Appalachian Thursday–When there’s a need

lasagna-kidsOur little, mountain church got word not long ago that some missionary friends on the far side of the world need a van. The old one gave up the ghost and transportation is important.

There were probably folks who thought about sending a few dollars, doing what they could. But a van, even used, well that would cost a good bit.

The kids, though, they got serious and began brainstorming ideas to help. They settled on a lasagna supper. They wouldn’t charge, they’d just ask for donations and have a few things to raffle off. They also thought about karaoke, but who does that?

Well, the adults got behind the idea. Donations came in for food and raffle items. Volunteers set to work helping the young’uns get their project off the ground. And one elder of the church mentioned in men’s Bible study that the kids wanted to do karaoke–ain’t that a hoot?

Such a hoot, that the next thing he knew, he’d been challenged to sing for his supper. And a fair amount of cash money was put up to see him do it.

The night of the supper the kids donned their aprons and served plates of pasta, salad, and rolls. The ladies set up a dessert table. That elder stood off to the side, trying to look calm.

mike-singingWhen he got up on the stage, he introduced the band–mandolin, guitar, and bass guitar. “This is how we sang karaoke when I was a kid,” he said. Then he took a deep breath and they were off. “Sing to the living God,” the tune went. The crowd grabbed the beat and kept a steady rhythm. Verses, choruses, instrumentals, steady on through to the end and a round of thunderous applause.

Then an encore of “Rocky Top,” just for fun.

The kids pretty well finished off the dessert table while the donation jars were emptied and counted. And the grand total was . . .

. . . $2,600 that will help buy a van for a missionary family on the far side of the world.

Amen to that.

Embrace the Awkwardness

presentingI participated in the Asheville Christian Writers’ Conference over the weekend. One conferee asked me how to gracefully exit a 15-minute appointment.

If you aren’t familiar here’s how the 15-minute appointment to pitch or share about your writing often goes:

  1. You wait nervously for your appointment time, lurking near the editor, agent, author with whom you plan to meet.
  2. The person with an appointment ahead of you goes over the allotted time and you push closer, trying to make sure the editor, agent, author sees you.
  3. The person ahead of you finally leaves and you swoop into the empty seat ready to pitch your work.
  4. You blurt out something you meant to be coherent and shove a one-sheet, business card, or pages at the person across the table.
  5. You manage to share something about your book, although you’re not sure it makes sense. Hopefully the editor, agent, author says something helpful and/or asks some questions.
  6. You realize your 15 minutes are up, but NOW you remember what you meant to say in the first place.
  7. You try to squeeze it in even as the next appointee lurks behind you.
  8. You finally mumble something you meant to be coherent and walk away.

Here’s the amazing wisdom I offered that conferee–embrace the awkwardness. Nothing about this process feels natural, so don’t worry when–hello–it feels unnatural. It’s okay. Take a breath and know everyone else feels awkward, too. You are NOT alone and agents, editors, authors have seen and heard much worse.

I once spilled a bottle of water on an agent (not my agent) and he still said nice things about my writing and asked for a proposal.

So how do you exit? Say, “Thank you so much,” and then, as you trip over your laptop bag on the way out, give the next person in line an encouraging smile.

Appalachian Thursday–Signs of Spring?

GE DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year a few hardy daffodils jump the gun and bloom in February.

Every year we act surprised.

Somehow it seems too soon, but I’ve looked back at notes from five years ago and this is nothing new. Every February the daffodils unfurl seemingly fragile yellow petals. My hostas send tightly furled leaves poking up through the soil and sometimes there’s even a buttercup  or dandelion smiling up at me from the dead lawn. I can’t help but think about how we often have at least one snow in April and I want to warn my flowers to take a steadying breath and wait.

At the same time, I love seeing signs of spring. I love getting hints that soft, warm days are right around the corner. Soon enough, I’ll be getting my daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun again. Of course, there can still be icy, wintry, northern days as well. More than once I’ve seen apple blossom bitten back by a late frost. The old timers look at the daffodils and shake their heads. “We’ll have winter, yet,” they say.

I have a terrible habit of looking for “signs” in every area of my life. All green lights on my way downtown? Good sign. A rainbow as I’m on my way home to the farm? Great sign! Dead bird in the road when I walk Thistle? Bad sign.

The catch is, I spend too much time looking for signs and not nearly enough living in the moment. I’m too busy trying to guess what comes next. Planning and anticipating can be good things, but they can also become debilitating. Spring and the future will both come when they’re ready.

In God’s own, good time.

An Unconventional Valentine

ladies-of-the-churchLife is hard.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but just living life really does get tough some days. Sometimes you’ll run into a whole string of those tough days right in a row.

I’m part of a group of women at my church who gather for Sunday School and Bible study and food and fun and sometimes all of the above. And I’m grateful to have ladies who challenge me to dig deeper in my faith; who hold me accountable and encourage me.

But here’s why I’m especially grateful for this group of ladies. They make life, if not easier, at least more bearable. Because when life inevitably gets hard, there they are with hugs and smiles and casseroles and maybe even a measure of correction if it’s needed.

Our last few meetings have included tears. There’s been the loss of a child. There’s some tough stuff happening with parents in their 90s. And illness. And frustrations. And family challenges. But there’s also been joy. A health scare that miraculously turned out well. A child who got a good report. One of our own who passed her exams and is ready to be ordained.

But whether we’re laughing or crying, here’s what this group gives each other that I don’t ever want to do without. L.O.V.E. If we need to cry, there’s someone to cry with us. If we want to celebrate, there’s someone to cheer with us. Listening ears, soft shoulders, warm hugs, sage advice, and hearts lifted in prayer.

Your support group doesn’t have to be church ladies, but I hope you have one. I think we were designed to bushwhack our way through life as part of a community.

Life is hard. But when I’m with my girls, it’s not nearly as hard as it could be. Thanks ladies. I love you, too.

Appalachian Thursday – Cover Reveal

While my fourth novel–The Sound of Rain–won’t officially release until early November, I can now share the cover with you. And I’m head over heels for it!

The designers said they wanted to do something a little different this time and I offered lots of suggestions and samples of covers I thought conveyed the “feel” of this story . . . which probably didn’t help them at all.

But that’s okay because Bethany House designers are some of the best in the business and they can be trusted! So here it is . . .

THOMAS_SOUNDOFRAIN_FR&SP.indd

Sigh.

I love the antique, nostalgic feel which is my BRAND y’all! And then those raindrops. And the e.e. cummings lack of capital letters in the title. Lovely!

And, as you can see, Larkin is NOT blonde, but has brown to auburn hair. Well of course she does. As soon as I saw the dress, I wrote it into the story (I was working on edits at the time). It makes me happy to “find” the cover when I’m reading, so I assume others like that, too.

Here’s one version of the back cover copy:

Judd Markley is a hard working coal miner who rarely thinks much past tomorrow until he loses his brother—and nearly his own life—in a mine cave-in. Vowing never to enter the darkness of a mine again, he leaves all he knows in West Virginia to escape to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s 1954, the seaside community is thriving, and Judd soon hires on with a timber company.

Larkin Heyward’s life in Myrtle Beach is uncomplicated, mostly doing volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more—maybe moving to the hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she’s never even met someone who’s lived there—until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father’s timber company.

Drawn together in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Judd and Larkin each seek answers to what tomorrow will bring. As opposition rises against following their divergent dreams, they realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.

Burla Fitzgerald Loudin

burlaIf she’d lived longer than the 97 years God gave her, Grandma would have turned 102 this past weekend. That’s how old Aunt Bess was when she passed, so it’s not much of a stretch.

I wear the engagement ring my grandfather gave her on my right ring finger. She had largish hands and when she gave it to me she assumed I’d need to get it sized. It fit perfectly, which I think delighted her as much as giving it to me did.

Here’s what I miss about her:

  • Playing ring around the rosey in the side yard where the sweet william bloomed.
  • Games of button, button, who’s got the button, hide and seek, crazy eights and old maid.
  • Cutting roses, flags (irises), mountain laurel and peonies from the front yard.
  • Making popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches in the same skillet on a gas stove.
  • The tick, tick, tick of the gas stove lighting and then the sulphur smell of matches.
  • Dirty socks from running around shoeless in a house with a coal-burning stove.
  • A TV tray at the front door with Halloween candy laid out, waiting for trick-or-treaters.

And Sunday dinners (usually ham, don’t forget the bread) and playing in the creek and “bless your heart” when I was sad and a jewelry box that unfurled when you lifted the lid and head scarves and white sweaters with shiny buttons . . .

But most of all, I miss, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck,” followed by the most wonderful, I-love-you-forever Grandma hugs.

And even though she’s gone, I know she does love me forever. And I love her, too. A bushel and a peck that run clear to heaven and back again.

Miss you Grandma.

Appalachian Thursday–Ollie the Bobcat

bobcatI have an affinity for bobcats which are native to Appalachia. So when a news story ran this week about Ollie, a female bobcat, escaping from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., I tuned in.

I might have been rooting for the bobcat.

Oh, I know, she’s been in captivity since she was orphaned as a kitten and probably wouldn’t do well on her own.

Still.

At any rate, she’s back at the zoo now. News reports simply said she was “found on zoo property.” Hmmm. I’m betting she was still in the enclosure and just didn’t feel like being seen. Bobcats don’t much care to be seen, which is part of what I like about them. They’re subtle.

Allegedly, my first bobcat encounter was at the French Creek Game Farm. Dad was talking with the wildlife officer in charge and I, just a tyke, toddled off into the garage where there were several abandoned bobcat kittens in a cage. I was playing with them through the bars even though the wildlife guy said he had to feed them with gloves. Allegedly.

Dad always has been a storyteller, but it’s a good story, so I’ll keep it.

I’ve seen several bobcats in the wild over the years and once found one in the road, struck and killed by a car, on my way to work. I stopped and moved her. She was utterly perfect–no wounds that I could see. What struck me most were her paws–delicate with soft, pink pads. I would have expected the pads to be calloused, but they weren’t. I carried her well back into the woods, found a declivity, and covered her with sticks and leaves. I would have dug a grave if I’d had tools to do it.

My last bobcat siting was at least five years ago when one camped out under our bird feeder for a half hour or so. My husband and I just sat and watched, took some pictures (photo above), and marveled.

I’m glad Ollie is safe. I have to think maybe she’d just as soon stay where she is. Otherwise, she would have taken advantage of that hole in the mesh netting around her enclosure to find another–quieter–life.

Maybe she just needed a break from all the hubbub. Like we all do now and again.