Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Gift of Encouraging Words

Can you remember when everyone sent out Christmas cards, maybe as many as a hundred? Since I grew up in a military family and moved often, my mother was one of those who sent dozens and dozens of cards. She wrote a family-news-in-a-nutshell note, by hand, for every single one of her friends. Postage was cheap, and she cherished her friendships across the miles, looking forward to hearing the latest about them.

As the price of a stamp increased, and more women added full-time jobs to busy schedules, Christmas card exchanges declined. Sure, we have the internet with all its social media. We can connect daily with old friends if we wish, but there is something about holding a handwritten note in your hand, being able to place it in a drawer or a box, and returning to it so you can hold it in your hand once again.


Christmas cards have always been a means of sharing the good will of the season and giving distant friends a quick sketch of how the year has gone, a way of catching up. However, the most precious of written communications are those that arrive as a surprise. This truth filled up my heart the year I attended a spiritual retreat. The organizers of the retreat asked friends and family, without my knowledge, to send a letter to me, in care of their address. Near the end of the retreat, they handed out the letters, and each person found a space of privacy to read them.

I had just spent two days immersed in Bible study, discussions, and prayer. To receive those gifts of love from those close to me--and some not so close--overwhelmed me. I could barely read the words of encouragement through my tears. When I got home, I placed those cards and letters in a basket, and I have them to this day, adding additional notes of encouraging words as I've received them.

When I get weary or sad, I return to that basket and read as many kind messages as my heart needs. God's love for me poured out through the words of others.

As writers, we pen blogs, novels, news articles, etc. Writing becomes a beloved business. The gift God has given us can also be used as a means to love others. On most Sundays, I write a note to friends, sons, grandchildren, or Mom. Usually nothing deep, but the fact that I take the time to ask about their activities and praise their accomplishments lets them know I love them. My words encourage them, and the grandchildren are learning to reciprocate! When they visit, they check the "special" drawer and see that Nona has kept all their letters and crayon masterpieces.

As my words bring smiles to loved ones' faces and warmth to their hearts, God's approval inspires me to persist in what has become a ministry.

The gift of encouraging words. A joyful investment in time and creativity. The returns are priceless!

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.

Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.

A wife, mother of three, grandmother to seven, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!



Where Linda can be found on the web:






Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Christmas Towels and Tissues

 I love all things Christmas—the shopping, the baking, the decorating, the card sending, the music, the decorating, the giving, the festive splashes of red and green, gold and silver, and holiday entertaining. Imagine my joy a few years ago when I stumbled across Christmas-themed tissues boxes. You can’t—imagine my joy that is. I scooped up several boxes, calculating how soon I could swap the regular ol’ tissue boxes for the special holiday ones. I may or may not have suggested to the family that they “go easy” on their use of tissues, pointing out that toilet paper would work just as well for a drippy nose. But fearing they would be lacking in the self-control department, I tucked the special tissues away until 
moments before the holiday company arrived throughout the month.

The next year when I dashed to the store to snag more boxes of Christmas-themed tissue than I’d purchased the previous year, I found just three beat up boxes. Beat up as in someone had used these oh-so-special cardboard rectangular red, green, and gold adorned boxes as a kickball. Because I knew I would seethe with every glimpse of these sorry tissue boxes were I to buy them, I left the store emptyhanded. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that I did come upon a few less festive yet somewhat-holiday-festooned boxes of tissue that stood in for the stunningly-decorated ones from the previous year.   

Christmasy kitchen and bathroom towels also hold a special place in my heart. Unlike tissues that run out each year, the same holiday towels can be enjoyed from years. Yet because I want these beauties to stay nice, I tend to ration them in a similar fashion as the tissues. Hanging them in place when the arrival of December guests was imminent. Over the years, my collection has grown—a gift here, a sales rack that beckoned there, and last year I inherited some when my mom passed. She liked Christmas towels, too.

Well thanks to COVID-19, there will be no holiday entertaining to speak of this year. No parties, doubtful the extended family will gather at our home on Christmas Eve, and our son in Colorado will not journey back to Indiana. As these realities sank in, a bah humbug attitude crept alongside. It won’t be like Christmas at all. So, why bother? Why drag all of those totes from the attic? Why spend hours decorating, baking, and doing all the regular Christmas stuff?

Thankfully the sulking moments passed and the hesitation to not dive wholeheartedly into Christmas evaporated. Because as different as this Christmas promises to be, how much sadder and more depressing it would be with no decorations. No favorite cookies. No sharing of good cheer.

So, we purchased and decorated our traditional real tree. The nativities are displayed in their respective 
places. The snowmen have settled in for their long winter stay. And we added extra lights outside . . . to brighten things up for ourselves and passersby. The cookie and special treat making will commence soon. And guess what I found? Holiday-inspired Ziploc bags! Perfect for sharing those cookies and festive delicacies via doorstep deliveries to friends and family whose physical presence we will miss this Christmas season.

And the towels and tissues? No rationing this year. "We'll be using Christmas towels everyday this month," I announced to my husband on December 2nd. With fewer folks around, the holiday tissues have a greater chance of lasting through the New Year. But if a shortage threatens, I've a plan in place that involves deftly opening the festive box and restocking the tissue before carefully sealing the seam. 

Our plans for this very COVID Christmas have evolved from those Scrooge-like musings to list making and brainstorming how we can make this challenging Christmas as merry as possible. Which I've decided is immeasurably better than fussing and fuming about a wrecked holiday.  

For these many months, I’ve challenged myself to discover positive outcomes from these difficult, worrisome times. Things like—

  • Families spending more time together.
  • A revival of “home-cooked” and the family dinner.
  • The slowing of frantic-paced lives.
  • A spirit of resourcefulness that powers through obstacles.
  • An appreciation for the bounty we too often take for granted.
  • An urgency to not put off until tomorrow.

I’m still struggling with that last one. At times, the dreariness of this ongoing disruption to life as we knew it has struck a major blow to my productivity, creativity, and overall motivation--critical instruments in the writer's toolbox. But I'll not give up. And I hope you won't either. 

We've much to celebrate this Christmas. First and foremost, the babe in the manager whose presence in our everyday lives can quell the fiercest storm. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2:11 

Rejoice and celebrate HIS birth.  

Beth connects with the YA crowd via substitute teaching and through her “back booth” office at the local fast food joint, and by reading YA fiction. 

She's a "cheerleader" for saving sex for marriage and for "renewed waiting" because it's never too late to make wiser choices. She writes and speaks about her experiences as a "foundling" who located her birth parents and is making up for lost time with her biological family. Find her at BethSteury.com and on Facebook at Beth Steury, Author.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Creative Power of a Name

A well-chosen character's name can shape our expectations for that person's story, often in subtle ways.

For example, I’m developing a story set in the Great Depression. Its protagonist is a young single woman who wants to leave her hometown in Appalachia to find a new life in “the big city” of Charlotte. I’ve given her the name Ruth Saylor. As Ruth’s story unfolds, we learn that she grew up in a devout Christian family and has a reputation for loyalty. Her plans are interrupted by the death of close family members, but she perseveres in faith. She eventually finds fulfillment and joy in a place she doesn't expect.

If a reader is familiar with the biblical story of Ruth, these features of the new Ruth’s story will seem very natural. And if not, her name nonetheless telegraphs that she is an intrepid young woman seeking a foreign land (saylor=sailor). In either case, her name helps to tell her story.

Theatrical agents understand this dynamic, so they often give an evocative stage name to a rising star. Audiences probably would have expected to see a matronly lady introduced by the name of Ethel Gumm, but her new name of Judy Garland suggested wholesome youthfulness and superlative talent. A young man introduced as Benjamin Kubelsky might have seemed a tad pretentious. But when he used the name Jack Benny, no one took him too seriously, like the stand-up comedian he was.

An evocative name can imply a person’s character. Perhaps it has an onomatopoeic quality (e.g., the echo of laughter in “Benny” or the corroded hinge of “Scrooge”). Or it may hint at a character’s motivation (e.g., a “Saylor’s” yearning to explore distant lands). However, I don't recommend using a name that literally denotes a character’s role in the story (e.g., John Bunyan’s “Christian” in Pilgrim’s Progress). While that technique was common in allegories, allegorical narratives have few readers in the twenty-first century. 

Occasionally, a character's name may even suggest a plot for that person's story. As I was shaving a few days ago, the name Sam McKittrick came to mind. I had not been trying to name a character, it was not the name of someone from my past, and a quick Google search did not identify any well-known person whose name that I may have collected subconsciously. So I turned it over in my mind, rolled it around my tongue, and spoke it aloud a few times. I liked the sound of it, so I made a mental note and went on with my business.

Since then, I’ve caught glimpses of a fellow who might be Sam McKittrick. He’s in his sixties with a balding head and impish grin. He wears a tweed jacket that smells of cherry-infused pipe tobacco. He isn’t ready to talk with me yet, but I won’t impose any contrived character qualities to hurry him along. Sam knows he has a sympathetic listener here, so in due time, he will speak. Then we’ll see what sort of story he may have to tell.

"What's in a name?" Shakespeare famously said. "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” True. But it would change our perception of the flower, wouldn't it?