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Had a wonderfully uplifting weekend worshiping, learning and just plain goofing off with a delightful group of ladies at an international Free Methodist women’s conference.
Representatives of three cultures were there, with interpreters simultaneously speaking during my talks. That was a first for me.
One group had headset translators, with a male translator sitting in the back of the room doing his best to translate unique Debbie Coty terms like “joy-sucking dully-funks” that are sprinkled throughout my presentations. I apologized to him afterward for my girls only talk that included the three B’s: boys, boobs and babies. Thankfully, he had a robust sense of humor.
The other translator spoke aloud to her group, which created an interesting echo whenever I paused for breath. After the first twenty minutes, I got (sort of) used to focusing on what I was saying instead of standing mesmerized like a deer in headlights watching her lips fly. I’m quite sure I never got the hang of speaking slowly enough, and want to take this opportunity to express appreciation to hard-working, under-appreciated translators everywhere.
The sing-along songs were a real hoot. I almost always include one of my original funny sing-along songs in my presentations, and it was quite an experience when half of the group could’t read the lyrics (in English) and therefore couldn’t follow the gestures either. It was really hilarious watching everyone do their best to copy the hand motions of their neighbors without knowing what in the world they meant. The Haitian ladies did an especially good job ad-libbing.
But I’m telling you – there’s nothing quite like singing spirited praise songs in a room full of simultaneous languages. Everyone came together in a unity of spirit that was incredible. God must have been smiling. I know I was.
Oh. My. Stars. I’ve just had an epiphany. A revelation. A break-through in understanding my oh-so-strange self.
Early this morning I posted a funny piece about being recognized this week by a reader solely because of the crazy hat I was wearing (see my writer’s blog: www.gritfortheoyster-book.blogspot.com). I closed by asking my three readers if they thought my hats could possibly be my brand, since the buzz these days from my editor is that every writer needs a brand (something to set him/her apart from the herd).
I got some great responses but one in particular made my jaw drop, my heart pound and my wide-open eyes finally see something I haven’t been able to see for 40 years. No kidding. I felt like somebody pulled up the shades of my brain and light finally beamed into a corner that’s been dark most of my life.
Okay. Here’s what happened.
A childhood school chum, Vicki, responded to my hat question with a question of her own: “Just curious – are you the daughter that didn’t remember to brush her hair? I started carrying a brush in my purse after your mom (my teacher at the time) told our health class how important it was to keep your hair brushed. She said she had a daughter that she always had to remind of this … was it you?”
I was suddenly transported back to middle school and relived in writhing agony a memory I had apparently blocked soon after it happened. I was a gorky sixth grader at the time and was quietly slipping into Mama’s classroom to stick something – I don’t remember what – in her purse. I was tip-toeing and holding my breath, trying so hard not to draw attention to myself while she was up front teaching.
Suddenly, she stopped her hygiene lecture cold and told everyone to turn around and look at my hair as an example of “poor grooming habits.” They were 7th graders – a whole year older than me – and of course I didn’t know any of them, so I was absolutely mortified. And horror of all horrors, there were at least ten boys in that room. I ducked my head and dashed out the door just as the first giggles began to titter around the room.
Forty years later, sitting in my computer chair reliving this long-oppressed memory, my face flushed and I wanted to crawl beneath my desk. Another niggling thought made me cringe: That wasn’t Vicki’s class, so Mama must have told more than one of her classes. Gulp.
But then all of a sudden the angels began singing that full-bodied, eight-note “Ahhhh” chord that means something important just happened and the light bulb popped on in my head. THAT’s why I have a hat fetish! Now I get it! I’ve never been able to explain to my family why I keep wearing those confounded ” embarrassing” hats that my kids used to beg me to hide when their friends were around. Why I just have to buy every cute and perky hat I see. Why my closet looks like the Cat in the Hat exploded.
What an “Ah-ha” moment!
One of my deepest mysteries is now uncovered. Revealed. Divulged. And it makes me wonder how many more of my quirky behaviors result from some squirreled away childhood incident.
Righty then. Now that I’ve spilled my guts, I want to sift through some of your guts too! How about it? Are you brave enough to go there? What odd little behaviors can you trace back to your past? Maybe something you remember your grandmother doing or a comment your dad made that changed the way you look at things. C’mon, dig deep.
Don’t fret – I’ll keep thinking too. The next goofy behavior I want to understand is why I put salt on my watermelon.
By DEBORA M. COTY
Special to the Tribune
Published: January 3, 2009
Remember the scene in the movie “City Slickers,” when Billy Crystal’s character suggests to his despondent friend that, just like the “do-overs” in their childhood baseball games, maybe it’s time for a “do-over” of life itself?
Many of us, whether it’s due to life’s unexpected changes, altered employment status, or just plain discontent, find ourselves in the liver-quivering position of facing a Life Do-Over. How do we find the courage to confront and defeat all the obstacles blocking our path? To swing our bat with bases loaded and a full count?
My Life Do-Over began in a dentist’s waiting room in 2002 at the ripe age of 45. My youngest chick had just flown the coop and I was winding up simultaneous careers as an occupational therapist and piano teacher. For months, I had been groping in the darkness concerning plans for my future. As I flipped open a magazine, an ad for a writer’s contest jumped out at me. A flame suddenly ignited inside my chest.
Writing? Me? Dare I take the risk? Well, why not? It had been something I’d dreamed of doing since I was a child. As a voracious teen reader, “Christy” by Catherine Marshall had a huge impact on my life (I read it nine times and later named my daughter – can you guess? Christy!). I had always wanted to touch someone’s heart and faith the way “Christy” touched mine. Alas, life, as life tends to do, intervened and college, marriage, career and babies back-burnered my dream.
But that day in the dentist’s office, I heard the still, small voice of God whisper, “It’s time.” After embedding a few new calluses into my prayer knees, I knew in my heart of hearts that this was the direction I should take.
But there was one minor problem. I didn’t know how to write. It had been 30 years since high school English class and I didn’t know a dangling participle from a dip wad. But I told myself, “God is God. The Great Mover and Shaker. If He wills it, He fulfills it. After all, He made a sheep-herder King David and a prostitute the ancestor of the Savior of the World Rahab. I reckon He can create a writer from thin air if He wants to.”
So I studied every “how to” I could get my hands on and gave myself a crash course in grammar, style and punctuation. I didn’t win the writing contest. Nope, I didn’t even place. But instead of being extinguished, the flame within only burned brighter. I would just have to work harder.
I found an experienced writing mentor (a friend of a friend) in the inspirational magazine genre and we met for lattes at a coffee shop monthly to share writer’s guidelines, leads and writing tips. My shoebox of rejections overflowed but I kept writing. It was because of her patient guidance that I was blessed with 10 published articles that first year and now have more than 80 articles appearing in magazines, newspapers, anthologies and trade journals.
Using Humor To Talk About Faith
During the next five years, two inspirational historical novels followed, based on the adventurous true story of a young girl’s incredible journey of faith on remote, untamed Merritt Island in 1904: “The Distant Shore”, which jumped to No. 2 on the VRPublishing best-seller list within four months of its 2007 release, and the sequel, “Billowing Sails” (released Dec. 8). Barbour Books contracted me to contribute chapters to four devotionals and “Heavenly Humor for the Women’s Soul”, a compilation of short stories by inspirational humorists such as Women of Faith veterans Patsy Clairmont and Anita Renfroe.
People often ask me what I write about and how I get my ideas. The answer is simple, really. I’ve been blessed with a wacky sense of humor and a burning desire to share with others that faith is a living, breathing, 24/7 relationship with our Creator who wants to communicate with us by walking, talking and scraping peanut butter out of the carpet right alongside us. Our Father has an amazing sense of humor! Humor is God’s catalyst for releasing joy into our souls! And He wants us to be filled with His joy, not weighted down by the joy-sucking dully-funks. This theme infuses my upcoming Mother’s Day release, “Mom Needs Chocolate: Hugs, Humor and Hope for Surviving Motherhood”, (Regal, March 2009).
“Mom Needs Chocolate” is the story of my life couched in humor; faith lived out in real life. I’ve had my share of disasters, disappointments and depression, which I share candidly in the book. That includes jobs that didn’t materialize, financial losses, family deaths, prolonged illness and a two-year depression related to six devastating miscarriages. But through God’s grace, like the psalmist, I’ve learned, “Oh, the joys of those who put their trust in Him!” (Psalm 2:12).
What’s Next? I Don’t Know
New doors continue to open in my Debbie Do-Over adventure. One has led to conducting writers workshops to help others take that first step and persevere through their own writing journeys. I co-wrote “Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers” as a powerful motivator offering wit, wisdom and pithy practical guidance from scores of successful writers.
Next up? I don’t really know. But that’s part of the fun! I do know that in 2009, I’ll be teaching workshops at two state writers conferences and one locally in November (with the Hillsborough Inspirational Writers Workshop). I’ll also be leading free writers mini-workshops at bookstores and public libraries across Tampa and am excited that my inspirational speaking invitations are exploding. I’m currently scheduling Choc-Out (chocolate) parties in conjunction with the release of “Mom Needs Chocolate” and look forward to meeting lots of new friends this year.
So what about you? Are you or is someone you love facing a Life Do-Over in 2009? My advice is to create new creases in your prayer knees, target the occupation to which God leads you, do your homework and embrace the opportunity. Now take a deep breath, step up to the plate and knock a grand slam!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Debora Coty, a tennis addict and devoted mother of two, lives and laughs in Seffner with her husband, Chuck, and desperately wicked pooch, Fenway. Her books are available through Amazon.com, Target.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and many bookstores (signed copies available via her Web site). Visit www.DeboraCoty.com to sign up for her free newsletter, schedule speaking events, learn about writing workshops and book releases, or just swap howdy’s.
Faith Matters is an occasional series that runs on the Faith & Values page. Essays may be send for consideration via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: Michelle Bearden, ATTN: Faith Matters, Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St. Tampa 33606.
Debora Coty is an Occupational Therapist (B.S. From the University of Florida), a piano teacher, and a freelance writer. She’s also involved in the children’s ministry at her church (Bay Life Church) and is an avid tennis player.
One of her favorite books is Christy by Catherine Marshall. She read it nine times as a teenager and named her daughter after the title character.
Debora grew up in Starke, a small north Florida town where Florida State Prison resides.
Her father, Frank, and mother, Adele, made a career in the educational system. They brought up their two daughters under the guidance of the Lord and at a young age both Debora and her sister, Cindy, accepted Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord. As it turns out that simple yet heart-filled decision would flavor every aspect of her life.
Debora’s husband, Chuck, is involved in financial planning and is responsible for keeping this website up and running. So sqawk at Chuck if this site becomes out of date.
Her children Matthew and Cricket, have been a joy to raise. Matthew completed the MBA program at UCF and is currently employed at SunTrust Bank in Orlando. Cricket’s a Massage Therapist (LMT) and an Occupational Therapist (OTA) following in her Mom’s footsteps.
Debora began writing to fill the void when Cricket left for college. Writing has become a passion and that can be attested by the many hours she spends each week hammering away on her desktop or laptop keyboard. Matter of fact, her first historical novel, The Distant Shore, was released August 30, 2007 and within three months had climbed to the top of the VRPublishing best-seller list!
Debora has a real knack for getting across sound biblical concepts with a refreshing lightheartedness as attested in her monthly newspaper column entitled Grace Notes: God’s Grace for Everyday Living.
From Deb to you:
2008 was my Debbie Do-Over year. One morning I woke up and realized that if I lived to be 100, I truly was middle-aged and it was time to either do something about my appearance or quit grousing about it.
So I got Invisiline braces to harness my unicorn tooth and lost 40 lbs through Weight Watchers. Going from size 14 to size 2 was a real trip and I learned some interesting things along the way. Like it’s hard to find petite clothes that aren’t cut down to your navel and up to your eyeballs. All the crazy details are chronicled in my book, Too Blessed to Be Stressed.
And if you don’t feel precious to God when you’re large, you won’t when you’re small. How utterly wonderful that Papa God equally loves the chrysanthemum and the buttercup!
Getting to know Debora better…
Special thanks to Suzanne Woods Fisher for this interview found at http://suzannewoodsfisher.blogspot.com/
Debora Coty, an internationally published columnist and sought after speaker (Deb is a gifted humorist), entered the publishing world at mid-life. With a bang!
Q: Debora, you have written that you consider yourself a “late bloomer” as a writer. What do you mean by that?
A: The fertilizer didn’t kick in for a few decades.
I didn’t start writing until my youngest chick flew the coop; I was 45 and winding up a 25-year career as an occupational therapist and 20-year stint as a piano teacher. Not exactly recommended training for a writing career.
Q: How did you get started as a writer? Did you have specific goals in mind?
A: I was an avid reader growing up and always dreamed of writing an inspirational young adult novel like Christy by Catherine Marshall (I devoured it nine times as a teen). Christy had a huge impact on my life (The escaped hatchling referred to above is named…can you guess?…Christy!). I wanted to touch someone else’s heart and faith the way Christy touched mine. I recently ran across a list of “Five Things I Want to Do Before I Die” I’d written as an idealistic 16-year-old. Number three was “Write a book.” (Number four was “Jump out of an airplane” but I’m waiting until I’m 80 for that one.)
Alas, life, as life tends to do, intervened and college, marriage, career, and babies waylaid my plans. Then one day in the dentist’s office, I saw a magazine ad for a writing contest and God said, “It’s time.”
I think every writer needs goals. My original goals were to write two books (one fiction, one non-fiction) and publish one hundred articles within ten years. It’s been four years now and I’ve had over sixty articles published and have completed three books, so I’ve revised my first decade goals to two hundred articles and eight books. And a partridge in a pear tree.
Q: Do you feel that you have one genre that best suits you? Or have you tried other genres?
A: Um, yes and yes. My first book, a young adult inspirational novel, The Distant Shore, will be released this August by Vintage. My second book is a humorous inspirational women’s book, Smiles to Go Before I Sleep: Hugs, Humor, and Hope for Harried Moms.(My agent is pitching it to publishers as we speak.) My magazine and anthology articles started out as first person anecdotal accounts of God’s amazing grace notes in my life (grace notes are a musical device that aren’t essential to the melody, but add beauty, depth, and dimension for enrichment). When I took on a monthly humorous newspaper column, my writing took a definite turn toward the wild and wacky. I enjoy writing fiction but I believe my divine calling is creative humorous non-fiction (yes, non-fiction can and should be creative!).
Q: How easy (or how difficult) was it for you to get published?
A: Well, remember my brain was atrophied and menopausally unbalanced when I started! I wasn’t sure where to begin! I studied every “how to” I could get my hands on and gave myself a crash course in grammar, style, and punctuation. I hadn’t had English since high school and didn’t know a dangling participle from a dipwad. I thought those three little dots were called eclipses…
I also found an experienced writing mentor (a friend of a friend of a friend) in the inspirational magazine genre and we met for latte’s at a coffee shop monthly to share writer’s guidelines, leads, and tips. It was because of Austine’s patient guidance on how to appear less amateurish and more polished that I was blessed with ten published articles that first year. I eventually became more of a peer than a ment-ee and reciprocated by editing Austine’s work.
Austine even wrote an article about us called, “Why You Need a Writer Buddy” that appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Writers’ Journal.
Q: What aspect of God do you hope readers take away after reading your articles and books?
A: My entire focus and reason for writing is to share the everyday miracles my heavenly father has performed in my life and to plant and water seeds of hope in the lives of other struggling believers who feel stuck in the muck of everyday stress. Even with mud between our toes, we can live that abundant life Christ promised in John 10:10 and come out the other end of the motherhood tunnel smiling!
Q: What do you most love about the writing life?
A: The terrific hours and outstanding pay. And the fact that nobody can look you in the eyes through your computer monitor and tell you’re lying through your teeth. Plus you can write with greasy hair and bad breath and your computer is never offended.
Q: What do you least love about the writing life?
A: The terrific hours and outstanding pay. It’s now 2 a.m. and I have two dollars in my wallet for lunch tomorrow. Does that tell you anything?
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A: Stop! Stop right now! Stop limiting your potential by fear (Go on! Submit that piece!), low expectations (If God gave you the assignment to write, He will use your abilities to His glory beyond anything you can imagine), or lack of energy (“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak,” Isaiah 40:29).
Learn to view rejection simply as an occupational hazard. Persevere through all those rejection slips like jockeys deal with horse-poo. Step over the piles, wipe the nasty off your boots, and keep moving forward.
Thank you so much for having me, Suzanne – I’m a big fan of yours!