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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Planting Baby Bulbs in Winter

Every year it is the same ritual: buy tons of on sale flower bulbs in November, run out of time before the ground freezes, stick them in the refrigerator hoping the ground will thaw, strain eyes while planting bulbs in the January dusk, pray they come up in April.
Some years the thaw doesn’t happen and they turn to dust in their webbed packaging while wintering in my frig. This January blessed us with a couple of 50 degree days and the dozens of daffodils found a home. I don’t recommend this method. It’s messy. It’s cold. It’s back breaking. Once I stumbled into the house, trying not to trash the floors with my dirty Wellingtons, I found them – several packages of unopened Narcissus bulbs, just when I thought I was done. The temptation to throw them away felt justified. My husband hates the smell of these when they bloom. He says they smell like centipedes. What? Do centipedes smell? Like any other reasonable person I put them in the basement frig. hoping to forget about them.images

A couple of days later I noticed their green shoots piercing through the packaging and mercy overwhelmed me. Force them in the house for a spring treat during February, I convinced myself. All the bulbs were generating green shoots but one, who I named little baby A. Our friends are working through a foster care court battle with baby A’s natural parents and for some reason this tough little bulb, full of entrapped, invisible promise reminded me of baby A. Because of her struggle, she earned the right to thrive in a perfectly tailored environment, just for her. I found an old jam jar, filled it to the brim with water and put baby A on top. Within a week the other bulbs were thriving, practically jumping out of their windowsill containers, but Baby A sat dormant. The bottom of the bulb appeared to be rotting. Throwing Baby A out was not an option so I opted for the dramatic, untested experiment.

Taking the thin paper skinned bulb exterior in my hand, I placed Baby A on the cutting board. Grabbing the sharpest knife in the drawer I cut about 1/3 of an inch off the bottom of the bulb and then plunked it back in the water and said a short prayer.

Three days later, Voila! Tiny root nubs bumped their way out of the bottom of the bulb. images-1Today Baby A is showing eight inches of green leaves and the yet to blossom flower is tightly wedged between these nurturing parent leaves, helping the future flower to grow straight and tall. No doubt, if I determined to leave baby A alone and not gone the extra mile, the growth would have stunted at best and perhaps never emerged at all.

Sometimes the most vulnerable, the one you want to discard, the thing that provokes the most attention and effort brings the greatest blessing. Happy planting!images-2

Creatively Capturing Summer

August 1st is the day we become painfully aware that summer is slipping through our fingers. Eager-eyed parents will be staring at me on August 25th Orientation, ready to hear about all of the challenges that their students will take on during the 2016-2017 school year. This leaves only 24 more days to savor the altered pace of summer. So before my calendar is covered in ink, I’m pledging to capture a moment of summer’s beauty in verse, image or prayer each day in order to have a tiny reservoir to draw from when leaves and then snow begin to crunch underfoot.

This idea came to me while reading and sleeping on my porch only to be awakened by a hummingbird zooming by. Details like this are full of beauty and glory, but we often miss them. Translating what strikes our heart chords into a poem or a photo also enables us to remember and hopefully not say, “Did summer even happen this year?” What glory sightings are you encountering this August? Create something that lasts from these moments and tell me about them!

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Awakened by Humming-

bird. Strumming through air,

shuddering summer beneath

sparkling silver Beech.

Your rumble of sound

enfolded by almighty, precious cielo.

I doze.

“Midnight in Sicily” flopped open

on sunscreen slathered legs.

Single strands of caressed hair

crossing and sticking fast to

sweat beaded face.

Your hum, breaking silence,

miniature freight train,

winged whir and whiz.

Heavenly music, drilling down

into scarlet Dahlia

one by patient one,

600 heartbeats a minute.

God’s alarm clock.

Arise. Summer is singing by.

 

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.

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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“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 is She?

Have you met the Proverbs 31 woman? Her description has always evoked feelings of awe and annoyance. Sewing late into the night by a lamp that does go out, gorgeous toned arms planting a vineyard, a prominent husband, self-designed purple clothes and children that get up in the morning and praise her? All of that sounds like an unattainable biblical ideal.

One Proverbs 31 woman does exist and she lives on the Amazon River. A few years ago a band of 14 folks from our church braved a missions trip in July on the Amazon. We lived on a boat, helped build a church, ministered to children, slept in hammocks and prayed we wouldn’t get sick. Our boat captain’s wife, Virginia, became our adopted mother. She rose in the dark for her quiet time with the Lord and then began preparing our food for breakfast. Working in a ship’s galley that was about three by four feet, she quietly went about smiling and chopping her way through the day.

In her “free” time, she helped us on the construction site, mixing cement and tamping down dirt with her bare feet. At days end, after serving all of us a not-to-be-duplicated fish soup, she held her husband’s hand and laughed with him as we all played Train Dominoes. She didn’t play, just contentedly sat beside him delighting in the fun he was having. We would worship together singing in Portuguese and English and she was filled with freedom and joy in her Savior, whether she knew the language or not. She had the capacity to love us like her own children with barely a spoken word. Being in her quiet, loving presence was like being with Jesus. I’ve thought a lot about Virginia since the Amazon and concluded that her transient home, a heart on a river boat is one of the perfect homes for him because, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have their nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 18:19-21.

Virginia is living in the light of John 14:23, “If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” She has daily made her heart his dwelling place and thereby abides in and creates a home from that place. The home of her heart emanates the love of the Father. She has learned to keep him at the center because everything around her is always changing i.e. new boats, new teams, new river communities to visit, new crews on the boats, yet because she makes her heart home his each day she is able to love us all as her own children. Although women in America don’t live in these circumstances, everything around us is constantly changing as well.

Who do you know that is a Proverbs 31 woman? Be on the lookout for her, watch and learn from her ways. Christ’s home in us enables us to effectively cultivate a home for many others as well. Virginia was able to do that without even speaking English, but she did wear a purple shirt.