Being the Best I Can Be

All too frequently I wake up to find I have a new ache or pain. Sometimes it goes away. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Why should that surprise me? I’m seventy now. I’ll turn seventy-one this coming Saturday. While I’m not nearly as old as I hope God will permit me to become before I die, I have no choice but to either accept the fact that my body has been deteriorating since birth or hold a pity party I won’t invite anyone else to because I know nobody wants or needs to listen to me complain.

Fortunately, my mind still seems to be in reasonably good condition. I say “reasonably” because, like many of my younger peers, I catch myself forgetting more and more of those everyday words none of us can live without. So far I only forget familiar people’s names when I’m not with them, but I anticipate the day that will change.

Being the best I can be? That sounds like a real challenge since the best possible seems to be shrinking beyond my ability to control.

What does “being the best I can be” really mean, anyhw?

I’ve come to a definite conclusion. Whatever I may be good at, being the best I can be doesn’t involve comparing myself with other people. It has to do with using what I am and what I have in a way that pleases God. The fact that I’m not the best guitarist or bass guitar player in the world isn’t important.

Or the best novelist. I haven’t made it to the New York Times best seller list yet and don’t expect to.

What matters is my willingness–my desire–to use my talents in a godly way. If I’m able to do my best playing bass for the worship services and Christmas musical, if I’m willing to do my best providing a guitar accompaniment and doing a weekly solo at the nursing home ministry, I should be pleased.

Neither do I need to become a best-selling author. If I write the books God inspires me to write, if He helps me to publish the ones He wants published, if the people He wants to buy and read them and get from them what He wants them to get, I should be thrilled.

Perhaps it’s time to measure “the best I can be” in a different way. Not from the limited way I view my own talents and abilities, but from knowing God gave them to me for a reason. He wants me to use them for Him.

I treasure the sayings, “I’m a work in progress” and “God’s not finished with me yet.” I’ll never be the very best I can be in any area of my life  until He has finished with me. And that won’t happen until I come home to Heaven.

Better to hope for His “Well done, good and faithful servant” than to fret about my shortcomings and inconsistencies here on earth. As long as I’m honestly trying to let Him make me a better person–the best person I can be–He’ll use whatever talents I have in whatever way He desires. What more can I ask for than that?

Your comments are always welcome.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

    

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The Price of Greed

[NOTE: I wrote this prior to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Currently in Richmond–at least at the gas stations closest to us–prices have already risen to $2.49 and may easily go higher because of the hurricanes’ effect on oil production and processing.]

 

     

 

If you’re ever on Interstate 95 going through Richmond, Virginia, and looking for gas, you can take exit 86A towards Atlee and find a reasonably priced Sheets station a mile or two up the road.  Or take exit 86B towards Elmont for an equally reasonable Wawa station that’s probably a little closer. The right-hand picture above shows Wawa’s sign; the station itself is much more visible. Almost within spitting distance is a little BP station–you’ll recognize it as a former 7/Eleven store–that’s usually just a penny or so more expensive than Wawa and Sheets.

But heaven help you if you are on Rt. 295 getting off at the Rt. 1 exit going north towards Ashland. You’ll eventually come to the Shell station pictured on the left above. Even though it appears to be the only one in that neighborhood, the Wawa and BP stations are actually only a couple of miles further. But if you’re like us, you probably don’t want to drive additional miles to gas up when traveling, even if you know other choices exist further up the road. You want to get back on the road.

If you haven’t clicked yet to look at larger versions of those two pictures, you might want to do so now.

Did you notice the difference in gas prices? $2.11.9 for regular at the Wawa and $2.79.9 at the Shell! That’s a sixty-eight cent difference.

I doubt seriously whether the Shell station gets much business from us locals. And no wonder. If I waited to get gas until the fuel gauge told me I really needed to, I would spend at least $6.80 more than I would at Wawa, Sheets, or even the little BP station.

My wife and I periodically take road trips, and I’m always thrilled that my Honda Civic that only gets 25-28 mpg in city driving makes it up to 45 mpg on the highway. Even so, I don’t want to pay more for gas than I have to. I could be wrong, but I doubt seriously that I’ve ever been charged unreasonably at a highway-accessible gas station.

Hmm. Maybe because of competition?

And the Shell station doesn’t really have any competition. Or at least it appears not to.

I feel so sorry for travelers who stop at the Shell station. Not just because paying that much more for gas than they should might be hard on peoples’ budgets, but because I hate the thought that their only memory of Richmond might be the way they got fleeced by somebody’s greed.

I’d be embarrassed to be that greedy. And to know I’d angered and frustrated numerous other people because of it.

What do you think? How about leaving a comment?

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Thoughts on History

While I was sitting here at my laptop wondering to write about, I made the mistake of checking the news. Not CNN or ABC or NBC, but Fox News. Not because Fox is perfect, but because the other media outlets are totally untrustworthy. I believe Fox is accurate most of the time. And when Todd Starnes is reporting, it’s always accurate.

But then I turned to Facebook and saw an interesting article someone had shared about an NAACP official, a very dignified looking older black lady, who was lambasting the left for what they’re doing (or trying to do) to statues of Confederate leaders. I was exceptionally impressed with her remarks, especially when she said the Confederacy was part of American history and history shouldn’t be tampered with.

I believe most people are familiar with Edmund Burke’s famous saying, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Don’t we see that happening all around us? Especially by those who are trying to rewrite history as if the undesirable events never took place.

The current emphasis on political correctness has reached ridiculous extremes, and nowhere does that show up more obviously than in our freedom of speech being taken away from us every time we offend someone. I recently ran across this quote of George Orwell’s. Do you remember his book 1984, a futuristic horror story that  describes modern-day America a little more accurately every day?

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Sir Winston Churchill might have been describing contemporary America when he said this:

“Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”

I’d love to think I’m using my freedom of speech while I still can to say something back. Unfortunately, I’m probably talking to the people who generally already agree with me.

Comments are always welcome. The more politically incorrect, the better.

 

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Help Your Favorite Author…Even if It’s Not Me

Most readers don’t realize that authors have to do most–sometimes all–of the marketing for their books. Many–perhaps most–authors would prefer to spend their time writing the next book and feel very intimidated about marketing the current one.

I’m one of many authors who have read so much about marketing that it all runs together. Regardless of what anyone says, there’s no guaranteed way to make a success out of any book.

Word of mouth is supposed to be the best marketing tool. Too often, however, readers fail to share their opinions about a book with people who might benefit from reading what they think.

And by that I mean writing a review on Amazon and/or Good Reads.

Some readers feel intimidated when they look at other people’s reviews. They read a scholarly-looking review and think they can never match it. I’ve read a number of reviews that would make me feel that way!

The truth is, readers don’t need to write something like that. An honest sentence or two actually helps to balance out the lengthier, more professional-sounding reviews.

Here’s a simple four-star review for The Devil and Pastor Gus:
“Interesting to see how the devil gets into hearts and lives and humans try to play both sides. Pastor Gus was a fun character.”

Who wouldn’t be comfortable writing something like that?

A simple review can even mix the good and the bad: Here’s a three-star review for Pastor Gus:

“I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. It made me think about how Satan is the real enemy, more so than people. Unfortunately, I think Satan smarter than this character portrayal.”

Many of my friends have read Rosa No-Name and raved about it to my wife or me, but only nine people have written Amazon reviews.

Five thousand copies of the original edition of Found in Translation were sold, but only twenty-seven people left reviews. The original edition of Lost in Dreams (we’ve renamed the new edition A Season of Pebbles) sold twenty-five hundred copies. Only seventeen reviews.

Can you imagine how much better those books might have done if their readers had been willing to share their opinions in a review?

Even bad reviews can help. Not every book is for every reader, and it’s good to point out what someone else might not like in a particular book.

Found in Translation and A Season of Pebbles are now available from Winged Publications, along with Overshadowed, the previously unpublished third book in the Altered Hearts series. I’m currently editing and revising The Flowers of His Field, which is not only the final book in the series but a sequel to Rosa No-Name.

The success of those books will depend largely on honest reviews. I’m not talking about financial success. My only concern is the lives my books will have a chance to touch.

If you’ve read one of my books and haven’t reviewed it on Amazon, would you take a couple of minutes to do it? Yes, I know it’s a nuisance. But just think of the hundreds of hours it took me to write and edit each of those books.

And if you haven’t read any of my books, I hope you will.

Not because I’ve suggested it, but because you look at the reviews and think, “Why haven’t I read this book before?”

Please keep what I’ve said in mind about your favorite authors, even if I’m not one of them.

Your comments are welcome.

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Thoughts about Heaven and Hell

I’m not caught between Heaven and Hell, thank goodness. As a Christian, I know where I’ll be going.

But I am caught between the teachings of my theologically moderate father and those of our very conservative church, a church I love so dearly otherwise that I tend not to share opinions there that people might take offense at.

One difference of opinion has to do with Creation. I DO believe God is the Creator of everything, and I believe He was quite capable of creating the world in seven twenty-four hour days. But I tend to believe they were seven periods of time. Fortunately, my salvation is not dependent on that belief.

I actually get upset at theology I consider too liberal. I recall a Sunday school lesson years ago in which the quarterly talked about an ax head (somewhere in the Old Testament; I have no idea where) that slipped off, fell in the water, and miraculously floated to the surface again. I felt like ripping up the quarterly for insisting that story had been symbolic, not literal.

I wouldn’t object to someone saying it might have been symbolic, but stating that it was as if the writer of the quarterly knew more about the Bible than God was too much. I would get equally upset about anyone who insists that the story of Jonah and the whale isn’t literal. That’s a failure to give God credit for being able to do the unbelievable.

And that brings me to Heaven and Hell. Everyone knows about Heaven–the pearly gates and the streets of gold. And everyone knows about Hell, too–the eternal lake of fire and the stink of bodies burning but never burning up.

Here’s where I have to tread carefully. The apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation, from which we get most if not all of our description of Heaven, saw Heaven in a vision. I have no doubt of that or that he REALLY saw Heaven.

But I wonder whether his description of Heaven was simply the most accurate one he could make, being limited to the most descriptive words in his vocabulary. Words that could not possibly be adequate for describing the wonders of Heaven.

How could he have done it differently? I believe the materials–even the colors–found in Heaven are beyond our ability to comprehend. Or even to imagine. So I think John did the best he could to describe the indescribable. Golden streets and pearly gates give us a preview we could understand, but are not necessarily a real description of Heaven.

What probably makes me a moderate and not a liberal is the fact I express that as my opinion about Heaven. Not as a fact. I’m not going to be disappointed in Heaven, no matter what materials it’s made of or what it looks like. That’s all that really matters to me.

Hell is a lot harder for me to deal with. Could it be that there are no human words sufficiently horrible to describe eternal separation from God? And because Jerusalem had a garbage dump outside the city, a place where dead bodies were disposed of,  a place that stank of sulfur, a place where the fires never went out, wouldn’t it make sense to describe Hell in similar terms–terms the people of Jesus’s day could understand and relate to?

Interestingly, Jesus not only described Hell elsewhere as an eternal fire, he told a parable about a rich man who was burning in Hell. He saw the poor man he’d horribly mistreated while they were both still alive. But the poor man was living it up in Heaven while the rich man was eternally miserable in Hell. The rich man begged God to send a warning to his brothers so they wouldn’t suffer the same fate he was suffering.

The thing that really interests me about this story is that the rich man could see into Heaven and recognize what he was missing out on. Consequently his eternal hopelessness was made all the worse.

I’ve heard sermons that treat this parable as a literal story about Heaven and Hell. And it may well be. Once again, what right do I have to be dogmatic?

Either way, it suggests one idea about Hell that makes a lot of sense. If Hell means being eternally separated from God, what could be worse than being somewhere outside Heaven’s gates, able to see how perfect life inside is and perhaps even trying to break down the gates or climb the walls to get inside, but unable to unable to do so?

I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinions on the subjects of Heaven and Hell. As I’ve tried to make clear, I’m not in a position to insist that some parts of the Bible might be symbolic rather than literal. But one of the wonderful things about Christianity is that God loves each of His children just as much as if each of them understood the Bible perfectly from cover to cover.

Comments are welcome.

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Not Every Good Idea Is Mine

          

          

I’ll be seventy-one next month, and I hate to admit it, but I’m running out of fresh ideas regarding anything and everything. I not only don’t have any idea what my next book will be about, I’ve almost reached the point of not being too concerned about it. After all, I still have a number of unpublished manuscripts to get published one way or another.

I hope I’m not the only person in the world who grew up thinking that his ideas were the best. And resenting the fact that not everyone agreed with me. And wondering why. Like why my former agent saw the great value in all of those manuscripts he was never able to sell but publishers didn’t.

This blog post isn’t about writing or publishing, though. It’s about accepting the fact that other people have good–sometimes GREAT–ideas, too.

In particular, a couple of years ago our pastor shared with the congregation the idea of building a first-class picnic pavilion on our property across the road from the church building proper. Interesting idea, I thought at the time, but we don’t really need that, do we?

I didn’t express opposition to the idea, though. I’d matured enough by then to realize I could be wrong, no matter how much I thought I wasn’t.

I may be wrong, but I don’t think the pavilion project required anything from the church budget. Different people contributed time, talent, and materials to making the pavilion happen amazingly fast.

I opened my eyes one day, and there it was. Complete and ready for use. Not long after that, our choir director, who’s also in charge of Operation Christmas Child (OCC) at our church, held a church-wide meal to raise money for OCC. Although our members contribute enough items to fill around 2,000 shoe boxes a year, it costs thousands of dollars to pay for shipping them overseas.

The event was a huge success, and my wife and I won a fantastic gas grill we couldn’t use and gave to someone we thought could use it more. Maybe this pavilion wasn’t such a bad idea.

But this summer has really proven its success. Rather than have the normal evening worship services at 6:00 p.m. and then go home, the church held shortened evening services during the month of July, followed by a special event at the pavilion. One featured hot dogs, chips, and cookies. Another was watermelon. For a third, the church actually paid a snow cone vendor to bring his truck and provide free snow cones for everyone. And of course there was a homemade ice cream social!

The attendance at those evening services was amazing, and we were able to meet people who normally attended the opposite morning service from us. People who–by no fault of their own–we hadn’t even seen before because we weren’t normally in the same place at the same time. Quite a time of much-needed fellowship.

Yep, I think I may have been a little short-sighted about the picnic pavilion, and I don’t mind admitting it. I’m sure glad the world isn’t dependent on my good ideas alone and is willing to overlook my bad ones.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

 

    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

The Death of a Mall

A friend and I have recently been discussing the condition of the mall I walk at most mornings. She asks if the smells from the Food Court aren’t distracting while I’m walking. What smells, I tell her? Even by 9:00 a.m. there might not be anyone manning places in the Food Court, much less cooking anything.

She can’t picture just how far down Virginia Center Commons has grown. Grown down? Strange way to describe something that “dead” or “dying” seems to describe better .

I wonder whether American Family Fitness knew how badly VCC was dying when they bought and totally redid the  property on the other side of this wall. It’s one of the few places that are thriving, but it’s not even owned by the mall.

I recall how much fun it was to go to VCC  back in the 1990s when it was new and thriving. After years of going to a mall that was further away, a two-story mall, how amazing it was to be in a single-story mall that was oh! so spread out. With skylighted hallways–one that reaches from the Food Court all the way to the back and a shorter one off to one side–and decorated with humongous (live) palm trees.

Even though I know now that I can walk from one end of it to the other in five minutes and make a complete circle in fifteen, it was so crowded back then that it would probably have taken two to three times that long to move through the crowd at a snail’s pace.

As if I had any reason to rush then.

The Food Court wasn’t humongous, but it had a good selection, and right beside the front door was a Ruby Tuesday’s. Along with the variety of kiosks and normal-sized shops–the best I can recall, there were no empty stores–the mall housed a J. C. Penney’s, a Sears, and several other larger “big name” places.

The mall still has Penney’s and Sears, although the future of both chains is–from what I understand–up in the air. Burlington occupies one of the big store sites, but a good-sized Macy’s closed down many months ago. Interestingly, it’s for sale, not for lease. But what wise businessman (or woman) would want to invest so much in a place too few people shop at anymore?

Probably the most successful place is American Family Fitness. No wonder. The mall doesn’t own it and its success isn’t dependent on mall customers.

My wife helped me do a survey a couple of days ago. It’s hard to count while walking, but we ticked off the numbers on a tablet as we went along, so I believe these figures are relatively accurate.

  • Stores and kiosks still open: 47  (includes one that’s about to open)
  • Stores closed in the side hallway: 21
    • Stores open in that hallway: 3
  • Stores closed in the main hallway (includes two in the process of closing): 17

I detest walking in the one hallway that has lost twenty-one stores. It’s depressing.

This problem seems to be at least partially a chicken-or-egg problem. Which happened first–stores closing because customers were no longer coming to the mall or too many stores closing for customers to find going there to be worthwhile? I’ve heard several people claim that groups of teens hanging around there made customers afraid.

While that might have happened sometime in the past, I’ve never seen dangerous looking teens there. I rarely see a crowd at all. This is what the Food Court area looked like around 6:00 p.m. a couple of days ago:

In all fairness, Monday evening seems to be the most consistently empty time of the whole week. But it never looks anywhere close to full.

This picture is of the hall that branches off just past the Food Court. This is the one that only has three businesses–a LensCrafters, an optometrist’s office that’s all but officially a part of LensCrafters, and an African hair braiding place.

 

Some months ago the mall was sold to someone who supposedly likes to fix up malls like this one. I hope he can. He hasn’t done much so far. The lines in the parking lot are so faded it’s hard to be sure I’m parking within the lines.

Virginia Center Commons is just a mile down the road from us, and we do shop there–to whatever extent we can find what we want or need. We want to see it rejuvenated. Do we ever!

Any comments?



    

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger