Five Minute Free Writes buttonHi everyone!

Today is Day 3 of 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes — a challenge to post five minutes of writing every day in the month of October.

To celebrate this month of flash writing, I’m thrilled to announce that there will be a giveaway EVERY FRIDAY in the month of October!

How exciting is that?!

And I picked Fridays because I love me some ..

 

The theme of the giveaway month is:

 

 

… inspired by the brand new line of Words Matter Letterpress Blocks, brought to you by …

 

 

Don’t you just love ’em?

 

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There’s also this really cool Letterpress Blocks Interface where you can play around with all the letter options and create a sample of your very own word, like I did for this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt:

 


Before we get to the giveaway and the weekly Five Minute Friday link-up, here are my five minutes on the word NEW ..

(Also Day 3 of my series, “31 Days of Life in South Africa“)

Ready … GO.

 

I only knew one family when I landed in Cape Town, and they were a Godsend.  I’d studied with the twin boys at Bible College in the States, and it was into their gracious home that I was welcomed upon my arrival.  They greeted me at the airport with a bag full of South African goodies, complete with a beaded doll with black dreadlocks woven of yarn.

I was so excited by the newness of it all that it felt as though my senses were heightened.  The colors looked brighter, the tastes richer, the smells sweeter.

The dear mother of the family prepared the most amazing meal, complete with ostrich, chutney, sweet butternut, avocado, malva pudding — all things that seemed far more exotic to me than the typical West Michigan fare.

One of the boys, a year younger than me, made it his mission to make me fall in love with his stomping grounds.

It didn’t take much.

He was, as they say, Proudly South African.

 

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An avid surfer, he drove me to all of the beaches that could possibly be found.  At Glen Beach, we climbed the boulders that jutted into the sea, me praying that I wouldn’t slip and fall with my precarious flip-flops.  We perched ourselves atop a rock warmed by the setting sun, and let our feet dangle toward the soothing crash of the waves.  Lion’s Head guarded our backs while the majestic Twelve Apostles looked on from the coast.

And if not for the Atlantic salt on my lips, it would’ve tasted just like a dream.

 

STOP.

 

Now for the fun part!  Enter the giveaway below for your chance to win $75 of Words Matter Letterpress Blocks by (in)courage!

(Please note: This giveaway is only open to those with a U.S. shipping address.)

 

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And don’t forget to stop by this cool interface where you can design your own word and share it on social media!

After that, link-up your five minutes of unedited goodness on the word NEW .. Why?  Because #wordsmatter.
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You may have read a version of this story before, but what can I say … It was one of those defining moments in my life.

It was the time I stumbled and fell over an innocent, four-worded question.

To her credit, she waited until I had stowed my carry-on in the overhead compartment and settled into my seat before she launched into the obligatory small-talk.

We were, after all, about to spend twelve hours with our elbows touching, and I’d never even met the fifty-something woman who had scored the aisle seat next to me.

“Are you heading home?” she asked.

And that’s where I tripped over my tongue.

My mind.

My heart.

I hesitated.  A little too long.

Then finally, “Um … yeah.  Well, no.  Uh … I’m not sure.”

I wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d flagged down the flight attendant right then and there.  I can picture the hypothetical conversation now: “Um, excuse me, miss, but this girl doesn’t know where she’s going.”

How embarrassing.

“My mom died this morning,” I blurted out, the aircraft still grounded on the Cape Town runway.

The kind woman gushed condolences and well-intentioned words of sympathy before I could attempt to redeem my earlier fumble.

“I’ve been living in Africa for the past eight years and my mom just died in my hometown in MIchigan.  So, I guess I’m heading home.  But not really.  I mean, my husband and kids are still here in Cape Town, so …”

My voice drifted, and I realized the answer to her original question hadn’t become any clearer for either of us.

Was I heading home?  Or not?

The conflicting voices of my heart kickstarted a long-lasting soul search.

Where was my home?

 

 

That conversation happened three years ago.

In the meantime, I’ve thought and even written a lot about the concept of home.

And what I’ve come to learn is this:

This is not it.

This life, this living in between, this sojourn … it’s all temporary.

And there is an eternal.

Ever since my mom died and I’ve started thinking a whole lot more about heaven, I’ve made a more conscious effort in my thinking, my praying, my writing, my parenting — to remember that every day is one step closer to eternity.

 

 

And hopefully the next time I step onto a plane and get asked the same question, “Are you heading home?” … I’ll be able to answer with confidence, “Yes.  Yes, I am.”

Not because of my earthly destination, but because of my hope in eternity.

 

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Today I’m thrilled to announce a brand new product line brought to you by (in)courage … It’s called the Words Matter Letterpress Blocks.

Aren’t they so great?!

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incourage-LetterpressBlocks-main1And the coolest part is that you can click over to this interactive interface and build whatever word you want, then share it on social media.

What word would you choose?

ALSO (!!!) … This weekend (October 2nd-7th) I’ll be hosting a giveaway right here on this blog for one winner to receive a voucher for these beautiful Letterpress Blocks.

So come back to visit and enter for a chance to win!!  (In fact, enter your e-mail address in the sidebar above and the giveaway announcement will come straight to your inbox! What more could you ask for?)  😉

See you all this weekend, and until then, remember: Words Matter.

 

They are the ones who show up on moving day, scrubbing toilets in the dingy rental that doesn’t even belong to them.

They are the ones who say they will pray … and actually do.

The ones who bring you food when you break your foot and when you have a cold and when you’re just plain tired and feeling down.

They love your kids like their own and show it.

They are the ones who sleep over on your birthday when your husband is away on business.  The ones who take time off from work to drive for hours to sit in a pew during your mother’s funeral, then turn around and drive hours home again.

They’re the ones with whom we can talk nonstop for hours and then sit in silence for minutes on end and not distinguish between the two.

They are the gems.  The rare diamonds that would rather go unnoticed, but sparkle and shine as they reflect the Light.

 

This post was written in five minutes on the prompt, FRIEND.  Join us for Five-Minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo Baker’s.  Also, don’t miss the FREE (in)RL Conference over at (in)courage this weekend, April 25th and 26th.  It’s the conference that comes to you — videos can be streamed from the comfort of your own home.  Details here.

 

It has been my privilege to be part of a community group called (in)couraging Writers, through the lovely website and ministry, (in)Courage.

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One of our assignments in the group was to write a letter to our inner critic, specifically the voice that prevents us from writing. 

So, without further ado, here is my

Open Letter to Criticism:

Dear Criticism,

Many would seek to dismiss you entirely, to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.  I admit, whenever you have appeared in these parts, the steel wall has quickly shot up in resistance and defense.

Yet to reject you altogether would be unwise.  You are needed, though undesired.

The best description I could think of to describe you is to say that you are like the bee population.  

The world needs you in order to grow and flourish, but often it recoils from your presence.

You can be loud, buzzing in my ear, and often feared.  

You provide reason to move away from your presence, to shoo you away, and sometimes even to run when you appear.

Sometimes you sting without just cause.

But like a bee, you have your reasons for existence.  You can serve a purpose, one that can even cause flowers to thrive and honey to flow.

So here is my advice to you:

Make yourself useful.

Do your work in such a way that pollen will travel from flower to flower, color and beauty will be added to the world, and honeycomb will be formed and enjoyed by many.  

There will be times when you will still sting.  When that happens, teach us to rub on the salve of the gospel when you penetrate.

Don’t disappear entirely,
but don’t sting unnecessarily, either.

Make yourself useful.

If you do that, then we can be friends.

Whitewater rafting 1

It’s the closest I’ve ever come to dying.

The setting:  The Kern River of Southern California, Class III/IV whitewater rapids.

I was a teenager in high school, out from Michigan with my younger sister, my dad and his girlfriend, to visit my elder sister and her fiance during spring break.

A typical teenager, I acted all adventurous and daring, but might have held my breath a little during the ‘safety speech.’  And on the river … well … I basically held on for dear life, as we weaved through protruding boulders, the nose of the raft diving down in despair, then lurching up in redemption and me, constantly praying I would stay in the boat.

God chose not to answer that prayer.  Correction: He did answer that prayer, the answer was just “No.”

It happened after I succumbed to a dumb group decision.  There were six of us in the raft, plus a guide, and my younger sister was the only one in the lot with any common sense.  The only one brave enough to get out.

It went something like this:

Guide: “So, who wants to go back and surf that hole?”

My dad: “Who wants to what?”

Guide: “Surf the hole.  Basically, we turn the raft around, paddle like crazy upstream until we hit that hole in the rapids, where it’s swirling downwards into a tight spiral, and if we hit it just right, we’ll sort of float on top of it for a while, without moving anywhere.”

General, wavering nods and shrugged shoulders indicated an almost unanimous consensus.  “No, thanks.  I don’t want to,” my younger sister stated boldly.

“Okay, that’s cool,” said the guide, nonchalantly.  “We’ll just drop you off on the shore over there, and pick you up afterwards.”

We paddled over to a little inlet, my sister jumped out, and the remaining five of us headed for the hole, guide perched on the high tail of the raft.

My dad had been sitting opposite me, and the next thing I remember was seeing his full, six-foot frame lunging over me, hurling me backwards off the raft’s edge into the raging river.

Like an ice cube dropped into a glass of Coke, I was plunged downward before my lifejacket raised me up toward the surface.  But instead of finding oxygen, my head bumped against something hard at the top.

The raft.

I was directly under the raft.

All the safety precautions announced at the beginning of the trip went rushing downstream with the current.

I swam to the left.

Raft.

I swam to the right.

More raft.

I felt all around in every direction, and couldn’t find an escape route.

With seconds ticking by, no hope could be seen in the blurry nightmare.

Well, this is it, I resigned.  I’ve always wondered how I was going to die, and now I have my answer.

Oddly enough, I felt a strange calmness.  A peace, as if it would be okay if I did die in that moment.  A surety that there was nothing left undone, that I wouldn’t have any outstanding debts or unfulfilled regrets if that were to be my end, this side of the curtain.

With open eyes searching the cloudy aquamarine water, I suddenly felt as if I had taken a deep breath, as if my lungs had been re-filled.  I calculated the bubbles I could afford to exhale, not wanting my fresh reserve to be depleted.

Looking back, it felt like an underwater James Bond scene, with Adele crooning in the background, “This is the end … Hold your breath and count to ten ….”

After contemplating death while fully submerged, my wits came about me, and I realized I had to stop floundering, pick a single direction, and just swim.  I gripped the bottom of the raft, hurled myself to the left, and

found air.

“There you are!!” was the first exclamation in my ear before the guide grabbed the shoulders of my life jacket and flung me into the bottom of the raft.

I lay there, heaving, gasping, convulsing.

Glad to be alive.

My younger sister, the only wise land-stander, was on the shore sobbing, convinced that she would have to tell Mom that I had drowned in the Kern River.

Even the guide was surprised to see me.  He later confessed that he was thisclose to jumping into the rapids to look for me — and apparently guides never do that.

In hindsight, the peace I felt when I was sure I was going to die remains inexplicable.  It had to have been supernatural.  It welled up within me from a wholly different source other than my self, filled my suffocating lungs with new wind, and carried me to the surface.

God could have let me get swept away that day, but

“The Lord is gracious and righteous;
Our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted;
When I was in great need, he saved me.

Be at rest once more, O my soul,
For the Lord has been good to you.”

~ Psalm 116:5-7, NIV

Linking up today with a lovely group of (in)Courage writers who are sharing their memoirs over here.

Photo credits: David Berkowitz and Gabriel Amadeus (photos edited)