Nashville: Making Culture in Community

Where we are — the place where we are breathing, working, loving and living — that place, that community, forms us, even in the midst of trial and change. One of my adult sons was making a new life far from home a few years back, wrestling with change and trying to get a handle on the future. I was able to drop in on his life for a few days and wrote about his world from my perspective. My essay is included today at Topology:

The slap-crack of skateboards hitting cement punctuates the air. The town park vibrates with laughter, conversation, dog yelps, honking horns. Overhead, dark clouds roll, hanging low, heavy with moisture….(read more)

Topology is the online journal of *culture is not optional, an intentional community based in Three Rivers, Michigan. From their website:

“The mission of *culture is not optional is to model and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond. Perhaps our first value is in our name: *culture is not optional. But what kind of culture? And why is it “not optional?” We believe humans are created to make something of the world, and what we make is “culture.” We can’t help but make culture in our homes, neighborhoods, churches and workplaces. The culture we make can be life-giving or destructive, beautiful or scarring, compassionate or self-centered. As followers of Christ, we aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.”

I’m engaged in making “culture” today as I write and, later, as I handle issues faced by my aging parents. This morning, my community is the farm where I live in northeastern Indiana. Later, it will be a small town hospital where my Mom is being treated for multiple challenging health problems. Wherever today finds you, be present and let your presence be life-giving, loving, just and joyful.

One more thing ~

You may notice a lovely new icon on the right side of the page. I am beyond delighted to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild. This international community of authors, writers and speakers exists to “communicate in order to empower women to use their voices to be world-changers.” My affiliation with these many gifted women sets the bar high for any writing I do in the future.

 

 

 

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Wasting Time ‘Tilting at Windmills’

“Tilting at windmills.”

This phrase came to mind as my husband I walked among the windmills at a local outdoor museum on Father’s Day. I had no idea where I’d heard it before, so of course, later in the day, I googled it.

The “tilting” refers to jousting. The phrase originated in the novel Don Quixote, written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in the early 1600s. In the scene referenced, the protagonist, Quixote, prepares to challenge an enemy.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

Quixote’s adversary in this “righteous war”?

Windmills.

Jousting or tilting at windmills — at incorrectly perceived adversaries — is a vain battle at best, a waste of time at the very least.

Tilting at windmills is a vain battle at best, a waste of time at the very least. Click To Tweet

There have been windmills in my line of sight through the years. Many of them, in fact — enemies on a far hill that threatened, or more often, adversaries that I felt were worthy of elimination. Though I hardly knew their form, I was willing to do battle, usually for quite self-righteous reasons.

“….the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

And how might He bless me? With gratitude, with another jewel in my crown, with wealth and security?

My windmills have taken many forms:

  • a point of view that was unlike my own
  • a behavior that was contrary to my beliefs
  • an individual seeking unearned recognition
  • a concept or action that threatened my hard-earned security
  • a political candidate who in no way represents my values or goals for our nation, state or community.

While any of these adversaries may deserve to be engaged in battle, I’ve had to tell myself more than once maybe that battle is not mine to fight.

There are more than enough very real adversaries in my world, most of them directly in front of me, and a good many of them of my own making. My energy and Quixote-like passion might be better spent doing battle with these.

  • my prejudice
  • my lack of initiative
  • my lazy faith
  • my unfounded fears
  • my greed

Very real “windmills” whirl and spin on the landscape of my life. Of all our lives. Tackling those giants requires all the energy I can muster most days.

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills.”

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Mid-America Windmill Museum Kendallville, Indiana

 

 

Story Matters: Sharing a Family Story at “Breathe”

When a girl grows up casting her Daddy as the hero in every story, it’s natural that one day she will tell his story.

My father’s story is far from a fairy tale. The years immediately after my mother left our family must have been rough for my father as he took on the task of raising three little girls, ages 3, 2 and 1…….read more about how I was inspired to tell my father’s story in a guest post on the blog at Breathe Christian Writers website. 

And while you’re there, sign up to attend the 2016 Breathe Christian Writers’ Conference October 7 and 8 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This event is, hands down, my favorite writers’ conference. This year’s keynote speaker will be author and storyteller James Scott Bell.

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Tending the Garden: Pour and Listen

The dry spell was broken over the weekend and finally my outdoor plants received a showering that did not come from my watering can. Everything is lush and green this morning, and for that I am grateful.

I have more than one watering can, but only the galvanized metal one gives the nice steady flow that ensures my plants get a good watering. So, I carry it everywhere, refilling it as I go. A week ago, as I toted my old metal watering can from plant to plant, from the pump to the porch to the patio, and stood patiently, letting the life-giving water sprinkle down in measured amounts, I thought “Why don’t I just drag the garden hose over here and drench the thing and be done with it.” But, honestly, I prefer taking the time to give each basket, tree or bed special attention. I like noticing the new blossoms, taking stock of the growth, plucking dead blooms and leaves, and listening as birdsong fills the air and leaves rustle overhead.

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I haven’t always taken the time to tend the plants that looked so lush when I loaded them in car at the nursery. Years past, my baskets have withered in the heat and beds have filled with weeds, and, truthfully, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen again this year, around mid-July when summer takes hold and I get distracted.

As I made my watering rounds last week, my thoughts turned to the women in my life that God has appointed me to “pour into”. Women with real, life-changing, heart-breaking needs, as well as women in seasons of joy and exciting changes. Each of those women brings beauty to my world, each in a different way. And as I tend to those friendships, cherishing them, looking for growth, even attempting to prune and pluck as they allow, I’m learning to listen as each shares her heart. I’ve discovered how important it is to be fully engaged, to move slowly and with intention as, through me, God pours life-giving water on their souls.

There are times, of course, when I’m not called on to be part of the watering, when the Lord speaks directly to them or when others are tapped to use their own methods for pouring into them. But when He sends me, I can only use what I know, what is familiar to me. Like the old galvanized watering can, my source is time-tested and proven faithful. As I dip into God’s word or offer up a prayer on their behalf, I draw from my well of past experiences, of scriptures that have guided me, and ask God to use them to reveal truth to another.

While in Nashville, Tennessee, recently the work of a “master gardener” caught my eye. Becca Stevens centers her ministry to wounded women in a healing garden at Thistle Farms near Nashville. I walked to the ministry’s diner, The Thistle Stop Cafe, each morning for coffee and delicious food served by women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Becca founded Thistle Farms in 2001 to provide employment and, more importantly, nurturing and hope for 50 residents who work to create a line of natural body-care products as well as serve in the café, and in the sewing and print shop. She has also established Magdalene, residential communities for women.

This woman, an Episcopal priest, writer and entrepreneur, ministers alongside her volunteers as they pour into women with profound needs in Nashville and throughout the world. My “garden” is considerably smaller than that of Thistle Farms and Magdalene, but it is no less important and I, too, work alongside sisters who share my desire to minister to wounded women.

This summer, I am harvesting wisdom from one of Becca’s books, “Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life”. Today, I glean from a chapter about praying to get out of the way:

“Listening is the way we stop tripping over ourselves in the midst of trying to serve another….we simply listen and respond with the word of love. It is a simple and spiritual practice.”

With watering can in hand, I’m learning to pour and to listen.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Rose Hill Cemetery, Albion, Indiana

For All the Unknown Soldiers in Our Lives

(The photo above was taken at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Rose Hill Cemetery, Albion, Indiana.)american_flag

In the small town where I grew up, summer always began with Memorial Day. I remember waiting with prideful anticipation to catch site of the American Legion Color Guard, knowing I’d see my Dad in the line of uniform-clad men, dressed in his Air Force blues and either balancing a flagpole on his hip or carrying a gun at his side.

As our local heroes stepped off around the courthouse square, townsfolk joined the parade for the short walk down the street to Rose Hill Cemetery. There, in the early summer sunshine, we’d recognize our soldiers, living and deceased. The ceremony always ended at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as taps were trumpeted from a far-away hillside. A solemn prayer released us all to our holiday activities.

A few years ago, my husband and I joined the Memorial Day service at a small cemetery near us. We heard the names of soldiers, mostly unknown to us, but familiar to many gathered around. Just as we did in my hometown half a century ago, our ceremony ended with prayer and a salute at the tomb of those whose names are unknown.

It struck me then. Our lives are filled with “unknown” soldiers — men and women who anonymously laid down their lives here and abroad, and who continue to do so today, so that I could live and raise a family in freedom and safety. My own father and his three brothers all served in the United States military, one of them dedicating a career to military duty. In my hometown, we know their names, their histories, their pride and dedication, but to the rest of the world, they are virtually unknown.

Robert Harris Wilson tried to enter the military at 17, but had to wait a year.

Robert Harris Wilson tried to enter the military at 17, but had to wait a year. Read more about Dad’s military career and his childhood in One Man’s Work.

This Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be thinking of family members, classmates, friends and neighbors who put on a uniform and committed to do their duty as defenders and protectors of our nation. May they be known and honored, not just at the end of May, but every day.

“The greatest glory of a free-born people is to transmit that freedom to their children.” ~ William Havard, chaplain to the armed forces during World War I.

 

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“Never Trump” the Sovereignty of God

My gut reaction at the close of Indiana’s historic primary election is to say “Never Trump”. There are so many reasons I am repulsed by the idea of Donald J. Trump leading our nation, to list them here would fill a blog post. I am embarrassed and disheartened by the choice a majority of my fellow “conservative” Hoosiers have made. They’ve turned away a godly man who could help lead our nation out of darkness and instead fallen under the spell of spectacle. I believe we will be sorry.

Watching and listening to coverage of the Presidential race (it’s hard to miss, unless you live in a cave), I’ve been reminded of the leaders chosen by the people of Israel over 3,000 years ago. As recorded in the Book of Judges, the Israelites begged God for mighty kings to lead them, though God warned against it. Each time God granted their wish, the people turned from God and sinned against Him.

When the Israelites cried out to God for mercy, he delivered them by raising up the heroes of the book, the Judges. Filled with the Holy Spirit, these valiant men and women obeyed God—although imperfectly—to demonstrate his faithfulness and love.

“Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them.” Judges 2:18-19

When we were a homeschooling family, one of the books I used to teach my sons about this period in history was “Daring Deliverers” by Ollie E. Gibbs. Together, we learned what it takes to be a good leader by studying the 12 judges appointed by God during the first 300 years of the history of Israel. Each of the judges offered hope to the people of Israel, delivering them from the sin that had ensnared them. But in every instance, the godly leaders were eventually rejected and the people returned to their sinful ways.

It appears that America, a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, has rejected a “daring deliverer” before the man even had an opportunity to enact his plan for deliverance. With Ted Cruz laying down his mantle, the future of our nation looks bleak.

But for God……

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,” Ephesians 3:20

Whether or not I cast a vote for Donald J. Trump (or for his opponent), I will keep this election in perspective, believing that even in times like these, God will have the upper hand and that one man or one woman cannot set the course for a nation that looks to God for deliverance.

 

 

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Age Is No Barrier To Inspiration and Passion

There’s something about passionate people that’s attractive and inspiring. I recently stumbled upon just such a combination in the friendship between two very different individuals who happen to share a passion for aviation

Satya Sunkavalli, 27, caught my eye last spring during an event at the local campus of Ivy Tech University. It could have been her diminutive stature or her friendly smile, or the fact that she was one of only three women in the Aviation Maintenance program — or perhaps because she is from India. This bright, eloquent young woman impressed many as she spoke before a crowd gathered for the unveiling of an aircraft donated to the school.

As I got to know Satya, I learned she had discovered a mentor who is a source of inspiration on her journey to become a pilot and, eventually, to build aircraft.

Ninety-year-old Paul Goldsmith welcomed Satya into his company last fall as a newly licensed aircraft mechanic after overseeing her internship at G&N Aviation near Merrillville. The two have developed a close friendship based on mutual respect that spans the generations. Paul and his friend, Musetta Yeager, have opened their home to Satya while she is here on an education visa. Her home is in Tanuka, India.

I recently spent a delightful afternoon talking with Satya, Paul and Musetta, learning about their shared passion for flight and about Paul’s racing career. as well as his upcoming induction into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. To read more about these fascinating individuals, check out the Sunday Life section of KPC Media’s sister papers, The News-Sun, The Star and The Herald Republican.

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Time for a Little Dancing in the Foyer

It was a sweet picture.

A tiny Mama, grey hair disheveled and shoulders draped with a fluffy child’s blanket, twinkled as she shuffled her feet and waved her frail hands. Her smiling, middle-aged son lightly touched her dancing fingers and attempted to guide her toward the restaurant’s front door, planning to safely tuck her into his car for the trip back home. But she had other ideas. Standing square in a patch of warm sunshine, Mama was dancing in the foyer.

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Spring is upon us here in the Midwest — finally. Time to fling open the windows and poke our heads out the door to breathe in the glory of green grass and fresh breezes. Time to lift our faces to the sunshine and leave winter behind.

Isn’t it the way of things that often we don’t realize the “posture” we’ve taken until someone sheds a little light on it. I’ve been hibernating for a few weeks, tucking myself in, taking shelter in the warm blanket of self-protection. Oh, I’ve been plenty busy, keeping up with work and writing, family and church obligations. But I haven’t been all there. I didn’t think anyone would notice, and I was sure it didn’t really matter.

Until a friend peeked under the blanket and asked “Are you okay?”

We need people like that in our lives, caring folk who know us at our best and miss us when we’re absent. We need them to spend time with us even when we’re huddled under a blanket — and to be there when we’re ready to dance in the sunshine.

I’ve been reading about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Hiding under a blanket doesn’t fit the image of a spirit-filled woman. I know that. I haven’t really forgotten. I just didn’t think anyone would notice.

The world’s a cold place sometimes. The blast of hard things can threaten to throw us off balance. But it’s Spring. The sun is shining. It’s warming up out there and there’s music in the air.

It’s time for a little dancing in the foyer.

 

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The Waterway That Marks My Place in the World

A few years ago, I struck up a conversation with some nice folks at a booth at The Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. The booth offered information on The Huss Project and *culture is not optional. I was interested in the intentional community they were establishing in a former schoolhouse in Three Rivers, Michigan. It was pleasant to share words with like-minded folk.

This week, an essay I wrote titled “The Creek” is featured in their online magazine, Topology. It is an honor to share thoughts on the waterway that marks my place in the world. Stop by Topology and enjoy other essays, poetry and images by artists from around the country.

Speaking of The Festival of Faith and Writing, I’ll be making my biennial pilgrimage to this outstanding writers/readers conference later this week. Don’t envy me as I rub shoulders with the likes of Lucy Shaw, Leslie Leyland Fields, Zadie Smith and Tobias Wolff. I’m certain I’ll come home inspired as a writer, and with a lengthy reading list for the coming year.

 

 

A Kindred Soul Can Span the Decades: Emma Smith

kindred :  having the same belief, attitude, or feeling, associated by origin, nature, qualities, etc.

Stumbling upon a “kindred spirit” is a special kind of surprise. It was that way for me recently when I discovered the British author Emma Smith. Emma’s words, in my header above, showed up as I was doing research for a writing project. They resonated so deeply with me that I had to know more about her.

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma, 93, lives in southwest London. She published her two-part memoir “The Great Western Beach” and “As Green As Grass” in 2008 and 2013 respectively — at ages 85 and 90. They cover her life up to 1951, ending at the time of her marriage at age 28. By that time, Emma had published two well-received novels in 1948 and 1949, “Maidens Trip” and “The Far Cry”, both set in Britain during WW II.

When she married, Emma stopped writing for a time, focusing on her family. She returned to writing out of necessity when her husband’s sudden death after just six years of marriage left her as the sole provider for her two children.

Prior to marriage, Emma (whose real name is Elspeth Hallsmith) was an adventurer. She traveled to India to help shoot a documentary and worked as crew for canal boats that carried heavy cargoes between London and the industrial Midlands of England during WW II, both experiences providing backdrops for her novels.

Once she was married, Emma left travel and writing behind. After her husband’s death, she moved her little family to Wales and devoted the next 20 years to raising her children. During that time, she authored a couple of children’s books, but they never achieved the attention garnered by her novels.

With resurgent interest in and the reprinting of her two novels, Emma has experienced a sort of “renaissance” in her later years. That’s where I find her now, and where I expect to dive into her memoirs and her novels.

The kindredness? This:

“I loved being a mother and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I would swap all my books for my children.” ~ Emma Smith

In like spirit, I can say I willingly swap all the books I have not yet written for the privilege of raising my four children. But unearthing a treasure like Emma Smith gives me hope that I still have a good 20 years to write a first book. To quote Emma:

water-5“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”