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Editor’s Column

In a world where “everybody writes”—shoutout to Ann Handley—a world full of self-publishing, blogging, social media and real-time reporting, it’s pretty clear that communication is important to us. But as someone who reads a lot of the everything that everybody is writing these days and who spends a large portion of each week editing other peoples’ writing, I think there are a few grammar and style refreshers that could help writers.

While I still contend that some have a true giftedness for writing, there’s no reason all of us can’t write clearly and concisely. And that means knowing a few grammar rules.

Grammar sometimes gets a bad rap. Yes, it can be confusing and weird. But most of the time, it’s truly not hard. And most of all, grammar is designed to help us do one thing: communicate clearly. So, here are a few tips—gleaned from my experience and errors I commonly see online—to help us do so a tiny bit better.

  1. Than v. Then
    If you are an avid texter or user of social media, you may run across this one often. I think autocorrect may cause some of these errors as well as talk to text. But some of it is just confusion on which word to use. In grammar-speak, then is generally an adverb and indicates when actions happened in time. Than, on the other hand, is a plain ol’ conjunction, used to join together phrases and thoughts. In general, it’s a comparison word. So, guys, the phrase: I like Americanos more then lattes is wrong. Rule of thumb: If it’s about conveying a sense of time, use then. If it’s comparison, it’s than all the way.
  2. Apart v. A PartI read a story the other day where someone was quoted as saying “I’m just so glad to be apart of this!” Well, yay for her, but no, no, no for grammar and communicating clearly. Words have meaning. Apart is an adverb that means separate or separately. I don’t want to be apart from you! A part is a noun, signifying that someone or something is a piece of or segment of something, that they’re involved. So you can be a part of a team, a band or an idea bigger than yourself, but “be apart of” doesn’t really work grammatically and if it did, you’d simply be saying the opposite of what you’re trying to say.
  3. To v. Too
    I think autocorrect is often to blame for this common mistake, but, guys, I see it all the time, and it makes me crazy. So for the sake of my sanity, please take a moment and refresh yourself on to and too. To can be a lot of things: part of an infinitive, a preposition meaning toward or until. But what it does not mean is also, extremely or abundantly. That’s reserved for too. So when you want to text, “I like that too!” to your friend, please use too. “I like that to” is actually an incomplete thought and makes people who love grammar cry.

Someone else’s kitchen

I think about them sometimes.

Our names, hidden under a layer of paint, marking our heights throughout the years, climbing up the wall next to the door to the cellar in a house that I’m no longer free to visit.

The names of my cousins at the top, Chris always the tallest. My brother’s name, then mine, always the shortest. So often on a Sunday afternoon visit to my grandparents’ house, we’d grab a pen off the old roll-top desk in the hallway, measure our heights and write our names on the paneling, imprinting our mark on the wall in the old house my grandmother bought during World War II when my grandfather was still overseas, and she was a young mother trying to figure out life at home without him.

After my grandmother passed away, we spent months cleaning out the house. There was an auction and eventually the house was sold. Before it went on the market, my mom and my aunt painted the kitchen, covering up the names and heights that we’d etched into that wall over the years.

But I still think about those names sometimes.

About how underneath that layer of paint in someone else’s kitchen, they’re still there. And I wonder, if the new owners ever run their fingers across that wall and feel the writing in relief and wonder what it is. Or maybe they don’t know or care and the secret stays hidden beneath the paint and they are none the wiser.

And maybe, if I’m honest, I prefer it that way. That the names stay hidden beneath that paint, just as they are hidden in my heart and mind. That they’re a sweet secret between my grandparents and the grandkids that no one else can see.

There, in someone else’s kitchen is a silent testimony that we were there, and we were deeply loved.

 

20 years later

Twenty years ago this week—almost to the day—I graduated from high school.

(This is the moment when you should all respond with exclamations and comment on my youthfulness. But I digress.)

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Though the day was two decades ago, I still remember so many moments from it. The graduate breakfast at the Methodist church. My white cap and gown that required you wear white underneath it. The short trip to the Bernie School cafetorium (yep, cafetorium) from my parents’ house with my brother, during which we had a fight, probably because I was nervous and on edge about giving a speech. I still regret that fight even though I can’t remember what it was about. I remember the joy of seeing people I didn’t expect who had come to see me graduate and the reception my parents threw that afternoon and the friends who stayed late into the evening, knowing that our lives were somehow changing.

Twenty years later as I think back on my high school graduation and consider the Class of 2017, a few thoughts come to mind.

  1. Time passes quickly.
    My high school graduation may have been 20 years ago, but I’m finding out that what my parents used to say when I was growing up is true: it doesn’t seem that long ago. While I’m by no means ancient, high school doesn’t seem like it’s two decades in the past. On that Sunday afternoon in 1997, I would have found it hard to imagine myself in 20 years, but I probably would have thought that I would be much wiser at 38, that I’d understand more of life’s twists and turns, perhaps that I would be more “successful” by the world’s standards. Maybe I am a little wiser now, though. At 38, I better understand that being “grown up” doesn’t mean you know all the answers or have it all together; it may very well mean that you’re willing to admit you don’t.
  2. Be open to a change of plans. 
    Class of 2017, you undoubtedly have plans for how your life will go. That is right and good, and I’d be worried if you didn’t. But one thing I’ve learned in the past two decades is that life often doesn’t go as planned. I had an idea of how my life would go when I graduated high school. I would go to college, maybe grad school, I’d live in an apartment in a city on my own for a bit “just to see if I could.” I’d be married, and I’d have kids. Many of those things have come true; others didn’t. But things I didn’t really plan for or imagine happened, too. I never would have dreamed that I would go to grad school and earn a theology degree. I spent a decade of my life using that degree to be an editor of curriculum and devotional material for teenagers, a job I loved. But when God closed that door and opened a new one, He gave me a job I never would have imagined that I find absolutely fulfilling. Have your plans and work hard to achieve them, but don’t hold on to them so tightly that you can’t walk through the doors God will open in your life, opportunities you can’t even fathom right now that lead to fulfillment, joy and hope.
  3. Cherish the moment, but see it as the beginning of a new chapter. 
    Without a doubt, high school graduation is a milestone to be celebrated. But rather than seeing it as the end of something or the highlight of your life, recognize this moment as the start of a new chapter. What is behind is the past and the future lies before you. Don’t hang on to the “glory days,” thinking your high school career was the best days of your life and nothing else can compare. Don’t dwell on the bad choices or circumstances that defined those years either. Graduation is the start of a new chapter, a turning point, a beginning. Embrace it as such and walk forward believing the best really is yet to come.

 

Lenten Reflections

As winter slowly began to march toward Lent, I knew something had to change in my life. I had grown weary and busy. Most mornings had become a rush to get to work and slowly but surely,  spending time in Scripture had been pushed aside.

I found myself feeling disconnected and distant from God—in my daily life as well as in worship, as I taught Sunday School and as I prayed. Lent seemed like the perfect time to reconnect and recommit. To sink in to the depths of the gospel and wrestle with its truths.

So I ordered a Lenten Bible study and have begun poring over the words of  the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel. Day after day, words of destruction and judgment seemed to rain down, but always there has been a message of hope.

A light would pierce the darkness.

A Prince of Peace was coming.

That despite the coming destruction that sin demanded a merciful God was making away.

Hope.

Finding light in theHope that can’t be found in ourselves, our own good works or actions.

At first the hope seemed faint, but its light is growing stronger with each passing day and each reading. What seemed so heavy and weighty at first is giving way to the hope only found in Christ.

Reminding me that it’s not about my worth.

It’s not about my own innate goodness.

That it’s not about my own plans to handle disaster or survive the worst or even simply make it through the day in a world where all the news often seems bad.

It is about hope that only God gives, embodied in Christ.

And in the darkest of days, I don’t have to depend on myself, my strength and my plans to make it through.

I can trust in the One who is worthy.

Good Things

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of these, but it’s time to get back in the habit. With no further ado, I present to you my weekly round-up of positive things!

  • Starting the day with a butter beer latte from the Red Bicycle. Some Fridays need to
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    A butterscotch latte. What’s not to like?

    start with lattes, amiright?

  • That good feeling when part of job is media relations and you send out a media alert and a news station calls you back!
  • We’re doing a bracket challenge at work, and I’m winning. Because of my lack of interest in NCAA basketball this season (read: anger at Mizzou), this is remarkable. But there’s also a whole lot of games to go. My lead could be destroyed after this weekend!
  • In a little over two weeks, it will be MLB Opening Day, and I’ll be there in St. Louis watching the Cardinals take on the Cubs. Can’t wait!
  • Finding new, interesting podcasts. Current obsession? Lore by Aaron Mahnke. It feeds the part of me that loves “Unsolved Mysteries” and weird folklore stories. And I’ve read that Amazon is creating a series with Mahnke. 
  • T
    his may sound old lady-ish, but I’m excited that tomorrow, I’ll have an opportunity to rest. It’s been a busy, long week.

Speak life

Earlier this week, after a long day at work, I stopped by the mailbox on my way back to my townhouse.

Well, if we’re being truthful, this is the part where I admit that I hadn’t gotten my mail in about a week and a half. But anyway, I digress.

In the stack of bills, circulars and ads, I found a small envelope with my name and address handwritten on outside. In the sea of mail that I’d pull from the mailbox and laid in the passenger seat of my car, was this one tiny piece of handwritten mail.

I opened it to find a handwritten note from the children’s minister at my church. Thank you, he wrote, for serving on the children’s team. It is a joy to see their faces learning and laughing each week.

At the end of a month when I’ve felt like less than a good Sunday School teacher and a week that hadn’t been particularly easy, his words were like a balm.

Encouragement.

Gratefulness.

Appreciation.

Every day we’re given millions of opportunities to speak. A conversation with a good friend. An off-handed comment to a coworker. A retort to that total stranger on Twitter who said something we didn’t agree with. A grumbled response to that guy who cut you off in traffic.

But the thing about our words is that we have a choice each time we open our mouths. We can choose to speak life—to encourage, express gratitude or appreciate.

Or we can speak death. We can tear people down, spew pessimism and hurtful words. We can say one thing to someone’s face and another behind his or her back. We can degrade others for their political views, religious beliefs and mistakes.

In our world of social media, we have a million opportunities to express our opinions and share our thoughts. And sometimes the medium seems to create a false distance between us and our readers—so much that we think we can say whatever we want with no regard for feelings or respect.

This week, choose life. Wherever it is you express yourself, choose life. Encourage. Be grateful. Appreciate others.

Speak life.

 

The Light Still Shines

As 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, it definitely felt like there was more darkness in the world than light.

This afternoon, as I walked my dog on our usual route around the complex in the fading light of dusk, my mind wandered over the last few months. An election that created enemy lines. Cancer diagnosis after cancer diagnosis, in my church and among childhood friends. The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the

The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the high school gym where I had once cheered and listened to as one of our former high school basketball stars eulogized his twin brother, who lost a years-long, hard-fought battle with cancer just days before Christmas.

Friends lost grandparents and loved ones. Just days before Christmas, my close friends accepted another foster placement, a 3-year-old child with nowhere to go. A coworker’s brother was badly hurt in a difficult-to-fathom crime.

Darkness. Everywhere.

But as the dusk turned to evening, the sky deepening to navy, my thoughts slowly shifted to a prayer.

Father, in our grief, we trust you.

In our fear, our doubt, when the light seems overcome by the darkness. 

We pray for healing because we know You are a Healer. We pray knowing that whatever happens, You can use it for Your glory. We pray because our hearts cry out for You and our souls need reminders of the hope we only find in You. We pray—trusting by faith, trusting your Word—when our doubts and feelings tell us not to trust You. 

Remind us, Lord, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). 

The darkness may seem to be winning, but the light still shines. Rest in that hope.