The Josephine Manifesto

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While on duty at the retirement place a few nights ago, a resident called me to her apartment for help. Tethered to her oxygen machine, and lonely, she kept me in conversation for as long as I was able to be away from my post. She told me how much she liked my name because it reminded her of a dear friend, also named Sherry, who was kind, and had a resume most of us only dream about. As I was leaving, she said, “goodbye, Josephine.”
Sometimes the memory misfires.
You know what forgetfulness reminds me of? Many of our News Channels. I’m not a big fan of politics, and I get told over and over—every day—how to hate a certain President, and a certain party, and now even people who practice certain religions. It’s either the article about the wrong shoes a politician’s wife wore, or the too-fancy dress his daughter wore, or the certain religion they assume supports their nemesis with hateful ambition.

And many reactions from the accused “haters” are no better.

I could go on, but I’m going to be honest here—watching all this flim flam is kind of like watching my kids when they had toddler meltdowns.
“I don’t like the way my jacket feels on my shoulders.”–Son
“The cereal doesn’t feel right in my mouth.”–Daughter
“I can’t go to school if my toes touch my shoes in a weird spot.”—Son
“Son-or-Daughter, I love you so much, but I can’t help you if you don’t calm down and listen. You don’t have to like what I’m telling you, but you need to remember  what’s important.”—Me


E-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y they calmed down. For the most part, my son’s an optimist, my daughter’s empathy (especially for an oncoming Mommy meltdown) is off the charts, and they’re both very intelligent. But sometimes, they’d get stuck on their frustration—and still do.
That happens when we focus on the unhelpful things, instead of doing our part to help find a solution.
Have a good week, Josephine.

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Things I Learn From My Dog

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My dog can sense earthquakes in our neighboring state of California. Tail in-between legs, bark at the ready, she shifts into high alert as if every flap of wing or roar of an engine electrifies her. She’s protective, and determines to catch every single unsettling current until the threat is gone.
She runs laps. Not one or two, but intermittent laps around the yard in between dinner, TV time & bedtime stories. She’ll do this for one day, or several days, working until the earthquake passes. On nights like these, I can hear her dog door flapping throughout the night as she makes her rounds.
Finally, she’ll collapse and rest.
It reminds me of the days when my mind spins like a broken record, catching on all those ideas that jump track.
On into the night, a mish-mash of unfinished files to sort out.


So, the next morning, I don’t nap—I do like Bella does and I run. I go to the gym and hit the treadmill, then I pop on the elliptical. Finally, I take on the weight machines until I’m exhausted.
s-t-r-e-t-c-h
Now I can get to work. I pull the good ideas from my mind and sort them out on paper, or the computer screen. I work until I feel the tide shift. I don’t always see it, but I feel it. That’s the spot where faith thrives, in the unseen realm where I’m beyond my limits.
Then I can rest.
It’s not real rest until you’ve worked with everything you’ve got. Until you’ve unwrapped your God-given gifts and covered your space of the world with them. The outcome is not up to us, it’s up to God. Our job is to just do our thing.

Reach

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I went to elementary school in the 80’s when bullying was thought of as an elective. That meant if someone elected to pick on you and you complained to the teacher about it, you would be promptly reminded how close you were to the end of the day, and with that, the teacher turned away as if that small nugget of counseling was all they had to offer. I suppose it was.
Wuzzle was the nickname of the girl who tried to strong-arm me on the bus. She was stocky to my slight, bronzed to my pale, and thought I’d be an easy target on which to display her superiority.
But this was the country where cowboys could speak the language of artists, and ballerinas could be both feminine and beasts. There are fewer limits where there are fewer assumptions.


So as she tried to pin my arms down, I remembered how my ballet teacher told us that dancers were some of the strongest people in the world because we weren’t reliant on machines and steps to sculpt our muscles—we used what we had—our own bodies. Sometimes we forget the value of what we already have.
In ballet, you not only hold your arms up for the majority of the class, but you reach farther than you came in reaching, and use them to frame a story for the audience. What’s not obvious is the effort it takes just to hold your arms up for an hour, and the strength it takes to rise to your toes time and again.
With all the stretching, ballerinas’ muscles don’t bulk up as they would if built in the gym, so this way, they not only reach beyond their limits, but the work that goes into the dance doesn’t get lost to the story.
Wuzzle gave up after a good ten minutes. My arms couldn’t be pinned by an amateur elective-taker. Reality for those who judge without looking a little deeper. But our struggle wasn’t for nothing—we became friends after that, and chose to sit by each other on the bus from that day forward.
I try to remember that as I face struggles—what do I already have in me? Will I let myself reach a little farther…because with the spirit in me, I can. So can you.

Blessings for your Tuesday.

I’m offering a few of my books free for a few days–The first two in The City of Light series, YA dystopian fiction.

Go here for Wake

Go here for Wild

Gifted

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As a child, I had a love/hate relationship with Thrifty drug store. Mickey Mouse Band-Aids and ice cream? It was the feel-good place of the 80’s. But a high-pitched squeal that haunted every Thrifty-Drug store we visited in the west cut into my ice cream/Band-Aid therapy as soon as I walked in the door. It didn’t seem to bother anyone else, but to me, it quickly led to a headache and left my eardrums thrumming like the leftovers of a rock concert. The fluorescent lights, perhaps?
The ancient TV at home squealed too. But as long as I didn’t sit at a certain few spots in the room, I managed just fine.
Same thing with other sounds, only inconsistently, and smells. During P.E. class, basketball day left me nauseous when the gym filled (at least to my sensitive nose) with the stench of a fifteen or so sweaty basketballs. Some thought I was making it up for attention. Because shy kids do that.
Along with a list of other goodies, people like this are considered HSP or Highly Sensitive People. It’s not a disorder, it’s just a thing. I only recently learned this after discovering about another family member who is an HSP. I thought we were just quirky.
Today, of course, there’s a diagnosis for everything, and the word quirk has gone the way of outhouses. For example, researchers believe grammar-sticklers may actually have OCD.
So I start thinking about my family member and myself, and all those tests they can do with MRIs now—all those people who we thought just had “that way” about them are turning out to have nameable ways of walking through this world. Before you know it, we’ll all be diagnosed with something. But it got me to thinking: Many people with nameable quirks are gifted in some way. Are we looking at diagnoses all wrong?


Are we so focused on trying to be normal that we’re missing the big picture? Let’s walk through this:
We know that many great artists, academics, etc. have struggled with mental illnesses, disorders, syndromes and all sorts of diagnoses. And then there’s the fascinating Synesthesia.  Billy Joel, Tori Amos and Vladimir Nabokov are among the many creatives with this condition, as are several of my author acquaintances.
To further my study on this, I found a few videos of struggling people who give clear pictures of what it’s like to walk in their abnormal shoes. One was a Ted talk video of a woman with HSP who called it a gift even though her children had it so severely she had to pull them out of school. Why a gift?
Another is this short video where Frank Stevens, a man with Down Syndrome, defends his value to those who would prefer to end the lives of D.S. babies in utero for failing to be normal. They see him as low-functioning, but I’m sure you’ll see something else when you watch him speak. His achievements, knowledge and willingness to offer his disorder as a means to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, but most of all, his general happiness that’s common with those with D. S. is extraordinary. That’s higher than many people hope to function.
To say normal (or undiagnosed) people don’t have problems would be a blatant lie. Anymore, fewer and fewer of us are found to be what’s considered normal. (Of course, God made sure it was documented long ago:

I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
Your works are wonderful;
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. Ps. 139:14, VOICE)

People need to be able to cope in this world, of course, and thank goodness there are wonderful resources to help.
But should we consider them less valuable? Because as we already know, people who aren’t diagnosed with something (yet) still have problems. So what is value?
Most people want to be happy—there are pills, therapy, articles, books, movies—you name it, that are all involved in making people happier. I believe God has approached this detail in those with Down Syndrome with excellence.
Perhaps when people like Rain Man, Einstein, and Frank Stephens step forward and pull their extraordinary gifts from places illogical, it scares those who can’t see past the quirks.
I believe the beautiful things that come out of our differences are the most valuable things of all, because they touch the very nature of God.
Whether or not more people are discovered to have disorders or nameable things than in the past, or more are just being diagnosed, I wouldn’t worry so much that there are more people with problems because there aren’t—there are just more people with gifts. Maybe God is opening our eyes to see that we all have them.

“You have to dare to be different if you’re ever going to dare to be great.”-Jeffrey Ford (Asberger’s Syndrome)

For My Daughter Someday

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About a month ago, One of my coworkers complimented me on my hair—and then he quickly apologized, mentioned the #metoo movement, and we both just ended up laughing over the absurd awkwardness of it all.

When the hashtag first took over social media, I did a silent cheer, hoping things will be better for my daughter. Maybe, like—I’m guessing—80-90% of women, she won’t have her own list of gropes and lewd suggestions to add to her file of memories she wished she could forget. With all that’s in me, I pray she’s not one of those with a traumatizing addition to her list.

I hope she feels confident with how she is, inside and out.

But I also hope she doesn’t listen to all those voices that say it’s all about her, or about getting revenge on men for the sins of their ancestors. That’s not a fight for civil rights–it’s just a fight. I hope she realizes that men and women think differently, interpret things differently, and that our differences are not something to scoff at, but to consider. This is not inequality—its science.

I hope men treat her well no matter how she presents herself—and they should—but I hope she doesn’t feel so powerful in her right to dress immodestly that she forgets these things:

*Dressing is an expression, just like words, tone, and how we use them. People will interpret it how its most obviously presented. It’s a language in its own right. Although, to be fair, everyone has their own boundaries (cultural, religious, etc.) when it comes to where they draw the line on attire. I hope she also remembers that some women dress scantily because they’ve been raised thinking their only value lies in their appearance. Putting one another down will solve nothing.

*Manipulation is wrong, no matter how it’s clothed.

*Just because men may promote her/open more doors for her/listen to her more often if she dresses to please their flesh does not mean that’s how she should achieve her goals. If she wants to work her way to the top, I hope she indeed does it using the amazing work ethic I hope she’ll have, because that of all things is how women will gain more respect in the workplace.

*If she has a friend struggling with alcohol addiction, I hope she would be considerate enough not to leave wine bottles out when they come over. The same goes for any addict—porn included. Recent MRI scans show the same brain activity for porn addicts as those who are drug/alcohol addicts. This could be anyone we run into, which, according to recent statistics is a staggering amount. Would dressing more modestly be more sensitive to those struggling with visual stimulation, or do we go the way culture is going and ignore the humanness of others?

* I hope she interprets women’s equality as fairness, and not power to humiliate men, (say if he compliments her on something appropriate like a new hair-do). If men feel like they have to tip-toe around women, something’s wrong. At the same time, if a man treats her like a thing, I hope she walks away from him as fast as her steel-spiked combat boots will allow.

I heard an interesting story on the radio about a young teen who found himself in the company of a provocatively dressed woman. When his parent (I can’t remember if it was mom or dad) asked him what he thought about the way she presented herself he said something like, “It attracts the male in me, but not the man in me.”

This is what I hope for my son and daughter as they grow, that they will be so wise as to recognize the difference.

And if my daughter calls me in frustration with trying to find balance in it all, and wants to throw in the towel, I will (in hopes that my mind has not completely fuzzed over by this time) remind her that she can’t love/respect herself without it spilling over to others. You just can’t separate the two. Maybe that’s where we’ll find peace in this whole thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s About the Rhythm

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Every Sunday, we’re met by a cop who may or may not have rhythm. We never know who we’re going to get. He or she (but mostly he) stands at a crossroads, directing cars to either church or the road most traveled by (on any other day than Sunday).

I can’t help but notice their coordination skills. Or the lack of. My favorite cop—*who we rarely see—is one of those dancing cops. He’s got unceasing rhythm. I mean…there’s directing traffic on caffeinated energy, and then there’s the Jedi master of traffic soul. It’s like the holy singing going on around the corner hops across the road, consumes the officer in its jazzy spirit, and shoots out the end of his fingers: this way, now that way, now pivot. Breathe. Go sister! Go brother!
It really does make for kinder drivers.
Most of the officers direct adequately, many of them smile and don’t look one bit irritated by being surrounded by church goers who don’t always drive churchishly. One of them reminds me of Dana Carvey impersonating former President Bush (Sr.). His hand signals are unique for sure, but he can stop one street while making the other go at the same time. And we get what he’s saying.
And then there’s the other one. I call him, “Oh no.”
He works hard, I can tell—you can’t miss the effort. But the guy doesn’t have a lick of coordination. If I did what his hands say I should do, I’d be driving onto the highway below, or engaging my jet thrusters and launching into space. Thankfully, I’m a praying woman, and when I see Oh No, I pray for the ability to interpret his hand signals. Perhaps the police department should require a few dance classes for their traffic controllers.
But he tries. I can tell he puts every bit of control he has in his work—so much so that he can’t see what he’s doing. All my years in dance taught me that strict adherence to the steps is not enough to make art. You’ve got to surrender to the Divine to make your story impactful. The same with whatever your craft is. There needs to be room inside for God to do His magic, otherwise you may just end up with a big mess.
Blessings for your day–I pray it’s full of inspiration.

 

* who is not written correctly as whom because I can’t stand the word whom. It’s stuffy, and I only use it when a fictional character requires it. 😉

For the Brave

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For the first time in years, my family and I ventured outside the house for New Year’s Eve. All the way across the driveway to our neighbor’s house.
Several of us from the neighborhood, the neighbor’s plumber, and some who are in recovery, gathered around piles of food to bring in 2018 together. Or at least for the few hours that come before it whispered, “Welcome,” through the door frames.

It was a cautious bunch, keeping the most harmful vices out in respect for those who were beginning again, although new beginnings are anything but safe. They’re scary, and wild in the way a man or woman has to confront their monsters face to face. And the unwelcome vices, having been exposed for the roadblocks they were, were banned from now forward.

A few of us gathered around the fire-pit, its blue flame a perfect circle for us to warm our hands over and watch our kids play together. The best jokes are told in a circle of new friends. Admissions about our imperfections are safe with a little darkness to tuck them away in. Friends to be flawed with.

Throughout the night, we had to scoot closer and closer to the fire as the heat couldn’t keep up with the encroaching cold. I stared at that blue flame and remembered that all of us come to a time where we begin again at something. Maybe it’s a lifetime of starting over. A new attitude, a new faith. Maybe just a single step forward. And like that blue circle of flame, we have the choice to stay low and contained, or to move past the barriers and push back the darkness.

 

A prayer for all who read this–who desire to step forward into 2018 with braver feet. Blessing, my friends.

A Christmas Carol

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I saw Jesus in the gym the other day. An old man—somewhere around 90—walked in with his cane, laid it on a treadmill and walked a good ten minutes before sitting down to rest. He braced himself, hands on knees and pulled in several minutes of oxygen. Then, one by one, he challenged most of the weight machines, setting them to 70 pounds. Biceps, lats, etc., sitting down to catch his breath after each set. Lastly, he cradled a free weight and did sit-ups, then grabbed his cane and left. I believe my jaw was resting on the top of my treadmill by this time. This was two days before Christmas.
A man with Down syndrome pedaled away on one of the exercise bikes while watching a repetitive news station left on from a previous gym-attendee. He said not a word, but just slowly spun his feet around and around. While leaving, he glanced over at me on the noisy treadmill, grabbed his medical helmet and left.
The entire 45 minutes I was there, a man laid on the floor, yoga mat under back, and feet up on an exercise ball. “My back hurts”, he said—”one of those tough days,” while doing random sit-ups and stretches. Sometimes, he stayed still for several minutes at a time, then started again.
I was just trying to get in one more good workout before winter break kept me hair-pulling busy. It’s been a year. Good stuff, busy stuff, stressful stuff. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten so little done with my creative projects. Sometimes I daydream about finishing my book, or dipping my brushes into a tub of paint. I’m not all the way me without it. But my kids needed me more this year, and it’s been a good thing. Family comes before the art, Always, and raising kids is a full time ministry. I saw the fruit of my efforts, however small. But when you’re called to more than one ministry, the activities get a little muddy and as many of you know–exhausting. By the time holiday season rolls around old man fatigue knocks on the door.
But as I observed those champions in the gym that day, I could almost hear Jesus saying, “The amount of reps don’t matter, and the way people see you doesn’t matter, but the perseverance does. Faith does. Success is in the not giving up.”
Were those men my three Christmas ghosts? I don’t know. But I heard the message, and I’m pretty sure Jesus said the message wasn’t just for me.
Maybe this one’s for you today.
Blessings and strength for 2018.

Reading with Annie today

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Good Tuesday, friends. Are any of you hybrid authors? That’s me (both traditionally and independently published), and with each new book or series, I always wonder which way I should go about publication. There are certainly pros and cons to both, but when a writer chooses to go Indie, it’s more difficult getting people to find your work and to be taken seriously. Think of it this way: when a mom-and-pop restaurant opens with an enticing menu, don’t you want to try it? I do! Chains don’t necessarily mean better (Did you know Beatrix Potter self-published A Tale of Peter Rabbit?)! I tried a few books written by Indie Author, Annie Douglas Lima, and I really enjoyed them. She writes young adult novels that don’t read like every other novel out there, and she manages to tackle serious issues while keeping it clean. Here’s a taste of her newest book, The Student and the Slave, the third book in The Krillonian Chronicles.

A man in a suit and tie walked over to Steene as the train began to move again. “Get up.”

Steene frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said, get up, boy. I need a seat.”

The man was only about Steene’s age, wasn’t carrying anything, and looked to be in perfect health. There were plenty of straps hanging from the ceiling for standing passengers to hold onto, and Steene didn’t see any reason why the man deserved his seat.

“I’m getting out at the next stop,” Steene told him.

“I don’t care where you’re getting out, Collar.” The man’s voice was rising, and other passengers turned to stare. “Obey me, now!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Steene caught sight of the navy blue uniforms of two Watch officers moving in his direction, the crowd of standing passengers parting to let them go by. The officers were frowning — not at the man’s rudeness, but at the slave who wouldn’t give up his seat as ordered.

And Steene was reminded once again that everything worked differently now.


The series is set in an alternate world that is very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone. Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

The Collar and the Cavvarach by Annie Douglass Lima
First, a Little Information about Books 1 and 2: 
Book 1: The Collar and the Cavvarach

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time. With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?


Click here to read chapter 1 of The Collar and the Cavvarach.
Click here to read about life in the Krillonian Empire, where the series is set.


The Gladiator and the Guard by Annie Douglass LimaBook 2: The Gladiator and the GuardBensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to read about life in the arena where Bensin and other gladiators are forced to live and train.



And now, The Student and the Slave, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

Book 3: The Student and the Slave


Is this what freedom is supposed to be like? Desperate to provide for himself and his sister Ellie, Bensin searches fruitlessly for work like all the other former slaves in Tarnestra. He needs the money for an even more important purpose, though: to rescue Coach Steene, who sacrificed himself for Bensin’s freedom. When members of two rival street gangs express interest in Bensin’s martial arts skills, he realizes he may have a chance to save his father figure after all … at a cost.

Meanwhile, Steene struggles with his new life of slavery in far-away Neliria. Raymond, his young owner, seizes any opportunity to make his life miserable. But while Steene longs to escape and rejoin Bensin and Ellie, he starts to realize that Raymond needs him too. His choices will affect not only his own future, but that of everyone he cares about. Can he make the right ones … and live with the consequences?


Click here to order The Student and the Slave from Amazon. 

About the Author:

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and
later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her
husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at
Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since
her childhood, and to date has published fifteen books (three YA action and
adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, six anthologies of her
students’ poetry, and a Bible verse coloring and activity book). Besides
writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction),
scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with the Author Online:
Email: AnnieDouglassLima@gmail.com
Blog: http://anniedouglasslima.blogspot.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnieDouglassLimaAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/princeofalasia
Goodreads: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGoodreads
Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/AnnieDouglassLimaOnAmazon
LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnLinkedIn
Google+: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGooglePlus


Drum Your Best For Him

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Here are some of my favorite things, Drummer Boy style, because I just came in from the crowd and all the “stuff,” and for once, I’d like all of us to go back to that starry night and ask what good gifts we can bring to our King. By this I mean, how do we reflect his character in our giving? A few examples from the Givers in my life:

Miss Baker # 2: My little daughter hand-stitched this monkey for me after I told her the story of how I had lost my beloved Miss Baker on show and tell day when I was in elementary school. What is the root of this gift? LOVE.


My chandelier t-shirt: I found it at Goodwill while stocking my daughter up on books. Whoever donated it knew it was still in good shape, had good taste in unique fashion, and took the time to give it rather than toss it. Sometimes, all a person has to give is what they already own, and I’m not too proud to wear a second-hand shirt. The root of this gift was GENEROSITY.


My SpiderMan bookmark: My son, knowing how much I love to read, made this for me out of what he loved and treasured most—Spiderman gear and his new writing skills. He was learning how to write, and one of the first sentences he wrote without the prompting of a teacher or parent was, “Mome I lu yoo .” LOVE.


My black-pearl engagement ring: A beloved gift from my husband who was wise enough not to run out and buy this artist a gaudy “status ring.” Knowing our tastes were drastically different, he let me show him what I liked. Just something blue and lovely. LOVE and THOUGHTFULNESS.


The family desk: Passed down from a time far, far away, because it was built to last. GOOD CRAFTMANSHIP.


Encouraging words: from a few of my High School teachers who saw what I couldn’t see. I couldn’t touch the words, re-sell them or throw them away, because like the miracles that come from faith, they made a permanent impact.

 

(Here is a wonderful way to give, from the heart of a country that has too much stuff.)

Our best gifts to give come from the character of our King within us.