The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

May 16, 2019

Fruits of Your Labor

When you work hard for something, you want to see results. You want your effort to be worth it. You don’t want to have toiled in vain. That’s just human nature.

Photo by Catherine Vibert

One of my proudest moments happened three years ago, when I received my master’s degree in writing. It wasn’t just the culmination of more than three grueling years–ten semesters–of working hard in a graduate program while I worked hard in my full-time job. It was much more than that. What makes me the most proud is that I got this degree in my fifties, at a time when most people wouldn’t even try.

“It’s been three years since you graduated,” some may say. “What do you have to show for it?”

Nothing.

Not yet.

But I will . . .

My three manuscripts

In the past three years, I’ve taken the germ of an idea, born in my Fiction Writing Workshop, and turned it into a full-fledged novel series. Around the edges of my jobs (thankfully, only part-time at this point), I’ve been busy juggling three novels and trying my best to stay sane in the process.

All the novels are at various stages of readiness. The first is with agents and publishers, as I type. The second is being edited. The third, well, I’ve only begun the third.

I like goals. They help me stay on track. And I have lots of goals with these novels. I’m aiming to have the first novel published (or have a contract) by the end of this year. And I hope to have the first draft of the third one finished by summer’s end.

You can help me get these novels published. All it involves on your part is a simple click. Just sign up on the form here on my website. Or, you can go to my author page on facebook and look for email signup on the menu (and while you’re there, like my page!). The numbers who subscribe to my newsletter count a lot with agents and publishers. 

But you’ll get something out of it, too. I’m going to start a newsletter later this summer, after I’ve gathered enough subscribers. Every month, you’ll find something brief and interesting from me–about my novel–in your inbox. I’ll also let you have a sneak peek at my novel–a downloadable copy of Chapter One. 

So please, sign up for my newsletter! I give you my word: your email address is safe with me. I will not sell your email address or give it to anyone.

Please help me make the fruit of my labor something that shows.

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April 16, 2019

Angels or Helpers?

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

When I lived in Eastern Europe, all of us single women missionaries shared a secret. We’d tell each other stories involving this secret. If we had to do something scary and alone, such as cross an unfriendly border carrying contraband materials or travel to a train station in a seedy part of the city at night, invariably, someone came to our aid, just as we needed it.

Often, a nice, strong young man would appear, out of nowhere. He’d lift our baggage, heavy with materials for the national ministry, or stand with us as the border guards approached.

I’ll never forget a clean-shaven American Marine appearing once when my train crossed into Serbia during the Bosnian War. I had to exit the train to talk to customs inside a darkened building. I was terrified. But my Marine walked beside me. He calmed my fears.

And then he left. Granted, Marines did enter Serbia to work at the embassy. But here’s the thing. All the single women agreed that these helpful guys would disappear as soon as their job of helping us was finished.

We called them our angels.

Maybe they were just courteous, neighborly people who came along just at the right moment. I don’t know if they were really angels and I don’t intend to debate the theology of it.

All I know is I was grateful. And I felt certain that, somehow, God orchestrated it.

When Freddy Rogers saw something scary as a boy, long before becoming known to the world as Mr. Rogers, his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers.”

Yesterday, I looked for the helpers and I found one.

Yesterday, my father had cataract surgery. Not that big a deal, you may say, except that everything’s a big deal when you’re in your late eighties, legally blind, legally deaf, and unable to walk well after a stroke.

The surgery went well and the hour-long drive from the hospital was uneventful. Then we faced the biggest challenge: getting him from the car into the apartment. My father fell. Again. He’s fallen a lot lately, always scraping more thin skin off the same arm, bleeding as only someone on blood thinners can do.

It was more than my mother and I could handle.

That’s when he appeared, out of nowhere. A friendly young man got him upright and steady in his walker. And then he left.

Before I could say, “Who was that masked man? I didn’t have a chance to thank him,” my mother said something that took me back to my former life in Eastern Europe.

Perhaps the fact that my heart has been homesick for Europe all day–ever since I saw images of Notre Dame burning–inclined my thoughts travel back to that continent I love. Whatever the reason, I remembered the angels.

She said, “Every time he falls down, a nice, young guy comes along to help just when we need it. Every time.”

I know we live in the South, where people are more apt to help, especially when it comes to the elderly. But still.

Angel? Or helper?

Whichever he was, we needed help and God sent him to help us. And we’re grateful.

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March 27, 2019

Lent and Listening

Our Lenten rose which bloomed the first day of Lent this year

As I forego sweets for 46 days and add another reading to my morning devotional time, sometimes I wonder why I do this every year. Most Christ-followers don’t observe Lent at all; the majority of those who do attend Catholic or liturgical churches. Why is that?

It’s so much easier to do something than to do without, to give gifts than to give up something. And so, most of us don’t.

Lent can become little more than a do-over for failed New Year’s Resolutions. On January first, you may resolve to stop eating desserts, and by February, you leave that by the wayside. Then Lent rolls around. You have another chance to fast from dessert (swimsuit season is coming up), or wine, or if you’re really strong, social media.

But why? Why do this at all? The roughly 40 days of fasting isn’t meant to imitate Christ during the weeks leading up to the cross, but rather to acknowledge two events in the Bible. The first is the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness; the second is the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the desert.

During his last six weeks in a human body, Jesus didn’t stop eating or drinking wine or socializing with friends. Mere hours before he was arrested, he had a big feast with his best friends. Of course, that came after he humbled himself to serve them, one last time, by washing their dusty, smelly feet.

Jesus didn’t live differently at the end. He always served. His whole life was one of giving up. Jesus gave up face-to-face time with his Abba. Everything he did fit into his ultimate mission. He lived to die. To die for us.

To sacrifice sweets feels so trite and insignificant when I think of what he sacrificed for me.

Maybe the point of Lent isn’t to claim that my small doing without helps me identify with his massive giving up. Perhaps the point is more what I put in place of the thing I’m doing without.

I can replace it with listening to him. With reflecting on the cross and what it means to me personally.

It takes time to listen. It’s easy to read the Word and then go about your day, but sometimes you just need to stop and mull it over a while. The same with prayer. My prayers are so often one-sided, with me doing all the talking, not giving him to chance to speak to my heart.

In order to listen well, you need silence. You must be still first to know that he is God (Psalm 46:10).

You need to obey what you hear. When I lived overseas, I went to a conference once with leaders (mostly men) from nearly every country in both Eastern and Western Europe. An American read a verse aloud about listening, a.k.a “hearing” to most of us Americans.

I commented that the word “listen” has a deeper meaning in Romanian. Listen goes hand in hand with “obey.” You don’t just hear; you listen and obey what you’re told. One after another, the national leaders in that room agreed that listen meant the same thing in their languages.

Somehow we’ve lost that. The closest we come to that meaning is when a mother says, “If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to be in big trouble, Buster.” She doesn’t mean hear. Buster may have heard her tell him to clean up his room five times. She means obey.

Maybe Lent is about slowing down, taking time out to reflect, and listening. And then when you hear, you obey what he asks you to do.

I’ll bet it will be something more significant than giving up chocolate.

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February 4, 2019

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December 19, 2018

No Room … at the Halfway House

I’m sure you know the story. A young, poor couple, the girl pregnant yet a virgin, traveling on their way to register for a census. The days were completed.  The time had come for the baby–announced by an angel and prophesied long before–to be born. They couldn’t find housing, so she gave birth in a smelly stable.

There was no room for them in the inn.

Last night, we received a letter that reminded me of this story. Of course, any news is pale in comparison to the miraculous birth 2,000 years ago, heralded by a sky full of angels singing probably the most beautiful music ever heard. But this news is still pretty astounding.

If you’ve read my blog over the years, you’ll remember that I’ve frequented posted about an inmate who I renamed Chester (for his privacy). As a young dumb kid, Chester stole $76 from a fast food restaurant. First strike. Later, he was caught with $20 worth of crack. Second strike. Meanwhile, in reaction to heinous crimes, California passed the Three Strikes, You’re Out! law. After that, Chester swiped $40 from an open cash register drawer. Third, and final, strike.

That did it. Chester was convicted and given a 50 years-to-life sentence.

He was never armed. His non-violent crimes totaled roughly $156. And he’s spent his entire adulthood–24 years so far–in prison.

His wife left him, refused to let him have a relationship with his baby daughter. While behind bars, Chester was raped. Several times the parole boards have deemed him worthy of being released, but each time, the governor in power vetoed it, often at the last minute.

Chester knows he did wrong and knows he needed to pay. He’s been a model prisoner, helped teach young people to turn from a life of crime. He came to faith in Jesus Christ while a lifer, and he’s helped other inmates find Christ and grow in their relationships with him.

Chester is not a statistic to me. My husband met him while doing ministry at San Quentin. Later, he introduced me to Chester and told him I was a writer. Chester asked me, begged me, to write his story. I told him I’m not famous, and I didn’t think it’d do any good, but promised to do what I could. In the process of writing a research paper on The Rhetoric of Three Strikes Reform in California, I stumbled across a group of law students at Stanford who were working for the release of lifers caught in the misinterpretation of the law’s original intent. They agreed to take on Chester’s case. I like to think I helped.

In March, Chester received news that he’d be paroled. Now his days are completed. Finally, he has a release date. Chester will be freed on New Year’s Eve! However, the news isn’t all wonderful. Not yet anyway.

There is no room for him at the Halfway House.

He just found out he’ll be released on December 31, 2018 to San Bernardino County, California–where he knows no one. He will be homeless. That is, unless a good-hearted person steps up.

As a former missionary, I know what it feels like to return “home” to a place that doesn’t feel like home. It’s overwhelming. I was only gone 10 years. Chester has been away for 24. I had friends and family and access to money. He has none of that. People met me at the airport. He will be dropped off by a bus, to an anonymous street. He’s been institutionalized, with no decisions to make for all these years. He needs help.

I realize it’s a terribly busy time of the year, but please, if you live in Southern California or if you have contacts there, please contact me with an idea, any idea, of a resource for Chester.

Chester is trusting in the God who does the impossible, the God who came to earth long ago, sent to “proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” He came as a baby, born in a humble stable. Because there was no room for them at the inn.

 

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