Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, September 13, 2019

The China Cabinet

In 1979, I was living with my husband in Longview, Texas when my parents came to visit. One of the places I wanted to show my mother was a cluttered antique dealership I passed every day on my drive to work. I’d never stopped there myself, but I’d spotted some items I felt sure would capture Mom’s fancy.

I wasn’t wrong. She loved it! What I didn’t expect was that Mom would purchase a china cabinet. She had wanted one like it since she was a little girl. With no space in their motor home, my parents had to leave the china cabinet at our place, and Mom decided right then that it would be mine one day. We got to enjoy it for the next three years.

When we returned to Manitoba in 1982 with all our earthly belongings stuffed into a cargo van, the china cabinet came with us. We had also acquired, for free, a solid oak WWII surplus desk. (Side note: I love that I write novels set during WWII at this desk!) We laid the china cabinet on its back on top of the desk, stuffed with towels and bedding. Along the way, we stopped for a month in South Dakota where Hubby helped relatives with harvest. By this time, I was chasing our toddler around and carrying baby number two. We unloaded only what we needed and left our van packed to the gills. When we headed for Manitoba in November, we reached the Canadian border near closing time. The customs officer took one look at our overfilled van and said, “I ain’t goin’ through all that stuff. Get outta here.”

We arrived a couple of hours later at my parents’ house in Portage la Prairie. Mom’s china cabinet was finally home.

It moved with her to Winnipeg in the late nineties. When Mom downsized five years ago, the cabinet went to my sister’s house back in Portage where it displayed her collection of nativity sets. Now my sister is downsizing, and the china cabinet stands once more in my home. Since our kitchen already has a built-in cabinet for such things, I don’t need the old girl for china. Instead, we placed it in my office—an arm’s length from the old desk on which it once rode over two thousand kilometers. It displays the books I have for sale and my writing awards. I think it looks great!

Keats wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” I don’t know about forever, but this china cabinet still has many good years ahead of it. Barring a house fire, I’ve no doubt it will be here long after I shuffle off this mortal coil. Maybe it will even hold china again someday.

But for all its history, memories, and beauty, the lovely china cabinet is only a thing. As much as we value it, Mom, Sis, and I would gladly exchange it if doing so meant we could change things we cannot change for ourselves or our loved ones. If the cabinet could buy perfect health, peace of mind, or eternal life, we’d trade it in a heartbeat. If it could mend the wounds that break our hearts or fill the voids left by those we’ve lost… well, I guess everyone would want it. Then I’d have a new set of problems, wouldn’t I?

I’m grateful to know the true source of all healing, peace, and life, and the one who paid the price for them. His name is Jesus. He’s pleased when we learn to love people and use things. Getting it the other way around leads only to misery.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Whatcha readin'?

Did you read any good books this summer? Or maybe you’re one of those people with more time to read in winter. Either way, here are my favorite picks from my summer reading.

In fiction, Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner kept me turning the pages. I’m smitten with split-time novels, and this one does not disappoint. In the contemporary part of the story, a young American scholar interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly English woman is ready to reveal secrets about the war she has kept for decades...beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden—one that will test her convictions and her heart. The historical portion is a war-time story about a set of sisters—two out of thousands of London’s children evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. Although they find refuge in a charming cottage, the older sister’s ambition compels them to sneak back to London just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction. The sisters are cruelly separated. I won’t give away the rest, but it’s a great read that makes you think about the horrors so many endured in that time and place.

In nonfiction, I found great encouragement in Erwin Raphael McManus’s book, The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art. McManus demonstrates how we all carry within us the essence of an artist. We all need to create, to be a part of a process that brings to the world something beautiful, good, and true, in order to allow our souls to come to life. It’s not only the quality of the ingredients we use to build our lives that matters, but the care we bring to the process itself. If you’ve ever thought you weren’t creative, think again. You were made in the image of God—the most creative artist ever. This is a book I hope to read many times. I hope you’ll read it at least once.

My third pick is fiction based on true life. Imagine being presented by your parents with your own personal slave for your eleventh birthday. Imagine being that slave. In The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd brings to life both characters in nineteenth century Charleston, South Carolina. I didn’t realize until I reached the end that the main character and her sister, Sarah and Angelina Gremke, became the most famous women in America during their lifetimes because of their fight for abolition and feminism in the years leading up to the civil war. This masterful book is a fictionalized account of their real lives.

Speaking of feminism, I’m about half-way through Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist. What I like about this book is how it helps readers understand why women loved Jesus so much. A careful look at his life reveals that, in a culture where women had zero rights, Jesus respected them, honored them, taught them, included them, defended them, and valued them. If his church had followed his example of true feminism, writers like Belle Hooks (whose work I also read this summer but find too flawed to recommend) would have no cause to believe or promote the notion that Christian doctrine condones sexism and male domination. That his church has profoundly failed in this arena breaks my heart.

In scripture reading, all year I’ve been following a lovely plan provided by Shannon Long on her This month’s theme is “God will make a way” and I am enjoying digging into daily examples of how God made a way when things looked impossible. I write out the day’s verses in my journal and then fill the page (and often the next) with my own observations and prayers. I recommend it.

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

More Lessons from my Garden

With all the wonderful weather we’ve been experiencing this summer, my garden has been gloriously prolific. Likewise, the lessons it is teaching me are too rich to be contained in one blog post. Here’s the continuation of a previous week’s lessons.

Tomato Cages and Parenting
I planted three different tomato plants this year, one much taller than the others. I should have placed cages around them as soon as I removed them from their little containers and laid them in the ground. A month or more went by before I finally purchased cages. By then, the tallest one resisted the cage like a moody teenager resists curfew. In my attempt to force one of its branches through the cage, I broke it off completely, losing a couple of marble-sized tomatoes.

When the next windstorm came along, it blew that tall plant over, cage and all. (Hubby says I should have stapled the cage into the ground with long wires. Now he tells me.) Too late to force the crooked, wonky cage back into the ground, I was left with no choice but to set the plant free from it. Except by now, some of the thicker branches were entangled with the cage. It wouldn’t budge. Finally, I just held my breath and yanked the cage straight up, surrendering whatever branches might break off. This time, I lost several golf ball-sized tomatoes.

Oh, the plant is still alive. It’s still producing. But it has not been and never will be as healthy or productive as the plants given their cage while still small.

Little children want boundaries. They feel safe knowing what the rules are and knowing someone will enforce them. When healthy boundaries are set in place early on, humans can thrive and grow and become all they were meant to be.

If you wait too long and try to play catch-up later? You will be met with resistance. It will prove far more difficult, and you’ll do a lot more damage. It doesn’t mean the person can’t still be strong and productive, but unnecessary pain will be inevitable along the way.

A Little Each Day…
If you’ve ever gone away on vacation during a garden’s prolific period, you know the pain of returning home to overgrown weeds, overripe vegetables, and dehydrated plants. It can take you days to return things to order. Plus, you’re wasting what would have been perfectly good produce if you’d been home to pick it. Sometimes there’s no reviving a plant dead from thirst, starving for nutrients, or choked out by weeds.
This is why good gardeners do a little each day. From the day they till the soil until they’ve pulled out the last dead plant in preparation for winter, the devoted gardener is out there. Weeding, watering, thinning, fertilizing, harvesting, and cleaning out what’s finished are far easier when done daily, bit by bit. You’ll enjoy a much healthier, productive garden.

This is true for your soul as well. A little time devoted to scripture and prayer every day produces more fruit than church once a week or a spiritual retreat once a year. Don’t choke out your soul with neglect. The weeds will gladly take over while you’re not paying attention.

Greener Where you Water…
We’ve all heard it said that if the other man’s grass is always greener, it’s probably because he waters it. This becomes even more obvious after a dry spell when your lawn turns brown while the neighbor with the sprinkler system is still enjoying lush green turf.

The application to our lives and relationships hardly needs mentioning. Marriages, friendships, and family relationships dry up with neglect. Watering takes effort. Make the effort. ‘Nuff said.