The Weight of Waiting: A Giveaway

Last week we finally had our first frost and I was forced to abandon waiting on those last green tomatoes to turn. I picked the vines clean, tomato and pepper, marveling all the while at such a bounty in the second week of November.

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November. How can it be November, I mused? I sat at the kitchen table with a filled-to-the-brim colander in front of me and watched the leaves drop off the walnut trees. They fell from the branches in huge clumps, looking like birds dropping down to the earth.

I’d hoped to can this final crop but I knew the busy would catch up to me first. So I bagged up a poke of chilis and sent them off to a friend—another lover of growing things. It felt good to give away something long-awaited.

I’m attempting to lean into waiting seasons,” says my friend Kris Camealy, in her Advent devotional Come Lord Jesus, “to let God grow in me, a holy promise for the things promised but not yet revealed.”

Advent begins November 27th, and I can hardly catch my breath thinking it. Tomorrow we will pick up our boy from college—the nest will be full again for a short time. My hungry heart beats joy at the thought of kith and kin gathered around the hearth again. Thanksgiving ushers in that season of waiting in the sweetest of ways, stoking our hearts with wonder for the most common moments.

Advent always stirs that deep longing, fills with expectation. I strain my neck to see the manger, but also look inward to find Christ in me. I look ahead to the day when all will be made new in this tired world. Sometimes, it’s hard to let that work begin with me, let my fingers slip from the tight grip with which I hold it all. Waiting is hard.

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John Calvin said that the world is a theater of God’s glory, that he is “inclined to allure us to himself by gentle and loving means.” In his book Ravished by Beauty, theologian Belden C. Lane says, “[P]raise is a matter of studying in minute detail the footprints of God in the world.” He is referring to nature, but I have followed God’s footprints through the ways he is working in the lives of those I love of late. Some things are worth waiting for: watching my boys become amazing young men, feeling the bloom of marriage open into full blossom, friendships that weather the long storms …

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The past two weekends our church hosted a War Chest Boutique party for WAR International. If you’re not familiar with that ministry and its good work, by all means, read about it here. They are fighting human trafficking, among other things, and helping victims of this atrocity rebuild their lives by training them to in the craft of jewelry-making and the like. We sold over $1800 of merchandise. I find it a fitting thing to give away some of that beauty as we prepare to usher in Advent. Purple is the color of Advent, so we have a purple theme going on. If you’d like a chance to win a signed copy of Kris Camealy’s Advent devotional Come Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting, a beautiful purple clutch purse, an Amethyst chip ring, and a lovely  handcrafted Christmas ornament, just leave a comment on this post. I’ll announce the winner next Friday, November 25th.

This year I will step into Advent with thanksgiving and wonder and awe. This is how I feel God grow in me, this is the gift of waiting: the giving back of what has been sown and waited for, the giving away of that which has been tended with love.

In Praise of Fiction

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While skirting the headlines of the local paper last week, I was delighted at a little gem tucked away at the bottom the front page. The article chronicled a London theater group’s attempts to determine if being exposed to Shakespeare would increase milk production in a herd of dairy cows. The Changeling Theatre Company performed scenes from The Merry Wives of Windsor for Friesian cows at a Kent dairy farm.

“We selected scenes from the play we felt to be lyrical and relaxing,” said Rob Forknall, artistic director for the group.

Milk production was found to increase by four percent. It is believed that exposure to the Bard’s work relaxed the cows, therefore boosting milk production. I’ve never read Shakespeare to bovines, but I can vouch for the relaxation effect of a good piece of literature. Stories soothe the wild beast. And, um, the more placid, cud-chewing, lactating one (apparently).

When I was a girl, there were no books in my home. When money is tight and the library too far away, Dr. Seuss takes a backseat. There was no toddler lap time with eyes focused on colorful pages. No picture books with single words to jump start my reading skills. No sing-songy poems to capture my attention. No books. But there were plenty of stories.

At night when my mother tucked us in, she would always give us a bedtime story. Mostly, she offered well-known fairy tales—Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs—but sometimes she would spin her own. These were always the favorites. She was an animated storyteller—changing her voice with each character, giving sound effects where indicated. My brothers and sister and I would cocoon together in the dark, eyes wide with the wonder of pages of pictures turning in our heads.

That is where my love for story began. I learned to read with Dick and Jane in the first grade. But the decaying school I attended those first years of grammar school had no library. Still no books. Then, the summer before my third grade year, that old school building was condemned and the kids from our hollow were transferred. The first time I entered the library at Adamston Elementary, I was astounded. The walls were made of books and books and books and I had never seen anything like it. That library is where I found Nancy Drew, traveled to Narnia and The Island of the Blue Dolphins. It’s where I first experienced A Wrinkle in Time and spied my first Little.

That library was a place for a shy girl from an impoverished family to find new friends. Reading opened up the world for me. I learned about other cultures and other ways of life while nestled in  a small country lane in West Virginia. It connected me to the world in ways that simply were not available to me at the time. Reading showed me possibility.

I have carried my love of a good story with me through the years. There are few things I enjoy more than spending a free afternoon  with a well-written novel. But a good story is more than a warm fuzzy feeling. It is widely regarded that reading fiction helps develop imagination in young children (and probably adults … know anyone who can use some improving in this area?). Some maintain that reading novels is a more engaging way to improve vocabulary and thus improve scores on standardized tests. There is much documentation of the benefits of reading fiction for stress relief and improved mental health. Research by psychologist Raymond Mar found that fiction readers have better social skills and more empathy than those who purport to only read nonfiction. One study even suggests that reading fiction can change our personalities.

A well-crafted story reminds us that we are part of something larger than ourselves. It’s the reason humans have been telling stories since the beginning of time. Stories help us make sense of the world and understand who we are. As researcher Keith Oatley says, … fiction is about possible selves in possible worlds. Anyone who has ever been swept into an imaginary world and emerged to find himself changed in some way understands this very well.

Reading fiction enriches the way we experience life. We are, after all, each writing our own story in the way we live our lives. As for me, I plan on bringing some Shakespeare along the next time my phobic son has an orthodontist appointment. I just won’t make it MacBeth.

This article first appeared in variation at The High Calling.

West Virginia Morning: Cricket Symphony (and a winner!)

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The Crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summers ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days of the whole year—the days when summer is changing into fall—the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change. ~ E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

This morning, as I walked Bonnie around the house in the dark I was surrounded by a cricket symphony. We crept under the waning crescent moon hanging like a smile in the sky—Jupiter a shiny dimple on his right cheek. The Big Dipper stood up on the end of its handle, pouring starlight over our steps. I shivered in my housecoat under the cool of autumn, but the crickets kept singing. I tried to count the number of chirps per fourteen seconds to guestimate the temperature, mindful of Dolbear’s Law, but Bonnie would not cooperate with my calculations, pulling lustily on her leash to chase after one smell or another.

Fall has fallen in our little valley and it leaves me beside myself with joy.

Something about the slow-baring of the landscape creates more room in my spirit and I am enabled to receive the moments more readily as gift. The way the trees slowly release their leaves, blanketing the earth and burying her spring promises speaks love into my heart. I’ve been thinking about love these past couple days.

Early in the week I sent Teddy a Halloween care package. In it was not only a bag of his favorite fun-size candy bars, but some orangey lights, a light up jack-o-lantern, silly miniature hats attached to headbands, and various glo-items. Last year I was stricken with grief when I realized it would be our first Halloween without him. Our long-standing practices of visiting the farmer’s market to pick out the pumpkins and then waiting for precisely the right time to carve them seemed lonely and lost with him gone. So I sent him a similar package, a mother’s whim, filled with corny Halloweeny stuffs to share with his friends. He sent me a picture of a group of them, sporting the light-up pumpkin necklaces I’d included. It made him happy, I think, to share with his friends. And so, I thought I’d repeat the process. This year, the text came.

I got the package.

I waited, but that’s all it said. So I responded. Did you like the stuff?

Yes. He said. The lights are up.

The pumpkin lights up too, I responded.

It does! He said.

And that was it. No “thank you.” No “cool, mom.”

Nothing. Just silence.

Last night, I went to hear a lecture by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed. She’s written a couple books about Thomas Jefferson and has extensively researched his relationship with Sally Hemings. Her talk was smart and poignant and really made me think about the ways we look at people and groups of people. At one point, a woman from the audience stepped up to ask a question. She commented on some of Dr. Gordon-Reed’s observations about Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings. You talk about the length of their relationship (38 years), that there is no evidence there was any other woman in his life during that time, and about the children they had together (I’m paraphrasing here) but what is keeping you from saying that they might have possibly been in love?

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Dr. Gordon-Reed took a deep breath. She alluded to the fact that this may have been true. “It strikes me as unlikely that he had a purely physical relationship with her for 38 years,” she said. But she was very cautious, going on to say, “It’s tough here because people will romanticize things and minimize the impact of slavery. And you can’t do that.”

Throughout her talk, she continuously reminded us that Sally Hemings was “enslaved.” She never had the freedom to refuse a relationship with Thomas Jefferson, whatever her feelings for him were. She was fourteen years old, scholars believe, when their relationship began. That likely means she never had the opportunity to fall in love with another man, to flirt, to feel that wild fancy-free feeling of attraction.

We will never know Sally Hemings’ feelings on the matter, because she remained silent. She never spoke about her relationship with Jefferson, for good or ill. Likely, they were very complicated. But I left the lecture with this thought impressed upon my mind: To love, to truly love, we have to be free.

And yet, how many things in this life hold us captive? As frail humans, we are subject to so much brokenness keeping us from freedom. Addictions, insecurities, dysfunction, our tangled-up-messed-up histories … Not one of us is free to love in the ways we were created to love. Some of us are freer than others, but all have some strings pulling on our hearts, enslaving us to our fallen nature.

There is only One who loves perfectly. Only one who is completely free and has done the work to assure our freedom. But in this already-done-not-happened-yet kind of freedom, we still wait. We wait and we wonder.

Freedom. I’ve had glimpses—kingdom glimpses that set my heart on fire. But really, I have no idea what it means to love. But I am learning. And one day I will know.

Yesterday, I read Teddy’s less-than enthusiastic texts about my gift-package with a little feeling of let-down.  Then I let it go.

The winner of my book book bundle giveaway that includes Shelly Miller’s Rhythms of Rest, Lisa Whittle’s I Want God, and Emily P. Freeman’s Simply Tuesday is Jen Martinson! Congratulations! You are going to love each one of these books. I’ll be in touch soon!

I Went to Nest Fest and All I Bought was a Bunch of Books (so I’m giving them away!)

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We drove five hours down I-77, outrunning the rain, driving between mountains, watching the leaves go from patchwork back to green again, then landing where the sun shone bright on a field-full of artisans and musicians and writers and creatives of all types. We went to the big white barn. I knew my friend Shelly would be there, and Lisa, and Emily. That’s why I went—to see some friends. And before I even walked the grounds I ran out of cash because I bought so. many. books. My only regret? I didn’t buy more books. I wish I had bought Tim’s newest book—a beautiful Christmas story that seems to celebrate his love for his three “pixie” daughters, because amazon tells me they are out of stock. And I wanted Edie’s book too—I loved her Lenten devotional this year. And Logan was there and Myquillyn, of course, and so much loveliness!

Sometimes, I need to run away to find my way back home. You? Autumn fills me with the wanderlust and a road trip always cures the ill. Jeff came along with me—my favorite travel companion. He sees a lot, that man. Just sits back and watches. You know what he said to me after watching me hug on Shelly for a time, then sit at Lisa’s feet to catch up, and soak up some wisdom from Tim? “You need to write more,” he said. “It’s clear how happy this makes you.” He knows I’ve been struggling with words lately. We’ve been wrestling with the question of time and I’ve gradually arrived at a place of acceptance. Acceptance that my time needs to be invested in other things for a season. But he knows it makes me sad. Because, writers gotta write, right?

The next best thing to writing is rubbing shoulders with some special writers. So that’s what I did this weekend. And because writers need readers, to celebrate beautiful YOU, my dear reader, I’m giving away some books. I have a signed copy of Lisa Whittle’s newest book I Want God, a signed copy of Emily P. Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday (my favorite go-to book when I’m feeling very small), and a book that Shelly Miller was supposed to sign for you but didn’t. I discovered too late that she forgot to sign it.  But … her sweet hands held this book, I promise. So that’s a copy of Rhythms of Rest, not signed, but touched by the author. One lucky reader will win this awesome stack of books. Just leave a comment for a chance to win. If you share on social media, let me know and you’ll get extra entries for each way you share. Winner will be announced on Friday, 10/28. I’ll leave you with a few random shots from Nest Fest. xo

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Summer is for Reading

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Summer is for reading. For as long as I can remember, this has been true. Falling into a good story makes deliciousness out of the longest of days, especially when it’s too hot to do much of anything else.

A couple weeks ago I asked my husband, “Why doesn’t it feel like summer?” He shrugged and I pondered. After much thought, I realized I hadn’t been reading much fiction. I resolved to change that, because, after all—for a grown-up—summer is a state of mind.

There are sooo many good books waiting for my hungry eyes to devour, but not just any book would do. To step fully into summer, one needs the kind of book that will feed the heart, sing into the spirit, and whisk you away to a different world. I asked my friend Kelli what she would recommend—because Kelli is one of those people who is always growing, always learning, and being with her makes me feel young and happy. She always knows the kind of things that will sing into my spirit. Do you have a friend like that?

Well, Kelli recommended not one, but four books! A four-book series called The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. “Are they good?” I asked. “They are so good,” she said, “that I can’t think about them without crying a little.”

Sold.

I was already familiar with Andrew Peterson’s music (thanks to Kelli and the Rabbit Room) and I knew I was in for a treat. Have you ever listened to Andrew Peterson’s music? It’s so lyrically rich and real. When we were going through the darkest parts of Jeff’s depression, this album in particular sustained me. And this song wrote deep things in my heart. If you aren’t familiar with his work, I can’t recommend it enough. Since I love his lyrics so much, I knew I would go gaga for his prose.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Wingfeather Saga is technically a series for kids—young readers who devour chapter books (you know the ones). But in my experience, I’ve found these books to be the best for instilling wonder into the grown-up heart. This saga is the story of a family—the Igibys—who are caught up in an epic tale of dragons and dark creatures and good verses evil. The Igibys include three children: Janner, Tink, and Leeli, and their mother and grandfather. They live in a land ruled by evil but in their hearts is a memory of a time when goodness dominated the land. This is the story of their journey to restore that goodness and of all the things they learn about themselves and the world along the way. It’s pure beauty. I couldn’t put the books down, turning page after page until (in disappointment) I finally finished the last book. And then I had to wait a while before starting to read something else, because the characters were still so alive in my mind. The characters had become my friends along the way and I began to miss them even before I read the last word. Does that happen to you too? I felt sad that my boys are too old to read through these books with them. I wanted to resurrect read aloud at bedtime. But they wouldn’t go for that.

Another fiction book I’ve read recently and loved is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I’m embarrassed to say it’s the first of his works that I’ve read. Gaiman came to the West Virginia Book Festival back in the fall and I was amazed at the response to his presence among my peoples. Who is this guy? I asked my nineteen-year-old son. He’s a guy, he said. You’re probably too old to understand. So when some folks in my writer’s group were raving about his stuff I asked, “If you were going to read just one of his books, which one would you recommend?” The Ocean was it. It was another page-turner. Gaiman’s prose is beautiful and graceful and he weaves a world that instantly drew me in. If you love stories with elements of fantasy while still remaining rooted in this reality (maybe I should say, the fantasy is so well-done if feels like reality), you’ll enjoy this book tremendously.

Currently, I’m reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m almost done with this book and the contrast between it and the above Gaiman selection has been an interesting thing to behold. Not many authors can effectively pull off long stretches of exposition and inner dialogue, but Berry is one. He paints a picture of small town America before, during, and immediately after the Great Depression that made me long for a simpler time. He manages to place ideas about farming and war and progress strategically into the characters’ stories in ways that made me think, and think hard. But also, his leisurely way of describing nature and human nature is a delight. A familiar to his lovely poetry (here’s my all-time favorite, and I share another favorite at the end of this post), I was expecting to fall in love with his prose. And I did. Wendell Berry’s writing is the full package.

Also on this stack you’ll see Gillian Marchenko’s Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression. While this book is most definitely not fiction, I’ve been balancing out reading it in-between all the lovely stories described above. This is because it’s been a hard book for me to read. Marchenko describes living with Depression in such a real and heavy way that sometimes I find I’m holding my breath as I read. Our family is still recovering from the most recent episode of Depression and the pain of it remains close. If you’ve ever loved someone who has Depression, this book will help you understand what goes on in the mind and body of that person in new ways. This is a brave and much needed telling from the eyes of Depression.

I have another stack of other nonfiction books I’m reading this summer, but I’ll save that for another time. In the meantime, remember this: Summer is for reading. What’s on your summer reading list?