Almost Spring!

Looking out my classroom window at the greying hues found in the seamless connection between the sidewalk and the cloudy sky, I hear the birds making an announcement. Despite this week’s official arrival, Spring has been working its way up from the ground since Valentine’s Day. The arrival of the red cardinal up in our neighbor’s birch tree happens right around the same day every year and from that point Spring comes. Some years the Snowdrops break through the crusty, old snow first and others, Winter Aconite is the winner. We live in a part of the country that usually gets hit by unseasonably warm temperatures around Mother’s Day causing just about every person to remark, “Wow, what happened to Spring? We’ve already moved into summer.” Well, it’s been quietly creeping up on you since mid-February. Stop. Take an early look and listen.

My classes compose Spring themed poems in April because it is National Poetry Month, but also because Spring is about all things new and a poem splashes this truth across the page. Here’s a little one about one of my favorite Spring flowers that you can’t buy in the grocery store, pictured above – Winter Aconite or in fancy circles:


Always in a race

with your neighbor,

the Snowdrop,

pressing forward

out of winter despite

your common name,

Winter Aconite.


ray of ground

level sunshine,

friendly buttercup,

enveloped by

poisonous leaves.

If I eat you

like your friend Digitalis

I’d drop back to

earth, my cardia


You like to live

on the edge,

between winter and

spring, life giving

yellow warmth

and icy cold




Letting Go of Billy Graham

It’s not easy to imagine life in America without Billy Graham. He served as a comforting blanket of trustworthiness and faith in the highest corridors of power and some of the least visible places on earth. He moved through doors freely and as long as he walked the planet we knew someone important must be encountering God in a potentially life changing way which would hopefully trickle down and impact all of us for the better. President Obama visited him in North Carolina only eight years ago, the last of our Presidents to actually see him. I never met him, but he changed my life.

While sitting on my Grandma’s gold velour sofa, eating a hot fudge sundae at the age of seven, I watched his crusade on t.v. Grandma always let me stay up later than my parents and never guilted me into thinking I watched too much t.v. Like parents today who admonish their kids for wasting precious time on video games, my parents did the same with t.v. But on that night, no time was wasted. Mr. Graham spelled it out so simply, “You are a sinner, but you don’t need to die a sinner. Come to Jesus and he will change your life.” He didn’t try to impress me with quotes from commentators or other erudite sources, just the gospel pure and simple. In listening to his message and watching the endless stream of people walking forward to “make a decision for Christ,” I knew I wanted that hope. I didn’t tell my Grandma or anyone else, but when she tucked me in and turned out the light on her rose colored nightstand I did as Mr. Graham said, I asked Jesus into my life. To this day I remember that feeling of security and peace, falling asleep new beneath Grandma’s starched white sheets.

About thirty years later I was on a call with an evangelist, John Guest and he asked me, “How did you come to faith?” I shared my story of Billy Graham and he startlingly said on the phone, “Let’s pray for Mr. Graham and your grandma right now and thank God for the way he used them in your life.” Never before had someone requested that we pray together on the phone. I felt shy and insecure doing it, but as the memory of that night came back accompanied by the smell of  Grandma’s rose scented hand lotion and the rattling of her newspaper while I pretended to be asleep, my heart filled with gratitude. Millions came to faith or were exposed to the truth of the gospel through Billy Graham’s ministry and they are welcoming him into heaven today with a big crown and a choir singing something even better than Handel’s Messiah, but for me on that night in a single bed in River Forest, Illinois it was just me, Billy and Jesus.

Forever grateful.


Polar Plunging in the New Year!

As the LARGE bearded men gathered in their white robes on the beach of Lake Michigan, I had second thoughts. We’ve attended the January 1st Polar Bear Plunge over the years and laughed at the pounds of searing red flesh exiting the water and half naked people of all sizes standing in coolers of hot water to revive their frozen feet. This year was my year. No ice to be chopped up means no ice cutting through your shins and knees as you fly out of the water as fast as your near hypothermia muscles can get you ashore. Another edge, our friends who are seasoned plungers were going in and they knew the tricks, e.g. HOT water coolers, clothes waiting on chairs so they don’t get soaked, must wear shoes so you can run out more effectively and most important, go out in the front of the crowd to avoid the back up of tiptoers into the water who slow down the process to a polar crawl.

While festing at a New Years Eve party the night before a yogi was asked what she thought of the plunge, “I think it would be great for your lymph system.” Of course, this is the main reason to do it. All my lymph nodes will be excruciatingly squeezed and therefor detoxed for about two minutes. Sounded like a good idea, but then I could enjoy this benefit at my local juice bar while waiting for my cut of locavore salmon. Another compelling reason was provided by my girlfriend who served in the Marine Corp., (the real one, not the 35 degree water marine corp. we were about to dip into) “It propels you into the new year like nothing else. It kind of sets the tone for your whole year.” Hmmm. What might my whole year be like if I plunge? Visions of conquering new, unforseen heights and depths of creativity came to mind. Now that’s a benefit.


The “Jump Around” music blasted out of the speakers and we got psyched up by jumping around. The new years day countdown to plunge sang out and off we all charged into what might be our end. There are several ambulances and firefighters who stand waiting to retrieve the weak and frail, or the many Packer fans who are overloaded with holiday cheese curds and Cherry Bounce, yes they go in too and you can smell them on the beach before you hit the water. Here’s what I learned:

– 35 degree water is easy to run out in but it makes it hard to run back. Your system is so shocked that you can’t breath, but your muscles need oxygen to get you out. This is why the kayaks and fireman are in place so no one goes out too far.

– There is a camaradarie that comes with doing something stupid. My son plunged with me and we are now proud members of the Polar Bear Club. The organizers give you a certificate if you sign the waiver saying you won’t sue them if you die. I wonder how many plunges you need to get one of those white robes with the official polar bear patch on them? Those were impressive. If my son gets one before I do, I will be jealous.

– 25 degree air feels like 25 degree air whether you are wet or dry. The difference is that your body becomes stiff when wet so park your car CLOSE to the beach.

– Hot water filled coolers provide the difference between life and death.

I hope this inspires many of you to plunge next New Years Day! Here’s the video of our graceful water ballet if you need more motivation. God bless your 2018 with healthy lymph nodes and the fulfillment of all your resolutions. Check out the man in the tuxedo and top hat, he went in too. Now that’s Wisconsin!






All Creation Waits, Book Review

(Greenhouse teacher Debbie Gottlieb won the book! Thanks everyone for reading. I always keep the comments private:)

In the book, All Creation Waits, Gayle Boss presents the hidden work of 24 animals as they wait for the return of spring. In a combined effort of art, poetry, faith and science we learn the wonders of mama bear as she gorges herself all summer on berries and insects to store up for the birth of her cubs, an event that happens while she sleeps in hibernation. Now that’s a delivery scenario I could handle! No drugs, no pain, no birthing classes, just berries and sleep.

This book forces us to slow down and savor the unseen and unknown quiet facts of protection and preservation that God offers to his precious creatures. It also provides encouragement, for if God gives so much to the Chick-a-dee, then how much more does he give to me? “So do not fear, you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:31. In this day of divisive social media driven vitriol, this book brings us back to the center, to the small, the unnoticed miraculous works of creation. It serves as a seat to savor nature, the preservation of life through the seasons, all of which are magnificently more interesting than the Kardashians latest shoe choice or Trump tweets.

David Klein’s black and white, line intensive illustrations highlight the intricate detail and unique personality of each animal. He invites us to touch the pages to feel the texture of their fur.

Take some time this Advent to wonder in the waiting of what God is doing, even in the places you can’t perceive or see. Spend some time with the animals, the few chosen ones who were there the day He came, Emmanuel. God with us. Thank you Gayle Boss for helping us see a little more of who God is through this expression of your devotion. We wait with you.









Book Marketing – A Love/Hate Relationship

John Koehler, founding publisher at the small indie press, Koehler Books just wrote this blog post for their website, While reading it, he jarred my thoughts back to book marketing with a sigh. My experience with this dreaded or delightful aspect of the publishing industry reeks of highs and lows and some words for future authors which will hopefully help you avoid the pitfalls along the way. Here’s a quick summary of my experience followed by helpful hints.

My first book, a children’s picture book called Back to the Manger, was published by a tiny publisher in Minnesota. They did a beautiful job on the product and gladly left all the marketing to me. Being the zealous first time author with a holiday book in hand I pounded the internet pavement with a vengeance. The book did well, supported by strong events and speaking engagements. In two months it sold a few thousand copies, but I found myself wondering what might the sales result have been if this publisher marketed the book as well as they produced it? Also, by Christmas Day my weary bones could barely make it downstairs for stockings and presents.

For my first novel, A Minor, I signed a traditional deal with a small publisher. Just FYI, traditional means you get an advance and royalties. They worked hard and created a gorgeous product with breakthrough technology, the music embedded into all the ebooks – presto! – just touch the title of the music on your Kindle and it plays. Their partnership with Ingram distributors accomplished this feat, but Ingram didn’t seem to do much more, despite being a big name. Again the lions share of the marketing landed on my doorstep with the first box of comp books. As John says, expect about 50-80% of the work to be done by you, the author. He’s not kidding. The book sold well, but not as well as I’d hoped.

Next up, a poetry and essay compilation with Redbud Writers Guild, Everbloom, with a small publishing house which also happens to have a fantastic marketing department. Lesson here, some small presses do have the capability to market your book so look carefully under the hood. Talk to other authors who’ve been published by this press. What did they do for their book? What does the contract say about marketing? What I’d describe as teamwork marketing muscle launched this book (i.e. not just me) and again it did well, but not as well as I’d predicted. Hint- don’t make predictions on book sales. However, the experience of working together with a marketing team enhanced my joy in releasing this book into the world.

So my singlehanded marketing effort for my first book has actually sold more copies over time than the others? Why? Not an easy question to answer because an amalgamation of factors are at play. A key one is what I like to call the unanticipated demand factor. Some books are organically launched in the right place at the right time. My Christmas book happened to be such a book. It leveraged a unique time period that can be maximized year after year. So timing effectiveness is a reality.  Hint – think about how you can link your book to a specific timing or event that thematically ties in with the topic. Also, breakthrough technology doesn’t ensure success so don’t bank on a quality of uniqueness as a factor of sales. Sure, the cover is important, but a breakthrough cover design/feel won’t make a huge difference. A teamwork approach to marketing is best. Hearing about a new event/opportunity from your marketing team even six months after the book launched buoys your desire to do more. If they’re still working for the book, then you can too, especially beyond the book signing launch party. In store signings don’t sell many books. Celebrating with friends and family at a rock ‘em sock ‘em launch party is a blast, but just because you sold 50 books that day doesn’t mean your book will succeed down the road. As a benchmark, a friend working for a larger publishing house told me, “If your book sells 10,000 copies then it’s a success.” With my limited track record of working through three book launches, I’d say he’s right.

Does all this deter my desire to write the next great American novel? Heck No! The intangible “amen” of writing a creative paragraph that develops a character and advances the storyline inspires me to keep going. We authors love words and the way we can manifest, manipulate and massage them to speak life into something that’s never been spoken before far outweighs the hills and valleys of book marketing. Keep your heart focused on the story while learning and growing as a marketer one book at a time. Keep the faith and Happy National Novel Writing Month everyone! For the first time I’ll be participating in this worldwide, manic writing endeavor with a healthy dose of fear and trembling.

p.s. John Koehler published a helpful little ebook for those who want more illumination on writing and book marketing and it’s free. Here’s the link:


Summer Reading – Not Required

Every year my favorite professor from college sends out her Christmas letter which includes her book list. I like knowing what she is reading because it reassures me that there is hope for the future of America. She is an octogenarian who still teaches college classes, reads fiction and gives great, reflective speeches when called upon to lend her dose of perspective to the cultural conversation. Putting such a list together at the end of the year, just not possible, but in these lazy days of summer, sure. You don’t have to read any of these books on my list, but I do hope you’ll pick up a collection of Everbloom and bask in some powerful stories of transformation.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher – I’m halfway through this book of “Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” His tracing of 500 years of history to postulate how we got here in America is interesting and helpful, but predicting we are on the threshold of a new Dark Age poised to last for hundreds of years is tinged with Nostradamus doom and gloom. Retreat! Retreat! Run for the hills and form your own liturgical communities a la Saint Benedict. This does’t jive too well with Paul’s words of gratitude in Romans 1 for “Greeks and Barbarians, wise and foolish people, I am a debtor. That is why I am so eager to proclaim the gospel to you who live in Rome too.” Yes, we may be living in modern day Rome, but these people need the gospel, not our withdrawal.

Sensemaking by Christian Madsbjerg – Help! How do I pronounce this guy’s last name? Being a believer in the Humanities, I love this book and especially the examples and explanations it provides about how some really crazy business people make do or die decisions. It serves up a strong case for why students of philosophy are still relevant in today’s big data driven business world i.e. George Soros.

Midnight in Sicily  by Peter Robb. Reads a bit like Upton Sinclair in its drowning level of descriptive detail, but Sicily is on my bucket list. Helpful research for the novel I’m working on this summer.

Fuel – Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Her poem about taking her son to his first Nutcracker ballet is killer. Such a blessing to connect with this fellow Trinity alum at a poetry event last spring. Naomi’s heart for the unseen and belief that beauty will change the world beats with every line.

To Walk in Rivers of Fire – Poems by Tammy Boyd. Written by a dear friend who is the editor/creator of the Mudroom blog. Tammy is funny and a survivor of brokenness many of us can’t imagine. Blessed to sit with her poetry this summer.

The Keeping Place – by Jen Pollack Michel. Can’t wait to finish it because keeping home forms so much of my life, yet our earthly home isn’t enough and Jen’s book refocuses my energy and vision on my home in eternity.

What? NO novels? So sad, but reading novels while writing one doesn’t work for me. What are you reading this summer?

Is an Artistic Community Right for You?

This article was written for America magazine by Judith Valente and it might be helpful in sparking ideas about the benefits of creating in community vs. going it alone. I remember standing in a receiving line before a wedding reception and the woman in front of me, whom I’d never met, asked me if I was in a Bible Study. I responded, “No, I like studying the Bible on my own.” In about ten minutes she explained why studying it in a group is more beneficial and she invited me to try it out. I’ve been in various Bible studies for the past 20 years because of her invitation and she was right it is better than studying it alone. The same may be true for you in your creative endeavors. Have you ever thought about joining an artistic community? Here’s some reasons why that might work for you. If you already have, please write me a note and tell me why it works (or doesn’t work) for you.

Note: One correction – I am not an “original” member of the Redbud Writers Guild as the article states. I believe I joined the Guild about five years ago.


For the members of the Redbird Writers Guild, writing is not only a craft, it is a spiritual practice.

The original members of the group first encountered each other about eight years ago when they traveled from the Chicago suburbs to attend a Festival of Faith Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. In addition to their shared geography, they all shared a call to write.

They bonded too, says founding member Shayne Moore, over a mutual “love of Christ.” They also shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

The women of the Redbird Writers Guild shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

When they returned home to Illinois, several of the women met over a glass of wine. They kept thinking back to the redbud trees that were flowering then on Calvin’s campus with their bright magenta blooms in full spring splendor. “We thought, ‘This is a beautiful metaphor for who we are,’” says Margaret Philbrick, another of the guild’s original members—writers seeking to blossom.

Many beginning writers seek out groups where they can share their work and receive constructive feedback. Few of those groups might last as long or have as much success as the e Redbud Writers. Today, the guild has grown to include 150 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Their regular meeting place is no longer someone’s living room or a local café in the Wheaton and Glen Ellyn suburbs where many of the women live. They meet via Skype and converse through a private Facebook page, which female writers who also see their writing as a spiritual practice can apply to join.

“We see it as a way of expanding feminine voices in the area of faith and culture,” Ms. Moore says of the group’s aim.

The guild’s philosophy is simple: that women of faith have something important to communicate and they do that best with the support of community. The writers come from a variety of religious traditions, ranging from Catholic to Congregationalist, Presbyterian to Pentecostal. “We are Christian women, but we don’t get hung up on the individual core values of each of our traditions. There is unity in the essentials,” Ms. Philbrick said.

Redbud Writers
The Redbud Writers Guild. 

Most writing groups focus on how to improve a manuscript, find an agent or get a publisher. Redbud Writers care about those things too. But the art of writing is never far from their spiritual practice.

This is how Ms. Philbrick, a fiction writer and poet, talks about her creative process: “I want to have the life-giving Storyteller give me my words. So before I type or write a word, I have a practice where I put out my hands and pray that the Lord’s spirit will infuse me with his creativity and give life to what I have envisioned,” she says. “There is a faith component to my writing that makes doing it more exciting than me just grinding out chapters, going about my task.”

Community, not competition, guild members say, is the trademark of their group. Among the Redbud’s “Core Values” are respect for the feminine voice and a spirit of non-competitiveness.

“That last thing is what I think sets Redbud apart. We are really grounded in that spirit of non-competition. God’s theology is one of abundance and there is more than enough to go around,” Ms. Moore says.

“These manuscript groups are deep times of intimacy,” Ms. Philbrick says, referring to individual members who meet either on line or in person to discuss manuscripts they are working on. “I’m giving my heart to this group in sharing my work. You have to have a deep level of trust.”

The prescription seems to be working. About half of Redbud’s members have books out now, or significant other print publications. Ms. Moore is the author of two books, including Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World Is Easier Than You Think, which chronicled her work as an advocate for H.I.V./AIDS treatment and prevention.

Ms. Philbrick’s first novel, A Minor, came out in 2014, and she is working on a second novel now centered around a famous painting.

Would male writers be welcome in the group? Well, not exactly. “My sense of men’s writing groups is that they very quickly become elitist. Men are going to look for men who are like them,” Ms. Moore says.

“Women tend to be more comfortable than men are sharing in groups,” Ms. Philbrick says. “Women crave intimacy.”

The group aims to encourage emerging writers in particular. The choice of the word guild in its name is an intentional reference to Medieval guilds where artisans worked as apprentices with more experienced artists in order to improve their craft.

“Many of us are moms with newborn babies, getting up at six o’clock to write before the kids wake up,” Ms. Moore says.

Every Wednesday at noon, guild members stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are, and say a collective prayer. While most of the conversations take place online, they meet every two years for a writing and spiritual retreat at Techny Towers, a retreat center run by the Society of the Divine Word order outside of Chicago. Then the writing resumes.

The Massachusetts-based religious publisher Paraclete Press recently put out a collection of writing by Redbud writers, called Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives, edited by Ms. Moore and Ms. Philbrick. The two said they were careful to include writing from veterans as well as previously unpublished writers.

The anthology offers a snapshot of feminine life in the 21st century, or as Ms. Philbrick says, it reflects the many trains of feminine spiritual thought, like the outspread branches of a redbud tree. Topics of the reflections in the book range from living as an expatriot to the search for home, the loss of a child or a relationship, the suicide of a brother, the violent abduction of a relative, overcoming cancer and surviving rape. Each story ends, of course, with writing prompts to get both novices and veterans started on new work.

“I hope women who feel stuck grinding out the day-in and day-out routine, wondering what it’s all for, will pick up this book and get a tap on the shoulder from the Lord and see a bigger view of their lives and what it all means,” Ms. Philbrick says. “They just might see what God is doing in their lives beyond the cycle of grocery-shopping and feeding the children. I hope this book wakes them up a bit.”

From Back Patio to Bookstore Shelf – The Journey of a Book

Everbloom, Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is the new book from Redbud Writers Guild which launches next week. How did it happen?EverBloom_Cover_04 On a sweet summer night in 2015 my hubby and I were sitting on the patio talking about the transforming work God has done in our lives which led to us chatting about how God has transformed the lives of many folks we know. He casually mentioned, “You know that writing guild you are part of must have some pretty incredible stories of transformation.” I thought to myself, yep and it would be fun to know some of those stories. The next night happened to be our quarterly Redbud Board conference call and at the very end of the agenda I threw out the idea that maybe we should do a book about how Christ has transformed us as writers. The response was milky, lukewarm as in “Hmmm, interesting. Let’s think about it.”


The next day I got a call from Shayne Moore a.k.a. our Redbud founder, dynamo, powerhouse get- it-done kind of gal saying, “Let’s do the book. Let’s you and I write the book proposal.” It took a few months and then we sent it to our fab agent who shopped it around. We waited and waited, for months to hear anything. In publishing, if you don’t like to wait, then this business isn’t for you. A year after our first phone call, we learned that Paraclete Press wanted the book. Insert—— screaming, dancing erratically in the living room, taking selfies with Shayne, more screaming and then the real work began.images

I wrote my poem for the collection while sitting out in a fading September sun. Looking over the finished product, I cried realizing my deep gratitude for a community of women who truly, genuinely love the Lord and desire to serve him with their words. We solicited the whole Guild for essays and/or poetry to a tight turnaround if the collection would launch in the Spring of ’17. A small ocean of high caliber work flooded our inboxes which we took to the giant whiteboard in my classroom and sorted through. We love all these women, how could we say “no” to any of them? Fortunately, the final say comes from the publishing house editor which made our job a little easier. Most of the submissions I read while sitting outside, crying my way through several of them. Submitting to God’s work of transformation is painful. People die. Children get kidnapped. Suicide crosses our threshold. Miscarriages, again. Families break. The broad reach of media brushes these stories across our screens everyday, but when you know all the participants who’ve experienced them, you feel the pain deep down.

In about two months we completed the compilation and editing, then the Paraclete designers brought their art and beauty to the project. We know and trust their work. They designed my website and the Guild’s website and many of our authors’ sites and what is pure joy about Paraclete? They LOVE the arts and they LOVE Jesus. For the first time emails were coming in from “Sister A.” and “Brother B.” people who’ve turned their entire selves over to the Lord exclusively, as sons and daughters for life. Supporting our book with prayer and their talents is their first nature. What a gift.

So here’s a behind the scenes look at the folks at Paraclete Press  who made Everbloom come alive and our book trailer . We received gorgeous mugs and complimentary copies of the book, both of which I will give away on launch day, April 25th to the lucky winner who  answers this question via my Contacts page or in a comment below. And the question is…..How has your relationship with God enabled you to bloom in a dry and fallow season? Happy Spring!


Making Marriage Beautiful

I often thank God for blessing my life with a joyful, sacred marriage for 27 years. People say that building a strong marriage takes work and effort. In some sense that is true. Self-control is a virtue that I push myself to exhibit when my husband leaves his socks by the side of the bed again. Be the loving wife and just pick them up, right? They’re just socks. But the devil hanging out above my ear is saying, “Are you kidding, he’s done it again and he’s assuming you will pick them up for him, just leave them there.” Usually, I pick them up, sometimes he does and sometimes I leave them. But enough sock talking trivialities.

What makes our marriage beautiful? Dorothy Greco’s book, Making Marriage Beautiful forced me to think about this question and that alone is a worthy exercise. I’m recommending her book here today for anyone who wants to strengthen their marriage. This book, written by a woman with insights from her husband and other couples, focuses on listening to one another and God , maintaining realistic expectations (see chapter, “Not Your Mother’s Lasagna) and how we commit to growing together long term. It goes way beyond the everyday realities of socks and addresses the big challenges found in a life of commitment. I love the book trailer posted here because it focuses on growth and how we have to dig, sweat, and wait for those springtime blossoms, much the same process we follow in cultivating a healthy marriage.



Savor the vulnerable and wise voice of Dorothy Greco as you dig into her story. Ideally read it with your spouse and please leave a review on Amazon when finished reading, Making Marriage Beautiful. Here’s the link to buy the book and the link to Dorothy’s fantastic website. She is a phenomenal photographer and an author, of course. Just being proficient in one art form wouldn’t do. Love and thanks to you Dorothy for helping us and caring enough about marriage to write this book.

Buy the book here:

Dorothy’s Website:

Book Trailer: