Prov 17:22

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

Friday, December 28, 2018

To Plant an Oke

As a twenty-year-old newlywed transplanted from the Canadian prairies to a small Texas city where my new husband would pursue his degree at a Christian college, I took refuge in the school’s library. Its books would become a source of companionship, inspiration, and emotional health. There, I discovered the earliest novels of Janette Oke and devoured them with passion. I could not have dreamed that, nearly forty years later, I’d find myself seated in an elegant Nashville banquet room filled with authors, editors, and agents from the Christian publishing world while they announced the recipient of the 2016 American Christian Fiction Writers Lifetime Achievement Award: Janette Oke.
Mrs. Oke was not present to receive that award, but it didn’t stop my tears from forming as I saw her photo on the screen and heard the wonderful tribute to her and her work. I’ve never felt prouder to be a Canadian Christian writer!

I thought back to those lonely days of feeling swept away by Mrs. Oke’s Love Comes Softly stories. The way Clark and Marty came together through difficult circumstances built my faith and my commitment to marriage and family. Not only did those books inspire me to be a better wife and more devoted disciple, but I believe a tiny seed was planted. Could I be a writer, too?

As the years passed and children joined our family, my writing opportunities were limited to Christmas family newsletters. Later, when I took the lead of my church’s puppet team and then a drama ministry, I began to learn the art of script-writing. This was followed by a column in the church newspaper, which I also edited. Little by little, the seed—perhaps an acorn—received enough water to sprout.

When I had the privilege of hearing Mrs. Oke speak at an Inscribe conference, I felt stirred by her ability to remain so humble and encouraging. Once again, she inspired me. My little seedling grew stronger. I returned home and continued to pursue writing through articles, short scripts, and Chicken Soup for the Soul contributions. The idea of tackling a novel seemed far too lofty.

Then, while praying for me one evening, a dear friend received a spiritual image. She saw me, sitting on top of an old-fashioned silver suitcase. The case was filled with papers, trying to escape. From that picture—at age fifty—I began writing what would eventually be my first novel, The Silver Suitcase. I chose historical fiction largely due to the influence of Janette Oke. (It didn’t hurt that my middle name is Janette.) I felt elated when a beta reader of that first rough draft said, “I felt like I was reading a Janette Oke book!”

Although seven years would pass before The Silver Suitcase was published, it would go on to win awards, accumulate over seven hundred reviews on Amazon, and be quickly followed by two other inspirational, historical novels. Next year, it will be translated into Macedonian!

I started a little late in life and will never be as prolific an author as Janette Oke. But I’m confident I would never have started at all had it not been for the seed her books planted in my heart. I believe that little acorn has grown into a sturdy enough oak to become a source of shade, comfort, and inspiration to my readers. Nothing would thrill me more than to one day learn I played a role in planting a similar seed in a young writer’s heart.

One question I’ve heard repeatedly throughout 2018 is “when is your next book coming out?” I wish I knew the answer. I’ve finished two more books since the last released, but my publisher discontinued its fiction line and my agent is seeking a new publisher. It’s a long process when you’re committed to the traditional publishing method. Although I’ve not released a book in 2018, it has been the greatest privilege to receive a couple of writing awards. One of those was the Janette Oke Award given out every other year by Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship. The essay I’ve shared above helped bring this award home to Portage la Prairie.

I wish my readers all the best in 2019!

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Little Christmas Miracle

I was a nervous wreck. It was 2003 and I was to oversee the annual Christmas banquet hosted by my church, Prairie Alliance. Complete with a catered meal, the evening always included a program of music and drama with decoration displays throughout the building. The fragrance of hot apple cider permeated everything, so that from the moment guests walked through our doors, Christmas spirit engulfed them. Over the six-night run, we would greet 1800 guests, many of whom called it the highlight of the season.

Fortunately, we’d been producing the banquet for years and had an army of volunteers who already knew how to do their jobs. We chose a 1950’s theme. Decorative items began showing up around the church, including an old car. Our music team dressed the part as they presented hits like Elvis’s Blue Christmas. Six high school girls in poodle skirts and saddle shoes danced to Jingle Bell Rock and the drama team performed a hilarious but deeply inspirational story called Christmas at Velma’s Diner, where three touring Elvis impersonators with a broken-down bus are roped into playing the three kings in the nativity pageant. (We decided the plural for Elvis was Elvi.)

I wanted just one more thing: actual photos of our community from the 1950s. That’s when the little miracles began to fall like dominoes.

Miracle One: Portage Collegiate was in possession of thousands of beautiful black and white photos taken around Portage la Prairie in the 1950’s for our local paper by an amazing photographer named Yosh Toshiro. I was thrilled when the archiving instructor, James Kostuchuk, granted permission for us to choose enough of these gems to create a slide show. It would go perfectly with a song written by our own Julianne Dick called Jesus, Won’t You Come to Our Town? I knew the pictures would be a hit, particularly with guests who lived here during that era.

The only problem was, all PCI had were the negatives, with no way of converting them to digital.

Miracle Two: Clarise Klassen, who also attended my church, worked at the Graphic at the time. They had the equipment we needed. Clarise put in hours scanning those negatives and presented them to me in digital form.

Miracle Three: After I’d put the PowerPoint together, I decided to print a copy, nine slides per page, so the computer operator could see what he was working with (PowerPoint was less sophisticated then). Instead, I accidentally printed each picture to its own full page. When I saw what I’d done, I wanted to cry. What a waste of paper and toner! But when I noticed how sharp the photos looked, my second thought was that maybe we could give some away to people for whom they’d hold significance. Which led to another thought: why not display them all for those who might like a closer look after they’d seen the slide show?

We placed all the prints on a massive rolling blackboard, so we could easily Wheel it out of hiding to the lobby for guests to view on their way out. Some had been disappointed that the pictures went past so quickly in the slide show—now they had a chance to look as long as they wanted. It was incredibly rewarding to see folks flocked around that board at the end of the evening, identifying acquaintances, remembering buildings that no longer exist and cars now considered classics. It turned out to be our busiest display!

I observed all this with a thankful heart, shaking my head at how God turned my blunder into a blessing. It’s what he does. The fancy name for it is Redemption, and it’s what Christmas is about: God sending his Son to earth to redeem you and me. Merry Christmas!
Most of the cast & crew from Velma's Diner, 2003.

Friday, December 14, 2018

That Time I Played Scrooge

I was about nine years old the year my Sunday School class had only two kids in it—another girl named Marlene, and me. When it came time for the annual Christmas concert, our teacher, Mrs. Johnson, chose a two-character play for Marlene and me to perform. The premise of the play was that a sweet young girl would teach her crochety old grandfather (who said “bah humbug” a lot) the real meaning of Christmas. Mrs. Johnson allowed that the elderly character could just as easily be a crochety old grandmother, and assigned that role to me.

I was mortified.

I gave Mrs. Johnson half a dozen reasons why she had it backwards. Marlene should play the grouchy old grandmother and I should play the sweet young girl. Marlene had short hair, mine was long. Marlene was bigger than I, and a little older. I did not want to play a grouchy old woman who says, “Bah humbug.” I had never heard of Charles Dickens or his spooky stories, so the expression made no sense. Who says “bah humbug” anyway? How was that even a thing? It was the dumbest play ever and I refused to approach it with even the slightest smidgeon of enthusiasm.
But Mrs. Johnson stuck to her guns. I would play the grouchy old woman, no questions asked. Oh, I was grouchy all right. I wanted to run away. I stubbornly decided to play my role so badly our audience would see I was actually a sweet young girl who had no business trying to portray an old grouch.

Convinced the crowd would feel appalled by how poorly-cast this play was, I could already imagine the post-concert conversations that would take place in living rooms for miles around:

“What was Mrs. Johnson thinking, casting Terrie as that grouchy old lady?”
“I know, right? Clearly, Terrie should have played the sweet young girl.”
“What a shame. Ruined my whole night.”
“Maybe even my whole life. So unfortunate.”

The one unfortunate thing I see now is that Mrs. Johnson missed an opportunity to turn the whole scenario around with a little simple psychology. If she had appealed to my nine-year-old ego by explaining that she was giving me the more challenging role, the one demanding the best acting and the most stretching, I’m sure I’d have fallen for it and jumped in. I would have acted my socks off.

But she didn’t.
And I didn’t.

If the Ghost of Christmas Past could take me back to 1968 and show me my belligerent, nine-year-old self, I’d feed that stubborn kid the same line I drilled into my drama team years later until they grew sick of it: “It’s not about ME!”

I didn’t understand that then. Somewhere along the way, good mentors gave me a more mature perspective on teamwork. Thank God, Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t the only character who can be reformed.