Pierced Ears and Suffering

led-665723_640My five-year-old niece got her ears pierced yesterday. Today is her first day of kindergarten and while school shopping on Sunday, the time seemed right.

The lady in charge of piercing did a great job of sneaking up on that first ear, but the second . . . let’s just say it almost didn’t happen. Which is how it was when I got my own ears pierced around the age of 12. The first shot hurt enough to convince me one was all I needed. Mom, however, was pretty persuasive. Maybe it had something to do with how long and hard I begged to get my ears pierced.

And now I tuck earrings in my ears almost every day with hardly a thought. I was SO determined to avoid mere moments of pain that have resulted in literally decades of hanging pretty baubles from my ears.

Not that I would regret never having pierced my ears, but the pleasure has surely outweighed that oh-so-brief pain.

Which is how I often am. Eager to avoid even the slightest pain without considering what I’m giving up. What I might miss if I don’t grit my teeth and hang in there just a little longer.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but life can get hard. Challenging. Difficult. And some days I just want to say, “Never mind–I quit.”

So often I find myself looking for the easy way out. The shortcut. The good enough. But seriously. I’d look funny with just one earring. And most things worth having are worth suffering–even if only a little–to get.

I’m glad Olivia and I both stuck it out and got that second ear pierced.

Romans 5:3-5 – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

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Appalachian Thursday–Gardens I’ve Known

produceAt the ministry where I work, we have a community garden maintained by volunteers. Which means I can occasionally swing by on my way home to grab a few tomatoes, cucumbers, or squash to enjoy for supper. Talk about perks!

I can’t walk into the garden without thinking of the many gardens I’ve experienced over the years and how NOW is peak season for harvesting. So I thought I’d take you on a brief tour of some gardens I’ve known.

We always had a garden when I was growing up. From lettuces in the spring to potatoes in the fall, it was an on-going feast for the belly. Not to mention never-ending toil for the back! We’d pick up rocks when Dad plowed in the spring, help with the planting, weed if someone made us, and harvest the bounty as it ripened.

The best part of the garden was when Dad would let us pick something to plant. One year it was popcorn (which I think failed utterly). I always wanted to grow watermelon.

I think my favorite crop was sweet corn. We always grew Illini Super Sweet. I can remember eating three or four ears at a time. Now two are as many as I can manage, but maybe my mistake is in eating anything else along with it.

When we moved to NC, I grew a few vegetables in pots or tucked into the flower beds, but let’s just say I didn’t meet with a whole lot of success. But a nearby neighbor–now HE had a garden. First of all, he offered us the freedom to come pick what we wanted. I tried to exercise discretion, but oh, those little yellow pear tomatoes! Eventually he gave me two rows to grow what I wanted–reminiscent of those childhood years. And just like those childhood years, his produce was always better than mine.

Now I mostly visit the garden at work. It’s maintained by someone else–someone more meticulous about gardening than I ever was. I try to only take the “extra.” The produce the kids won’t eat (okra, anyone?). But even if I only pick one or two tomatoes and a handful of string beans, they taste all the better for having been plucked warm from the vine.

I think the thing about a garden is the smell of dirt and rain and green, growing things. They whet the appetite like nothing else can.

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What’s a Successful Book Launch?

IMG_1613We had a launch party last Thursday and as far as I’m concerned it was as close to perfect as anything can be. In my estimation, it was a rip-roaring success!

But what does that mean?

Before I was an author, I would have thought a successful launch party would be one with lots of readers coming out to buy lots of books. Success would be measured by attendance and profitability. But I’ve learned a few things since I’ve been published.

Now I have the Elwood P. Dowd outlook on success. Elwood is a character (played by Jimmy Stewart) in the movie Harvey. Throughout the movie Elwood invites just about everyone he meets either for a drink or for dinner. Which is what I’d often like to do, but people think it’s funny if you meet them and immediately invite them over. And they’re too busy anyway.

But if you have a book launch–ahhhh–now you can post the event on Facebook and literally invite everyone and anyone who’s even remotely connected to you.

So when I have a launch party, selling and promoting my books is nice, but it’s not the point. Nope, it’s a chance to throw a party for friends, family, acquaintances, readers I have yet to meet . . . Everyone! Anyone!reading2

And as a bonus, I get to talk about how God has blessed me in this journey to being a multi-published author. And who knows? That might be Good News to someone.

In the movie, Elwood offers his philosophy of life and I think it’s an excellent one. “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’—she always called me Elwood—’In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

It’s pleasant to get together in a barn to read, talk, eat, and listen to music while savoring dear friends, new friends, and friends-to-be. I think Elwood P. Dowd and Harvey would fit right in.


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Appalachian Thursday–With a British Accent

RainIn case you haven’t heard, A Tapestry of Secrets released last week. And today is the launch party in a barn with fried chicken and wedding cake. I had thought to post about party plans with a promise to share pictures . . . but I’m not.

Because in the midst of all the hoopla, I had the loveliest moment of respite.

Yesterday afternoon I took Thistle for our usual hike knowing I would use the time to go over (e.g. stew about) details for today’s event. Instead, I met a family of four from Manchester, England. They’re on holiday and decided to head out for a hike in the wilds of Pisgah National Forest.

Thistle made her own introductions and immediately the older of the two girls asked me about snakes and bears. I’m going to call her Lucy because she reminded me so much of Lucy from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I assured her that there are, indeed, snakes and bears, but that I rarely see them while hiking. She appeared unconvinced.

Lucy determined that I knew where I was going and asked her parents, “Are we going to follow this lady?” Lucy, I think, is a natural born leader and organizer (organiser?). I suggested a short loop and off we went.

Of course it rained, but apparently if you’re from Manchester that’s what you’re used to.

Lucy and I took the lead and talked about a great many things including:
-The superiority of root beer to other sodas.
-Celebrating the Queen’s birthday.
-Chickens without names and one chicken in particular who died of homesick.
-Poison ivy.
-Books we like–she’s a fan of Roald Dahl.
-Our mutual preference for literature over maths.
-The fact that our birthdays are a mere eight days apart.
-How school goes by grades in the U.S. and years in England.
-And several other topics that escape me at the moment.

All in all, talking with Lucy was MUCH better than agonizing over whether it will rain, if I bought enough lemonade, who might get lost, will any musicians turn up, or any of a dozen other details I really can’t do much of anything about.

If we hadn’t all been sopping wet, I would have very much liked to ask Lucy, her parents, and her little sister to stop by the house for root beer (we have some very good Frostie’s in the fridge).

Instead, I enjoyed a glass of soda with my husband and told him about how I met Lucy and enjoyed a short, Narnian respite in the rain. I might have even seen a lion off among the trees.

Lucy (and Aslan), I thank you.

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Book Review: The Lady & the Lionheart

lionheartI don’t often review books here on the blog. I do make an effort to write reviews on other sites like Goodreads and Amazon because I know how much I appreciate reviews of my own books. But every now and then a book resonates with me so much that I want to tell you about it.

As I’m reading, I often start writing reviews in my head so I’ll be prepared once I finish the story. With The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischoff, I was seriously leaning toward a four-star review.The story is about a nurse–Ella–who meets a circus’ lion tamer–Charlie. Sounds fun, right?

Bischof has a way with words and I WAS having fun as I was carried into the mysterious world of circus performers. The story is told with the flair of an aerialist and the pent up strength of a sleeping lion. But I found the romance a little TOO perfect. Charlie and Ella are flawed, but in such a GOOD way. Charlie because of his sacrifice and Ella because of her innocence. As much as I enjoyed the story, I kept thinking about how unattainable a love like this is for, well, anyone.

Then I got to the end and realized THAT’S THE POINT. I don’t know what Bischof intended beyond what she says in her notes at the end of the book, but I think she’s disguised an allegory as historic romance. The love story is so very perfect because it’s the story of God’s love for his children. It’s about Christ’s willingness to give his life for the Church–his bride.

If you pick up The Lady and the Lionheart, you may think you’re simply digging into an entertaining circus story set in the late 1800s. But if you’re willing to open your heart and pay attention, I think you may find a great deal more. I certainly did.

Five stars.

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Appalachian Thursday–In the Hayfield


The pasture AFTER the hay’s been brought in.

For so many children, summer means freedom–going to the pool, plenty of time to play, vacations. When I was growing up there was some of that, but what summer mostly meant was working in the hayfield–or the garden.

Until I got old enough to be more help than hindrance in the field, my job was to carry Mason jars of ice water out to the workers. Not a hard job, though fresh-cut stubble is mighty hard on bare feet.

When I got a bit bigger, I stacked bales as they were tossed onto a wagon moving slowly through the fields. It’s important to alternate rows for a secure stack. Some days I got to drive the tractor which is almost fun until you come to a steep hill and have to stop and start without jerking bales (or people) off the wagon. There’s usually some yelling involved.

And there was always the need for extra hands to unload the wagon (we used a hay elevator to carry the bales to the barn loft) and to stack the hay inside. I can remember more than one rush to the barn as dark clouds swarmed the sky. Rain is NOT good for hay.

And then the best part–a long shower or a trip to the swimming hole to wash the chaff from places you wouldn’t think it could go. It’s almost worth getting that hot, sweaty, and dirty just so to feel cool water sluice across your skin. Then a well-earned supper perfectly seasoned by the day’s labor. I don’t remember what we ate–Mom was out there working with us–but it was good.

Now don’t let me fool you. I worked, but nearly so hard as my brothers and the other boys and men my dad hired to help. Sometimes it pays to be the girl.

And now, as an adult, when I drive by a field of freshly mown hay, or see a farmer raking in preparation for the baler, I roll down the car window and breathe deeply. The smell reminds me of the satisfaction of a barn full of hay ready for winter. And it almost makes me wish I could spend another day stacking bales beneath the summer sun.


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Four Books & Counting–Dreams DO Come True

4 booksWhen Wendy Lawton, my agent, called and offered to represent me nearly four years ago, I had NO idea I would have books enough to line up on a shelf by now. With at least one more in the offing.

It’s a dream come true.

But like most dreams that come true, it’s isn’t exactly what I thought it would be.

So on the eve of the release of the final book in the Appalachian Blessings series I thought I’d share a few of my dreams, the reality, and what I’ve learned along the way.

DREAM: Seeing my book in print and being enjoyed by the millions of readers out there in the wide world.
REALITY: Getting a book published doesn’t automatically get it read. And while there ARE millions of readers they have millions of books to choose among.
LESSON: I’m not so much giving readers the gift of my stories–they’re giving me the gift of reading my stories. Reviews, blog posts, e-mails, etc. are how they wrap that very special gift.

DREAM: Winning awards and accolades.
REALITY: I have been blessed to receive some awards and accolades–some very nice ones. But if I focus on them, then I can get hung up on the awards I don’t receive. And there are way more of those!LESSON: Awards are nice, but they’re not a good way to measure success. They also don’t seem to do much to sell books. The better focus is on individual readers who let me know how much my books have meant to them.

DREAM: Reaching (and influencing) mainstream audiences.
REALITY: I’m almost embarrassed to admit I have this dream. Christian authors are warned that the crossover novel is an elusive creature. And yet I still hope . . . but I do offer a pretty direct Christian message and some folks just aren’t going to like that.
LESSON: I may not be reaching broad, non-Christian audiences, but I know of a handful of non-believers who have read my books. Being used to lead even one person to Christ would be enough.

DREAM: Standing room only at book events.
REALITY: If I can get a dozen people to come to a bookstore to hear me read or get a book signed, I count it a big success. Public events are hard and signed copies aren’t a big deal unless you’re Jan Karon or Nicholas Sparks.
LESSON: I do bookstore and library events not because I’m going to draw huge crowds and sell boxes of books, but because I’m building awareness, getting my name out, and maybe–if I’m lucky–meeting a few precious readers who really do love my stories.

DREAM: Becoming a full-time writer.
REALITY: Writing books does NOT pay well enough for most authors to earn a living at it. Some also write non-fiction or freelance articles or speak, but a very small percentage earn a living wage from writing novels alone.
LESSON: Thankfully, I have a wonderful day job that I really would miss if I were a full-time writer. I’ve adjusted my dream to working in ministry half-time and writing half-time. Will it happen? I don’t know . . . but I do know it’s good to have dreams.

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