Geeking Out at Book Expo in Chicago

Imagine lines three people wide as far as you can see for Jonathan Safran Foer to sign his forthcoming novel, Here I Am. Think people rushing the entrance to get the coolest book bag swag from Sourcebooks, the free measuring spoons from Capstone. There were so many people in line to get in at noon when the Expo opened that I cut in, haven’t done this since grade school. It was easy. A group of unsuspecting book buyers were sitting on the floor studying the exhibitor map when everyone else stood up. I slipped in between them unnoticed. Bad girl! After two hours, my feet throbbing, I descended the 500 foot escalator for refuge on the second floor where I took off my black boots and looked over the almost dozen books I acquired free. Yes, new books – FREE! Books that haven’t come out yet – FREE!  I’m salivating. These booksellers are hawking their fall offerings with gusto. You can smell the ink of ARCs drying on pages. The enormous McCormick Place West arena filled to the gills with little elevated tables surrounded by four high chairs (not the kind you feed your kids Gerber Sweet Potatoes in, much cooler looking), with reps in suits talking books with even bigger Ingram reps with breast pocket kerchiefs. I actually met John Ingram who started the dominant world of book distribution ten years ago. If you haven’t heard of him, he is to book distribution what Michael Jordon is to basketball.Think every imaginable book nerd checking out the fall catalogues of everyone from HarperCollins to Double Dragon who publishes blood dripping horror.

I kept seeking out thick carpeted booth spaces to give my aching feet a break, not daring to sit in one of those high chairs out of fear of being identified as a bookselling poser. I’m not a seller, rather someone who is looking at trends in the industry and looking for something breakthrough beautiful. I’m already sick of adult coloring books so what is new out there? Surprise! What’s new is death and dying. Hasn’t that been around for awhile? But the Boomers are dying and they want to die well. End of life, preparing for end of life, what happens in the afterlife, are you ready to meet the “monster” of death books everywhere. Also, the look and style of creative visual compilations like John Derian’s (Artisan Books). He transports the nostalgia of 19th century flea market postcards into singular works of contemplative art, one gigantic image at a time. An eye. A pear. A paperweight per page draws the reader back in time to a restful place of savoring an object of beauty without looking at it on our phones.

I also went to meet my publisher, John Koehler of Koehler Books and my favorite agent, Don Gates. IMG953723John is a pioneer who realized that he can identify new talent and make deals on all fronts; traditional, hybrid and a recent self-publishing line with Ingram Spark. He is a special breed of publishing entrepreneur, professional boomerangist, Christian author and beach comber. I love his openness to trying new things, like embedding the classical music tracks in my novel. John rocks. He gives hope to the stodgy publishing world, now forced to undergo transformation due to the overwhelming influx of people writing books and self-publishing. Yes friends, several of the big five houses have self-publishing lines now. What a great way to make money when about 5,000 books are being published per DAY!

Books are alive and flourishing. Those silly doom predictors who said print was moribund, in permanent decline can forget it. In these days of Trump insanity, “HUGE” deals are still being made, bought and sold. Hundreds of readers are standing in line to get a signed copy of a yet to be released book and writers are dreaming up their next big story arc, all on the shores of Lake Michigan. Ha! Book Expo left New York for the Windy City. Perhaps the Cubs really are going to win the World Series.

Natasha’s New Book, Mentor For Life

I have to admit being a bit in awe of people who go to military academies. Natasha Robinson is one of them. They emit a burning efficiency which singes us lesser beings who actually spend our moments at a stoplight daydreaming rather than crossing off the to do list. For the last several months I’ve been meeting a gal in Panera who is a new friend, new Christian, and new to the church as in first time in her entire life new. I love this ray of sunshine and freshness friend. We always order the same thing, dress in whatever and hug each other coming and going. I guess you could say I’m her mentor although I’m not entirely equipped to be her mentor so I’m ordering Natasha’s book, Mentor for Life. If you have a desire to mentor and want to know how to do it well, this is a book you’ll love. Here’s a bit of Natasha’s cool, focused face, her beautiful book published by Zondervan and some of her own thoughts about it. You go girl!

http://www.amazon.com/Mentor-Life-Finding-Intentional-Discipleship/dp/0310522358

Why did you want to write the book, Mentor for Life?

Natasha: The process for Mentor for Life came about quite organically. I was leading a mentoring ministry in my local congregation and it was the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of my whole adult life. I was growing my faith, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and reading thoughtful kingdom-focused books. The ministry was important to me so I would frequently talk about it and I wrote about it on my blog and in some of the leadership articles I wrote for Christianity Today. When I would share what we were doing and how I was watching God change people’s lives through mentoring as intentional discipleship, I started hearing people say, I want to be a part of something like that or I wish there was a ministry like that are my church. I would get messages on my Facebook page, notes in the comments section, or emails from my blog asking for a resource or my curriculum. When I saw this was a need in the church and people were sincerely asking for help, that’s when I sat down to write this book.

How has mentorship impacted your life?

Natasha: Mentoring has had in invaluable impact on my life. I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, in a community of people that understood the African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” I always had mentors in my formative years in the form of coaches, teachers, community servants, and pastors. Everyone was collectively speaking into my life. The lessons I learned from these mentors taught me discipline and helped me confirm my identity, which later guided me to the United States Naval Academy.

The Naval Academy’s mission is to make leaders who are committed to making a career in the naval service. The institution cares about the moral, mental, and physical development of their midshipmen (students), and mentoring is naturally built into the leadership structure of the school. From the time you walk on campus, you’re being mentored by several and being groomed as you advance so you are able to mentor others. My time at the academy was very important to my professional development and the honing of my leadership skills.

With regards to my spiritual life, I was raised in a church but really didn’t start walking with the Lord in a personal relationship until I was in college. At that time, I was discipled and mentored by a woman who shaped me. I had many spiritual influencers at that time who built me up and helped me become who I am today.

Mentoring has become a passion of mine, because of the impact it’s had on my life, but also because of the transformation I’ve seen in other people. I believe mentoring is my service to God and to His church.

How do you think the church will benefit from the message of your book?

Natasha: I think the church will be challenged by Mentor for Life, specifically because it is not a how to book. It is a book that calls us back to the priority of our primary calling to make disciples who follow Jesus with their entire being by laying down their lives for the sake of the gospel and this great kingdom mission God has set before us. I think the church has relevant concerns and challenges in today’s culture, but we are not without hope in this world. I believe in the vision of the Lausanne Movement: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” We can do that whether we are going out as missionaries to other parts of the world, or whether we are faithful and credible witnesses to the various people groups God has already put in front of us. Any devout believer wants to make disciples of Jesus, yet in our daily lives we become distracted, and what this book does is it resets our priorities and challenges us to allow everyone to overflow out of Jesus’ prayer for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. Mentor for Life challenges and equips the church to focus on the gospel and Jesus’ simple call to “follow me” and we do that by making disciples through relationships in an intimate small group of intentional learning.

 

How can someone seek out a mentor at church? How can you prepare yourself to be a mentor at church?

Natasha: How can someone find a mentor: ask! Just make sure that when you ask, you’re specific and make your motivations and intentions clear. This gives the space for conversation. For example, my mother passed away during my sophomore year of college. When I entered into a mentorship with an older woman at my church, one of her early questions to me was, “Are you trying to fill a ‘mommy void’ with this relationship?” That was certainly a valid question. I thought about it and confidently replied, “No.” No one would ever be able to replace my mother. I had a wonderful relationship with her and I have no regrets.

The reason I had sought out this woman at my church was because she was a prayer warrior. So after she asked me why I wanted her as my mentor, I told her it was because I wanted her to teach me how to pray. This taught me the importance of being specific in your “ask” of a mentor and to not be afraid to ask and make your expectations known. Putting all your expectations of a mentorship out in the open also gives you the opportunity to check your motives as a mentee. I still have a mentoring relationship with this woman today and I value it greatly.

With regards to preparing to become a mentor, most of the time you are just not ready. I do not want to discount the importance of training. I am an advocate for training and equipping leaders so they can serve the body of Christ and others well. That’s why I have written this book. That’s why I offer free downloadable information on my website. That’s why I have written a mentoring leadership training manual and accompanying videos. That’s also why I offer leadership consulting and mentoring coaching. However, I feel like this feeling of “not being ready” is what a lot of people use as an excuse to not commit to mentoring. I am saying very clearly that is NOT a sufficient excuse. “On the job” training is a big part of being an excellent mentor. There’s only so much you can prepare for. In mentoring, there’s always more to learn. There’s no “arriving” when it comes to being qualified to mentor. Prepare what and where you can by praying, being in the Word, listening and learning from others, and taking advantage of the tools that are available to you, but don’t wait on fully accomplishing those things before saying “yes” to being a mentor.

For mentors and mentees, it is imperative that both parties be open and honest up front about expectations and boundaries. Laying everything out at the beginning will help keep your time together focused, and will also provide accountability for both parties. Many times, the expectation of the mentee can lean towards being completely unrealistic. When that expectation is ultimately not met, the mentee ends up checking out of the relationship. Having affirmations can clarity expectations, build trust, and cause the mentoring relationship to flourish.

Mentorship is oftentimes all about “me,” when it should really be all about Christ. He is the mentor both for those who offer mentoring and those being mentored. For mentors, this means being open and willing to serve when called upon. For mentees, this meaning being open to change and willing to learn from a mentor. Both mentors and mentees need a humble and mutually submissive posture, and both need an attentive ear and teachable spirit. Shift away from focusing on yourself and your needs, and see how God wants to teach you and use you to influence the lives of others.

What makes Mentor for Life unique?

Natasha: Mentor for Life is unique because it does address mentoring from a perspective of 1-on-1 relationships. It clearly defines mentoring from the kingdom perspective of intentional making disciples, and we do that within a small group of approximately six mentees and we invest in building quality relationships through intentional learning over a longer period of time (approximately a year). The book is kingdom-focused, it engages the biblical texts, there is opportunity for theological reflection, it is missional (not just about what we do in the church but how we live among people), and it is challenging. It is also personal and relational. Throughout the book, I share about my faith journey, along with the leadership and mentoring lessons I learned while attending the United States Naval Academy and serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

How do you imagine the book will be used in both an individual and group setting? 

Natasha: I love to read so I have grown to love books. In some ways, I see myself being shaped and formed through the books I read. So I pray for the individual that this book will be transformative for the reader. Mentor for Life is not necessarily a book to rush through. It is a book to ponder. I have included questions, opportunities for personal reflection, and exercises at the end of each chapter. I encourage the reader to complete those, and I pray that as they go through the book they are not only thinking about starting a mentoring small group or ministry, but they are also asking themselves, “How can I be more intentional in how I live?” So I pray that Mentor for Life is spiritually transformative for every reader and it’s my hope that they will share and model what they learn with others. Mentor for Life is a leadership book, so it was written in mind to lay a solid foundation for those who do want to start a mentoring group or ministry. Reading this book will be a good first step for a small group ministry or leadership team, and they can follow up the reading by accessing the leadership training resource and videos to accompany this book.

Does spiritual mentorship have any effect on a person’s professional life? Can spiritual and professional mentorship work hand-in-hand?

Natasha: Yes, the two absolutely work together. I’ve experienced this in my personal life and I’ve been able to be a mentor spiritually and professionally for others.

In preparation for the book launch, I am having a kickoff event at my church. This event has been designed as an educational opportunity for church members and the public to have a better understanding of mentorship as intentional discipleship. Part of the event will include a panel discussion with mentors of mine, past and present. It was important for me to have these mentors present, because I wanted to show the different sides of mentoring and how everything works together.

One of the ladies that will be on the panel was my boss when I worked at the Department of Homeland Security. When I decided to leave the military and pursue a career, I had three job offers. All were good, which made my decision a little more difficult. I called an alumnus of the Naval Academy and sought her counsel regarding my decision. She had actually worked for one of the companies that was offering me a job, but advised me to go work at the Department of Homeland Security because of the skill set and influence of the woman that would be my boss.

During my interview for the job, my future boss seemed to sense (more than I had) how unsure I was about the job. I’m typically a confident person, but after having been in the military for eleven years, that was all I knew. The thought of starting something new was unsettling for me. My boss seemed to understand this fear, and she told me, “I can sense that you aren’t sure about this. But let me tell you this. Come here and do a good job. Network and meet great people, and use this job as your ‘transition’ job to figure out what you want to do.”

Having that freedom and support gave me a great sense of safety about this job and new career. It was about this time that I began writing for Christianity Today. I sent my boss the first article I had published, and she ended up calling me into her office and talking with me for a good half hour about it! It was so encouraging to hear from her, this accomplished woman, how much she’d gotten out of what I’d written. She encouraged me to keep writing, and later, she encouraged me to pursue going to seminary.

I’m so blessed to have this woman as a mentor and friend. She is an amazing example of how to be a Godly influence in a secular environment. Whether they knew it or not, everyone who came in contact with her saw Jesus. What better example of marrying spiritual and professional mentorship could there be?

 

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Climbing Kilimanjaro for Esperance and All

Today I’m praying for my friends and sisters who are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. A handful of women, two from the Redbud Writers Guild, are trekking up Kili as a fundraiser for women who are demeaned by their culture simply because they are women. This movement, One Million Thumbprints, is a “movement of peacemakers overcoming the effects of war on women.” It sounds peacenik, like a bunch of 1960’s retro-gals who let go of Hendrix and got ahold of the idea that real change can be won one woman at a time. That’s not all bad, particularly if you’re stuck in America chained to the election blather and wondering if God has anything good left for our country. Presidential candidates joking about yoga during a debate? As we say in Lent, “Good Lord deliver us.”

When I learned about this trip last fall I wanted to go and represent the Afghan Women Writers awwproject.org whom I mentor. These Afghan ladies walk an hour to an internet hot spot trying to sneak a cry of truth out into the world. Highlighting their voices from the mountaintop would raise awareness and funds to help support them and all women marginalized by the effects of war in their respective countries. I even have a picture of Kili on my Pinterest “Dream” board so I qualify. My sons have researched climbing Kili and it takes 4 -6 days depending on the route. Hopefully, they’re taking the six day journey which provides the most time to adjust to the altitude, meaning less altitude sickness. I know from experience that you don’t go out one October morning and run the Chicago Marathon, training helps. Alas, my day on the mountaintop awaits. My son’s last high school musical is running and papers need grading.

Instead, I’m here on my knees for these brave climbers, who give voice to women like Esperance and the hundreds of women who are raped every day on the front lines of sectarian conflict. You can learn more about them at www.onemillionthumbprints.org Please add your thumbprint, buy the devotional guide or even give to the cause because you know that healthy girls, thriving women, and educated mothers bring good into our world. As you walk into Marriano’s to buy your fresh squeezed orange juice at the ridiculously low price of $3.99, think of Sudanese women walking miles for water or Syrain women boiling dandelion greens to keep their families alive. I’m not trying to motivate you out of guilt. I make this grocery store trek weekly and I also don’t think of them while on my suburban pilgrimage, although I should.

If you have a yearning to change the world, hang out with people who share your heart. Another one of my favorite organizations which educates young girls in the third world is www.roomtoread.org  John Wood started Room to Read by collecting books in his garage and then taking them via a train of yaks up into the Himalayas to a school that kept their few books under lock and key, fearing they would be taken. Room to Read is changing the world for good.

Dig into what you’re passionate about. Learn and live it. When I climb Kilimanjaro I’ll let you know and if you write and say you want to climb for the cause near and dear to your heart, you’re welcome to come along. What issue is burning in your heart today?1MTClimb4Peacefront

We’re All Spring Ephemerals

While walking my yorkie-poo this morning I spot these early harbingers. Tufting out of the last fall’s rotting leaves a sunshine nugget shoots forth, one blossom so tiny you could miss it. After looking right then left, I reach down beneath my big toe and pick one. A single winter aconite (Eranthis). Six transparent yellow petals surround a burst of stamen rays, all clustered together to protect themselves from what might be tomorrows predicted snow. They belong in the ranunculus family (my favorite flower), but they look like summer buttercups. Ephemeral – transitory, short lived. Like us.

Winterling-Bluete-70 (1)

We’ve been admiring “Bobby’s winter aconite” since our kids piled into double strollers and headed down to our neighbor’s corner. All of us longing for a blast of fresh air and someone to kick their new spring ball. You know the ones Target keeps in corded cages that you wrench the ball free from revealing its pastel glory, knowing that in about a week, POP! MOMMY(sobbing, hitting). Winter aconite makes a yellow carpet in Chicago’s February sun. Our eyes stare at the vivid swath of ground level warmth after months of twiggy grey, white and black. Color, all too short lived burns our retinas with newness of life.

The single stem now sits in a tiny bud vase on my writing desk, actually a Sanbitter bottle from the grocery store. Lifting it for a sniff propels me through today’s writing projects with a dose of perspective. We are all Spring Ephemerals. Our lives start out every bit as fresh as this bud, no wrinkles, unfocused blue eyes, cradle cap heads in need of nurture by caring, mature hands. We unfurl, for good or bad. With grace we’re given our day to bloom. Our eighty years is an hour equivalent in the life of this unassuming flower. Yet despite its hiddenness, the silent beauty of winter aconite dependably bursts upon us, leading us into the full spectrum of color which is there for the taking every year.

“What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden.”

from Spring by Gerrard Manley Hopkins

Eranthis_hyemalis

Polar Plunging Into 2016!

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.

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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 2016 with healthy lymph nodes and the fulfillment of all your resolutions. Check out the lady in the white bikini holding the two stuffed polar bears. Now that’s Wisconsin!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5UGt6XD3Co

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The Ups and Downs of Aquiring an Unholy Desire

While sitting in our favorite crepe restaurant the other night, La Creperie www.lacreperiechicago.com, our oldest son asked, “What have you spent money on recently that you really wanted?” The question was directed at my husband and after thinking it over he said, “wine.” I know this is true because his smartphone is always tuned to Robert Parker’s wine reviews when I turn on Google. Like his father, he has become somewhat of a student of wine, forever in search of the exquisite yet affordable (no more than $15.00) red table wine. When you are paying for college and private high school, you don’t buy much for yourself, but the question woke me up in the middle of the night calling for an answer.

My wants are more intangible; more of God’s presence, more time in my garden to get the insanely invasive “prairie plant” under control before it destroys the entire perennial bed, the opportunity to travel the world and see every painting ever painted by Caravaggio.  These items do not come by my debit card and they don’t answer our son’s question, but one item comes to mind and it is a lesson in how we probably shouldn’t desire a certain thing too much.

Emma Toft is one of my heroines in life. Her image can be found on my Pinterest under the Hero’s category,  https://www.pinterest.com/margaretphilbri/heroes/ but her watermark is best found on the 300 plus acres of land in Wisconsin that she bequeathed to the University of Wisconsin. I’ve spent countless hours exploring and praying in her woods, even geeking out with binoculars and gawking at an eagle’s nest that reappears in the top of the white pine tree each spring. When she could no longer live off the land, she moved into town on highway 57. Her clapboard home recently became the town Visitor Center and during the renovation I saw them, two castaways inside a chain link fence out back, two old wooden ladders. We are talking old ladders, as in dowled together, covered with splatters of whitewash and rotting in the rain old. I’ve been fantasizing about acquiring Emma’s ladders and placing my hands on her rungs. Climbing one foot at a time where she placed her work boot protected feet. Although she’s been dead for more than thirty years, somehow owning those ladders would draw her closer to me. So like any wise woman intent on getting what she wants, I plotted.

ladder_1

In June I walked into the visitors center and asked, oh so casually if I could have them, just to take the rotting garbage out back off their hands. The adorable senior volunteer smiled and said, “No. I’ve already asked for them and the folks said no. I thought they’d be cute to hang plants on ‘em.” Hang plants on this sacred object? Hmm, this was not going to be as easy as I’d imagined. I seriously thought about stealing them but the Lord’s Prayer kept me from that temptation as well as the thought of how to explain to my husband the sudden appearance of two ancient fifteen foot ladders. By the end of the summer, I decided to call the town hall and find out who was in charge of the visitors center. “Well I think that’s June Greeley, just let me check here.” I told June I would give a donation to the Visitor’s Center if she would let me take those ladders. “Oh, let me talk to the board about it and I’ll get back to you.” The Board of a town visitor’s center, a town of less than a thousand people? You are kidding me.  A month went by and she didn’t call.

I couldn’t bring myself to pray for these ladders, the thought was too selfish. What would we do with them if we did get them? As fading summer crickets chirped in the evening, I clung to the chainlink fence, staring down at them. They looked unusable, half rotten. I began to talk myself out of it, This is a completely impractical, irrational desire, get over it, But then the blessed voicemail came. “The Board has agreed to let you have the ladders for a donation. You can pick them up any time.” JOY inescapable washed over me as I drove home from teaching that Monday afternoon. Emma Toft’s ladders were ours! A piece of Emma, coming into our home! They would transform the living room with their primitive character and unique aesthetic. However distant, a part of her life would inhabit ours and this glory was accomplished for only a small donation.

Both ladders were soaking wet when I picked them up. The smaller of the two ladders fell apart into six pieces when I put it in the car. The giant ladder was full of earwigs, seeping out of each interlocking joint. They would need some serious repair and drying out. After a few days of debugging and baking in the sun I managed to prop the giant one up against the stucco wall in our living room. It looked incomplete, like Shel Silverstein’s Missing Piece or the Bridge to Nowhere. Perhaps someone didn’t finish painting the room and they left their ladder behind hoping to come back? The ladder is so huge and old that it’s dangerous. It could fall on a visiting child or crush the piano. It took me twenty minutes to get the beast back outside without killing myself. I called my father for consolation and a dose of vision. He helped, a little. “Oh you need to make a complete display out of it with a variety of rural antiquities, you know, a bunch of old farm stuff mounted on the wall in a group.”

Right now the dilapidated ladders are resting under an outside staircase waiting for their redemption and restoration. What would Emma Toft do? What will we do with them? I really wanted these ladders but now I seem to have inherited an even bigger project by acquiring them. Was it worth all the energy spent desiring them? This story is incomplete, but I might just be at an age where I need to stick to my holy, intangible desires … praying for them, trusting God to fulfill them in his own way and in his good and right time. If you have an idea of what to do with these monsters, please let me know. And, if you want to read more about the inimitable Emma Toft, here’s the link. Now I put our son’s question to you, what have you spent money on recently that you really wanted? How has it worked out?

http://www.doorcountycompass.com/blei/emma/emma_toft.htm

My favorite quote in this article, when asked what she wants to be remembered by: “Trying to keep the home place. Making people enjoy the out of doors. If you can’t make people love the out of doors, then they’re ignorant. Make them enjoy it. It’s the little things. That’s, I suppose, why so many people don’t see it.” Emma Toft’s interview with author Norbert Blei

 

 

“She Was Always Looking Up”

The funeral I attended today for 20 year old Chase Froese helped me long for heaven. I didn’t know Chase well. She was in our daughter’s class growing up and in my limited view she was the sweet, pretty girl with a big brain. She earned the science award when they graduated from eighth grade, but now I know I can’t wait to hang out with her when I get there.

Her friends from high school and college presented stunning tributes amidst an ocean of floral wreaths on the stage. They talked about her free spirited adventurous side, how she would get them up to see the sunrise and present them with a question of the day, followed by another, “Why?” in response to their answer.  She was a philosophy major so that makes perfect sense. Her boyfriend thanked her for treating him so well and giving him one year of her life. He told us how much he loved her and managed to get though it all without crying. The thing I remember most was that she was described as, “always looking up.” While the other college kids hunkered down in their North Face jackets and walked across campus in subzero weather, Chase was looking up. She was a girl who enjoyed taking on the strong headwind, feeling its force with gratitude. More than just facing the elements, she walked through life looking up at Jesus. She was constantly looking up to him and for him.

I imagine as she was sinking into that frigid Lake Michigan water she was praying, looking up and he was right there with her. Knowing Jesus, he was carrying her to the other side, drying her off and cooking her fish for breakfast.

My deepest sorrow and yet gratitude to the Froese family for raising such an empowered by the Holy Spirit woman. May the rejoicing of angels comfort you as you mourn, dream and see the next sunrise. I hope when I get to heaven Chase Froese is my tour guide.

ESPN’s Sage Steele and Our Foster Child

Until I sat in the Indiana University Memorial Stadium, I’d never heard of Sage Steele. Her name sounds like it belongs in a heavy metal band. When I learned she was the chosen speaker for the 2015 I.U. graduation I confess to rolling my eyes and thinking,  a sportscaster, come on, can’t we do better? As I sat listening with about 10,000 other family members, I looked down the row at our foster daughter who was on the edge of her concrete seat. Sage Steele gave us all a lesson in effective speaking to a LARGE group but she gave our twelve year old Liberian darling much more:

  1. Be vulnerable – She talked about how she almost flunked out of college, a fact not often shared. Her professors brought the problems to her attention and put people around her to get her though. It took five years, but she made it.
  2. Be gutsy and virtuous – Despite the fact that the I.U. rabbi managed to give the invocation without making it a prayer or even mentioning God, Ms. Steele offered a portion of the Cadet prayer from West Point to close out her speech.

O God, our Father…encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.

Her challenge to the I.U. graduates, choose the harder right along life’s path instead of the easier wrong.

  1. Inspire – When she was 12 years old, Ms. Steele told her parents she wanted to be a sportscaster. Her dad drilled her on sports facts, teams and trivia until she knew more than Bob Costas. Patiently working her way up the ladder from local Indiana basketball coverage to bigger arenas, her career moved forward. But, when the ESPN dream phone call came, she said, “No, thank you.” Pregnant with her first child, Ms. Steele chose to put family first and stay home. As she put it, she chose the “harder right instead of the easier wrong.” ESPN called again when her child was older and this time she was in a position to say, “yes.”

Our five foot tall foster daughter learned this semester that she can jump. Upon the encouragement of her gym teacher, she competed in her first track meet. In the long jump, she broke a ten year school record and flew 14’ 8”. She also came in first place in the high jump, and in gym class first place for the vertical jump, 25” without trying. Apparently there was only one student to challenge her with 23” and all she needed was an inch more to out jump her. The weekend she heard Sage Steele address the fulfillment of her dreams and her failures along the way, our little jumper told us, “I’m going to go to the Olympics in track and field someday.”

Thank you Sage Steele for helping a five foot Liberian girl believe in big dreams! Thank you for sharing your heart and having the guts to instruct us in things most people today are too afraid to say.

Who’s Your Agent?

My dear friend signed a contract with an agent today. We met during a writing prompt session in the intimate library of the Margarite House in Evanston, four years ago. A handful of us writing strangers with no established trust hunkered down in red leather chairs to write our response to the prompt, “Write about your father’s eyes.” Outside, the robins serenaded us while magnolia petals dripped onto the windowsill. Our pens ripped across the pages of our red and black Redbud notebooks. When ten minutes flew by, we stared at each other. Who would be brave? Who would share first?

As the responses trickled out, we heard about how we all lived under the hand of dysfunctional fathers. By the time Sheli read, tears poured on pages. We coaxed her along because we shared our souls and she could too. I’ve been in many of these sessions where the author can’t read on and another writer finishes reading her work, but Sheli hung in there. She took breaks, we passed her Kleenex. Her father stalked her in their house while she hid under the bed as a child.  When she finished we all kept silence. The open leaded glass window allowed sunlight to gentle our circle. We prayed for Sheli. We prayed that someday she would share her story with the world, that she would keep being brave. Today I raise my chamomile tea to her terrified determination. Someone else in a small literary agency on the other side of the country believed in her voice.

I spent this morning being brave speaking to a book group at a local country club. When you speak to a large group there will be people there who don’t care about what you have to say. For some reason they came expecting something else. Those women were at the farthest table in the back. While I read from my novel they chattered away and giggled. My junior high students wouldn’t do this in class. I kept going and did what we all must do, ignore them. One woman on her way out said to me, “You were marvelous. You must have a hundred people lined up to be your agent.” I stood silent, too afraid to tell her that I’m agentless because I live in a world where every successful author has an agent. Her question gnawed at me. When things chip at my being I take them to my writing desk and pray. It occurred to me, ask God to be your agent. I did. He said, “yes,” an enthusiastic yes!

So today Sheli and I both have our agents and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Please take in some of Sheli’s raw, unadulterated story at: http://shelimassie.com/

Who’s your agent?

 

A New Year, A New Life and Love

She’s never been to Starbucks. Never stayed in a hotel. Never heard a bedtime story and now she’s living with us. Our new year began on Janurary 2nd.  We drove a quiet 11 year old girl from Boston to our home, arriving at 2:00 a.m. to be greeted by welcome notes and lavender macaroon cookies left out on the counter by our other kids.

On December  10th, 2014 we were going about our lives, getting ready for Christmas. We snuggled into our cozy beds and drifted off to sleep as the street light shone through spyrographic ice on our bedroom window. At 4:00 a.m. God woke me up, to the sound of my own voice yelling, “Hurry!”  At first I wasn’t sure it was God, it was “just a dream,” a dream about an adorable girl we know in our Sunday night Bible study in the refugee apartments. “I’m going to be adopted,” she said in the dream, working her small rough hand into mine. “I want to show you where I’m going to live so you can meet them.” We flew through the air and landed in the rugged courtyard of her new apartment complex. Several young, jobless or homeless men gathered around burning trash barrels to stay warm. The icicles dripped rust from the balconies. “It’s that one up there on the end, next to the stairs. I’ll be able to come and go as I want to.” She smiled as she pointed out a lacquered black door on the second floor. We began to creep across the courtyard toward the staircase, arms locked so we didn’t crash on the ice. The circle of young men in “wife beater” t-shirts, gangsta jewelry and flannel coats approached, questioning me. “What are you doin’ here?” Danger slashed across their faces. We began to back up. I whispered to my little friend, “I think we need to get out of here. Hurry!”

This dream, so vivid, spoke of impending doom and urgency. Something was wrong. Reaching over the edge of the bed for my computer, I immediately emailed the Bible study co-leader. It was 4:00a.m. “Is she o.k.?” I just needed to know. Her response back, “I think your dream was from God. Her father is moving her to Boston on December 16th. She doesn’t want to go.”  In six days!  We started praying. My husband agreed that perhaps God was showing us something in the dream and we should speak to her dad about the possibility of her living with us. Her dad agreed, but first she would go to Boston for Christmas. We checked out the neighborhood they were moving to. From a crime perspective, it’s one of the worst.

Many miles later, we sit in Starbucks and sip hot chocolate. I’m teaching her to play the piano after school and she is singing in our church children’s choir. We’ve read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Number the Stars and tonight, The Witch of Blackbird Pond at bedtime. She’s getting fat eating American food rather than Liberian pepper soup. She laughs with her brothers who live nearby and our kids and we’re all learning together; learning to make room, to share, to sacrifice our personal schedules, to listen to 103.5fm instead of our favorite stations on the way to school. We are learning to live with and love someone new every morning and every night.

As I walk the dog after getting everyone to school, I’m thankful. I thank God that he still speaks in dreams and visions. I thank him for always doing something new, so thankful that her father said, “yes,” and as we walk toward Valentine’s Day, I thank him that he is still teaching us all how to love.