A Refreshing I Didn't Know I Needed

I spent most of last week at a writing retreat. I went into it being acquainted with only two or three of the fifteen other writers in attendance. I left with fifteen new friends who I respect as writers, as women, and as fellow followers of Christ.

But though I carry memories of sweet fellowship, I think what I’ll remember most are the quiet acts of service I noticed during my time there. Two of the women brought their husbands. Now these guys didn’t just hang out. They didn’t just show up to support their wives. They came and served all of us. They toted luggage. They helped prepare our meals. They washed dishes. They dealt with mechanical issues in the house. And they did it all in a spirit of brotherly love. 

Our cook for the week also demonstrated her servant’s heart, spending the week away from her family and cooking us three yummy meals a day—all simply to make our time there comfortable and enjoyable. She served out of her friendship with the woman who organized the retreat—and out of her love for Christ.

And yet beyond these overall acts of service, I watched in amazement as all the women served one another through small acts of kindness, offering a listening ear, praying for each other—whatever situation presented. When an opportunity to serve arose, I noticed women jump in and do exactly that.

I confess, it surprised me. Too many times over the years I’ve seen women take from each other, not give expecting nothing in return. Witnessing that attitude among such a group refreshed me in a way I didn’t realize I needed.

Can you remember the last time you “retreated” from your everyday life? Did you find refreshment of your spirit in some way? Perhaps you were one of those who served others as they retreated. What did you glean from your time on either side? Tell us about it.


A Sunday Psalm

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them--
the Lord who remains faithful forever.
       ---Psalm 146:3-6


The Demise of a Rosebush

I cried over a rosebush last week. Wept. Sobbed. And I don’t even like plants!

Let me explain. When we bought this house almost five years ago, one of the most charming things about it was the backyard. Obviously the woman in the house had taken great pride in creating a beautiful outdoor space. It included not only a vast array of plants but a deck, one section of which was covered by a flat, slatted roof of sorts. Along one support post for this cover grew a creeping rose bush that had been lovingly trained to vine out over the slatted top. It only covered maybe ¼ of the space.

Over the years, the rosebush tendrils grew longer and longer. We trimmed them, weaved them in and out, until by the end of last summer—four years after buying the house—we had a beautiful green canopy shading us from the unrelenting summer sun. It made our deck useable. Enjoyable.

This year, we realized a good tree trimming was long overdue, so my husband hired it done, asking the guy to trim some off the top of the rosebush roof as well, since while we’d kept the sides in shape, we couldn’t reach it on top. The guys showed up. I was in other parts of the house busy with other things. I walked into the living room, looked out my windows and saw sunlight streaming down on my deck. No rosebush. It was gone.

After calmly asking them to stop (there still remained the main branch and root running up the support pole) and explaining that there had been a mistake, I started to cry. Just a bit of a shaky voice and watery eyes as I spoke with the apologetic men, but heartrending sobs after I shut the door and fled to the back bedroom.

I realized even then that my reaction was over-the-top. I knew it was tied to the physical and emotional exhaustion of the week, three out of town games to end the basketball season you’ve read about here already. But it was the demise of my rosebush that spurred the deluge of tears. A rosebush I didn’t even plant and honestly very rarely tended. But I knew I would miss its shade in summer much as I will miss my calm and compassionate son when he leaves for college.

How about you? Do you get emotional over the big things or do you find your temper or tears spilling out over something small and unrelated?


How Cool Is This?

My sister emailed me just the other day and informed me that my book is available for pre-order on Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and CBD!

Wow! So very cool!


Happy Presidents Day!

(I still think of it as a celebration of Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays. Maybe because those are two of my favorite eras in American history!)


A Sunday Psalm

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God, the One
who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the
heavens and the earth?
      --Psalm 113:4-6


The End of an Era

Last night I watched my boys take the court together, their last time on the same team. Twelve years ago my sons—one just turned 4, one not quite 6—stepped on a soccer field together, the younger having begged to get to play like his brother and his sister. From that first moment, the younger son didn’t miss a beat. He got in there and played as well as the older kids. And the older one, from the first, didn’t dismiss his younger brother. He took care of him, encouraged him, included him.

Fast forward to middle school. They had each played on their own soccer and basketball teams, but then soccer ended and for one season—younger brother in 6th grade, older in 8th grade—they both wore their school football uniform. Although neither played much, I loved seeing them on the sidelines together.

Almost two years ago, though, we entered a new era. A freshman and a junior, not only did they both play varsity football and basketball, but due to being in a “rebuilding” year in both sports, they both had significant playing time. I can’t describe the feeling of seeing the younger throw a touchdown pass to the older. The older kick the extra point while his younger brother took the snap and held the ball. Or to watch one pass to the other for a lay-up or a jump shot, to watch the younger stare down a player on the other team who had fouled his brother or the older encourage the younger before a free throw.

Of course they aren’t perfect. Though they often supported each other on the field or court, they also fought some, too. Especially since the older tends to coach as he plays—and younger one is a perfectionist that doesn’t need to be told what he just did wrong. But even when they were at odds, I knew it wouldn’t last. A few hours later, they were back to teammates, trying to figure out how to get the next win.

I know it is time for the older one to move on to a college life that may or may not include basketball. But the next two years of watching our youngest son perform without his brother will feel strange. Not bad. Just different. So today I mourn the end of an era.

How do you deal with changes in the season of your life? What is an upcoming change you wish would hold off a little longer—or maybe one you wish would hurry up and arrive?


The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen

If you love all things Jane Austen as I do, you will thoroughly enjoy Julie Klassen’s newest book, The Girl in the Gatehouse. A woman suddenly in reduced circumstances, living on the estate of a relative. A handsome captain just paid off and ready to explore adventures on land instead of at sea. Mysteries. Misunderstandings. A house party. Two theatricals. And that’s just the beginning.

Perhaps, like me, you will recognize bits and pieces—sometimes turned upside down—of beloved Jane Austen characters and plots (and even names!) all mixed up together. But you’ll fall in love with fresh, new characters as well. Like sailor-turned-manservant Martin—one of my favorites! (You’ll have to read the book to discover who he is and why he is so memorable!)

Julie’s stories are delightful and this one certainly did not disappoint.


For Valentine's Day

When I thought about posting on Valentine's Day, I just kept thinking of this scene from Holiday Inn (1942). Here is Bing Crosby singing "Be Careful, It's My Heart" while Fred Astaire dances with Bing's girl. It's a sad/sweet song. Bing's voice delightful. The dancing is wonderful. But I think my favorite part is the snow coming down outside the windows and the two dancers posed in silhouette behind the paper heart.



A Sunday Psalm

Listen, O my people, to my instruction;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
which we have heard and known,
and our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord,
and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.
      --Psalm 78:1-4


Evaluating the Process

Eight and a half months. That’s how long it has taken to birth my second to-be-published novel. That doesn’t mean it is ready for press by any means. It just means the story has left my brain and taken up permanent residence on the page. Now begins the arduous task of getting feedback—first from my critique group, then after I make changes based on their suggestions and observations, from my editors at Bethany House.

As I look back over these past few months, I’ve evaluated my process of taking a story from a paragraph of a concept to a whole, written book. It has been a huge learning process. Though my first book took me almost the same amount of time to write, I had done most of the research years earlier. The time frame on this one encompassed both research and writing. I realize now that thinking and planning time is important. Even if it doesn’t feel like work, it is very important work. If done up front, it can quash some of the hair-pulling moments of making sense of the first draft in revisions. I discovered that setting reasonable goals is less stressful than setting extraordinary ones. And I learned that patience is necessary at every stage of the process. Word upon word, page upon page, emulating the tortoise, not the hare, a book finally emerges.

Do you evaluate your work habits on occasion, looking for ways to be more productive? What kinds of tasks are you learning to do more efficiently—or perhaps what kinds of tasks are reshaping your character so that you can do all your work more peacefully?


The Rhythm of Secrets by Patti Lacy

I’ve resolved to use my Wednesday posts to tell about the latest book I’ve read, because as I’ve said before, so many of my friends and favorite authors have books coming out this year. I hope in the course of my reflections you’ll find a new favorite book or author!

I “met” Patii Lacy online over a year ago. Now while my kids would not count us as “real” friends, we have not only emailed, we’ve actually spoken on the phone! And shortly after we became friends, we both sold books to Bethany House that will release in the fall of 2011! (Hers is contemporary fiction.) So while we have yet to meet face-to-face, we’ve truly become fast friends.

Until now, though, I hadn’t read one of her books. Then came The Rhythm of Secrets. Oh. My. Goodness. This story will grab hold of your heart and keep you reading. Set in that “no man’s land” (not contemporary, not historical) of the Vietnam War era, Patti tells the story of Sheila Franklin—or would that be Sylvia Allen? Or perhaps Sheba Alexander? From the shattering of her young world in the French Quarter of New Orleans to the splintering of the new life she created in Chicago, this is a story of grace and redemption reminds me yet again that my God can redeem even the most painful pasts, bring freedom in the revelation of even the most devastating secrets.

After reading The Rhythm of Secrets, I can’t wait for Reclaiming Lily to arrive in the fall!


Out With the Old

I’ll admit that I’m frugal. Some might say cheap. For whatever reason, in spite of my age, I have not become a part of the throwaway generation—those who replace things just for the sake of replacing them, not because they have outlived their usefulness. But even penny-pinchers like me have to break down and spend money on occasion.

Last week, in what arguably could be one of the coldest, messiest weeks ever in Texas, my flannel sheets died. They wore out. Split down the middle. And I mourned. It wasn’t just the thought that I’d have to go out and spend money on a new set of flannel sheets. These beautiful sheets adorned with bouquets of roses (very Victorian!) were given to us one Christmas by my husband’s grandmother. We’ve had them for over 20 years. Granted, we don’t use them all winter here. Most winters it’s two or three weeks, max. But when we’ve needed them, I’ve loved them. And now I must replace them.

We’ll muddle through, find an acceptable substitute for a decent price (even in replacing things my frugality reigns supreme!), but I’ll hate it. It will take years for those new sheets to feel like mine. And I guess that’s the crux of my frugality in terms of replacing things—a sentimental attachment, a sense of belonging. Unfortunately for both my sentiment and my pocketbook, we have many, many everyday items that are reaching the end of their very long lives. I have a feeling I’d better get used to some change.

Besides antiques, do you have anything you use on a regular basis that is over twenty years old? (Like my blender and my pots and pans, both received as wedding gifts almost 24 years ago?) Will you mourn at its end or rejoice? What kinds of items do you hold on to until they die?


A Sunday Psalm

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.
The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed
His righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered His love and His faithfulness
to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
     --Psalm 98:1-3


Winter Weather and the Past

Every time we have unusual winter happenings, my mind drifts back to the Ingalls family and The Long Winter. Blizzards that shut down the trains. Burning hay when the coal ran out. Grinding wheat in the coffee grinder to make small loaves of bread. Going to bed early and getting up late because they’re wasn’t much else to do. It always makes me thankful I live now, not then.

But the weather incident of the past few days has taken my thoughts in different historical directions. Before the days of TV—or radio--in the days before meteorologists made their findings known to us, how did Texas people cope with such an unusual onslaught? Think about our most recent scenario.

Sunday, January 30. Almost 80 degrees. Spring weather. Not terribly unusual, but definitely welcome. But a hundred years ago, no one warning of a coming cold—with ice and snow. No one encouraging them to stock up the pantry and turn up the heater.

Monday, January 31. More normal temperatures of 50s-60s. Back to “winter” for Texas. But our ancestors went through their day without the warnings of coming sleet, freezing rain, plummeting temperatures.

In the middle of the night, rain and thunder. In the days before media, I’d imagine those who woke to the thud of rain turned over with the thought of cooler temperatures on the way. But can you imagine their surprise at the tink of sleet against glass? The white covering the ground as day dawned with icy temperatures and biting wind.

What if all the canned goods were still in the cellar? What if your neighbors had gone visiting and asked you to milk their cow—at their farm? And they couldn’t get back for several days? And you had no telephone to call and find out their plans? And what if you were low on firewood or coal because you had no warning? A trip to the outhouse would be fun, wouldn’t it? Or dealing with chamber pots if you chose not to?

Yes, those are the things I thought of as my kids stayed home from school day after day, as my husband built a fire that I was thankful didn’t comprise my only source of heat. As we come out on the other end of this event and get back to our “regular” lives, I reflect on those that came before. But while I love to venture to that past in my reading and my writing, I’m very, very glad I live in the now!

What kinds of events make you wonder about life in the past? How far back does your imagination usually take you? Do you think about things you’ve read in regard to those events or do you wonder about the things you never read about?


150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking by Mary DeMuth

My friend Mary DeMuth is not only a very talented writer, she is also an awesome cook and facilitator of conversations. She has used these strengths to create a family dinner table that is much more than just a meal. It is a deepening of relationships. And now some of her methods have been captured into a helpful new book: 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking.

This a small book, in length and in stature, which makes it perfect for the family who wants to keep it near the dinner table and use a question or two per mealtime, as the DeMuth family does. Or it’s just the right size to tuck in a glove compartment or other nook of a car if you are a family often on the go to your kids activities, such as we always were. But no matter when, no matter where, these questions will help your family get talking. And when talking—and listening—commences, families grow closer. They understand each other better.

I highly recommend this book for a jumping off place in deepening your relationship with your children.