Ever have one of those days?

Posted at Mar 15, 2017 10:10 am

The Sisters of Sugarcreek has inspired a Hope & Kindness Campaign http://readthearc.com/stitching-hope-through-random-acts-of-kindness/ which got me to thinking about lots of days when just a smile, a listening ear, or a random act of kindness from a friend or a stranger has gotten me out of a funk. But there’s one incident from years ago that I (literally) carry around with me to this day!

It was a day when my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia and I was anxious to get there and visit her. Yet my son was in dire pain from having had his shoulder operated on so as torn as I felt, I couldn’t leave his side. Also, my thoughts were in Texas where my nephew was having surgery for a brain tumor which they weren’t sure was benign. Obviously I was missing work – again – too, so I was at home when the doorbell rang.

And there she stood when I opened my front door. A woman I recognized from a ladies bible study I was taking part in, but someone I didn’t know-know (if you know what I mean). She held out something to me. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but it looked adorable. A sunny yellow-colored rectangle with pastel ribbons spewing out of the top of it. Something handmade that I’d never seen the likes of before.

“I just thought I’d drop this by,” she told me. I wasn’t even sure how she knew where I lived.The only thing I could imagine is she’d surely heard my prayer requests at our most recent study session and took them very much to heart.

I have to say just the realization of that — that this person whom I only knew just a little had actually heard me, that she’d absorbed what I’d said, and that she cared — all of that together lifted me and my heart in a way that was amazing!

It’s been at least 10 years or maybe more since Penny stood on my doorstep. Her gift was actually a darling scripture/quote holder she’d crafted herself. A place to store favorite words and verses. To this very day, it’s something that I still carry in my purse with me wherever I go. Along with her handcrafted gift, she also gave me something else. Something I’m sure you already can guess, but I just have to say it. She left me with a feeling — a “brightening,” a “lift,” a sweet sense of knowing that someone was there. That someone cared. I’ll never forget that feeling — or her!

 

 

 

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Amish Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

Posted at Jan 17, 2017 10:39 am

                                               

Recently I got back from walking our Chazzer in the chilly, pouring rain. She didn’t mind the cold or raindrops at all, of course, and just kept puttering along, taking her time sniffing this bush and that tree trunk all along our way.  Yet as I juggled dog leash, dog bag, and umbrella, and while rain pelted the legs of my jeans and leaked into my boots, I have to admit I wasn’t liking our outing very much.

Which got me to feeling kind of wimpy. Especially when thoughts of Lydia — my Amish fiction character — crossed my mind, reminding me of how grateful and strong she was in every situation. And she was a great teacher too!  

I thought I knew all I needed to know about the simplicity of the Amish way of life, but things came up when writing and luckily Lydia was there to teach me.  Such as…

Did you know (and pardon me if you already do):

 – Besides buggies, many of the Amish ride bikes to town for shopping or to jobs in every kind of inclement whether — brrr!!! As one who complains about drenching dog walks, I’d need to get much braver and more weather-proofed do to that!

 – In order to make a phone call, most Amish have to use a phone shanty (pictured above, kind of like our old-fashioned phone booths which I have to admit I miss).  The shanties are at the end of a lane or by the side of the road and shared by several families.  Actually, a friend told me recently that when her brother was getting kitchen cabinets made by an Amish carpenter, that the son of the carpenter would literally sit in the shanty for hours and wait for her brother’s call so they could sync up meeting times.

– Amish church isn’t held in a building, but rather in homes and barns. Many Amish church districts own a bench wagon full of backless benches, which are transported from house to house for the three-hour services.

– Unlike my other English characters, Lydia couldn’t communicate with her mom in Pennsylvania with a text or email.  She wrote letters – which I love to think about.  Didn’t it always feel great back in the day to get a letter — a real, honest-to-goodness letter in the mail?  Ahhh!

– And the proverbs!  Amish proverbs are addicting. You read one and you want to read one more…and then just one more.  They are so clever, many tongue in cheek and hit home in at way that most sayings don’t. 

In fact, the next time I’m out walking Chaz in the rain, I should remember any one of these golden nuggets!

            **It takes both sunny and rainy days to make a life complete.**
         
    

 

 

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In this Season of Inspiration, are you remembering anyone who’s inspired you>?

Posted at Dec 19, 2016 9:35 am

                                                           PETE

It’s just a coincidence that Pete Hershberger has a last name that’s common to a lot of Amish folks, and that I also dedicated my book The Sisters of Sugarcreek to him which is set in the Amish town of Sugarcreek, Ohio. I can’t be certain if any of Pete’s ancestors were Amish, but I know he wasn’t.

Pete’s family lived around the corner from mine during a lot of our growing up years. I don’t remember him venturing up Zig Zag road to our cul-de-sac to play baseball or touch football very often. I do, however, remember traipsing down the street his way and playing in the woods behind his house once in a while.

But, honestly, none of those distant memories have anything to do with the reason I wanted to put Pete’s name on my Sisters of Sugarcreek dedication page. Rather, it was more current interactions with Pete that had me doing that.

Long before I saw Pete at our most recent high school reunion a few years ago, I’d heard through the grapevine that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A few years after hearing that news, I learned he wasn’t able to work any longer. By the time I saw him at the reunion it brought a tear to my eye to see him having to be helped to stand or to get to his seat. Yet none of that seemed to stop Pete from enjoying the evening and everyone’s company.

So it wasn’t like Pete and I really communicated over the years, mostly I just heard things about how he was doing every so often. Yet the last two times I did happen to bump into him, he communicated much to me. In just a few words, he gave me a world of encouragement.

The first of those last times, was a couple of years ago when I ran into Pete at a visitation. He was even less unsteady on his feet than he had been a couple of years earlier at the reunion. Yet as a group of us ambled to our cars, he stopped abruptly in the parking lot, seeming intent on saying something to me. Swaying and shaking, clearly it was work for him to stand there and speak what was on his mind. And to me, the words seemed to come out of the blue. “Don’t — don’t stop writing,” he stammered.

A few months before Pete’s passing, I saw him once more. This time his wife was pushing him in a wheelchair. They were coming into the clinic where I work so he could get some testing done. Getting words out seemed even more arduous and taxing on him than the time before when I’d seen him. But he seemed so determined. So I stood quietly, clueless as to what he wanted to say to me this time. It took major effort and many moments of time before he said the words I’d heard from him before. “Don’t stop writing,” he told me again.

I don’t even know how Pete knew about my writing. I guess he must’ve heard things through the grapevine about me too. But the thing that was most remarkable to me and the biggest question I had was WHY? Why in moments when he was so clearly struggling to even form a word — why would he be thinking of me instead of himself?

Since that time I’ve read and heard even more about Pete. I’ve read how during his 11 years as a Parkinson’s disease patient, he devoted much of his time in groups involved in finding treatments and cures. I learned that he was awarded the Sunflower Victory Award which is given to those who inspire, empower and give hope to others in the Parkinson’s disease community. I’ve also read about what a great dad he was and how his daughters could always count on him to be there for them no matter what. I learned that his wife remembers how “he always thought about everyone else before himself. Even in his most difficult days, he never complained and was kind and loving.”

I have no doubt that all I’ve read and heard is true. Because I know firsthand how his attitude and caring in times of his own struggle inspired me and helped me through my own struggles which were so much less in comparison. Over the last couple of years as I struggled with getting Sisters right along with other issues and a health scare, I kept a post-it note with Pete’s name on it right by my computer monitor. Every time I got distracted by the what-ifs of life or didn’t think I could write and rewrite another page, seeing Pete’s name made me think I could.

But it wasn’t just encouragement that Pete gave to me. He taught me a lesson too—one I can’t say I’ve gotten completely right yet. But I promise to keep trying! That is, no matter what is going on in my life, I need to step outside myself. I need to hear. To see. To listen. To reach out. To encourage. To give hope. I need to be there others—for someone else. Just like Pete was there for me.

 

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The Sisters of Sugarcreek – Finding the Right Ingredients!!!

Posted at Dec 10, 2016 10:45 am

I don’t want to rush through the holidays, but I have to say I’m so excited for the release of The Sisters of Sugarcreek coming up in February 2017. It’s been exciting, too, to see how this book about friendship and hope has lent itself to so many promotion ideas. As a former advertising copywriter and gift product developer, that means HUGE FUN for me!

Since the book is set in the Knit One, Quilt Too Cottage in Sugarcreek, one might think that the first promotion might have to do with knitting or quilting. But it doesn’t. Instead (not allowed to give details just yet!) it revolves around food. Yes, food. It seems throughout this book my characters share main dishes and snacks and desserts quite often.

Now I eat plenty of snacks when I’m sitting at my computer, so it wasn’t like I was starving or anything while writing. But so often food is backdrop for us, don’t you think? When we meet up with girlfriends, even just for coffee or tea, as we empty our cups, we’re always filling each other up—with words of friendship and encouragement which can bring laughter. Hope. Or at least a momentary respite from whatever’s going awry in our lives.

Anyway, in one of the initial chapters of the book, it’s Sunday and Liz Cannon, whose life mission is to cook for others so that she feels she has a life mission, is making her to-do list for the coming week. One item on her list is to check on an elderly neighbor to see if he’s finished the chicken and broccoli casserole she made for him.

Which got me to thinking how my initial attempts with my Chicken and Broccoli casserole and The Sisters of Sugarcreek book have in common.

My husband and I had been married just a month when I attempted my first chicken and broccoli casserole. I’d gotten the recipe from a friend after enjoying it at her house, and I was so excited to be making a “real” dinner for the love of my life, complete with wild rice and applesauce. (Yum.) I was thrilled to be making the special dinner for my special guy on our special anniversary. Plus, knowing what a long commute he had, trekking from Manhattan out to our teensy, wheensy two room (not two bedroom, mind you, but two room) apartment in Queens, I knew he was going to appreciate all the trouble I’d gone to.

So there we were at our also teensy, wheensy table for two, ready to enjoy the feast I’d spent so much time preparing. I waited expectantly for words of delight as my husband took his first bite of the cheese-covered entree. But–those words never came! The recipe hadn’t mentioned that I needed to pre-cook the broccoli and the chicken most of the way before layering it altogether and putting it in the oven. Ultimately I ended up taking the casserole apart, cooking the individual items some more, and putting it back together again.

That’s sort of what happened with The Sisters of Sugarcreek. I started out wanting to write the book after meeting some ladies in Sugarcreek when I was there for a Beaded Hope booksigning. The women were so warm and delightful and the town that way too, that I figured a book set there would give me good reason to go back and visit.

But that first round of Sisters wasn’t all it needed to be. Writers, cooks, parents, doctors, anyone — we don’t always get everything right the first time, do we? So as hard as it was to swallow after so many months and hundreds of pages of writing, I took the book apart and started over again. Luckily, the second time around was the recipe for success! (I’m sorry I couldn’t resist throwing in those food-related puns :))

On both accounts, I’m glad I kept trying. The chicken and broccoli casserole (printed below with the correct directions) has become an all-time family favorite. As well, I got to know my characters – Lydia, Liz and Jessica – so much better during re-writes and they became sort of friends to me. I enjoyed spending time with them each day till there stories were complete. I hope you do too!

Bon Appetite! And Happy Reading Always!

 

Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

Ingredients

2 pkgs of 10 oz. frozen chopped broccoli 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or more if you wish to get additional dinners out of it) 3 cans of Campbell’s cream of chicken soup 1 cup of mayonnaise 2 tablespoon squeezed fresh lemon or lemon juice 1-2 teaspoons of curry plain bread crumbs 2 cups of shredded mild cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Look at chicken breasts and see if any fat needs to be cut off. Cut chicken breasts in half and then place in 9 x 13 glass baking dish and cook in microwave. I usually cook for 3 minutes, turn over, cook for 3 minutes turn over and keep doing that until chicken is cooked through (not pink) and then set aside. ALSO I cover dish with wax paper or paper towel so it doesn’t splatter all over microwave. Rinse out glass dish and then put a teensy bit of water in it. Then fill with the frozen chopped broccoli and lightly salt. Keep microwaving this also at 3 minute intervals until you can see it’s thawed and cooked. (again cover with wax paper or paper towel so not messy) Drain cooked broccoli in colander. While cooking the other two things in microwave, grab a mixing bowl and put in the soup and mayonnaise. Stir together. Add curry and lemon.

Put broccoli back into baking dish and spoon in about 2/3 of the soup/mayo mixture. Stir it around. Then place chicken on top. Cover with remaining soup/mayo mixture. Smooth with spatula. Sprinkle with bread crumbs until all is covered. Then sprinkle cheese over entire dish. Cover with foil and cook for 35 minutes or longer — until you start to see that the soupy part is sort of bubbling and the cheese is all melted.

 

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Part 4 – Only a Messenger

Posted at Jun 8, 2016 7:16 am

Karen Solem did just as she promised.  I wept tears of joy when she called to say she’d found a home for the proposed manuscript.  

Shortly after Beaded Hope was released, Jennifer and I received our first invitation to speak to a women’s group at a church across town.  Kim, an associate pastor’s wife who initiated the call, explained how she’d been out running errands and started to drive past her local library when she felt a sudden compulsion to turn around and go inside.  She did, and was instantly drawn to Beaded Hope which was on display.  After giving the book a quick read, and realizing we didn’t live far away, she asked if we’d come speak to ladies at her church and give them an opportunity to purchase Beaded Hope products.

Jennifer and I were so excited, we jabbered all the way to the other side of the city.  We were anxious, too, being it was our first outing.  But we needn’t have been.  As it turned out, the evening wasn’t about Beaded Hope at all.  Or at least not solely about Beaded Hope.

After Jennifer and I both took our turns, sharing about our Beaded Hope journey with the church ladies, Kim came to the stage to lead everyone in a closing prayer.  She was less than ten seconds into the prayer when her daughter, who was sitting in the audience, blurted out, “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I have to.  Because there’s someone here tonight who is deeply hurting.  They don’t feel worthy and they are thinking about doing something harmful to themselves.  God doesn’t want you to do that.  Please, please meet me in the restroom when we are finished praying.  Don’t leave the church.  God loves you.”

Forgive me if those weren’t Kim’s daughter’s exact words.  But that was the gist of what she said. Which just about took all of our breaths away…and honestly, still does.  Kim appeared astounded as she finished up her prayer.  After a chorus of ‘amens,’ we went to the lobby of the church to sell Beaded Hope items, Kim’s daughter headed to the women’s restroom, while Kim told us that she’d kept feeling there was a reason why she’d picked up the book and scheduled a women’s get together that evening.  And there it was.  On that night a life was saved and a soul was restored; a young woman was given a reminder of God’s hope and love.

As time went on, we spoke to other women’s groups and met more incredible women right here closer to home.  We also heard from many other people around the globe. From a man who’d lost a son to SIDS and had turned away from God until he read the book.  From a woman who’d always felt she was supposed to adopt, and finally made that life change after finishing the book.  The stories went on as they often do. On a personal level, when some difficult issues darkened my life during that time, I don’t think I could’ve endured if it hadn’t been for the Beaded Hope experience and “coincidences.”  I truly believe they were a sort of preparation, strengthening my faith and trust in Him for the journey ahead of me.

There are hands on the front of Beaded Hope which belong to Mrs. Tshabalala.  A photo of her is also on the opening pages.  In the village, she’s a woman who takes in orphans and teaches them beadwork.  When she saw her hands on the cover, she wept.  I’m told that was quite something because South African women do not cry.  Not often anyway.  If they did, there’s so much to be weeping about in their lives, that’s all they’d do.  Her tears were ones of gratitude, thankful that people across the world were thinking of them in Mamelodi, and wanting to be a part of the Beaded Hope story.  

If only Mrs. Tshabalala realized how very much her story ended up helping so many others.  All because we have a Sovereign God who continually pursues us and cares for us.  From every corner of the earth.

A few years ago, most sadly for those who knew them, Mama Peggy and Mighty passed away.  Unbelievably their passing came about within one week of each other.  I can only imagine how thrilled God was to wrap His arms around the pair.  They’d been inseparable on earth, so why not in heaven too?  Hopefully, He gave them a little rest before those angels got back to work, helping others again.  Personally, I like to think of two of them dancing.  Dancing and smiling and boldly praising the God they loved—and served so very faithfully.

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Part 3 – What I Would’ve Missed!

Posted at May 25, 2016 12:35 pm

 

My husband has this funny thing he does on flights that take us over an expanse of water.  Throughout the flight, he keeps check on the board that shows exactly where the plane is located over the wide, open sea and nudges me continually to give me updates.  Even though this is information I definitely don’t want to know or think about.  So he kept nudging me as we flew for hours over the ocean in route to South Africa.  Meanwhile, I kept my eyes focused on one movie after another, trying not to think about the vast, dark, and in my mind, forbidding body of water below us. 

After eighteen hours or so in flight, I finally heaved a sigh of relief when we landed in Johannesburg.  However, over an hour later when we arrived in Mamelodi, I was somewhat frightened all over again.  Everywhere I looked there were metal bars on all the windows, an electric fence around the compound where we were staying, and empty streets because “anyone who was smart” had already headed indoors before daylight turned to dusk.

Yet those fearful feelings didn’t last the entire trip.  As the days passed, they dissipated with each person we met.  Yes, we saw many things that broke our hearts and brought tears to our eyes—the wheezing, nearly lifeless AIDS patients. Children born HIV-positive. Living conditions that were far more unfathomable and severe when you stood in the middle of them rather than just seeing them on a pamphlet or website.  But, in the face of all of that, as I became acquainted with the women of Mamelodi and the ladies of Beaded Hope, I felt like I was being ministered to—instead of the other way around.  The smiles and hugs of the women were so warm and genuine, they lifted you up. And going to Sunday service with them was like nothing I’d ever encountered. Their ardent prayers and songs of worship could take the roof off a building. They were—they are—courageous, amazing people and you couldn’t help falling in love with them.

Mama Peggy, Jennifer’s main contact, known as “the Matriarch of Mamelodi, “ had her helping hands in everything—hands that never seem to stop moving.  And Mighty, Mama Peggy’s close friend, worked right alongside the matriarch and with Jennifer as well.  The two of them and the other ladies we met working at Bophelong Hospice were well-educated women. They could’ve lived elsewhere. They could’ve had very well-paying positions doing other things. But their hearts were with the people in the village. They sacrificed prestige and income to be able to help where they felt they were most needed. Going out to the villagers weekly, they counseled about AIDS, comforted the grieving, and brought hope, medicine, and food to the sick. Such incredible, admirable women!

Comparably, our efforts and contributions those two weeks felt trivial.  Because of the weather and some other complications, we didn’t really get to do all the helpful things we’d hoped to do while in Mamelodi.  In fact, a few weeks after we returned stateside, I kept trying to process what had happened and mostly all that hadn’t.  Wondering why we’d gone across the globe at all since it seemed we hadn’t made much of an impact on anything.

One particular morning, I was standing at my kitchen counter, looking at photographs we’d taken, wondering once more what the real purpose of the trip had been.  And it was that morning that I saw—really saw—all of those beautiful faces again.  Faces of the women and children and men I’d wished I could’ve brought back home in a suitcase with me.  Not because my heart went out to them, but because they’d touched mine. 

Later it would come to me as I sat to write Beaded Hope that the experience had been a good lesson about God’s timing.  All along I’d kept thinking I could write the book based on Jennifer’s stories, my limited imagination, and Google, but I would’ve never gotten it right.  I had to get on a plane to meet those South African women.  I had to come to know them for myself, witness their courage, their spirit, their faithfulness, and warmth if I was ever going to be able to capture those qualities in my fictional characters. 

That morning, remembering all those wonderful traits about the women, I felt like I couldn’t give up.  Even though I’d received numerous rejections at conference and through submissions I’d made, for the ladies of Mamelodi—for the privilege of having met them—I needed to give the Beaded Hope thing one more try.  Not only did I want to publish the book so a portion of the sales could go to the Beaded Hope organization, I also wanted people to come to know the women I’d met and feel their inspiration the way that I had.  

Which meant I needed to find an agent.  

Closing the photo album, I headed upstairs to my writing cubby. Sifting through agent lists I’d accumulated, my eyes migrated toward an agency—Spencerhill Associates—who represented both secular and Christian fiction.  It didn’t say whether or not the agency accepted unsolicited manuscripts, so I looked up their website to see.  However, the site was under construction.  The only thing left to do was to call.

I thought I’d get an assistant on the line, but I guess it was lunchtime or something.  Much to my surprise, the owner of the agency picked up the phone. 

“This is Karen Solem.”

Oh no!  Caught off guard, I instantly felt nervous.  My voice quivered as I blabbered, introducing myself.  “I have a, uh, partial manuscript, and I, uh, was wondering if you take unsolicited manuscripts.  Can I send it to you?”

“What’s the book about?”

I didn’t know what else to say but to give the same pitch I’d given to others before.  I also mentioned I’d actually gone to SA.

“Send it to me right away,” she said without hesitation.  “I think I can sell this thing on a partial.”

What?

The next day when I met with my critique partners and told them what had happened, they glanced at one another and then began laughing as they looked back to me.

“You have no idea who you were talking to, do you?” they asked.

I shrugged as a nervous trill meandered it way through the pit of my stomach. “It was the first name I saw on the agent list.”

With that, Heather and Shelley began to cite authors from Spencerhill’s client list.  So many well-known authors who I’d read and admired.  I couldn’t believe it.

“Thank God you had no clue who you were calling.” They chuckled.   “Or you would’ve never made that call.”

Oh, how right they were!   That day, my ignorance was truly bliss.  And a blessing.

 

…to be continued

 

 

Jennifer with Beaded Hope ladies

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Part 2 – Fear of Flying…and more

Posted at May 19, 2016 2:48 pm

Up close...

Yes, I may have been inclined—called, even—to set a book in South Africa. 

But no, I never, ever wanted to actually go there, for goodness’ sakes.

Not ever, I adamantly add once again, just in case anyone didn’t catch that the first time. When it came to writing the book, I’d always figured I had two great research resources, namely, Jennifer and Google. Why would I spend a small fortune to go someplace so far away – especially with two kids in college when extra funds weren’t exactly overflowing?  A trip there seemed unnecessary, and honestly, for a not-so-adventurous type like myself, kind of scary.   

So approximately six months after the most disappointing writers’ conference of my life when Jennifer phoned out-of-the-blue, as always I was glad to hear from her. 

Until she mentioned the real reason for her call.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said, “but I’m going back to South Africa next month to work with the ladies, and I keep having this feeling…” She paused momentarily.  “I feel very pressed to invite you to come along.”

Talk about stunned speechless.  That was me.  Until a litany of excuses began pouring from my mouth.

“Oh, well, see, I don’t think I can do that, Jennifer,” I started in.  “I mean, mostly because Mark and I are actually talking about going to Florida next month for a vacation, and I really don’t think we can do both trips. So since we’re already planning on heading south, I mean, there’s the money issue…and work to think about. Because you’re always away for like a couple of weeks, right? I don’t think I could get that much time off.  And plus that wouldn’t be fair to my husband, since it’s his vacation time, too.  And I wouldn’t want to go all the way to South Africa without him. ”

After my lengthy dissertation, Jennifer offered simply, “He can come too.” 

Poof! Immediately one of my excuses dissipated into thin air! While across the room, my husband was overhearing my side of the conversation and making questioning eyes at me.

“It’s Jennifer.  She’s talking about us going to Africa with her.” I gave him the lowdown.

“Yeah?”

I was truly shocked to see how his eyes brightened at the suggestion. Or was that just the glimmer of the setting sun shining through the window?  I was sure hoping it was the sunlight.

“But I was just telling her we’re planning to go to Florida, and we can’t do both, so…”

He shrugged – I thought it meant that he was in total accord with me until he said, “But we can go to Florida anytime, can’t we?”

I have to say at that point I was feeling just the slightest bit betrayed, and very much dumbfounded by my husband’s response.  And it wasn’t true anyway.  It’s not like we ever zipped down to Florida on a whim. I stared at him, thinking I could get him to back down and change his thinking with my imploring eyes.  But he didn’t seem to be picking up on the intent in my expression. Instead he continued, “And we’ve always said we wanted to go on a mission trip at some point in time.”

Yeah, but to South Africa?  Seriously?  I felt like I was being hemmed in on both sides. 

“Listen…” Jennifer was saying on the other end of the phone, “I know it’s late notice.  But if you guys are even thinking about going, I’ve made arrangements for discount flights with my neighborhood travel agent.” She gave me the name and number of the agency.  “But Friday – tomorrow – is the last day for those rates.  However, the agent told me you can book the flights tomorrow to get the rate and have the weekend to think about things.  If you decide against the trip, you can cancel on Monday without any penalties.”

Well, now…that sounded doable.  I had an entire weekend to get out of a trip I didn’t want to make! I let out a breath I didn’t even realize I was holding. I reluctantly agreed to make the reservations.

Dutifully, that Friday morning I called the travel agency and booked our flights, truly thinking I’d be cancelling the reservations by Monday.

But then came Friday afternoon.  Which brought one surprise.  And then another.

After lunch I fetched the mail as usual.  All of it much the same, a few advertisements and a couple of bills.  But then…there was an envelope that stood out from the rest.  Something from a legal firm.  Were we in some kind of trouble I didn’t know about?

Opening it up, I saw it wasn’t trouble at all.  Just a short note explaining that we’d been included in a class action lawsuit involving the music recording industry – something we’d never known about.  And the result?  A settlement check for $1250.00.

Shocking!

A few hours later, our daughter pulled up in the drive.  She’d decided to come home from college for the weekend to catch up on her rest.  Oh, and she just happened to have a letter with her from the university, explaining that there’d been a miscalculation in regard to her tuition.  According to their records, we were due a reimbursement. (For real?) Enclosed with that letter was a second check – this one also over $1000.00.

The grand total of our surprises that afternoon?  Just what we needed to pay for our two flights to – you guessed it – South Africa.

Neither my husband nor I could believe it.

Obviously, there was no more talk.  Nothing left to decide.

It seemed we were meant to travel the other side of the world.

 

…to be continued

 

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Part 1 – The High and the Low…

Posted at May 4, 2016 2:46 pm

                                     Contest Bracelet

 

God knows I can be a covetous woman. 

I mean God really does know that I can become green-eyed with envy at times.  He also knows that I’m somewhat of a girlie girl too.

In fact, quite often at the outpatient clinic where I work as a registrar, when a female patient comes and sits down in front of me, I may be checking out her data and health insurance, but I’m also taking in so much more.  Like cute tops and trendy sweaters.  Haircuts and highlights.  Silver earrings and gold necklaces.  Lipstick and nail polish shades.  All while giving sincere compliments and making mental notes, comparing which item is more darling than the next – and which ones I sure wouldn’t mind having myself.

(There you have it! I feel like I’ve just gone to confession!)

So…years ago, when Jennifer Davis sat down in my registration booth, I couldn’t help but notice her pretty red curls hovering just ever so slightly over the collar of her perfectly faded jean jacket.  And on the lapel of that denim jacket why, how could I not take note of the sparkling, red-beaded pin shimmering there?  Again, an item I thought I wouldn’t mind owning myself.

“I like your pin,” I told her.  “It’s so different.  Where did you get it?”

“Oh, this?” Jennifer pointed to the glimmering piece of jewelry.  “I got this from South Africa.”

What? Not Macy’s? TJ Maxx? Or Charming Charlie’s? I was completely curious.

“You mean you got it online.” I assumed.

“No.” Jennifer shook those natural curls of hers.  “I mean I really got it in South Africa.  I’ve started a non-profit with some ladies – beadworkers – who live there in the village of Mamelodi.  They make all kinds of things – jewelry, headbands,Christmas ornaments – and I sell the products for them here in the U.S. to give them a hand-up, instead of a hand-out.”

Now I wasn’t just curious I was incredibly intrigued.

“That’s awesome.  So if I wanted to buy one, where would I do that?  Online?” I asked again.

“You could.  Or I have a few items with me right now if you’re interested.”

Of course, I was.  Not only was I (hate to say it again) coveting the pretty pin, but the funny thing was, at the last minute, my daughter had filled in her college class schedule with a Black Women’s Studies course and had been emailing her papers to me now and then to edit. I’d been stirred by what I was learning from those papers, so I was very interested in what Jennifer was doing.  I figured I’d pass along the Beaded Hope information to anyone who commented on the pin I bought.

I also figured I’d never see Jennifer again.

But then, I did.

I saw her again.  And again.  And again.

No matter what registration booth I happened to be sitting in, or what day of the week I might happen to be working, whenever Jennifer dropped into the clinic over the next couple of months, we ended up paired up in a booth together.  (Sidenote: Jennifer was just coming in for routine visits.  Nothing medically serious.)

There seemed to be such a strange sort of coincidence to the random visits –far too much to ignore – leading us both to agree we needed to get together and talk outside of a registration booth.  So we made plans to meet for tea.  It was during that time when Jennifer shared her photo albums of South Africa with me.  Beyond the photos of heart-wrenching, deplorable looking huts, colorfully skirted, wide-grinned women and adorable dark-skinned, dark-eyed children, she also shared story after story about the horrific conditions she’d seen and the faithfully courageous people she’d met.

By the end of our time together, I was so touched I knew I needed to include something about these people’s plight in a fictional story somehow.  Since I’d published a couple of sweet romances by that time, maybe I could pen a sweeping romance novel that moved from continent to continent.  At least that was my plan.

Only after a few attempts, and after recalling the stories Jennifer had shared, I realized I needed to scratch the romance novel concept.  If I wrote a book about South Africa at all, it had to be women’s fiction.  All about women helping women through all the things life brings on this side of the world and the other.

That attempt fared far better, and reassuringly, I had “signs” I was on the right track with this spiritual sort of book I was working on. At a Romance Writers of America conference Debbie Macomber spoke of her spiritual experience at the onset of her career to become a world-renowned author.  Randall Wallace (Braveheart), another speaker, told all about his days in the seminary.  And Terri Blackstock, a huge Christian romance and suspense author who didn’t know me, but I knew of her, came up out of nowhere and told me she liked my skirt! 

Maybe those weren’t the truest of signs, but still there was the feeling. The feeling so deep inside of me that said I was supposed to be writing Beaded Hope.  So after I got my chapters and proposal in good shape, I took the next step and signed up for the ACFW – American Christian Fiction Writers’ – Conference.  On the way to Dallas, I had no doubt in my mind that an editor was going to want this book.

But after giving my pitch several times, explaining how the book was all about “three women at all different stages of their lives, going on a mission trip to South Africa for all the wrong reasons, where their lives are profoundly transformed by the people they meet” – every editor looked at me with a blank face.  And then they passed.  (Although a couple said if I had a historical romance to feel free to send them a proposal.)

After that, I couldn’t wait for conference to be over!  It couldn’t end soon enough for me.  That was no reflection on the conference itself.  It was a well put together event. 

But God knows I was frustrated and confused.

I mean He really did know – and I didn’t stop reminding Him.  The moment I got back home, I couldn’t have been more thrilled that the house was empty.  I rolled my suitcase into the bedroom and immediately dropped to my knees by the side of the bed.

Really?   Really?” I cried out – rather loudly – shaking my head over and over again.  “I thought this is what You wanted. I felt it, didn’t I? Isn’t this what meeting Jennifer was all about? I’m not making that up, am I?  I don’t understand,” I kept repeating through my tears.  “I just…don’t…get it!”

                                                                                                 …to be continued

 

                                                                                                                                 02 23 10 001-800       

 

 

 

 

 

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My Faithful Assistant pawed through a lot of entries for this week’s CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY WINNER!

Posted at Dec 5, 2014 10:37 am

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Congrats to Miss T.M. who is this week’s Rudolph Giveaway Winner! 

There are still 2 more GIVEAWAYS.   So please feel free to enter.    

 

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Congrats to the HEARTLAND WEDDING Winners!

Posted at Oct 22, 2013 6:13 pm

Thanks to everyone for sending in so many Happy Autumn Hello’s and Spooktacular Halloween Witches!

I received some darling messages from a lot of nice people.  They were so much fun to read — you all are so clever!

Congratulations to Kelly B., Cindy W., and Shelley K. — the three winners of HEARTLAND WEDDINGS.

And thank you again to everyone who entered!   Happy Autumn &  a Spooktacular Halloween to you all too!

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