Sunday, July 23, 2017

Marching On

                     Betty had asked Jenny if she attended a local church.
                     “No, why?” Jenny had answered before giving it any thought.
                     “Sometimes it helps make things easier. Gives you a direction, a place to turn when you are hurting.” Betty rested her hand on Jenny’s arm. “I can suggest a few, if you have a preference of denomination.”
                     “No … um … there’s definitely no denomination.” 
                     “You could come with me some Sunday. I could pick you up.”
                     Jenny’s eyes narrowed. “Is this part of your job? Are you supposed to convert me or something?” Betty had been so upfront with her so far and Jenny felt she could trust her. Why was she pulling the whole church thing now?
                     “It’s not part of my job.” The woman laughed. “It’s part of me. I couldn’t say I was a Christian if I didn’t reach out to nonbelievers. At least try to reach them.”

My novel, “Where the Sky Meets the Sand”, was released in ebook version last week and will be available in paperback after September 1. This is a short excerpt from chapter 14. When I write a scene like that, I feel like a hypocrite. Have I shared my faith with others? Have I tried to reach out to the lost? A loud “no” reverberates in my head when I ask myself that.

Yet, people tell me that I reach others with my writing. I suppose that is true, to a certain extent at least, but I always feel that I should be doing more.

What I have to remember though, what I have to tell myself, is that God made me the way I am for a reason. Yes, sometimes I need to get out of my comfort zone and actually talk to people, which is a struggle because I’m very shy, insecure, and introverted. I think that’s why I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so I can live like a hermit and not leave my house.

I seem to have gotten off track.

What I really mean to say is that God grants us each gifts, whether it is healing the sick, feeding the homeless or preaching the gospel. Our job is to share those gifts with others, with those in need. Once in a while, though, we will be asked to stretch ourselves, to offer to others things which cost us something, whether monetarily, physically or emotionally. At those times, all we can do is ask for God’s guidance and strength, and then march on to do what we have to do.

Heavenly Father, thank you for granting me so many gifts and I pray for your guidance in using these gifts to benefit others. Amen
Sometimes we have to march through the mud, whether it's comfortable or not. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Here's a sad fact

This is going to be another, short quick post, with more pictures than anything else. 
This is my Uncle Robert and Aunt Helen (my mom's brother and sister), taken around 1920.
My Aunt Helen marrying Uncle Bob in 1942. His brother was their best man and her cousin was their maid of honor. The best man and maid of honor had gotten married in 1939. So brothers married cousins. Right? 
 My Aunt Helen's kids in 1955.
 My Uncle Robert with his wife and kids also in 1955. 
 This is my family, in 1959, before I was born. 
I don't want to go into lengthy detail, but I've lost four of the relatives in these pictures in the last five months. As I post this, I am heading off to the funeral of one of them. One of my favorite cousins, Gail. Here she is at her wedding in 1970. Have you ever seen a happier bride? 
Holy cow, and here's a really sad fact, if I 'm counting right, out of all these pictures, only six of these people are left. I think I'll quit going through the old family photos for a while. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Day on the Land

I spent a couple hours on Saturday with my brother and sister on our mom’s property. It brought back a lot of memories, but the best part was creating new memories with my surviving siblings, who I don’t spent nearly enough time with.

This twenty acres was once an open field. My brother says he remembers the last time Dad hayed it, then they planted the Norway in about 1962. 
 All the spruce trees have come up on their own.
When they were farming it, as in most farms in Wisconsin, all the largest rocks were gathered together in one pile. 
 My sister Pat and I spent hours as kids just sitting on our rock pile, me on the round rock to the right and Pat somehow perched on the pointy rock on the left. I’ve always told my husband that I want to bring those two rocks home with me, but he just gives me a scathing look.  

  At the very back of the property grow some beautiful maples.
 The grave of our dad’s dog Mac. Very sad, huh? 
 Last we hunted down the famous Big Rock. I scared up a deer on the way there. 
 Can you spot my brother photo-bombing me in the upper right corner?
 Good memories – both old and new. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Do Not Worry

  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-27 (New International Version)

I was going over some of the notes I took at Lifest last week. Yes, I carry a small notebook with me and write down things that people say which inspire me. Or that was the idea.

Tiffany Thompson, one of my favorite speakers at Lifest each year, talked about what psychologists claim makes people happy. Number one thing was gratitude, and not necessarily just feeling grateful, but the actual act of searching (and hopefully finding) things which you are grateful for.

Next was sleep, but it’s not about getting enough sleep; it’s about not worrying about it.  A lot of people (ok, always me) get to bed late, and right away are thinking “I have to get up early in the morning and now I’m not going to get enough sleep and I’m going to be shot all day.” Instead of thinking, “oh, well, I’ll get whatever sleep I can tonight and tomorrow is going to be just fine”.

Third was decision-making. And again (maybe you are starting to see a trend), it’s not about making the right decision; it’s about just making it. Another huge stumbling block for me. I will obsess for days before I am able to make the tiniest, inconsequential decision. “I need a new pair of work shoes, but I really need to wait until they go on sale, but when will that be? And am I going to get to the store while the sale is still on? What if they go on sale right after I buy them? Do you think the store would refund the difference if I took them back when they did go on sale? I’ve always worn white shoes to work, but everyone else is wearing colored ones? Think it would be okay if I wore colored ones too, or would I just be following the pack by doing what they do?” And it goes on and on. Holy cow! Just buy the stupid shoes. Who cares if they cost ten dollars more this week. The amount of stress you are causing yourself is costing your mental health way more than ten bucks!

The last thing which I wrote down was exercise. And you guessed it. It’s not about getting in those 30 minutes four days a week, it’s about doing whatever you can do that makes you feel good. I still wish I could start running again, but my Achilles tendon is still killing me. I need to get over that and accept the fact that I’m not meant to run and just do exercises which make me feel good.

Or that’s what I got out of what Tiffany had to say.

It seems to me, then, that the number one key to finding happiness is to keep it simple, do the best you can, then move on and be thankful for what you have. And in the end, remember that God’s got it covered. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Flashback Friday - Old Machines

    I don’t know why, but I found these pictures of my grandpa, working on the roads, so fascinating. Back when these were taken – I’m guessing the early 1940s – these trucks and machinery were probably pretty cool. He-man stuff. Larger than life for a lot of people. It's a wonder the equipment we've used over the years.  

 I’m not the one who circled grandpa there in the middle. 
     With all of our modern-day technology, it’s hard for the younger generation to picture how their grandparents and great-grandparents survived such a life. 
     This is grandpa working on the well in front of their house. I don’t know what he’s doing, but whatever it was, he had to do it by hand and by himself. No specialist to call in. Seems he was also always wearing a hat. 
     I never met either of my grandpas. My dad's dad died shortly after they moved to America. And this one - my mom's dad - passed away three years before I was born. 
     This is rather a random picture, I realize, but it was in the same pile, so I thought I’d add it. Love those old cars! 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Scene 1 from the discarded files

            As you may or may not know, my first novel, “Where the Sky Meets the Sand”, is in the process of being published. I don’t have a date yet when it will be available, and I suppose that’s why I haven’t been spreading the word as much as I should.
          It is the story of an American woman and an African boy. When I first started writing it, I switched back and forth between not only the woman’s and boy’s point of views, but about five other people as well. It became rather cumbersome and confusing. I had to cut out some of the various character’s stories, but didn’t delete them entirely. Those words, those other perspectives, remain on my laptop. I thought that maybe, in prelude to the release of the book, I would start sharing some of those scenes here.
            The boy’s point of view
The boy didn’t know how long he lay on the floor of his mother’s hut. He knew that she was working around him, cooking meals, making chai tea. He knew that sometimes she knelt next to him and poured goat’s milk, mixed with cow’s blood, down his throat.
The bleeding had stopped but the pain continued to pound through his entire body. He was afraid that he would never be able to walk again. He was more afraid that no one in his tribe would speak to him again.
Then one night, when everyone was fast asleep, he rolled unto his belly and pushed himself up onto his knees. He rose on wobbly legs and took a tentative step. He discovered it wasn’t as bad as he thought. Walking actually helped, it made him feel alive again, it forced him to breath. 
In silence, he filled a cloth bag with several pieces of chapati, the flat fried bread which they ate at most meals, and some strips of dried meat. He tied the bag along with the knife to his side and reached for a long stick which was leaning against the wall outside.
He knew what he had to do.  
These boys, from my first trip to Kenya in 2006, were the physical inspiration for the boy in the story. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Finding Hope

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. (1 Corinthians 13:13a, New International Version)

I know you’ve seen those words before. I know I’ve blogged about them before, probably several times. Usually when we see this verse, "love" is the word we focus on. Coz the next words read, But the greatest of these is love.

Today however, the greatest is hope.

As you read this, I am heading home from another Lifest. On Thursday night, Bob Lenz, the founder of Lifest, spoke on the main stage about hope. He posed the question, when things are bad, really bad, how does a person find hope.

When you lose your job, when you are hit with unforeseen bills, when you are diagnosed with an incurable cancer, when your spouse leaves you, when any of these things – or worse – happen to a loved one. When you find yourself in a hole of sadness, where there is no way out. Where you have lost all hope.

Where can you possibly find hope? Right where it’s always been, between faith and love.

Lord God, Jesus Christ, thank You for always giving us hope. In the darkest of times, You are the Light which will always shine. Amen.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Return to Hell's Gate

I was looking at previous blog posts as well as pictures from my trip to Kenya this spring, and just realized that it has been three whole months since I was there. In some ways, it feels like it was yesterday and in others, it seems like a lifetime ago. Also, as hard as it seems to believe, I have only posted a fraction of the pictures I took.

Last time I wrote about Hell’s Gate National Park, we were still in the gully. I had traversed a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, but I still had a lot of hiking ahead of me.

 The beauty, however, continued to make it worthwhile.

 This is the wall I slid down and sustained my visibly worst injury, scraping all of the skin off my left elbow and a small patch off of my left side. 

 Another obstacle. 

 Took it like a champ. I am still just plain too old for this nonsense. 

 The very last wall to climb. I took a rest before clambering up this one. It was no worse than rocks I’d climbed in search of waterfalls back home, but it had been a long morning. Yes, it was still morning; our day was not nearly over. 
 The view made it all worthwhile, though. Eventually I will blog about lunch and the rest of the day. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

72 years ago, and then some

I’m presenting Flash-back Friday two days early. I’m sandwiching it between the Fourth of July and the sixth of July for a reason.

Yesterday was Independence Day, the day we celebrate our freedom. As you may recall, my dad and his family came to the United States from Germany in 1924. During and following World War I, life in Germany was incredibly hard, everyone was living in poverty and oppression. When Dad’s family lived through the Great Depression here in the US, they felt that conditions here were still better than what they left behind.

His mother lived a hard, tiring life. This is the oldest picture I’ve found of her. It is dated the 1920s, but I don’t know where she was living at the time or who the child is with her.
 This is her passport picture from 1924. I guess no one takes a good passport picture. 
 This one is from 1955, when she was vacationing in St Augustine, Florida with my family (before I came along). I think Mom said it was the only vacation she ever took. She would have been 67 years old then. She looks much older, doesn’t she? A hard life will do that to you. 
 These next two photos rather confuse me. The first one is supposedly of my dad, is dated January 11, 1923, and says the dog’s name is Prince. Dad would have been eight years old at the time and still living in Germany. 
 This one is of Dad and his younger brother Frank. Dated May 29, 1929, when they would have been living in Chicago, I think. Doesn’t he look like he’s wearing the same sweater as in the previous picture though? Had he really not grown much in six years? Or was that just the popular style of sweater and he just kept getting them in a bigger size? Or is one of these pictures not of my dad? Any thoughts? 
 This one is of Dad with Frank again and their older sister Clara, also taken in 1929, so also in Chicago. Doesn’t Frank look like Farkus from “The Christmas Story”?
 There might be more pictures of Dad somewhere between then and 1945, but this is all I got so far. Here he is looking dashing as ever. 
 Here he is in front of his school bus. Which is significant. I probably have told you this before, but he was Mom’s school bus driver. I’ll save the story of their first date for another time. 
 Why I wanted to share this now though is because, shortly after she graduated from high school and shortly after she turned 18, they got married on July 6, 1945. 72 years ago tomorrow. 
And this is where they spent their honeymoon.