Making lemonade from spam

I was warned when I launched this blog that I would receive a lot of spam.

“Really?” I asked Robin, my intrepid guide to all things bloggy.

“Yes,” she said. “A lot.”

O.K., I thought, and left it at that, clueless as to exactly what “a lot of spam” entailed. Or even as to what “spam” outside a can looked like. Or, for that matter, why anyone would bother to post a message to my blog that didn’t have any relevance.

Thus, The Education of Jane Wells began.

Turns out people manipulate the popularity of their internet web site by having their link published on other websites. The more links they can get published the more likely their site is to come up at the top of an internet search. Hence the spam post to blogs like mine. Typically the people who resort to such underhanded manipulations are working in the interest of underhanded and manipulative sites of questionable content. I refuse to play along. However, in the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, I’m going to share some of the best spam posts, grammatical errors and all, with you.

This example arrived today. Use an imaginary Russian accent (Picture that bearded man, “Peggy”, from the credit card commercials) when you read it for the best effect.

“Hi this is amazing site! really perfect and it will be a new inspirations for me” wrote Eugene Knust on behalf of Sun Country Airlines. Sun Country Airlines is a legitimate airline based in Minnesota – but the website “Eugene” supplies is a .org site with a bunch of bogus articles. The genuine Sun Country site ends in .com and provides links a traveler might actually be interested in.

“that’s a damn good checklist! any chance you could make it into a pdf for us all?” No. No chance at all. Especially since I didn’t put a checklist in Eclipse and Why Jasper is My Favorite.

“Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well chuffed. The more I read articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there might be a future for the Net. Keep it up, as it were.” I wonder if Felice Kinning knows a Pakistani who’s watched too many British sit-coms is using her gmail account?

“Comfortabl y, the article is in reality the greatest on this noteworthy topic. I concur with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your upcoming updates. Saying thanks will not just be enough, for the extraordinary lucidity in your writing. I will immediately grab your rss feed to stay privy of any updates. Genuine work and much success in your business efforts!” This has been posted twice, word for word, typo for typo, to my account by Scarlett Fickert and Shanel Martz on behalf of two separate websites. Someone, I’m thinking, takes full advantage of their cut and paste function, yet, somehow, overlooks spell check entirely.

“These photos are absolutely beautiful. The same results just can’t be duplicated using Photoshop on a digital photo.” Ummm, thanks. But if we were looking for absolute beauty I think most of us in the group shot with the cardboard Edward would volunteer for a little Photoshopping.

These three identical posts really had me scratching my head, “Great post Jeff. Can’t be more excited to see where you guys end up another 12 months from now.” Jeff? How did Latashia, Darnell and Antoinette come up with that?

The take-away lesson for me is this: don’t use gmail. Every spam comment has been posted from a gmail account, which I assume has been hijacked. And if you do, change your password often. Otherwise I may soon be posting something unintentionally amusing with your name on it too.

Alone Versus Lonely

I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. As early as Junior High I began filling journals with observations, thoughts and feelings – not just the standard date, weather and what my mom served for dinner. I remember sitting on a swing under a tree writing a short story about owning a unicorn – just because I wanted to, never intending for anyone to see it. I was alone with my words and I was happy with that.

Now, 30-some years on, alone-ness is a rare and precious commodity. As a stay-at-home mom, I haven’t been alone for any stretch of time for eight years. Now my youngest is in preschool three mornings a week, and those six hours are golden. I treasure them. I hoard them. I make lists of the things to invest these perishable and irreplaceable hours into. At the top of that list is never laundry. Or dishes. Or sweeping the floor. Those things can be done when the boys are running through the house – just as they have been for the  past near decade. Instead, I write. I read about writing. I market what I’ve written. And I dream about what to write next.

What I am not during those beautiful golden hours is lonely.

No, I have the company of thoughts I haven’t heard clearly for eight years. I analyze my fears for validity. I root my dreams in reality and map the steps to achieving them. I review memories of small sweet victories and painful dramatic losses that clamor for a purpose outside of my head. A proverb I’ve heard all my life motivates me – and for once it’s not from the Bible. (Apparently it’s Swedish.) “Sorrow shared is sorrow divided, joy shared is joy multiplied.” So, with the promise from my creative God that nothing I lay on his altar of service will ever go to waste, I mine the depths of my mind, imagination and memory and give it all to Him.

So, to bring you joy, I share what makes me joyful. And to ease your sorrow, I will show you I am bearing that burden with you. And above all, I write to show that even when alone none of us ever needs to feel lonely.

(This post was inspired by the fantastic and helpful Rachelle Gardner, who has no idea who I am, but lets me read her blog posts anyway!)

God Whistles

I can whistle. And not just a pleasant little tune, though I can do that too, but an ear-drum piercing wolf whistle that turns heads and stops traffic. And I can do it without putting my fingers in my mouth.

Yeah, it’s a gift.

Quite useful too. Several years ago I was chaperoning a youth group on a trip to Toronto, Canada. A handful of the kids were a few yards ahead of me deep in conversation and nearly walked right past our destination until I whistled. Their response was nearly Pavlovian. As one their heads popped up, they stopped mid-stride and turned around. I nearly fell on the ground laughing and they talked about that moment for the rest of the weekend.

But I’d never really considered being able to whistle across three counties as something Divine until I stumbled across this verse in Isaiah. The setting is a divided Israel at war with itself. Each half of the nation had made alliances with neighboring pagan nations – which didn’t please God at all. So he sends a message to King Ahaz of Judah, a decendant of King David and ruler of Judah, the southern half of the nation David had fought so hard to unify.

“In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes.” Isaiah 7:18-19

Whether literally or figuratively as representative of enemy nations – the thought of God whistling, pointing at a disobedient nation, and saying “sic ’em” is a startling image. God whistles and a plague descends.

And yet, God’s anger at the betrayal his people have shown yet again is tempered with mercy. In the paragraph just above, verse 14, is one of the most famous prophesies of the Old Testament. “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign; The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel.”

See that? In the midst of their worst behavior God didn’t say, “knock it off or I’ll tell Santa.” He said something more like, “the consequences of your actions are going to be miserable, and I’m not going to step in this time. But soon you will receive the most precious gift ever – the ability to walk away from your sins and walk with me as children.”

When we turn to Matthew 1 we see how the generations of the Old Testament piled up, son after son after son, from Abraham, to David, through Ahaz to Jesus – and we see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy in a way even Isaiah probably couldn’t even imagine.

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:’The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.'” Matthew 1:22-23.

So this week, as we wind down (or ramp up) to Christmas, is it the buzzing of the flies and bees you hear? Or, is there something else hidden in the white noise that surrounds us? In the midst of your chaos a promise is given. Christ is born, he has died and lives again. He stands at your door and knocks, open the door and welcome him into your heart today.

Zombie Puss Green

Dear Agents, Editors, Media Contacts, and other employment offering individuals,

Please, don’t call me this week.

It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you, because really I do. I desperately want to tell you about my writing projects. I want to sell you on my engaging wit and my clever turn of a phrase and my unique voice – but therein lies the problem. As of approximately 6:00 last evening I am without voice. Avox. I am the Silent One.

Due to a rampant sinus infection, the best I can do is a sad little wheeze. If I want to get the attention of my boys I have to snap my fingers or clap my hands to first get them to look at me, whisper and pantomime my command (because we don’t “converse” when one of us can’t speak), then afix them with the Glare of Doom until they stop whining and go do what they’ve been told. It’s surprisingly effective. (Of course the Glare of Doom is a patented product only available to mothers and mean teachers, so you may be out of luck there.)

The worst part is not the inability to speak, though. It is the other sinus infection product, the stuff that has coated my throat and caused my vocal chords to seize up. Big, lovely, juicy chunks and blobs of zombie puss green mucus that I’ve been coughing up and blowing out of my nose. Blech! How do I know it’s zombie puss green? Because Cherie Priest explained zombie puss in great detail in Dreadnought, which I finished reading last night. It’s green, it gets crusty when it oozes to the surface and it stinks.

So this is fair warning to you all: keep your fingers away from my mouth.

And call me next week. I’m writing a biography on my life as a zombie and I think it’s going to be a best seller.

Sincerely Yours,

Jane Wells

On the road to “Thrival”

 I had stumbled down the stairs already defeated, even before my first cup of coffee. Not my favorite way to start the day. But with the strains of  “On The Road To Beautiful” by Charlie Hall echoing in my head, I knew it was too early in the week to roll over and play dead, so I pulled out the best weapon in my arsenal. Tucked inside the front cover of my Bible is a two page sheet of God’s promises. These daily affirmations are not the tearful and tentative Stuart Smalley “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me” schmaltz, but rock-solid promises from God. Each promise is a paraphrase of scripture, with the reference to back it up. So if I’m feeling doubtful that I’m created in the image of God I can look it up and read it for myself.

As I read the promises out loud to the dozing dogs, each was like soothing ointment to my chaffed and tender soul. But toward the end the declaration “I expect the best day of my life today, in the name of Jesus” felt like an electric jolt. It resonated with Sunday’s sermon when Pastor Randy talked about a place called Thrival.

You won’t find Thrival on any map of the physical world, because it is a spiritual destination. Thrival is that place where we have submitted ourselves so fully to God’s will that in His will we are thriving in ways we had never previously imagined. It is the kingdom of God come to reality in our lives. It is the place our soul hungers for when we sing “On the Road to Beautiful”.

As Christians we walk around much of the time in ‘fight or flight’ mode. We feel we must fight for survival against popular culture, against economic forces and even sometimes against our very own families– but that’s not what God called us to. We are to be “Christ-like”. Revolutionary. Sure of ourselves and our callings. Absolutely confident in our Father, following through even when we don’t want to do what He’s set before us.

We are designed to be agents of change in the ocean, not flotsam at the whims of the waves.

Pastor used Psalm 30 for his text Sunday. And it is a really interesting study on how to put life into perspective. David, who wrote this psalm, must have had a broad dramatic streak, because he’s not afraid to use a little hyperbole now and then. To paraphrase verse 9, for example, “You might as well save my life, God, because I’m no use to you dead!” he says as he recaps the hard times he went through. But while he does mention the crap he’s had to deal with, David does not dwell on it. He remembers the past only as a springboard into praise for how far God has brought him since then.

In other places, such as Psalm 43, David cries to God from the midst of an impossible situation. He says, “I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Even in the worst of situations David realizes it could be worse yet, he could be there without his faithful God.

I’m not saying my life is tough. In fact on a global scale I am one of the wealthiest people in the world. But sometimes I stress over our family finances, and I worry whether what I write will make a difference in the world – and I need to be reminded that neither is a God-designed reaction to life. My road to Thrival is paved by faith and praise, and when the going gets tough those two reactions are what I need to practice – and then I will find the strength God gives to his faithful – and his definition of prosperity is sure to follow.

In Memorium – Cricket was a good cat…

The Muses

Monkey and Cricket indicate their approval

I never intended to launch this blog with an obituary. I suppose very few people would. However, given the influence this particular life had on my writing career, this seems appropriate.

Cricket the cat, after all, inspired a whole chapter of Glitter in the Sun.

Those who have read Glitter in the Sun will recognize the cat who reminded me of heaven on a daily basis by sitting in my lap and simpy purring. He taught me how very simple it is to praise God, all it takes is some time. Time to sit and remember how much God does for me and to show God my enjoyment of his grace.

That’s what Cricket did every morning. I would let him in from night of hunting or exploring or whatever it was he did while I slept. He would eat and I would gather up my Bible, journal, pen and devotional, then we would sit together on the couch. His obvious bliss and rumbling purr, which is all I ever wanted from him, would remind me that my praise brings joy to God’s heart too, and that my obedience is a very small thing compared to all He’s done and is doing for me. Cricket would enjoy the peace and warmth of my lap and I would enjoy the peace and wisdom of God.

The past two mornings have been sad for me because just a few days ago, as I returned from taking my 2nd grader to school, I found Cricket on the street, the victim of a speeding car. The friend walking with me kept my 4-year-old occupied while I picked up the little broken body and moved it to the back yard – but he figured it out anyway. We had a funeral for him that afternoon so both boys could say goodby.

It’s amazing how much personality those furry little bodies can contain. Cricket took up a lot of space when he entered the room. He was sassy with the dogs and sweet with the boys, and to my endless amusement he would force his way onto my cat-despising husband’s lap – until I came into the room, then my lap was the only one that would do.

But life goes on. Monkey, Cricket’s brother, is glad for the attention he doesn’t have to share. But unlike Cricket – who claimed me as his favorite person, Monkey prefers my 4-year-old, and will completely cover his little legs if the boy is sits still for more than three minutes at a stretch.

Monkey did join me yesterday on the couch during my morning devotions and it was sweet, but I still cried for the cat I miss. And I wonder, if in heaven the lion lays down with the lamb, will a white cat with tiger stripped blotches curl up with a songbird at his side?