As Memorial Day nears– once you choose hope…

Lilacs have such a strong smell, I suppose you either love or hate it.

For me, it’s always been love.

This afternoon, my neighbor brought over a clutch from her bushes, and oh MY! So good to let this heady scent flood the room. Soon it’ll fill every corner.

Kind of like a saying our daughter shared with me a few years back. Once you choose hope, anything is possible.

I’ve been thinking about World War II breaking out in Europe–how the chaos spread from country to country, crossing oceans, changing people’s lives. Can’t really imagine how it was for my mother, a high school girl, to watch her two older brothers go off to fight.

They were a poor family, and the younger brother was drafted before he even finished high school. Think of our barely-eighteen-year-old graduates today having to depart for battlefields afar. How hard would that be?

But when challenges mount, hope goes to work. Imagine the HOPES people cherished back then . . . for victory, for loved ones to return, for peaceful times to return. That hope fueled great innovations and unparalleled production in the industrial world.

And it ignited a spirit of unity that we could certainly use more of today.

With Memorial Day nearing, it’s good to recall the sacrifices our grandparents and parents made–more than we can begin to comprehend. As we tote our blossoms to the cemetery this year, remembering means a lot.

Beginnings

This photo may not prove too inspiring. But it is to me.

Today I sat out in the sun (suddenly it’s HOT and sultry in Iowa), and was able to do a stitch of planting. Nothing like I’d normally be doing, but the same satisfying sensation filled me at having shaken some Mesclun and spinach seeds into this pot and sifted soil over them.

What exactly is this feeling? Something like hope, I think. Very small deposits can result in huge outcomes. I admit, it’s been tough at times lately not to lag in hope. Being injured brings a barrel of side-effects with it, not all physical.

Oh, we all know the promises . . . we memorized them long ago. But during times like this, we need those promises to energize our faith. The night before my surgery, something like this occurred, and I cherish this memory.

A night nurse said, “Wow, you’ve had a bad year.”

My instant reaction? “Well, actually a lot of really good things have happened to me this year.”

“Oh, really?”

So true. It’s been quite the eventful twelve months in our lives, and I clung to those manifestations of GOOD during the painful interval before the surgeons worked their magic on my broken bone.

Right there with me–holding me close–God whispered, “If I could accomplish those things, then I can take care of you now. Peace.”

And peace came. These golden moments we’re given mean everything. The times we’ve witnessed broken relationships mended, the times we’ve watched a loved one struggle and come through the battle whole . . . these amount to golden moments.

They plant seeds of faith in us to nurture. As William Samuel Johnson wrote long ago, To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life.

In our characters’ lives and in our own, it behooves us to pay attention to the golden moments.

ON THE MEND

Where does this phrase originate?

The sense of “a remedy, cure,” now obsolete, comes from the mid-Fourteenth century, from the verb mend. The meaning “act of mending; a repaired hole or rip in fabric” is from 1888. The phrase on the mend, or “on the path to recovering from sickness, improving in condition” is attested by 1802.

To be on the mend is a good thing. That’s what I know.

To be at home, even though Lance has to do all of the dirty work.

Yesterday we made it up the front steps, but it wasn’t pretty. I’d practiced with my forward-thinking, thorough physical therapists, but facing our front porch on a drizzly day, nothing seemed to compute. That’s where Lance came in, and reaching the porch floor with him lifting from behind at each step became a victory.

Small victories count at times like these. And so does each gift.

Iowans bring ailing folks food–it’s what we do, and I’m so grateful. Cards, too, supply food for thought. Isn’t it cool how the makers of this one (American Greetings) placed the bow? And the look on this poor doggy’s face . . . I’m posting this for all my dog-loving family and friends out there.

Another gift has arrived during the past few days. I always welcome a new character showing up, and what a kind soul this one is. He’s all about helping others mend.

We’ll see where his story takes me.

It’s The Little Things

Jane Kirkpatrick, a favorite author of mine, shared these thoughts in her newsletter this month. This photo Lance took of an incredible Iowa sunset as he drove home from visiting me seems to fit the concept Jane addresses.

I too, have experienced some signs of God’s steadfast love through the situation I’m in right now. They don’t have to be huge…what we often call God-winks.


Adapted from Jane Kirkpatrick:

Theologian Frederick Buechner tells the story of a time when he was most discouraged, maybe even despairing, certainly his faith was on a cliff’s edge. His daughter was gravely ill. He was going through other challenges and he’d taken a drive on a rural road and pulled over at a crossroads to pray.

“Give me a word,” he asked. “Some sort of sign that I can hang onto.” After a time, through his tears, he saw a car coming at a great distance. As it came closer and then passed him by he could see the license plate. It was one word. “TRUST.” He held that word to be his sign and let it guide him through the uncertainty and pain. And so it did. Years later he shared that story and a man in the audience came up later to tell him he had been the driver of that car. He worked for a securities and trust company.

It didn’t matter that the “trust” word that helped lift Buechner from his despair wasn’t about faith but about banking. It was the word that Buechner needed to see at that moment. I hadn’t been thinking about a word or a sign when I entered the room where (my husband) was hospitalized for a serious infection. But someone had left a sign beneath the board listing the doctor’s and charge nurses’ names.

Everything is going to be ok.” I like that. 


Did it mean things wouldn’t get rougher? Did it mean treatment would take care of his infection? We weren’t sure, and he ended up having surgery last week. Still, we hang on to that hopeful message.


These linkages may seem a stretch for some, but for me they are gifts of “trust,” small gestures that appear in the universe to remind me that I am not alone, to trust that in the end, everything will be ok.

 If it isn’t ok, well, that means it is not the end.

I hope you discover some of these little gifts of confidence in your daily life too, whether you’ve prayed for that word or just paid attention. Perhaps we can take our signs from the ancient mystics like Dame Julian of Norwich who reminds us that “Our Lord did not say, ‘you shall not be tormented, or troubled or grieved, but that ‘you shall not be overcome.’” I’m trusting in that.

Writing and Suffering

Two days ago the Christian History Institute carried the story of how Dostoevsky’s faith formation affected his writings.

Because I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of physical pain this week, this man’s experience stands out to me. He suffered in many ways, from oppression, great loss, and epilepsy in a time when not much help was available.

I haven’t yet been able to write since my accident, but then, I haven’t even tried. I’m sure, though, that what I’ve been feeling will affect my writing…Dostoevsky’s circumstances certainly did.

I learn so much by reading about authors’ lives, and thought I’d share portions of this for anyone else who might be going through a tough time right now, or who has in the past and can see how that affects your work.

I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts in the comments.

Saturday, April 23 – Christian History Institute/ author Dan Graves, adapted. MURDER, GUILT,
UNJUST IMPRISONMENT, AND FAITH FORMED DOSTOEVSKY’S WRITINGS
[Above: Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1876—[public domain] Wikipedia]

In 1839, when Fyodor Dostoevsky was eighteen, Russian serfs murdered his father, Mikhail. Mikhail, an Orthodox Christian and medical doctor, was a harsh and unsympathetic figure who often vented anger and sarcasm at his children and underlings. Apparently serfs reacted violently to one such outburst. No one ever was prosecuted for the crime.

Considering the shock his father’s death gave Dostoevsky, we understand why his writings explore murder and guilt, and true and false religion—and that he aligned himself against serfdom.Dostoevsky completed his first novel, Poor Folk, in 1845. About then he became interested in utopian schemes and networked with socialist intellectuals. In 1847, he joined a group that criticized serfdom and governmental censorship.

Denounced to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Dostoevsky and his friends were arrested on 23 April 1849 as revolutionaries. After spending months in prison, Dostoevsky was sentenced to death. At the last moment, while the prisoners faced a firing squad, a messenger appeared with a reprieve from the czar. The execution turned out to be a cruel hoax, staged for maximum effect. No wonder Dostoevsky’s writings would sometimes detail the last thoughts of dying men.

Instead of death, Dostoevsky was condemned to four years in a Siberian penal camp. As he was leaving Saint Petersburg in leg irons, three women handed him a Gospel. He kept this under his pillow in prison and read it over and over, underlining passages that focused on persecution of the just and of coming judgment. Living among Russia’s most depraved convicts and sadistic guards, he lost his illusions about mankind’s inherent goodness.

In House of the Dead, he fictionalized some of the horrors he witnessed, and developed the theme of forgiveness. Six years of exile at a military post followed his imprisonment. When he returned to society, his writing showed the deepening impact of years of suffering. In his great novels Crime and PunishmentThe IdiotDemons, and The Brothers Karamazov, protagonists wrestle with conscience and with Christian ideals.

Dostoevsky deplores the emptiness of nihilism and exposes the revolutionaries’ slander and double-dealing, laying bare the human condition. In the background of his novels, often indistinct, are Christ and the cross. In Christianity Dostoevsky saw hope for Russian salvation and had no use for atheism, which he believed would devastate the spirit of the peasants.

Later in life when he and his wife, Anna, lost their beloved son Alyosha, Dostoevsky sought comfort and counsel from Ambrose of Optina, a famous Russian spiritual advisor. During his many trials, Dostoevsky repeatedly turned to Jesus’s words. He rejoiced that as a child his parents brought him up knowing the Bible stories. As he was dying in 1881, he requested that Anna read his favorite Gospel passages aloud.

His epitaph from John 12:24 makes a powerful statement. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Prodigal Lives

Aren’t all of our lives prodigal in some way or another? Carol McClain uses her teaching experience with recovering addicts to open our eyes to “life on the other side.” I admire her determination to make a difference in our society. Carol is offering an e-book copy of PRODIGAL LIVES to one commenter.

My husband and I had a chance to teach recovering addicts in jail. The program, proven to reduce recidivism, helped them identify behaviors that ruined their lives and how to readjust their own actions. Loaded with our workbooks and naivete, we set out to teach them how to change their lives.

Instead, these individuals opened our eyes to the fact that our penal system is structured to destroy them. 

Odd as it seems, the local jail did everything they could to ruin the program. They lied to the individuals, reneged on their promises, denied them the on-the-job training already in place for them, and jettisoned any chance for us to return to the jail and help others.

Then, once these individuals got out, they had nowhere to go but to the addicted families who messed them up in the first place. Once released with huge fines, no vehicle, no work training, and no support group, they quickly fell into old patterns.

Guess what happened next?

In my latest release, Prodigal Lives, Pearl Solomon found herself, like these incarcerated people in our county jail, beyond redemption. Having sunken so low, she had to find the one source of hope. Jealousy and pride alienated her from her sisters and foster mother. Sure of herself and determined to have fun, Pearl, who has no mentor, slides into despair.

But don’t you despair. McClain can enthrall you with love, humor, and pathos in her newest release Prodigal Lives, the second volume in the Treasured Lives series. Many say Prodigal Lives is her best novel yet.

As one reviewer stated, “This book deftly continued from the excellent book Borrowed Lives … the beautiful fosterlings Meredith fell in love with in the first novel are taken from her life one by one … The story follows each of the children as well as Meredith as they deal with seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and heartaches. Love prevails in this wonderfully well written and fast-paced novel.

You can find your copy on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Prodigal-Lives-Carol-McClain/dp/164949551X/ref

Keep up with McClain at carolmcclain.com. Sign up for her newsletter and blog and never miss an update.

Morning Perspective

A bright Easter morning helps give perspective. Perhaps Easter Saturday brought inclement weather, colder than the week before. Perhaps the forecast looked dismal, but then morning arrived.

We find that waking up to a new day has done wonders for our atititude, and sometimes even the circumstances behind it. Waking . . . this factor alone can make all the difference.

Throughout history and with life in general, this principle proves reliable.

Often morning brings clarity. Often, if we simply bide our time until the dawn breaks, a surprise awaits, signifying a new start.

Noticing something we missed the day before energizes us, provides new direction. Surely the disciples of Jesus felt this down to their toes–in this new light, things began to make sense.

In Land That I Love, Everett experienced this more than once. Things appeared so grim, so unchangeable. But surviving a day . . . making it through the night . . . brought hope.

A friend of mine in a daunting, heroic battle with cancer seems to know this secret. Get through this next series of treatments. Enjoy the good that comes, and above all, enjoy the sunrise, the promise of renewal and new life.

Not By Sight

Were the patriarchs real people like you and me? Elizabeth Jacobson has some valuable insights concerning this question, and is offering a free ebook copy (MOBI or EPUB) of her novel NOT BY SIGHT to a commenter. (I love this cover!–Have to say so b/c Elizabeth and I share the same publisher. (:

Imagine you’re back in Sunday School, sitting down with all your friends and watching the nervous volunteer parent who teaches the class smile over the flannelgraph. “Now, friends,” (s)he says, holding up a flannel image of a teenager in what looks like a rainbow bathrobe: “This is Joseph.”

Joseph is plastered to the flannelgraph, and the parent puts a flannel group of angry men next to him. “His brothers hated him because his father gave him a beautiful coat. They threw him in a pit and sold him as a slave!”

Appreciative gasps echo from the crowd of five-year-olds – even kids know that good drama comes from torturing your characters.

“His master threw him in prison – ” (we necessarily skip why) “– but one day Pharaoh had a dream!”

Flannel Pharaoh appears, slapped on the flannelgraph, wearing a white skirt and lots of bling.

“Joseph interpreted the dream, and Pharaoh made him his second-in-command. When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for food during a famine, Joseph helped them. And you know what, friends?” The parent looks around with a grin. “Joseph never lost his faith in God! Isn’t that amazing?”

You and your friends nod solemnly. What a guy.

You probably hear this story at least once a year in Sunday School, but by the time you’re a worldly-wise sixth grader, you start to nod a little less and frown a little more.

You know the story like the back of your hand.

But it doesn’t make sense anymore.

The truth is that this Joseph, this icon of the Sunday-School world, isn’t a person to emulate. He can’t be emulated.

Because the story of a man who faced every unthinkable hardship thrown his way with a smile on his face and praise on his lips and forgiveness in his heart is. Not. A. Story. Of. Real. Faith. 

You want real faith? Look at the guy who talked to Jesus in Mark Chapter 9. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Humans aren’t perfect. Why then are we shown a perfect Joseph?

The Bible is not written as a novel. Most narratives in the Bible go over the events needed to comprehend the message in rapid-fire succession. No discussion of motives, internal conflict, or thought processes. It’s easy, then, to step back from the humanity of Joseph and place near-perfection on him.

In writing Not by Sight, my goal was to come up with consistent personality traits and motivations – and logical, human reactions to events, that would lead Joseph to become the person of true, unwavering faith that he ultimately was.

It was a wild ride, but I had a blast. I’m excited to share it with you!

Back Cover of NOT BY SIGHT

Beloved. Betrayed. Despised. Exalted. Joseph, the eleventh son of the patriarch Jacob, had his father’s favor, and that was his downfall. Sold into Egypt by his enraged and jealous brothers, Joseph is left with nothing to cling to except the stories of his father’s God, a seemingly remote and unreachable figure. Faith may prove futile, but Joseph is desperate – for the very hate that enslaved his brothers has begun to overtake him.

Not by Sight is a retelling of the story of Joseph, his brothers, and his coat from the Biblical book of Genesis. Focusing on both Biblical and historical accuracy, the novel examines his extraordinary journey of faith.

Really, what could make a man turn to God when every event in his life screams that God has turned his back on him?

Published by WordCrafts Press!

Elizabeth Jacobson is a middle-school math teacher in sunny California who loves the Bible, fantasy, and science fiction. She got bit by the writing bug at age thirteen and has been frantically putting words on pages ever since. Her goal in writing is to share with the world the most important message anyone can express: the Love of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. 
Not by Sight: a novel of the patriarchs is her first novel.
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On Setting and Lizards

I’m thinking about the word BASKING this morning . . . just outside our door, a cute little lizard is doing just that, and so am I on a walk down the road. Basking in the sunshine, both of us.

Sunshine plays a role in a story set in the 1860’s in Texas Hill Country. The intense heat must have seemed like an antagonist when two hearty Sisters of Divine Providence set forth by wagon to an outpost to create a school for settlers’ children.

Most likely, they’d have done just about anything to reduce the sun’s effects–can you imagine what one might SMELL entering their vehicle? A mix of hardscrabble dust, horse or oxen or mule manure, and….yep, good old sweat.

This gives you a peek into the kind of research required to paint a scene that stays in the reader’s mind. Exactly how many layers of other clothing did the Sisters’ black wool…yes, WOOL, and yes, BLACK cover?

But in-between dives down into history, I’ll be taking walks, basking, and watching out for my little happy lizard friend.

Middle-Grade Fiction Series

A grateful welcome to Dr. MaryAnn Diorio this week. She will be giving away a free copy of her novel to a commenter, in whatever format the winner chooses. In these times with so many attacks on our youth, we need books like this!

My foray into children’s fiction began many years ago while I was browsing in my local bookstore. I was delighted to discover a book about Jesus in a secular bookstore. But my delight soon turned into sorrow as I scanned the book.  The author had presented Jesus as merely a teacher a prophet, like Mohammed or Buddha. Worst of all, readers were encouraged to choose to worship the one they preferred.


I literally left that bookstore in tears, determined to write a book that told children the truth about Jesus. That book became Who is Jesus?, published in 2014.

From there, I went on to write a series of chapter books for six-to-ten-year-old reluctant readers whose main character is an adventurous eight-year-old named Penelope Pumpernickel. 

Dixie Randolph and the Secret of Seabury Beach is my first middle-grade novel. I love this age group and believe it to be an impressionable age during which children face choices that will impact the rest of their lives.


About Dixie Randolph and the Secret of Seabury Beach

A 200-year-old family feud, a hidden pirate’s treasure, and a theft launch 12-year-old Dixie Randolph and her BFF, Tilly Mendoza, on an adventurous journey to discover the thief, to reconcile the feuding families, and to solve what has become known as  the “secret of Seabury Beach.”  Along the way, Dixie faces her own personal family feud when her younger sister Heather refuses to acknowledge Dixie as her sister because Dixie was adopted. Despite Dixie’s repeated attempts to befriend Heather, their relationship worsens. But when Dixie comes face-to-face with the wrath of the thief’s direct descendant, she risks her life not only to save the feuding families but her sister Heather as well.

In this first book of the Dixie Randolph Series of Middle-Grade Novels, Dr. MaryAnn Diorio offers 8-to-12-year-old children an exciting and entertaining story that will keep them turning pages as they explore the themes of sibling rivalry, forgiveness, friendship, and adoption. Set on beautiful Cape Cod, Dixie Randolph and the Secret of Seabury Beach will be sure to delight your middle-grade child with timeless truths about family, forgiveness, and love.

MaryAnn will giving away a free copy of her novel, in whatever format the winner chooses. 

My Website:  https://www.maryanndiorio.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6592603.MaryAnn_DiorioAmazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/MaryAnn-L.-Diorio/e/B005FU4IAS
BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/maryann-diorio

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