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 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.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Marvelous Human Christmas Tree

One of the highlights of my preschool Christmases was the annual concert put on by the students of the Amaranth Elementary School. The entire community came out, packing into the local hall, bundled in our boots and parkas. We’d watch the kids perform and at the end of the night, Santa Claus showed up with a gift for every kid—even those of us too little to go to school. Even at that age, I knew Santa was pretend. It didn’t matter. I was all about the present.

Oddly enough, the concert I remember best was the one I had to miss. I’d come down with a dreadful cold and sore throat and tried to convince my parents I was well enough to attend. They weren’t buying it. Dad stayed home with me, if I remember right. My deep disappointment at having to stay behind was reduced when Mom and my siblings returned, bringing my still wrapped gift from Santa. It was a jigsaw puzzle.

By the time I hit Grade One (we had no Kindergarten), I felt more than ready to perform in my first Christmas concert. Our teacher, Mrs. Cooper, organized her class into a living tree. Dressed in green crepe paper and gold tinsel, we were somehow stacked in layers to form a glorious living Christmas tree. Some kids were sparkly ornaments. Others, decked out in wrapping paper, represented the gifts underneath. Each had a line to say.

If anyone thought to take a picture, I have never seen it—which is probably just as well. No photograph, especially in black and white, could ever reproduce the magnificence of that tree in my brain’s memory bank.

Of course, somebody had to play the star at the top. I always figured I was chosen for this distinction because I was the tallest in the class. Whatever the reason, I was thrilled. But how would I ever memorize all those lines?

Big sister helped, and I went over and over them. And over them. The night of the event, I remember our principal lifting me to the top of the step ladder or whatever they’d rigged up, decked out in shining gold tinsel and feeling like a star indeed. More than a half century later, I still remember my lines:

“I am the star, see its bright Christmas light
That shone on the manger that first Christmas night!”

Although I have since memorized many lines, none have stuck like the ones I learned as a six-year-old.

Did that first taste of the spotlight kindle inside me a flame which would lead to a lifelong interest in the stage and all things theatrical? Could be. I do know that when God places a dream in your heart, it does not easily die. And if it does, it wasn’t God who killed it.

I see three lessons here for parents of young children. One, if you want your children to believe you about God (or anything else), don’t lie to them about Santa Claus. Two, whatever you want your kids to remember forever, get it into their heads early! And third, pay attention to their engagement level at concerts. You might just see a noteworthy glimpse into their future—a passion which you can play an important role in nurturing.