Thursday, November 29, 2018

Africa Mercy - What Gratitude Looks Like: One Nurse's Journey

My friend Marilyn continues to give of her time and life on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels up and down the coast of Africa. Her email post is a bit dated, but it is never too late to reflect on Thanksgiving and being thankful. As Marilyn says below: "Gratitude is a constant theme around here, so much so that it starts to feel normal and expected."

2018-11-24 Thanksgiving and kids
It’s a long weekend for us on the ship. We don’t officially celebrate Thanksgiving, but since the largest people-group is American, they did contrive to serve turkey, dressing, and
cranberry sauce for supper. Then there was a party in midships, everyone invited. Assorted people shared desserts that they’d made to celebrate. We also celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving in October, again unofficially. Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday no matter when you celebrate. 

 I went to the Hope Center yesterday to play with the kids. The Ponsetti program is in full swing, so we have lots of kids with bowed legs or knock knees who are in the process of being straightened. Walking with both legs in full length casts can be a bit tricky, but it doesn’t slow them down much. They especially delighted in the balloon animals that one crew member made for them. Personalities quickly emerged: One boy wanted two, then two more, then two more…all with a twinkle in his eye and a big grin, even when we told him no. One boy had casts on both arms and hands, but he tried very hard to grab a balloon out of the box. When he dropped the balloon I gave him, he quickly knelt down and picked it up off the floor with his teeth. Resourceful lad. One shy girl just looked longingly; she lit up like a Christmas tree when we gave her one, too. One girl was a bit of a bully, bossing others around and taking her turn first when she could. They certainly had different strategies, but they were all eager to participate, and they all stayed cheerful even when we set limits. No pouting, no tears, no sense of entitlement. They teach a good lesson to live in the moment, be grateful for what comes your way, and don’t covet what you don’t have. 
Work has settled into a rhythm and goes along without a lot of drama these days. I have scheduled almost 600 people for surgery, half of our goal for the field service. So, we’re pretty much on target. Most of the people do show up for surgery as scheduled, but of course some can’t come because of illness or a death in the family. (We try to reschedule them.) I turn many away due to blood pressure or blood sugar problems, with instructions to get it sorted and come back. Most of them do, so maybe we’ve been a double blessing to them, if they continue to take care of their hypertension or diabetes as we have instructed them. 

Conakry is still experiencing a fair amount of unrest. There are demonstrations several days a week, obstructing traffic, sometimes closing businesses for the day. Some of our day crew and patients live in dangerous neighborhoods, but for the most part, the unrest doesn’t impact Mercy Ships, even the off-ship locations for dentistry and eye clinic. I still haven’t figured out what all the unrest is about—is it just the opposing party trying to unseat the president, or are there specific grievances that could be addressed? Most likely, it’s both. 

Christmas season is almost upon us. It is a wonderful, joyous time on the ship, celebrating traditions from several countries, and free from the commercialism we experience at home. I'm looking forward to it. -- 

Marilyn Neville
2018-11-03, What gratitude looks like Gratitude is a constant theme around here, so much so that it starts to feel normal and expected. And then something over-the- top happens to remind me how thankful all our patients are, and how much they tell us so in words, smiles, tears, hugs, handshakes, songs, and prayers. I had one of those over-the-top events yesterday. An old woman, formerly blind, spent her time and resources for the six weeks following her surgery to make fans for a couple of us, a gift of thanksgiving. It must have taken her many hours; you can feel the love and gratitude woven into every thread. I’ve attached a picture so that you can see how intricate and beautiful the work truly is. 

 It humbles me to receive this gift. I personally have done so little for her—I typed a few things Hopefully I at least smiled and greeted her warmly. (I don’t always…it gets pretty busy, and I neglect the least “essential” but most important thing.) But of course, the gift is not so much for me personally; it is an expression of gratitude to Mercy Ships for the restoration of her sight, and hopefully, to God as the true source of blessing, without whom Mercy Ships could not succeed.

It’s not just the patients that God blesses through Mercy Ships. He uses this ministry to bless the volunteers who come to serve. In fact, his shovel is much bigger than my teaspoon when it comes to dishing out the blessings. Perhaps I, too, need to weave a symbol of my gratitude…but lacking the artistic talent to make a fan, perhaps I’ll just need to weave with words instead.

Speaking of words…I listened to the Celebration of Sight being translated from French into Soussou and Pular yesterday. As I listened to the babble of meaningless sounds that obviously meant something to others, I once again marveled at the gift of speech. Isn’t it amazing? We twist our tongues and lips and breathe through our vocal cords…and convey ideas, even abstract and complex ideas, to one another. When you understand the language, you think about the meaning of what’s being said, not about the vehicle of language itself. Yesterday allowed me to be an outside observer of speech, and it is really quite remarkable. The same can be said about written language. How is it that all these squiggles on the page convey meaning to you? But since God has indeed enabled us to interpret language in squiggle form as well as speech, I’ll use these squiggles to weave my symbol of gratitude to God. He has indeed blessed me abundantly, and I am grateful. Receiving the fan yesterday reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for, and how important it is to say so.

Sharon M. Himsl
Published: Evernight Teen 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

IWSG: Reflecting on my Writing Life

How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

Bear with me. I start with the negatives but end on a positive note. I've been writing for many years now, but only recently was my fiction published. I actually found a publisher (a small press). 

Initially, I was over the moon excited, as only my nonfiction had been published before, and this was the novel I'd spent 10 years rewriting. Out of the gate sales were okay I guess, but then dropped to practically nothing. (It's been 16 months). 

Now I'm wondering what (if anything) I did wrong. The publisher did do some marketing, but most it would seem depended upon my efforts. I hear other writers complain about their low sales and wonder. What are normal sales anyway? I've followed all of the online advice, setting up a Blog, Twitter, FB, Instagram and have spent an enormous amount of time learning the process. 

Allowed to fester, this kind of thinking gets me in a rut. I contemplate silly things like:

--My profile photo online. Should I smile more and look less serious? Maybe a caricature would be better. How about a younger photo?    
--Embarrassment. I committed to doing the NaNo this November, but now I'm so pitifully behind, it's a 'why bother'. 
--Feeling like I'm in a popularity contest. Why did "they" get so many reviews? Why did "they" get so many visits and comments at their blog?  Oh....the road to jealousy is a bad one, folks.
--Blog overhaul. Should I go with a different color? A new theme? Would it be more energizing? Would it generate sales? Do ads even work?

This kind of thinking feels like such a time waster. Feeling sorry for one's self never accomplishes much, other than to rewind and start all over again.Thankfully, I'm too busy to linger long. The best therapy is really to get back to work....whatever the task at hand is. 

Truth is, I enjoy writing. When I wrote a garden column for our local newspaper this summer at zero pay, I didn't mind. I had always wanted to write about gardening. I've gained confidence as a writer over the years. A younger me would have felt unqualified to write for a newspaper. As an academic editor (now retired), I learned the importance of "less is more." Academic writers tend to be overly verbose and I got pretty good at red-inking their manuscripts. If nothing else, I learned that 'rough' drafts are indeed that--they always need work. 

Freelancing with an educational publisher later helped me stay focused on the topic at hand. I tend to wander in my thoughts, easily distracted with the details. I still have a certain editor's voice in my head ("stay on target"/"keep your focus). I learned how to research history too, at the library and online when it was still the wild, wild internet west. We have so much data available today. It's almost scary. I've done quite a bit of pioneer women's history at my blog as a result. 

I'm more reflective these days and find myself wanting to write poetry. 

View of sunset from author's home.

I'm a slow writer but I'm okay with that. I tend to be a perfectionist and like the results. I've been reading a book about happiness. It talks about the importance of the three P's in life: Purpose, Pride and Pleasure. I took a little quiz and I came up short on having enough pleasure in my life. I recently returned to church, which should help, as socialization is key to finding healthy pleasure. I fully understand the other P's. Purpose and Pride in what I do are important to me. Right now, I'm helping my mother write her memoirs and it's taking precedence over my current novel. She's 93 and I love being able to honor her in this way. I'm learning so much about our family too.

Last but not least, I found a better way to connect with the IWSG group. Turns out Facebook is an easy way to connect with other members (as opposed to the blog-o-sphere). Members responded quickly to a question I had asked recently about autographing books. Linking my blog post to FB and IWSG site will help promote this post too. There is always a learning curve isn't there? I'm looking forward to connecting with more writers in this group. I live in a rural community, an hour's drive to any writers' groups. IWSG is starting to fill that void.

Sharon M. Himsl
Published: Evernight Teen 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Celebrate the Small Things: My Granddaughter and Badass Ladybugs

My granddaughter Liza surprised me with a special gift over the summer, a 'little' something she had made at school. Assigned in class to make a book cover for her favorite book, she chose mine, The Shells of Mersing!  Take a look...

An image of (MC) Callie when she examines the shells on her bed.
Callie discovers who the killer is in this scary scene.

In typical shy-free "Liza style" she also informed the school librarian that the school needed to order my book for the library. God bless her. I was so flattered and bursting with appreciation inside. I'm terrible at doing my own promotion. She then informed me she wanted to play "Callie" when my book made it to film. Talk about a great confidence booster. I need to hire this little girl as my public relations person, but alas....she is twelve. 

Turns out my occasional nickname for Liza, "Ladybug," is just perfect for her. Ladybugs, as many of you know, are pretty 'badass' in the garden when it comes to fighting aphids and protecting their own. Liza is not only 'badass' in promoting her grandma's writing, she plays a pretty mean game of soccer as the team's star goalie. But don't get me wrong, she's all girl too. She has loved her dolls over the years. Below is a photo of Liza at ten with her fabulous Barbie Doll collection. Unfortunately, I lost the original picture of her holding the book cover she had made. My smartphone fell in the toilet on a camping trip later and shorted out everything! (Another story😕)

Liza, at ten. With her fabulous Barbie doll collection.

So thinking about the 'badass' ladybug as one of my favorite garden bugs, I decided to do a bit of research. Years ago at the house on Grant Street I came upon a large ladybug nest at the base of a tree in my family's backyard. It was the first time I'd ever seen such an anomaly and I couldn't believe how big it was. If memory serves me right, the nest was two feet across. It was swarming, and if you've never thought a lady bug could bite, think again. Several bit me. Small stings really and of no consequence, but the bites surprised me. 

I liked ladybugs. I had spent years letting them crawl up my arms and legs, and encouraged my children to do the same, which they did. The orange track marks they left behind on your skin, releasing a stinky fluid from their legs, was the only drawback. I have since found out that the fluid is really ladybug blood. I had no idea, did you? Ladybugs release this blood to keep predators from eating them. That's why you will never see a bird eat one. Ladybug blood is their first line of defense, whereas biting is secondary, which explains my surprise. Since I had discovered the home nest, I can only assume that the "ladybug guards" were defending their own. Plus, they were hibernating for the winter. 


A familiar nursery rhyme most of us know:

Lady bug, ladybug
 fly away home. 
Your house is on fire and 
your children are gone.

I have released more than one ladybug into the air with this innocent little rhyme, but as with most British nursery rhymes of old, the meaning is far from innocent.

In Britain, Ladybugs are called Ladybirds, which is an old Catholic reference to "Our Lady." In the 1500s and 1600s, a law known as the Act of Uniformity (1559 and 1662) punished Catholic worshipers for refusing to attend the Protestant church. Punishment was severe. Priests were hung and some burned alive at the stake. Worshipers were jailed and fined heavily. The rhyme served as a warning cry for Catholics to escape. I wonder how many lives were spared with this clever use of words. 

I think I will try adding this 'badass' red bug with black spots to my garden in the spring. If I can get them to stay (I have plenty of aphids to dine on), I might have a better gardening season (summer 2018 was a fail). 

Meanwhile, hugs, hugs, hugs to Liza my sweet granddaughter and "ladybug" for inspiring this Celebrate the Small Things post!!

Special thanks to 'Celebrate the Small Things' 
host, Lexa Cain. 
And co-hosts: L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits Blog

Sharon M. Himsl
Published: Evernight Teen 
The Shells of Mersing

About Me

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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.