My Dad (not bad for a sixth grade grad)

At my cousin’s graduation party, we were asked to wear alumni t-shirts.  There were ones from Ohio State.  IU.  University of Chicago.  My dad proudly wore one that said,  Jabez Elementary, Sixth-Grade Grad, Class of 1951.  We told him he should wear it to the Roberts family reunion.  He declined, saying “They’ll think I’m putting on airs.”

The truth is my Dad is quite intelligent.  When he was 16, his father Joe Etsy set him down and said,  “You can quit school now and become a real man.  Earn money for the family.  Pay your way.”

Out of spite, mostly, Dad stayed in school and earned his high school diploma – all the while being the primary family wage earner working at a nursing home.

Dad went in the military and was stationed in Germany.  He has fond memories of seeing the European countryside and meeting new people.  He’ll even tell you he learned to speak German and then share his vocabulary – “Eins bier.  Zwei bier.  Drei bier.”

Dad got out of the service on a Saturday and went to work on a Monday at Cummins where he worked for 32 years, starting out on the burr bench and worked his way up to scheduler, the best paid office hourly worker for the company.

Dad worked to earn a living, but he didn’t live to work.  When he was off, he was off.  One of his passions was getting involved in my sports.   Though he knew nothing about baseball, he accepted a position as assistant coach and statistician on my little league team, the Nineveh Cubs.

Dad had his own way of scoring.  Anytime you didn’t strike out, he counted it as a hit.  I batted over .850 my rookie season.

I once calculated I played in 128 games in my basketball career and Dad attended a total of 127.  He missed one because he was in the hospital after suffering a motorcycle wreck on his way to the game.

Dad wanted me to gain a good college education, but he wasn’t able to save much money to invest in it.  That didn’t stop him from contributing.  After I received a scholarship from Cummins worth thousands of dollars, Dad calculated the exact number of overtime hours to earn it and he worked off the clock, sometimes going in at 3 a.m..

Dad was no saint, though.  For years, he drank and smoked about as hard as he worked.  It took its toll as he developed host of other health problems.  Yet, his strong will has allowed him to make necessary changes.  When he was diagnosed with emphysema, he quit smoking.  When he was diagnosed with diabetes, he quit drinking.  Just quit.  Cold turkey.  And hasn’t looked back.

Now Dad lives modestly in our family home where he watches the hummingbirds out the window, rides his four wheeler through the woods, and roots Tony Stewart on to victory each week.

He’s done pretty well for a self-described “dumb old Kentuckian with a sixth-grade education.”

Dad says when he dies, he’d like to be buried on a hillside near a highway and have one of those smiley-faced waving hands on his tombstone that reads,

“I’m dead, but have a nice day.”

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“Hear no evil (Dad).  See no evil (Me).  Speak no evil (Uncle Larry).”

To My Niece E.: A Literary Investment (the gift that keeps on giving)

I gave my niece E. a kindle reader today and told her it wasn’t just a gift, it was an investment – a gift that keeps on giving.  Then I told her this story.

Abraham Lincoln by Norman Rockwell


It all begins with Abe Lincoln.  You’ve heard of Abe Lincoln, right? (she nodded her head, “Yes.”)  Well, Abe Lincoln lived out in the deep woods of Kentucky and Indiana and couldn’t go to school like you or me.  But he still wanted to learn.  So he read books.  Mostly, he read the Bible, but he also read just about any good books he could get his hands on.

My wife Alice and I were married in the village of Boonville, Indiana – where Abe Lincoln had studied the law.  He didn’t go to school to become a lawyer.  Instead, he walked many miles up and down hills to get to a library where he could read law books.  He read so much and studied so hard, he was able to pass the test to become a lawyer and became a very good one.  Later, as you know, he even became President – maybe the best President our country has ever had.

Now, my story jumps forward over 100 years – to the early 1970s, when I was about your age.  Your great-great grandmother Bessie (Grandpa Veston’s mother) gave me a book about Abe Lincoln and I started reading with great interest.  I developed of passion for reading.  Grandpa Veston, Granny, and later Grandma Connie and Papaw Dan would buy me books to read – books about many different subjects.  I was able to learn a lot about God’s world and go to college, and even to graduate school to become a pastor.

Not only did reading books help me learn more about God’s world, but they became like friends for me.  In stories I read, I met people who faced hard times like I did (some much worse than I did).  I didn’t feel so much alone.  I learned more about how difficult the world can be and yet how God is still good and we can make the best of a bad situation.

When I had my own children, one of things I dearly loved to do was to read books to them or get books for them to read.  Back then, I would travel to three different libraries to get enough books to keep up with them, they read so much.  (Only I could drive a car and didn’t have to walk, like Abe Lincoln.)

Today, things are very different.  This Kindle I’m going to give you is like having about a million books at your finger tips.  (She smiled.)  Have you heard of Kindles?  (She nodded her head yes.) 

As I said, this is an investment.  Who knows?  Maybe one day you’ll grow up to be President, like Abe Lincoln.  And if you do, perhaps you could name me “Poet Laureate”  and give me an office with a leather chair, desk and computer and I could spend all day just coming up with words that make beautiful sense.

But, whatever God has in store for you, this is a good investment.  I believe you will make the most of it to make your life and the lives of those around you better.

image “Abraham Lincoln by Norman Rockwell”  Keith Hill in “These are the times that try men’s souls.” ― Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

Nomination #3 (will it be assassination or failed revolution?)


I have been nominated for this “Very Inspiring Blogger Award” by Veronica of charlottesville winter.  I accept this award with much fear and trepidation.  It is my third blogging award, so it puts me right up there with “Lincoln” and “Les Miserables” – and look what happened to them.  Assassination.  And a failed revolution.  Nonetheless, I accept (both this award and my fate).

The conditions for acceptance are –

1. Display the award logo (see above)

2. Link back to the person who nominated you (also see above)

3. State 7 things about yourself (see below)

4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them (see further below)

As for 7 things about myself, I thought it would be good since this is about being inspiring and my blog is about writing if I were to mention 7 persons who have inspired me to write.  (There have been and continue to be many more, but I’ll limit myself now to 7).

1.  Larry Roberts.  Growing up, we would visit my Uncle Larry and Aunt Linda (and their daughter Leah) in Chicago.  Larry would often break out his guitar and sing songs.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the music, but my favorite songs were the ones he wrote himself.  I hope to convince him to let me publish a sample in upcoming posts.

2. Ivan Lancaster.  Mr. Lancaster taught 5th and 6th grade English at Nineveh Elementary.  After lunch, he read to us from classic books (I remember Johnny Tremain).  He also encouraged each of us to write our autobiographies and this 30+ page bound notebook with line sheets written on in ink was my first sustained piece of writing.

3.  Robert Waldon.  (Joe Rossi on “The Lou Grant Show”) I was captivated by the character of Rossi – his persistence, his commitment to truth, his courage.  He made me want to become a journalist.  One episode was about book banning.  Rossi was appalled that his favorite book – The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was on the list.  Immediately, I checked it out of the library.  It became my favorite book and redirected my focus from journalism to creative writing.

4.  Kevin Ballard.  Mr. B. filled in in the English department one semester and I took his class on “Contemporary Drama.”  He wasn’t the best lecturer, but he was very accessible and showed an interest in my ideas and writing beyond class.  He introduced me to a good friend from his college days – Jim Leonard – a playwright who has won awards for “The Diviners” (which he wrote while at Hanover College).

5.  Buran Phillips & George Love.  I list them together because together they helped keep my creative juices flowing while at seminary as co-creators of our satirical newsletters – “The Institutes” & “Rude Dogma”.  While we wrote most articles separately, we developed concepts together and I was inspired just by our shared laughter.

6.  Alice Roberts.  The woman who would become my wife of over 20 years was for many of these years my most prayerful and careful editor.

7.  Veston & Connie Roberts.  A few winters back, my dad and step-mom offered to type my up 500+ sermons and catalogue them on the computer (and on CDs).  Dad in particular has been my most devoted blog follower.  As I write my new novel (on their computer), I debrief after every finished chapter by telling them what it was about (then Dad goes to read it).

Now, to share the “Inspiring Blogger Award”, I nominate the following (in no particular order)…

russellboyle posts classic, inspiring poetry that helps soothe the troubled soul.

Defeat Despair offers inspiring quotes and brief reflections that lift your spirit.

Teacher as Transformer suggests insights on education, leadership, life, and transformation.

larrywtrimm writes on the blessing of being a Christian author.

Confessions of a Bookworm celebrates the inspiration found in reading good books.

The One Thing I Know for Sure presents thoughts and pictures intended to inspire deeper reflection.

writing young adult lit… and the occasional face plant explores the creativity behind a writing life.

liveconsciously publishes inspiring, life-enhancing, mind-altering books and media.on

Write here, Joel reflects on life, faith, and laughter.

The Twenty Something: An Ordinary Girl Serving an Extraordinary God shares her faith passionately.

Dreams Will Catch You provides refreshing perspectives on life and faith.

todaysdailyword brings God’s Word to life in fresh ways.

hankrules2011 provokes thought for an examined life.

I’ve Got This Friend reveals the personal side of a relationship with Christ.

a surrendered year looks at what it means to give in to God.

Check these out and see let them know they have “A Way With Words” on their side.

Some (Rare) Good Writing on Politics


I thought I would follow up “Politics and Bad Language” with a post that points to examples where language is used well in addressing political subjects.  Several hours later, I began to feel a bit like Sisyphus rolling that huge boulder up the mountain (only to watch it tumble to the bottom when I thought I was finished with my task).  I was not able to find a single WordPress post tagged “Politics” or “Health Care” that I thought was worthy of highlighting.  So, I went to Google.

It took a few more hours of browsing, but I did find the following 7 posts (below) that I felt offered a refreshing alternative to the stale  rhetoric so often found in political discourse.  I will say some of these pieces are a bit longer than I usually recommend, and I don’t necessarily endorse any of the views you might find on their blog sites, but they do represent good political writing.

Why Barack Obama’s Healthcare Plan Owes You a Beer” (97.3 The Dawg) Inspired by his friend (and “right thinking American”) Earl Pitts, Bruce Mikells humorously illustrates a possibly unintended side effect of the new health care law.

Building a Better Health Care System: End of Life Care – A Case Study” (The Health Care Blog)  Dr. John Henning Schumann describes how one consensus decision not to prolong death turns into more costly medical procedures that offer no lasting hope.

I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” (The Blue Review)  Liza Long’s son Michael has a disturbing disorder that is yet-to-be-diagnosed.  She is increasingly unable to manage it and cries out for a better understanding of mental illness.

A Model T Education: Public Schooling on the Assembly Line” (Daily Censored) Adam Bessie identifies the shared philosophical roots of mass-producing cars in factories and mass-producing citizens in schools.  He concludes that current efforts at reform try to fix the factory instead of build new educational models.

A Long View of Afghanistan’s Wars” (New York Times Lens Blog)  Richard Oppel provides an extensive review of photo-journalist Robert Nickelson’s Photographs of the Wars in Afghanistan.  Nickelson won’t comment on whether a US pull-out in 2014 would be wise, but concludes the future outlook for the nation doesn’t look bright.

Pastor Jailed in Iran” (UMHB The Bells Online) Amid the debate on just how persecuted Christians are, this story focuses on one confirmed incident and calls for specific action.

What’s the Connection Between Abortion and Careers?” (Penelope Trunk)  Trunk uncovers first-hand the heart-wrenching cost of abortion without lapsing into the rhetoric of either side of the debate.

(image “Day 280 – Sisiphyus” from Menage a Moi, some rights reserved)

Interview with IT Business and Creative Writer Matt Robb


A few weeks back, I did a story inspired by a writing prompt from a newly developing blog entitled Today’s Authors.  One of the contributing editors there, Matt Robb, commented –

I chuckled reading about Thomas’ confessional app and “The Virtual Vatican.”  Nice job.

My first thought was gratitude for his chuckle and kind compliment.

My second thought was – “This guy appreciates humorous writing.”

My third thought (after visiting his blog) was – “I want to interview him about his inspiration as a writer, some of his preparation, and what he’s doing at Today’s Authors.  The following was our exchange –

Who (author/teacher) or what (book/other writing) first inspired you to become a writer?

Without a doubt, the book that inspired me to become a writer is a small, soft-cover publication titled The Creative Writing Guide by Candice Schaefer and Rick Diamond.  I came across this book in my final semester of college, 1999.

I needed a three-credit elective course and, at the time, was still exploring whether writing as a hobby was something that interested me.  I enrolled in the course titled Creative Writing: Poetry, and The Creative Writing Guide was the supporting text for the course.

I was hooked on the book just after reading chapter 1: “Writing as a Journey”. To me, the narrator’s voice was a familiar and encouraging one.  It really helped open my eyes to using the five senses to strengthen my writing.

What did you do (studies/work experience) to prepare you to do business/technical writing?

Interesting question.  To be honest, nothing explicitly on my part.  However, I suppose my chosen career path and studies within the field of Management Information Systems was integral simply by affording me multiple opportunities to practice business and technical writing.

In junior college I enrolled in both a speechwriting and business writing course.  These courses helped me practice writing to persuade, inform, debate, etc.  Later while attending university, core technical courses required me to write sample business cases, product documentation guides, etc.

In my early to late-twenties I worked as a software developer, and that included many opportunities to write end-user documentation for software products within the reinsurance and industrial and environmental hygiene industries.  Now in my mid-thirties, my business writing is instead focused on writing business cases and writing to persuade.

Looking back, as a student it appears I was subconsciously taught that volume was more important than substance:  write x pages of this, write y pages of that.  But today when writing in the professional world, it’s really more important to minimize volume while maximizing clarity.  This is especially true when writing emails to people who may receive upwards of 100+ email messages daily and you want to maximize the chance of your message actually being read. (more on that topic here:

3)   You describe yourself as an “entrepreneur”.  Do you mean you spend a lot of time marketing your work or coming up with solid plans to turn your passion for writing into a (financial) living?

When describing myself as an entrepreneur, I’m referring to my interest in creating, organizing, and running businesses and organizations.

For ten years I assisted my wife with managing her small business—a dance studio—before selling that business four years ago.  In the past I also created and managed a small software development business, and I co-founded a non-profit community theatre organization.  And, my career path in management has me working toward leading teams, departments, and eventually larger companies.

4) You’re one of the founding editor/contributors for the developing blog Today’s Authors.  What will be your role in this enterprise and what can we expect to see there in the coming year?

My role, like all the editors and contributors you’ll find at the site, is simply to encourage writers to push forward through their own personal journeys of creating writing.  We’re akin to spectators on the sidelines of a marathon race course—only we’re here to cheer on participants as they slog through the course of completing their stories or novels.

Today we plan to “cheerlead” primarily by ensuring a comfortable, safe environment for writers. Though the coming year visitors will find articles and prompts focused on the “nuts-and-bolts” of writing, I’m most looking forward to community dialogue via comments where writers feel comfortable to request feedback, and to give constructive, positive feedback in return. How the site evolves beyond that will be largely driven by the site’s community of visitors.

Thank you, Matt, for participating in the interview, for your writing, and for encouraging other writers in what you do.

(photo of Matt from his blog, used by permission)

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

 career assessment

Today my sister gave me a newspaper clipping from the Columbus, Indiana newspaper The Republic about a free service Harrison College is providing to help people decide which careers match their personalities and skill sets.  This on-line tool is free and can be accessed by clicking on this link.

The assessment is divided into individual profiles and after answering a number of question in each profile, you are provided a summary.

The first profile is a “Work Interest”.  I was a bit surprised to learn that I scored highest in the “social” category, as I have a somewhat introverted personality.  I think my years of being a pastor and working with people have stimulated me to appreciate the value of working with a team.  Right behind my “social” score was “artistic”, which fits my desire to write.  Putting these two scores together, I think I would do better writing for a organization of some kind rather than working solo in free-lance.  Or, if I do work free-lance, I would do well to do a lot of face-to-face networking.

I got a chuckle when I looked at the bottom of the profile and found that I scored a “0.00” in the “realistic” category.  These are the “doers”, so in one sense I guess this means I don’t really do anything.  To be more specific, this means I wouldn’t enjoy fixing things, working outdoors, or solving mechanical problems.  I suppose this is why my wife always got stuck putting together the Christmas toys.

Under my “personality” profile, it indicated that I am a “people person” and that I would be well suited for “counseling, teaching, health sciences, psychology, arts and literature”.  This is consistent with my current job search for an internship in writing, and it also gives some direction to areas of writing I may want to focus on.  Positions I am pursuing such as grant writing for health care organizations, website development for psychotherapists and other health care professionals fit my personality.  I may want to expand my search, though, to include such things as vocational counseling and some form of teaching, perhaps literature or creative writing.

At this point in the assessment, I inadvertently exited the program and couldn’t get back in.  I contacted a representative through their chat line and she admitted it was such a new program, her only advice was to start over.  I have a number of other projects to complete today, so I’ll save it for another time.  I guess the lesson to be learned here is I’m not well suited for computer work without strong technical support.

(image “Career Assessment” from jugbo, some rights reserved)