Are You Smarter Than the Average Bear?

Let me give you a dose of eighth-grade math PTSD. Who remembers mean, median, and mode, our initial foray into the (horrible, terrible, no good, very bad) world of statistics? If I were to rank all the college classes I’ve taken, Stats would be at the low end of the bottom tier. But, regardless of the scars it might have left on us all, most of us are familiar with finding the mean. (Averaging, in mere mortal speak.) Average is considered the middle of the road, the fifty percent mark. Anything greater than .50 is above average. Everything that falls beneath is below average. Simple enough concept.

Yet, according to a psychology study, sixty-five percent of Americans believe they are above average. [1]

Y’all, the math doesn’t work.

In these days of crippling self-confidence issues, maybe it’s good that we think we’re better than we actually are. Nothing wrong with a positive self-image, right? High self-confidence can give us the boost to try something scary, like hang-gliding, opening a new business, or raising bees.

I wonder why we’re predisposed to think of ourselves so highly. The study didn’t pinpoint the reason why we tend to overestimate ourselves, only that we do.

What I found disturbing was we give ourselves an above-average rating most often when judging ourselves morally. [2]

In other words, I am more likely to believe I am morally superior to those around me than, say, that I am more clever or wise.

Hmm. That caused me to do some serious self-reflection. How would I rank myself, compared to others, in aspects like intelligence, honesty, faithfulness, cleverness, competency, friendliness?

I recently read the novel, Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. (Spoiler alert. I will discuss the ending of the novel.) In the story, the unnamed narrator is a young woman in her twenties who marries a wealthy Englishman in his forties after a whirlwind courtship. (Let’s call her Claire.) Claire grew up poor and was working as a lady’s companion when she met Maxim. She struggles with self-worth throughout the novel, especially when they arrive at Manderly and she learns about the beautiful, composed, socially graceful Rebecca, who died the year prior.

Claire convinces herself Maxim doesn’t truly love her because she believes he has never gotten over losing Rebecca. However, when a boat crashes near their home, the rescue operation discovers the sunken remains of Rebecca’s sailboat, with her decomposing body inside. Since Maxim identified “her” body two months after the accident, he becomes a suspect in Rebecca’s death.

He confesses to Claire that he actually hated Rebecca, who was cold, manipulative, and unfaithful. She goaded Maxim into shooting her, telling him she was pregnant with another man’s child. Maxim killed her, then took her out on the sailboat and scuttled it with her body inside.

When Claire hears Maxim’s confession, she does all she can to clear his name. She travels to London to see the doctor Rebecca visited the day she died and learns Rebecca was not actually pregnant. She had cancer. The doctor told her she had only months to live and would die in agony.

This information is shared with the prosecuting attorney, and when asked, Claire lies for Maxim. Though she knows he shot his wife, she tells them Rebecca was distraught with the news of the diagnosis and killed herself.

Now. Back to the morally superior question. On average, we tend to rank ourselves as “above average” on moral issues. However, if you found yourself in a similar situation, where you could reasonably excuse the bad actions of someone you loved, especially if the truth would ruin not only their life but also yours, would you lie to protect them? If your lie kept your child from going to prison? Your mother from the death penalty?

What would I do? Would I truly be a member of the “above average,” or would I be part of the 15% who thinks I am better, but who is fooling themselves? I hope and pray, should I ever be in this position, I would turn to God and trust in his providence. Regardless of how bad things looked, or how devastating my truth would be, I must hope I could do what the Bible teaches us.

Thou shalt not lie.

I hope I could stick myself close to God, like a grass burr attaches to my sock, and trust his guidance would carry me through whatever heartache might come.

What about you? If you were Claire, would you have handled things differently? If you have a story like Claire’s where God brought you through the fire, share it with us so we can draw strength for our own trials.

[1] https://tinyurl.com/SmarterSurvey

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641986/

Discover a wonderful surprise …

Cilantro. Brussel sprouts. Liver and onions. You either love them or hate them.

My “ew” food was grapefruit. It tasted bitter and was hard to get into. The peel came off easily enough, but the membrane encasing each segment was tough, difficult to chew, and left a weird sensation in my mouth. To avoid that, I attacked the translucent skin encasing each segment with my sharpest knife, like a surgeon wielding a scalpel, peeling the membrane away. Once I had uncovered naked pulp, I ate it, pretending it was an orange. Without the bitter membrane, it tasted pretty good. But the process took way too long and a level of absorption that rivaled Hannibal Lecter.

My brother- and sister-in-law are health-conscious vegetarians and eat grapefruit for breakfast. They own those fancy little shark-toothed spoons, a necessity if you plan to separate the pulp from the pith. But nothing puts a kink in your slinky faster than getting a squirt of acidic juice in your eye as you wrestle with your hemisphere of pungent bitterness. The level of sugar required to make that palatable effectively negates the healthy vibe. Between squinting for visual protection and the involuntary facial contortions resulting from activating the bitterness receptors on the back of my tongue, I feared I gave Mr. Bean a run for his money.

Then I stopped one summer at a roadside fruit stand on my way to South Padre Island and bought four large grapefruit. I had grand plans of being healthy while I was on the island. Replacing donuts with something distasteful for breakfast qualified.

I discovered something wonderful. Texas grows delicious grapefruit. The Rio Grande Valley, Texas’s cornucopia, produces globes of deliciousness with names like Rio Star or Ruby Red. El pomelo grown here are larger and pinker than the measly, bitter yellow ones from Florida. I fell in love with grapefruit that summer.

Life changed when I bought a cold-press juicer. I envisioned myself using it to concoct healthy drinks out of kale, spinach, and ethically sourced oak leaves that would cleanse my liver, restore my pre-menopause memory, or make my skin look youthful and fresh. Then I had an epiphany. Juice the grapefruit.

Friends, I’m here to tell you nothing tastes better than a glass of fresh-pressed grapefruit juice. One softball-sized fruit yields about eight ounces of bliss. I slice them into wedges vertically (not the direction you cut if you plan to acid-etch your eyeballs for breakfast), then carefully remove the pinkish-orange outer peel. I say carefully, because you don’t want to accidentally squeeze the segments and waste any of that precious, delicious elixir. Then, one at a time, drop the slices down the juicer’s chute and watch liquid the color of a sunrise come pouring out.

So, in the year of our Lord 2024, screw your courage to the sticking point and try something new. Boldly go where you’ve not gone before. Start each morning with a glass of freshly pressed grapefruit juice. You won’t be sorry.

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” ~Lemony Snicket

If you’re like me, you probably have a stack of books piled in your house somewhere, waiting patiently for you to pick them up and read them. And, also like me, maybe you can’t resist buying yet another one that catches your eye.

That’s where audio books come in. You can listen to a book while you clean the house, sit at soccer practice, or drive to work. Plus, you get the added benefit of listening to the voice actor perform the story, just for you. You can have a book anywhere you can plug in your earbuds.

Which brings me to my fun announcement. Protected, book one in my San Antonio series, is now available through Audible. Performed by the inestimable Christy Lou, the story is full of various voices and accents as she brings the characters to life.

Check it out on Amazon. Sit back, plug in those headphones, and relax.

https://amzn.to/3PkpkkD

So hard to say goodbye

In the writing word, cliches are frowned upon. They are a fallback for the lazy writer who cannot come up with something original to say.

And yet, one particular cliche has been on my mind since Tuesday night—don’t take life for granted.

Last Wednesday, October 19, my friend Stacy Simmons went in for a surgery to remove a growth from her abdomen. She had originally been told the surgery would take place in November, but somehow an opening had appeared in the schedule. Stacy posted how excited she was that Jesus had answered her prayers to do the surgery as soon as possible. The doctors didn’t think the growth was cancerous, but I can imagine Stacy wanted it out of her body. It probably felt like a ticking time bomb.

The surgery went well, and the doctor removed a 27-lb growth. Whew! What a relief that must have been. That’s like carrying triplets.

Tuesday morning, I texted Stacy to let her know I was thinking of her and had said prayers for quick healing and good results from the doctor on testing the growth.

Tuesday evening, I received this text in reply.

“This is her daughter. She passed away today from complications.”

I couldn’t process it. Had my phone been hacked? Hers? Surely this wasn’t real. Somehow, this was a horrible prank.

I scrolled back through my previous texts. I had definitely messaged Stacy’s phone. My text history was chock full of her typical encouragements.

“Wishing you all the best tonight. You’re gonna be awesome!!”

“Thank the Lord!! I’m so happy for y’all!!!”

“Holy smokes!!! That’s so amazing!!! I’ll be happy to tag team it with you.”

Her vibrancy and infectious enthusiasm shouted from my iPhone screen.

Had someone found her phone? Answered me this way to be terribly mean?

I called a mutual friend and asked her if she’d heard anything. Her tear-choked gasp told me my answer.

I looked at Stacy’s Facebook page.

There it was. A message from her family, confirming the news. “Due to complications from the surgery…”

What?

How was this possible?

Not Stacy.

Whether your religion teaches you the dead in Christ wake up sitting at his feet, or sleep until he returns, the dead person is immediately at peace. Stacy is fine. She’s either with or waiting for the Lord she loves.

But, oh. The rest of us.

This shock is too sudden. Too cruel.

I’m so glad I followed the prompting that urged me to send her that message. I’m grateful her family knew people loved Stacy and were concerned for her. How they wake up each morning and take their next breath with this sudden hole rent in the fabric of their lives, I cannot fathom.

So, back to the cliché … don’t take life for granted. Tell the people in your life you love them. Make the extra effort to spend time with your friends and family, even if it’s not particularly convenient for you. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.

And Stacy, please save us a seat. We’ll see you again one day.

Help my unbelief.

Do you ever see Christians on TV praying eloquent prayers and think, “They’re perfect”? They serve the poor, dish soup in a shelter, collect shoes for the homeless. I try doing those things, but life gets in the way. Best-laid plans and all that.

Those perfect people sometimes make me feel defensive, and I resent instead of admiring them. God, in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New, repeatedly used flawed people to carry out their work. Perfection is not required. A willing heart is.

Characters in my stories sometimes make wrong decisions. They’re selfish. They don’t turn to God right away when things go wrong. But they try. They call out to God eventually and learn through life experiences they can trust him.

I experienced this a while back. I sell my books in Kroger grocery stores. Passing shoppers stop at the table I set up and chat with me. This day, a youngish man walked directly to me (which was odd… most wander by with a cautious eye, unwilling to commit until they’re sure why I’m there). Nothing about my display makes it obvious I write Christian fiction, so I’m unsure what drove him to my table. Straight on he came, though.

During our conversation, I learned he was visiting Texas from his home state of Florida. He’d been here only three days and had been to four different churches. I asked if he came to speak at those churches, but he didn’t. Just attending. I was confused about his purpose, but he was so enthusiastic, I gave up making sense of it.

He asked if he could pray for me.

“Of course!”

He put one hand on my shoulder and gripped my hand in his other. He asked if I had any pain.

This threw me. I was unprepared. Surprised, I tossed out the first thing I thought of. “My hip flexor sometimes hurts.”

He began praying. Loudly. Using all the “Christian-ese” words like “hedge of protection” and “healed by Your stripes.” I flinched inside.

Stop.

You’re drawing attention to us.

People are probably staring.

Then I heard a whisper in my heart.

Listen to his words. Claim the promises he is calling down for you.

I listened. To the holy nudge and to the young man. A smile crossed my face as my new friend claimed healing for my body. He was so sure. Why couldn’t I be the same way? I was just like my characters. Stubborn. Unwilling. Unsure.

He finished his prayer, and I hugged him. Whew. Quite an experience. I wished for that faith.

Ten minutes later, a sparkling feeling—imagine what Tinkerbell’s wand might feel like if it touched you— fluttered through my hip joint. I kid you not.

I froze.

I was afraid to move. Movement would be a test to see if my hip really had been healed, revealing my doubt. And, if I doubted, would it cancel out the healing?

I so totally identify with the Roman soldier who told Jesus, “I believe.” Then, in the same breath, begged, “Help my unbelief.”

I believe Mark shared this story to tell us it’s okay if we sometimes waver. We see with this story we can ask Jesus for help.

Help me believe, Jesus. I want to believe.

And when we pray in his will, he answers that prayer.

Don’t worry if you’re not perfect. God doesn’t demand perfection. He asks for an open heart. That we can do.

My latest book, A Father’s Gift, is now available on Amazon. Book two in the San Antonio series, it continues the story of Abby and Manny who you first met in Protected. Originally published in the Christmas anthology, Christmas Love Through the Ages, it is now a stand-alone book published by Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.

If you missed book one, (Protected), for a limited time, you may download the eBook version for only $0.99. Check them out.

2022 Christmas In July – Reader Blog Tour and Giveaway

July in Texas. Christmas sounds mighty pleasant right about now. It’s HOT here, and anything that takes my mind off 100˚ weather is welcome. I’m always up for disappearing into a good book. If you’re the same way, you’re gonna love this!

Happy Christmas in July! Welcome to my blog in the 2022 Christmas-in-July Reader Blog Tour & Giveaway, which runs July 15-22, 2022 (contest closes at 8 p.m. Eastern on 7/22). At the bottom of each author’s blog post, you will find the name of a Christmas song. Write them all down and provide all song titles (26 in total) on this Google formSee below for a list with links of all participating authors!

Note: You must grab all the song titles from every author in the 2022 Christmas in July Reader Blog Tour & Giveaway to be eligible to win the grand prize of a $520 Amazon gift card, plus a copy of each participating author’s book OR first place prize of a copy of each participating author’s book. At the end of this blog post is a link to the next blog, and so on, to the final blog post (26 authors in all). 

I’m pleased and honored to play a part in the Christmas-in-July blog tour. I am giving away a copy of Texas Heirloom Ornament. This three-novella collection traces a family of Texas women from 1920 to present-day. In my story, In All Things Charity, Alexis invites Matthew, the handsome basketball coach, to join her family for Christmas. Joyful bells turn to warning sirens when his biggest regret walks into the party, casting a dark cloud over their budding romance. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth? And can love truly cover a multitude of sins?

Here is a sneak peek into the story of Alexis and Matthew.

As he approached the library, tapping footsteps emanated from the math wing. He slowed, peering down the dim hallway. It had to be Alexis. He’d seen her head this way after the games. No one else was in the building, not even the janitors. The school had emptied faster than the donut boxes Admin brought to early morning faculty meetings. Sure enough, she appeared, back-lit by an emergency exit sign over her head as she passed through the double doors leading from her darkened hall. She studied some papers she held in her hand as she walked.

“Hey—”

A shriek loud enough to scare the pigeons off the roof pierced his eardrums. He recoiled, heart in his throat. Something thumped against his chest.

“Holy Moses, Alexis! Calm down. What did you throw at me?” His pulse stuttered, but quick on its heels was an unbearable desire to laugh. He clamped his mouth shut.

“Sweet chips and salsa! Matthew, is that you? What the—” Her hand went to her throat, and papers littered the floor where she’d dropped them. She glared at him with a slit-eyed gaze, a soft light from an overhead skylight glowing on her cheekbones.

“What kind of cuss word is that?” He gasped the words without giving away his amusement, but it was a losing battle. Laughter shook his shoulders. He snorted, and that was all it took.

Alexis hid a smile. “Are you laughing at me?” She straightened in mock-offended silence.

He gave up. He laughed so hard he staggered against a brick column in the foyer in front of the library, tears streaming from his eyes.

Now, it’s time to for my Christmas song title: Home for the Holidays

Save the holiday song titles from each of the 26 blog stops, and when you reach the final blog, enter all the song titles on this form for a chance to win the grand prize of a $520 Amazon gift card and a copy of each author’s featured book OR first prize of a copy of each book.

Sign up for my blog here: https://paulapeckham.com/category/stories/

Thank you so much for visiting! The next author on the tour is Tina Radcliffe and her Christmas book, His Holiday Prayer. You can find it at this link:  https://www.tinaradcliffe.com/2022christmasinjulyreaderblogtour

Remember, the 2022 Christmas-in-July Reader Blog Tour & Giveaway ends July 22 at 8 p.m. EST. Have fun discovering some fantastic new authors.

Use Me For Good

Surprises await everywhere, every day. We simply have to watch. Not sure you agree? Read on.

My brother invited me to attend Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic music festival in Austin. Despite my extreme misgivings about spending an entire day in 100˚ heat, I accepted. Seeing Willie was a bucket list item, and time was running out on that one.

Q2 Stadium – 2022 Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic

We arrived around 3:30 pm, armed with water bottles, sunblock, and my Mexican wide-brimmed straw hat, but were delighted to discover our seats were already in the shade at the Q2 Stadium. One major blessing!

I’ve never been a huge country music fan, so I knew none of the acts for the day except Willie. Nevertheless, I settled in to enjoy the day. I’m a people watcher, and believe me, there was plenty to watch. Took about five minutes for me to decide a local drill team must’ve gone out of business and held a fire sale on their knee-high white cowboy boots. ’Cause, friend, approximately one in ten of the young women in attendance wore a pair. The only thing missing was the fringe down the sides.

Don’t get me wrong—they were cute, paired with airy short dresses that I’d have been happy to wear if I didn’t want to subject the surrounding people to the sight of my crepey, post-50-something skin all afternoon. There were just a lot of them. The overabundance detracted from the cute impact after a while.

I went to the concourse to get some food. While walking around, I came upon a distressing scene. A man, probably in his 60s, lay on the ground. A younger man stood near his feet, weight shifting from side to side, his hands clasped on top of his head as he watched, concern flooding his face.

The stadium medical team tended to the older man, quickly pulling open his shirt, running for an AED machine, inserting an IV to administer fluids. The man’s skin was gray, and after three convulsive paroxysms of his chest and stomach, he stilled. One medic began CPR.

A man behind me prayed softly. I backed up to stand next to him and gripped his hand. The fact there were now two of us seemed to imbue him with the confidence to speak loudly, strongly, claiming the promise that where two or more are gathered, God is there with them. Our fingers clung tightly, and I fought the tears pooling in my eyes.

I never heard the medics yell “Clear!” nor did the man’s body jerk as if they shocked his heart. They loaded him onto an ambulance stretcher and wheeled him away. As far as I could tell, he never moved again. All I could think was how excited he must’ve been to see Willie Nelson later that night. Dying on the concrete floor of a stadium most likely hadn’t been on his bingo card for the day.

People passed by with hardly a glance at the frenzied activity taking place at their feet. Were they more considerate than I to not stand and watch? Or did they not care? Daniel, the 6’ 4” Hispanic man who prayed so ferociously, gave me a tearful hug and left.

Music from Tyler Childers pounded on the other side of the bleachers. Life continued. Within moments, the medical team had all the plastic wrappings from the AED machine cleared and thrown away. It was as if nothing happened. Stunned, I returned to my seat.

Moments later, cameras projecting on large video screens on either side of the stage showed a young man kneeling in front of his girl, holding a small box up to her. She clapped her hands across her mouth, then nodded. He stood and embraced her, and the entire stadium cheered. The seesaw of emotions left me a bit whiplashed.

Later, a young woman moved to the back of the floor area where there were no chairs and danced to the music, alone. A young man in cowboy boots and a straw hat apparently took it upon himself to rescue her from her solitary celebration and raced across the open zone, skidding to a halt in front of her, boots sliding on the protective flooring laid on the soccer field. He placed the two beers he carried on the ground, then leaped to take her in his arms. She happily complied with his twirls and spins, following his lead as they danced together to the sounds of guitars and a harmonica. When the song ended, he gave her a short bow, collected his beers, and returned to his seat. Duty done, problem solved. Made me smile.

Jason Isbell took the stage. I knew none of his songs, and the overly loud, distorted projection from the enormous speakers made it difficult to understand all the lyrics. However, I could clearly hear the chorus in one song.

“Cover me up and know you’re enough to use me for good.”

Unable to discern what the song was truly about, I felt like those words were a prayer. Use me for good. Daniel prayed for the unknown man on the floor. The young man pledged his love to his girlfriend. The rescuing cowboy wanted to create a sweet moment for the solitary dancer. And all those white boots made girls across the stadium feel pretty.

Willie came on at 9:00 and sang for an hour. He was winded and stayed seated in a chair. But he is an 89-year-old country music icon. I’m glad I got to hear him perform.

photo by Scott Moore

Before the night was over, I’d held the hand of a stranger, laughed and sang with others. Never seen any of them before. Will undoubtedly not see them again. But I always want to be used for good. Took my lessons from a stadium full of cowboys, cowgirls, and country music singers. There is always an opportunity if we just look for it.

And, if you’re not a Willie Nelson fan, listen to this song, performed with his son, Lukas. And, sir, who may have died on the floor at a concert on Independence Day, let these words sing you to heaven.

“Just Breathe,” written by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam in 2009

It’s a long way to Dallas.

I served on a federal jury several years ago. I didn’t even mind because it got me out of my classroom for three weeks, and it was a particularly tough year. I wrote some musings about my experience once the trial was over. A friend reminded me of that collection of thoughts the other day. So, here is a resurrection of my memories of that good ol’ time. Enjoy.

Things I learned while on jury duty:

  1. It is a long way to Dallas.
  2. It pays to be nice and make friends. I left my purse at home one morning, and Pedro, the attendant of the lot I used each day, let me park my truck there for free until I could find someone to borrow the money from.
  3. Women in Dallas have only one toe, and it is right in the middle of their feet. I know this to be true because of the pointy-toed, spike-heeled shoes they wear. There is not room in those shoes for more than one toe.
  4. Reading glasses make a very effective crowd-control tool when used correctly. I learned from observing Judge Lynn if you perch them right on the end of your nose and glare menacingly over them, you don’t have to actually say anything. This maneuver is particularly effective on jurors who return late from lunch (not me!).
  5. It is a very long way to Dallas.
  6. You can ride the train to Dallas, but you must be at the Vickery Street station at 6:15 am to get to the courtroom on time.
  7. If you walk around the Vickery Street train station at 3:30 pm to familiarize yourself with everything so you won’t miss the train the first time you ride it the next day, you’ll feel like you’ve just stumbled into the Stephen King book The Stand, because there will be no one around but you.
  8. Walking around in a marble-floored, high-ceilinged, empty train station building in broad daylight is creepy.
  9. If you pee against the protective shelter while waiting for the train (not me!), the train conductor, who spies you doing this while he waits for the scheduled time to head to DFW airport, will not be happy and he will call the Transit Police. The Transit Police will come and take you off the train while everyone else looks on, handcuff you, and take you away.
  10. Riding the train was not as much fun as it was cracked up to be, despite it being a very, very long way to Dallas.
  11. The Spanish word for before is antes (pronounced “awn-tez”).
  12. The Spanish word for after is despues (pronounced “dez-pwez).
  13. The Spanish word for tools is heramienta (pronounced “air-raw-may-en-ta”).
  14. The Spanish word for cocaine is cocaine (pronounced “co-cah-een-ah”).
  15. The Spanish word for heroin is chivas (pronounced “shee-vas”).
  16. The Spanish word for well, as in, “Well, when you spoke to the FBI, you lied to them, didn’t you?” is bueno (pronounced “bway-no”).
  17. The Spanish word for o.k., as in, “O.K., let’s look at your testimony again,” is bueno (pronounced “bway-no”).
  18. The Spanish word for good, as in “Good, we’ve established that you lied to Mr. Delapaz,” is bueno (pronounced “bway-no”).
  19. The Spanish word for no (duly reported and translated each and every time) is no, (pronounced “no”).
  20. You can get a crick in your neck driving for 30 minutes along I-30, trying the whole while to position your head in just the right spot behind your rear-view mirror so you don’t have the sun glaring straight into your eyes. This, however, is an advantage when you walk around at lunch as it forces you to hold your head at a snooty, self-important angle, which lets you fit right in.  It also helps if you’re wearing pointy-toed, spike-heeled shoes.
  21. The Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” now lives in Dallas and owns a Greek restaurant two blocks from the courthouse. Be ready with your order when it is your turn and, whatever you do, do not ask a question about the menu.
  22. Courtrooms are very cold.
  23. Blankets, coats, and mittens are allowed in courtrooms.
  24. Cell phones are not allowed in courtrooms.
  25. You can sneak your cell phone past the security guard on the fifteenth floor if you keep it in your coat pocket (accidentally, of course) if you wait until there are several important attorneys all trying to get through at the same time you are.
  26. It is a very, very, very long way to Dallas.
  27. It is extremely hard to not watch the news, read the paper, or listen to NPR (even if you don’t normally do so) when someone tells you not to.
  28. It is extremely hard not to talk about something that totally consumes your every waking moment for three weeks.
  29. It is imperative to not wear pants that have become ever-so-slightly too small for you when you are forced to sit still for eight hours.
  30. A certain lethargy steals over your body around 1:30 – 2:00, forcing your eyes to flutter as you valiantly fight to stay awake. This will happen every day, like clockwork, and will last approximately 20 minutes. It will also earn you a glare from over the reading glasses.
  31. Vitamins, a Gingseng-Gotu Kola capsule, and an Arizona Energy tea at lunch will help combat the early afternoon nap syndrome but will not completely alleviate it.
  32. Wiggling around a lot will help you stay awake.
  33. Tapping your knuckles repeatedly—and hard—with your pen will help you stay awake, although it tends to annoy jurors sitting next to you.
  34. Chewing the inside of your cheek will help you stay awake.
  35. Taking a water bottle in with you and drinking from it will help you stay awake.  Unfortunately, you only get one bathroom break after lunch, so this maneuver has its pitfalls.
  36. Frowning with intense concentration and looking back and forth between witnesses, interpreters, and attorneys will help hide the fact that your eyes are fluttering.
  37. Listening to a trial where you learn the names of a lot of Hispanic people—many of whom have the same first name; many of whom also have a nickname; many of whom have two last names, either of which might be used by any given witness at any given time—is sort of like reading a Tom Clancy novel.
  38. Making a flow chart helps keep everyone straight. It can also be recopied each day from 1:30 – 2:00 to keep you awake.
  39. Being a teacher gives one excellent practice at picking out when someone starts to lie.
  40. Swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth (we don’t say, “so help you God” anymore) doesn’t have the effect one would expect on the veracity of testimony given.
  41. Lawyers aren’t necessarily good at math. We waited a moment or two for our prosecuting attorney to do mental math and figure out what 30 kilos times $20,000/kilo is.
  42. Jurors are not permitted to call out answers.
  43. It’s an extremely long way to Dallas.
  44. Restating a question five times by changing the first few words will not magically make a different answer come from the witness’s mouth. For example,
    1. “Mr. S, you were afraid of R. A., weren’t you?”
    2. “But isn’t it true, Mr. S, that when you found out E. A. and J. R. were going to set up R. A., you got scared?
    3. “But in your grand jury testimony, Mr. S, when you said, ‘Are you crazy?’, it was because you were afraid of setting up R. A., a known drug dealer, wasn’t it?”
    4. “But Mr. S, didn’t you walk out of J. R.’s apartment that night because you were afraid of R. A.?”
    5. “You were frightened of setting up a known drug dealer, weren’t you, Mr. S.?”
  45. Witnesses, even when they are self-confessed drug dealing, conspiring, scam artists, can be funny and smart-alec when they answer, “For the fifth time, dude, the answer is no.”
  46. Jurors who snort with laughter at funny, smart-alec answers made by self-confessed drug dealing, conspiring, scam artist witnesses will earn themselves a glare over the reading glasses.
  47. Jurors are not allowed to make objections, even when a question has been re-asked five times and answered the same way each and every time.
  48. Jurors from Mississippi use the phrase, “He musta been fed with a sling-shot when he was a baby,” to describe very focused, intense, no-nonsense attorneys who repeat questions five different times in an effort to wring out a “yes” from the witness.
  49. Never, ever, ever take your car to an auto repair shop that has any of the following characteristics:
    1. It is made of corrugated tin.
    2. It consists mostly of a field, a fence, and a shed.
    3. It looks like it has been repainted several times with very brightly colored paint.
    4. There aren’t many cars sitting around waiting to be fixed or cleaned, and the people running it don’t look very busy.
    5. There is a pick-up truck parked anywhere across the street with a person using binoculars sitting in it, watching.
  50. In fact, never, ever, ever take your car to be fixed anywhere besides Christian Brothers Automotive or Pep Boys, just to be on the safe side.
  51. When people get busted in a drug raid, everyone there gets busted, so don’t ever, ever, ever take your car anywhere to be fixed other than Christian Brothers Automotive or Pep Boys.
  52. It’s okay to use the f- word in a courtroom, and it won’t even earn a glare over the reading glasses.
  53. It’s sort of creepy to sit five feet away from a drug dealer and watch him get mad and start using the f-word when the defense attorney hammers away at his testimony.
  54. It’s a long way to Dallas.

Courage to Stand Out

As a writer, it’s helpful that I have a family member who edits Christian publications for a living. I have my own, personal, built-in networking machine. (Thanks, Lori!) I recently enjoyed the opportunity to share an article with the magazine, The Journal: A Resource for Ministry Spouses.

I wrote the story, Courage to Stand Out, from an event that occurred almost a year ago. Now that I’m not teaching, I miss my chances of spending time with fun teenagers. A fellow church member, Linda Nowlin, asked me to drive our church van to Cleburne, Texas, to deliver gifts. Linda volunteers with CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate), as do I. Linda has also accompanied me to Mexico with my mission team, so we’ve worked with each other on multiple occasions. (More networking!) Our youth had collected several presents to donate to children in foster care.

This story is what came to me after listening to the girls chatter on the way home. My takeaway? Never be afraid to be different. God made each of us exactly the way we are, so embrace your difference. Check it out on page 16.

https://tinyurl.com/3afsskv8