articulate - adjective
1. having parts connected by joints, as in "articulated"
2. made up of distinct words joined together in such a way as to convey meaning
3. able to express oneself clearly and distinctly
4. well formulated, clearly presented

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Serendipity: Visit with an Austrian Angel

You know those rare, unplanned, wonderful blessings that seem to drop spontaneously from heaven into your lap? They're the embodiment of the word "serendipity." I experienced one of those last Sunday.

Background: Three other ladies who write Christian fiction and I planned a get-together Sunday afternoon at the local mall. Some of us had only met online, others had never met at all. We thought it would be fun to become acquainted and share some great encouraging face time.

We had no idea.

There are so few people you feel an instant bond with. Even rarer is when you meet three other people at once and instantly bond. Even rarer? What happened next.

We had ordered lunches at the Subway counter, then gathered at the comfy couch area near the center of the food court and visited for about an hour when an elderly lady walked by, pausing near our location. She appeared to be searching for someone, so one of us asked if we could help her. She replied that she was trying to locate her daughter-in-law, who was supposed to meet her there. Although we proved to be of no help at all, we all introduced ourselves, and someone commented on her lovely German accent. And then Maria (NOT Maria von Trapp, although she teasingly tried to convince us that's who she was!) joined us, pulling up a shiny black vinyl chair and sharing with us her life story, sprinkled with humor, many gestures, and several freely-shared opinions on life in general.

Example: "The United States is the best country in the world. I can say this because I am an immigrant. If you do not believe me, leave the country. Visit others. Vhen you return, you vill kiss the ground. There is no country like America."

She told us of her naturalization process, of how she studied hard to pass the tests, learning to read and write in English. She hadn't known a word of it when she arrived in the country and had to take night classes to learn it. She spoke with better grammar than most natural-born citizens I know.  

She was born in Serbia, but moved to Austria early in her life. She was 13yo when "the monster Hitler" moved into Salzburg, and her voice thickened as she spoke of being hauled from the family house in the middle of the night, of atrocities she witnessed, of family members murdered. "They lined us up, then counted off. Eeenie, meenie, miney, mo, although that is not vhat they said." She pointed, pointed, pointed, then stopped. "Vhen they stopped, that person was dragged out and sent to a concentration camp. Ve never saw them again. Also the grandparents and young children. If they couldn't vork, they vere hauled avay and killed." 

She described the attack on the man who was first stripped naked, then tortured til he died. She told of the repeated raping of the 17yo village girl by the soldiers. But although the soldiers had an automatic 24-hour judgment-free period to cover their actions whenever they entered a village, not all soldiers were animals. The man appointed to guard Maria's family actually saved their lives, rescued Maria from the lewd attentions of his fellow soldiers, and stopped the attacks on the 17yo village girl.

We four ladies who composed her audience were already literally on the edges of our seats, elbows resting on our knees as we leaned forward to catch every word. But her next words caught us instead:

"The only thing that brought me through that terrible time vas God in heaven. I knew He vas vith me at all times. I came to America when I was 18 years old, and then I met Peter, the love of my life and the man who became my husband. Ve had a vonderful life together until he developed a brain tumor and died vhen I vas 52. I had thought that the time in Austria when the monster Hitler came through was going to be the hardest time of my life, but losing my husband vas much, much vorse. Ve had lived through such good times together.

"But do you know vhat I found? Although I have had many mountain peaks and valleys in my life, it was in  the valleys that I grew closest to God. He vas vith me the entire time. He grew me in the valleys. The valleys were what shaped me, not the mountain peaks."

We sat quietly, absorbing her words. Not one of us ladies has her amazing perspective on life, not one has endured the atrocities she has known. But each of us craves the faith and joy she exuded, that certainty of God's love and goodness in the valleys of our lives.

Shortly afterward, Maria's daughter-in-law found her and drove her away. But the four of us ladies knew beyond a doubt that God had dropped an unexpected treasure in our laps, a gold mine of wisdom and humor, of faith and love, in the shape of a talkative little 5-foot-tall dynamo who blessed us with her grace.

Thank you, Maria. I hope we meet again someday.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Musings: Treasures

Last Saturday night, I attended an amateur radio banquet with my husband, where the featured speaker presented the fascinating story of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. 

Am I the only person who has never heard of this amazing tidbit of our nation’s history? I’ve been teaching history for years, but this had escaped my notice. There is even a movie on the subject as well as several other publications.   I was amazed to learn the following:

  • During the first part of the twentieth century, Native American children were educated in US government schools in an effort to “Americanize” them. They were not allowed to speak their native tongue or participate in cultural traditions. At all.
  • When our military had difficulty inventing unbreakable codes during the First World War, they decided to use Native American languages instead, recruiting these men to develop code for them.
  • The Choctaws were the first Native Americans to work on code in World War I. Other tribes included Apache and Osage, as well as a few others.
  • The Navajo Code was developed for use in World War II, employing basic Navajo words – like their word for “whale,” for instance – for American military terms – like aircraft carrier. They also assigned words for letters, much like our phonetic alphabet of today using Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc., in order to facilitate the spelling of words not included in the code. 
  • Since the Navajo language was not written at that point, and because it was such a complex language in tonal qualities, the code was unbreakable.
  • Without the Navajo Code Talkers, we would not have won at Iwo Jima.

How interesting! But what grabbed my attention even more was the realization of how often we overlook the treasures right under our noses until we have dire need of them. Before the World Wars, Native American languages and cultures were demeaned, yet they held the key to our victory.

I wonder what treasures might be hiding right under my nose, what blessings God has put in my path that I haven’t even noticed, much less learned to cherish and employ?

How about you?

·         What insignificant treasures have you discovered that have changed your life?
·         Do you have a favorite little-known tidbit of national history?

I’d love to hear about them!

For more information:

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Some things never change on this earth.
  • What goes up must come down.
  • Matter is never created nor destroyed.
  • Heat always rises; cold settles.
  • The amount of time it takes to go through the checkout line is inversely proportional to the amount of time you have to get to the next appointment.
  • Any obstacle between a dog and shortbread cookies will be overcome. (By our dog, anyway!)
We can count on these things. They're dependable. Reliable. Laws of nature that never vary.

But other things are more fluid, often catching us by surprise with marvelous variety.
  • The weather, for instance.
  • Colorful hues and shadows cast by a sunset.
  • Fleeting expressions on the face of a friend.
  • A teenager's reasons for why they MUST do something. Or for why they should not have to!
  • And words. Especially words.
The incredible diversity of the English language often amuses, amazes, and challenges me. New words sneak into our language as people invent them, and within mere weeks, it seems, they transition from slang to common use to proper. Sometimes we don't even notice the change, while other times we balk. I remember my dad complaining about the growing trend among newscasters to refer to a possible "scenario," a word which didn't become a common option until the 60's. "Snuck," a word commonly heard among informal conversations, is still not usually accepted as proper, yet I see it in published books and articles quite often. I wonder how soon other non-words -- such as "irregardless" -- will become acceptable.  I hope that one never will! But the language is constantly changing, and if we can flex with the changes, it can be fun.

Yesterday, my daughter and I spent several lovely hours sitting in a Tim Horton's coffee shop in Erie, PA, working through some plot challenges in two current works-in-progress. As our brains scrambled for creative solutions, new word combinations often popped out of our mouths, surprising us both into fits of smothered giggling until we actually created a small commotion. We found some of our new inventions to be rather ingenious, though. 

For instance, what would YOU call something integral to a schematic? 

What else, but integratic?

And if something is epically economic, of course it would be epinomic, wouldn't it?

We had a good time increasing our vocabulage. 

As I was trying to pull my 16yo son, Tim, out of his early-morning fog today, he commented on my ma'amliness. My what?? It caught me by surprise and made me laugh out loud. But why can't ma'amliness be a word? It fit very well in the context. 

And my daughter-in-law, Erin, was telling me about a recipe for a spaghetti-lasagna kind of dish. Spaghagna? Laghetti? :)

Okay, I may be a little weird, but these things make me laugh!

How about you? What new words have you and your family coined? Does the changeableness of our language frustrate you or fascinate you?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


I find the concept of borders intriguing.  Do you? 

Borders define space.  This is my space.  That is yours.

Borders allow freedom.  I can do what I want up to this line.  You may do what you please up to the same place.  Once someone crosses that line, space is encroached upon and freedom is threatened.

Borders not only unite – this side of the country’s border is homeland to us – borders also divide.  That side belongs to them. To the foreigners.

Borders speak to us in everyday life.

Physical property boundaries may be represented by an orange flag at the back corner or a splash of paint on a tree trunk.  State and country borders are announced by signs, bridges, rivers, and special crossings.  Some are defended with armed guards.
In rural settings, property boundaries are often depicted by tree lines, hedges, or stone walls.  In the city, you’ll find fences, curbs, and brick walls.  These types of borders are a favorite focus for photographers and painters, creating depictions which give us a sense of peace and rightness in our world.

Borders such as these creep into our language with such adages as, “Good fences make great neighbors” and “Peace respects borders.”   

Other expressions on the topic of borders come from historical accounts.  Julius Caesar gave us “crossing the Rubicon,” an expression which came to mean making an irrevocable decision, when, in an act of insurrection in 49BC, he led his army across a border – the Rubicon River – to take control of Rome.

Another great phrase, “crossing the line,” may trace back to our own country’s history, from the battle of the Alamo. My favorite portrayal of this scene comes from the movie, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.  The fateful night before the final attack from Santa Anna, Colonel William B. Travis assembled the few remaining defenders of the property and frankly apprised them of the situation.
“Russell brings bad news, men. The defense of the Alamo rests on us alone.
“Now I won’t minimize the gravity of our situation, but General Santa Ana has nearly 5,000 men massed against us.  Now I can’t force you beyond patriotism and your own conscience.  While it’s still dark, there’s time to slip off to safety. I won’t blame any man who doesn’t stay.”
(He unsheathes his sword and with it slashes a line in the sand.)
“Those who stay, cross over the line.”
Every man, fully knowing the consequences, stepped across the line.  At least, in the movie, they all did.  History tells the story a bit differently, but the scene from the movie always moves me to chills and tears.

It speaks of a patriotism that knows boundaries, that understands the need to defend its cause, that willingly stands to live or die on solid principles of right and wrong.

It speaks of integrity, of strength of character, of individual standards which combine to make a nation great.

It speaks of boundaries we’re willing to cross, borders we’re willing to defend.

More often, though, “crossing the line” has a negative connotation.

Several years ago, my oldest son caught my attention by describing a friend of his who lacked moral guidance with the depiction: “His problem is that he’s never drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘This is a line I WILL NOT cross.’ So there is nothing he will not try, nothing he will not do.”  Pretty wise observation for a teenager, I thought.

During some intense discussions in our house, we have considered the question “Is there anything you are NOT willing to do for money?”

It’s a question of borders, of boundaries. 
How far are you willing to go? 
Can you be bought? 
Will you cave to pressure? 
Do you have standards you refuse to compromise at any cost? 
Is there a line you WILL NOT cross?

Today, a day of great patriotic fervor for our country, is a day to remember borders.

It’s not only a day to appreciate this physical property, but also a day to remind ourselves to stand on the principles which gave us the freedoms we love.  It’s a day to consider the boundaries we’re willing to cross to preserve it, the borderlines we’ll refuse to allow others to encroach.

It’s a day to appreciate those who have crossed physical boundaries in order to defend moral ones, those "certain unalienable rights."

Thank you, patriots of our past and present, who have done so at great cost to yourselves.

I salute you.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mile Markers and Milestones

While searching for a great photo to illustrate this post, I made an interesting discovery.  Although I have always viewed a milestone as a way to look back on how far I've progressed, apparently that's the purpose of a mile marker.  A milestone points the way ahead, showing what is still needed to reach the final destination.  I never noticed that before.  Anyone with an etymology passion care to contribute the why's and wherefore's?

Today is the 5-week anniversary of my SCAD-induced heart attack.  Looking back, I can tick off 5 major mile markers to correspond with those weeks.

Week 1:  I survived the initial stages of a very rare and potentially fatal attack!  Major achievement!!!

Week 2:  I adjusted my daily schedule around pill times and nap times and began to wrap my brain around what has occurred in my life and in my family's lives.  This week is when I began researching the SCAD condition and joined support groups.

Week 3:  I became very aware of what my inner organs are doing at all times.  Having never really felt my heart muscle aching before, this was an intensely self-aware time.  This was the week I realized how very rare this diagnosis is as I educated my family doctor regarding my condition.

Week 4:  I learned that no one is "too young" to have their own cardiologist!  I also began to realign my perspective to hourly achievements rather than weekly, monthly and yearly goals.  Getting the dishes done was a great accomplishment.  Taking a nap was another.  Spending an entire evening awake with the family... priceless!
Week 5:  I passed the 30-day survival mark! (Raspberries to the ER doc who told me I'd be lucky if I did!) I also had my first-ever stress test and began a cardiac rehab program.

Overall, I've learned to appreciate each day as a gift and to treasure the friendships I've been blessed with!

Know what?  That's a lot to accomplish in 5 weeks.  God has truly brought me far and I am grateful. :)

But what about milestones?  Where am I heading? 

1.  I've learned that I'm aiming for a "New Normal."  This condition doesn't have a quick fix, like the attending physician in the hospital led me to believe.  No "just one or two weeks and you'll be back to normal."  It's time to adjust our sights for a different destination than what was expected.

2.  I want to be more involved in the route planning of my own health, rather than just coasting along the highway of life and coping with the minor detours caused by colds, flus, and dental checkups. 

3.  I'd like to take more bypasses around major stress centers.  None of us can plan those traffic jams and roadblocks in life, but we can make the effort to not let them affect us so much in a personal manner.  Or when someone decides to unleash their road rage on us, we may have to deal with it before we can move on, but we don't have to invite them into our car and take them with us.  

4.  I want to drive deliberately, accomplishing what is truly worthwhile in each day.  Sometimes it's going to be only the dishes and a nap.  Sometimes it's going to be a whole day's worth of achievements.  But I want to do more of what is important and less of what is wasteful.  More of what impacts eternity.  Less of what just "spends time."

5.  I'd like to stop more often for the scenic overlooks and historical markers, to soak in the beauty around me, to celebrate the accomplishments of everyday life. 

Sounds like something off the "Cars" movie, doesn't it?  Sure, it seems sappy, but there's a valid point here.  

You only have one life.

Live it on purpose.

Live it now.

  Forgetting what is behind
and straining toward what is ahead, 
I press on toward the goal
to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward
in Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 2:13-14

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Heart Lessons

Graphic art design by TJ Coulter, copyright 2012

It's amazing how many new things one can learn as the result of a health crisis.

I recently spent several days as a paying guest at the local hospital and came away with a brand new appreciation for this fact.  Some of the information I've learned:
  1. Heart attacks sometimes present themselves in very illogical ways.  Mine included upper abdominal and back pain on the right side.  No, my heart is not located inside my gall bladder!
  2. It is possible to have a heart attack and EKGs will not detect it.  Evidently an EKG only "sees" the front of the heart. If the attack involves the small artery behind the heart, an EKG will not register it.
  3. Very healthy people can have heart attacks.  Mine was caused by a SCAD, a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (tear in the artery), which defers to no race, religion, cholesterol level, or medical history.  A SCAD will even target very young, extremely healthy triathlon athletes.  It is somewhat partial to women, however.
  4. When one endures a medical crisis, one's acquaintances suddenly become health professionals.  People who barely know me have attributed the cause of my heart attack to my nonstop diet of junk food (I wish I had known all those whole grains and vegetables I've been eating were junk food.  I would have enjoyed them more!) and to my personality of being a "very uptight person." (If I'm uptight, I'd hate to see what some of my relatives are!) 
  5. Something less appealing to the eye than institutional scrambled egg substitute actually exists.  It's institutional congealed cream of wheat.  Eww.
  6. Evidently, when one is unconscious, one is still ticklish.  Well, actually I knew this fact already.  Turns out it was news to the cardiologist.  The cardiologist who was trying to give me a shot.  Yeah.  Oops.  Sorry, sir.

But that's not all I've learned.  Some of my recent lessons have actually been very heart warming.

  1. God obviously still has something He wants me to accomplish!  The results of this heart attack could have been much worse, but He chose to spare me for a reason.  I have a God-planned purpose in life.  How cool is that?
  2. Death and life truly are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).  My physical heart attack immediately followed a verbal one... a character assassination which actually did cut to my heart. "Words can be lethal" is a literally true statement.  What an object lesson this experience has been!  The up side is that life is also in the power of the tongue.  I choose to give life with the words I speak, to bless people's hearts.  (God, help me!)
  3. It is possible to develop a thick skin while keeping a tender heart.  I can choose to move on in spite of hurt, choose to forgive, choose to still be cordial without hardening my heart against people who choose to cause harm.  My personal strength and dignity are still mine.  No matter how someone tries to hurt me, they can't touch the inner core of who I am.  That will live forever.  
  4. I have some very special friends who love me for who I am and choose to bless my heart instead of curse it.  These friends will even drive for hours to sit with me while I sleep, wash my hair for me, take notes and ask the doctors questions for me when my mind is too groggy to think.  That's incredibly touching, incredibly heart healing. 
  5. According to what I can glean from internet sites, I can hope to fully regain my former physical heart strength within 18 months or so.  During that time I have many choices to make to help heal both my physical and emotional heart -- choices to trust God and be happy, to eat right and exercise, to live and love and be productive.  I plan to do all of those.
I had no idea my heart could teach me so many lessons.

Have you ever noticed in life how the most important lessons you learn often involve things you thought you already knew?  Ideals you thought you lived by and proverbs you spouted to others, but didn't actually know on a heart level.

The lesson my heart is clutching right now is this:

There are no guarantees in life.  

Say "I love you" while you can.  

Give a hug before it's too late.  

Bless someone else's heart.  

It needs it.  

And so does yours. 

"All this is for your benefit, 
so that the grace that is reaching more and more people 
may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.  
Therefore we do not lose heart. 
Though outwardly we are wasting away, 
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."  
1 Corinthians 4:15-16