The day my left hand went numb

handIt’s my anniversary.

Not of my birth or my wedding, but of my stroke. On April 15, 2016, I went to work like usual and as I was addressing an envelope at my desk I . . . fell out. You can read about that experience HERE.

In that post, I mentioned that having a stroke is the sort of life event that would continue to echo through my life for a long time. And it has. But not as expected (because what EVER happens the way you expect??).

At the time, I felt certain having a stroke would be some sort of watershed moment. There would be a definite before and after. Not so much. Basically, after my week-long recovery (translation: laying around letting friends and family spoil me), my life picked up where I left off on the 15th.

So how does having a stroke continue to resonate? Fear. Or rather the lack thereof.

Fifteen years ago I had a severe allergic reaction to a yellow jacket sting. It was the most terrifying thing to ever happen to me. And the fear held on afterwards. Tight.

Not so with the stroke. I was never afraid. Confused, uneasy about my numb hand, tired, troubled about medication–but mostly I felt safe and well cared for. Loved. At peace.

And that’s a Holy Spirit thing y’all.

Because He was the main difference between the two events. I was on my own with the bee sting, with the stroke I had the Spirit to comfort me.

The only lingering effect of my stroke is some numbness in the tip of my left index finger and the side of the middle finger closest to it. The neurologist said to give it a year and if the feeling didn’t return it probably wouldn’t. Hello new normal.

And I’m glad.

That funny, tight feeling and lack of fine sensation is a wonderful reminder that with God I have nothing to fear. I’m safe even when I’m not comfortable. And when scary things happen–a bee sting, the illness of someone I love, all sorts of loss–I can tap that numb index finger and whisper, “fear not, fear not, fear not.”

Because so long as I am His, fear is transient and love is eternal.

Isaiah 41:10 – So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

Appalachian Thursday–Easter Sunrise

sunrise
Sunrise at the farm in WV.

I love most every holiday. Food, friends, decorations–it’s all wonderful. But my favorite holiday is Easter. And my favorite part of Easter is the Sunrise Service.

It’s a disappointment to me when the service gets moved inside because of the weather (too cold, too wet, too snowy). But I’ll still be there, in the pre-dawn light, waiting to celebrate the moment when the truth became clear. Jesus is ALIVE.

That’s why I love Easter now–remembering Christ’s resurrection. But I think I learned to love Sunrise Services when I would go with my Dad as a child. I remember at least one Easter when it was just the two of us. I remember getting up in the dark and putting on my new Easter clothes–a dress, white stockings, and black, patent leather shoes. Oh, how they shone.

As Dad and I went out the door I remember seeing our Easter baskets waiting–brimming with bright candy and other goodies. But I knew going to church to see the sun rise was somehow more important. Candy and treats could wait.

That might have been the year we went to French Creek Presbyterian and stood on the crest of the hill looking down over the valley. There were houses down there–mostly on the ramshackle side–with old cars and peeling paint. Some chickens scrabbled in the dirt and a dog or two stirred. It wasn’t exactly a bucolic scene.

But then the sun rose and we sang and proclaimed that He is risen! He is risen, indeed! And I was warm where I stood leaning up against my Daddy. Then we went home for breakfast and Easter baskets followed by church and Easter dinner with ham and deviled eggs.

And the world was good.

There’s plenty wrong with the world today. Some of it touches me personally, some of it doesn’t. But somehow when the sun rises on April 16 this year, it will be like starting over. And those first rays of the sun will fall on a world that God is still shaping. And I’ll remember that what Christ gave us most of all is . . . hope.

Happy Easter.

A Palm Sunday Memory

Easter eggsI spent Palm Sunday at a friend’s church. It was a lovely service with lots of joy, but I’ll confess I missed the children’s processional of little ones waving palm branches that’s a tradition at my own church.

Which got me to thinking about a Palm Sunday back in 2011 . . .

That year, the children not only came down the aisle waving palm branches, they also offered up a series of songs and readings. It was alternately moving and, well, funny.

Three of the children performed solos, each taking a verse of a song. Camden went first. He was five at the time and very poised for one so young. When he began singing, clutching that microphone and pouring his whole heart into the song, I got a little teary. He was trying so hard and obviously wanted to do his very best. He finished his section and handed the mic off to the girl next to him.

And then . . . he heaved a sigh and began untucking his shirt from his pants. It was like the tired executive at the end of a long day loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar. But then a look came over Camden’s face. I’m guessing he realized that this might not be the time or place for getting comfortable. So he began stuffing his shirt back into his pants–largely without success. Finally, with half of his shirt tucked in too deep and the other half flopped over his belt he stood up straight, thrust his chest out and looked like he was well-satisfied with himself.

I think when Camden began  singing, many of us got a little dewy-eyed. But now, looking around the congregation, I suspected the tears were from suppressed (mostly) laughter. I’ve never laughed so hard without making noise.

And I think that’s what Jesus might have been getting at in Matthew 18 when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Camden did his VERY best. He sang with all his heart and he remembered his manners if a little late. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t worrying about what the congregation thought as we giggled through his antics. He just knew what was expected and he did his best to meet those expectations.

God knows we’re not going to get it right. I think He loves it when we do our fallible, human best. He sent His son to die so we could keep trying to get it right every day. Whether it’s the start of Holy Week or just another Monday.

Appalachian Thursday–7 Spring Favorites

Spring is technically still a ways off, but we have daffodils, forsythia peeking out, warmer days (followed by COLD ones), and last night I heard the first peepers of the season. So I’m indulging my spring fever with seven things I love about this time of year.

1) Snow on daffodils. In spite of warmer days, we’ll occasionally wake to a fluffy dusting of snow that clings to branches and flower petals without making a mess of the roads. Pretty then gone. Just the way I like my snow! Growing up, snows like that were called “poor man’s fertilize” and farmers would hurry to plow it under in the garden before it melted.

2) Peepers. I love to wake to the song of the little frogs singing and then walk with them at dusk. It’s the music of spring!

3) Fresh asparagus. I think it’s kind of a shame that you can get just about any produce any time of year these days. I remember how Mom treasured those first asparagus shoots poking up through the warming soil. Thank goodness for farmer’s markets where you can still find the real thing! Of course, my great-grandmother wouldn’t have had such fancy fixins–she would probably have enjoyed poke sallat or dandelion greens.

4) Fiddleheads. There’s just something about those tightly furled fronds that’s gorgeous to me. When hiking with my husband year round, I love to point out flowers and plants. He calls them ALL “fiddleheads.”

5) Lambs. When I was a kid, spring was all about the new calves. Dad and would walk out to check on the mothers about to give birth. Now I get to drive past a local farm college’s lambing pasture every morning and evening. And yes, I will pull over to watch lambs frolic. I mean, how can you not?!?

6) Seed catalogs. I don’t grow many vegetables anymore (even when I try, I don’t grow many!), but I still love flipping through the pages of those colorful catalogs. Giant tomatoes, golden corn, plump strawberries, crookneck squash, new potatoes, baby lettuces . . . Oh, shoot. Maybe I will plant something this year!

7) Open windows. It’s a bit early yet, but any time the temperature creeps upwards of 65 I sneak a window open at least for a little while. The day I can leave them open all night listening to the peepers will be perfection!

What do you love about spring?

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.

I’m a cheater

Family photo
Me with two of my best sources for research.

I write historical fiction . . . but I cheat.

I only just realized this as my third novel was about to release last year. I’ve long struggled with genre and fitting what I write into a specific slot. Maybe it’s historical. Maybe it’s romance. Maybe it’s historical romance. OR it just MIGHT be women’s fiction.

Regardless of my dithering, my books are often characterized as historical fiction. Which is fine with me. But then I realized something . . . I don’t work nearly as hard as most other authors of historical fiction do.

I really enjoy the genre and often read it. Right now I’m listening to Newton & Polly by Jody Hedlund. It’s about John Newton–the author of Amazing Grace. The descriptions of clothing, social customs, and John’s time as a sailor are vivid. It all feels very real to me—I know Jody did her research.

Which brings me to cheating. I research very little. Oh, I look up timelines and newspaper headlines for context, but I’m not exactly immersing myself in 18th century England. I don’t have to research conditions aboard ship or the danger of opposing the slave trade. I don’t have to wonder about clothing and bathroom issues. And if I read someone’s diary, it’s just because I want to.

All I’ve really needed to do thus far in my writing journey is listen and ask questions.

The furthest back my novels have gone is 1948. My father was born in 1941 and he remembers a good bit. As did my grandmother who shared many a story before she passed.

It’s as though I’ve been researching my books all my life. In West Virginia, one of our primary forms of entertainment is sitting around telling stories. This drives my husband nuts. He’ll look at me as Dad launches into the story about a dog named Sloomer and mouth, “We’ve heard this one.”

Yes, we have. And hearing it again will only drive it a bit deeper into my psyche—will only make it that much more real when I translate it for my readers.

The upshot is, if you’re a writer, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Digging deep into research—becoming an expert on a specific time period—is wonderful. I have deep respect for writers who spend at least as much time researching as they do writing.

But when I took a notion to write historical fiction, all I had to do was dredge up the stories I heard at my father’s knee. All I have to do is close my eyes and think back to those stories I heard sitting on the porch of an evening.

Common advice is to write what you know. I say, write what you wish you knew.

You’re Never Too Old

I’m closer to the half-century mark than I used to be.

Which, I suppose, means I am undeniably a grown up whether I want to be or not.

But still . . . there are days when I just want my momma.

I recently spent several days at home in West Virginia. I wish it were just because I so love being there, but there was more to it than that. Mom recently had surgery and Dad was due to see his neurologist to monitor his Parkinson’s Disease.

They aren’t getting any younger, either.

So many of my friends are in the same position–parenting their parents in some form or fashion. Which is hard not only logistically, but also emotionally. For all those times I felt like they were smothering me with their rules, love, affection, and support–that’s exactly what I crave now.

And the funny thing is . . . there were moments on this last trip when that’s exactly what I got.

IMG_0128

Sunday evening I sat in the floor at my mother’s feet chatting and halfway watching football while she fiddled with my hair. If you aren’t aware, having your hair fiddled with is one of life’s great pleasures. And it’s something my mom used to do often when I was younger. Sometimes she was brushing or braiding my hair, but there was also plenty of soothing, affectionate fiddling. And for that hour or so, I was a child again, simply  being soothed by my momma.

IMG_0081

Then, just before I left to drive home, my Dad did something wonderful. His health and really his whole way of life is very much in limbo as we try to keep Parkinson’s at bay. He actually seems pretty stable right now,  but we both know there are decisions to be made and tough choices likely up ahead.

As I was saying goodbye, he wrapped me in his arms and said, “I don’t know how, but this will all work out.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear from the man who for so much of my life, seemed to have all the answers. And here’s the best part–I’m pretty sure he’s right.