Friday, May 31, 2019

Grace Runs to Pain


Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Grace runs to pain like healthy blood to a wound. 

Have you been the recipient of grace lately?  It's a swoosh of comfort; a balm of healing; an ointment of relief.

Have you been the giver of grace lately?  It's a nod of affirmation that needs no words; a squeeze of the arm, a spark of warmth in the eyes.

Genuine.

Caring.

Grace.

Some of my work includes greeting the public. We are Human Services, so there's a steady of stream of humans in need of services we may offer, including family help, parenting classes, addiction referrals, mental health providers and housing.

As a Christian I am called to serve others with the love of Christ.

As a Christian in a government-run organization, I am restricted in the earthbound realm.  Even so, I am wholly free to share His grace in surprisingly easy ways: by showing kindness on the phone, by listening carefully to the client who is confused and distraught, by spilling a bit of laughter into a tense moment.

Grace is tangible; you can feel it rush to the place of pain.

Maybe you've heard the story of the small boy who learned that his neighbor was grieving the loss of his wife.  The boy asked his mom if he could go next-door and see the man.

When he returned home, the boy's mom asked what he said to comfort the sad neighbor.

"Nothing," he replied. "I just sat in his lap and helped him cry."

Grace is light and airy, but oh! It is profoundly powerful, rippling into a needy world.
Infusing it with hope.

Last year, in preparation to lead a women's conference, I wrote a poetic essay about the activity of grace.  I hope you like it; I hope you recognize the winsome contrast of grace to the stuff we often experience in the day-to-day.

The world is a fist.
Grace is an open hand.

The world loves a snappy comeback.
Grace loves a kind word.

The world runs from pain.
Grace runs toward the hurt.

The world thunders, "Me first!"
Grace whispers, "You first.

The world upends.
Grace mends.

The world abandons.
Grace abides.

The world quits.
Grace perseveres.

The world shrugs.
Grace hugs.

The world mocks.
Grace grieves.

Grace re-frames everything.

In the workplace, in church, at home -- wherever your day takes you, Grace is a currency we can all exchange with good will and generosity.  We can trust the quiet, capable, dynamic activity of grace to heal and heighten and bolster up.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.  Philippians 4:23


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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Hay Bales and Recovered Treasure



"O God my rock." I cry. "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?" Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, "Where is this God of yours?" Psalm 42:9-10


It started as a small sliver of aggravation and grew into an impossible mass of resentment: my marriage was in a fragile place and I was painfully aware of my part in it.

Dial the clock back to 2004 – the year my husband decided it’d be a good idea to move away from our beloved Colorado to the hills of Pennsylvania.

“We’ll have a farm property,” he said. 

“We’ll give our daughters the rich heritage of taking care of animals and driving a jalopy. They can chase fireflies and row across the pond. We’ll camp out and have bonfires and do all the things we got to enjoy as kids.”

He was thrilled at the prospect; as for me and the girls … not so much.

A wise woman at my Colorado church counseled me: “Kathy, you need to follow your husband. Even if he’s making a mistake. Roger is the spiritual leader of your family and it’s always best to honor that commitment. Don’t let this drive a wedge in your marriage.”

I’ll always remember Monita’s gentle caution, her loving words to me – such a tender reminder in a counter-culture that rejects the notion of wives accepting the leadership of their husbands.

And yet.

We made the 15-hundred mile trek. One car and a moving truck, bursting at the seams with all our worldly goods. We were pioneers, but in my mind we were heading in the wrong direction -- backwards, to a life I'd left in my past. 

We swapped our newer home in the suburbs of Littleton for a 100-year-old farm house on the top of a hill.

In the middle of nowhere.

This wasn’t my dream; it was his.

At first, I managed a fake bravado, encouraging our daughters to make new friends and dream new dreams. I even came alongside my 6-foot-2 gregarious husband to host a yearly potluck in the orchard, a tradition that would become a much-anticipated event for the neighbors and friends on our rural hill in the woods.

Over time, my fa├žade gave way to a strange, quiet rage.

I know he felt it.

Eventually, we formed a brittle alliance that held together just enough to get by.

It wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t godly. There was little joy in our awkward dance of just-getting-along.

It was a God appointment that I went to lunch one day with a friend, Dorothy, who handed me a smooth stone that fitted right in the palm of my hand. 

Etched on that stone was one word: Forgive.

That began to nag at me.

Over the next year, I would receive gentle nudges from Dixie, a woman at our Pennsylvania church: “You need to forgive your husband,” she’d say. It was never delivered as a reprimand or a judgement. Looking back, I know to my core it was her simple obedient act of delivering a message that lay heavy on her heart.

Forgive.

Oh! But I was just not willing to release my right to be upset! Digging my heels in, I did not move toward Forgiveness.

Finally, and maybe after a dozen or so gentle nudges, Dixie sought me out after the church service one Sunday morning.  There was a sense of urgency in her voice. 

“Kathy, have you found a way to talk to Roger? You need to forgive him.”

A few days later, on an ordinary day, I asked my handsome German fellow to sit with me in the living room. Haltingly, without fanfare or clever words, I explained how mad I’d been and how I no longer wanted to be held in the grip of fury.

I spilled it all. I held back nothing.

The release of all that bottled up emotion was a huge relief.

He shared, too, and we moved toward each other with a gift I can only describe as unfathomable Grace.

As there was work to be done, we headed to the hay fields. We’d had a soggy summer and much of the baled hay was on the edge of mold; some of it could only be salvaged for mulch.

I drove the tractor and Roger pulled the wet bales up onto the wagon. I remember the sun was setting and it was a spectacle of reds, blues, purples and pinks.

We drove to a neighbor’s barn where the hay would be stored and dried. 

With a decisive shudder that huge old barn door was closed on those smelly hay bales.

That was a defining moment for me, for both of us: The creaking and the closing of that creaky barn door symbolized the end of our silence. 

It ushered in the beginning of a new alliance as husband and wife.

The putting up of that old hay was a visual for the putting away of all the lost opportunities that had pushed us apart. 

We moved forward as a team and the peace that whispered around my shoulders was Supernatural.

It was bliss.

Three months later, Roger died suddenly and unexpectedly from a massive heart attack.

We couldn’t have possibly known.

We never do.

Months later, I found that stone with the little word, “forgive” in my jewelry box.

How I miss him! The ache is ever present, and so is the gratitude.

How grateful I am God got through to my unyielding, stubborn spirit.

He cracked my heart wide open with faithful, persistent voices who spoke into my life.  The light flooded in, the forgiveness flowed and swirled and flung a balm of healing over our family.

Going forward as a widow, it has been a challenging journey. Not what I’d choose.

But, thanks be to God we were able to clear our grievances and embrace life together – no matter how fleeting it would prove.

Like the Psalmist, I end my lament with a declaration of gratitude: 

"Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again - my Savior and my God!" - Psalm 42:11


I invite you to look for my coffee table books, the Breath of Joy! series.  So excited to announce the newly-launched volume,  Breath of Joy! Singing Spring.

This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Border Bullies and How to Dream Anyway


Proverbs 4:25-27
Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. 
 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. 
 Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

Have you stood at the brink of Possibility, only to have someone list all the reasons NOT to venture out? 

This, dear reader, is your Border Bully; your living-safe-within-the-boundaries-non-risk-taker-adventure-squashing border bully. 

If you're particularly challenged, there may be more than one.

Seriously.  It's maddening.

For instance, I've got Retirement on my radar -- these days I find myself leaning into the unknown, curiously peering into the future which holds, I'm quite sure, many adventures. This anticipation, this giddy breath of rare air, gives me a ripple of joy.  

The very notion of turning my writing into a full time passion? It's heady stuff.  The new opportunities for travel, for ministry, for investing deeply in people and dreaming new dreams?  I feel light and airy just thinking of it.

But here they come: the well-meaning, ever-so-careful, people in my life. Otherwise known as ... the border bullies. These are the ones who stand at the finish line with you, begging you not to break the ribbon -- pulling you back from victory, keeping you from getting the prize.

"You should wait until you're 66 to get the full benefits."

"Are you sure you'll have enough to fund your dreams?"

"You'll have to lower your expectations."

"How on earth will you manage the medical expenses?"

And on it goes.  Propelled by worry, fueled by fear, these voices nip at my ears, reminding me of the economy, the uncertainty, the risks.

These are the times when I think of a wise friend's words. She said, When it comes to finances, I have to remember my job is not my Provider; God is."

Yes, it's important to plan. As believers we are called to be good stewards of the resources we are blessed enough to enjoy. It's smart to save and avoid careless purchases. 

It's also helpful to listen to people's advice.

But here's the thing. If I hang back in order to gain approval from people, I'm making my world smaller. 

Bruce Wilkinson, who coined the term, "border bullies", says it like this: "If you want your dream more than you have to have people's affirmation, that's how you break through your border bullies".

This is what I know: I serve a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10-11) His resources are rich and unfathomable. He will take care of me. As a widow, I've learned this promise, time and again.

You may be looking eagerly into a new career. Perhaps you're building a relationship. Maybe you're exploring the creative side of you who longs to paint or dance or write a poem.

Watch out for those border bullies. 

Stay the course. Fix your gaze directly before you, and go forward with every confidence that God placed that vision in your heart, and He goes before you.  

Yes, there will be naysayers. I say, stand your ground. Show some grace. Smile. Prayerfully and with joy, follow your heart. 

I invite you to look for my books, Breath of Joy! Simply Summer and Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn, and the newly-launched Breath of Joy! Singing Spring.

This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons.



Friday, March 15, 2019

Why My New Book Celebrates Farmers

There is a strong, instant connection when you meet other people who grew up on the family farm.

Even if you’re just briefly acquainted with haying, shucking sweet corn or feeling the thrum of a tractor under your hindquarters, farming sticks to you like meadow muffins on your barn boots.

When I hear the phrase “work ethic”, I can’t help but think of a plaid flannel shirt hanging on a wooden hook; or maybe I picture a crate of homegrown tomatoes, oddly shaped and impossibly sweet. I see Ford flatbed trucks and John Deere mowers, worn suspenders and Carhart jackets.

I see knit hats pulled down over sleepy eyes in crazy hours of the night, preparing to assist a mare in foal.

It’s ingrained in my very skin, this legacy of farming. When I drive past a newly turned field, I feel a swell of pride. In my county, I know every hamlet, ditch and pond where the peepers sing their noisy anthems to welcome the growing season.

After settling in for some ag research, I felt uneasy about the current plight of the farmer – particularly the dairy farmer. For instance, for every dollar spent on a grocery item, the farmer behind that produce or milk is earning six cents of that dollar. That’s why buying directly from the farmer is so very important to the financial health of the farmers; the middle men suck up all the profits.

It jolted me in my gut to learn the rate of farmers committing suicide is more than double that of war veterans.

It’s sad to imagine that kids born in rural communities today will, less and less, be immersed in farm life. Our pastoral landscape, once dotted with barns, silos and grazing cattle, will be replaced with more industrial behemoths called CAFOs.  It’s a whole new type of livestock farm: the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. 

In a heartbreaking blog titled “ On the Death of My Family’s Dairy Farm” Abe Voelker writes, “This probably shouldn’t be a huge shock. Ever since I can remember there has always been a steady drumbeat of family farms going bust. Sometimes the tempo would increase, when milk and/or crop prices would hit new lows, but the drum has always beat on as the industry never seemed to turn a corner”.

Abe refers to his family farm’s demise as “the end of a long battle”.

But I don’t want to end on a gloomy note. As long as there are seedlings in sunny windows, there will be hope for agriculture on some level.

As long as there are red geraniums spilling out of loamy clay pots at Home Depot, there is hope.

As long as the purple sky darkens over a silhouetted tractor driver on a breathtaking June evening, there is hope.

As for me, I will always roll down my window when motoring through my beloved Warren County and beyond – drinking in the smells and sounds and the altogether satisfying buzz of activity that heralds this season of new life.



Monday, March 4, 2019

The Port City of Denver


Denver is a port city — yes, I’m referring to that pioneer town in Colorado and yes, I’ve consulted a map. While there is no harbor welcoming incoming ships, there is, in fact, a symbolic harbor: the soothing warmth of the sun; the genuine hospitality of the people; the irresistible lure of ever-present mountains. I see the mile high city as a place to sail toward and drop anchor. I always know there will be people waving me in from the docks: my friends, my family, my author tribe. Eagerly I lean into the arrival, knowing these lovely, loving people will securely moor my boat and invite me in.

Later, when my journey calls me back to the open sea and sails to distant shores, I carry a treasure trove of memories to sustain me until the next voyage.

I did that recently - sailed in a flying vessel that swooped down into the spectacle of plains and mountains, cityscapes and golden sunsets. I never tire of it.

My odyssey of authoring began mostly in the rolling Allegheny mountains of Northwestern Pennsylvania, my home of origin.
The honing, the polishing, the unromantic task of edit-edit-edit, has largely happened in Colorado, near the hogback or in the watchful shadow of Vail Mountain.

Long evenings hunched over our laptops, my publisher and I, chiseling the rough draft into a sculpture of words. Edit. Edit. Edit. Checking for accuracy, leaning into art. Typing, retyping, waltzing with words.
This is how it’s been with my latest project in the Breath of Joy Series. This one’s titled “Singing Spring”.

How ironic that we put the finishing touches on bursting buds, blushing brides and babbling brooks while outside the temperatures plummeted; the snow teased and blustered.

Spring emerges out of the dormant hard ground. It’s a labor, a process, a feeling of arrival followed by a sudden plunge back into the cold, unfinished business of winter. It’s a rogue breeze. A hint of earth and rain in the air. A swell of anticipation followed by a dance of freezing rain. Spring is a watery promise, a temperamental season of joy and uncertainty, mud and glory.

And so it is with writing, editing, crafting, honing to the finished work: so much like Springtime with its fits and starts and buttery sunshine chased by capricious winds.
What a heady mix!

How grateful I am, that the rough drafts born in my home state of Pennsylvania have found their true voices in the untamed West, under the vast blue skies of Colorado.

Breath of Joy! Singing Spring is humming an anthem that I hope and pray will stir the imaginations of my readers.

Let’s sail into port - wherever that may be - with a good book, a song, and a new season on the horizon.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

To Serve and Protect

I'm doing the only thing I know to do when you've been sucker-punched by a painful comment from a trusted place -- I'm blogging about it.

Church should never be a place that sends you spiraling back into the vortex that is grief.
But it was, and it did.

I'm still in the vortex, clawing at the walls to gain altitude and breathe fresh air.
And so I write.
Grief, I'm told, is more bearable when you share your story.

It's about a good man, gone too soon. Not a perfect man, but a man with a sincere heart and an unwavering moral compass. A man who wore blue and prayed for angels to surround him and handed out junior sheriff's badges to kids who still held the law in high regard.

My husband.
My late husband.

Imagine what it feels like to have his life's calling bashed in a sacred space called the church.
From a voice who never knew my Roger, but who painted him anyway with a broad brush of fear and distrust.

Not all cops are bad. 

Roger served the public with a blend of reverence and pride; he often came home, tired but satisfied because he'd helped a man locate his car in the vast mall parking lot. Or maybe he'd deputized a youngster at a lemonade stand, swigging down the tepid mix and encouraging those kids to "keep the neighborhood safe", giving out those plastic badges like they were the real thing.

Maybe, on some particular day, my no-nonsense policeman husband had noticed a couple of  joy riders burning up the highway and reprimanded the youngsters they were not, in fact, invincible and that speeding puts innocent motorists at risk, too. Possibly he left them with only a warning and a solemn charge to go home safely to their families.

However his day unfolded, mostly a collection of routine bits, my Roger was grateful he could serve and protect the public. He'd often say, "I can't believe I get paid to do this". And he meant it.

Sure, there were dangerous days and there were soul-crushing days, like the afternoon he found a newly-minted driver, a 16-year-old girl, slumped over the steering wheel, in a ravine. She was dead. The memory haunted him.

"Maybe I could have gotten there a few minutes earlier," he lamented. "Maybe I could've saved her."
I'd reminded him he, too, was not invincible and he wasn't Superman; he was a good guy with a big heart and a badge, and he patrolled in a world filled with poor decisions and imperfect traffic patterns and impaired drivers and broken, defeated people.

That's where he shone his brightest light, his unfathomable hope: into the cracked and shattered lives of broken people.

There was the elderly widow in the most remote part of the county, who lived alone. He had answered her frightened report of a possible burglar on the property. After discovering no intruder, Roger noticed her window panes were sorely inadequate against the cruel gusts of November -- large cracks had been covered up with cardboard, which shuddered in the wind. Quietly and without fanfare, he went to Home Depot and bought new windows with his own money. On a Saturday while off duty, he drove to her home and replaced her windows.

With a playful spirit, Roger took holiday work assignments in stride: Stuck working on Christmas morning, he sported a Santa hat and gave out candy canes at traffic stops. He was all about peace on earth and good will toward men. He personified it.

And then there was Columbine.

The mass shootings re-configured the entire face of law enforcement, causing some officers to give up their badges. No amount of training had prepared them for the unfathomable. For Roger, the event shifted him into someone with a more steely edge, a shadow of wariness, a hint of sadness, a festering wound that could not heal completely. It was as though a mantel of steel rose up around him, cautioning him, obscuring some of the joy.

He retired to what would be five great years on a farm property, driving a tractor, hauling horse trailers to 4-H shows, putting up hay and reconnecting with family back east.

His heart, his generous and boundless heart, burst in one last effort to stay with us. On the death certificate it reads "Acute Aortic Occlusion".

"His heart exploded," the coroner explained.

And it did. It discharged light and detonated arguments. It was big enough to hold so much love for me and the girls.

So much love.

His big German-Farmer-Policeman heart was beating for us at his final breath.

In a Legacy Book my niece crafted for me, there are condolence letters; many of them from the Sheriff's Department. I'll leave you with a snippet, a brief glimpse into Roger's lawman legacy.

Not all cops are bad.

I'm actually grateful, for once, that he was not sitting beside me on that Sunday morning, his large hand dwarfing mine in a warm grip. I'm glad, because the comment would have built yet another layer of steel around that huge heart of his.





Friday, November 23, 2018

Breakfast With a Side of Inspiration

It's the kind of opportunity you hope for as an author -- the unplanned moment when you get to connect with a young writer. 

The moment snuck up and tapped me on the shoulder in a most ordinary way: I was getting my bowl of oatmeal at a breakfast buffet in Colorado.

The woman next to me commented she loves the rugged west, and that she is from Pennsylvania. "Where in Pennsylvania?" I ask, and we are off and running. She's South of my hometown, toward the middle of the Keystone State. She's a grandma, visiting with family. We bond over the fact that we are both widows.

Soon I am introduced to Daniel, her 9-year-old grandson. She is thrilled to tell me Daniel wants to be a writer when he grows up.

I weigh the situation, guaging whether I am intruding on a family's breakfast; my instincts tell me it's okay to have a seat. 

I'm at eye-level with a young writer. It's a heady feeling. The first thing I tell Daniel is he's not "going to be a writer" ... he IS a writer, present-tense, because he wants to create stories. This unique and driving desire to write is the magical entrance into the very realm of creativity.

Daniel and I connect. Instantly.

I ask him, "Do you like to be alone? Do you prefer it?"
"Yes!" he nods. 
"This," I tell him, "is going to be one of your biggest challenges: seeking out solitude to write, yet needing to be fully immersed in people and things and events, so you have the ideas to launch from.
"Yes!" he so gets it.

I ask Daniel what he's reading now. 
"All kinds of things," he enthuses. "Mostly enchanted stuff, mysteries. Harry Potter. A Series of Unfortunate Events." He rattles off a few more titles, including books he means to get to soon. This kid already knows, to write well is to read. Voraciously. 

Understanding this is a wonderfully orchestrated appointment, a fleeting moment, my mind is racing. I remember the classifieds: "Daniel. Do you know a great place to find writing ideas? The classifieds!"
He looks mystified. "The classifieds?" he says. 
I give him a brief rundown of the classifieds, and how they are spring-loaded with story and character ideas. 
His parents nod in agreement. They agree the classified ads can be a treasure trove of intrigue, humor and drama. Such as: Why would this person get rid of all their action figures? Why do they need the money? It's a story idea just waiting for a pen and a premise.

Daniel wants to go as a writer for Halloween. We talk about pocket protectors, reporter's notebooks and maybe a pencil behind the ear.

I love this rich exchange between the generations and I truly hope young Daniel carries something - anything - from this conversation into his writing life. 

He is so blessed to have his parents and grandma -- his biggest fans. I'm also hoping the teachers and mentors in his life will catch the vision and point the way. 

The window of time narrows; it's time for me to cut away from this table of light. 
I leave a business card with Daniel and his family, so they can look up my books. They are grateful for this impromptu meeting, seemingly enamoured with meeting a published author. 

But I'm the one keen on this lovely encounter - beguiled by a young creative, just getting ready to grace the world with his unique style.

Follow your own voice, Dear Daniel. I'll be watching for your byline.

I invite you to look for my books, Breath of Joy! Simply Summer and Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn.
This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for Autumn and Christmas.