I’ve Got My Bags Packed for a Blog Tour

I stole a day out of last week to focus on this craft of writing. Along with several hundred scribes, I turned from other responsibilities to consider the very questions I’m answering here today: what do I write and why? The workshop I attended zeroed in on the art of novel writing and my head was filled with great encouragement, instruction and examples from award-winning mystery writer William Kent Krueger. Between sessions and at lunch, all of us writerly types shared what we’re working on and traded contact information. It was a good day.

That day of focus reminded me that writing is as important to me as breathing. So, taking a deep breath, I’m responding to an invitation from my friend Brenda Yoder to post this week as part of a World Blog Tour. (Please visit Brenda’s wonderful blog, Life Beyond the Picket Fence, and see what she’s been up to.)

What am I working on?

In addition to putting into words my observations on life to be shared with you on this blog, I’ve begun crafting a little piece of fiction about a farming family. It’s a story that’s lived in my heart for over a year and I recently shared part of it with my writing group. With instruction from Mr. Krueger and from several great writing books, I hope to create a story that will move and inspire others. We’ll see.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure that it does. I love writing essays — which is essentially what blog posts are. It’s my desire that readers will step away from reading my blog with something to “mull over”. I’m sure that is what most bloggers desire. As for the novel, as the story unfolds, I’m hopeful that it will be an accurate portrayal of the trials and joys of working together as a family, especially in the midst of the conflicts and challenges life brings.

Why do I write what I do?

I write the blog because I believe we miss so much when we fail to slow down, observe, record and appreciate all the living that goes on around us. Several years again, I read a book by Nancy Nordenson entitled “Just Think”. Her little book was the impetus for my quest to love God with all my MIND. I think one of the most beautiful words in the Bible is “selah” — a tiny word inserted in the Psalms that tells us to slow down and think on what has just been read. In life, I try to practice “selah”.

How does my writing process work?

I wish I knew. It just happens, really. I seem to write best under pressure and late at night.130628_0028.jpg However, I’ve had some very productive afternoons on the front porch of my writing cabin and in a local coffee shop. It’s best for me to write when inspiration strikes, though that isn’t always possible. For the novel, I’m keeping a notebook with character descriptions, a story outline and back story for each of the characters. They change as the characters evolve, but it’s a good place to start. For the blog, many posts come from my personal Bible studies or from books I’m reading, as well as from things happening in the world.

Next stop on the World Blog Book Tour?

While I follow and enjoy many well-known bloggers, two of my favorites live right here in northern Indiana.

I’d like to introduce you to my dear friend, Connie Gochenaur. After raising her daughters in suburbia, Connie recently became a “farm girl” and writes about her beautiful life at www.mydayswelllived.com. Connie is Mom to four grown daughters, Grandma to four wonderful grandchildren and Wife to Jon the Farmer.

I’m also hoping you’ll stop by the blog of Lou Ann Homan-Saylor. Lou Ann is a columnist for our local newspaper and writes a lively, entertaining blog at louannhoman.blogspot.com. A storyteller, writer, actress and teacher, Lou Ann leads a life between two worlds — her home in nearby Angola, Indiana, and Okracoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Lou Ann is currently an islander, tending the light house and participating in theater at her beloved summer home. During the school year, she is on the faculty of Trine University.

 

Still, “So Many Books, So Little Time”

There are books we read for pleasure. Others we scan for facts, information. Some books are meant to be read slowly, to be absorbed in bits and pieces, pondered and then read again.

Selah

And still others carry us along on adventures, affording the opportunity to live vicariously through the author’s chronicled life.

prettybooks.tumblr.com

prettybooks.tumblr.com

In this latter half of my “summer reading list” (see the first half here) there are books that fit all those categories. I offer eight more bookmarked choices inhabiting my reading stack:

Spiritual

  • “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller. This book is inspiring on several levels. Reading it is pleasurable, it’s full of information and it must be read slowly to absorb all that is contained within. And certainly an examination of the reasons to believe in God’s existence by examining His Word is an adventure. I began this New York Times Bestseller last fall, only to set it aside after a few chapters. It is important and challenging, but it’s also serious work to examine how we hold our God up to what the world calls god. However, understanding its premise is important to my spiritual health and will equip me to share my faith with others. World Magazine’s editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky has been assigning Keller’s book to students in his World Journalism Institute, it’s that good.
  • “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” By Ann Voskamp. This is another “redux”. I read this wonderful book when it began climbing up various best seller lists four years ago. I’m reading it again with my Sunday school class as we work through a study guide that is a companion to Ann’s devotional video. I’ve been counting gifts for several years now, returning to this book for inspiration from time to time, and I find something new in Ann’s lyrical prose every time I crack open her beautiful book. This is one worthy of owning in hard cover. Her wonderful blog, http://www.aholyexperience.com, is just as lovely and inspiring.
  • “Pursue the Intentional Life” by Jean Fleming. This book is new to my stack and it will stay at the top for a very long time. This is one to be savored, marked up, copied, prayed through. Fleming can be seen talking about her book at http://www.incourage.me. From the back copy of her book: “Whether you are facing the end of something in your life or embarking on a new beginning, this book will help you live meaningfully and intentionally in the present while preparing well for the future.” Again, this is not one to rush through, but is meant to accompany personal examination and deliberate prayer.

Memoir/Biography

  • “Kisses from Katie” by Katie Davis. This book has been recommended to me so many times, and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. Katie Davis was Glamour Magazine’s 2012 Woman of the Year, but she hardly lives a glamorous life. This young woman stepped away from college and a relationship to travel to Africa at age 18. She has since founded a ministry and adopted over a dozen girls. Having served on three short-term missions to Central America, I’m inspired by the humility and bravery of this young woman. While not everyone is called to live Katie’s life, all of us are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Katie’s book shows us what that looks like in a very practical sense.
  • “Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul” by Cathleen Medwick. While reading a collection of Saint Teresa’s writings (“Let Nothing Disturb You” compiled by Ave Maria Press) I became fascinated with this strong, gifted 16th century Spanish nun. Saint Teresa was the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church and was a reformer in the church. Not a light beach read, this biography is one that will likely remain in the stack into the new year.

Writing

  • “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard. At just a little over 100 pages, Annie Dillard’s classic is a perfect “jump-start” for a writer with little time to read about writing. As reviewed by the Chicago Tribune: “For nonwriters, it is a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words. For writers, it is a warm, rambling conversation with a stimulating and extraordinarily talented colleague.” Once finished, this little book will go on my shelf alongside Steven King’s “On Writing” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”.

Fiction

  • “Into the Free” and “When Mountains Move” by Julie Cantrell. I’m cheating here and giving you two for one (counting them both). I recently finished “When Mountains Move” because I just couldn’t put it down. I love historical fiction and after finishing Cantrell’s first book, “Into the Free”, I couldn’t wait for the sequel to be released. Both offer the well-told story of a young woman who overcomes tremendous personal hardship to pursue a life of adventure. The only drawback to the second book is that to fully engage with the characters, it is important to read the first. But, since that is the case with most sequels and since both books are equally compelling, they belong side-by-side on my reading list.
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. I have read others of Hemingway’s earlier books, but never picked up his final work of fiction. This is my oldest son’s favorite book, which is all the reason I need to put it on my stack in honor of this son’s 30th birthday. That, and the fact this book earned Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize the year I was born.

What’s on your stack? Better yet, what’s that one book you just can’t put down this summer?

Graceful or Gullible? and A Summer with “So Many Books”

“I’ll walk you to the door, Miss.” I didn’t know whether to thank my AT&T salesman or laugh in his face. So I did a little of both.

“I haven’t been called ‘miss’ for about 40 years,” I said with a girlish giggle. “But thank you.”

“I wouldn’t have known. Honest, I wouldn’t!” he called out as I walked to my car. I shook my head and slid in behind the wheel. Okay, maybe I blushed a little.

Thanks, sonny, but I’m not buying a new phone.

Why is it so difficult to take a compliment — assuming it’s intended as a kindness and not a subtle form of mockery? I’ve been called gullible more than once in my lifetime, so I’ve acquired a touch of cynicism in my old age. But when true compliments come my way, I want to field them with grace and gratitude. I know that when I say something that is sincerely complimentary to someone, I want them to receive and appreciate it — like a gift.

So, because I’m on a mission to learn new skills in this final quarter of my earthly life, I’ve decided to begin with practicing humble gratitude. People do say nice things once in awhile. And they mean them. Instead of tossing off kind words with an attitude of dismissal, I’m going to gracefully and humbly say “Thank you. I’m glad you thought so.” And leave it at that. And if it turns out they intended the comment as mockery, I may just catch them off-guard. I’m okay with being gracefully gullible, too.

*******************

It’s summer — though in northern Indiana tonight it feels like October — and I’m seeing all sorts of summer reading lists floating around out there. It’s a little late to actually begin a list of intended literary pursuits that will be wrapped up by Labor Day, but since I read year-around, I thought I’d share what’s on my reading stack at the moment. I’m only giving you a partial list, because I’m embarrassed to reveal the enormity of my appetite, but hopefully you’ll find a few here that pique your interest. I’ve grouped them into spiritual, memoir/biography, writing and fiction. There are 16 in all (and some of them I’m already reading) so I’m sharing half of them today, a few from each category, and the rest later this week. Stay tuned.

prettybooks.tumblr.com

prettybooks.tumblr.com

Spiritual:

  • “Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence” by Jenni Catron. I’m 50 pages into it and I feel Jenni and I could be friends. From the back of her book: “We all long for significance, even as we fear we will never be good enough. We listen for God, but hear only voices of doubt and practicality. Listen again. There is a call that only you can answer.”
  • “Leading Women to the Heart of God” edited by Lysa Terkeurst. This is an inspiring collection of writings by women ministering to women in their church and their community. I’m highlighting, underlining and tagging all the great ideas and words of counsel found in this valuable book.
  • “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. A camp counselor who worked for me back in the days I directed church camp loved this book. He said it changed his life. Three authors I regard highly — Michael Card, Max Lucado and Eugene Peterson — have high praise for Manning’s classic meditation on grace. I’m excited to dig into this one and to share it with my sons.

Memoir/Biography:

  • “A Circle of Quiet” by Madeleine L’Engle. I love L’Engle’s fiction (“A Wrinkle in Time” stands out) and I’ve read this memoir before. But, some books you just have to come back to. This is the first in her “Crosswicks Journal” trilogy, and I may have to track down the other two, “The Summer of the Great-grandmother” and “The Irrational Season”.
  • “The Boys of My Youth” by Jo Ann Beard. Reading this collection of memories from a woman who grew up in my era is like reminiscing with a cousin. Nothing profound, just scattered remembrances that add up to a life.

Writing:

  • “Get That Novel Written!” by Donna Levin. My author-son tells me you shouldn’t talk about what you’re writing, so I won’t reveal why I’m reading this one. Let’s just say this is a novel-writing workshop in a book. Wonderful, and a bargain at less than 20 bucks.
  • “The Art of War for Writers” by James Scott Bell. I heard Bell speak at a writers’ conference and was totally enthralled. His book promises “the ultimate novel-writing battle plan”. It should go well with my other “workshop” book as I revisit my childhood ambition.

Fiction:

  • “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin. I must admit that I picked this book up today at my local library from the “New Books” shelf. I liked the cover, the title and the premise that (as it says on a sign over Fikry’s book store) “No man is an island; every book is a world.” I’m a lover of books and of suspense. This just felt like the perfect summer read to me. Setting my literary and Christian historical fiction aside for awhile to try something new.

So there’s half my list. What are you reading? And as a bonus, this parting quote from the great bibliophile and philosopher Frank Zappa:

So many books, so little time.”

 

 

An Open Letter to Young Women Who Might Want to Marry My Sons

My oldest son turned 30 today. Yeah, I’m that old (and then some).

photo (6)Reflecting back on this amazing young man’s life, and looking forward to what the future holds for him and his lovely bride of 9 years, I got to thinking about the other three — the younger brothers who are as yet unmarried. Since they were born, I’ve prayed for the women God would bring to share their lives. Our oldest son is happily married to his best friend, and I’ll continue to pray that these three will have the same good fortune.

I’m aware that statistically, the odds are two of the four will have marriages ending in divorce. Rather than dwell on that possibility, I’ve come up with some “premarital advice” for my prospective daughters-in-law. Here is my open letter to the young women who might want to marry one of my sons:

Dear One ~

As the first woman in the life of the young man you hope to marry, I would like to share a few thoughts with you. They are offered in love. It’s entirely up to you whether you take them to heart.

This young man is not the perfect match for you. No one is. We are all flawed, including my son, and if you go into this union expecting perfection, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. He’s forgetful, a little messy and sometimes he smells. He won’t always want to do whatever you want to do and he’ll probably hurt your feelings and fail to say he’s sorry. But if he loves you like I know he can, you’ll forgive him and accept him for who he is, and you’ll help him become a better man.

Don’t do everything for him. If you want to spoil him from time to time, that’s fine, but don’t make it a habit. He can do laundry and clean bathrooms, even cook a little. Share the load with him or you’ll be sorry — and you’ll undo all the hard work I put into him.

Treat him like a King. And act like his Queen. If he fails to honor you and make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world, tell him his Mom said to straighten up. If you show him honor and respect, you will likely receive the same in return. It just works that way.

Expect his best. A man is only as good as we expect him to be (and a woman, too, for that matter). Set the bar high and help him to reach it by letting him know what you believe he’s capable of. Men need goals, not criticism. Let him know that you think he can achieve anything and he just might.

Keep your struggles to yourselves. Don’t share your dissatisfaction with my son with all your girlfriends, your Mom or me. If you have problems (and you will), deal with them at home. Or see a good, Christian counselor and work it out. Your best friend is not equipped to help you, no matter how sympathetic she is. (And neither is his best friend.)

Expect his parents to love you unconditionally. We’ve decided that the best thing we can do for our sons is to love the women they choose as their wives. Unconditionally. Unless you betray him or us, you can count on us to treat you with the same love and attention we give our sons.

We will never be your child’s baby-sitter. If God gives you children, we’ll be their grandparents. We’ll willingly play with them, teach them things, read to them and just hang out with them whenever you want or need us. But we won’t call it baby-sitting, just being Grandma and Grandpa.

Memorize the “love chapter”. He’s read I Corinthians 13 and you should, too. Then try to live by it. “Love is patient…..” is a good place to start.

Keep God at the center of your relationship. My son knows Jesus and he knows who created him. He may forget at times, but he has been taught that his strength comes from a heavenly Father. Pray for God to equip him to be the kind of husband you need.

Don’t walk before him or behind him, but beside him. He’s been raised to believe women are equal to men. That doesn’t mean Love-Letter-Hearthe will expect you to be able to do all the things he can do, but you are his partner and “help meet”. He needs you by his side.

I’m sure there’s more I could share, and hopefully we’ll have plenty of time to sit at my kitchen table or yours and talk about this man we both love. I feel I already know how special you are…..because my son chose you.

Love,

Your Man’s Mom 

 

Release: Let it go, let it go

Joining the community today at Five Minute Friday with a quick take on the word “release”. Won’t you join me there and read what others have to say?

5minutefriday

There are no little girls in my life at the moment, so watching the movie “Frozen” was a guilty, grown-up girl indulgence for me.

Who’d have though I would find life lessons in animation?

That song, the one that keeps whirling around in our heads after it’s sung, the one that’s been lip-synced across the internet. Yeah, that one.

How do you do that when you’re a sixty-something with a lifetime of stuff you need to release? How do you let your hair down, fling your arms wide and embrace who you really are, not who you’ve been telling yourself you should be for the past six decades?

The moral, for me at least, of “Frozen” is that when we let go of things in our lives that bind us, we open the door to other great possibilities. When we no longer let circumstances beyond our control determine how we will live, when we release ourselves from self-imposed bondage, we give ourselves freedom to embrace the good that’s been around us the whole time.

We can live a life of regret, a life informed by the “should haves” and “could haves” or we can live this one life we “do have” — a life that’s authentic, optimistic, full of gratitude for every ounce of good that’s left in it.

Now that I’ve done the difficult work of releasing myself from past mistakes, I’m no longer frozen by regret. It’s a beautiful place to live.

 

I was honored to share a guest post this week at my friend Jamelle Godlewski’s blog, Reason4Hope. Jamelle operates an important ministry in my hometown that brings hope to the entire community. Read my post “Waiting….waiting…..waiting” by jumping over to her Web site here.

Everything Old Will Be New Again

5minutefridayI’m sharing 5 minutes of non-stop, unedited reflection today along with other writers at Five Minute Friday. Today’s prompt: Messenger

When it’s 1:30 a.m. and you can’t sleep and you’ve just finished a very satisfying novel (and you’re not ready to jump into a new one), what do you do?

You write. At least I do.

It’s not like I have anything profound to say at this hour. But there are these thoughts, keeping me awake. Thoughts of a new life, a fourth son welcomed into my friend’s family yesterday. Of my own grown sons embarking on adventures that could take them far from home.

Of a dear friend watching the waning of her much-loved mother’s life, as illness drains color from her mother’s cheeks and keeps her in her bed.

And of changes coming in my church family as pastors respond to God’s call on their lives and people I’ve grown to love learn how to walk in this new reality.

This life rests on shifting sands. Nothing stays the same. A new creation awakens as one that is spent fades. New roles replace old and we adjust and life goes on.

If there is a message to be shared at this hour, in these days stretching out to the fullness of summer, it is this:

Nothing stays the same; everything old will be new again.

And while I cannot slow the spin of my world, I can lean into the One who holds it all together, and who makes sense out of chaos.

When You’re Ready to Quit

It was kind of silly. That moment when I dropped my hoe, turned my back on the garden and declared I was done. After 25-plus years of gardening, I’d had enough.

“I don’t want to have a garden this year.” My husband chuckled as I confronted him with the news. “I just don’t want to do this any more.”

Those nine beautiful tomato plants I’d settled into my freshly tilled garden two weeks ago had been whittled down to just six. Rabbits had neatly trimmed three of them down to nubs, along with a tender jalapeno pepper plant. And, half a row of Blue Lake green bean seeds had failed to germinate, even though sunflower seeds dropped from last year’s towering flowers had managed to winter over and sprout random sunflowers all over the garden. Meanwhile, an abundance of rain and sunshine had filled my plot with every kind of weed known to man.

It was overwhelming, and I just wanted to turn my back and go tackle any one of the other tasks awaiting me. Or maybe read a book, take a walk, pick up my knitting. Anything but garden.

“That’s okay,” my husband said. “I’ll do it.”

I protested, he persevered. He wanted a garden, even if I didn’t. (The farmer in him can’t let a planted seed go untended.) It made no sense, I reasoned. We don’t have a bunch of mouths to feed and we can buy perfectly good fresh produce from his uncle just down the road.

An hour later, my revolt ended. Hoe in hand, I made quick enough work of the strawberries and tomatoes and was well into the scraggly rows of green beans and hills of melons.

“Change your mind?” he asked when he spotted me back in the garden.

I hadn’t changed my mind, so much as I’d had a change of heart. My frustrated green thumb was the result of my own neglect.

And besides, I’m not a quitter.

How often are we the designers of our own failure? How many times have I let myself become defeated by my own discouragement?

There’s that whole “is the glass half full or half empty” philosophy. Is my garden a plot of weeds and a few struggling vegetables, or is it a fertile bed of possibilities, given a little time and attention?

One of my all-time favorite quotes from theologian Charles Swindoll hung on the wall of my office for several years. I read it often.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

A change of heart, or a change in attitude. It amounts to the same thing and it can mean the difference between being a quitter or an overcomer.

swindoll

 

 

Tell Me a Story: Sharing Our Lives in Words, Music and Pictures

photo (3)Don’t you just love a good story? I know I do. The stack of books (fiction and otherwise) by my favorite chair, on the desk, at my bedside, lining my bookshelves and residing in my Kindle attest to my love of story. Want me to remember something? Narrate it, wrap a story around it and I’ll hang onto it for weeks — or at least for a few days. Stories are all around us, just waiting to be shared.

I started this blog because I felt like maybe I was missing some of life’s stories, some of the details that make this life worth living. Over the past year and a half I’ve told stories about my children, my parents, my encounter with breast cancer, my garden, my vacation, even strangers I observed at the coffee shop. And I’ve invited others to share their stories, memories and deepest thoughts.

Next week, I’m going to share some of my Dad’s stories and memories with guests in an event at a nearby art gallery. My father is one of the best photo (2)storytellers I know and a couple of years ago, I decided to gather some of his stories together and write them down. I called the collection “One Man’s Work” because so many of Dad’s tales centered around the many jobs he held over his 80-plus years. On Father’s Day that year, I gave Dad a box of books bearing that title to him and we passed copies around to friends and family. The ripple effect of Dad’s storytelling will widen next week when I open his little book and read a few of his collected memories to strangers who won’t stay strangers because soon they’ll know his stories.

It isn’t necessary to lay words down on a page to keep our stories alive. A dear friend told a bittersweet story as we sat around a campfire last weekend about her own father and their shared journey through his Alzheimer’s disease. Chuckling, she described how he would toss candy wrappers and other trash out the open car window while she drove him down the road, forgetting entirely that littering really wasn’t a good thing to do. Tears filled her eyes as she shared other snippets of their final years together, and looking in her face, I understood how important it was for her to keep “Daddy” alive through those stories she shared.

An artist I know shares the stories of women half a world away with beautiful watercolor portraits. When she places her artwork on display, she is passing on the courageous stories the Congolese women told her of their persecution and survival.

One of my sons tells stories with music — sometimes using words, sometimes not. Another captures stories on film, and another in words on paper. Their stories are my personal favorites.

And some of the best stories — tales of survival in the belly of a whale, of giants felled by a boy’s sling-shot, of seas parted, nations conquered and cripples healed — have introduced God’s life-saving grace across generations. Stories, whether told, read or discovered in whatever form chosen to represent them, are breathing, living testimonies to the characters, events and places that inhabit them.

“We are born into stories; they nurture and guide us through life; they help us know how to die,” says storyteller Daniel Taylor in his book Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories. “No one’s story exists alone,” continues Taylor. “Each is tangled up in countless others. Pull a thread in my story and feel the tremor half a world and two millennia away. Stories taught me what it was to be a boy and then a man, what it meant to be an American, how to be a Dodgers fan, where to look for God and what to do when God found me…..”

We help one another along in this life by sharing our stories, or by telling stories we’ve created out of our imaginations. That Facebook post you just authored? The one with the photo of your one-year-old wearing birthday cake frosting and a smile? That’s your story today, and you just shared it with me. The great new historical fiction you’re recommending to your friends and posting on Goodreads? Reading it just might change my outlook on life. (You can check out a few of the books I’ve recommended on Goodreads here.)

The best way to get to know someone, to “do life” with them, is to ask with an open heart “tell me a story.” And when they’ve finished, tell them yours.

 

I’m linking up today at Lyli Dunbar’s Thought Provoking Thursdays. Hop in the red chair and join me there to read other collected thoughts.

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I Am a Grower of Tomatoes

What was I thinking?

Nine tomato plants — count ‘em, NINE — for two adult people. How did they wind up in the trunk of my car?

Yes, there is that 19-year-old who’s home for the summer, but he stays away from tomatoes unless they’re in a ketchup bottle or smothered in mozzarella. So what was I thinking when I brought home those nine healthy green seedlings, all snug in their plastic nests? A morning spent at my friend’s country nursery had yielded a collection of herbs, pepper plants, kale, lettuce — and those nine tomato plants.

How could I resist the promise of beautiful heirloom tomatoes with names like Lemon Drop, Granny Carter, Blue Berry, PineappleBlack Icicle and Amish Paste. Tomatoes with history and geography, planted from seed by my friend’s hand and nurtured in her Amish-made greenhouse.

There was just something sacred about them, and I couldn’t get enough.

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The afternoon was given over to settling their roots in my freshly-tilled garden, mounding moist, rich soil around them, careful to give them enough space to sprawl. Later, I will cage them, making sure their ripe fruit doesn’t tumble to the ground. And later still, I’ll harvest the tiny yellow and blue tomatoes, wrap fingers around plump slicers and fill my basket with fleshy sauce tomatoes.

I can almost taste the sauce and salsa, the “salad sandwiches” made of thick tomato slices, cucumbers and butter. It will be a feast.

In the freshness of Spring after the long, dark cold of Winter, it feels good to think of future feasts. I’ve walked through a time of famine the past year, a time of hungry longing for the banquets of seasons now past, for those years when my days were filled with teaching, nurturing and raising our brood.

In the not-so-long-ago days when I counted six pairs of legs under our kitchen table, the family garden plot was triple the size it is today. And when we co-oped our garden with three other homeschooling families, we cultivated a “truck patch” for corn and vine crops. Raising four boys in a homeschooling family on a farm in Indiana — it’s just what you do.

The size of our garden shrunk as the demand for food at my table diminished. Nearly 30 years of parenting kids under my roof ended, abruptly it seemed, along with my career as homeschooling teacher, mom, and provider of a bountiful garden.

I thought I was ready for all this freedom, for the days when I could make my own schedule, “do my own thing”. But in this springtime of fresh starts and new plantings, I can see that I have been hibernating, lying in wait while trying to figure out

“Who am I now?

When faced with questions for which I have no answers, I turn to the only source of all answers. And I find this:

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”  Galatians 6:4-5 (The Message)

The Words point the way. I keep them before me, meditate on them while I work, whisper them as I wait. And others who have gone before me add their voices:

“Perseverance is MY essential first response to God’s invitation to Peace of Soul.” Teresa of Avila (adapted)

I’ve persevered and I’m taking stock — doing a “careful exploration” of who I am and the work I have been given.

Today, I am content in knowing this…….I am a grower of tomatoes.

beans

herbs

birds

galatians

quote

I’m linked in today at Lyli Dunbar’s “Thought Provoking Thursday”.  Click on the red chair and join me there for other reflections on life.Thought-provoking-thursday-banner_NEW

Forgiveness: Why I’ve Been Confused By Mother’s Day

Thought-provoking-thursday-banner_NEWLast week, I shared my journey to forgiveness with readers at Brenda Yoder’s blog Life Beyond the Picket Fence. Today, I’ve offered up this reflection at Lyli Dunbar’s blog Thought-Provoking Thursdays.

Perhaps you, too, struggle with unforgiveness. As I examined my inability to forgive my mother for leaving her young family, I gained invaluable insight and healing from a new book by Leslie Leyland Fields, “Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers”.

My birth mother would have turned 80 this week. Growing up, it was ironic tmothers-day-2014-pictureso me that her birthday always fell on or near Mother’s Day.

I wasn’t adopted, so referring to the woman who gave birth to me when she was 18 as simply “my birth mother” may seem odd. But to the end of her life, nearly 3 ½ years ago, it seldom felt right to call her “Mom”. Most of my life, she was just Anita.

When I was three years old and my little sisters were two and one, Anita walked out our front door, across the yard and down the street. I remember the day she left vividly, though I was just a toddler at the time. I can still see my baby sister sitting in the dirt, crying, and I remember wondering why my mother carried a suitcase.

I didn’t know it would be several years before we would see her again.

Anita and my father married when she was a child herself. Dad was six years her senior and had returned to his hometown following an enlistment in the U.S. Air Force. In a little more than three years, Anita had three babies.

When Anita left, my grandmothers stepped in to help care for us and soon Dad hired an elderly aunt in the family to stay with his daughters while he worked. Where Anita went and what she did after she left was a mystery. At some point, I was told she had gone in search of her own birth father, a man who left my grandmother before Anita was born. Wherever she went, she did not return for the divorce and custody hearing.

Dad remarried when I was six and soon another sister and a brother completed our family. We were the five Wilson kids, and there was barely a seam where our family had been knit together. By the time Anita returned to town and attempted to become part of our lives, I had shut the door on that relationship. It remained closed for many years.

My “abandonment” (as I chose to call it) by my birth mother came at a time when society considered it the mother’s job to raise her children. Men leaving their families – while still scandalous and not encouraged – was at least accepted and tolerated. Women didn’t give up custody of their babies.

Self-righteous indignation over Anita’s choice settled in during my teenage years. I couldn’t understand how my two sisters could agree to spend weekends with her and her new family. I tolerated occasional visits with Anita, but never let her think I wanted to be there. Instead, my pain and confusion became a hard shell that prevented me from showing her any emotion other than indifference.

But as I matured, I began to notice qualities in Anita that I admired. She was a good mother to her two adopted children. She liked to cook and sew. She enjoyed gardening and canning, and she liked to make people laugh. As a newlywed, my husband and I rented a house in the country, just down the road from Anita’s farm, and we became friends.

Like most friendships, ours tended to ebb and flow. When her second family was grown and her marriage ended in divorce, Anita became a different woman and our friendship was strained. My step-mother had long since become “Mom”, so there seemed to be no way to relate to this woman, my birth mother who was no longer even a friend. Other than obligatory visits at Christmas or on her birthday, we didn’t have much of a relationship.

Then the day came when Anita needed me.

Anita’s health began failing. It was determined that she was suffering the effects of TIAs (Transient Ischemic Attacks) and was showing signs of dementia. I became her caregiver, taking her to doctors’ visits and trying to get her to take better care of herself. She named me her Power of Attorney. When her health declined to the point where she could no longer live alone, she decided to move into a nursing facility rather than live in my home. I knew that was the choice she would make.

Anita had been a bright, creative woman who wrote stories and authored a column for the local newspaper. Now, she could barely complete a sentence. But she had something to tell me.

“I’m sorry.”

She said it often. I had never heard it in all the years we had navigated our bumpy relationship. For some reason, she had to say it now.

So here I was, 55 years old and confused by a woman who had no defined role in my life. She said other things.

“It was best.”

“I’m sure you know…..”

“I love you.”

She tried to tell me not to come to the nursing home, but I had to. The forgiveness I had been chasing after for years was just beginning to blossom, and I had to be there so that it could happen. I had to find a way to tell her I loved her, too, and that I understood.

I was with her when she died, and I think she knew that I’d figured out how to love her.

After years of struggling with and being confused by Mother’s Day, I’m beginning to understand the decision made by a too-soon young mother who barely knew who she was, let alone how to care for three babies. It took five decades for me to begin to forgive her for choosing herself over her daughters – to finally see that in leaving, maybe she chose us after all.

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