The Croaking of Frogs and God’s Mandate to Tend the Garden

Bull frogs greet me as I stroll past the pond on my way to the cabin.

Glub. Glub. They WILL be heard.

Song birds and fat buzzing bumblebees compete with the frogs.

I sit on the cabin porch at the edge of the pond and take it all in.

It is quiet, but oh, so noisy on this spring evening.

Each and every spring, I marvel at the gift of NEW.

As winter wanes and spring approaches, I never fail to be surprised by how God knows just when I have had all the brown and grey and white I can take, and He delivers a wide swath of green, punctuated with all the colors that have laid dormant through winter.

Never more than in springtime do I appreciate Scripture’s promise that God will restore heaven and earth. The perfect earth as He created it will be returned to perfection — our forever home for Eternity.

Glory!

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A long-awaited piece of mail arrived today, giving voice to my appreciation for God’s creativity. The first issue of my subscription to the beautiful Plough Quarterly holds pages of stunning art and photographs, surrounded by literary reflections on this quarter’s topic: Earth. As I turn its smooth, thick pages, words of praise rise and images from an artist’s eye share truth.

Many times, I have been cautious in my praise and frugal in voicing concern over how we care for this gift, fearful some might accuse me of loving the creation more than the Creator. But the perceptions of others matter little alongside what I know in my heart — God’s goodness is reflected in His creation. He is pleased by my “Hallelujahs” and He delights in bringing me joy while I sit on my humble porch, listening to birds sing and frogs croak.

photo (12)From the Spring 2015 issue of Plough Quarterly, these words by theologian and scholar N.T. Wright (excerpted from his book “Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues”):

“In the new creation, the ancient human mandate to look after the garden is reaffirmed……The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last. What are we waiting for? Jesus is coming. Let’s go and plant those trees.”

 

 

Getting Out of My Literary Rut and Sharing Some Thoughts on Writing

It’s good to stretch yourself, to get outside your comfort zone, think outside the box.

That includes picking up a book that wouldn’t necessarily be in your “wheelhouse” — especially when there’s already a stack of favorites waiting to be read. Such was the case when I checked out a copy of the Young Adult novel “Bright Young Things.”

I never read YA. Never.

But I’m doing research for a story set in the 1920s and because I’ve read Gatsby a number of times, I wanted something different. This book, one in a trilogy by Anna Godbersen, was recommended on Goodreads as offering an accurate depiction of the Flapper era.

From the book:

By the summer of 1929, when the weather was just getting warm enough that girls could exhibit exactly how high hemlines had risen, Prohibition had been in effect for so long it had ceased to bother anyone much. The city had a speakeasy per every fifty souls, or so the preachers liked to exclaim on Sundays, and sweet-faced girls from the hinterlands were no longer blinded by wood alcohol, for the real stuff had become plenty easy to get. The Eighteenth Amendment had converted us all to grateful outlaws.”

One chapter in, and I’m hooked. Two Midwestern girls running away to the “big city.” What’s not to love? I’m fascinated with the 1920s and I think this story will be a great pay-off for getting outside my reading groove.

I’ll let you know!

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Dorothy Parker famously once said “I hate writing, I love having written.”

Some days, I feel just like that. Writing can be a painful process and a lonely occupation. At the same time, sitting down to record thoughts and stories swirling in my head can also be the most exhilarating part of my day.

For me, the reward  for “having written” is getting to share it with others, especially fellow writers. Whenever I have the opportunity to conversate, commiserate and celebrate with “writerly” types, I’m there.

My first Breathe Christian Writers Conference last fall was all this, and more. What a great place for writers of all genres and levels of achievement to connect and network!

I have the honor today to contribute a little piece about writing to the Breathe Blog. When you stop by their website, check out the 2015 Breathe Conference, October 9 and 10 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ll meet you there!

In the meantime, join me today at the Breathe blog.

When I opened my laptop and began writing again three years ago, I harbored the fear that at 60-something I was too late in coming to the party. I’ve been pleasantly surprised……

When It’s Time To Close the Door: Five Minute Friday

My first thoughts on this first day of May were about the newness of this season. As I looked out my bedroom window at the green grass, sunshine, budding trees, I thought “fresh starts”.

Oh, how I love them.

Do-overs, new days, new seasons.

Open doors.

But the thing about open doors is that to enter them, we must leave something behind. Close a door, if you will.

Unlike “Let’s Make A Deal”, there are not just three doors to choose from in our lives. Three doors to open, or to leave closed. There are many. And, again unlike the game show, once we choose one, we’re not stuck with it.

Grace. God’s grace allows us to turn away from a wrongly chosen door, to close it and say “not for me”.

He’s the King of fresh starts, do-overs, new days, new seasons.

What door do you need to close today? What choices have you made that you know were wrong — choices you wish you could walk away from?

You can, you know. You have a grace-filled, forgiving Savior who says “It’s time for a fresh start. Begin a new day. Close that door. Choose me.”

When we choose — whether it’s door number one, two or three — we have the assurance that He’s already paid the price.

Five-Minute-Friday-4Linking up today at Five Minute Friday as I write for just five minutes on the word DOOR.

Stuff That Matters: A Bedroom Makeover and an Outing with Dad

The bedroom makeover project that I expected would take a week — maybe two at the most — is stretching into its third week. We live in a 140-year-old house with plaster walls and crooked floors so this was no small project. But the end is in sight.

Life has been happening in and around the spackling, sanding and painting which means we’ve been sleeping in the midst of disarray. Clean laundry is stacked in baskets until the new dressers are in place and our windows have remained curtainless until I finish painting the trim. It’s a good thing we live in the country, though I duck in a corner whenever I’m changing clothes and I hear a car go by. The payoff of feeling exposed is glimpsing the moon shining through our naked windows at night and watching the sunrise spread across the field in the morning.

After 24 years of miss-matched furniture and a season of garish pink walls followed by a period of restful sage green with a really ugly wallpaper border, I’m switching it up. The walls are Grecian Sea and Summer Lake with sand-colored curtains, white woodwork and accents of pistachio and mulberry. Sounds like a vacation.

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photo 1 (3)One of the things that took me away from my bedroom project was spending a day with my Dad. My parents are in their late 80s and I don’t know how much longer I’ll get to enjoy them, so the chance to hang out with Dad was something I couldn’t pass up.

My Father served in the United States Air Force just after World War II and he loves anything related to aviation. We were invited to attend a reception at an air strip about 45 minutes from his house where a Sabreliner Jet had been donated to an Aviation Maintenance Program. My sister works for the college that runs the program and she knew Dad would love being in on the action.

He did, and so did I. Dignitaries from the college and the community welcomed the addition to the school’s hangar in fine fashion with speeches, photographs and food. Dad wandered around taking in the displays and inspecting the aircraft housed inside the school’s hangar and outside on the airstrip. He had his photo taken next to the jet and inside a fun mock-up of a tiny airplane bathroom.photo (8)

The highlight of Dad’s day was probably the conversation he had with one of the students, a high school senior who intends to join the Marines. Dad enjoys sharing the fact he worked on B-29s in the same squadron which provided the Enola Gay, the aircraft that bombed Hiroshima in World War II. The young man was a willing audience as Dad reminisced and, when they parted, Dad wished him well. We calculated that Dad began his own training to become an aircraft mechanic 68 years ago this summer, when as a wet-behind-the-ears 18-year-old he followed his brother, Bill, into the Air Force.

(Dad and I wrote a little book with his stories about serving in the United States military, as well as his memories of growing up in a small town during The Great Depression and working for the United State Post Office. Read more about “One Man’s Work” here. Copies are available here or by messaging me.)

So, does my bedroom redo have anything to do with spending the day with my Dad? I think so.

Putting some time and effort into this most neglected room in our house is something I should have done a long time ago. A couple’s bedroom ought to be a haven, a pleasant place of peace and comfort. Ours had become a catch-all for things I needed to discard, and with the outdated decor and miss-matched furniture, it looked like we just didn’t care. We do. So I made it a priority.

I’m also trying to make time with my family a priority, especially my parents. They’re talking about getting their affairs in order and letting go of things they no longer need. Moving them from their little house in my hometown to a new apartment they don’t have to maintain is probably a step we’ll be taking soon.

There’s a lot we can find to do in life. Plenty of good and beneficial causes and committees and events. But the things that really matter when it comes to being thankful for what we have just might be as simple as redecorating your bedroom and hanging out with your Dad.

 

 

 

Boomer Generation Still Has Plenty To Say

Our days are numbered.

We Baby Boomers (my tribe) have been the nation’s largest living generation since the boom ended around 1964. However, the U.S. Census Bureau projected in January that Millennials (ages 18-34) will pass us in 2015.Baby-Boomer-Portfolio-resized-600

Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 (now ages 51-69). There will be an estimated 74.9 million Boomers still alive in America in 2015, compared to 75.3 million Millennials. The Census Bureau also projects that GenXers (now ages 35-50) will outnumber us beginning in around 2028.

So who cares?

Apparently Boomers do. They have plenty to say about the lifestyle, health, work and leisure activities of my age demographic, much of it available on the content-rich website www.boomercafe.com. This eclectic site features a plethora of articles about all these topics and more. I’m joining the conversation today with my essay on refusing to retire.

Stop by the Boomer Cafe for a little information and some entertainment, even if you’re not in the 50+ crowd. You never know what you might learn from hanging out with the “old folks.”

If You Have a Perfect Plan, Lord, Don’t Let Me Sabotage It

I’m a planner. Always have been, probably always will be.

The first-born of five children, growing up I was the self-appointed boss of my little kingdom. On those long summer vacations, I would plan out daily activities — not only for myself but for my younger siblings. In the morning, there would be time for reading and maybe some exploring or playing on the swing set. Then, if we were lucky and didn’t have chores after lunch, we’d stage a drama that (of course) I would write and direct. My sisters and brother weren’t always on board with my plans, but I never gave up trying.

Me and my sisters with Grandpa Koch. Our little brother hadn't come along yet. I'm the  one in charge, second from the right.
Me and my sisters with Grandpa Koch. Our little brother hadn’t come along yet. I’m the one in charge, second from the right.

My well-honed planning skills came in handy when I began home schooling our four sons. Every weekend, I labored over detailed lesson plans and started Monday mornings with renewed determination to end the week by crossing off everything on my school “to do” list.

It rarely happened. A couple of years and a few stubborn students into our home school journey, I decided that some plans are just goals and we pretty much became “freestyle” home schoolers. (Don’t worry — they all graduated our home school and are successful, productive adults.)

I still like a good, well-drawn plan, even if it means I may sabotage it later. Most Sunday evenings, I pull out my Day-Timer to write down what I expect to be doing between appointments and other obligations already on the calendar for the week ahead. I note phone calls to be made and items to be purchased (including when and where). The practice makes me feel in control and saves me when memory fails.

Imagine my delight when I recently began to see a plan that could only be of God’s making play out before my eyes.

I don’t believe in coincidence. I lean toward Divine Providence. I’ve always laid the big things before God, asking Him to listen and respond to my requests. You know the kind of prayers I mean. “Heal this, fix that, make me better, make him more understanding, keep us safe.”

I haven’t stopped praying those things, but lately I’ve found myself saying more often “your will, your provisions, your PLAN.”

And He’s been doing some crazy stuff with my Day-Timer, with my “to do”, “to read” and “to study” lists. There seems to be a theme, a common thread — a plan — running through the opportunities, people, conversations, books, Bible studies, Sunday school lessons and online blogs that come into my world.

And it’s not of my making. Why am I so surprised?

God’s plan for this final quarter of my life isn’t clear yet, but I’m seeing things come together in a way I could never have imagined. Maybe it began when I wrote my Fourth Quarter Manifesto.

Or maybe when I let that last student of mine move seven hours away.

Or maybe when I stopped talking and started listening, then waiting with expectation.

I’m excited to see where God goes with this plan of His. I’m also pretty sure He knows I would be willing to chime in, should He need some help moving things forward. But until He calls, it’s hands-off because I’m all on board with letting Him lay out what He wants to do with this final quarter of my earthly life.

“Lord, just don’t let me sabotage your Perfect Plan.”

I Turned My Face Toward Him and It Was Good

There was nothing “good” about it. Nothing to make me say “yes, I want to do this again.”

Until it was over and we walked into the late evening sunshine, silent, blinking away the dark of the tomb, walking toward what we knew would come. Toward the promise of Sunday.

That Good Friday when we sat in the depths of the towering Catholic church in preparation, I wept. The hush, the echo of His words….

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

I had walked through decades of Good Friday services, but none tore at my heart and soul like this. Not one had made me feel the pain of His pain as the sins of generations ripped through His body.

There is nothing good about this, I thought.

Until I stepped out into His world in silence and turned toward Sunday. To the Resurrection that carried the promise of my own resurrection from this world to one of the many rooms He has prepared for me in His world.

I turned my face to the setting sun, and it was good.

Joining other bloggers on this Good Friday at Five Minute Friday to share thoughts on the word GOOD.

 

Maybe It’s Not About Cake; Maybe It’s About Fear

To my gay and lesbian friends and those who support their freedom to choose who they love. And to my conservative family and friends who believe they have a right to choose how to live out their religious beliefs:

Take a deep breath and look around you.

There is a lot of pain in the world today. Pain and persecution and bigotry and conflict and loss of life and loss of freedom — all in the name of “liberty of conscience”, freedom to believe what we want to believe.

It should break your heart to hear that people are being slaughtered in the Middle East because of their religious beliefs, or that gay men are being thrown off rooftops in Syria. Or that nearly a million unborn children are killed in America every year.

And we in America are attacking one another over the possible intent and impact of one piece of legislation.

I am not political. I’m conservative in most of my views, surprisingly liberal in a few. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I believe the Bible holds the only laws necessary to create a peaceful, orderly, kind society. But we live in a fallen world so we have man-made laws — perhaps too many — designed to encourage morality.

I don’t begin to think I can make sense of the controversy surrounding my state’s recent passage of the religious freedom law (RFRA). I have read the law and explanations of the law and many commentaries on the law, and my opinion is that it is not written specifically to limit LGBT rights and freedoms. Its focus is on the rights and freedoms of people who hold specific religious views.

The intent of my state legislators in putting this law on the books is something I cannot know. The impact of the law on business owners and the people they serve is yet to be seen.

I write this not because I believe the law is correct or even that it is necessary, and I don’t expect to change the minds of those who oppose the law or of those who support it. I write it because I am the Mom of four sons who are part of the Millennial generation. I write it because they are being told what to think, and I want them to think for themselves.

In fact, all of us on both sides of the issue are being told by others who have our ear what we should think. So we are forming an opinion and taking a side without even knowing what we’re standing for or against.

I challenge my sons, in the same way that I challenge any of you who are concerned about this or any action that you believe limits freedom and promotes prejudice:

Be informed. Understand the issue before you take a stand.

I did not do that.

Before taking time to read Senate Bill 568 (You can read a synopsis of the bill here.), I chose sides in the debate. You probably did, too. I let others who share my religious beliefs and my conservative views tell me how to think.

After doing the research, I believe all of us are reacting based on one emotion.

Because really, it’s not about cake; it’s about fear.

  • That I will be made to feel unequal because of my lifestyle.
  • That I could lose my livelihood because of my faith.
  • That I will suffer because others do not hold the same views as mine.

My Bible says only one emotion “casts out fear” — perfect love. We might think we get it, that we know what love is, but our actions and our attitudes say otherwise.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (You can read more in I Corinthians 13)

There’s a whole lot of pain and not enough love in the world. And more than enough injustice. Life isn’t fair.

Can we consider this? Instead of working so hard to defend and protect our personal rights and freedoms in this one issue, can we look outside ourselves and our circle of fear to see how horrifically the rights and freedoms of others in this world are being violated? Maybe the energy, attention and indignation we’ve expended on this one law that most of us haven’t even read could be used to help the many who have no defense.

We might at least have an idea what we are fighting for.

And maybe in taking the focus off ourselves, we can move closer to giving others a glimpse of perfect love.

For my sons.

How I Found My Tribe and a Book Give-away

Nobody operates in a vacuum. Whatever you do in life, you probably have fellow travelers who share your passion — whether it’s cooking, parenting, building houses or writing. I have friends and acquaintances in all walks of life, but fellow writers are my “people”. I’m writing today for the blog at Breathe Christian Writers’ Conference about how to find and nurture your “tribe”. Join me there and check out the other awesome blog posts.

Back in the days when I was a news reporter sitting in a little cubicle writing feature stories and obituaries, I was energized by the buzz of conversation and activity swirling around the newsroom. Whenever I needed encouragement or information, I’d stop by a fellow reporter’s desk for a chat and come away refreshed and ready to get back to the task at hand. Fellow journalists were my first writers’ group. (Read more)

And here’s something special for you — a beautiful new book.photo (3)

What are you reading during this most Holy of weeks leading up to Easter? I’ve been in the Gospels, considering each of the accounts of the Passion of Christ during Lent, but this week I’m seeing the life of Christ through the eyes of five women in scripture.

In “The Day I Met Jesus”, encounters with Christ are written as diaries of the woman caught in adultery, the prostitute, the Samaritan woman, the woman with a flow of blood and the woman Jesus loved.

Mary DeMuth has beautifully recreated the stories told in the gospels with words that might have been hidden in the hearts of these women. Co-author Frank Viola adds a scripture-based commentary on each of the diaries.

Reading these poignant stories as I prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection has personalized for me the Savior’s impact on people who knew Him when He walked the earth.

I am making a copy of “The Day I Met Jesus” available to someone who reads the full blog post at Breathe and returns here with a comment. I’m trusting you!

I Did Not Choose To Be A Leader, But Follow Me

He says the words like a charge and a challenge to us, the warm bodies filling the pews on a Sunday morning.

“We’re all called to be leaders.”

The too shy and too-busy. The servants. The broken, the ill-equipped and the unwilling.

You say that if we call ourselves followers, we are also called to be leaders?

“Without wise leadership, a nation is in trouble.” Prov. 11:14a

Then he tells us a leadership course has already been written for us — look to Christ and focus on these seven actions:

Identification. Clarification. Motivation. Collaboration. Concentration. Meditation. Relaxation.

The gospels reveal all the ways Christ walked it out.

  • Christ knew who he was — Light of the world, Son of God, the Way, the Truth, the Life.
  • Christ was aware of his purpose, he knew where he was going.
  • Christ knew who he was trying to please, “the one who sent Me.”
  • Christ worked with a team, the 12 apostles.
  • Christ had a focus and an “iron will.”
  • Christ took time daily to pray and meditate on God’s word.
  • Christ knew when he needed rest.

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There is no denying this truth — to be Christ-like means I must also be a leader.

How do I do that on days when it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other? And besides, who would follow when I seem to be going nowhere, when I appear to be lost?

Truth be told, I don’t want anyone looking to me for leadership. Some would say my status as a first-born should make me a natural-born leader, but it really just makes me “bossy”. I’d rather serve in the background, supporting others as they lead, serving the followers and cleaning up after them.

Lead the way? I don’t need that kind of pressure.

But I dig into the Word again and come up with this:

He led by example. And he led with single-minded humility. Christ led with his eye on the goal and simply invited others to follow.

He knew who he was following

Maybe I can do that. Maybe with more training, a role model and a road map I can say “I didn’t choose to be a leader, but follow me.”

And these words of a 12th century saint pretty much sum up my “leadership style.”

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