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Clinging to Fig Leaves

I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
My justice was like a robe and a turban. Job 29:14

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The rose petals are unfolding. One at a time they arch toward the sun, revealing orange and gold hues to the garden afficionado. We’ve kept this one rose in a pot on our balcony—far from the ravished does and fawns that grace our cabin’s yard. If the rose hadn’t been protected its petals and leaves would be devoured by the insatiable hunger of a creature unaware of the beauty of the frilly petals that perfume the air.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Traditional German Carol

A plant laid bare by nature’s creature would perhaps have the roots themselves torn from the ground and left to die. Our world strips down to marrow the things unvalued. A moment’s pleasure disappears as quickly as a fly near a frog. All that is left is a hollow desire for more. Which will not satisfy an empty soul.
Using things or people until they are broken and discarded is built into the nature of man. It came at the time man determined he could navigate life without God’s guidance.

And then.

He noticed his nakedness.

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Without the covering of God, we are all simply stems, without verdant leaves, buds, blossoms, or fruit. We may have roots but they are rooted in emptiness and will live for a season then wither and die without proper nourishment.

Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flowe’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

But proper nourishment is provided. As is light, which is necessary for growth, health, and wholeness. The roses on my balcony turn a lovely shade of pink and yellow with petals tipped in orange as they mature. A subtle 4th of July firework display that adds beauty to a vase by my bed. And I carry the scent with me after a brief sniff.

Isaiah ‘twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

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Sometimes a carol is necessary to dispel the thinking that life, in its abundance, should only be celebrated at harvest or when the advent season is upon us. Everyday we are given the opportunity to dwell on the beauty of God’s creation. But, do I grasp at fig leaves to cover up the bits of me that are uncomely? To hide the scars that mar me, He has clothed me with His righteousness. His love enfolds me, wraps me, shields me and protects His handmaiden. May I exhibit His handwork to the world, not the clothing I’ve created.

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul will exult in my God;
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness. Isaiah 61:10

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This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispells with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
Rue man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

Summer’s Song

Gather a shell…And listen at its lips:

They sigh…The echo of the whole sea’s speech.”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I must admit I’ve been a collector. As a child I stuffed my pocket with sandy shells. Gleaned from the foam left on the shore, they lined my window sill in pristine white solitude. The mussel shells did not entice me. Their somber countenance of greys and black made me think of shadowed pirate caves where water came in the with tide and trapped the unsuspecting.

And the song of the sea enticed me to memorize Sea Fever by John Masefield, to sing sea chanties and swim in the frigid Pacific off Oregon shores.

On a shelf in my grandmother’s living room a large conch shell lay dreaming I’d pick it up. And I did. Every time my feet hit the wooden floor of her cottage I’d listen and dream.

Sea shell, sea shell,

Sing of the things,

You know so well.

 Amy Lowell

The shell held the sound of waves in its hidden passages. And dreams. The sound of water licking the shore was soporific and lead to dreams of dancing like Debbie Reynolds or acting in a Shakespearian tragedy speaking lines I knew would move hearts.

My imagination painted dusty white beaches where warm, azure water kissed the shores and palm trees whispered. And accolades followed my performances. Dreams that were more than life sized catapulted me to join the chorus line of actors. But life interrupted and the shell seeker became a searcher for truth. It was found in a person. His name is Jesus. He was from Nazareth, an obscure place on the world’s map. My hometown was a mere dot too. As am I. Yet. God knit me together for His purposes. He said that this person, made of sinews, bones, corpuscles and a steady heartbeat, is loved. He demonstrated it. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. KJV

As I gaze upon the sea!

All the old romantic legends,

All my dreams,

Come back to me.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow’s poem is true for me. The sea restores me, as if God is whispering His merciful love in the wind, as changeable waves cast sparkling shells on a gritty shore.

Collector of Stones

But he answered and said to them,

“I tell you that if these should keep silent,

the stones would immediately cry out.”

Luke 19:40

Can limestone, granite,

or pumice proclaim the deity of our Lord?

Do they reveal creation’s story?

If we don’t, do they?

God sent us thousands of miles from our families for Rod to practice medicine. It seemed odd to us at the time. In hindsight it opened a world for us and our children. During our years in Michigan the body of Christ became our family. Thirty years later, the friendships fostered along the Lake Michigan shore remain intact even though we are scattered throughout the country. A men’s Zoom Bible study and gatherings from Greece to the Pacific Northwest, prayers, and words of encouragement continue to bless our days.

When we first arrived in the north, Dale Whitman became a heart-friend because of his wife, Virginia, my prayer partner and spiritual mentor. Dale was a gift to us, the impish grandfather our kids needed. He had served during WWII and his tales of having ships sunk twice while he was on board, being stuck on an island guarding supplies because he was supposed to be dead and didn’t have orders, and his raft of card tricks kept us entertained. So did his Irish humor.

When his beloved Virginia died, we kept an eye on Dale, taking him meals or enjoying his company for dinner. Once, when he and Rod had been working on a project, Rod was called in. He hauled Dale along where he mesmerized the nurses while Rod delivered a baby.

Our friend Dale asked only one thing of us when we traveled, “Bring me back a rock from someplace.” Dale rarely asked us for anything, so I wrote his request down in my ever-present notebook. We were on our way to China the first time he asked for us to find a rock. An unusual request—a rock. Hiking on a river bank along the Yangtze, I found an igneous for Dale. I also found one for me. When I gave it to him, he quizzed me about our trip as we shared a cup of tea. This link between us, this water smoothed pebble became a tangible memory of time. I described to him the lap of the water against the shore, the pungent smell of the cooking fires along the river and, as he tapped my senses to get a clearer picture, I now recall the dancing eyes of a loving friend.

In life there are granite-hard people. Their smiles are brittle and the air about them icy. The soft, friable, people give away bits of themselves to those in need. They are as rare as a sunny day during Kenya’s monsoon season. We treasure them.

Who are the people God has placed in my life that are givers of time, substance, and joy? Who holds me up when the world is crumbling? Virginia and Dale Whitman were rare treasures—people who could not stay silent about the grace of God, prayer warriors who declared the goodness of God in the midst of heartache.

  This Christmas I held my Yangtze rock in my hand as I set up our Nativity. It was a perfect perch for one of the Roman soldiers, so I plopped the shield bearer on top and walked away. But the memory of Dale lingered like a sweet aroma of love.

A Novel Approach: War and research

For me writing involves examining things with a magnifying glass of words.

J.M. Mirich

Currently Ethiopia is on my radar as I finish rewriting a WWII novel. Did the war actually begin with Germany’s invasion of Poland? Or was it when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935 and no one interfered. As a member of the League of Nations Ethiopia should have been protected by the signers of the Charter. However, the nation of Ethiopia was left to her own devises but an  embargo of arms was placed on her. So, a story winds through my brain.

I want readers to experience life with all its textures and cultural nuances. Writing of the thunder of Tisisat Falls as it cascades into the ravine, the gooey texture of a chocolate truffle, and the scent of jasmine wafting through a Kenyan garden gives me joy. I prefer to do my location research in situ. Sitting at a sidewalk café in Addis Ababa and indulging in the sour pancake injera with friends is how I learn. Experiencing the ripe scent of unwashed bodies in Mombasa harbor and the cough of a lion on the prowl infuses my work with reality.

In my imagination, I’m up to my eyeballs in and desert sand. Having lived on the end of the Mohave and experiencing a haboob or two I can draw on my familiarity of chasing sand around when cleaning and attempting to spit out grit in a lady-like manner.

I’ve dealt with a few things in life—a swat team on my roof firing at a kidnapping suspect, yes—bullets flying from a Regina Aeronautica’s Caproni Ca 101, no. I’ve never had to contend with bombs. I do not think I need to experience being a target of an air raid to write about it.   

They must be terrifying reading the accounts of the survivors of the London Blitz. What can I draw from to communicate the fear people had? The light slowly dawns. We live with fear from too much information about skullduggery, pandemics, and shortages. In a culture that has news at the touch of a finger we are riveted by the latest outrage. When our minds are whiplashed by irate opinion sharers, we become like the people Absalom chatted up at the city gate—easily troubled.

The Lord challenges me to think about, ‘What is true, what is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think on these things.’ Philippians 4:8-9. During this season I’m fleeing the whispers and seeking His peace that I glean from His word.

Revised

Revised is a plague on a writer’s house. Sometimes a do over is necessary but a rewrite is complicated. It resembles moving to a far country. What should I keep? Anything? Should I start from the beginning or where I am? I am not Sherlock Holmes type of person. No magnifying glass sits on my writing desk. I do not investigate life with microscopes. Jots and tittles are for scribes copying manuscripts in alpine monasteries, their hands incased in ink stained fingerless mittens.    

Adjustment has been my theme of 2020. We returned from Israel in February and quickly entered into the “close down our lives” mode with the rest of the world. What a great opportunity to clean up fabric to make into masks. I set to work.

The idea of organizing led to cutting fabric, hunting for elastic, finishing a third novel in my mystery series, cleaning closets, rethinking how we should live, what we should eat, and changing our plans over and over again.

September found me knee deep (don’t you love trite phrases) in a rewrite of a novel first published eight years ago. It is a Christmas novel that I had the temerity to think I could get out before the Christmas of 2020. Not a chance. Covid stealthily crept up and flattened us at the end of September.

Can you believe my eye lids still itch and are tender and my brain flits about like bees among pear blossoms? For weeks concentrating for more than a few minutes made my head hurt—literally.

When my husband developed double pneumonia and was in the Covid wing of our hospital, I got a bit compulsive and stormed through my sewing room drawers gathering supplies for a craft group. The errant OCD attack didn’t stop there because then I wrapped embroidery thread onto cardboard, finished a project or two, sorted magazines and sent many things to goodwill. I could still sew a straight seam with my eyes tearing so finished a few lap quilts but…the old novel lay on my desk as an accusation.

What did God want me to do with my days?

Between naps and prayers, I had a minute or two to weave sentences into something. The haunting word—revision raised its red ink pen and I began. The edited word tapestry became a stronger tale and the warp and weave still created the picture I wanted. Would the story of God’s love for a missionary, a jump jockey, and a reprobate shipping magnate impact lives for His kingdom? A do over, if only for my own heart, was satisfying.

We are in a season of gathering memories and examining our own hearts. For us it is a time of stopping, waiting, and prayer. As this troubling year slips into 2021 will the revisions God has asked for in my own life remain or will I delete and try to figure it out on my own?

Contemplating September 2020

Early fall days can be like the hot flashes of a temperamental old person—crusty, cantankerous, and unpredictable. September hiccups from summer to autumn like a car whose gears are not properly engaged. One moment it is furnace hot with humidity dripping from the sky and the next I’m grabbing a winter coat.

It doesn’t help that my husband and I change venues. Mid-spring until late September usually has us ensconced in our Oregon lake cottage then we journey to Kentucky with an overloaded car and laughter. This year we left the west earlier than usual in order to watch grandkids while our son-in-law and daughter wandered through Kentucky hiking trails and relaxed.

Oregon sweltered on September 1st. We wound through the McKenzie Pass, a favorite drive, had our picnic lunch in Sisters, enjoyed ice cream, and gathered fabric bits for a quilt before heading toward Bend. It was a beautiful day of sunlight with a mild breeze.

Lightning struck the tinder-dry forests and set them ablaze as we ventured east. Smoke plumes in Wyoming darkened the skies with dirt-brown clouds. The terrifying fires colored our thoughts as we read the news of decimated small Oregon towns hugging the edges of the rivers and forests.

Fires burn throughout our land. Man-made fires that leave carnage in their wake seem to be all around. Where is my heart in this summer of unrest? Is it still and listening to reason’s voice of love?

Summer’s flight
Dogwood leaves rust
While days shorten
In the meager autumn sunlight.
Shed grace on our sorrows
Lord,
As what we love
Becomes dust
In winds of change.

Hard Rain

When lakes fill
and June roses bloom,
gray days
etch my thoughts.

Where is summer?

Has it fled as
grass kneels
at the onslaught
from hard rain?

Or is summer’s
warm breath
hiding
amid the sorrow
of anguish filled days?

Our son, his wife, and five children have repatriated to the U.S. from Kenya. It took four tries. Four sets of itinerary kept them adjusting, repacking, and waiting. And grace bathed them as the rains of uncertainty fell around them.

This is a season when a torrent of emotion sweeps across our landscape. The hard rains of change can fill us with gratitude and, like water overflowing vessels, that grace can bring sustenance as dry days desiccate the land. Too much water can also cause flooding, uproot, and destroy. So, I’m examining my heart as news deluges the internet. Where do I put my trust? Am I allowing the news to steal my joy and destroy what God has built in my life?

Or, do I look to the hills where God has placed His army or as some interpret, where the enemy stands in full battle array. Where does my help come from? Psalm 121. From Him. He is my sustainer, my fortress, my hope. So, a new story rises from the uncertainty and turmoil.

Perhaps it is a story of our time in Thailand during the Vietnam war, a time and place I’ve been reluctant to reexamine. Maybe it will be Josephine in the D.B. Burns series. As she prepares for marriage, facing the pain of her single parent life and the advantages of her independence, Josephine may conclude to continue life alone. But, I’m in the midst of my fictional account of Rebecca Boone’s life. Do these times echo hers where she fled Indian attacks, the British army, and endured long separations from her explorer husband?

The list could go on and on. The emotions wound up in trauma and seeking the place of healing reminds me of a wonderful book I’m reading by Kim Meeder. Encountering Our Wild God. Her devotional book is breathing reason into my days as she helps me examine my heart and look to Him for peace, healing, and divine protection.

Origins

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Blame it on my father, this compulsion to pin words to a page. As a child I hear him typing away in his attic office, creating magic with rhyme.
People laughed at Dad’s humor, repeated his lines or embraced them like long lost friends. Dad blessed others with words of affirmation and encouragement scrawled on whatever was handy. He only resorted to his Remington typewriter when the words were distilled enough to merit fiddling with keys.
The syncopation of words was the soundtrack of my childhood. Dad was a poet and musician at heart. Earning a salary was another matter.
Do you have memories of written words floating through your childhood?
Perhaps your mother read to you as you snuggled, or you father read Shakespeare at the dinner table as mine did.

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Carrying the magic of language into my writing life is a useful tool. The sound of words fitting together is why I still read aloud. I cuddle with words. But now, instead of Thurber or Dickens who graced my early years, I also read my own writing. Hearing them helps me edit and groom my thoughts. Poetry, a short story, or the two thousand words a day I added on my newest novel, has me reciting as light fades to shadows.
And I have a willing accomplice. My stalwart husband who laughs at the appropriate times and raises a sculpted eyebrow for a misplaced modifier.

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Boundaries

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Boundaries intrigue me. In Kentucky, stone fences built by settlers that designated the edges of land ownership still line the serpentine roads. The stacked limestone walls are climbable. You can tunnel under them or walk through the gates. But they continue to keep out predators and confine the livestock. And a family and its neighbors know what they possessed.
Personal limits, placed to keep ourselves confined or others away from our presence challenge me. Why, I ask. Is it fear? Or, is it a sign of ownership? Perhaps love of the familiar and the peace it brings is why I and others restrict access to our hearts.
Personally, I like challenges. Peering down a steep slope with two skinny boards attached to my boots made me smile in the past. A race driving course equipped me with insight and assurance when I drove on icy Michigan roads. Living as a minority in Asia or Africa, packing a bag to last for a year didn’t faze me. However, discovering I shut emotional doors that God wants to pry open stops me flat.

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As I analyze my feelings and responses, they are translated into prose. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW is written in capital letters in my mind. Consequently, I create characters with well entrenched boundaries that are challenged by circumstances as well as by others. In the D.B. Burns mystery series, heroine Delilah Burns Morgan faces rebuilding her life after her husband dies, then juggling the attentions of the man her husband wished her to consider marrying. In my novella, Happy Christmas, Miss Lawrence, circumstances alter Alexandra Lawrence’s journey home. Can she trust strangers to protect her in a foreign country and still maintain her peace?

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Boundaries, I have a few. When I write down my emotional fences, I see them more clearly. Occasionally Jesus limited access to his heart by withdrawing to spend time with His Father. It seems the better way.
Luke 5:16, Luke 22:41, Matthew 26:39, 42.