Prov 17:22

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

Friday, September 17, 2021

Something I Almost Never Do (and how it made me a little more street-smart)

I did something I almost never do.

Hubby was away overnight. Shortly before bedtime, I noticed through my living room window something glowing on the city’s sidewalk in front of our house. Had someone dropped a flashlight? Seemed unlikely.


Curiosity got the best of me. I stepped outside into the dark—something I almost never do. I discovered our lawn littered with garbage. Leaving the trash for morning, I picked up the glowing object. It turned out to be one of those solar lights, no doubt stolen from a neighbor's yard and broken from its peg. I carried it inside, still lit.

Only then did I realize what a perfect home invasion setup that could provide. Plant a glowing object within a homeowner’s view and wait. When said homeowner slips out to investigate, you slip inside and hide somewhere until they’ve gone to sleep.

The thought kept nagging me as I climbed into bed. It didn’t help that I’d recently heard of a home invasion only blocks away. I told myself to stop being paranoid and settled in with my book.

Then I began to hear weird noises. Thump. Clink.

That’s when it occurred to me. I’m not afraid of being alone in the dark. I’m afraid of NOT being alone in the dark!

What was going on? I rose to investigate. With a cordless phone in one hand (whether to call 911 or to throw at an intruder, I’m not sure), I went from room to room, turning on the lights and checking behind every door and curtain.

As I approached the kitchen, I heard the source of the ominous noises. I’d started the dishwasher before going to bed—something I almost never do.

Whew.

As I continued to explore each room, I heard my cell phone ping from atop my office desk. Which is odd, because leaving the volume up is something I almost never do. By now it was eleven o’clock. Staying up that late, let alone checking my phone at that hour, is something I almost never do. Curiosity won again.

The notification alerted me to the start of a publicity campaign for my new book release, a “blog tour,” sort of the equivalent of the old-fashioned book tours authors used to do in person. Of course, I simply had to see how the campaign looked, and clicked on the link. Oh no! My “giveaway” had been set by default for entrants in the USA only. My Canadian friends and readers would not be impressed.

I sat at my laptop and emailed the tour organizer to ask whether they could change the giveaway to include Canada. I returned to bed and slept great. In the morning, an email from the tour organizer assured me she could expand the geography of the giveaway.

Whew.

Do I believe the glowing solar light was left on my sidewalk so that I could more quickly circumvent a potential problem in my book world? Not for a minute. But I’m glad it worked out that way. Hopefully, I’ve learned a lesson in caution. 


As you know by now, sparing you my life lessons is something I almost never do. Whether you need them or not. Plus, if this writing gig doesn’t pan out, maybe with my new street smarts, I can take up home invasion to help make ends meet.

Better yet, I’ll work this trick into my next novel.

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8)

Friday, September 10, 2021

Twenty years, ancient history?

Does it shock you to realize some of the voters in this month’s election weren’t even born when the events of September 11, 2001, took place? In the twenty years since, many books about that day have been written and read, documentaries made and watched. The ramifications continue—everything from heightened security at airports to which we’ve all grown accustomed, to the ongoing horrifying news out of the middle east—to which I hope we never grow accustomed.

Everyone over thirty remembers where they were. I was driving to my job at Portage (now Prairie) Alliance Church, my 14-year-old son—in grade nine at Westpark School—beside me.


The radio reported an airplane had crashed into a skyscraper in New York City. I envisioned a small private plane with engine trouble. How unfortunate.

Then they said a second plane had hit the same place and I thought, “What? That can’t be right. The odds are impossible. They must be mistaken.”

I forgot all about it.

Until an hour or two later when one of our pastors interrupted the meeting I was in. “Have you guys been hearing what’s going on?”

We spent the remainder of the day glued to the television. As more stories emerged, we wondered when it would stop. I had a son in the United States and a daughter in Switzerland. Would I ever see them again? Was this how the world would end?

I can’t help thinking people asked the same question during World War II, especially when the atomic bombs dropped.

They probably asked it during the Spanish Flu pandemic, too.

And during the “war to end all wars” before that.

And in March of 2020 when news reports made it seem we’d all be wiped out by a virus.

It’s a question asked repeatedly throughout history. Yet here we still are. Fighting the same battles. Wondering how bad things will get. How long can we hold out? How will it all end?

I recently finished a great book by Canadian novelist Genevieve Graham called Letters Over the Sea. Set in Toronto from 1933-46, the main character is a girl whose four brothers and a romantic interest are all fighting in the war. By the end, one brother has died, one has lost a leg, one suffers severe facial disfigurement and nervous ticks, and one exhibits what we’d now call severe PTSD. The romantic interest is missing, presumed dead.

The author describes in detail Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s announcement on VE day and the celebrations in the streets, pubs, and homes. People banging pots and pans. Church bells ringing. As I read the scene, tears ran down my cheeks, imagining what emotions would surface after five years of constant strain. Knowing that, though the war was over, its fallout would continue.

My tears had less to do with the book’s characters or even the real-life people they represented, and more to do with my own future. Imagine every worry, heartache, pain, and conflict gone for good on the day God makes that happen. Oh, the utter relief.

Author Sarah Young says, “The truth is, the world has been at war ever since Adam and Eve first sinned. With the threat of terrorism…people are feeling that no place is really safe. In one sense, this is true. However, for Christian believers, there is no place that is actually unsafe.”

Nothing can happen to you except what God allows. In Christ, we are always safe.

So much more than a ticker-tape parade is coming. No terrorist, no disease, no vaccine, no accident, no war holds the power to rob you of your glorious inheritance. “…he has given us new birth…into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” (I Peter 1:3-4)

Friday, September 3, 2021

Lazy Farmers Don't Grow Sugar Beets

Ask almost anyone where sugar comes from and they’ll probably tell you the sugar cane. Obviously, they are not wrong. In fact, not until the 19th century did alternate sources of sugar become known.

One of these was the humble sugar beet, or Beta vulgaris. If you’ve ever worked a physically taxing job, multiply that effort by fifty and you’ll begin to grasp the difficulty of getting a sugar beet from seed to processing plant.

If you were a child of a migrant worker during the first half of the 20th century, you might be all too familiar with the whole process as you were forced to work alongside the adults in your family. Though it got you out of school by the end of April, you’d feel giddy to return in October after harvest. Long days in a hot field, bending over the entire time whether planting, thinning, weeding, or harvesting, would make a day in the classroom feel like a piece of cake.

Cake for which the world needed its sugar.

Each multi-germ seed was a tiny pod containing five or six separate beet plants. Once planting by hand was complete, it was time to thin the plants. Workers, on hands and knees, had to carefully pull out all but one tiny seedling without damaging the one left to grow. Monogerm seeds were not developed for use until 1967 and became the biggest breakthrough for this challenging industry.

Harvesting proved no easier. Many a finger was lost to the sinister-looking sugar beet knife, which came to North America with German and Russian immigrants. Here in Manitoba, farmers from across the southern half of the province manually unloaded their sugar beets into train cars which transported them to the Manitoba Sugar refinery in Winnipeg.

During World War II when cane sugar became difficult to import and rationing went into effect, the sugar beet industry thrived despite the intensive labor required. Among the laborers were many Japanese Canadians, relocated from their homes along the west coast to farms on the prairies to fill the gap left by young men off fighting the war. The industry would not have survived without the help of First Nations laborers, German prisoners of war, and the interned Japanese.

Though sugar beet farming eventually grew easier with the advancement of machinery, seeds, and irrigation systems, demand diminished as more economic and efficient sources of sugar took over.

The characters in my new novel, Rose Among Thornes, are subjected to the rigors of sugar beet farming during WWII. Much of my research came from a book called Sugar Farmers of Manitoba by Heather Robertson, loaned to me by Kelly and Cheryl Ronald who farm east of Portage la Prairie. Kelly used to raise sugar beets like his father before him. Bill Ronald served as president of the Manitoba Beet Growers’ Association.

One aspect I love about being a writer of historical fiction is how, every time I learn more about life in the 1940’s, I’m more grateful for modern-day conveniences. These hot summer days, I feel privileged to sit on a comfy chair in my air-conditioned home, describing for you the challenges of backbreaking work—as though I’d experienced it myself. While I hope we’re all learning to consume less sugar, I hope we’re also learning to appreciate the effort and history behind all the many, easy treats we enjoy.

Happy Labor Day!

Friday, August 27, 2021

A Sparrow Tale

Photo from Canva
Recently, I received a message from a friend who was in the middle of reading my newly released novel, Rose Among Thornes. She had just finished a scene in which a little sparrow plays a significant role and wanted me to know how much the passage touched her.

I remember writing that chapter, set in Hong Kong. Although I felt sure sparrows are universal little birds, I’m learning to not assume anything. When I did a little internet research to confirm whether China has sparrows, I found a lot more than I bargained for.

Have you heard of Chairman Mao Zedong’s plan called the “Great Leap Forward?” From 1958 to 1962, a public health project took place in China called the “Four Pests campaign.” Its goal was to eliminate rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows, thereby reducing many of the diseases running rampant through the human population. The first three pests carried disease, while sparrows were considered crop consumers.

The Chinese destroyed nests, broke eggs, and killed chicks, pushing the sparrow population to near extinction. They encouraged people to eradicate sparrows by any means—even banging pots and pans to prevent the birds from landing until they dropped dead from exhaustion. The government published posters illustrating the need for fly swatters, drums, gongs, and guns as tools in the fight for improved public health. Schools held competitions to see who could kill the most sparrows.

Worst plan ever.

While the disease rate did initially drop, making the campaign appear a success, China upset its ecological balance and created an even worse problem. Insects, now free of natural predators, quickly devoured crops. This led to a famine that killed millions. Chairman Mao replaced the sparrow target with bed bugs. Eventually, the Chinese government imported 250,000 sparrows from the Soviet Union to replenish their population. In a 2014 Discover Magazine article called Paved with Good Intentions: Mao Tse-Tung’s “Four Pests” Disaster, journalist Rebeca Kreston wrote, "A sinister truth had emerged: tamper with the unseen balancing beam of predators and prey at your peril or else nature will create a level playing field at your expense."

In other words, don’t mess with science.

The Bible says a lot about sparrows. In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus asked his disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father... So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We used to sing an old chorus based on that passage. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” In a newer one simply called Sparrows, Jason Gray sings, “If he can hold the world, he can hold this moment. Not a field or flower escapes his notice. Even the sparrow knows he holds tomorrow.” The lesson seems obvious. God will take care of me and I need not fear.

A closer look at that scripture in context, however, reveals that Jesus is telling his disciples they can expect to be arrested, flogged, hated, and persecuted—but they should not feel afraid. He never said, “I won’t let a single sparrow fall.” Sparrows fall every day. Some pretty horrible things happened to those disciples. Some pretty horrible things happen to us, too—but never apart from God’s care.

Which means it all boils down to trust. Can you trust him to carry you through, no matter what? Do you believe nothing will happen to you that God, in his great wisdom and love, has not allowed?

Friday, August 20, 2021

Don't Miss Your Glory Moments

One Sunday morning with high temperatures in the forecast, I set out for my daily walk early to beat the heat. I caught myself thinking, “What a perfect morning. Too bad we need rain so desperately.” I felt guilty for enjoying the sunshine when I ought to be praying for rain.

Immediately, I felt what we believers call a “check in my spirit.” I could almost hear God saying, “Hold the phone. How does the fact that you need rain change the fact that this morning is beautiful? Are you seriously going to let this perceived lack rob you of the joy that can be yours right now, in this moment?”

I adjusted my attitude.

Not my feet. Photo by Canva.

Two more weeks went by without a drop of rain. Then, when it appeared some might actually fall, I declared I was going for a walk anyway, and if I got caught in the rain, big deal. When I got about as far from home as possible on my regular route, the sky opened. I became drenched in seconds, my finish line still fifteen minutes away. My runners squished with every step. I needed to keep wiping raindrops from my eyes, but I did not wipe the smile from my face. It felt glorious!

I’ve always admired people who could live in the moment. I’ve spent most of my life as a task-driven person who feels most satisfied when she’s checked off all the items on her to-do list, regardless of whether she even exchanged a word with another human all day. As a kid, I dreaded “group projects,” preferring to do my own, efficient thing.

That preference did not serve me or my team well while on staff at my church. I would far rather spend a morning creating a monthly schedule for volunteers than to take one of those volunteers out for coffee and hear about their life.

So I’ve been called efficient. Organized. Hard-working. None of that is bad, but how much better when the first descriptors in others’ minds are words like loving, encouraging, or good listener?

Covid restrictions have pointed this out to me in new ways. For the most part, isolation has suited me well. Now that I’m releasing another novel, however, I’ve come to realize how much more “efficient” it is to hold a big launch party in a public place where you can sell a hundred books in an hour and half— bada-bing-bada-boom, job done.

This time around, I’m selling them from home. It will take weeks to sell the same number—if I ever do. But after about the third customer, I began to realize a significant truth. Little, one-on-one visits were happening at my front door with folks I hadn’t seen in months, all of whom have been through tough times. Those conversations wouldn’t be possible at one of my typical, efficient, launch parties.

In her novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith wrote, “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

God is reminding me what’s truly important, what it’s all about. To value what He values. I pray I learn the lesson well.

 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Our Times, His Hands

The old joke “everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it” has lost its humor. Agreed? For years, we believed the weather was completely out of our hands. Historical and current weather phenomena are proving us at least partly wrong.

A 1930's dust storm
I recently read Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds, a riveting novel set in the American Great Plains during the Great Depression. I remember my grandmother talking about “the dirty thirties,” but Manitoba’s experience paled in comparison to Hannah’s vivid descriptions of the terrifying dust storms and relentless heat of the Texas and Oklahoma pan handles. Hundreds of thousands of farmers migrated west out of desperation and starvation, only to become the unwanted destitute trying to survive in disease-infested squatters’ camps. When I try to imagine myself in the worn shoes of the main character, a young mother of remarkable strength, I am certain I’d come up sorely lacking in the grit and determination department.

Turns out those dirty thirties were largely a result of man-made mistakes. Farmers plowed and planted without regard for soil conservation or erosion prevention practices. When combined with a drought, results proved catastrophic. Once agronomists identified the problem, government stepped in to create educational and retroactive programs to help bring about the end of those preventable dust storms.

For years, environmental experts have been trying to tell us our disregard for the planet would deliver dire consequences, that global climate change is causing the weird weather across our planet. With the wildfires, floods, drought, grasshoppers, and heat all wreaking havoc, maybe we are finally listening and wondering whether it’s too late.

John Maxwell said, “People change when they hurt enough that they have to, learn enough that they want to, and receive enough that they are able to.” Learning and receiving won’t do much good until we hurt enough. Perhaps that time has come.

In May, I started a cover-to-cover sprint through the Bible, subjecting myself to endless records of violent wars and battles too gory to describe. Humans treating other humans in the most despicable and misogynistic manners, seemingly with God’s blessing. What a relief to reach the Psalms, although they, too, contain their share of despair.

It’s reminding me that none of the things we’re currently experiencing are particularly new. The Bible has much to say about injustice, pestilence, plagues, drought, and even wildfires. Look at some of the passages I’ve come across in this ancient book recently. Could they not be describing the daily news?

In Psalm 83:14 and 15, Asaph tells God what he should do with his enemies. “As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm.”

In 2 Chronicles 6:28, King Solomon’s prayer when he dedicated the temple included these words: “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain … When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come…” Almost as though they expected it.

The ancients were no strangers to the troubles we’re experiencing, but perhaps they were a little better at knowing where to turn. “My times are in your hands,” David said to God in Psalm 31:15 when surrounded by trouble on every side.

Those ellipses I placed in Solomon’s speech represent more positive promises about what happens when God’s people turn to him, confessing their wrongdoing, requesting his help, and acknowledging that he alone understands the human heart.

Could the biggest reason this all feels so strange to us is because we’ve had life so good for so long? Could it be that, just maybe, God really does have the whole world in his hands?

Friday, August 6, 2021

What's Your Event?

If you know me, you know I’m no sports fan. I can’t tell a foul ball from a touchdown or a body check from a birdie. Yet somehow, I find myself glued to the Olympics for a couple of weeks every four years. Not that I understand the rules or how the scoring works. The other day I watched a judo match just because one of the athletes was a Canadian and contending for the bronze. To me, the two grownup competitors looked like a couple of toddlers going at each other. But, whatever. The Canadian won, so I cheered.

Speaking of toddlers, have you watched the skateboarding competition? I shudder while athletes as young as 13 perform extremely dangerous stunts. My mama heart kicks in. Who lets their babies do this? Why aren’t helmets mandatory?

I also watched the synchronized diving off the high platform with trembling heart. Eye-yi-yi. I can’t even fathom standing up there, let alone walking to the brink, then turning around to stand tippy-toe with my heels hanging over the edge. And yet, like witnessing a car accident, I can’t tear my eyes away from the scene.


I watched Maude Charron lift 131 kilograms over her head to win gold for Canada, then I shed tears when she stood on the podium as our anthem played. As if I had anything to do with anything. Athletic women intimidate me at the best of times, so I can only imagine how I’d act around one who could pick me up and toss me like the bag of chips I’m eating while I watch.

Of course, the “artsier” sports like gymnastics, synchronized swimming, or figure skating in winter are always my first pick. Which do you like best? If you could become an Olympic athlete, which sport would draw you? If you could create your own event, what would it be? I laughed the other day when a local radio DJ suggested “Red Rover.”

If my writing world had Olympics, these weekly blog posts would be the sprints. A novel would be a marathon. The research portion would be diving into a deep pool, while thinking about my story between writing sessions feels like weightlifting. Battling with procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of motivation compares to boxing, judo, and wrestling. 

Helping design a cover feels like artistic gymnastics. Developing the back cover copy is like a basketball game—lots of rim shots before the ball finally goes through the hoop. Getting the book to publication resembles a triathlon relay as it’s handed off to agents, editors, printers, and distributors and each runs their own leg of the race. The promotional and marketing efforts seem a bit like the same four advertisements CBC plays over and over between coverage—interesting at first, but soon everyone’s sick and tired of it. Negative reviews or low sales numbers will put me on the “also ran” list, while receiving the occasional award feels like standing on that podium—minus the national anthem and several million viewers.

Maybe I’m more of an athlete than I thought.

What’s YOUR non-sporty Olympic event?

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (I Corinthians 9:24)