Appalachian Thursday – Wild Critters

Spring 12 bears 051There are people who have never seen an animal in the wild. Oh, maybe a city squirrel or some pigeons, but I’d argue they’re not really wild.

My mountains are a veritable zoo of wildlife. Just yesterday Thistle and I encountered a teenage bear on our evening hike. She was easily persuaded to abandon the trail for the deeper woods where she melted into the rhododendron like she’d been a dream. Thistle knows better than to give chase.

But she will chase squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits all day long. As well fed as she is, I suspect it’s just for sport. We’re also knee-deep in turkeys and see the occasional deer. Back in WV you can’t NOT see a deer. They’re frankly too plentiful.

We’re also treated to sitings of raccoons, possums, groundhogs, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and the truly rare bobcat. I saw more skunks back in WV where we had one living under the back porch for a while. He would come out after dusk and see if there were any scraps left in the dog dish. We’d stand behind the screen door, watching, and he’d squint at us (I think skunks may not have the best eyesight). Adorable, but we knew better than to go out there.

I suppose there are folks who would rather NOT encounter wildlife every time they go outside, but it’s one of the reasons I love these mountains so much. Bears on the back deck can be a bit of an inconvenience, but they’re also a living, breathing example of God’s miraculous creation–a reminder I’m glad to have.

Appalachian Thursday – Lightning Bugs

You know it’s summer in the mountains when the lightning bugs start putting on a show. As kids, we loved to catch them and drop them in a mason jar with holes poked in the lid. Then we’d put that jar on a dresser in our rooms to watch them twinkle until we fell asleep.

Now I’d rather just sit outside and watch the show all across our yard and into the trees. And while I now know what’s happening is actually a cutthroat mating dance, it’s still incredibly lovely. And peaceful. And a little bit magic.

I realize some of you out there don’t have lightning bugs (or fireflies if you prefer). So I thought I’d offer you a peek at last evening’s light show . . .

Holy Week–The best story EVER

Easter gardenJust picture it.

Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. People act like he’s a rock star–waving palm branches, throwing their cloaks down in the street.

The king is here.

But wait. This isn’t the king they expected. He doesn’t overthrow Roman rule. He doesn’t claim a throne, wear a crown, or live in a palace.

Instead, he makes fools of the religious leaders. He sets the temple straight. He tells stories and gives them the greatest commandment all wrapped up in love.

He is NOT what anyone expected.

And then they arrest him and kill him.

But Holy Week doesn’t end there. Easter morning is yet to come. And it’s the greatest day the world has ever known.

This is my FAVORITE time of year. It’s better than Christmas. Better than my birthday. Better than my wedding day.

This coming Sunday, as the sun tips over the horizon, I’ll remember what God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit conspired to do . . . for me. Every year I recognize that I don’t deserve it. And every year I recognize that, nonetheless, salvation is mine.

I hope and pray salvation is yours as well. Because he didn’t do it JUST for me (although he would have). He did it for YOU as well.

 

Ashes to Ashes – A Lenten Reflection

Church

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

alternator

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.