What Does a Guy like Me Do on Vacation?

Ah, we’re enjoying the midst of summer here in Virginia. The outside temperature right now is 94; it was 100 in the car before I turned on the A/C. That’s hotter than some days, cooler than others. But at least the sun is shining. What a perfect day to do…to do what?

That question is one I ask whenever my wife, Kathleen, starts talking about planning a vacation. And she understands. She knows that my vacations used to consist solely of visiting distant family members. And she understands that–no matter how much I love my family (I’m counting hers as mine since I have practically none of my own left)–that is NOT a vacation, even if we’re able to do one or two activities apart from family.

She understands something else. I have trouble thinking in terms of “vacation.” I can’t come up with activities that please me. Not vacation-worthy activities, anyhow.

Everything seems to have a drawback. Going on a cruise means endless eating…and having to diet for who knows how long afterwards to lose what I gained on the cruise. Going to a dude ranch would mean hours of horseback riding; a few months ago I learned that even an hour of riding caused enough pain to make that unappealing.

We could go to the beach, as we did recently with our daughters and their families–or by ourselves. But I’m not overly fond of the water. And walking the boardwalk time after time gets old after a while. I’ve avoided skin cancer so far, so I’m not tempted to lie out on the beach. I like certain kinds of seafood, but why go to the ocean just for seafood when I can enjoy it thawed and fixed at home?

Lest you think I’m just being picky and perhaps even a bit difficult–let me assure you you’re correct on both counts–let me point out that I am a better judge of what I dislike (or think I would dislike) than of what I actually like. And because I’m retired and sit around all day writing and/or piddling around, going somewhere just to sit around has no appeal. I can read my Kindle just as comfortably at home. However, I did enjoy a short time here by the pool while nobody else was around.

Going to see interesting and/or beautiful things might sound appealing, but I know me. I would spend my time taking pictures of them and then do hours of editing my photos with Affinity Photo software. I can’t wait till I get home to do that. I have to keep up with it as I go along. Go figure.

What vacation activities have I actually enjoyed? Two or three things really stand out from our recent beach week vacation. Although I hadn’t fished in years, being able to walk out the back door of our rented beach house and fish in the canal for catfish was really nice. I don’t think I could do it for endless hours, though. Especially in the hot Florida sun.

  

And a day trip to the Everglades was actually fun. I loved the wildlife we saw there–alligators galore, black buzzards, deer, a very tame wild racoon, and a good-sized grasshopper. And I’d always wanted to ride in one of those air boats. Nonetheless, I lived behind the camera, except when Kathleen was taking a picture of me holding a baby alligator, and then–not unexpectedly– I spent hours editing my pictures.

            

See? I couldn’t even write this blog post without “inpainting” the picture you see below to cover up the band that kept the alligator’s mouth shut so it couldn’t bite me. Don’t I look bold this way?

Hmm. But looking bold isn’t an exciting vacation activity.

I hasten to point out that I’ve been on numerous mission trips–to Nicaragua, England, Wales, Romania, and Australia. Mission trips are not vacations. If the host pastor has enough vision, he can work his team to death. But each mission trip also has times set aside for enjoying the locale. And I truly love that part. Who wouldn’t want to climb the steps to the Sydney Opera House?

Why can’t choosing a vacation be that simple?

I’m open to suggestions for inexpensive vacations that would suit a fuddy-duddy like me. Please comment.

 

    

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Best regards,
Roger

Why I Wrote: Rosa No-Name

Last week I shared with you why I wrote The Devil and Pastor Gus. Today I’ll give you the background on Rosa No-Name, which will release sometime in late April. Pictured above is a proof copy, used for catching final mistakes before it’s too late.

My daughter, Kristi, went on a short term mission trip to Mexico after graduating from high school. When she returned, certain facts about her trip struck my imagination:

  • She was eighteen at the time. Maybe not really spoiled, but in need of doing some more growing up.
  • She failed to pay attention to the directions she’d been sent about what to bring and not bring. Consequently, she paid for extra luggage to bring a number of things she didn’t need and failed to bring some of the important things she did need. Like a sleeping bag!
  • She was part of a house-building project.
  • That area had a lot of trash on the ground.

Struck my imagination? Ha! Fired it up!

One evening I sat down and roughed out the idea of a story involving all of those elements. That short story was the original “Found in the Translation.” You may read it here. I entered the final version in an online contest, and it placed within the top ten of seventy or eighty entries. That was encouraging!

Even while writing the short story, I knew it would ultimately become a full-length novel. The short story was just the warm up.

You wouldn’t believe the changes I made to the short story in writing the novel, but I was pleased with the outcome. Nobody seemed to want to publish Found in the Translation, though, no matter how my wife and I believed in its merit.

At a Christian writers conference I showed the first couple of pages to writing teacher and overall writing guru James Scott Bell. He advised me that I didn’t have a proper start.

So I cut the first fifty pages and wrote a new beginning. I shared a sample with an editor friend who then asked to see the whole thing and subsequently landed me an agent. Within a year Found in Translation–Barbour Publishing dropped the “the”–and its sequel, Lost in Dreams, were under contract. I was on my way!

But there were a number of things I hadn’t brought out in Found in Translation. I was especially fond of Rosa, the mother of the little girl whose right arm ended at the elbow. Why had Anjelita been born that way? And who was her father? Those are just some of the things the protagonist, Kim Hartlinger, didn’t learn during her time in Santa Maria because of the language barrier.

Consequently, I wrote Rosa No-Name as a prequel. But because it dealt partially with adult situations, I never considered it a teen novel. (I’d never considered the previous two to be Young Adult, either, but because the characters were eighteen, that was the only way my publisher could market them.)

Potential publishers weren’t interested in Rosa No-Name. So just as I’d done with the little play The Devil and Pastor Gus was based on, I stuck Rosa No-Name in a drawer and tried to forget about it. That was ten years ago.

But my wife and my daughter have always been especially fond of Rosa No-Name–they like it better than any of my other published novels and unpublished manuscripts–and five or six months ago I decided to reread it. I fell in love with it all over again, and I felt led to ignore the objections traditional publishers had expressed and go the independent route.

Amazon has a couple of amazing free book publishing facilities–the books aren’t free, just the ability to publish them–and soon I was on my way.

God didn’t whisper in my ear and tell me to publish Rosa No-Name, yet I believe this is what He wanted me to do. My prayers are for its success in blessing and entertaining a number of readers.

Do you think you have a book in you, waiting to be written? It may not be one the general public will be interested in, but perhaps one your children and grandchildren would benefit from being able to read. Is that you? How about leaving a comment?

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Best regards,
Roger

Photography–from Hobby to Ministry

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The pictures above are three of my favorites.

I started developing a real interest in photography–no pun intended with “developing”–around 1966 or 1967, when my church had a friend of my parents for a revival preacher. He was in and out of our home several times, and he became interested in my Zenith Transoceanic shortwave radio, something that had given me hours of pleasure over the years, but which I was no longer using at all then.

And he had a camera he no longer had a need for. An Argus C-3, if I recall correctly. Of course, that was a long time before the advent of digital photography. As a college student, I didn’t have much money for film and processing, so I focused (no pun intended here, either) on black-and-white photography. I didn’t go crazy taking pictures, though. I still couldn’t afford to.

But then–that summer or the next–I was working at a summer job in North Carolina at a Baptist conference center that produced a yearbook of and for summer staff. I don’t recall how the editor of the yearbook came to see some of my photographs, but I was asked to be the yearbook photographer. That meant taking as many candid pictures as I could–not the individual staff pictures–at no cost to me personally.

In fact, they not only borrowed a light meter and a tripod for me, they allowed me to keep all of the prints they couldn’t use. How could things get better than that?

Although I still glance through that yearbook occasionally and take pride in a number of my pictures, I can’t help feeling embarrassed over duds they had to include because no better pictures were available.

Skip ahead a number of years to my first mission trip–Australia. By then I was lugging around a good-sized video camera that used VHS tapes–and not a film camera. It took several more mission trips for me to realize that–although being able to show certain activities “live” was desirable–it was a poor substitute in other ways for good  photographs that people could peruse casusally.

After several years of doing both videos and still photos, I gave up the video recording. I moved slowly through a progression of increasingly nice film cameras until I finally made the move to digital.

I was hooked. I could finally take as many pictures as I wanted to, delete the duds, and print only the ones I needed prints of. I could even doctor them up electronically. How wonderful!

For a number of years I adorned my living room walls with 24×30 inch posters of some of my favorite pictures. (I’ve since downsized to ledger-sized prints in order to include more.) And I’ve posted many of them on my website as well. Check HERE for a page of them. (The pictures OF me are NOT selfies, however.)

Sometimes I’ve felt a little funny about having so much money invested in camera equipment. Not that a professional photographer would look at my gear with more than mild curiosity.  But it’s turned out that God had a purpose in providing me with the interest, the talent, and the equipment .

I may not have an official title like “Church Photographer,” but I’ve become one of several people they always ask to take pictures of special events. Events like the yearly Family Fishing Day. The Shoebox Party. Special choir events. And numerous other occasions. Being useful that way not only makes me feel good, but encourages me to keep sharpening (okay, pun intentional this time) my skills.

I’m thrilled that God has chosen to turn my hobby into a ministry.

What about you? Do you have a hobby that has turned into a ministry to other people? How about sharing a comment?

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

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website. Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My new novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is out now. If you’re interested, please check it out at Amazon.
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Best regards,
Roger

 

 

Blessed to be a Blessing

Click on thumbnails to see larger images. Many additional pictures from Nicaragua are available here.

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[NOTE: This post was originally included in the Winn’s Baptist Church newsletter. I’ve edited it just slightly to post here.]

Every Christian should have a chance to go on a mission trip to Nicaragua. One word of caution, though. That experience is apt to be life-changing.

Using the Internet to learn facts about Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Central America, is one thing; seeing poverty like that in person is something else. But the enthusiasm and dedication of the local pastors as they minister to the physical as well as to the spiritual needs of their communities is uplifting beyond description.

I went to Nicaragua on March 5—we returned on the 10th—with fellow Winn’s members Bruce & Renee Bingham, Richard & Leslie Gray, and Jason Harris. Although Leslie had been to Nicaragua before, the rest of us had not.

In order to check six large duffel bags of baseball equipment, used clothing, and other mission-related items, each of us packed our personal things in our carry-on bags. Our back packs accompanied us every day, as did bottled water, hand sanitizer, and cameras. Most of the group wore shorts or capris except on Sunday morning. Temps were in the 90s.

Pastor Carlos Garcia and his wife, Luisa, were our hosts for the week. Carlos had served as the translator on past trips and ended up feeling called to the ministry. In addition to pastoring a church, he also works for the Asociación de Iglesias Evangélicas La Gran Cosecha de Nicaragua. We participated in activities at most of the churches in that association of churches.

We hit the deck running soon after our arrival…a trip to the station where Carlos has a radio ministry. He interviewed Bruce, and Luisa interpreted.

Renee makes jewelry, and she presented each pastor with a bracelet made of fishing tackle—appropriate for “fishers of men.” She gave their wives an angel necklace. At two of the churches we visited, she also did crafts with large groups of children and let them blow bubbles.

We spent two afternoons taking food and Bibles to needy people and seeing their homes up close. The average “house” was probably no bigger than a single-car garage. Although we saw electric cords strewn all over, no one had an actual kitchen—or anything more than a simple outhouse, if they even had that much of a bathroom.

The better homes were cinderblock. The poorer ones were constructed from whatever sheet metal scraps the resident could scrounge up. Many of the homes didn’t have doors. Many were incomplete. Heavy rocks held the metal down on a number of roofs.

Probably our most meaningful activity took place on Thursday, when we washed the feet of a hundred needy children and put new socks and shoes on them. As reminiscent as that was of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, I sincerely hope he didn’t have the problem of dropping the towel in the basin of water.

We stopped at Pastor Leon’s church, much of which Winn’s helped to build, and enjoyed fellowship with him and his wife.

Sunday was special. We worshipped at Carlos’ church—a two-hour service that didn’t seem nearly that long. Luisa led the singing with her guitar, and I was permitted to share one of my songs. Richard and Leslie participated in the service as well. Carlos’ preaching was dynamic.

That afternoon, everyone but me went zip-lining. Even Carlos’ and Luisa’s three kids. Okay, so I’m scared of heights. But it gave me a chance to take pictures.

Although Monday was a long day of travel—thanks to lengthy layovers—we all got home safely.

You often hear volunteer missionaries say that they went to their place of service hoping to be a blessing, but came away feeling that they had received more of a blessing than they had rendered. I suspect all of our group felt that way.

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. On “As I Come Singing” I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve already posted all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

 

It Doesn’t Take Much to Interest Me

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My recent trip to Nicaragua was fascinating, and I could probably write a ton of posts about it. But I won’t put you through that. Much of what interested me wouldn’t interest anyone else.

Nonetheless, I want to share a few of the things that fascinated me. If you prefer to skip this post, I won’t be offended. Especially since I won’t know you’ve done it.

  • Small three-wheel bicycle taxis were everywhere—even out in the country. The driver pedaled on the single wheel in the back, and the passenger rode in a slightly enclosed area up front. I wish I’d had a chance to ride in one, if only just around the block.
  • I’m not sure I saw a street sign anywhere in Managua or the surrounding areas we visited. If there were road signs, I failed to notice them.
  • Not sure I’d ever seen a set of traffic lights that applied only to certain lanes rather than to everybody going a certain direction. Someone coming from the left could turn left into the far left lane of the street I was on while the two rightmost lanes on my street kept going through a green light. There was only a red light for that far left lane.
  • Billboards crossed the busy Managua streets rather than taking up space at the side.
  • • I knew that travelers are warned to avoid eggs unless hard boiled, but I didn’t know the reason: people don’t typically refrigerate eggs.
  • Taking malaria medicine before, during, and after a trip to Nicaragua is considered a must; seems strange I didn’t see a single mosquito that week, though. In the tropics, are the insects as seasonal as they are elsewhere?
  • We never did exchange American currency for Nicaraguan money. Why bother? Everybody willingly accepted U.S. dollars, and many places—especially restaurants—listed the U.S. price along with the Nicaraguan price.
  • The local police seemed to be on the lookout for foreign drivers. Our van got pulled over once for being too large to be in the far left lane, even though no signs warned of this law. Our host pastor talked the policeman out of taking our friend’s license. Our pastor then “thanked” the officer with a small gift of money, but only afterwards—to avoid the appearance of a bribe. Interestingly, we ran into the same policeman at a routine checkpoint later in a very different location. I think he recognized and remembered us. No problems that time.
  • The mall we ate at the first night was bustling with people. I wish our local mall was in such good economic health. Maybe it had to do with a fashion show or something of that nature that was going on.
  • Don’t know when I ever saw so many motorcycles. I didn’t notice many big ones like we have in the States, and the brands I saw weren’t familiar. Nonetheless, very economical transportation, even though motorcyclists drove even crazier there than here.
  • I can’t say I’ve ever been anywhere before where I could watch the vapor rising from an active volcano. I have no idea how far away that was.

Rather than say any more now, I think I’ll do one post about my team’s activities in Nicaragua, and then I’ll go back to just being a person of age rattling on about other things. *G*

In the meantime, though, what curiosities have you encountered in visits to other countries? Please leave a comment and share.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing.” Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve already used all of my songs, I revise and repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

 

 

Do You Feel Guilty…?

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If you were born in the United States, do you ever feel guilty about it?

I know. That’s a silly question. Right up there with…

  • Do you feel guilty about who your parents are?
  • Do you feel guilty for your physical appearance?
  • Do you feel guilty for your talents?

The list could go on and on.

Life involves a number of things we have little or no control over. That’s equally true for the people I met last week in Nicaragua. They didn’t choose to be born in Central America’s second poorest nation, yet the one that’s richest in natural resources. And they probably can’t conceive of our wealth as Americans without seeing in first-hand any more than I could conceive of their poverty just from reading facts about Nicaragua on the Internet.

One of the things the mission team I was on did was to distribute food packets and Bibles to needy families. We drove on the bumpiest of dirt roads to reach their communities. We saw miles and miles of worse roadside litter than I’ve ever seen in the United States. We saw the most undernourished dogs and horses.

We saw houses our neighborhood associations wouldn’t have approved of. Some were just plain cinderblock. Others were an assembly of scrap pieces of sheet metal. Sheet metal roofs were often held down by large stones.

Some houses—better to refer to these places that were no larger than one of our single-car garages as shacks—had no doors; some doorways were covered with fabric. Few had kitchens or bathrooms, and the bathrooms we saw were the most basic of outhouses.

Although many of the shacks had access to electricity, their owners didn’t have much in the way of appliances. And the people in some areas didn’t have access to safe drinking water.

Are you feeling guilty yet?  You shouldn’t. You didn’t choose to live in the United States or to enjoy a level of affluence that would make you seem wealthy to many of the people of Nicaragua.

Even Jesus said we’d always have the poor. But He also told us to care about them and to try to help them. What can you—what can WE—do to help?

Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

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By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and re-post a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

Family in Nicaragua

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I just got back from visiting family in Nicaragua.

No, I’m not any more Latino than my name would imply, and I’m not related by blood to those family members. Not in the regular sense, that is.

I’m related to them through the blood of Jesus Christ. I have similar family members throughout the world. It’s truly amazing to visit that kind of family in foreign countries and discover the same kind of love and acceptance I share with my fellow Christians here in the United States.

Going on mission trips is supposed to be a blessing to the people we visit and minister to, and I pray that it is. But it’s always a blessing to me.

Especially with this trip to Nicaragua, which is the second poorest country in Central America. Among other ministry activities, we distributed food packets to needy families and gave new shoes and socks to a number of children. I plan to be more specific in future posts.

Have you been on a mission trip? Do you understand what I’m saying about the sense of being family with the Nicaraguan Christians we visited? If so, please share a comment.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger