeping him safe and granting him another day. I took Dad's advice and try to remember to give thanks daily too. When we maintain an attitude of gratitude all that surrounds us takes on the aspect of a gift, which is exactly what all of life and what we have precisely is, a gift from God.

I love that a friend perceives me as a joyful creature. She knows many of the challenges I face with my health. These difficulties contribute to why I appreciate the day, no matter how tough it might be. Pain keeps me company, but so long as I keep busy I can keep it at bay until I go to sleep at night. Then as it tries to raise its ugliness and make me give up, I start to talk to God. Sometimes I can be eloquent with prayer, but when it's midnight pushing 2 a.m. more often I beg for His deliverance. Please Lord, just let me sleep. I know it will be better in the morning light...

And He does, and I rest, and in the morning I bound (sometimes) out of bed much as that dog flies through the fields. And each day when I can touch another life, in some small way or large, I know that every effort is worth it. Because in the doing, my life makes a difference. Today a young teen kept trying to ride his bike across the street. Being a busy Friday afternoon, all the drivers in their cars were too busy to stop and give the young man a chance to cross the street. I pulled up to the intersection slowly, came to a full stop and signaled him to safely cross. The cars going the opposite direction saw me stopped and gave him grace as well. I went on my way feeling like such a small thing can make another person's day, paying it forward in a simple sense.

So what about you, what do you need to celebrate with joy in your life? Health, wealth, a special friend, a cherished pet? Take that moment to give some thanks. There is no right or wrong way, just an opportunity to develop that attitude of gratitude. Embrace the moment and understand our interconnectedness and how that provides each of us the chance to encourage one another.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Thank You" Notes: How to Hear the Song in Your Heart

By Linda Grupp Boutin

     I walked to the mailbox today, slipped in the key, opened the door expecting the usual bills, flyers, postcards selling me something. Instead, on top, I found an envelope from a friend. Like so many accustomed to our digital age, most communications come to me in the form of e-mails, instant messages, Facebook, even telephone. It is a rare day to find a decorated envelope festooned with flowers and a big circle it the top left corner with an "L" centered within. I found it difficult to shepherd the dogs, peek at the letter and get myself back into the front door without ripping it open to see what was contained inside.
    As soon as the dogs ran in the front door, my attention switched to the mail. I found a brown-tone photo on the front of the card with an assembly of crucifixes on a wooden deck surrounded by leaves. Each brass cross looks unique, but each symbolizes the sacrifice of our Savior. I opened the card and savored the words contained within. "Dear Linda, Thank you so much..."

     The words came from a speaker I had helped prepare for our CoffeeBreak ministry at my church, Chino Valley Community Church. This is a monthly event usually held on the first Monday of the month. We start the night with door prizes, play games, listen to household tips, sing worship songs and wrap up the evening with the story of one woman from our church who shares her testimony of how the Lord has worked in her life. We've been doing this for three years from October through May and I have loved every minute of it. I have had the privilege of helping our speakers get ready, practice, learn how to share their stories in a way that will move the audience.
      I am a storyteller by nature. Just ask my family who have listened to me spin many a story around the dinner table. My youngest brother says I make it all up, but for me it's like watching a movie. The words I say create images in my mind that I try to express to my audience. I would have fit just fine in the "pre-electronics" days. Sitting around a campfire recounting story is my idea of a fine way to spend an evening. I remember reading Alex Haley's book "Roots" with fascination about how the oral memory of the tribe could recall the day when Haley's ancestor Kunta Kinte was lost to their tribe, whisked away from them but never forgotten.
     This was the second Thank You note I've received this week. The other one came from a member of the Aspiring Writers' Forum that I have co-led with my friend, Coleene VanTilburg, for the last four years. A small gift bag accompanied this note and contained a yellow ceramic cross with the word "Smile" across the front. This note began, "Dear Linda, It all started with a smile..." Coleene received a similar card and cross, but hers is blue with a butterfly in place of my flowers. She wrote on her blog this week about the important role that Swallowtail butterflies play in her life. You can read her blog "Considerable Thoughts" at:
     I must say that Thank You notes bring a smile to my face. Better yet, when I find that my encouragement in another person's life helps them in some small way, this makes my heart sing. It is so easy to get bogged down in the negative news surrounding us every day. It cleanses us of all that negativity when we let one another know how important we are in each others lives.
     Tonight as I scrolled through the channels, I found a special on CNN recapping the events in Boston last month. Recovering survivors spoke about how strangers stepped into danger not knowing when the next explosion might occur to help them survive their wounds and get to the hospital. Photojournalists spoke of the photos they took of  first the massacre, then followed by the photos of the best of the humanity reaching out to help one another. Pictures showed two men causing death and destruction followed by hundreds reaching out to help those in need.
     We can choose to focus on the "glass half empty" in this world. We can frown about all the trouble in our lives and complain about those who don't comply with our agenda. Or we can decide that the "glass is half full." We can be grateful for the blessings that come in our lives, we can acknowledge the "One Thousand Gifts" we each receive every day that we draw breath. We can see the good in one another and forgive the human frailties we each must overcome. It all depends upon the perspective we choose to adopt. Try on the "Thank You note" and see how it fits. It may just give you a whole new lease in life. BTW: special thanks to the two special ladies who brightened my week with notes that make my heart sing.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shell-shocked: It Must Stop!

By Linda Grupp Boutin

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

     Less than two days after my last post exploring unconditional love, violence invaded our country again. Here are some ramblings I recorded since Monday, April 15th after the Marathon in Boston exploded.


     Tax day, Patriot's Day in Boston, a long race called a Boston Marathon. Families gathered. Friends cheering. Explosions exploding. Another long, hard day in American Emergency Rooms. Injured people scattered on sidewalks. Crowds running. Screams echoing. Ear drums bursting. Another long, hard day for Boston's Finest. Unable to allow tears to flow, numbness encompasses all the Americans glued to cable, watching the pain flow past in an endless supply of blood. My heart screams why? My head confused. My fingers type, taking me to those painful places; those dark places of fear; my soul prays; an explorer blind with no light. A gentle touch on my shoulder when the Holy Spirit descends. Why Lord, why? A bomb again? Two bombs. Why?
     Murder, mayhem, IEDs. Shouting, yelling, running to help. We HAVE heard this before. In Oklahoma City, in the heart of Georgia, in New York City on a dark, sunshiny day. WHEN DOES THIS STOP?!? When Americans stop running from the problems, when brave and aching families take a stand. At a Federal Building, at the Olympics, at the Pentagon, at the Twin Towers! And in the cities, and in the living rooms, and over the cell phones, the tears flood us all. When does this all stop?
     Assault weapons, soldiers' clips, ammunition flowing while the bombs explode. What do you hear when you close your eyes at night? Pundits' rants? Politicians' chants? Endless speeches? God's voice counseling sleep? Rest finally overtakes fright.

     Days pass, suspects fight, Boston holds strong, demonstrating for all to see that adversity can grow strength, pain can build character, marathon runners are just amazing.
                  "...having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."
     Memorials proceed for those who died. The country gathers and collects funds to send to those hurt. The FBI and CIA scramble to piece together the clues, the why and the should haves.We rally together and I truly breathe again after I see my friend who was there. He was safe when the bombs exploded.


     The U.S. Senate acted, by doing nothing to curb violence in any form. By declaring a filibuster and refusing to even discuss a bill requiring background checks for gun purchasers. On the night all the police were on the streets of Watertown battling bombers now also equipped with guns, the Senators decide guns and violence deserves no debate. They will not vote because the bill will never be considered by them. They just refuse to speak and go silent. They won't tell you where they stand. If Americans want to know which senator called for a filibuster--they won't tell you that either. They claim to represent us, the American people.Whose voice did Congress hear?


     The FAA furloughed air traffic controllers recently due to "the sequester." Air travel has been tangled, especially at airport hubs, meaning long tarmac waits. The Senators, who travel to and from Washington regularly, agreed to debate, vote on and pass a bill on to the House of Representatives before leaving town for another week not working in Washington. They passed a bill in record time to reinstate funding for full staffing of air traffic controllers. And the House of Representative followed their lead before they left town for another week of not legislating. I am disappointed by their lack of leadership. I wish those who represent me would filibuster leaving town again, stay and work, and try to do a good work.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

In the Spirit of Love

By Linda Grupp Boutin

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

     Two of the most demanding disciplines in my life are writing every day and loving those around me unconditionally. Both require exactly what the verse above explores. God designed human nature not to be fearful, but to be powerful with love and self-discipline when following the example of Jesus. Whenever I successfully set aside my fears, step out in faith and embrace another in need, then my insecurities recede to the background. 

     At times in my life a fair description for me was an introvert. Many times I wanted to go and run and hide away from everyone and everything. Slowly I came to understand what I feared most were my problems. One teacher told me, "Linda, you must tame your fears and walk them like a dog on a leash." This solution presented me an image I could relate to and use when my first thought to withdraw overcame what I knew I should do. I know how to walk a dog on a leash properly, although sometimes I allow my dogs to get away with pulling me around. Have you ever had that sensation of being pulled in a direction you do not want to go?
     So how does a spirit of power that is empowered by God, help you get through the day? First I needed to experience confidence in my passion. At the deepest level I understood that everyone I had ever met wanted to express themselves. So many bore wounds so deep they could not find their voice, much less say what they needed to say. The courage needed to pick up a pen, or paint brush, or sing a song defeated so many talented individuals. I pulled out my bandages and when allowed began binding up those wounded by life. The source of all this pain varied from person to person, but one salve applied to the cuts of life worked, unconditional love.
     Now don't even think I have mastered the act of unconditional love, it ebbs and flows just like the tides within me. However models of that behavior have impacted my life for so much good that I just keep striving. It is the simple act of trying to love unconditionally that winds up stretching out a helping hand and assists the next person to take that very first step. And as one life interlocks with another life, a hand can be extended to the next person and so on and so on until a human chain pulls up the next person in line.
     So the next time you see a person in need, in whom you recognize an aching soul, take that moment to extend a helping hand. You might find you experience the joy of impacting another person's life for the good. Just like a smile, laugh or tear can be contagious, so too can encouragement help that person take that next courageous step. And then the next time you see that pain, it gets a tad bit easier to extend your help. You'll learn that sometimes it takes repeated effort or someone else doing the same, but once you see hope light up in that one person's eyes, you will find the pull of helping irresistible.

Quote for tonight: "EnCOURAGEment is the act of giving someone courage." Beth Moore 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

No Turning Back

By Linda Grupp Boutin

     I stared into my backpack. Did I have everything I needed? The space felt stuffed with the objects for an estimated three to four days. An opened bag of M&Ms, pain medication, heparin to keep my line open (Did I really need to carry this?) and an odd assortment of things to sustain me. I pulled the drawstring taut around the top and strapped our only sleeping bag into place at the base. One last glance around the closet assured me that inside the pack I carried everything for my anticipated hiking trip.
     My green parka hung loosely on a thin frame. The hiking boots that had seen no use for over two years completed the ensemble. I glanced at my husband, Gary, sitting; shoulders slumped, on the bed. He looked up from his clasped hands when I stepped into the room. Tears filled my eyes, but there was no other way that I could see through this mess. Resolutely I turned from the bedroom and out the front door of our apartment. It had taken months of long consideration to reach this decision and I would listen to no further arguments on this matter.
     My footfalls crossing the parking lot created the only sounds on this dark, late November night. My endurance lasted through Thanksgiving, but I could no longer continue the medical regimen required to preserve my life. For over a year my paralyzed digestive tract tolerated no food whatsoever. If I dared take a bite, I landed in a hospital bed. Each night, just to continue living, I connected myself to two machines, one to feed me intravenously for over 12 hours, one to drain the excess fluids from my stomach to attempt to keep them from entering my digestive tract.
     Quality of life entered the news that year. A family wanted to discontinue medical treatment for a daughter trapped inside a coma for too many years. I understood the issue all too well, from the inside, but not trapped in a coma. I knew the pain of illness, emotional and physical, intimately. Reflected in Gary’s eyes, my illness closed us into a world intolerable at best. At UCLA the doctors held out hope for me for an intestinal pacemaker or maybe a transplant in a decade or two. I shook my head to clear the images and looked both ways before crossing the road out of habit.
     My mind tripped back to happier days when Gary and I planned our first backpacking trip together. Newly in love, overflowing with hope for the future, we purchased the packs together along with one for my dog, Ginger. Now less than 5 years later we all knew this trip was to be taken alone. My husband could not understand why I could no longer tolerate the two tubes hanging from my chest, the machines hum all night long, my desperate desire to eat which the doctors had forbidden.
     I left it all behind that night: the intravenous pump and pole, the bottles and bottles of solutions to feed myself with, the tubings, sterile dressings, suction machine. Walked away from my closet full of supplies for life to embrace what would follow, no intention of continuing the ludicrous routine ruling, supposedly saving, my life. I was done, exhausted, finished.
     It won’t take any time at all, I kept reassuring myself. Three or four days at most, depending on how cold it was in the Laguna mountians. Dehydration would set in, after all, the medical encyclopedia listed this as a terminal condition. I have the right to choose treatment or reject it, don’t I? After all, I’m an adult. I had chosen to go to the doctors and accepted their recommendations, but now I’d changed my mind. After experiencing the life they’d designed for a year, doing all they expected, I could no longer accept it. This must all come to an end because I cannot live my life without eating. They are simply asking more than a person can endure. My plan had been to be a nurse to others, not to spend every day of my life taking care of a sick me!
     Hence my plan to cause Gary as little grief as possible. Why did he have to keep fighting me on this? He said life is always worth living, but he has never gone a day not eating hooked up to machines, much less a year. So take as little as possible, leave Gary the car, take the bus to Alpine and walk out into the forest. Find a nice, quiet spot and let the disease take my life. Shouldn’t take too long, probably just three, maybe four days at most. Dehydration would take me quickly, I swallowed hard and reassured myself.
     What is that I hear? No one should be calling me, not right now with my mind made up. I kept walking heading for the bus station. I saw the lights ahead and kept moving forward. Now I recognized the voice. One I knew all too well after just a few years of marriage. His long legs quickly overtook my lead. I begged him to go away. He said he would just walk with me, no more arguments. His pace matched mine. The lights brightened as we approached the benches arranged at the bus stop in the shopping mall. I took a seat, praying for a bus, any bus to arrive soon, so I could escape his company.
     After minutes passed like hours, the bus approached. I didn’t check the destination, it didn’t matter, anywhere away from him would work just fine. I mounted the steps, jangled my fare into the box, stomped to the back of the bus, turned and took a seat. Sliding my arms from the pack I relaxed. I had made it. Now I could be released from this bondage of life with illness, disability, pain in body, mind and soul. Eating would mean nothing where I planned on going, food irrelevant.
     The bus was just sitting there, not accelerating from the curb to take me to my destination. I looked up to see what the bus driver was doing and quickly discerned the problem. Another person had boarded the bus after me and now I was staring directly in those deep, brown eyes I knew all too intimately. Gary stood facing me, standing beside the bus driver. He seemed to be trying to imprint in his memory some final impression of his wife, now fleeing from his look of overpowering love. “Why did he have to follow me?” my thoughts screamed inside my head.
     Now my eyes dropped to my hands and the moment of truth had arrived. That look killed so much in that instant. How could I turn my back on someone who wanted me so badly in their life that he would chase me down like that? I had to do this right, not be a burden, not make a mess, but clean one up. And suddenly I knew that quality of life had nothing to do at all with it. Empty, devoid of meaning, it was not up to me to pick and choose the time or date. Whether it took just three or four days or maybe thirty or forty years, it just simply was not my choice. But once decided, there could be no going back. I could not subject either of us to this anymore. If I changed course here, reversed myself, I knew it would be the commitment for life.
     Slowly, my fingers clasped the strap of that blue backpack. Fighting all impulses, my knees pulled me up and back onto my feet. One step followed the next back to the front of the bus. When I reached him, he pulled the backpack from my grasp, hefting it onto his broad shoulder. I did not ask the bus driver to return my fare, just stepped down the steps and walked forward. Back into life, back into not eating, back into daily, 12-hour regimens of intravenous feedings for the next 7 years.
     Today, 32 years later, I look back at that moment in time when I was convinced to embrace life by brown, loving eyes that refused to let me go. And bless the moment he walked into my life.

Originally written for Ladies Home Journal Personal Essay Contest 2012. I had hopes of receiving a prize for this one, but I didn't win. However, my nephew asked for a copy and later told me that it hung on his bulletin board. I understood I had won on a much deeper level a prize that money could not buy. I thought I would share it with my blog readers and followers. This event occurred in 1980 and was a moment of truth that changed my life and has guided every step of my life afterwards. There are no "do-overs" in life and no turning back from the choices we make.