Ashes to Ashes – A Lenten Reflection


There were fewer than twenty of us gathered in the little white church on the hill for the Ash Wednesday service last week. The evening was mild and the service was brief with some music, scripture and words from the pastor, and then the ashes.

Lent is my favorite season and Easter is my favorite holiday. I like it better even than Christmas. I look forward to getting up early on Easter morning for the sunrise service and when we come to the place where the pastor says, “He is risen!” and we all answer, “He is risen, indeed!” my heart never fails to soar.

But before the resurrection, there’s this deep, lovely time of reflection. And it starts with ashes.

My pastor dipped his finger in the bowl of oil mixed with ashes from last year’s palm branches. He placed a gentle finger on my forehead, making a cross and saying, “Sarah, from ashes you have come and from ashes you shall return.”

And my heart soared with something like Resurrection Sunday joy. Because this is good news indeed.

In Genesis 3:19 after the fall, God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Dust. Ashes. I suppose that might sound sad to some folks, but what I hear is that the pain, sorrows, difficulties, and challenges of this world are temporary. And this frail, human body of mine is just a temporary vessel molded from dust and ashes. It’s not meant to last forever.

So when I see all the ways my body is failing, declining, heeding the call of the dust from which it came, I can find peace in knowing that’s what’s supposed to happen. When my dreams, goals, and ambitions don’t quite work out the way I hoped, I can find peace in knowing this toil–this sometimes futile sweat of my brow–is only temporary.

Because I know there’s more to the story. We begin Lent with ashes–a reminder that we will die. But we end it by celebrating Christ’s resurrection–a reminder that in him, our earthly deaths are just the beginning of a new, perfect life eternal.

John 3:35-36 – The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Bees, Rattlesnakes, and Bears – oh my!

rattlesnakeYou know it’s a doozy of a hike when the least scary thing to happen is a bear thundering off through the brambles.

That’s how my hike with Thistle started one evening last week. And we weren’t much alarmed. After all, the bear was leaving. Then Thistle ran on ahead and in short order came streaking back past me.

While hiking with my husband that morning she’d gotten into some yellow jackets (bears crack those nests open like pecans this time of year). I thought, surely that hadn’t happened again. I called her to me and two yellow jackets flew from her fur. Okay, it had. We ran down a side trail where she wallowed in some tight brush, divesting herself of any insects. Which was good since I had that MAJOR allergic reaction 15 years ago. (I’m theoretically cured after 7 years of shots, but who wants to test that?!?)

We made our way to a stream and gathered our wits. The bees were quite a bit scarier than the bear. Even so, we had hiking to do, so off we went, taking the long way around. As we came back down the mountain on a nice, wide trail, we stumbled across the scariest thing yet.

A rattlesnake.

A yellow phase timber rattlesnake to be specific (I only learned this later). And when I saw it, stretched full length in a sunny spot on the trail, Thistle was standing tail to tail with it. Or tail to rattle. My dog had no CLUE there was a snake in the world.

I convinced her to come to me with some treats and we stood there for a moment, marveling. (I did–Thistle just wondered why she had to wear her leash and might there be more treats?)

Then we went the even longer way around.

One of the themes in my upcoming novel, The Sound of Rain, is how we’re never really safe. No matter how many precautions we may take, bad things will still happen in the most unexpected ways. It’s just how this fallen world works.

My first thought after such an eventful hike was that maybe I should give up hiking until the first good freeze. But honestly, I love walking in the woods. It’s my freest, most creative time. And it’s something my husband, dog, and I love to do together.

So, I’ll keep hiking with the bears, the bees, and the rattlesnakes. Because, as my characters also learn, we may not be safe, but we are secure. Not because of any precautions we’ve taken, but because of who we trust.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”

Three Years an Author

3 booksIt was in August of 2014 that my first, full-length novel released. We launched Miracle in a Dry Season with a bean supper and square dancing. It was the best day of my life after my wedding day. Talk about a dream come true!

So how’s the dream coming along three years later as I prepare for the launch of book #4, The Sound of Rain? Well, it’s still pretty dreamy.

Of course, reality does come crashing in. One book sells great. Another not so well. This book wins an award. That one gets several one-star reviews. (And sales DO NOT necessarily jibe with awards!)

Some days the writing flows like a mountain stream after the rain. Other days it’s an annoying, drippy faucet. Marketing is alternately a pleasure and sheer torture. Doing events when people turn up is a delight. The ones where I sit at a table alone are agony.

So basically, this dream is a lot like . . . life. Good days, bad days, mediocre-nothing-happening days.

But the upshot is, even on the bad days, this is still my dream and my passion. Stepping into the world of my characters remains one of my very favorite things to do. And hearing from readers who have been touched in some way by the stories I’m blessed to write . . . well, that’s pure gold.

I think, when you love doing something, the hard stuff that comes with it is a price you don’t mind paying. I don’t know how long this writing gig will last. But I do know that I’ll keep telling stories as long as God keeps giving me joy in the process.


Appalachian Thursday–People Like These


That’s my new alternator in the box at the gentleman’s elbow. Never so happy to see a car part!

Yesterday we returned from a trip home to West Virginia. A trip that didn’t go QUITE the way we planned!

Everything was on track until we passed through Rock Cave, WV, and I noticed the bright red battery light on the dashboard. Uh-oh. My husband checked the manual and it basically said, “Hie thee to an auto shop.”

Or something like that.

It was Sunday evening so we went on to the farm, shut off the engine, and asked my brother to make sure the car would start before he left for work in the morning. It did. So we went to the nearest Auto Advantage, 20 minutes away. They ran diagnostics and said everything was fine, but our battery was getting old. Well then. How about a new one? Carl hooked us up–only that didn’t make the battery light go off. Uh-oh.

Next stop was Tennerton Auto Service where Joe checked under the hood and confirmed our worst fears–the alternator was shot. If we could find one, he’d install it–today or maybe tomorrow. Uh-oh. I had appointments to keep!

Back to our buddy Carl who did NOT have the right alternator. Neither did several other places he kindly checked for us. Finally, he called Rick at Fisher Auto Parts (the competition) and they said they’d could get one by 2 p.m. At Fisher, we paid for the part and pondered how to get everything together in one place for possible installation that afternoon (as we drove around, using up our new battery, which was NOT being recharged by an alternator!).

No problem. They’d deliver the new part. I gave Rick a hug.

So we spent some quality time at the farm walking the dog and having lunch until it was time to go back to Tennerton Auto. I walked in, sat down, and within five minutes here came my alternator. (So shiny!) Joe and Juanita chatted with me about the state of the Mountain State and our families and health care and finally I broached the burning question. Would the car be fixed today? Sure thing. Come back before five.

My mom and Jean picked me up and we went back to the farm for a leisurely afternoon of porch sitting and story telling (practically a sporting event in WV). Then back to Tennerton where Joe and Juanita had me all set to go.

Less than 24 hours after that blasted light came on, we had a new battery, a new alternator, and a car that’ll likely go another 90,000 miles.

And here’s the lesson:  There was a point on Monday morning when I could have easily burst into tears. My plans were in shreds, my car was dying, and if God loved me he wouldn’t let my attempts to take care of my family be ruined. I just wanted to hook up Mom’s new computer and take Dad to his doctor’s appointment. (And cook for my brother–I have a notion he needs someone to feed him.)

But God had something else in mind. Instead of me swooping in to be a help, I was helped at every turn. My husband hung in there with me all day. Carl at Auto Advantage didn’t quit making calls until he found me an alternator. Rick and his guys at Fisher Auto Parts got me the part and delivered it. Joe and Juanita at Tennerton Auto Service not only fixed my car, but treated me like family come to visit. And Mom, instead of getting her computer running, ferried me around like the old days.

God surely does love me. So much so, that he let me face a challenge that reminded me of how miracles often look a lot like mundane problems being solved by good people taking care of each other.

Jim, Daniel, Mom & Jean, Carl, Rick, Joe & Juanita–thanks for being angels disguised as regular folks.


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 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.

1,232 Days

EmilyI work at a children’s home. We serve so many kids whose families . . . well, they need some help. And every now and again, a child comes along and I think . . . that one could be mine.

There was one . . . red-headed and freckled who loved books. Maybe he was mine at least a little bit.

But you have to be tough. You have to be strong. I can’t bring them home with me–there are rules about that. And I’m okay with it. God has given me nieces, nephews, children at work, and several dogs that I spoil utterly. It’s all good.

But there’s this other girl at work . . . she did more. She took in a foster child. It was supposed to be temporary. But then his parents’ rights were terminated and if she didn’t adopt him, who would?

She confesses to struggling. To wishing she could have her “normal” life back. But after 1,232 days she did something that’s pure miracle. She adopted that 8-year-old boy. She’s single and wonders how the rest of her life will go now that she has a little boy shadow who follows her everywhere she goes. She can’t quite take in what it is she’s done–becoming a FAMILY just like that.

I think it’s the most wonderful thing any one human being can do for another.

She wrote this on her Facebook page. “The name we gave him was decided on by the two of us. Azariah. This is a Hebrew name which means ‘Yaweh has helped.’ He has helped this boy in the most incredible ways over the last three years, and I pray he will always hold on to that. What a promise for God’s sovereignty and power to answer our greatest prayers. Thank you Jesus for rescuing my son, and bringing him home.”

Rescuing . . . yes. I’m so glad I get to know Azariah’s rescuer. I hope I can be as brave as she is one of these days.