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Stitches

Delicate feather stitches seal edges of fine handwork and remind me of the scent of my grandmother’s floral perfume. Other worldly. The stitches themselves are of ancient vintage and the thread used can be of single strand embroidery or a glitzy golden metallic one. I’ve been known to use slinky silk ribbon to surround a heart. The thickness and texture of the threads tell a story. So do startling verbs or the silky description of a children’s blonde curls.

I long for my readers to ‘feel’ the story, to have a visceral reaction to the villain’s eyes narrowing as he stalks his next victim. When a protagonist meets the woman who will change his life, I want the fingers on the pages of my novel to tense with anticipation.

Creating stories on fabric and with words seems to be my calling. And I see the mistakes, the thread that is too loose or an adjective that distracts. Paring down is not acceptable in over-the-top Victorian quilts, but a necessity with words. Verbs need to grab the reader, perhaps throttle them. And words have texture on the tongue when read aloud. Riki Tiki Tavi by Kipling dances in my mouth when I read it to my grandchildren.

What do the words, creamy, smooth, friable, conjure up in your mind? Can you feel the creamy custard slid across your teeth from my description? Drawing a finger along a silk shirt, for me, erupts memories of my mother in pearls, dressed for an evening out with my dad. Inviting people into the time and place of a tale takes the magic of word choices that don’t hinder their journey. I’m a learning at the craft. Is there an end at the learning tunnel? I hope not. It is an adventure, this love of words is like cotton patches nailed down with thread.

Chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting by an open fire.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

Not quite yet,

 but I must be prepared.

I should wear a hard hat and leather gloves when I walk out of our door. It is chestnut season. The nut is wrapped in a prickly casing that makes porcupines look benign. Their spines can even penetrate shoes. The green-brown spheres fling themselves off the large tree by our deck with the abandon of trusting children.

It is time to take control of the nut’s desire to share their wealth with our gymnastic squirrels and my ravenous grandchildren. Roasted, flavored chestnuts are a treat. And free, not counting the Band Aids and the triple antibiotic used on my fingers.

Ever feel that way? That life is tossing hand grenades your direction? Many of those who have gone before us have had to juggle things we’d duck. “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in Me. You shall have suffering in the world,” said the Master. He also told his disciples, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Aramaic Bible in plain English.

Matthew 10:38-39 “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow Me on the narrow road, then you are not worthy of Me. To find your life, you must lose your life—and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”    

We are gleaners in God’s fields. Reaping the harvest takes the right equipment from leather gloves to the wisdom to know when to pick the fruit or, in this case, nuts. I actually let them tell me. When the chestnuts plop in front of me I know I can dig out the shells for roasting.

This, of course, is when the analogy breaks down. But, do we know when hearts are ready to hear the words of the gospel? When the fields are ripe for harvest? When sharing His grace to others, I’ve been stabbed by their words, been forsaken, betrayed, cheated, and robbed. Yet, I’ve seen God’s hand of grace through it all. Can I offer to those who flee from the word Christ that God will be with you through the pain in our world? That He alone offers hope?

May this be a season of reaping the harvest of souls searching for peace in our troubled world. As you dodge the ‘nuts’ and the fallout from their ‘attack’, may His grace be evident and may you walk in His love.

The seasons rush upon us.

As usual I’m not ready.

The silk arrangements are in place,

My tea cup is filled,

But, is God in my haste

To plan ahead and embrace

The coming of winter?

And what does winter hold?

Peace

As icy winds rattle the bare trees

Or fear

When the unknown knocks at

My door?

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.