The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

August 22, 2019

Invited to Stay

I want to tell you about the fantastic book I just read.

Invited by Leslie Verner

Leslie Verner had me at her opening metaphor: a rootless tumbleweed. A self-described “goer,” Verner knows what it’s like to not only be a stranger in a strange land, but to also feel like a misfit back home as she struggles to learn how to stay put. In “Invited,” she weaves her own stories with insights gleaned from other cultures and the Word. She takes the empathy she gained for lonely people and turns it into a lifestyle of reaching out to others.

Verner shows us that hospitality is not about being an excellent cook or setting a beautiful table. It’s about inviting, no matter how tired you are or messy your home is. Verner writes about the art of lingering, filling up your reservoir so you have something to give, listening and understanding, and making others feel welcome, with oodles of practical ideas of how to do this. She writes:

“I want to err on the side of love, generosity, having an open home, and inviting people even when I don’t always feel like it. Then again, we also need systems of solitude and rhythms of rest, renewal, and recharging. We can’t pour into people out of an empty well. Our reservoirs must have a sustainable Source.”

When I met the author at a retreat for our mutual Redbud Writers Guild, I knew I’d met a kindred spirit. Leslie and I connected immediately on our love of going, she to China and Uganda and me to Eastern Europe. I felt certain I’d like her book, but now that I’ve read it, I can say I love it. It is a MUST READ.

When Steve and I first married, we established some traditions. At that time, I had recently returned to the States and I struggled to fit in. We decided we would always invite people to join us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not just anyone, but specifically lonely people. Internationals, widows, divorced people, single parents, recently released prisoners.

And we did–in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Some of my favorite memories include our huge Thanksgiving meals, on folding tables and mismatched tablecloths, with students from the nearby seminary.

But here in a small town in the South? Not so much. My biggest (probably only) regret about this town we chose is also what I love: its size. Because it’s small, when we walk around the quaint downtown square, we invariably see people we know. Coming from a place where we never saw neighbors step outside their homes, it’s refreshing to now chat with our neighbors, whether it’s in our back yards, walking in the park nearby, or at the many parties we take turns hosting. My neighbors get it. They invite. We’ve created community in our development.

But on the flip side, our town is small enough and Southern enough that the so-called lonely people we meet are part of larger extended families who include them. While I’m glad they’re not neglected, what we’ve found is that families are a fortress unto themselves, surrounded with thick stone walls encircled with a moat and a  drawbridge tightly in the up position, with non-family left outside.

And due to the smallness of the town, there aren’t so many internationals. That’s what’s hardest for me. It’s nagged at me for a while now; this sense that something’s missing. I long for the days when I, like Leslie, had an apartment always full of internationals.

Steve and I have invited and invited, and except for the one widow who came every Christmas for five years, we’ve rarely found people to share Thanksgiving and Christmas with us (something which suits my elderly parents just fine).  We can’t control the number of internationals or worm our way into families we weren’t born into.

So what can I control? With my innate restlessness and my love of “going,” does this mean we give up on the idea of staying put? Do we uproot and move again?

No, we stay put. I put into practice some of the ideas I gleaned from Leslie’s book, the ones still being formulated in my mind. I learn to bloom where I’m planted. Meanwhile, I continue to pray, to look for opportunities, to notice the people whose paths intersect with mine. And I don’t give up. I keep inviting as I stay put.

I invite because I am invited. I invite because God invited me first.

No Comments

July 20, 2019

Aging and the Moon

My younger friends are having fun using the aging app. I don’t want to; it’s too close to real life for me. Besides, how can anyone who grew up under the Cold War use a Russian face-altering app, especially when you have to allow them access to all your information? Not me.

All this focus on aging, during the week the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first humans stepping foot on the moon, has made me reflect.

Image by Ponciano from Pixabay

I’m so glad to be the age I am! I’m proud to have been a child in the sixties. The decade had it all: the highest highs, the lowest lows, and arguably the best music ever. Being a child on a sheltered peninsula of small towns and easy living, I didn’t feel the full extent of the decade’s turbulence. My selective memories are of events that brought the world together, not the ones that divided us.

After the lunar module docked on the moon, while Neil and Buzz frolicked on its crater-filled surface for those 21 hours, I went outside with my dog Alexa (who, if she was alive today, would not only have set records for the oldest dog ever, but she’d be so confused by people calling her name and commanding her to play “Penny Lane” or asking her the time or what the weather forecast is). My brother was away at camp, so it was only Alexa and I that evening. We stood quietly for the longest time looking at that big pizza pie. I was 12 years old and I’m sure I knew I couldn’t really see them, but I just felt compelled to gaze upward. I knew our world would never be the same again.

I remember trying to take a photo with my instamatic camera. The flash cube jumped all around with each shot, but sadly, none of them survived. This photo of Alexa will have to do. (I’d written 1969 on the back, but clearly, with the leaves, it wasn’t July.)

Six months earlier, on Christmas Eve, the Apollo 10 crew recited the most appropriate words ever written as they orbited the earth: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. . . ”

I also remember the dark days of that decade. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Robert Kennedy’s. Soon after I turned seven, I can even remember something most of my classmates do not: President Kennedy’s assassination.

That November day, I’d stayed home from school with a strep throat. I heard my mother crying and screaming to me to hurry downstairs. I bundled up in blankets on the sofa and watched the footage, over and over, of the blood spattering  Jackie’s pink suit with her pink pillbox hat. (Recently, my older and wiser brother reminded me we didn’t have color TV then. I love how imagination and memory so often blend together.)

My brother said he got permission from his teacher to go to the restroom that day. He walked by the principal’s office, where he heard the news that the President had been shot. When he returned to his classroom and told his teacher, she reprimanded him for “making up a story.” No one could believe something like that could possibly happen. Our world was shattered that day.

The man who, just two years earlier, had urged Congress to make it their goal to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade was murdered. And yet, against all odds, we succeeded to do the impossible thing he’d challenged us to do.

So what if my skin has started to sallow and sag and my un-dyed hair is mostly gray? I grew up at a time when the world joined together to watch history being made. My aging is my proof that I was there.

All that to say that I will not be using the aging app. If I really want to know what I’ll look like in 24 years, I just have to look at my mother. And she looks pretty good!

 

2 Comments

June 19, 2019

Uphill all the way

Some times I wonder why I do it. Every time I make progress climbing uphill, I find out the mountain is higher than I thought. And the ball I push starts rolling backward.

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

Have you ever felt that way? For every step forward, you take just as many backward.

My chosen profession, writing, takes a lot of hard work. But it’s also, oddly enough, a lot of fun and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Much harder than writing, for me, is having written and seeking publication. I’ve queried countless agents this year and gotten pretty close with a few. But not close enough. One agent wrote that in a year, she receives 4,000 queries and signs a contract with approximately three of those. Not very good odds.

Writing is not the smart choice if you’re looking for a career with a guaranteed solid income. (Neither is majoring in art or becoming a missionary. Just sayin’.) Only a fraction of writers actually make it financially as a writer. I read in the latest Writer’s Digest that the median writing income in America is $6,000—per year. Yikes!

So why do I bother?

I write because I love it. I’ve had a passion for writing since I was very young. I go so far as to say I believe God put that desire in me. I feel exhilarated when I express my talent. For many years, I left my gift fallow–while I pursued other extremely worthwhile things. I came to writing as a late career change and I’m determined to follow this dream!

Hoops, Bars, and Goalposts

When I started down the publication road with the first of my three-novel series, the hoop writers had to leap through to get a publisher’s attention included the number of facebook friends. I had to grovel and ask people to like me. Many of my friends have shops or restaurants and they ask people to like their business. But my question was, “Do you like me?” It’s personal.

And soon even that wasn’t enough. The bar was raised. People needed to actually click on a writer’s posts. Then the goalpost was moved again. (Don’t you love my clichés?) People needed to engage by commenting or sharing.

Has that ever happened to you? You work hard and achieve one thing, only to find out that now you must do another thing. When will it ever be enough? Probably when the donkey in this photo was hitched to the cart, only one or two boxes were piled on. Then another, and another, and before you know it, the burden was more than he could handle.

The latest

Now I have a new hoop to jump through. I recently found out that now I need people to engage enough to subscribe to my newsletter.

Gulp! I had a big problem: I didn’t have a newsletter (until two weeks ago), so the number of my subscribers was a big fat goose egg.  So, once again, I had to swallow my pride and ask for help. Hard as it was, I asked.

Why? Because I believe in what I’m doing.  When my self-worth gets trampled on by rejection and I wonder if I’ll ever jump through the final hoop, there is something that keeps me going. I believe that God inspired me with the idea for the young adult historical fiction novels. And someday, soon, these novels will be put out there into the world.

Someday, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, I believe you will scale your mountain, too. You got this!

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

 

P.S. If you haven’t yet and you’d like to, you can subscribe here My newsletters will be brief, fun, and delivered to your inbox every month. You’ll get a sneak peek at Chapter One and hear all the latest, before anyone else.

No Comments

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.

2 Comments

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.

No Comments