Saturday, September 11, 2010

Finding Grandfather Emery

Last week I was sitting in an armchair in front of a dormer window in our friends’ two-story home looking over the small, private lake in front of their house. The sun at high noon was reflecting off the water, and the picnic table sat briefly in a spot of bright sun. Lily pads floated silently, a few of their flowers still blooming on that late summer day. Birds flitted from one graceful birch to another. A way out from the shore the raft drifted along; we wouldn’t be using this trip because cool temperatures had suddenly sent the hot summer ones fleeing.

I could live with a peaceful scene like that every day. I can understand why the owners of the home go up there from their city lives every chance they get—-like nearly every weekend.

Two days before, I had located the grave of my great-great-grandfather Emery Moneysmith. He lingered in my thoughts that Sunday morning. I couldn’t help wondering if he had ever enjoyed such an experience. I have no reason to think he did. I know pitifully little about his life, but I have a feeling I know much more than even my father knew about him. Not only did Emery die in another city when my father was six years old, but it appears Emery had cut all connections with family at the time he died and perhaps for years before.

We had been looking for Emery for many years. We knew he was born in Ohio, the oldest of five children, and that when he was nine, his mother died leaving a newborn baby. We knew he married in Ohio and that his first marriage, the one that produced my grandfather Jacob, ended in divorce. We recently learned that in middle age his married a teenage girl but shortly afterwards abandoned her. What was that all about? We thought he might have ended up in southwestern Michigan because that was the next to last home of that first wife, my father’s grandmother. Finally, my genealogist nephew, mostly through census research, tracked him down in Dowagiac, in southwestern Michigan, only a few miles from where we had once looked. We haven’t a clue what he was doing there.

Fortunately, we already had some helpful information from the cemetery. We knew he was on Lot 16, though I had forgotten being told he had no headstone. No headstone? I’ve visited many ancestral graves, including two with headstones almost as tall as I am and one that has no headstone of its own, just his name on someone else’s stone, but I’ve never visited one with no stone at all. With the help of the current sexton, we could tell which of four “bare” plots he was in because the earth sagged on one of them. “1916?” said the sexton. “They were still burying in wooden boxes.” With that, he laid aside the probe he had brought with him.

Yes, I am fully confident that Grandfather Emery never sat in a lovely room like I did with the freedom to stare out at a peaceful scene and be refreshed in his soul. If he ever in his life made any peace with God, we don’t know about it. There’s a good possibility we were the first people ever to visit his grave. That makes me melancholy.

I know it doesn’t do him any good that we found him, but I am glad for me that we did.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Old Schoolhouse

None of my generation went to school there, neither did my parents’, but my grandmother did and who knows how many others of our Porter and Stauffer ancestral extended families. By the time I came along, it was no longer used as a schoolhouse, but it was still standing. We have a nice picture of it from a photo book of my grandparents’—from the days before “I came along.” Earlier than that, though, is the picture of the school children with my grandmother Fern (then Porter), age six or seven, labeled on the front row. (When did our culture decide on a change from sober pictures to smiling ones?)

In 1992 when we made our first family-history, or ancestor, tour, one of our stops was at the school. It was weathered, the bell was gone, and lush vines were enjoying a happy life on the outer walls, even across half the front door. We peeked in the windows but couldn’t see much. We had in our group that day three school teachers of today’s generations—daughter-in-law Ginger, daughter Lynée, and myself, so we had our picture taken sitting on what was left of the front stoop.

As we drove away down Truman Road, we didn’t know it was the last time we would see the school standing.

The next time we were in Michigan, we drove by—and stared. The school was gone—almost. The only thing left was the chimney. Of course we had to take a picture of it. We learned later that it had burned down, and our hearts said a fond farewell.

But that wasn’t the end of our adventures with that old schoolhouse. When we went back on another “ancestor trip” in 2007, we had trouble identifying the spot where the school had been because even the chimney was gone. The site was surprisingly overgrown. But surely the chimney might still be there, we reasoned, right where it fell. So my sister, my nephew, and I went tromping through the undergrowth in search of it—and there it was, all stretched on the ground and overgrown.

Grandma (little Fern in the picture) has been gone almost sixty years now. It is mostly from her side of the family that we have such a rich ancestral heritage. How I would love to spend an afternoon with her, sharing her past and my present. I would ask her how long she attended the school—come to think of it, I’ve never heard what she did for high school. I would ask her how she got to and from school in the early days, especially on icy Michigan winter days. With her born in 1894, I’m guessing cars weren’t common for rural farm people until she was almost grown.

For my turn, I would tell her about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who love the Lord, about the intense struggles some of them are dealing with, and how I’m sure some of the strength of the faith that sustains them had its roots in her and Grandpa. What should I describe to her that would leave her shaking her head? Computers? Cell phones? Moon landing? No. I see no reason to mention those things. She had a rich life in her time. I’m not going to suggest she missed out on something just because I have it and she didn't.

Except maybe air conditioning...? Surely am thankful for that these days.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Storms and an Anchor

Lots of thoughts are whirling in my head and my heart this week. It’s nice to be home after so much traveling, and I have caught up on a few things. But we can’t find a pair of Fred’s jeans from our June trip—hey! jeans are too big to lose in a little house like this, and I can’t find some very important papers related to my writing. Things like that are so distracting.

Much more distracting are things happening in the lives of some of our friends. The doctors detected several months ago that the baby my writing friend was expecting had a serious heart problem. Baby Annabelle was born two days ago, and the doctors were right. She’ll be having her first surgery this weekend. As far as we know, her mommy hasn’t had a chance to hold her yet. All we in the writing group can do is stand by, pray, feel helpless, and pray some more.

Last month one of our children’s school mates at the mission school in South America lost her battle to an aggressive cancer. This week another one has gotten word that her cancer prognosis is not as good as they at first thought. The word “aggressive” has been used again. We long ago lost track of how many of us who lived and worked together at our beloved Lomalinda have ended up with cancer. Several have lost their battles, and a few of us—for whatever reasons God has—can, for now, be termed “survivors.” Could it have been something in the locale itself? Is there any common denominator? I don’t think it would help to know.

I learned last weekend that a sweet friend at church was so upset back in May over her dear friends who lost so much in the flood that she couldn’t help anyone because she was crying so hard. A few are getting back into their homes after much hard work and financial expenditure, but a number of houses along the roads sit vacant and haunted, with windows gone and dregs of their lives still scattered across the yards.

An agent and his “reader” are taking a second look at the proposal and sample chapters for my novel. I’m very conflicted about all of it right now—but I did work my way through the whole of it this week and reduced the chapters from ninety-nine to sixty-two. Many of them were way too short before. But that’s of least importance in light of all these other things, as well as some things too close to the heart even to talk about. I’m glad that this week I was reminded of a song about anchors and storms, Ray Boltz’s “The Anchor Holds.”

The anchor holds though the ship is battered.
The anchor holds though the sails are torn.
I have fallen on my knees as I face the raging seas.
My anchor holds in spite of the storm.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hannah Marie

Once upon a time there was a family with ancestral roots around Grand Rapids, Michigan. They knew a few things about their ancestors, such as Delilah who, they were told, was French and from whom the brown eyes in the family came. They knew that when Grandma Porter had surgery for cancer in 1930, "they found her so full of it that they just closed her up again." And they heard it declared from time to time that bad traits in the family, for whatever reason, were attributed to someone they called Great-grandmother Wells--whoever she was.

Though the family didn't know much about their ancestors, the ancestral heritage was unusually important to them. Every year on Memorial Day, as many of the family as could gather, did—even from out of state. They would drive by the brick farmhouse and little North Chester Baptist Church that had played important roles in their family history. They visited the graves of parents and grandparents and planted flowers at the headstones. And the patriarch of the family, Grandpa Hawkins, would take off his hat, bow his head, and express a prayer of gratitude for the spiritual heritage left to the family by those who had gone before.

Come to think of it, that was an interesting twist because Grandpa's own predecessors did not leave a trail of spiritual truth for him to follow. He led his father to faith just before he died, and in all the years I knew Grandpa, he didn't have any contact with his other relatives. That makes it all the more poignant that he so much appreciated the heritage into which he married.

Then one day in 1951, one group of the extended family, on furlough from far-away Africa, paid a visit to a fairly distant family member—and a seed was planted.

Beginning of Lifetime Hobby
Yes, that was my family, and I was fifteen the day we visited Guy Lockwood. He was a fellow Wells descendant, a cousin of Grandma Porter's, and a first cousin twice removed of my mother, Esther Hawkins Moneysmith. And he was a grandson of the legendary Great-grandmother Wells, who had died in 1888 when Guy was just seven.

The important thing that day was that Guy brought out and showed our family paragraphs he had copied from his grandmother’s Bible. It became clear that ancestral heritage had been important to her, too. It caught my interest enough that I copied it into a notebook. Though it would be more than a decade until, as an adult and young mother, I made my first effort to learn more about the Compton family, that exposure marked the beginning of our current family’s interest in our ancestral heritage. What a journey it has been, especially since the mid-1990s when the Internet became available!

Now, sixty years later, we know that Great-grandmother Wells, born Hannah Marie Compton, was a fine, godly woman, the youngest of eleven in a large, fascinating family. Wouldn't she be amazed to know that, more than a hundred and twenty years after her death, some of her descendants and the descendants of several of her siblings have connected with each other and continue to dig deeper into the family history—both before her and after her?

I'm going to use the above as a new introduction to the Wells page on my family-history website ( It tells about Hannah's family--from her grandfather who had his jaw shot off in the American Revolution to tidbits like the fact that her parents had at least eighty grandchildren.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Old Times and New

Almost sixty years ago we came together at a Christian boarding school northwest of Orlando. We shared an identity for which a term hadn’t yet been invented—“third-culture kids.” No, Ann and Mary Jane weren’t missionary kids like me, but they had grown up in other parts of the world. Mary Jane’s mother was an American missionary, her father a Syrian, and she was born in Damascus. Ann, American born, grew up in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia where her father worked for an oil company. Mary Jane was educated by her mother through Calvert School, as I was, while Ann attended an American school run by the oil companies.

Through the years we’ve connected only a couple of times, but in the next five days we’re going to see a lot of each other. This weekend, near the school in Florida, is the school’s biannual reunion. Because Ann and Mary Jane live even further from Florida than we are in Nashville, they have come to travel with us, both to and from. It should be interesting. Since the time when we were school mates, we’ve each lived a lifetime and raised families. Ann has two sons, Mary Jane two sons and a daughter. I have two daughters and a son. Mary Jane has two Japanese daughters-in-law.

We’ve shared a few memories so far. Mary Jane remembers that back in school I advised her to take the creative writing course I had taken. She loved it and is now involved in a writing group at her church. No, none of us had to sing for our breakfast because of showing up late, but I remember Mary Jane’s first Halloween “costume”—she showed up without the long braids she had arrived with a few weeks earlier.

Tonight we’re going to stay with a friend of ours east of Atlanta, a warm, friendly lady who has a big house. I met her when we were roommates at a workshop in the Philippines. On the way home Monday, we may try and make the whole trip in one day.

At the reunion, I’m going to meet a good friend I’ve never met. An oxymoron? Not in this day and time. For more than six years I’ve been part of an online chat group, all alumni of the school through none of us actual classmates. We’ve become truly caring friends. I’ve met all of the regulars but one at other reunions and been in the homes of two of them. It’s going to be great to see them again—even for just two days. But Tom I’ve never met in person, and I’m looking forward to it. Our group plans to eat together at Friday evening supper—provided the tables at this campground are big enough.

Yes, it should be an interesting five days.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Most Unique Reunion

I wanted to post a blog last night; in fact, I got a good start on it. But it was past my bedtime, and what I want to say is too complex to be rushed. Yesterday afternoon and evening were the beginning of our incredible MK reunion, a reunion that is not only incredible but unique. I'm eager to write about it, but I need more time. So I set out to write just this short one--and then the computer ate it, and I was too tired to try and find it. Thankfully, I turned it up this morning.

Several things are unique about this reunion. One is that it is multigenerational. One lady says she remembers me when I was a baby, while I told one of the younger men that I remember a picnic with his family when he was a toddler. We have at least two people in their nineties, while my nephew's baby son is just five months old. The MKs at this affair were born in at least seven different decades.

Just one more tidbit. We had been invited to submit songs of long ago that we wanted to sing, and did we ever sing them! We started with "Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before" and tackled oldies like "Do, Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me." Before we were finished, we had done WWII favorites such as "What though wars may come with the marching of feet and the beating of drums" and "I'm too young to march in the infantry..., but I'm in the Lord's army."

If we'd had rafters over our head, I assure you they would have been ringing (now there is another expression that dates me!).

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Have you ever noticed how much life is made up of miscellany? (I had to look up the word to see the noun form is actually in the dictionary; it is.) Occasionally a major event like a wedding takes center stage, and for a time it get most of our focus. But most days aren’t like that. Most days are sprinkled with miscellany.

Today was like that. The thermometer outside our house reached 99 before finally slipping. I’ve already started praying that the week after next won’t be like this. My daughter’s family will be with us for their annual visit, adding two young teen boys to the two already here in our son’s family. Not too many years ago, all it took to make them happy was a collection of Thomas trains and a rug one which to play with them. Or take them with their toy boats and cars to the river. No longer. It would be so nice to have weather a bit cooler that week.

For my morning walks recently I’ve been staying in my own neighborhood rather than going to the development next door like I used (I admitted to liking it because it was a tad more “up scale” than ours). But that neighborhood got hit by the flood, and walking there is now a sad adventure. Most of the piles of trash (soaked furniture, dry wall, insulation, appliances, duct work) are picked up by the city and gone, but traces still remain. A few sidewalks are still white with residue. One driveway has broken glass. A port-a-potty sits on one corner, and dumpsters and storage pods adorn a few driveways. Even a little patch of flowers by a mailbox has given up. Monday morning will find me back walking in Lexington Pointe.

This morning was our monthly writers’ meeting, and we had a record attendance of twenty-one, at least a third of them visitors scouting us out. Word is getting around about our group. We’re going to have to find a larger place than the Panera where we meet. It was a good meeting as we learned from an experienced writer some concrete things about revising our work. A couple of nuggets? Always just write your first draft without doing a lot of editing and rehashing as you go. When you get to revision, do it on a fresh copy so you always still have an original. And of course always back up your work—in three or four places if you can.

In other miscellany, I’ve been getting back to my genealogy work and spending time browsing in my database. It is getting close to three thousand people. No, they’re not all ancestors; relatives and other descendants of ancestors count too. I got to puttering, counting generations, and I found I have two lines (Zug and Diefenbach) that go back to eleventh great-grandfathers and two others (Stauffer and Wilder) that go back to thirteenth great-grandfathers. But the granddaddy of them all (pardon my pun) is Peter Bauman, my seventeenth great-grandfather. The oldest date we have is for him—he was born in 1420.

Meanwhile, I can’t find a file I started on the computer last week. Every so often this happens to computer people. We create a file, then don’t get back to it right away. The consequence? We can’t remember what we named it nor where we might have saved it. I know I created and worked on that file because I clearly remember yellow highlighting the spots where I made changes. But where did I put. Grrrr.

So what kind of miscellany has been happening in your life these days?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I’m still in shock.

I cannot get my brain to focus well enough to pull cohesive thoughts together. What do I say? Where do I start?

We learned today that our young friend Kevin died earlier this week. He was the age of our own children. People that age aren’t supposed to die of heart attacks.

My husband and I met at Kevin’s parents’ wedding. A year later, we were married. In the years following in the late 50s and early 60s, we alternated having babies. When we traveled to their part of the country during our furloughs from South America, we stayed with them. Kevin went to college with one of our daughters, and we have graduation pictures of them and us together.

I’m sure I should be coming up with something profound and touching to say, but instead everything is vague and undefined. We know where Kevin is—with the Savior he loved and served, and that is a comfort beyond words. But the idea that his life has suddenly been . . . been guillotined is surreal.

I know somewhat of what his family is going through. I have not lost an adult child, but my parents did. My brother died in a car accident when he was 24. Kevin turned 3 that month. Don should be past 70 now, yet he’ll never be older than 24. The hole he left in our lives is still there. Most of the time, the edges aren’t as jagged as they were in the beginning, but it is still a gaping hole.

Kevin’s died in eastern New York state, and we hadn’t seen him in years. We were up there just a month ago, and we had hoped to stay with his parents. But they and Kevin were away that week on ministry business, so we missed them. That makes me extra sad now.

My prayers are for his family now – his parents, two sisters, and a brother, each with spouses and children. They are hanging together, and I’m glad. I know that the God who saw our family through such a tragedy will not leave them to bear this alone, but I also know that the days and weeks ahead are going to be long and often dark. But I know the One who will be there with them.

The Apostle Paul called Him God of all comfort (I Cor. 1:3).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What Kind of Sermon...?

It all started a week ago today—what they are now calling a 500-year event. Since last Sunday our city has been through the fire—excuse me, make that water. Now those streets that were covered with water have mountains of trash piled as high as my head all along their sides. Friends, family members, and strangers alike have worked side by side to empty out the flooded houses—everything from sodden furniture to cherished possessions to all the gutted siding and insulation.

What kind of a sermon does one preach at the end of a week like this? I was confident our pastor would have a real word from the Lord, and he did.

He talked about the three lessons we have learned this week. The first was the most glaringly obvious. Material possessions are fragile and fleeting. Luke 12:15: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Boy, is that the truth! I’ve done a lot of thinking about the things I would have lost if it had happened to our house. This house is full of family history and treasures, including the huge Bible of my second great-grandparents, printed in 1886. But that afternoon as it continued to pour and we had to think about evacuating, I could not figure out what I would should take with me if I had to flee. I simply didn’t know where to start. (I suppose I should live with such a list handy, and I’m thinking about doing that.)

A second thing we learned is that, despite how fragile material things are, love is strong (Mark 12:30-31). Love has reached out this week on all sides. Of course we’ve seen strong family ties filling unbelievable gaps and holding loved ones close, but we’ve also seen love expressed by strangers through everything from a hug on the street to hours of back-breaking labor sorting through muck and hauling the fragments of lives out to the street.

The third thing we’ve learned is that we already have the three things we need most. According to I Corinthians 13:13, faith, hope, and love are what stand the test of time—and we already have them. All three pointswere good reminders.

Our choir added to the blessings of the service with an appropriate number titled “Be Still and Know.” Yes, that’s what we all need in the midst of this storm (no pun intended), especially those who I imagine waking up every morning thinking it must have been a nightmare—and finding out all over again that it wasn’t.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Flood Two

I sit here staring at the computer, knowing there’s so much to say, yet I’m unable to pull my thoughts and emotions together to say it. I reverted to a trick I learned years ago for gathering thoughts and organizing them. It starts with a blank sheet of paper and ends up looking like a many-legged spider with pockets of thoughts at the ends of his legs. I might blog about it someday if I could remember the author and book where I learned of it.

When I wrote my blog the other evening, my husband and I had just gotten back in contact with our world after two days of being cut off. Being incommunicado (no phone or Internet) still felt like a big deal. We wondered how our friends were, but with no communication we didn’t know that thirty families in our church had been hit. Many, like so many other in the community, lost everything. Almost no one had flood insurance. One couple still have their home but lost their entire $1 million dollar business. And those are only a few stories I know. Suddenly the inability to communicate fell into a whole new perspective.

With four days of sunshine and summery temperatures, the rivers have returned to their banks, including the Columbia that devastated several blocks deep of downtown Nashville all along its banks. But the wreckage left behind, both physical and emotional, will have our worlds upended for a long time to come. In addition to no insurance, whatever does one do with a house that once suffered a flood like this?

Yards are now piled high with trash as the homes have been gutted right down to the studs. Our grandchildren and their parents spent days this week helping both friends and strangers deal with this aftermath. Our granddaughter posted a beautiful piece on Facebook about how it has affected her.

Our church has set up a disaster relief center, with water and food from a local food bank, clothing and “everything” donations, and meals cooked and served by our own people to those who have been affected. My husband and I spent several hours there today. We experienced frustration because not as many people were finding us as we would have liked—but those who did went away helped.

So how am I feeling now? I’m getting a stiff neck from shaking my head so much in dismay. I’ve worked to get word out to our friends that we are okay, but at the same time I’m having trouble focusing and applying myself. I came home from church intending to make cookies to take back tomorrow, but they didn’t get made, at least not yet.

I am not the only one dealing with “survivor guilt.” Why were we spared when so many dear people were not? Did God think we weren’t strong enough to deal with it? Of course there are no answers, and my head knows I must not nurse that emotion. God has His purposes, and He doesn’t owe me or anyone else any explanations.

My biggest prayer is that this disaster will turn people’s hearts to God and not away from Him.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Our city has suffered what they’re calling “the flood of the century,” or even a “500-year event, and neighbors a block away from our home have had their homes destroyed, but because I can’t communicate in the usual ways, I’m using this way to let our friends know we are okay. So here is our personal saga.

We got home on Friday afternoon. The rains started that night. By the time they stopped Sunday night, our neighborhood had had fifteen inches. Sunday morning we awaited news that church had been cancelled; that happened just as I walked into the sanctuary. On our way home, we saw places where flooding had begun, but not horrendously. Less than an hour after we got home, the power went out. Not surprising. Surely it would come back on before too long. No power meant no Internet, and for us it meant no phones.

That afternoon we wondered why cars and people seemed to be gathering at the foot of our side street, so we walked down to see. We were appalled to discover that the neighborhood just around the corner from us was flooded—seriously with water as high as the tops of garage doors. A brick mailbox had only the top foot showing. Oh, my! Our son, seven miles away, wanted to know how many more feet until it reached us. We estimated twenty vertical feet and maybe fifty horizontal feet.

Also that afternoon, we learned that our substation was flooded and all roads into and out of our neighborhood were cut off—including I-40, our local link to town, our son, our church. Oh, my! Time to dust off some of our decades-old Jungle Camp skills. That afternoon during a break in the rain, I got out our iron skillet and started making granola on our patio grill. Before it was finished, my husband had to hold an umbrella over me; it was raining again.

With plenty of candles, we got through the evening, and we slept well that night. No TV, no music, no computer … but that was okay---for a while at least. Blackest night -- We woke up Monday morning to heavy fog that in a couple of hours changed to sunshine. Had granola for breakfast. The waters started receding except for the Cumberland that goes through downtown Nashville. Receding waters were still pouring into it.

That afternoon word came that I-40 was open, so we took the laptop and went to town. The kids’ soccer field was not just flooded but a lake, with less than half the roof of the concessions stand showing. At our son’s (they never lost power), I tried to get on the Internet—but he wasn’t there to give me his password. He and his kids were out somewhere helping flood victims. I was proud of them. Eventually, he was able to call home (his cell isn’t working either), and I got the password. Checked e-mail. Caught my sister on IM and caught her up on our situation.

Despite an invitation to stay, we returned home; that was where our pets and our life were. Radio was saying the power outage would be two or three days, so we were shocked when it came on at 8 Monday evening. Whoopee!! Internet! E-mail! Telephone! But those were not to be. It wasn’t until today, Tuesday, that it became clear that AT&T is one of the places flooded in downtown Nashville. When we’ll get phones and Internet back in anyone’s guess.

Life without communication? I’ve done it—in the jungles of southern Mexico all those years ago. But our life there was geared for it. My life here and now is not. I’m most grateful we have power, but being incommunicado is hard for me—harder than for my husband. Communicating is what I do. It is who I am. As a teacher in one capacity or another for the last forty-five years, I’ve communicated. As a writer and editor, I communicate. Communication is ninety-five percent of my work for the mission.
I’ve found this temporary way around it. I’ve written this on my computer at home—yes, with power this computer works, and I can write. I’ll put it on a flash drive and take it to our son’s and send it from there.

Hopefully. But I’m humbly and soberly counting my blessings because at least a quarter (maybe a third) of the homes in our part of town had water to their ceilings and are facing loss and cleanup like I can’t even imagine.

At least this will give our friends the word that we are fine—even if we are incommunicado.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Girl in the Picture

I’ve been haunted by a little girl the last few days.

Though we never interacted personally and she’s been gone from earth for close to seventy years, she and her family have been part of my life history the last fifty of those years.

How can that be?

Whenever I have occasion to talk about my life, I usually have reason to mention that seven years of my childhood—all in one stretch—were spent overseas. Our family got stuck, so to speak, in Africa during World War II. My parents and I arrived back their for their second term of service in the spring of 1939. By the time they would have been due for furlough, America was deep in the War. It wasn’t safe to cross the ocean. Passenger ships were regularly being torpedoed.

We knew. It had happened to one of our missionary families.

With their three children, the Shaw family booked ship passage for America. When they were torpedoed, the mother and 13-year-old sister went down with the ship. The father was on a life raft that never made it to land, while the 7-year-old daughter with a broken arm and her older brother survived twenty-one days on a life raft before being rescued.

There’s much, much more to the story, and I can’t believe that in June I am going to see those two survivors at a reunion and hear the story from them in person. That’s mind-boggling, and I can’t wait.

But it is the sister that went down with the ship who has been haunting me. Why? Because I’ve seen a picture of her this week.

In the picture she is about ten, with the sweetest smile on her face. A mutual acquaintance posted the picture on Facebook—isn’t that amazing? The girl is named as being in the picture, and it didn’t take me too long before her face came back to me, and I know which one she is. The memory has also come back that, even as a child, I thought she was one of the prettiest girls I knew, and I was so sad she died.

Now that I have a picture of her—and a little secret (she had a boy friend even at that young age!), I find myself thinking about the life and all these years God has given me but that in His Providence He did not give her. I think about the children she did not have and the brother and sister who did not enjoy her in their lives as they’ve lived all these intervening years. I try not to think about the terror she must have experienced in the last moments of her life.

I wonder what it will be like to meet that brother and sister two months from now. Will I have a chance to speak to them? Will I ask the wrong questions—or maybe not be able to decide what I really want to ask? This is a story with many layers, and some may be too painful to peel back.

I just know it is a story that has been part of my life as long as I can remember. Because of what happened to the Shaws, our family stayed put until the summer of 1945. My brother and sister were six and four before their grandparents ever saw them.

What a strange feeling to look at a picture of the girl in that story.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who Named America?

Everyone knows who discovered America, right? Christopher Columbus in 1492, after he sailed the ocean blue. He did land on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean in the fall of that year, but it was a Caribbean island, not any part what we generally call “America” today. So how did we end up being called America and not Columbia, Colombo, or something like it?

Wednesday afternoon, sitting in the doctor’s office with my husband, I picked up a December 2009 copy of the Smithsonian magazine. The article that caught my eye was titled, “Putting America on the Map.” I remember in my youth learning that our continent got its name America from someone named Amerigo Vespucci. I assumed he was an important explorer, the captain of his ship.

But guess what? He was simply a Florentine merchant in the early 1500s who had taken a couple of voyages across the Atlantic—-one on a Spanish ship and one on a Portuguese one. So what did he do that made his name stand out from the rest of those on the ships? He wrote letters about his trips! He told about endlessly sailing down a coast that went on and on without a break—-even beyond the equator. That eventually led to the conclusion that the earth had four major parts, not just three as people had always believed.

The article went on for pages and pages and talked about seamen, map makers, explorers like Marco Polo, dukes who sponsored the work of scholars—-and a good bit about the ancient Roman scholar Ptolemy, who produced eight volumes on geography and “invented” latitude and longitude. It talked about a huge, mysterious map that scholars wondered about and searched for some 350 years before one man, a Jesuit professor of history and geography, ran across it by accident while searching for something else. The biggest accomplishment of the article was tracing the unnamed author who first applied the Amerigo name to that still little-known world.

Reading an article like “Putting America on the Map” is a real treat for me, though I know many people would have little interest or patience for it. However, I got a surprise. Because we waited so long for the doctor, I started reading snatches of it to my husband, and then a couple more, and then something longer—-and I was surprised how many times he chuckled in appreciation.

So what did Mr. Vespucci think about the honor of his name being applied to a whole new section of the world? The truth is, he most likely never even knew it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The SS Europa

I found what I was looking for online about the Europa, that ship I sailed on as I approached my first birthday. Can't the Internet be wonderful? I even found a couple more pictures of it. It was a German liner, launched in 1930, six years before I was born, so it was in fairly good shape when our group of missionaries traveled on it. It could make the Atlantic crossing in a few hours short of five days.

For a ship, it had a fairly interesting life--including a serious fire on board, being captured in a world war, sailing under the flags of three countries, and colliding with a sunken ship in harbor. It carried US troops at the end of WWII, experienced a complete name change, and appeared briefly in a famous movie (the original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart).

The collision happened after it had been turned over to the French as part of reparations following the War. The Liberté, as they had renamed it, broke loose from its moorings during a storm and collided with the already sunken SS Paris. Following the collision, the Liberté itself sank. After much discussion, the French decided to raise it and repair it. I can’t even imagine bringing a sunken ship up from under water, cleaning up the resultant mess, and making it usable again. It served another eleven years as one of the largest liners in the French fleet before being scrapped in 1962.

As far as a I know, the ship only made the Atlantic crossing between Europe and America. That means my parents, with me in tow, had to get from Africa to Europe in order to board it, but I don’t remember ever hearing anything about that. In these days of electronic communications, international reservations, and things worked out with surprising precision, it’s hard to grasp how uncertain everything must have been for them.

I’m going to have to watch Sabrina again and see if I can wrap my mind around the idea that, for five short days in my life, I was in person on that ship.

Friday, April 9, 2010

An Amazing Connection

Have you seen any old friends recently? I mean really old? No, I don’t mean someone with a multitude of birthdays. I mean someone you knew a long time and haven’t seen for many years. We had someone like that in our home last night—someone we hadn’t seen in more than fifty years. That was what I was going to write, but during the day today some things started clicking, and I have an even greater “old friends” topic to write about.

This week someone sent me a piece of my family’s history. It is section of a page from a ship’s log, and it has my name on it. The ship was the Europa (I hope to learn more about it), and the date on the log is June 17, 1937. That was two days before my first birthday. My parents’ names are just ahead of mine, along with our ages, birth dates, and birth places. Ahead of our names on the list are the names of two missionary ladies who were a part of my childhood, and after ours are the names of the five members of the Wimer family.

When I first saw the ship’s log (sent to me by a friend whose brother ran across it during a search on, I didn’t connect it to a picture I saw a few months ago. That picture was of a group of missionaries, including my parents and me, on a ship when I was small enough to sit on a lap.

Wait a minute! That’s the size I was at the time of the ship’s log, and some of the people in the picture are those whose names are on the log . . . oh, my! The two go together!

The picture was posted on Facebook by the widow of one of the young boys in the picture (I know "young boys" don't have widows, but you know what I mean). She and I have never met in person, but the fringes of our histories have overlapped, and that led us to becoming friends on Facebook.

I know this is an amazing age where technology almost daily helps us do or see things even our grandparents never imagined, but this one has me still shaking my head. The ship’s log and the picture started out in the same place, yes, but the log stayed with the shipping company and the picture went with members of one of the families’ in the picture. How can they, from totally unrelated sources and with no connection between them for almost three quarters of a century, have found their way to the same place now—-my computer?

Young Art Wimer was another lap child in that old picture. He’d also been born in Africa the year before. Some different connections between him and me lay far ahead in the future, but I’ll have to tell you about those some other day. (In the picture, I'm on the lap of the dark-haired lady fourth from the left; my parents are immediately on her left.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Not Your Thumb, Your Eye

Have you ever said, “I just don’t have a green thumb?”

Did you mean by that statement that plants never thrive for you, that most plants you’ve tried to grow ended up sickly or dead?

I found all kinds of references to the term in an Internet search this evening, but only one pure definition—-in the Oxford Pocket Dictionary. It called a green thumb a “natural talent for growing things.” I agree that's what most people think the term means. So it must be something you’re born with, right? That’s the part that I don’t wholly agree with.

You see, I have a theory. I don’t think a green thumb has anything to do with your thumb or even your hands. I think a green thumb is simply an awareness of plants. In other words, it has to do with your eyes, not your thumbs. Let me tell you why.

This morning when I sat down for my coffee break (for me, that’s hot chocolate), I naturally glanced out the double window. One glance was all it took to see that my topsy-turvy tomato plant had a problem. It was a barely noticeable problem, but my eye caught it immediately. Its leaves were slightly limp. The thing needed water.

Whatever this green thumb is, my sister and I both have it. Did we get it from our mother? Maybe, but in my theory she didn’t give it to us in our genes. She gave it to us because plants were important to her. She cared about them, talked about them, babied them. The result was plant awareness, for her and many people around her.

The truth is, this plant awareness, or green thumb, doesn’t usually come at birth. It develops over time, depending on how much exposure one has to plants or to those interested in them. A few children pick up on it, for whatever reason, but mostly I think it grows through life, depending on what one experiences with plants along the way.

Okay, I can hear the nay-sayers already. “I’ve tried and tried—-and everything still dies for me.” Remember what I said at the beginning? This is a personal theory of mine. I can’t present scientific evidence. It’s just been my observation for years and years now. People who really like plants and want them to grow will usually have more success with them than those who have a myriad other interests and don’t think about the plants until they are is seriously sad shape.

You’re welcome to disagree with me, of course. Or maybe this is a new idea that makes sense to you. Whatever, spring is a glorious time. Some folks who never think about plants any other time notice them now. So hurray for spring!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Music

Seven years ago last month we moved to Nashville. After we got the truck unloaded and spent a week settling in with help from family, Easter was upon us. To me Easter meant music. What was I going to do for my Easter music in this new place? One crossroad in our end of town sports three large churches, one of them Baptist, which was our background. A Baptist church ought to have good Easter music, I reasoned, so that’s where we showed up on Palm Sunday.

I was right. The choir was “classic” and impressive, but the special music took my breath away. A talented young tenor, in costume, performed “Watch the Lamb!” I was hooked. We returned the next Sunday, and a man and woman, both with powerful voices, sang the Mary Magdalene song titled “I’ve just seen Jesus.” Except for worshipping with our son’s family at their church from time to time, we’re still where we started out.

Last Sunday that same tenor, a few years older now and the father of a little girl, was part of a breathtaking male quartet that sang the Gaither song, “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary.” We were delighted when they sang it again last evening at our Good Friday service. I think the Gaithers outdid themselves in “poetic” with the line about “And when time has surrendered and earth is no more, I’ll still cling to that old rugged cross”!

At least two other Gaither songs have powerful messages for the Easter season. I’ve long loved the dramatic one about the crucifixion, with the chorus, “It…is…finished, the battle is over…” ending with “It is finished, and Jesus is Lord.” The first words of the second verse have gripped my heart afresh these last two days:

“But in my heart the battle was raging; not all prisoners of war had come home. There were battlefields of my own making—I didn’t know that the war had been won.”

Someone in our extended family is right now in the clutches of battlefields of his own making and doesn’t seem able to grasp that the war has been won. It gives me a new perspective for praying for him.

I can’t mention Gaither music and Easter without including “Because He Lives.” If you don’t know the story of how Bill and Gloria wrote it in connection with the birth of their third baby, you need to look it up. We used it at the last two funerals in our family, but it’s message is so much broader. No matter what the turmoil around us these days—personally, nationally, or any other dimension, we can face tomorrow because our Savior lives. Knowing that He holds the future makes our lives worth living—tomorrow and all the days beyond.

Here is just one of several websites about the Gaithers:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Memories

Singing with the Angels
My mother died during the Easter season.

A couple of weeks ago marked the 19th anniversary of her death. Another 1 and 9 to go with the date—March 19, 1991. (I was glad when that year was over so I wouldn’t have to keep seeing all those nines and ones.)

At the time of her death, I wondered if it would forever cast a shadow over Easter for me. I’ve found instead that it has only made Easter more precious. Mother had been practicing Easter music with the small choir (eight people) at her little church in northern Arkansas. At her funeral the group sang one of the songs she had been practicing with them. Melancholy, yes, but only from an earthly perspective. I couldn’t be sad for her. She sang with the angels that year—and every Easter since.

Golden Cross
The only place on earth I have attended a true sunrise service was the mission center where we worked in South America. We gathered every year at six in the morning on the highest hill at the center, overlooking a long lake. With our blankets spread on the ground, we sang Easter songs and listened a brief devotional message.

One year an amazing thing happened. A breeze ruffled a narrow horizontal strip across the far end of the lake. We didn’t notice it particularly until the sun slipped up above the horizon at that far end. The next moment, a golden glow spread vertically down the length of the lake toward us—and the ruffled cross strip turned gold as well.

Can you see it—the golden cross on the lake … on Easter morning?

Resurrection—and Guns
Easter morning in 1981was memorable in a different way. In January subversives had taken one member of our group captive and a few weeks later executed him. Our center was still under guard by the country’s military, and we were told it would not be safe for us to meet on the hill. Instead, we gathered at a central location, with homes and trees around us and only a small piece of the lake visible. Soldiers and a couple of machine guns were in clear sight. That year we sang with extra gusto, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes!”

Grandmother’s Birthday
A footnote to my mother’s death during the Easter season is that she died on her grandmother’s birthday. This was the grandmother for whom she was named and whose name my mother later gave to me. Esther Sophronia Porter (later Stauffer) was born March 19, 1868, and died six years before I was born. I like to think of her welcoming Mother that Easter season in 1991—and then the two of them singing together with the angels.

What memorable Easters have you experienced?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Looking Back

My very earliest memory is a “freeze frame”—no action, just a mental picture of the dining room of the home where my parents and I boarded during our months in Paris. The picture in my mind is of a fairly dark room with one very bright, white window. We were there at the time of the war scare in September of 1938, but I was too little for it to mean anything to me.

We left France for Africa in April of 1939, and my second memory is also a freeze frame, this time of the dining room on the German ship we traveled on. Hmmm. Should I make something of the fact that my two earliest memories are of dining rooms…? Whatever, my picture of that second one is very different from the first. It is a white, white room with a high, high ceiling and filled with little round tables with white tablecloths.

The third memory follows on the heels of the second, but it has action in it. I was still two months short of my third birthday the day that ship docked on the west coast of Africa, at the port of Krebe in the country of Cameroon. The centerpiece of this memory has always been the sight, on shore, of our blue pickup truck that had preceded us.

The action part of this memory was the way we got off the huge ocean liner that day. Ever try going down the side of a ocean liner on a stairway and into a small boat? In my original memory, it was a ladder and a canoe, but I now know it was a staircase and a fair-size rowboat. All of it was especially precarious for my mother since she was six months pregnant.

We loaded our possessions on the little truck and set out for the interior of the continent where my parents’ missionary work awaited them. I don’t remember the trip, but I’m sure it was long—at least a week, perhaps a few days more than that. None of the roads were paved, of course. I wish my parents were still alive so I could ask them about where we slept at night and what we did for food along the way.

All I know is that my next memory is of my third birthday two months later. For whatever reason, my parents woke me up from my nap for my party—if one can call it a “party” since not another soul was around for it except my parents. The tiny black and white pictures show me with a deep scowl on my face, and I actually do remember being unhappy because they woke me up from a hard sleep.

What is your earliest memory? I’d love to hear about it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Continents, Countries, and States

Thanks to those of you who dropped in and made some guesses about my states and countries. Though the two places I lived in Africa are now two countries, they were only one—French Equatorial Africa—when I was there, so I count them as one for this exercise. Of course I’ve live in the U.S. and North America, as well as the country of Colombia (no “u” in the Spanish spelling) in South America. As far as the shorter ones, when I was two I lived in Paris, France (i.e., Europe for the fourth continent) for seven months while my parents studied French. In the ‘70s, I lived four months in Mexico for Jungle Camp and five in Costa Rica for Spanish study.

As for the six states, I spent two of my parents’ furloughs (when I was one and when I was nine) in their home town of Mishawaka, Indiana. As a teenager, I lived for three years at a Christian boarding school in central Florida. I lived in Illinois for college and eight years in the ‘60s, broken up by three years in Michigan while my husband attended Bible school. I spent the ‘80s and ‘90s in Texas and now seven years in Tennessee.

My earliest memories—one in Paris, one on a German ship, and one at a unusual port on the coast of Africa—will make up my next blog. I might even have some pictures of that third one.

Where have you lived? Countries? States? Have you crossed an ocean or two? I’d love to hear about it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time for a Fresh Face and Focus

This month marks two years since I started this blog. I wrote it mostly for my family and friends about the revisions I was making on the Christian novel I wrote many years ago. That major revision is finished. As with anything a writer writes, revising and polishing are never done until a piece goes to press, but for this blog, it is time to move on to something else. I started doing that with my last two blogs, and last week I gave the page a face lift.

So where do I go from here? Let’s start with a question.

“Where are you from?”

A friendly question, common in our society, but I have to smile when it comes my way. Where am I from? Right now I live in Nashville, Tennessee. It's the sixth state I’ve lived in, but I’ve also lived in five countries besides the USA—no, six others, and on three other continents (four total). I lived in three of those countries for months, not years, so maybe I shouldn't count them, but they weren't just visits. So who knows what I might write about here in the days ahead? Fasten your seat belt and stay tuned.

How about it, family members? Can you name those six states and six countries? I’ll have a prize for the first one to get them all right and reported in a comment here on my fresh blog. I’m not saying what the prize will be because it will depend on who wins it. And the first non-family member to get any six of them right will get something, too.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Team Scatters

My friends are gone.

At this moment, many of them are thirty thousand or more feet up in the sky, winging their way home. Several will follow the sunset west. A couple will not reach their destination until tomorrow is newborn. One man and wife are still at the airport awaiting their flight time. That’s where I’ll be early tomorrow morning, catching my own chance to spend two hours in a hollow, metal tube in order to reach home again.

Five days ago, eighteen of us came together for a phenomenon we call “annual meetings”—twelve from eight different states plus six locals. We renewed friendships and caught up with each other’s lives. We met new colleagues and began getting acquainted with them. We sat around a big U of small tables, all but two with laptops. (Those two, bless them, endured some good-natured teasing.)

We knew we were well into the 21st century because each morning our leader reminded us to turn off our cell phones and close down our computers so we could give him our attention for an initial time of inspiration and prayer. During that time, our focus was drawn to the story of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ hands during a battle (Exodus 17). We learned what constitutes a team and the essentials what make a team work well together.

We learned, we discussed, we explained, and occasionally we disagreed. We wrestled with some challenging issues, and we shared some frustrations. We learned practical things like how to reduce electronic pictures and add video and music to PowerPoint presentations (of course some already knew how). Through it all, we renewed our vision and our determination.

We laughed a lot this week, but we also shared shared needs and prayer requests. One member got some terminal news about her father. Another is a young girl with a strange and serious disease that has kept her from work for almost five months. We were glad for the hours she was able to spend with us.

We ate together a lot this week—everything from sandwiches and pizza to chicken cordon bleu and beef bolognaise. One late-afternoon time slot was scheduled to play together, and I ended up in a game of Apples to Apples with ten other ladies. That was a hoot! At the end of the week, we wrote notes called “Hots” and “Nots”—what we liked about the week and what we didn’t.

And now it is over. In the space of an afternoon, we have scattered to the four directions of the compass. Tomorrow we will unpack suitcases, catch up on laundry, and relish how good it is to be home. Even the “locals” who didn’t leave home will do some of that. Our time together is over, and we are the better for it.

It’s just going to be hard to believe, as I fall asleep tonight, that we will already be so far scattered.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Battles Not Won

Battles. Life battles. Have you faced any recently? Did you come through them with flying colors, or did you find a way to skirt around them? Our human tendency is to avoid difficulties if we can possibly find a way. Occasionally, that bent is part of the survival instinct built into us by our Creator, but often we use it to wriggle our way out of something the Creator wants us to deal with.

These questions remind me of one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in my life as a missionary. For full membership in our organization, we had to attend a four-month training session in southern Mexico, fondly—or notoriously—known as “jungle camp.” In the first stage, our family of five lived in a five-room mud house with a mud floor and a grass roof. Kids continued studies with books they’d brought while mom and dad attended classes, learned to give shots, went on a day-long hike and an overnight canoe trip. We had swimming lessons in a river where I almost learned to hate swimming because the water was so cold.

In the second stage, we lived in a stick and plastic “house,” cooked on a cast-iron plate built into a hand-fashioned mud stove, washed clothes by hand in the lake, and carried up from the lake in pails all the water our family needed. My husband sailed through it, our children enjoyed most of it, and in the years to follow I lived to wish I had put my heart into enjoying something more than just the peaceful lying in the hammock, staring at the treetops rustling in the jungle canopy sixty feet above. (I didn’t say that was the only thing I did; it’s just the only thing I remember enjoying.)

One of the infamous features of the second phase was known as “survival hike.” Men and women did it separately and in at least some isolation. Needless to say, most women dreaded it, I not the least of them. I told myself I had better reason than most to worry about it because I had spent my childhood in central Africa where the jungle harbored leopards that regularly ate our cats and at one time even lions that ate our family dog. How could I ever endure being left out there alone—even if hundreds of missionary women (including my own sister) had survived it before me?

The men went first, but while they were out, something happened. Soldiers were found searching for guerrillas reported in the area. The camp leaders went into high gear to round up the men and get them back to camp. They didn’t want either the soldiers or the guerrillas to find the men alone in the woods—-and they certainly didn’t want either the soldiers or the guerrillas to find the camp of women and children without any men.

Needless to say, we women did not go on survival hike that session.

I was not prepared for my personal response to that development. At first there was predictable relief, but it came tainted with perplexity. God doesn’t allow His children to wriggle out of trials! All the promises say He will be with us in them. What had happened here?

In the weeks that followed, I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. A bigger surprise awaited as another emotion crept in. It felt like disappointment, but how could that be? Was it possible God thought He couldn’t trust me with the experience? That wasn’t a good feeling. I have no way of knowing, but as I continued to look into my heart, the conclusion sifted out to one clear point.

Here was a victory I didn’t get to win because I never got to fight the battle.

I know God had purposes for those events far greater than my little story and my little fears. I know He would have seen me through it. Only He knows why He chose not to push me on it. I believe I learned from it even so.

But like I said earlier, today I almost wish I could do it over so I could handle it better than I did. Almost.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Verse on Waiting

I ran across a verse sometime back that relates to waiting and God, and I just found it again.

Isaiah 5:19: "They say, 'Let god hurry; let him to his owrk soon so we may see it. Let the plan of the Holy One ... happen soon so that we will know what it is.'"

That's the way most of us feel at one time or another, especially us writers. May God give us grace to stop wanting to hurry Him!

Saturday, February 20, 2010



It’s a human experience. It’s part of life for every person who walks the earth. Often it brings out the worst in us. Occasionally it demonstrates character and purpose.

Waiting has been part of being human through all time. Abraham had to wait for the promise of a son, Jacob had to wait for Rachel, David had to wait for the kingdom to be his.

Our culture is replete with occasions to wait—-at red lights, in checkout lines, even for the morning coffee to perk. Life itself is full of waiting—-mothers wait for the birth of a baby, children wait to grow up, adolescents can’t wait for adulthood, and the athlete with a broken leg chafes for activity while waiting for the leg to heal.

As much as we fret about waiting, it is something God values. We are told repeatedly in the Scriptures to “wait on the Lord.” That grates against our human longing for “instant gratification.” Why God might be interested in our waiting is a topic for another day.

I am in a time of waiting right now. I’ve sent a full proposal with sample chapters to an agent. He responded promptly with “If you haven’t heard from me in three months, feel free to remind me.” So I will be waiting. That’s okay. I’m using the break to catch up on other things in my life, including writing things. I hope to read more blogs and get back to studying my writing books. More than either of those, I need to get back to building up my own blog.

Right now I’m feeling some things I’m not sure I want to feel, but God knows about them, too. I will wait for Him to make things clear.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


We just got the news that another friend and coworker has gone into hospice care. I say another because just two days ago another friend we’ve been following closely slipped away to Jesus in her sleep.

These two events strike close to my heart because they both started their fight with cancer about the time I did ten years ago. Since then, they’ve had good times and bad, up times and down. They’ve both gone through extensive and sometimes severe treatments, and yet they’ve lost their battles with cancer. Another friend who started dealing with her cancer back when I did already died a couple of years ago, and her husband has remarried.

Lots of people when they are struck with diseases and prognoses like this are prone to ask Why? Why did it happen to me? My question these days is on the other side of that coin—why have they had to struggle so long, only to succumb in the end, yet I have had no further trouble since I underwent treatment? This month marks the tenth anniversary of my diagnosis. I had surgery and radiation but didn't have to go through chemo (something for which I become more grateful with each passing year).

I know God has His purposes and perfect plan for each of us. I can truthfully say I’m not questioning His will, but I do have to put down occasional twinges of guilt that I’m doing so well. I read an interesting truth recently. People talk a lot these days about being “cancer survivors,” but one lady pointed out that you will never know for sure if you are a cancer survivor until you die of something else.

The lady who made that statement in a secular magazine did not sound to me like a person of faith. I could be wrong, and—faith or no faith—what she said is true. But my perspective is a bit different. It doesn't matter whether I turn out to be a cancer survivor or not. I want every day God gives me life to count for Him—whether I have to fight cancer again or not.

My very personal perspective is that anyone who has had cancer shouldn't be squeamish about their age. Every added year is a gift. I don't mind folks knowing that I will be 74 this year. That will make me just two years younger than my mother was when she died. I still have lots of things I want to accomplish in my life, but God will have the last word on all that, and that’s just fine with me. My confidence that He never makes any mistakes is as strong as ever—even though Helen has to go on hospice care.

In our Sunday school class we just worked out a schedule to help supplement hospice care for one of our own members. Seems like I keep being reminded that cancer could come back. If it does, I know God will be just as much with me as He was the first time, no matter the outcome—and just as He will be with Helen in the days ahead.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


My quiet time this morning took me to verses in Psalm 147 that I memorized a few years ago:

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man. The Lord delights in those who fear him, who puts their hope in his unfailing love” (147:10-11).

It took only a few minutes of thinking about it to realize what it had to do with this day. This is the day I am submitting my story to an agent, so I decided a paraphrase would be appropriate.

“His pleasure is not in the skills of an agent nor his delight in a well-written story. The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope his unfailing love.”

Hmmm. Hope seems to be a way of life for writers. We’re always hoping for something—-for a conference invitation, for acceptance by an agent or a publisher, for the final arrival of you book in your hands. But even at that it isn’t over. Nowadays, anyone and everyone can review published works on line, so even after publication, one has to hope for good reviews from readers.

It’s a comfort to me that my God wants me to place my hope in Him. Not in a writers' group or critique partner. Not in an agent. Not in a publisher. Not in an advance. In Him. Just Him. The other things matter in their time and way, but the real anchor in life is hope in the God of the universe, in His pleasure and His delight.

I’m glad I don’t have to worry that I don’t own a horse and that my legs won’t carry me running more than a few feet anymore.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Something happened today that hasn’t happened before. I came home from my local writers’ meeting discouraged rather than charged up.

Our topic for the day was helpful, and our discussions lively—but I had scarcely a word to say. The problem? Simply that I got a renewed view, not only of what it takes to get published but how far I am from arriving. Our leader was I’m one who knows personally about how long it takes to build up your craft. She mentioned two years—and I didn’t have the courage to correct her that it’s been closer to five.

Those five years had already been on my mind, and I think they are probably the bottom line of my current state of mind. In another two months it will be five years since I attended my first writers’ conference. That’s when I learned something so basic as having to have a main character rather than a nice ensemble cast, and the main character was to be someone with a problem that needed solution, someone who learned and grew as a person in the course of the story.

Fine. I settled on Sharon as the obvious one, and I think I’ve done well in giving a depth to her problem that wasn’t there before.

At the end of 2006, I connected to the American Christian Fiction Writers and Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, and I began to learn the craft of fiction writing big time. I’ve worked hard to apply what I’ve learned, and I’ve felt all along that I was getting somewhere.

Then at the big ACFW conference in September of 2008, it became clear that I needed to cut off the first six months of my story, including the reams of back story that had been plaguing me forever, and start the story when Sharon came back rather than when she left. I told everyone it would take me a couple of months. But here I am sixteen months later, still hanging on by a thread to one agent’s invitation to send him something—and I know that I’m still not fully ready. Last evening I was looking over my three sample chapters and was dismayed to find how many unresolved issues they still have.

This morning I debated whether to ask if I should still go ahead and submit to that agent, or if it is entirely too late, but I decided not to ask. I have nothing to lose by sending to him. All he can do is say no. Yes, it will be an opportunity lost, and I hate that, but I’ve tried hard, yet I haven’t arrived at where I need to be.

In the days ahead, I will share some specifics of what is troubling me today. Some of it has been troubling me for a long time. I’ll finish up with just one of those for tonight.

The feelings and reactions of others
I do not at all blame friends and family who don’t understand what is taking me so long. I don’t understand it myself, but I understand it better than they do. Yes, I can respond to hubby that “I have another life!” but it is more than that. It isn’t just time. Even when I have time, I often find it hard to focus and accomplish.

Another reason for the five years is that some of the things I’ve learned have been a challenge to master and apply, and time has relentlessly rolled along. I’ve written about some of those lessons in this blog.

Meanwhile, family members and my prayer partners watch from the sidelines, wondering and puzzling over what all this is about. Some of them, I know, wonder if I’m not ruining my story by trying to “improve” it. I’m positive I’m not, but until and unless I ever get a publisher, I can’t explain that to anyone else.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


We finished putting away the Christmas things today, and tonight with my pizza I finished the holiday apple cider. It was a special Christmas, a fairly quiet one, but that’s not at all bad. I’m not sure why, but this year we didn’t get through our Christmas-music CDs like we have other years. As we worked on the dismantling, we commented that sometime it is more work to put the Christmas things away than it was to get them out. True or not, putting Christmas away is always a bit melancholy for me. I’m glad our outdoor lights are still on outside my office window tonight, but this may be the last night for them as well.

I find interesting the way we measure “seasons” by different things. Besides the obvious ones of spring, summer, fall, and winter, there is childhood, puberty, parenthood, grandparenthood, retirement. Much of my life organizes by geography—Africa (childhood), Florida (boarding school), Wheaton (college), Michigan (school for hubby), Wheaton again (building a family), South America and Texas (mission work), and now Tennessee.

Another way to look at the seasons of my life is what I’ve been doing through the years—teaching, mothering, more teaching, writing curriculum, coordinating publications, and the last eleven years training and consulting.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, I can pars out the seasons of Tangled Strands in my life as well, some of them paralleling phases mentioned above. Creating the characters (young mother), writing the back story (South America), studying writing in a vacuum (pub-coordinator), and more recently studying writing in community with other writers and bringing the story up to standards of Christian fiction today.

Will there be a season of marketing, book signings, and reviews—both glowing and glaring? Only God knows, of course, but I haven’t given up on the possibility. Meanwhile, I’ll accept and align myself with the new season that is upon me—post-Christmas, new year, whatever you want to call it. The God who has seen me through all the others will see me through the next one.

In fact, who knows what exciting season He may know lies ahead?

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Chuck Swindoll was meddling this morning.

He actually did his part of the action almost thirty years ago when he wrote Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, but what he said only crossed my quiet time this morning . He was talking about being thorough in our work and finishing things. Ouch.

I’ve been struggling lately with two things related to my writing—getting my proposal off to an agent and getting back to blogging regularly. I’ve read that agents and publishers are wont to check writers’ blogs to learn about not only their writing style but whether they are prompt and faithful in their writing. Getting back to doing it “if and when” I feel like it is not an option.

I got off track on this blogging last winter when my husband was in the hospital for sixteen days, with at least that many more in continued recovery. This past fall my primary focus was getting through the major revision of Tangled Strands, and I haven’t been able to get back in the groove. Those are reasons, but not excuses.

Now I have a new year in front of me. What is it about fresh new years that makes us think something is going to change? I’ve lived long enough to know that nothing changes just because of the arrival of a new year. If things are to change, it will be because we do what is necessary to make change happen. I gave up making resolutions many years ago, but I don’t ever want to become unwilling to change—to grow in good ways.

One of the Scriptures Swindoll included for further study was the familiar one in Colossians 3 about doing everything we do as unto the Lord: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” On the surface it might not seem that writing a novel can be working for the Lord rather than for men—but if it’s not, then I should have shut down my computer a long time ago.

Ah! That reminds me of a topic I’ve long planned to blog about someday. Does writing—or even reading—Christian fiction have a place in a Christian’s life? You can guess my perspective, but many who are wiser and more experienced than I have expounded it. It is worth some thought, and I’ll try to pull some of those thoughts together soon.