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.”

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.

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drmaryanndiorio/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drmaryanndiorio/

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Chicken Soup For The Soul

Welcome to Sheila Roe, an Arizona author. Sheila and I met several years ago, and since then, She’s been busy writing! She shares with us about her story for Chicken Soup For The Soul this week, and is offering TWO signed paperback copies to two of you who leave a comment.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving, Loss & Healing

It’s not a question of “if”, but “when” grief will intrude on your life. While it’s true there are many aspects to grief, they may rear their ugly heads in random patterns, look like something unexpected and even ambush you in a quiet moment when everything seems to be fine.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving, Loss & Healing is a collection of 101 true stories of grief. Each story is unique, yet there are commonalities across the spectrum. Thankfully, as our society has become more open about sharing difficult times, the way in which we approach grief as individuals and families has evolved. Chapter 7: “The Monty Dinner” is the story of a first-grief experience for children. As related in this chapter, that experience is often the death of a beloved family pet. What was a crushing blow to our children provided our family an opportunity to lay the groundwork for grief experiences to come later in life.

“The silence in the car is oppressive as we drive home on Thursday night. Just the four of us and an empty collar. The weight of a tiny dog is crushing all of us with his absence. Glancing at my husband behind the wheel, his eyes fixed on the road ahead, I turn to Max and Emma in the back seat. “Okay, tomorrow night we’re having dinner in the dining room. Your job is to find your favorite picture of Monty and bring it, and a story that goes with it.” They stare vacantly ahead. I’m not even sure they have heard me.

As parents, we do the best we can, often crafting plans on the fly, hoping they will yield the results we need and expect. In the end, we must have faith that the journey is what was intended. Perhaps it will heal us, certainly it will test us, but ultimately, it will strengthen us if we choose to share it with those we love and He who loves us through moments of darkness and light. 

How has a loss affected you and your family?

Arizona author Sheila Roe has worked with those in grief since 2003. She served as a Group Facilitator for and was the lead Facilitator Trainer and Director of Development for Walking the Mourner’s Path and acted as a consultant to the Journey to Joy grief recovery program. She has written extensively about grief, including its annual cost to American business and has presented grief training programs across the country. Sheila is a public speaker and freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona whose work has been published in newspapers, magazines and books in the U.S. and Europe.

She is an award-winning author who co-wrote and co-edited the Arizona Centennial anthology Skirting Traditions: Arizona Women Writers and Journalists 1912 – 2012, the co-author of New Beginnings, Daily Christian Studies to Begin Your Grief Recovery, the author of Surviving the Holidays with a Grieving Heart and an author included in the 2022 Chicken Soup for the Soul book entitled Grieving, Loss and Healing.

History Lovers…

There’s something about connecting with history lovers–it’s a natural high for me, and this past week in Texas Hill Country I got to do it every single day. I’m still “coming down” from this trip, and basking in the memories of so many people intent on the history of World War II and other eras in their hometowns.

This group in Junction had so many great questions.

Thanks to India Houser of the Junction newspaper, who took these photos during my book talk and sent them to me posthaste!

Such a roomful! I wish I could have talked at length with each person present. But author Lynn Dean and I received a passel of local history during lunch as well as a tour of the original part of the cemetery. Such great stories to research and share in an upcoming volume!

From Wimberley, northeast of San Antonio, all the way to Junction in the northwest, readers gathered at local libraries to discuss reading and writing. How exciting is THAT?!?!

Thanks to the staff and friends of Wimberley, New Braunfels, Boerne, Comfort, Kerrville, Mason, Bandera, and Junction libraries, Land That I Love has made its entrance into Hill Country hearts, and I am so grateful to all those who gave us such a gracious welcome.

A word of thanks, also, to the officers who patrol the highways and byways, keeping us safe on this journey. As with some details of history, it’s easy to take for granted their watchful care. And I would be remiss to neglect a thank you to the many restaurant workers who provided hearty meals along the way.

A sheriff and a game warden having lunch.
A chance to visit with old friends (and a new one, Lynn Dean) over a remarkable meal at Cafe at the Ridge near Kerrville. Lynn offered her unselfish chauffeur service from the San Antonio airport and back again to that very spot yesterday. AND we had a lot of fun brainstorming future stories.(:

New Year’s 2021-22

During this quiet holiday in Arizona, I’ve been reading posts about the words friends have chosen for 2022. Although I didn’t really seek one, a word came to me the other night when sleep became difficult.

Strength. Ah, this will do. Whatever lies ahead, we’ll need various kinds of strength–energy, mental stamina, physical skill, and emotional steadiness. This, we can count on.

As usual, Lance is taking all sorts of elk and deer photos here, and this one seemed perfect for this post. This little fellow looks a bit like us right now as we await what the new year brings.

Dubious, hopeful, contemplative, puzzled . . . hesitant and frightened. Dare he trust the guy standing on our deck to snap this shot?

Nearly eighty years ago, soldiers in the horrific Battle of the Bulge surely experienced such emotions. We can’t even begin to imagine what they endured or the level of their terror–would the war ever end?

In times like the present, it behooves us to consider other times that required strength and endurance. Still, we may feel somewhat the same. Dare we trust?

Recently, a Ralph W. Emerson quote struck me as appropriate for this season.

“Be not the slave of your own past–plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience, that shall explain and overlook the old.”

Another one of his writings applies, too. “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”

All that history teaches us, and all we have seen in 2021, instructs us that God’s promise to “be with us in trouble” (Psalm 91:15) stands firm. In spite of expecting more “trouble” ahead, we plunge onward, dive deep, and trust.