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.”

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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!

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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.

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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:

https://www.amazon.com/Making-Marriage-Beautiful-Lifelong-Intimacy/dp/0781414083/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491177718&sr=1-1&keywords=Making+Marriage+Beautiful

Dorothy’s Website:

http://www.dorothygreco.com

Book Trailer:

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

 

 

 

Crossing the Road – A Path to Racial Healing

This article is running this month in READY magazine, the new brainchild of Gail and Dominique Dudley. They are a mother-daughter team interested in engaging the African American community in transformational living. I’m so proud of these women and the beauty and truth with which they are executing their vision. Here’s the cover with my article listed as ” The Good Samaritan.”14355152_10210778072310758_2504742666979822756_n

“Then a despised Samaritan came along and when he saw the man lying there, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with oil and wine and bandaged them.” Luke 10:34. Under normal circumstances the Jewish man lying along the side of the road and the Samaritan might run into each other in the market and not speak to each other. Generally, they hated one another because of past political and historical conflicts involving intermarriage. This diluted  the power of their race and violated Jewish law. Yet, in this parable the Samaritan, moved by compassion, crossed the road to help. How may of us have crossed the road to help?

This passage follows the question asked by a religious expert in the law, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus knows that this man already knows the answer so he answers him with a question, “What does the law of Moses say?” Rightly, the leader answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirms him and offers and encouraging charge, “Do this and you will live.”

We all want to live in peace with our neighbor, but who is our neighbor? In our neighborhood our next door neighbor has the annoying habit of cutting the grass just as we all sit down to eat outside. The smell of gasoline wafts over our salmon salad, but this neighbor works two jobs, nearly around the clock to provide for his family so if that is the only time he can cut the grass then we deal with it. In the Greek “neighbor” means “someone who is near.” In America today if we are going to contribute to the healing of our growing racial divide the definition we use for neighbor needs to be extended beyond the family next door. We, like the Samaritan, must cross the road to the neighbor that others pass by and extend a hand of grace and love that is out of our comfort zone.unknown

A pastor in our church was sent out to start a movement of church multiplication. He came back to the home church at a recent conference and told a story about how things are going. One Sunday morning he felt “moved” to cross the road and attend the African American church service taking place in an auditorium. Afterward he introduced himself as the pastor who led the congregation across the street and offered their church as available for any needs True Freedom church might have in the future. In a simple meeting he extended his home to the pastor next door. The following week, the pastor found himself locked out of his building so he crossed the road to use the phone. After several calls the person with the keys could not be reached. So the pastor said, “No problem, your church can just meet here in our building today.” Thus began a deep friendship between a white Anglican congregation and a community of African American worshippers. These pastors crossed the road.

For about twelve years, I’ve wanted to go to Africa. It started with the notes we exchanged with our World Vision child in Rwanda. Then our church became deeply involved in building the work of God in Jos, Nigeria. We’ve hosted many people from Nigeria in our home for dinner and they’ve lived in our basement. My sons became fascinated with the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro and then friends of mine made the climb and I listened to their tales of overcoming fear and pain to get to the top. This only increased my desire to go, so I prayed about it. When I pray about things I usually get answers in God’s word, in a dream or in the bizarre “it can’t be coincidence” repeating circumstances of life. When asking God to get me to Africa, he kept giving me the unromantic answer I didn’t want to hear, “You need to learn how to go to Africa at home.” Then we met Jessica.

A logical way to learn how to live missionally at home presented itself in the form of a refugee housing complex in the town next door. Cool, highly educated twenty-somethings from our church lived in an intentional community among the refugees and they needed help with their
kids clubs on Sunday evenings. I found myself in a circle of about ten middle school girls with African or Burmese names so unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce that it took about a month to learn and remember them. We made chicken noodle soup swimming in Siracha sauce, think pink chicken noodle soup, we played “high low.” What was the high of your week and the low? We journaled and studied the bad girls of the Bible together, and the good girls too. The apartments were hot, dirty and reeked of unfamiliar spices simmering all day on the stovetop. Some days I forced myself to go. Spending my Sunday evenings in my perennial garden was a selfish pleasure I set aside. As the months ticked by I fell in love with one girl in my group from Liberia. She had a quiet, confident wisdom that my own kids didn’t possess when they were fifth graders. It wasn’t book smarts, but “the wisdom from above that is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” James 3:17. Her words intrigued me and captured my heart. How could this refugee girl without a mom, living in those conditions, with a father who didn’t work, know the things she knew?

On a freezing winter night we all sat in Burger King and she announced that her dad was moving to Boston and she didn’t want to go. My guts began to churn with that dangerous feeling of compassion which means your life is about to change. All the girls came up with different scenarios which would allow Jessica to stay in our community. None of them seemed likely. After a miraculous God given dream, (which is too long to tell about here, but you can read on my blog at www.margaretphilbrick.com) Jessica moved in with us. He dad went to Boston, married a lovely woman he met on-line and Jess is now an integral part of our family, read “integral” not “integrated.” Jessica is important and loved by us. She is integral.

In many ways the taste and color of our lives has completely changed. I was the only white woman at the Liberian wedding of her dad and new mom, also the only one not wearing a HUGE metallic colored hat. We watch black t.v. shows which I didn’t know existed. We eat HOT food if she makes it, as in chicken feet and goat meat stew. We hang out at other refugee housing communities where her friends live. They come over and jump on our trampoline. Because there are significant gaps in her education we read great young adult fiction together, right now the Crispin series by Avi. I thought I was done with these books after taking our three other children through them, but God is a God of surprises. There is nothing heroic about welcoming someone into your home, but there are adjustments, growing pains and joy with spicy laughter.

It may be an oversimplification and I’m well aware that people have spent their lives studying this, but if America is going to heal the racial divide then we all must cross the road and extend our hearts as neighbors to people God has for us to love. It might cost us our comfort, our to-do list and a sacrifice of self, but if we do this then then we will truly live. Luke 10:27.

Avoid School Year Stress With Sacred Space

 

Last May a friend who recently moved from Texas stopped me after a school concert to ask, “Why is it so crazy where we live? When I lived in Texas it wasn’t like this.” She’s right. It is crazy in our neck of the woods so here are a few strategies to combat that choking, stressed out feeling of back-to-school.

We live in Chicago’s western suburbs. Here, like many other affluent burbs, parents can drown themselves and their kids in a thousand productive and good activities which will shape their kids’ future. In a single day dozens of “opportunities” float across my computer screen enticing parents to sign up. Everything from knitting clubs, piano lessons, in-home baking classes and the ever expanding list of club sports all of which are beyond the regular after school offerings. Parents want their beautiful stars and starlets to step forward into the next  arena of dawn until dusk development. In our world, this is what good parents do. They provide experiences for their children which will hopefully capture their hearts and minds, enhancing focus and direction for the future. Overloading schedules can result in burnout with mom or dad in the drivers seat from 3:30 until 7:30. Dinner ends up being an already baked chicken from the grocery store and mac an’ cheese. No veggies. They take too long to chop. I’ve lived this routine. Our daughter used to eat her dinner in the car on the way home from ballet at 9:00p.m., shower and head up to her room for hours of homework. Not exactly family time.

Another reason why it is so “crazy” here is that we live in America. This is an achievement driven culture that thrives on crossing off the to-do list and winning awards. If we are not doing then we are dying. Yes, we are all dying but the doing somehow allows us to disguise the dying part. In our beautiful, green suburban enclave this is keenly felt. Almost every parent I know posts photos of their child’s current accomplishment on Facebook or drives them around on their bumper. “My child is an honor student at Hadley” the sticker reads. What is with those white stick figures that people put on their cars? Mom, Dad, eight children and four pet stickies which scream I AM SO BUSY. If we aren’t doing and now thanks to social media, proclaiming, we must be living dormant worthless lives. How can we stop the suburban spin and get off?

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My summer mornings were spent running or biking in a variety of forest preserves. Along the trail I’d stop. Taking a pause in the middle of my run, I’d look out at a vista and pray there. Right in our own crazy neighborhood, a quiet, morning beauty. I was running, but also resting. Seeking out spaces without cars, just crickets and birds. Saint James Farm overflows with giant oak trees, pastures, hidden creeks and trails. Along one of these gravel paths lies the Horse and Hound cemetery. Mr. McCormick, the creator of Saint James, loved his animals and laid them to rest amidst etched crosses reflecting an era all but gone in our county. This is a great fencepost legacy to lean into. Loving animals. Creating sacred space. Allowing others to partake and enjoy the bounty. Just a place to thank God for the day we’ve been given and all the people who’ve gone before us to make our lives more beautiful and rich.

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If running isn’t your thing, grab a Starbucks and sit by a fountain with your journal and make a list of all the things you are NOT going to do this fall. Close your eyes and drink in the spray on your face with that burned coffee bean taste of your latte. Resolve to seek quiet, seek beauty, rest in faith. The less we succumb to our external realities the more space we create for cultivating our internal reservoir. Remember to tell your children how and where you found your quiet center and the holy order this brought to your day (and hopefully theirs.) We can resist the crazy culture of overload if we give value to the sacred space in our day and share it with those we love. Sacred according to Merriam-Webster means “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a diety.” Churches are a blessing, but what other sacred spaces are in your back yard?

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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.

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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.