MERRY CHRISTMAS !

Don’t you just love Advent? The days leading up to Christmas seem unlike others in our year. Oh, not the uber-busy but the intense reminders of the holiday approaching and what that holiday means … if we have eyes to see it.

Oh, friends, I hope you do have eyes and heart to see it.

Some family things are pulling me to focus there. I’m sad to not be here to share slivers of light that point to The Light Who came into our world [John 9:5] ~ Immanuel meaning “God with us” [Matthew 1:23]. So I’ll be re-posting some Christmas thoughts from previous years. Again, may you celebrate this season with the eyes and heart of a child.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Intriguing views through Ellie’s Window by Sandy Snavely

Sandy Snavely’s Ellie’s Window is an engaging book with a creative smörgåsbord of characters, themes, and perspectives.

It may be difficult to tell you why I say that without spoiling some of Snavely’s delicious surprises, but I’ll try. Ellie’s Window introduces us to Ellie Mae and her daughter Charlie. Charlie discovers Ellie Mae has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and their worlds are turned upside down—well, their visible worlds, the ones they consider reality. But they’re also living in several different, heavily veiled worlds. Snavely cleverly weaves links between these worlds.

A story about someone suffering the inexorable creeping loss of Alzheimer’s could be a very dark read. But Snavely’s skill as a writer keeps that from being so. She crafts scenes with humor, warmth, and joy amid the stress. She uses delightful turns of phrase that shine a lance of light or beauty into the dark places.

Some favorite examples:  

Early in the book a woman about to give birth to her first child is rambling about things she wants to do before going to the hospital. The rattled husband tries to be supportive while getting her quickly to the hospital in the dead of night. As they drive, she prattles on and suggests they go home until she feels more prepared. He thinks “Labor and logic will not be shaking hands any time soon.” When they arrive, he see the row trees lining the hospital driveway as having “their branches outstretched to protect the weak and weary and those whose nerves have gone bump in the night.” What great ways to convey his state of mind.

A description of a man: “His face was gently weathered, like a tree …” A great visual, a simile that gives us a good image. Some would stop there, but Snavely adds that extra lance of light: “His face was gently weathered, like a tree that had learned to bend with the wind.” Now that gives us so much more information about the man. And the woman describing him, yes?

And another: One friend chides another for not taking care of herself while busy care-taking others. “You … sit yourself down … you look like you haven’t eaten since Moses crossed the Red Sea.” That women must look emaciated!

At times kaleidoscopic, the scenes written through the eyes of an Alzheimer’s patient are appropriately fluid, slippery, and erratic. Masterfully crafted .

Much about Alzheimer’s remains a mystery. But the devastation it can wreak in a family is no mystery.

In that environment, Snavely offers a new perspective based on the truth that God’s ways are beyond our ways. God is not bound by space and time as we are, and just because it appears that an Alzheimer’s patient is vegetating doesn’t mean that is actually what is happening.

Snavely’s writing is full of touches that give the reader an extra dose of humanity as they meander through the fog that is Alzheimer’s. The one “read-bump” I encountered was her occasional use of multiple point-of-view characters in a scene. This might be done in some genres, but it was an unfamiliar technique to me. Early on I found it confusing. I became more used to it, but when I encountered it, it did momentarily pull me out of the story world. For other readers it may not be an issue.

Ellie’s Window is a creative story that expands the realm of possibilities for our consideration. A gift on every level. As the flags on special pages indicate my impression. :-) 

In cyber-chatting with Sandy, I asked her to expand on her comment (end note) about how she came up with Ellie’s Window and prepared to write it.

SS: “It was like God opened a book and the story just fell into my heart…. I did quite a bit of research on Alzheimer’s just so that I could write about it without stammering. But I didn’t want the story’s primary message to be about Alzheimer’s but about hope.”

I asked what was her inspiration for some of the unusual perspectives she included.

It’s “one of those things that happens while writing. I closed my eyes and tried to see what Audrey was seeing. … and [it] just seemed to be there waiting for me.”

And the heaven scenes?

I read several books about heaven … Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven,… was the first book that helped me to connect the lines between heaven and earth.”

Thanks, Sandy for a peek behind the scenes.

Creative Influence

Had a lively conversation this morning with my son about friendship and how great friends spur each other to new ideas, greater creativity. He was pleasantly surprised to learn that J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were members of the same literary discussion group in Oxford, England ~ The Inklings.

Great art touches people. We want to see it for ourselves. We travel to it,study it, watch documentaries about its creation, learn ways to preserve it. No surprise though ~ God the Ultimate Creator has planted part of Himself in us and I believe our creativity is one slice of that.

I love observing some of the forms creative expression takes. My mother-in-law painted portraits & landscapes in oils and watercolors~~also pictures or designs on clothes!

 

My cousin Ray, battling brain cancer for perhaps 15 years, makes lovely wooden vases and bowls.

 

Friend Kay leads a group called Creatively Connecting with God.

My daughter-in-law Sandy painted beautiful designs on furniture and makes any room into something lovely. I suspect when camping, her tree stump table has a few flowers or acorns on it at mealtimes.

Watching HGTV, you often hear home buyers say they want to put their own stamp or style on a house. Then there are the visionaries who turn a train car or concrete bunker into an amazing home. (Have you SEEN the movable apartment one guy has in New York City made from a garbage dumpster?!)

I’ve always been nudged to express things creatively—poetry, drawings, playing guitar—all mediocre, at best! :-) I worked with choreographer Liz Lerman who paints pictures with people in motion. Before spinal surgery restricted me, I made pictures with needle and embroidery floss. One of the oddest results of a burst of creativity was a chess set made from bits and bolts from the hardware store. That was fun! Now I paint stories with words.

 

I love seeing youngsters at Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch have summer fun and paint horses, then give them great loving massages as they wash them. Amazima Ministries raises funds for programs to empower women in poverty in Africa by selling jewelry THE WOMEN MAKE.

 

There are likely thousands of organizations that help folks use their creativity to empower themselves, multiply its impact, and reflect God.

So, please think about how you express yourself creatively. (You do.) And the next time your youngster plays in a mud puddle then fingerpaints a work of art on the car, be encouraged—they are reflecting God’s image.

Good Old Days … Or New?

Do you ever long for “the good old days?” Whether those are the simpler times of kids playing safely around the neighborhood in the 1950’s to the early days of World Wide Web or somewhere in between, I imagine most people over 30 have wished for the good old days.

I confess, I’m one who has wished that in regard to communication technology. (Some day I’ll tell you when we replaced our 2 pound “mobile” phone.)

I enjoyed a wonderful moment of solidarity with author Philip Yancey when he said, “I have a website. I’m on Facebook. But I don’t tweet!” I almost stood up and cheered. I’m in good company,

AND … [Don’t you love that word? Don’t have to choose between, you get the fullness of “and,” unless, of course, the “and” is parents saying “You’re grounded AND you’re cleaning the garage this weekend.” Yeah. And is more. Still like the word, though. Now back to our story.]

… God did one of his “A-ha” moment things the same day I heard Philip Yancey.

Professor Michael Clark rocked my world(view) when he used games & gaming to teach creative writing. It’s no secret I love Scrabble and other word games—but video games? Not so much. Time-waster (like parents used to say of television). Person-waster, really. Hours and years of creativity, energy, and LIFE of so many people poured out into – nothingness. What an incredible WASTE.

I cringe when I think of the inventions or new medicines or works of art that never emerge because the creator of it was busy having mock shootouts or racking up a pinball score. So many magnum (What is the plural of magnum opus? Opi?) never to be. People who never create the masterpiece they were put here to do. Connections and relationships that wither … or are never made to begin with. WASTE.

Whether this is a new view of cyberspace or just making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, I haven’t decided yet – but Professor Clark showed us how to use video game components to foster, not deaden, creativity.

‘Tis a good day when God opens a mind to a whole new realm of creativity, new vistas. Exciting, fun, LIFE. Definitely not waste. So kind of God to shine light on an entirely new perspective. Makes one feel young again—and enjoy these days of life knowing some day today will be part of “the good old days.”

Colluding with an abuser

I notice when I bring up domestic violence (DV), things go v-e-r-y quiet.

Yeah, I get that it’s an uncomfortable topic. We wouldn’t want to pry into people’s private business. Or insult a friend by revealing we suspect she’s being abused.

That’s sad—because DV is usually a family secret, and victims don’t talk about it either. When the abuse finally becomes evident, someone often asks the victim why she never asked for help, never left. “I would have helped. Why didn’t you ever tell me?” The answer in one form or another is: “You never asked.”

If victims won’t bring it up, and they’re never asked—How is help to arrive? Somebody has to be the first to speak the words. To ask a question. To offer an observation. To hold out hope. There are lives that need saving.

I guarantee, even if your friend doesn’t acknowledge the abuse to you when you discuss it, you will have planted a seed and alerted her to the fact she is not alone. Someone else cares. The abuse is not her fault. Life isn’t hopeless.

DV victims tend to be hyper-vigilant. They are watching. It’s a survival skill. So when one hears someone who seems to comprehend DV, she will know that when she’s ready, there is a safe person to talk with.

So please, as October ends, don’t collude with the abuser and his coerced veil of silence. Get prepared. Plant a seed or two. Help families see fall as a time they can enjoy nature’s changing colors—and not hide the changing color of bruises.

I wonder why DV Awareness Month is October, but it seems apt. The colors of changing leaves—purple, green fading to yellow to brown—match the colors of bruising.

I promise you, I don’t beat the drum about DV every day. I won’t be posting on it every week. But come October, I feel an obligation to share information.

As you read this, does a friend come to mind? Perhaps she’s the one who needs to know a friend understands.

And thanks for reading this.

 

Adventure Calls – Love’s Fortune by Laura Frantz

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. [Mark Twain as quoted in Love’s Fortune]

Ah, an adventure awaits.

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment.”

What about this moment is special?

Who could resist turning the page after reading such a line?  

Papa had forsaken his black mourning band.”

Oh my, what does that portend for young Wren?

Laura Frantz opens the door—just a sliver—into a world unfamiliar to us and then quickly plunges us into the culture shock Wren faces in tumultuous mid-nineteenth century America.

There Frantz’s cast of varied and strongly-motivated characters face dilemmas aplenty as they navigate through treacherous steamboat travel, slavery debates, and debut seasons. They are so richly presented, I can almost see with Wren the river made golden at sunset, inhale the mingled fragrance of cut wood and varnish, ache with James at the tough choices, feel the chilly condescension when Andra or Elspeth enter a room.

Frantz’s deft hand and thorough research bring alive the steamboat travel along the Ohio River, the cramped streets and luxurious upper crust homes of Pittsburgh. Did you know that before a wedding, Pittsburgh society brides had to be wrapped in a sheet to keep their gowns from getting sooty? Or that tobacco and molasses were shipped in a hogshead? (Not as gross as it sounds, a hogshead is a size of barrel.) Or that each steamboat had a distinctive whistle allowing folks on shore to know which boat was arriving? (Clever and extremely helpful in those days before cell phones.)

The hundreds of specific details Frantz includes make history come alive, and the setting so real you can feel the fresh air and freedom as Wren runs barefoot across the Kentucky hills. Along with Wren, I smile watching glamorous couples dance beneath the glittering lights of the ballroom and feel every pinch of high society’s conventions and corsets. I could easily slip into the music room and sway to the melody and eavesdrop in a hallway or on a garden stroll. The world Wren Ballantyne enters is so real, we step in right along with her—wishing at times she could hear our whisper,..

… “This way, Wren.” Or, “Don’t listen to the scoundrel’s slick words.” Or, “This is a person you can trust. That one? Most certainly is not.”

Frantz’s prose is rich and sings like the music Wren makes with her fiddle. She creates a world that throbs with life, filled with joy and sorrow, pride and shame, struggle and celebration, conflict and triumph. And story threads, like a spring, are wound tighter with each chapter. Speaking of chapters, Frantz goes to the extra trouble of selecting an epigraph to introduce each one~~small gems in themselves. A gift, indeed.

Do you remember those old-fashioned children’s pop-up books where, as you turn pages, a cardboard scene rises out of the book? Laura Frantz’s writing does that—it makes a 2-dimensional world 3-D.

So whatever makes a good novel for you~~high-stakes action, compelling characters, or a setting that takes you someplace new~~you will find it between the covers of Love’s Fortune. Frantz is skilled at the elements of writing good fiction—vivid characters, rich setting, taut plot lines. And also using the subtlety, red herrings, and misdirection of engrossing mysteries.  

But there is more, much more. Some authors have a way of weaving simple words, sentences, and paragraphs into a glittering jewel that is more than the sum of its parts. Laura Frantz is one of those, and we readers are the beneficiaries of her alchemy-like ability to transform these elements into a tale that Narnia-like captures and carries us into a satisfying journey. Love’s Fortune is a tale that unfurls at times with the grit and scrape of a coil of hemp rope, at others with the caress and shimmery mystery of a spool of moire ribbon. A tale that kept me reading until the dawn broke.  

Oops, need to give you a brief plot insight. Here’s the back cover copy:   Sheltered since birth at her Kentucky home, Rowena “Wren” Ballantyne has heard only whispered rumors of her grandfather Silas’s vast fortune and grand manor in Pennsylvania. When her father receives a rare letter summoning him to New Hope, Wren makes the journey with him and quickly finds herself in a whole new world–filled with family members she’s never met, dances she’s never learned, and a new side to the father she thought she knew. As she struggles to fit in during their extended stay, she finds a friend in James Sackett, the most valued steamship pilot of the Ballantynes’ shipping line. Even with his help, Wren feels she may never be comfortable in high society. Will she go her own way . . . to her peril?

With her signature attention to historical detail, Laura Frantz brings 1850s Pennsylvania alive with a tender story of loss, love, and loyalty.” 

You can learn about Laura’s other books and why she loves writing about Kentucky at her website: www.laurafrantz.net

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Did you know ~~

~ that Domestic Violence (DV) involves a pattern, a predictable pattern, of coercive control?

~that extricating oneself from it is not easy?

~ that many women experience their first physical assault during pregnancy

~ that when trying to leave an abusive relationship, victims are at great risk of being murdered?

~ that pets in DV homes have a shortened life expectancy?

One of the saddest stories I heard from a clergyman about DV was a pastor who noticed one Sunday after church that a man walking to his car was treating his wife in a manner the clergy considered inconsiderate and perhaps rough. But he was busy, had parishioners waiting to talk, and didn’t want to embarrass the couple, so he decided to let it go. A couple months later, that man killed his wife and then himself.

That clergyman missed one of the few opportunities to intervene.

He regrets his choice and being ignorant of DV warning signs. You see—IF you see something in public like that, the abusive person has gone way beyond typical restraints and the victim is in serious danger.

So if you answered “YES” to the questions above, great. If not, maybe check out some resources and get prepared. If 1 in every 4 women has experienced DV as some research indicates, chances are you know one.

Some resources:

UNITED STATES

National Domestic Violence Hotline

1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or  TTY 1-800-787-3224

http://www.thehotline.org/

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

http://www.ncadv.org/

The Ripple Effect – A public health education, research & advocacy organization with fact sheets and slide shows.

http://www.the-ripple-effect.info/

CANADA

Assaulted Women’s Helpline – 154 languages

1.866.863.0511 or TTY  416.364.8762

http://www.awhl.org/

For Moms on the Margins

Here’s to you, moms on the margins!

You know who you are—though you may try to hide. Feeling on the outside edge of your neighborhood and your church.  Maybe a discouraged mother raising children solo after some wrecking ball tore through your marriage.  Maybe solitary since baby’s first cry. A fearful woman trying to protect her family from abuse. An exhausted mom raising a special needs child— handicapped if the word doesn’t irk you. Because don’t all children have special needs? Continue reading

Davis Bunn’s THE TURNING

In his new novel THE TURNING, Davis Bunn presents a story which is paradoxically as familiar as age-old fairy tales yet as astonishing as tomorrow’s news.

He brings together an unlikely group of five ordinary people. Ordinary, but dissimilar. Ordinary, except that they’ve each heard God. When they converge in New York City and encounter each other, they recognize that God has put them together. But they don’t know why? They only know they’ve been summoned.   Continue reading