Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Critiquing - Critical Praise

The subject of critiquing was the topic of discussion this morning in our house. Our daughter, a talented artist, told us of a friend who criticizes her work making her think he doesn't like her as an artist. After, I realized that while professors and teaches have students critique one another, the students aren't always taught HOW to critique. Many of them think that you only improve by knowing what doesn't work so you can focus on making that better next time. That's really only half the story!

Everyone loves praise. We want people to tell us we are amazing artists, photographers, writers, whatever. But we don't actually improve in any of these talents when given praise alone. We all need constructive criticism to grow. Remember, constructive not destructive! Most teachers/professors will instruct their students on the difference. What they fail to teach is that all the helpful, constructive criticism in the world will fall on deaf ears if that is all that is given. Lead with praise and the criticism will be soaked up like a dry sponge in a sink full of warm water.
meme courtesy of Kami Dempsey http://www.kamidempsey.com/1454-2/
I'll use one of my photographs as an example. It's not particularly award-winning in quality, kind of average in my opinion. Which makes it perfect for this exercise! If I were to critique this photo for someone else, I might start off with saying, "I love all the orange of these pumpkins. The range of colors in each one meld together to fairly shout out Halloween! or Fall!" 

See, that's a nice compliment, isn't it? Especially since my goal in taking the photo was to project a sense of the season. But there are plenty of technical issues with this picture. Now is the time for the critique to point out those areas. First thing someone might comment on is the angle - it's not straight. Some may like that. It's also a little too bright - here's where the other important thing about critiquing comes in. Yes, point out the exposure inaccuracy but then the critiquer should make a suggestion to correct the issue. Depending on the level of expertise and the skill of the critiquer, the suggestion could be "make it darker next time" or "be sure to shoot with the sun behind you." A skilled photographer would suggest different film and/or shutter speeds. Someone good with editing might suggest how to correct the photograph itself, rather than how to avoid the problem going forward.

Although the criticism will vary by each individual, as will the suggestions for improvement, if each one starts off with a positive note, a word of praise, the one receiving the criticism will be more likely to see the comments as helpful and therefore put some of the suggestions into practice.    

Saturday, November 21, 2015

God Isn't a Magician

God isn't a magician. But He is the Creator of All, capable of doing whatever He wants. Whether or not we think it's possible. And whether or not you think it's selfish to ask. God wants a personal relationship with each of us. He already knows what's on your mind - so just say it already!

I just read a Facebook post in which a grandmother tells a story about her grandson saying Grace before eating at a restaurant. He includes a request for ice cream. Another diner whispers a loud criticism, saying kids these days don't know how to pray properly. The story ends with the grandson giving his ice cream to that nasty diner. It's a good story but I want to expand upon it.

Child At Prayer, Eastman Johnson, circa 1873

We're told that we should "give it all to God" and rely solely on the Lord for our needs. How do you do that? I know how I do but it's taken me a long time to get here and I've got a long ways to go yet. When we tell children not to say "selfish" prayers, what we're really saying is that God doesn't care what you want. We're teaching children to withhold the desires of their hearts. And that is NOT what the Lord wants!

Several years ago, our dog Sasha ran off at the tail-end of a very severe thunderstorm. The storm knocked out our power and we'd just found out it spawned a tornado that tore through the center of the state, from Springfield to Charlton, MA. Scary stuff, especially for a 5 year old who's beloved pet has now run off into the still stormy night. My husband and I drove around looking for Sasha but it was too dark and we were running out of gas. I went home and told my kids the best thing to do now was pray.

Two hours later, Sasha returned. Unhurt but filthy, and she's never gone off that long ever since. I think perhaps she scared herself. When we had her back safely inside, my 5 year old son told me, "I prayed that God would bring Sasha home and He did!" I believe that is the moment that he truly accepted and believed that God cares, even about little boys and wandering dogs.

The next day I told a friend this story and the response was, "God isn't a magician, you know." I was very disappointed by this response. Here was someone who's faith I respect telling me, in essence, that it was wrong for my son to pray for God to save our dog. WHAT?? So why do we pray for sick people? Why do we pray when disaster strikes? I had a hard time holding back my anger, though I'm glad I did because friendship is important and sometimes even smart friends don't say things quite the way they meant.

When children pray for things like "please let Nana buy us ice cream" or "please bring my dog home safe" what they are really doing is giving all their hearts' desires to the Lord. They are Giving it to God. Isn't that what we're supposed to do? When you were five, did you ever ask Santa for you to grow up to have a well-paid job and a nice house? No! You asked for toys. When you were in college, that's when you dreamed of the great job and nice house. Well, that's how faith and prayer works, too. 

Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer
You start off in the childhood stage, no matter what age you are when you first come to Christ. In the beginning, your prayers sound a bit selfish: "please let work go well today," "please help me not be nasty to that jerk in accounting," "please let me get a pay raise." You sprinkle in some good stuff, too, because they tell you that's how it's done: "please heal Mr. Smith," "please let the mission fund get lots of donations," "please be with the people who were in that natural disaster." 

After a bit, maybe a few weeks maybe a few years, just depends on the individual, your prayers start to change. Your faith grows stronger. No, you don't get everything you prayed for in the past but you start to see how what you want isn't always what's best, for you or others. If you're a parent, you can compare raising a child to growing your faith. Your kids may beg and plead for more candy but you know too much isn't a good thing. God knows this kind of stuff about us, too. As your faith matures, you start asking things like, "Lord, please let me have a good day but most of all, please help me do what you want." We pray to be able to accept and follow the Lord's will. 

That kind of faith doesn't come with accepting Jesus as your Savior. Faith, as is often stated, is like a seed. It gets planted and then needs to be nourished. John 15:2 states, "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Our prayers begin one way, our faith grows and the Lord prunes, and our prayers mature. But we'll always have more growing to do!

God is not a magician but sometimes prayer can work in ways our feeble little minds consider magical!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Deleted Scenes...

Movies have bloopers. Sometimes they'll leak a scene that was cut. Well, novels have lots of deleted scenes. An author writes the first draft and then tweaks what works, slices what doesn't. But these manuscripts are like our babies - actually "deleting" what we wrote is painful. So the scenes tend to get tucked into a file and often never read again. 

Today, I'm offering up a deleted scene from SHE'S MINE. If you've read the book, you will find vague referencing to the Memorial Day parade. In the first drafts, there was actually a chapter with Sean and Caitlin interacting at the parade; Caitlin even rides in one of the fire trucks with Sean in the parade. It just didn't advance the plot enough and I was able to put the little bit of pertinent details in subsequent chapters (where they actually worked better). Still, I liked the scene. Here is a portion of it, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

“Janelle has arranged for you to ride in another truck so you can have a front seat view of the parade.”
She looked over his shoulder, realizing why Sean had joined the group. Sitting in the front would be more fun than being squeezed between two rambunctious six-year-old boys. Janelle grinned. Caitlin narrowed her eyes and tried to telepathically communicate I know what you’re doing, to her best friend. Sliding her gaze back to Scott, she nodded.
He opened the door and jumped down. She faced the truck and climbed carefully. The feel of hands suddenly on her hips surprised her. A quick glance showed Sean guiding her. He dropped his hands as her feet hit the ground.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to get touchy-feely there. Just didn’t want you to fall.”
“I have a pretty good sense of balance.” Not wanting a repeat of the other day she added, “Thank you for being considerate.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Thanks for giving me the benefit of doubt. Truck’s over this way.”
Long, quick strides carried him across the parking lot. She stared at his departing form. He moved with confidence. The dark blue pants and white shirt of the fire department uniform looked good on him. Wavy blond curls edged over his collar. Her mouth went dry. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
He stopped beside a red F350 Super Duty. She hurried to catch up. When he turned to look at her, she was struck by the contradictions in his face. Broad with angular planes, his expression could be hard and a bit intimidating. Harbor blue eyes might’ve been chilly. Instead he smiled and his face became round, cheerful, almost boyish.
“This is the forestry truck.” Sean spoke with pride.
“It’s like your truck, only red.”
“And a bit bigger.” He smiled. “This one holds over two hundred gallons of water, plus she’s got a pump that’ll send out five hundred gallons per minute. That is the hose reel.” He pointed as he spoke. “There’s a generator onboard, four 15 amp outlets, two telescoping lights and rear scene lights.”
Caitlin stared at the truck, awed by its implied capabilities. She pointed to the built out front bumper. “Do I even want to know about that?”
“No.” His smiled dimmed, as if recalling unpleasant memories. “That one is a Briggs and Stratton power unit. The others are called Hurst tools. Ask Scott if you want to know more. I’d rather not get into a discussion about car accidents.”
“Okay with me.” She let a smile claim her lips. Sean was pleasant to talk to when she wasn’t being rude. “I’m not much into blood and guts.”
“We’ll get along fine, then.” Pronounced dimples appeared as his grin returned.
Caitlin held her smile, trying to hide her nervousness. In jeans and t-shirt at the farm, Sean had a down-to-earth, regular guy kind of look. Today, in uniform, he looked like a rough-edged gentleman. Both were attractive and that worried her.
Adam always behaved like a perfect gentleman. Dressing smartly, his black hair cut short and combed straight and neat. Yet Adam had played a role, luring her into a trap. And she hadn’t known until it was too late. Then he’d revealed his true self: a manipulating, conniving narcissist. What proof was there that Sean was who he seemed to be?
He’d been talking and she hadn’t heard a word. Now he held the door, gesturing for her to get into the truck.
“Sorry, got lost in thought for a moment.”
“Having second thoughts about riding with me?”
If you haven't read SHE'S MINE yet, grab a copy for your Kindle at http://amzn.to/1MHwhp1 It's only $4.99 - - or FREE with Kindle Unlimited