Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Musing on Sunday: Making Difficult Choices

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It’s Sunday, so I thought I’d try a different type of post today.

What do we do, as writers, and as people, when we have to make a difficult choice?

In our writing, sometimes we have snippets of dialogue and characterization that leap off the page, but don’t go with anything in the story. What do we do with it, then?

And in life, we never seem to get exactly what we want. The people around us — and we, ourselves, for that matter — make bad decisions from time to time. Or maybe they make good decisions for them, but bad ones for us…because they’re human, and they make mistakes. (Just as we do, but I digress.)

In writing, it’s easier to figure out what you’re going to do with a difficult decision. First, you can turn that snappy dialogue or great characterization into a new story that doesn’t conflict with the one you already have. Second, if that doesn’t work, you can simply excise it — the whole “kill your darlings” thing that all writers know, and all writers hate. And third, you can try to find a way to incorporate the good stuff into your manuscript anyway…though that last is the most difficult choice of all, as if it had been easy, that bit that stands out but doesn’t go with anything would’ve been incorporated already.

Note I said “easier.” It’s still not easy. You have to think, long and hard, about what you’re going to do, and make a choice that you have to live with.

In life, sometimes we can only react to what is put in front of us. Where we are today might not be at all where we want to be. (I think I can safely say that, under the circumstances; if I had my druthers, my husband would still be alive, we’d be about to celebrate fifteen years of marriage, and we’d have I don’t know how many books out, together and separately.) Because we’re in uncharted territory, we don’t know what to do, and we feel our way toward the best solution possible.

We have to have faith in ourselves that we can find a good answer, even when the question itself seems like it has no answer. We have to believe that we can reason our way out, think our way out, know ourselves well enough that we can stay on an even keel while everything around us feels unsteady, almost as if we’re enduring a long-lasting earthquake that doesn’t quite — quite — swallow us whole.

This is hard.

It’s especially difficult for our friends, who watch as we struggle, and give advice, and give comfort and support, and try to do their best to help you keep your body and soul together another day, so you can continue the fight.

But ultimately, the choices you make are up to you. You have to live with them.

So please, make your best decisions. Use your reason as well as your gut reaction. And then act accordingly…knowing full well that you can revisit your decision if and when the situation changes.

What do you do when you face a difficult choice, in writing or in life? Let me know in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 12, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Try a Little Kindness

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Folks, I want to tell you a story that means a great deal to me.

Years ago, when I was in high school and attending religious education, there was an exercise our teacher wanted us to do. We were given slips of paper with people’s names on it, and had to write something kind about the person we’d drawn. We were not to identify ourselves, and we had to use our own, personal knowledge to give them a heartfelt letter that would give this other person strength and peace and hope.

Needless to say, as a burgeoning writer, I felt this a nearly impossible task.

I don’t remember much about what I said about the person I drew. I barely knew him, but tried to give some sort of comfort…that much I’m sure of. I tried to show him that I had seen who he was, and what he was about, and that I admired it. (Because that much was the truth, and I could say that without giving any offense or feeling too squicky inside myself.)

What I do remember is the message I received, from a wholly different person in the class. She drew me as all the colors of the rainbow. (Maybe this is what led, eventually, to the formation of Michael the Rainbow Man in CHANGING FACES, but I digress.) She showed me as artwork, and then mentioned five or six things she really liked about me that were all true — but weren’t at all how I felt about myself at the time.

Why? Well, my parents were in the process of divorcing. (This was about a year before they actually split up, if I remember right.) I was unsettled, at best, and trying to hold to an even keel when I felt nothing but chaos all around me.

I’ve never been good at projecting things I don’t feel. But what I have been good at is trying to remember that we’re all people, and we all deserve kindness and respect. That is what this young woman in my class saw, and that’s what she drew on the paper with the pastel rainbows.

That work of kindness has stayed with me to this day. The young lady who drew this didn’t have to do any of that. She could’ve written something facile, something about me as a musician (because I was already known for it), or something about my poetry (as I’d won some sort of minor award for that), or about me being a Brewers fan…she could’ve picked a number of things, but she didn’t do that.

Instead, she did her best to represent me in the way she saw me. She was kindness itself when I needed that. And she reminded me that I can’t see myself the way others do; it’s impossible.

There are a couple of different inferences to be drawn, here.

First, we have to treat others with kindness, dignity, and respect. It’s imperative. Whether you believe in the Golden Rule, the Rule of Three, or are an atheist, we are all human and we all deserve to be treated the way we, ourselves, want to be treated. (This is harder with some people than others, and sometimes we’re going to fail. But keep trying.)

Second, if we treat others with kindness, that will be remembered. It will help the other person in ways you can’t possibly imagine. And that ripple effect does more to resist the vagaries of time, space, and indignities more than anything else can possibly do.

In other words, I hear a lot about “resistance” these days because of the Trump Administration, and that’s fine — I, personally, believe that everything that any presidential administration does should be sifted with great care, and in this particular case, I believe more care should be applied than most with the sifting. But if you don’t treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity, you are doing the work of people who want to tear you down for them…and that just won’t do.

So, please…remember to be kind. Always. Try your best. Treat your friends with care. Help others as you can.

And don’t do the work of your enemies for them. (Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 4, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Hope: Just Do It

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It’s Sunday, and I was in need of spiritual sustenance. So I started thinking about hope, and its necessary qualities.

See, when you’re down, it’s hard to believe that anything matters. Life has given you a bunch of lemons, sour ones at that, and your attempts to make lemonade out of them don’t seem to be working…and it’s hard to believe in hope.

But you have to, because that’s when you need hope the most.

There’s a reason that hope was in Pandora’s Box. That one thing can make the difference between success and failure, because it reminds you that it’s all right to fail once in a while, just so long as you get up again.

It’s because of hope that I keep writing.

I realize that hope alone is not enough. But if I believe I have a good story idea, and do my best to flesh it out, I can use that hope and weld it to my will and work ethic to get something done.

I know this works. Because today, finally, after several weeks of illness and frustration, I did what was necessary and finished up my final edits with regards to my novel CHANGING FACES. My publisher has the file now, and aside from proofreading the PDF advance reader copy when it comes out (I’ll keep you posted on that), my work is now complete.

While I was feeling poorly, it was very hard to hope that I would be strong enough to do what was required. But I held on to my hope that I would do it, and I did it.

So that’s why the title above.

You need to believe in hope, because without hope, it’s nearly impossible to believe in yourself.

If you remember only one thing today, believe in this: Hope. Just do it. (For me. Please?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 22, 2017 at 5:53 am

Turning Bad Circumstances into Good Ones

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It’s Friday the 13th, so I thought I’d talk about how to turn bad circumstances into good ones. (Or, at least, into better ones?)

“Why, Barb, did you pick Friday the 13th for this blog?” you ask, wearily.

Well, the answer is simple. On Friday the 13th, everyone worries more about accidents, superstitions, odd events…and what’s odder than turning a bad circumstance into a good one?

Yeah, I realize that’s not how most people think of it. Instead, we think about the negative stuff going on all around us. And it’s very easy to find…we all have stuff in our lives that could be, shall we say, improved.

And it’s hard to think about improving things, when everything seems against you.

I’ve had my back to the wall at least ten times in my life. It’s not pleasant. Every time, I’ve thought whatever was going on would break me. I’ve been through deaths of loved ones (including my beloved husband Michael), divorces before I even found Michael at all, at least five major moves, job losses, and economic hardship, and I haven’t enjoyed any of it.

(If I did, though, wouldn’t you wonder what I was about? I would, in your place. But I digress.)

What you have to do when you’re at a breaking point is to keep going. Remember that you didn’t ask for this to happen. You are just doing the best you can. Maybe you’ve made mistakes, but we all have…the trick is not to give up on yourself and not to give up on your talents, no matter what is stacked against you.

And as bad as dealing with horrific events (like deaths of loved ones in particular) can be, there actually is one positive side to it that I’ve found.

Ready?

I realized  that going through all the negative experiences in my life has actually sensitized me to other people’s suffering. And along the way, I found that being able to help someone else, even if it’s only a little bit, did two great things: It helped the other person realize they were not alone, and it also made me feel better as a human being to reach out and help someone who truly needed it.

Maybe that’s why we have things like “Do unto others as they do unto you” (the Golden Rule). It’s not just that we want to be treated well; it’s that we need to treat others well for our own well-being, and to become our best selves.

Anyway, the point of this blog is, sometimes life just stinks. There are things you have to do sometimes that you never wanted to — that you never even conceived of, when you started out as a young adult — but you have no choice.

When you’re at one of those places, step back, and try to realize that you are not alone. You can come back from whatever it is that you’re facing with time, courage, fortitude, will, and effort. Best of all, you will be able to better understand yourself and others when you do…and I don’t know of any other way to turn a bad circumstance into a good one than that.

The True Meaning of Christmas, and Brandon Burlsworth

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Folks, last night I watched the movie GREATER, which is about Brandon Burlsworth, a young man who with faith, optimism, hope, and hard work transformed himself into not just a football player, but a starting guard with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Burlsworth even got drafted by an NFL team, the Indianapolis Colts, and everything looked bright…

Then, he was in a car accident, not too far from his home. He died at age twenty-two, just three weeks after being drafted by the Colts.

Despite Burlsworth’s life being incredibly short, he was a truly inspirational figure. He realized early what he wanted to do, didn’t have the natural talent or stature to do it (a late growth spurt helped with the last), but worked harder than anyone else. He listened to his coaches, who appreciated his hard work and dedication; he listened to himself when others told him he couldn’t do something, and he listened to the Higher Power, and trusted that what he believed in — what he wanted to do — was the right thing.

Did every day go well for him? Of course it didn’t. Did he have days where he wondered why he was doing what he was doing? Of course he did. Did he have ups, downs, and frustrations like the rest of us? Of course he did.

But every day, he got up, and he did what he could to work toward his goal.

And he achieved it. He went from walk-on to three-year starter at Arkansas, he became an All-American, and he was drafted by the Colts.

Of course it would’ve been better had he lived longer. Burlsworth was the type of person others respected, and because of his own unshakeable faith and hard work, who knows what he could’ve become over time?

But his was a truly remarkable and inspirational life. This was a bookish, overweight kid with very little (if any) athletic talent, but he had a dream and he worked hard every day to achieve that dream.

And he did.

What does this have to do with the true meaning of Christmas, you ask?

It’s simple.

The story of Jesus’s life is powerful, partly because of his humble beginnings. Everything seemed stacked against him from the start. His family was not wealthy or powerful. He grew up in a hostile environment (what else can you call the persecution of King Herod, anyway?), was different from everyone he knew in many ways, and had a quiet, unshakeable faith that he would find his path and make a difference.

And he did.

We still remember Jesus, two thousand plus years later. We remember the power to make a difference, to love one another, to be good to one another, to appreciate one another, to work hard and not let anyone stop you — not even yourself.

Every single day will not be easy for you. It wasn’t for Jesus. (It wasn’t for Brandon Burlsworth, either. Read more about his inspirational life here at the blog Sports on Earth.) But it’s worth it if you get up every day, work hard, have faith (yes, even when it’s difficult or nigh on to impossible), and believe that tomorrow will be better than today.

That, to my mind, is far more the spirit of Christmas than anything commercial. Because it boils down to just a few things:

Love one another.

Treat others with respect and kindness. (Yeah, the first kind of implies that, but why not spell it out? Can’t hurt.)

Work hard.

Have faith.

Keep trying.

Don’t give up.

And if you can believe in the Higher Power — whatever and however it manifests for you — good. Because that may allow you to tap into more optimism, and that’s all to the good.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 25, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Reflections on Good Friday

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I wrote this back in 2012, but it still reflects my thoughts on Good Friday, and why Western culture still finds it meaningful. See what you think.

And oh, yes…I know today is Good Friday. (Why d’you think I’m reblogging this, hm?)

Barb Caffrey's Blog

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day Christians observe Jesus’s crucifixion.  It can be a very depressing day, partly because the idea of anyone being crucified for any reason is abhorrent, mostly because Jesus is adjudged one of the best people who’ve ever walked the face of the Earth even by most non-Christians.  (Of course, Jesus is seen as the Son of God by Christians.)  But he died via crucifixion, in agony, despite his goodness/divinity.

Yet for whatever reason, most non-priests would rather speak of Easter than Good Friday.  Granted, Easter is a much easier holiday to speak of as it’s a day of celebration, forgiveness, and hope.  (I wrote about Easter last year.)  It’s a day that should be celebrated.  But we also need to consider the importance of the day that preceded Easter — the day made Easter possible.  That day is Good Friday, one of the worst days in the history of the world . …

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Written by Barb Caffrey

March 25, 2016 at 6:38 am

Easter Week Thoughts: Carrying Each Other’s Burdens

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Is it possible for human beings to comprehend that other people have burdens, too?

Sure, we know our own burdens — the problems we carry mile after mile, day after day. They’ve become so much a part of us, it goes without saying…they’re just there, and we keep on shouldering them because we know no other way.

But we don’t always know what burdens the other person is carrying, just as the other person doesn’t know our burdens.

Yes, there’s a way around this problem. You can ask what’s going on. Maybe you can help shoulder the load for a while, if the other person allows it…if the other person lets you reach inside, so you can see them in the same way you see yourself.

Because it’s Easter Week, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I know all sorts of people, and every one of them has problems. Some are more profound than others; some are of more immediate concern than others, too. But every single last one of us has problems.

Buddha recognized that, in his time. So did Jesus Christ. So did other notable religious figures…it’s one of those universal truths that everyone respects, but no one knows how to solve. (Though Buddha’s dispassionate look at suffering is certainly worth a try, to be sure.)

Is it possible for us to carry each other’s burdens? Can pain be halved, if someone else knows of it and cares about you and wants to relieve your burden(s)?

I hope so. I believe so. But I don’t know for certain.

What I do know, for certain, is that if you don’t talk about what’s bothering you — or worse, you can’t talk about what’s bothering you — for most of us, that pressure builds and builds like heating food inside a pressure cooker. Eventually, as in the pressure cooker, that heat is going to escape…and it might escape in all directions.

That’s why discussing your problems, discussing your pain, discussing your burdens, can give comfort and peace even if there’s no ready solution for any of them.

Try not to be upset if you need to unburden yourself. Why?

Two examples:

  • Mother Teresa talked of how depression could overcome her, in her diaries. (In her case, she was definitely unburdening herself to the Higher Power.) She gained comfort and clarity from this, and was able to go back to her work with the poor of Calcutta with a lighter heart.
  • And Jesus Christ, the night before he was taken to be crucified, seems in retrospect to have wanted his friends to know he was aware of his fate and accepted it. (If that doesn’t show just how much comfort can be gained by discussion, I don’t know what will.)

Maybe this is why unburdening yourself to a friend tends to help, even if your friend cannot solve your problem(s) for you. By doing so, you remind yourself that you’re not alone, and that someone else cares about you and the burdens you carry.

That, to my mind, is an important thing to keep in mind. Especially during Easter Week.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 22, 2016 at 4:18 am