UNEVEN FOOTING at CHRISTMAS

We’re traversing an unsteady season of life in our family. A journey that requires attention to each step taken. Tender hearts are at risk. The magnitude of the impact of decisions made and actions taken makes the path feel perilous. A step in the wrong direction, a stumble, a misunderstood word can send one’s life careening off a cliff.

Oh, for a level, well-lit pathway.

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Recently I attended a meeting at a lovely venue all decked out for Christmas. From the parking lot it was a glorious sight: massive evergreens festooned with ribbons and garlands that glittered in the morning sun. Friends gathered, and as we crossed the mosaic-floored terrace I tripped on an uneven tile and had to pull my gaze from decorations to the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe entered a grand lobby with glittering lights. Bedecked topiaries dotted the slate floor. The uneven slate floor. Again I had to look away from the surrounding beauty.

Once settled at the table, I relaxed and lifted my eyes, taking in the glowing fireplace, candles, wreaths and colorful packages. And the radiant faces of friends, gathered to enjoy each others’ company, our journeys as writers, and joy celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

Later I thought about that precarious path and bristled at the fact that to traverse it, I had to keep my eyes glued to the floor ~ missing some delightful scenery. Then the memory of the uneven, perilous path facing our family came roaring back. I realized that I felt cheated by having my life forced into a narrow lane. I was missing opportunities to connect with people, missing out on pleasures and joys. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to pout. Wanted to complain and ask God to fix it.

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And He did.

He reminded me, during this season of Christmas, that …

He is Emmanuel ~ God with Us.

That my path is not precarious. Nor is it devoid of beauty.

The Lord Himself holds my hand. And if I look at Him, the view is more glorious than any beribboned, ornament-laden tree. If I hold tightly, He can keep me from falling … and missing opportunities to connect with others.

The difference is not in my path but in where I choose to look.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I wish you plenty of time and freedom to gaze without limit on a season filled with light to remind you of The Light of the World, God With Us.*

Merry Christmas!

*John 8:12, Matthew 1:23

FALL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

Do you enjoy fall? The cooling temperatures. The colors changing. We enjoy the respite after intense summer heat. I’ll be taking a break from the blog for a number of weeks to address some construction projects we have underway ~ home, library, and literary among others. I hope you have wonderful adventures and explorations in this changing season. Meanwhile, I invite you to connect on  Facebook, Pinterest, or Goodreads. I’ll be popping in there.  Happy fall to you.

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Fear. Faith. Family. A SPARROW IN TEREZIN by Kristy Cambron

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Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection through one survivor’s story of hope in the darkest days of a war-torn world.

Present Day—With the grand opening of her new art gallery and a fairy–tale wedding just around the corner, Sera James feels like she’s stumbled into a charmed life—until a brutal legal battle against fiancé William Hanover threatens to destroy their future before it even begins.

Now, after an eleventh-hour wedding ceremony and a callous arrest, William faces a decade in prison for a crime he never committed, and Sera must battle the scathing accusations that threaten her family and any hope for a future with the man she loves.

1942—Kája Makovsky narrowly escaped Nazi-occupied Prague in 1939 and was forced to leave behind her half-Jewish family. Now a reporter for The Daily Telegraph in England, Kája discovers the terror has followed her across the Channel in the shadowy form of the London Blitz. When she learns Jews are being exterminated by the thousands on the continent, she has no choice but to return to her mother city, risking her life to smuggle her family to freedom and peace.

Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, these two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kája must cling to the faith that sustains them and fight to protect all they hold dear–even if it means placing their own futures on the line.   [from back cover]

For some people there are hundreds of things that spark hope and joy. But for Europeans living during the 1940s, choices, safety, and reasons for optimism were shrinking.

800px-monmouth_regimental_museum_-_qrpedia_5In A Sparrow in Terezin Kristy Cambron works her alchemy of words and brings her story world to life in my living room—even more so in my mind and heart. While stories set in WW II may seem already too familiar, Cambron’s impressive research allows her novels to brim with new information, twists, perspectives. As in The Butterfly and the Violin, the first of the Hidden Masterpiece series, Cambron introduces places and incidents that were new to me. And her writing style with fresh images makes the stories even more enjoyable. For example, in all the WW II movies I’ve seen or reading I’ve done, I had never been shown an infant in a pram covered tip to toe in a special suit to protect him like the adults carried gas masks. *

I’ve enjoyed numerous split-time novels. But in A Sparrow in Terezin, as eras shifted I was at times reluctant to leave. I felt less engaged in Sera’s present day story than in Kája’s. I wondered if spending more time in each story before switching eras might have solved that particular problem, but I’m not certain. As the stories progressed I did become more engaged. And Cambron’s gift for making the horrors of war real yet tinged with hope is a big reason.

Numerous themes are presented: hope, love, faith, sacrifice, family. These interplay and inspire. And the book includes many surprises. While not all loose ends are tied up at the conclusion, I found the ending satisfying. Though I must say, closing the cover of a Cambron book is never a complete pleasure because many months will pass before another of her tales is available. I highly recommend this book.

*1939 Second World War-era baby’s gas mask in Monmouth Regimental Museum. This design covered the whole of the baby except for its legs. Photo By Rock drum – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19528798

Hope & Beauty ~ THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN by Kristy Cambron

A Mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz–and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

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“…As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places.”

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN is a powerful story, well told … beautifully told. ‘Tis a gifted writer who can not only open a window for a reader to peer into a different world, but transport the reader there. Kristy Cambron transported me to another world ~ and I don’t feel as if I’ve quite returned yet.

On finishing the story, I closed the cover and felt strangely untethered from my overly hot summer home. Also bereft at leaving behind this place Cambron had so thoroughly delivered me to. I still haven’t analyzed the why. I’m not certain I want to. But I do know that this tale displays our urge to create beauty and the power of beauty to infuse hope. That message resonated with me. I suspect it will with you. (I’ve posted about creativity before. You can read my encouragement here.)

ED n Karl + redwood copy crpThe quiet, reverent awe this book provoked reminds me of walking among the giant redwoods in John Muir Woods.

Below, the blurb from THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN ~ which I highly recommend.

“Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl–a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes. In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover–the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul–who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire. As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.”

 

God’s Message in a Redwood Tree

 

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“Never pass up an opportunity to enjoy nature’s beauty ~ it’s the handwriting of God.” *

 

ED n Karl w giant redwood copyLast week we talked about nature speaking of God and focused on redwood trees. Those magnificent giants live hundreds of years, grow hundreds of feet into the heavens, and have roots as shallow as 5 to 10 feet. But those relatively shallow roots stretch 60, 80, even 100 feet out and intertwine, sometimes even fuse, with the roots of neighbor redwoods. They literally hold each other up. What a perfect metaphor for us.

Psalm 68:6 says:  “God sets the solitary in families” [KJV].  We’re born into families and seem to be wired to need others.  In fact infants recognize faces within hours, and are drawn to animated faces. When their adults suddenly presents a neutral facial expression, signs of distress are seen in children as young as 4 days old. **

ED climbing in JTAnd like redwoods, most of us thrive in a supportive community. This should be no surprise, I guess. Jesus has commanded “Love one another as I have loved you” [John 15:12, KJV].  We’re even told why He chose to link humans together:  Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.   [Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, KJV]

So how do we do this?  Here are just a couple examples:

In the Bible we read that Aaron & Hur held up the arms of Moses when Amalek fought the Israelites [Exodus 17:12].

Also when David and his men were hungry, Abigail generously provided food. [1 Samuel 25:18-20]

And from life ~ Years ago my young son regularly dragged the trash can belonging to our elderly neighbor back after the garbage men left it in the road.

A wonderful mom and an awesome friend, Ellen,  who’s been fighting a life/death health struggle for years, reaches out and mentors other young mothers with great generosity and love.

Katie Davis graduated high-school and went to Uganda to help in an orphanage during a vacation ~ and stayed, adopting over a dozen girls and starting a ministry that reaches thousands.

My friend Jill just held a dying baby who’d been left alone in a utility closet after an “unsuccessful” abortion. You can read more about her and other everyday heroes in my post from Feb. 4, 2016:  Basic Training for Heroes.

Many years ago, I suffered a miscarriage; and some months later my mother died. My friend Carol called and came by often, refusing to let me collapse into the black-hole of depression that beckoned me.

When my dad was still alive, he lived thousands of miles from us. Every time I went to see him, my sister-in-law opened her home for as long as I wanted to stay. Even from afar, she helped hold me up.

Ed + redwoods COPYLike the redwood’s roots, we reach out from where we are planted. There are countless ways in which we can be part of such a network of support ~ giver and receiver. And like the myriad, intermingled roots, each of them is important and amplifies the others.

Please share your thoughts. It’s another way we can intermingle our roots!  In what way has someone been part of your “root system” and held you up?

How can you be a steadying root for someone else? 

* poster seen on Tumblr

** http://www.parentingscience.com/newborns-and-the-social-world.html

Redwood Tree ~ God’s Ambassador

 

Max Lucado calls nature “God’s first missionary.”* And it’s true, isn’t it? So many things in nature cause me to think about God whenever I see them.

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One sight  that never fails is glorious redwood trees. The first time my husband and I saw them, we stepped from our car at John Muir Woods, north of San Francisco ~ and began whispering. Later we both described that moment as feeling as if we were in a cathedral. Those gentle giants inspire awe in me.

And studying them this week, I learned an astounding thing~

 

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Redwood trees, though hundreds of feet tall, have very shallow roots—perhaps 5 or 6 feet deep. 

Did you know that?

So how do they stay upright over the centuries?

Though shallow, the roots stretch wide, sometimes 100 feet from the trunk. The trees thrive in groves where the root systems intertwine, sometimes even fuse, and actually hold each other up.

Think of that. Inanimate trees, designed to hold each other up. A picture of inter-dependence. A picture of humans woven together in families and communities. Of humans’ need for God to hold us up. Nature can’t help but speak about God ~

 

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Standing on a beach and feeling the powerful waves reverberate

The view from high on a mountain with the quilt of land below

The glory of a sunrise or meadow of flowers

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The majesty of a sunset or a whale playing

The tiny intricate jewel-like view of grains of sand

A shawl of stars flung across the sky

I’m grateful God gives us peeks at Him through his creation. Vision to learn about him. They are such tiny slivers, certainly. But still, they speak to us. For me, they comfort. Strengthen. Encourage.

What particular aspects of the natural world speak to you about God?

TAHOE - above emerald Bay

photos copyrighted 2016

*Grace for the Moment, April 25

Operation First Novel Contest Winner Book Reviews ~ Double Header

I’m thrilled to share another winner with you. I know you’ll enjoy meeting Clarice G. James and her cast from DOUBLE HEADER. First the back cover blurb:

“Casey Gallagher has it all together—a lucrative marketing career in Boston, a happy marriage, and a successful sports column she writes with her younger brother Griffin. She’s got a plan to save for a dream home in the suburbs and then have kids, even though her cop husband Sam doesn’t see the need to wait.

The memory of her father still looms large four years after his passing. He was the cop who let her shine his boots, and she’s idolized him since she was a little girl. Even Sam can’t live up to his legacy. Then Casey receives a letter that bursts her balloon. Could her father not have been all she believed he was, and if so, how can her mother, who recently remarried and found a new faith, so easily forgive her former husband? Even the Red Sox rookies Casey and Griffin have recently befriended seem to have an inner peace that puzzles her.

As Casey attempts to fit the changes life throws at her into her idealistic plan, she is challenged by the dialogue running in her head. Is it her conscience, her imagination, or the voice of the God she’s not sure she believes in?”

DOUBLE HEADER cover - C James

When Casey’s happy memories from childhood are fractured, she begins a tough journey to re-establish her equilibrium and forge a new plan for her life. While this task is deeply emotional and challenging for her, Clarice James’s skill in writing and her witty style make the  reader’s journey a delight. Continue reading

Sweetness of ~

Travels and visits were amazing. And arriving home is sweet. More news to come, but today I just wanted to share a line from the book I’m currently reading ~

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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Many thanks to critique partner Felicia for recommending it!

Coming soon ~ the third book review for the Operation First Novel winners ~ Double Header by Clarice James.

Operation First Novel Contest Winner Book Reviews ~ The Calling of Ella McFarland

I’m glad to present to you another finalist in the OFN Contest ~ Linda Brooks Davis with THE CALLING OF ELLA McFARLAND. In fact, this is the winner! Here’s a peek from the back cover:

“Ella McFarland’s dream is a teaching position at Worthington School for Girls. But scandal clouds her family name and may limit her to a life of grueling farm labor in the Indian Territory. Her fate lies in the hands of the Worthington board, and there happens to be one strikingly handsome man with a vote. Will they overlook the illegitimate son recently borne by her sister, Viola?

1905 brings hope of Oklahoma statehood and the woman’s suffrage debate is raging, forcing Ella to make decisions abut her faith, family, and aspirations. When she comes to the rescue of a young, abused sharecropper’s daughter, her calling begins to take shape in ways she never imagined. Education is Ella’s passion, but a new love is budding in her heart. Can she find God’s will amidst the tumultuous storm that surrounds her?”

ELLA McFarland Cover

I liked the plucky heroine, Ella, and the abused young woman, Lily, that Ella takes into her home. I enjoyed the relationship Ella shared with her parents, and her would-be suitor, Andrew. In a story of over-coming, there must be villains – and to be sure, they appear as well, attracting suspicion if not outright contempt. Continue reading

Operation First Novel Contest Winner Book Reviews ~ Snow Out of Season

I am delighted to introduce you to some newly-published authors. I was honored to be named along with them as semi-finalists in the 2014 Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel Contest. Over the next few weeks, you’ll meet the winning books here. First is Christy Brunke, author of Snow Out of Season. That title intrigues me. “Out of season” always means something is awry. Here’s the book blurb:

“Two pregnant women separated by time . . . Are they more connected than they know?

Cemetary PathShannon Henry is just starting to put her life back together after the death of her infant daughter when she discovers she’s pregnant again. Afraid of losing another child, at first she hides the news from her husband Wade.

When her doctor presents her with the choice of either raising a child with Down syndrome or terminating the pregnancy, Shannon is torn. Then things strangely start going missing—their wedding picture, a bracelet with charms for their three children, Wade’s clothes on the floor which she’s always complained about. And why is she having nightmares about losing her husband?

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Leslie Gardner is a high-school senior in 1979 who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, but she discovers she is pregnant too. If she has the child, her chances of a dancing career and college are over, but her friend shows her another option. If she secretly has an abortion like her boyfriend wants, her problems will be over and her life can go on as planned.

While Shannon wrestles with her sanity, Leslie struggles with whether or not to tell her parents. Each must make a decision that will alter both the future and the past forever.”

SNOW out of Season Cover

SNOW OUT OF SEASON has just about all the things I like to see in a novel and very few of the things I don’t. I like believable characters, evocative settings, intriguing storylines, lovely writing, spot-on symbolism, crackling dialog. And always appreciate a dash of charm and humor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe riveting story that unfurls for Shannon Henry kept me up reading well beyond a wise bedtime. I just had to know …  Continue reading