Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

It Tolls for Thee

My third novel, Bleak Landing, released two years ago this month. Its first page contains an unusually lengthy dedication page. I chose to dedicate that book to the pastors and pastors’ wives who have influenced me in a positive way throughout my life. There are ten couples on the list. I suppose it’s an unusual thing to do, but I knew I’d never write enough books for each to have their own and I wanted to honor them all.

In recent weeks, two of the people on that list of twenty have died. In May, my friend and mentor Linda Letellier left this world for the next. I’m thankful to have seen her last fall and for modern technology which allowed me to view her funeral service online from Mountain Lake, Minnesota. The cover of the program showed a beautiful picture of her pulling biscuits from the oven, holding them toward the camera with her huge, hospitable smile. It said, “I’m home. I’m safe. I like it here.”

More recently, we said good-bye to Donna Lee, who was my pastor’s wife when I was growing up in Amaranth. In a packed-out little country church, we felt inspired by stories of the impact made through her humble, obedient life. She touched many hearts. We walked away encouraged to never let go of God, no matter what life throws at us.

I sometimes wish I lived in a place and time of tolling bells. In our world of rapid communication, we see no need for happy church bells to ring out on wedding days, or for somber funeral bells to let us know someone in the community has passed away. I think the clanging of those bells would serve as helpful and regular reminders that we are here for only a short time, that our turn is coming. The bells remind us we are all part of one another.

Often, people don’t want those reminders. I happen to believe they are healthy. If we live each day remembering that the next funeral could be our own, wouldn’t we live differently? I don’t mean in the “life is short, grab all the gusto you can get” kind of way. I mean it in the “what will really matter after I’m gone?” kind of way.

On the day you die, will the things you’re worried about today matter? Your fears and cares? The grudges you’re hanging on to? What do you hope people remember about you? When stories are told, will they be of love, generosity, and grace from your hand? Or will you be remembered for lesser things…your hobbies, your possessions, your obsessions? Will the funny stories about you be tainted with a hint of bitterness or will they be shared with pure and honest admiration? Will others aspire to be more like you? Will those who know you best have sweet memories to inspire and encourage them on their journeys? Will they know how much you loved them?

Each day brings you one step closer to that day. What’s one thing you can do this day to make that day everything you hope it will be? Name it, then do it. What’s stopping you?

No one has said it more poetically than John Donne: “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Friday, August 16, 2019

From "As if" to "What if..."

For years, I tried to let the idea go. A story about a Japanese Canadian girl relocated from Vancouver to a Manitoba sugar beet farm during World War II was obviously not my story to write. As if. I’m not Japanese. I’m not a history major. I don’t have the experience required to do the copious research. When I realized this fictional girl would start writing letters to the farmer’s son, imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp—I knew for sure the story was not mine to tell. Good fiction must be historically accurate and believable. I’d be in so far over my head, I wouldn’t be able to see the sun.

Plus, I am lazy.

So I fought it. Great idea for someone else. Not me. While I resisted, I wrote two other books. I think they’re good books, but based on publishers’ rejections so far, I must be mistaken.

Meanwhile, the “big” story would not let me go.

Then, in June of 2018, I learned about a documentary called “Facing Injustice” in which my friend Terry Tully and his mom, Osono, appear. (I wrote about that last summer when CBC aired it.) One man featured predominantly in the film is Art Miki. Only five years old when relocated with his family, he grew up to play a key role in lobbying government toward redress for the interned Japanese Canadians. He and Prime Minister Mulroney sat side by side to sign the official agreement in 1988.

I watched the film three times. I spent that summer reading books, some about the Japanese internment, some about prisoners of war in Japan, some about sugar beet farming. The more I read, the more I argued with God. The story remained far too big for me.

With an August ninth medical appointment in Winnipeg, I decided maybe I could gain a little inspiration at Folklorama’s Japanese pavilion. When I booked my ticket online, I felt intrigued to discover that Art Miki was one of the pavilion’s directors. Because I felt utterly unqualified to author this book, I told God if he really wanted me to tackle it, I needed confirmation. I don’t often ask God for signs. It seems demanding and faithless and frankly, a little childish. But on my drive to Winnipeg, I told God that perhaps if I could actually meet Art Miki and speak with him, I’d gain some clarity. I knew the odds were slim. Even if he were at the pavilion, he’d be busy. It would be crowded. Would I even recognize him? Would I possess the courage to approach him?

The crowd was so big, organizers were turning people away from the ticket line. I got inside and started looking around. In a row of chairs against the wall about five feet from me, sat Art Miki. I recognized him immediately. I left the food line and introduced myself. Thanked him for all his work on behalf of Japanese Canadians. Told him I was a novelist and a bit of what I was thinking. He told me about Mark Sakamoto’s book “Forgiveness,” which they had for sale downstairs. After the show, I bought one of only two copies they had. Turns out the book is a true story that mirrors the more complicated one percolating in my heart. Maybe the concept wasn’t so far-fetched after all.

I kept reading. I kept procrastinating. Finally, last November, I plunged in. Three chapters into the girl’s story, it was time to start writing the soldier’s. I felt stuck. I knew I needed to get this guy from Winnipeg to Japan somehow, but I couldn’t just randomly make stuff up. I prayed for guidance. I’d promised myself I’d stay off Facebook all weekend and just write. But Hubby asked me to log in and check whether his co-worker’s grandbaby had arrived. When I logged in, the first thing I saw was my friend Anita’s Remembrance Day post. She’d left a tribute to her great-uncle, Isaac Friesen, who served with the First Battalion, Winnipeg Grenadiers and ended up in a Japanese POW camp. Five minutes after asking God to show me how to get this kid to Japan, I’m reading about Isaac’s battalion. I found everything I needed to get my fictional soldier where I needed him, including routes taken, dates, and other priceless details.

My “as if” began to feel more like “what if.”

In February, I attended a writers’ retreat where bestselling author Rachel Hauck worked with me. “If you don’t write this story, I will,” she said. She meant it as encouragement.

I replied, “Yes, please do. I really wish you would.”

When she saw my tears, she asked why I felt such a powerful connection to this story. I could only shrug and cry harder.

“I think it’s yours to tell,” she said. It was my sixtieth birthday.

I kept at it.

Last Friday, August 9, 2019—one year to the day since I met Art Miki at Folklorama—I finished the first draft of “Rose Among Thornes.” All 100,000 words of it. It will take a miracle for anyone to publish a book that long by a relatively unknown author. But what if…?

Will this book ever be published or is it meant only as a personal exercise in depending on God’s leading? Time will tell. While I wait to find out, I will repeatedly rewrite and revise the story, because that’s what good writing is all about.

In his book “The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art,” Erwin McManus said, “…if God refuses to mass-produce but insists on an intimate process that in the end forms each of us into the image of Christ, why would we choose a lesser path for our own lives?”

Is there an idea that won’t let you go? Are you resisting out of fear or self-doubt? Ask God for guidance. No, he won’t always grant “signs” when you ask. But occasionally, he does. He loves your honesty. He honors your persistence. He strengthens your faith. And he loves more than anything to walk alongside you on your journey.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Lessons from My Garden

 It’s remarkable how much even a small garden and yard can teach you about life and faith. 

The fresher, the better 
I start every morning with a smoothie made in my little NutriBullet: a banana, a few pieces of frozen fruit, a teaspoon of hemp seed, a cup or more of almond milk, and a handful of dark green leaves like spinach or chard (these days I’m using beet leaves because that’s what’s growing). I derive great satisfaction from knowing that within minutes of pinching those leaves from their stems, their nutrients are advancing through my bloodstream like little soldiers pushing back enemy lines. 

I can’t count on the food I ate yesterday to sustain me today, and I can’t rely on last Sunday’s sermon to get me through the week. Time with God must happen every day if we’re to stay spiritually strong. God’s mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23) 

Roots of bitterness 
Every gardener knows that when you pull a weed, you must yank out the entire root or it will quickly grow back. We have a lot of crushed rock in our yard, and the weeds inevitably find their way through it. I’ve been spraying them weekly, but the environmentally friendly products available rarely reach the roots. At first, my efforts appear successful when the weeds shrivel up. But within days, I see a persistent shade of green sprouting from the middle of the deadness.

There’s a good reason the Bible calls bitterness a root. On the surface, it might manifest as anger, envy, or resentment. You do your best to get rid of those ugly sprouts through confession, snipping them off at ground level. Everything looks fine—for a while. But when a root of bitterness still lives in your heart, it eagerly shoots to the surface at the first opportunity. Pulling weeds in my yard and garden reminds me of this soul truth every time: bitterness needs rooting out. I can’t do this myself. I need God, the master gardener, to do the work in my heart. 

Thinning is difficult, but necessary 
I feel like a meanie when it’s time to thin out my carrots, beets, or onions. The poor little babies didn’t ask to be planted so close together. Why must they be sacrificed? Plus, it’s hard work! Unlike pulling weeds, you must use surgical precision or you’ll remove too much and end up with nothing. But if you don’t pull the smallest plants from an overcrowded row, the entire row will yield only small, misshapen fruit. The stronger plants need space.

What in your life is devouring time and space that you could better invest in your strengths? Do you need to sacrifice something good in order to produce the choicest fruit? 

Beautiful does not equal perfect 
As I deadheaded a basket of Calibrachoa, I made a spiritual exercise of it by imagining each dead blossom I removed represented something dark in my soul, such as a lie I was believing. I asked God to remove every lie from my heart, leaving only truth and beauty. Even as the deadness came away and the plant became more healthy-looking and beautiful, God reminded me that it had always displayed far more good stuff than bad. Although I could never manage to find every teensy flawed bit, that didn’t stop the plant from being beautiful just the same. This encouraged me so much.

You and I will never be perfect as long as we’re on this planet. Don’t despair. Life and beauty still abound. The splendor of your well-lived life can still inspire those around you.

Happy gardening!