We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hearing the Music . . . Behind the Scenes # 10

Google.com
I reached for yet another cough drop while a cup of ginger-lemon tea seeped on the counter. I had tried every home remedy I knew. Would I ever feel better? My mounting frustration escaped with a sigh that produced a fit of coughing. This wasn't the way I wanted to spend the days my daughter was home on college break. I don't get sick often, but when I do . . . 

God has a way of gently teaching us at times like this, times when we feel weak and far from adequate. Remember the story of the piano lesson from my last post? A child had practiced so hard to plunk out a simple tune with his little stubby fingers. And then the teacher sat down and played along with him. As the keys yielded to his touch, beautiful music echoed in the studio. As the last notes died away, the teacher smiled. "You did what you could, and I did the rest."
bing.com
I think that sometimes God takes us by the hand and leads us to the window, parts the curtain, and gives us a glimpse of what He is doing. While confined to the rocking chair, sipping tea, I began to connect the dots of God working in ways I never could have imagined.

I could almost hear the music.

In early December, my publisher mentioned in a weekly newsletter that if authors were interested in doing an audio book to let him know. I never thought of this option so with cautious curiosity emailed him. Within a week, I had four people audition as readers for Penned Without Ink. How would I know who to choose? Although I occasionally enjoy listening to books in the car, I had no experience whatsoever. With the help of a few writer friends and family members, we narrowed it down to two, then I sent in my # 1 and # 2 choices, praying all the while that I had made the best decision.

Shortly thereafter, my # 1 choice emailed me, asking about the correct pronunciation of a few names. She also shared with me that she had done her nurse's training at the same hospital I was in for the three weeks immediately after our car crash. Although the times didn't line up, she had walked those same hallways and cared for patients in that same location. What a connection! In spite of my hand-wringing over which reader to choose, God placed us together. 

During the holidays, I also received a letter from my aunt written on behalf of a distant relative who, because of macular degeneration, could not see to read. My aunt told her about my book, which her son ordered and reads to her on his occasional visits. She wanted me to know what an encouragement it has provided, and please, would I make my book available to the Association for the Blind in Albany, New York?

Google.com
I know a little about the Association for the Blind because of Barry's eye challenges. He received many large-print and audio books on loan. This was another avenue I had not yet considered. And the request came at the precisely the same time the audio book "happened" to be in process! As soon as the audio is up and running, I'll be on the phone, pursuing opportunities to encourage many with deteriorating vision.

The holidays have slipped into the past, and I'm feeling much better. Yet I hope I will always remember the blessing of sipping ginger tea in the rocking chair, reflecting on God's faithfulness. 

We do what we can and God does the rest.

Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.
Isaiah 25:1 (NIV)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Striking a Balance

Is it just me, or is January 2018 zipping by at breakneck speed?

Seems I'm just getting around to reflecting on the new year's possibilities along with a few goals and hopeful intentions. In the process I reached for one of Barry's books I finished in 2017 and found the page with the corner turned down. Sometimes when you don't have time to think about something in the moment, it's nice to go back and find it again - this time to digest it slowly, like savoring a candy bar you saved for later. 
Here's what I've been thinking about (along with making time for rest, exercise, and connecting with people):
Reading is a sober discipline, and all discipline is difficult. It requires work, diligence, concentration, practice, and maturity.
But that is the way it is with anything worthwhile. The best things in life invariably cost something. People have to sacrifice to attain them, to achieve them, to keep them, and to enjoy them. 
That is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn in life. It is the message that most parents realize that they ought to instill in their children: Patience, commitment, diligence, constancy, and discipline will ultimately pay off if their children are just willing to defer gratification long enough for the seeds they have sown to sprout and bear fruit.
A flippant, shallow, and imprecise approach to anything . . . is ultimately self-defeating.* 
Maybe sometimes in the heat of the day, we forget that "anything noble takes effort." 

I read another book, this one requested for Christmas by one of my daughters. I have a habit of reading the books I gift, both before and after they're opened! This one started out with an allegory about a student who wanted to take piano lessons. He practiced and practiced. When he plunked out his little tune during his lesson, the teacher came alongside him and began to play. Melodious music filled the room. When they finished the teacher smiled and said, "We make pretty good music together."

The boy looked up at him. "You don't mean we, do you?

"Yes. We made the music together. You did what you could, and I did the rest."**

The story includes many wonderful scenes and lessons, but this line struck a cord with me. We often are like the child . . . practicing commitment and diligence, working hard . . . as we should. Yet our efforts often seem like the awkward tune the boy struggled to play. And that's when the Master Teacher comes alongside us and whispers, "You do what you can, and I will do the rest."

Striking a balance? There will always be a tension between the hard work of taking our responsibilities seriously and watching/hearing God make our labored efforts sing. In the next post or two, I'll be sharing some examples of this very thing.
 
*Going Somewhere: A Dan and Bea Adventure by George Grant (Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999). 254.
**When Being Good Isn't Good Enough by Steve Brown (Brenham: Lucid Books, 2014), 24.

Photos from bing.com/images free to use

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Paper or Plastic?

"You're turning into Mrs. Walter, Mom!"

I had to chuckle last week as one of my daughters surveyed the basement void of nearly thirty years' worth of clutter, videos, and old catalogs. Instead, the built-in shelves house many of my husband's books, neat and tidy. The floor looks large and nearly empty.

Mrs. Walter. . . Barry did yard work for the dear old lady, and she adopted the rest of us, more or less.

For a while we (four-year-old Elisabeth and I) took her grocery shopping. On the weeks she found it difficult to get out, we dropped by to pick up her list. Always in her careful handwriting, always specific, always brand name items. One day we were looking for a can of Green Giant vegetables. Elisabeth, always a ready helper, quipped, "There it is. The green Philistine!" 

A widow, former tennis player, and avid reader of the classics, Mrs. Walter was sharp as a tack. She kept her home and yard just so. Conversant in subjects ranging from philosophy to gardening, she carried an aura of youth about her slight wrinkled frame. She listened well, offering just enough to make you think you could change your corner of the world.


When we shopped together, a pattern emerged that disturbed me:

"Does she want paper or plastic bags?"
The question, directed toward me, by-passes the little lady,
     Change purse poised, list in hand.

Oh, I know the answer.
We come here every Tuesday.
She waits for me by her door with hat and sunglasses,
     Outfit neat, in different colored Keds every time - 
Then hoists herself up onto my van seat.

At the store, we walk together . . .
     As though I am the usher
     And she a guest at a grand wedding.
I lay her produce on the grocer's scale.
I search for cans, often tucked in where they don't belong. 

When we return, I unload her treasures and carry them in. 
We put them all in their proper places.

And all the while,
She listens as I weigh out pros and cons.
     She gives me clues when solutions seem obscure.
     She shares my load when life feels overwhelming.
     We put it all in its proper place. 

"Paper or plastic?"
"Paper," she says.*

I made it a point never to answer the questions misdirected toward me. Mrs. Walter answered them just fine. And if my daughter wants to compare me to our spunky friend who kept her home sparse and tidy, I'm okay with that.

Just let me do the answering!

*Poem written December 2002

Monday, December 4, 2017

When the Passing of Time Brings Change

The emotion I felt surprised me.

Another first since my husband passed away. . . which should have been the first clue this would trigger some feelings of nostalgia mixed with loss.

The last two years, our youngest daughter and I "decked the halls" of our home, but this year she and the others plan to arrive for an early Christmas on the same day. Our time is short so I planned to have everything ready - and honestly looked forward to decorating the house. Umpteen trips up to the attic and back saw me pull out the old familiar simple, homespun Christmas garlands, stockings, and lighted village. And, of course, the wooden manger my dad made when the kids were little . . . and all the holiday stories. 

I cranked up the Christmas music on Pandora and went to work . . . but instead of seeing my hands sort lights and greenery, I saw little-girl hands hanging their stockings on designated hooks by the fireplace. Added to the carols, I heard their voices and laughter. I watched their daddy in the recliner, taking it all in, giving his two cents now and then, snacking on popcorn, and feeding the fire. I smelled pizza in the oven and freshly baked cookies as the celebratory ending to our annual tradition. 

Tears ran down my cheeks. Those busy, hectic days slipped away so quickly . . . only memories now. 

Even as I reached for the tissue box, I thought of our girls and how proud I am of each one. Two of them are now mothers, creating their own family traditions. I thanked God for the privilege of being their mom all these years.

And I rehearsed the blessings God has offered me today . . . family, friends, community, health, the ability to do my work and help others. . .  and even events to look forward to over this holiday season . . . blessings I want to receive with gratefulness and contentment.  

Even though time changes so much of life, Christmas is still about Emmanuel, God with us. It's still about a loving God who sent His only Son to be our Savior. It's still about joy and peace . . . and everlasting hope. 

When the family all comes trouping through the back door in a couple of weeks, the house will be festive, the tree bright, the frig stocked with their favorites, and the gifts wrapped. The little grandboys will dress up as shepherds, and we'll read the familiar story from Luke 2 together. We'll ponder the miracle of Christmas.

I plan to savor every minute!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stories for Christmas

There's something about Christmas that makes me want to enjoy a warm, wonderful story. Down through the years I have collected a file folder full of Christmas stories from magazines and newsletters along with a stack of holiday books. Every day during the month of December I would read to our daughters by tree light. Every year we looked forward to the stories, stories that became more and more dear.

My parents began our story-telling tradition. Early on, they read the same stories to my sister and me--and then to our children. A timeless tradition for multiple generations.

Here's a list of a few of the stories we've come to enjoy. A click on the book titles will take you to Amazon.com. I hope you'll add your own favorites in the comments below. 

Our Grandson as a Shepherd, 2016
The Christmas Story written by New Testament authors Matthew and Luke

SHORT STORIES:
"Charlie's Blanket" by Wendy Miller (from a book compiled by Dr. Joe Wheeler: Christmas in My Heart: A Timeless Treasury of Heartwarming Stories)
"The Good Things in Life" by Arthur Gordon (from a book compiled by Dr. Joe Wheeler: The Best of Christmas in My Heart, Vol. 2)
"Out of the Ivory Palaces" by Dr. James A. Hunter
"Why the Chimes Rang" by Raymond MacDonald Alden
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
"The Shoemaker's Christmas" by Corrie ten Boom (from her book Christmas Memories)

PICTURE BOOKS:
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
Punchinello and the Most Marvelous Gift by Max Lucado
The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson
The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell (This title is linked to my childhood edition.)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore


NOVELS AND NOVELLAS:
A Miser, A Manger, A Miracle by Marianne Jordan  
Christmas Past by Robert Vaughan
The Yuletide Angel by Sandra Ardoin
The Christmas Note by Donna VanLiere
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
A Father's Prayer by Linda Rondeau
The Easterly House by Beth Livingston

What Christmas stories can you add to the list?


Oh, and if you're looking for a gift idea for that special middle-schooler, check out Cindy Noonan's book. She gives history a heartbeat in Dark Enough to See the Stars, a story of escape on the Underground Railroad.

I met Cheryl Elton at a writers' conference several years ago, and we've kept in touch ever since. She's crafted a thought-provoking book titled Pathway of Peace: Living in a Growing Relationship with Christ.

And my inspirational memoir, Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, may be just the right gift for a friend or family member who could use a bit of encouragement. (And it's been free or $1.99 on Kindle, so grab a copy for yourself, too!)


This Christmas we have the opportunity to give gifts that offer a lasting impact . . . 




Thursday, November 16, 2017

Savoring our Blessings Just a Little Bit More . . .

I wonder how many times we don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone. Said another way, we often realize how much we value people, abilities, and even things after we lose them. And sometimes the seeming littlest losses bring a grief that surprises us.

So, how can we be more intentional about gratefulness. . . ahead of time? 

As a child, I could run—fast. I loved to hike in the woods, climb up and down ravines, and hop from stone to stone in the creek. In my forties, I took brisk early morning walks with my husband and jogged with our daughter, Sharon. I enjoyed those times, but now my hips complain. I never thought about the blessing of being able to climb and run until I couldn’t do it anymore. Yet, every time I put on my sneakers and head to the park or even around the block, I find myself thanking God. I can walk! (If you've read my book, you know that after a car accident, I had to learn to walk again. I don't take it for granted.)

After that same crash, our family no longer enjoyed the security of health, routine, and predictability. We lost the normality of traditional roles, family suppers, and even the ability to ambulate unaided, drive, and independently care for ourselves. When some of these things returned, I felt blessed beyond measure—and still do.

Several years ago, watching my sweet mom go through chemo treatments helped me appreciate the blessings of an appetite, a bad-hair day, feeling half-way decent, and the ability to do my work. 

The quiet of my home echoes with memories of the man I loved for nearly 36 years. I miss his sacrificial love, his advice, his strong arms around me. When I'm not sure what to do about a matter, I often think, "Now, what would Barry say?" Sometimes I ask God to whisper my thanks to him for all he did for our family, what he taught us, and for his faithfulness. That's a lot to give thanks for. 
  
Perhaps we don’t fully appreciate what we have until something happens. We take running water and electricity for granted until a pipe leaks or the lights go out. We underestimate the efficiency of working with two hands until one is injured. We may not fully realize the comfort of a friend or family member until circumstances take him or her away from us. When we find our lives altered, in big matters and small, we see things from a different perspective.

Today, I want to be intentional about savoring the blessings in my story just a little bit more.

How about you?


Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Secret of Greatness . . .

We've seen and heard it over and over the past couple of years . . . in speeches and newscasts, on TV talk shows and radio interviews, on T-shirts, ball-caps, and banners, and on Facebook and Twitter.

"Make America great again." 

There's no question who coined the phrase in this generation, but Mr. Trump is not the first to talk about America's greatness.

Nearly two centuries ago, in 1831, two gentlemen visited the then-fledgling United States, sent on a mission by the French government to check out the criminal justice system. Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont spent nine months here, visiting both urban cities and rural villages. Mr. de Tocqueville chronicled the trip in Democracy in America.
I discovered a copy among my husband's course notes, still lined up straight and tall on a shelf in the basement. And I also found a "commentary on modern America" in the stack I saved from his side of the bed. I'm reading through the latter . . . and that's where I came across these words  penned by de Tocqueville: 
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.* 
I think he had a point, don't you? 

What makes anything or anyone great? Isn't greatness linked to moral excellence, virtue, kindness, honor, and benevolence?

Jesus dialogued about the essence of greatness with his followers. "Whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:43). Service to others makes up the foundation of goodness. On this true greatness is built.

America can only be great when its citizens individually choose to take up the cause for goodness . . . in the ordinary-ness of every day with our families and neighbors, in the workplace, and in the marketplace. You and I can make a difference.


*Going Somewhere by George Grant (Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999), page 185.

**This post is not intended to be a political statement.

***First and last photo from bing.com/images.