To The Wild Rose Press!! That’s right, the publisher of What the River Knows has elected to take on further editing, cover and marketing of More Than a Point of Honor. So for a while, if you look for it on Amazon, you won’t find it. Hopefully, the process will move quickly, and you can get the “new and improved” version soon. In publishing terms, though, that probably means a year or so. They did such a fantastic job with River, though, that the wait will be worth it! I’ll be working with my wonderful previous editor, and with luck, might get my same cover artist. At any rate, The Wild Rose Press is fantastic to work with, personal and business-like at the same time.
The recent headlines about the tensions in North Korea reminded me that similar headlines appeared when I was writing The Judas Seat. For a while, I wondered if life imitated art instead of the other way around. Still, the situation regarding North Korea is delicate. A comment taken wrong, misreading a tweet, misinterpreting an action: these could lead to Armageddon. Or we could stay in the uneasy balance we have lived with for many years. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to tell the ones you care about that you love them. Just in case.
The Best Gift of All
Think about the most stupendous Christmas gift you have received in the past. Was it those adjustable roller skates that clamped to your shoes? Shiny new bicycle? Hair accessories and crimper from the 80’s? Brand new, curved, 3-D, 70” TV? Maybe something more substantial, like an engagement ring or a cruise?
Great as these gifts are, none of them will last. The skates will rust, the bicycle will lose its shine. Let’s not talk about the fashion choices of the 80’s. The TV will become obsolete, probably in less than a year. The cruise will turn to only memories. Even the engagement ring will go through hard times when it doesn’t feel so sparkly. The only gift that will truly last is the very first Christmas gift.
Jesus Christ really was a gift. Sent by His Father to be a sacrifice for the sins already committed by the world and those sins yet to come, Christ came not by command, but of His own free will, by request. What parent could offer his or her child for betrayal and torture by people who didn’t care? Yet God loved us enough to allow His Child to volunteer (not my will, but thine) for this, to create a way for us to be reconciled to God. And because Christ lived as a human, He intercedes for us with God, fully understanding how fragile and foolish we can be.
This gift never rusts, never becomes obsolete, never goes out of fashion, never loses its sparkle. He will never leave us, never betray us, always love us. Accepting that personal relationship, that friendship, with Jesus gives us life eternal, in a place with no more tears, no suffering, no pain. What greater gift could there be?
Wimpy Dog (aka Bart) is aging. Now 13, he shows his age in the silver in his gold face, the heaviness of his jowls, and the care with which he navigates stairs. Like any 90-year-old, he’s careful where he places his feet and prefers not to walk on slippery vinyl floors. That’s why there is a path of rugs tracing his usual routes through the house. Lately, though, with fall approaching, I have the puppy back, in attitude if not in the leaps he used to make as high as the top of the doorframe. He has to know everything I’m doing, especially offering to help sample cooking food. I can almost hear, “Are you gonna eat that?” when he looks at me during meals. He’s asking to go for walks again, though when the temp reaches 80, he signals he wants the air conditioner on. Anyone who thinks animals can’t communicate with humans has not tried hard enough to understand.
My yard is tired of summer. The heat wave in July and August exhausted all its resources and now the yard is ready for fall. In late August, the sun sets a little earlier and comes up a little later, stealing more of the sunlight the plants crave. My redneck-engineered sprinkler system has experienced some system failures (the hoses cracked), so is not delivering water efficiently or effectively. I was gone during the worst of the heat wave when the plants needed more water than I had prescribed. The squashes just gave up and died. Butterfly bush quit putting out flowers. Rhododendron all but died. One of the bales in the straw bale experimental garden leaned over on its side, though the Early Girl tomatoes are still producing with the plant growing sideways.
However, when I mow the yard now, it doesn’t rush to grow back. The weeds don’t even try to hide from the mower blade as it brushes over them. The mower, too, is careless, anxious to be serviced and put away for the winter. The swath it makes is only half-heartedly cut (to be fair, that could be due to a dull blade and not the mower’s attitude). I should make another pass over the raggedly cut path, but I am tired of mowing. I look at trees that need branches trimmed and think, “I’ll trim them in winter, when my time isn’t consumed by mowing.”
Grasshoppers jump out of my way, sort of, knowing their time is short and ready to move on. Tomatoes that ripen are smaller now than the giants I got in early July. Pepper plants are covered with blossoms, but show no interest in producing jalapenos, bells and poblanos. I only harvested a handful of Romas before they surrendered. The grape tomatoes produce fewer every day, and I eat them from the vine as I check them. The ceaseless Kansas wind, even, is too tired to blow. Leaves and grass blades hang limp and still.
The roses put out fewer, smaller buds now, though the zinnias still bloom with enthusiasm. The surprise lilies have come and gone quickly. Tiger lilies and irises have withered and turned brown, what leaves aren’t serrated by grasshopper teeth. Hollyhocks bloomed quickly and then produced seed, too tired to bloom all summer as in the past. Even the sand burrs are turning yellow; they had too much rain early on to spread during the hot and dry. Then when it turned hot, it was too hot.
Like most people, I guess I am eager to move from this season to the next. We are always waiting for Friday to arrive, the holidays to get here, for the next birthday, for Christmas, for retirement. In this headlong rush to the next good thing, we miss some wonderful, here-and-now gifts: the enthusiastic “ki-eye” of a Mississippi kite as my mower drones, the wild kitten who flattens itself as its momma has instructed directly in my path so I won’t see it, the meteor showers, the beautiful full moon almost a harvest moon already.
Maybe it was the devastating heat that dragged on so long. Maybe it was the plethora of bad news from every device we use, of wars and disasters and violence fueled by hatred. Maybe it was the campaign season that has dragged on far too long. Whatever the reason, not only is my yard tired of summer, I am, too. I anticipate. . .
I thought I had uploaded all my old blog posts to my website, but apparently I got (squirrel! No, wait, it’s a cat. Oh, look, a butterfly.) distracted. Here is one of my favorites, posting tonight for a friend. I hope it helps.
“Jesus wept.” The shortest sentence in the Bible is perhaps the most telling. Before the tomb of Lazarus, His beloved friend, whose fellowship He missed, in the face of the grief of Lazarus’ sisters and other friends, looking into the hopeful eyes of the sisters whose faith also reproached Him (“Lord,” Martha said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:21, NIV), Jesus faced a choice, a turning point in His ministry. He knew, from having lived there from the beginning, what joy Lazarus now felt in heaven, at the right hand of God. He also knew, being fully human, the depth of the pain His friends who remained on earth felt at their loss. He knew, then, how deeply those He left behind on the cross would mourn Him.
Yet, it was ordained also from the beginning that through Jesus, God would show that He had the ultimate power over life and death, that both were parts of the realm He created. In summoning Lazarus forth from the tomb, Jesus foretold that death was no longer the end, that those who believe would have life everlasting.
This came home to me with aching clarity today, as I continued to mourn the loss of my fiancé, my lover, my partner, my mentor, my playmate, my pastor, my traveling companion, my sounding board, my best friend—in short, the mirror that reflected everything that represented the best part of me. I don’t begrudge him the place he is now. The events of the past month—earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, genocide, abuse, murder—all would have grieved him to the depths of his soul. He said he was weary of the sorrows of this world, so was ready to go on. He was facing pain, suffering, the diminution of all that he was as a vital human being. Now he can chat with Einstein about the properties of time that so absorbed him, have tea with Lewis and Tolkien, listen to Rumi compose new poems, hear Sinatra live. He walks now with Jesus; who could want to take him away from that?
Still, I am faced with continuing, with picking up what’s left of me (our hearts had become so entangled that part of me went with him and part of him remained with me), traveling onward to find meaning in the metamorphosis I underwent during the long journey we shared in such a short span of time. In his own words, that now apply equally to me, “You have changed me. I’m headed to a different place. I will be something other than what I was going to be.” I feel that somehow he passed a charge on to me, changing me forever, and now I have to understand what to do with it. I can’t be the minister/philosopher that he was, because we come from different experiences, yet I can’t remain the person I was before him. So I read the words he wrote and the books he read, listen to stories about him, and reflect on my memories of him. In this way, he continues to teach me, if I am open to learn.
The other night, an unusually bright moon cast its reflected light over the earth. I noticed it as I took items for the next day out to my van. Because he had slowed me down and taught me to experience the NOW, I stopped to absorb the experience. I walked from under the obscuring trees to the end of the street. Clouds tried to blockade that brilliant orb from view, but they couldn’t form a cohesive enough mass to stop the glow. Instead the clouds formed a gauzy curtain that added to the scene with their inky centers and silvered edges. “Oh, honey,” I whispered, remembering his fascination with the phases of the moon, with the primordial rhythms of the earth. “Can you see this?” As I stood there, with the stop sign blocking the streetlight’s glare, the thought suddenly hit me. “What does this look like from your side?”
I have faith, albeit the size of a mustard seed, and I have prayed that God would strengthen it. So I asked God one night, “Lord, you have the power over life and death. You brought Lazarus back. How about now? Could I get a do-over, could we back up to where the doctor came out of ER and have him say ‘We relieved the pressure on his brain and he should recover fully,’ or ‘We’ve moved him to ICU, he’s conscious and you can see him now,’ anything except ‘he went into cardiac arrest and efforts to resuscitate were unsuccessful.’ Could you bring him back to me?” And yet, because of my faith, I acknowledged submission to His will. What I got was that Lazarus was a one-time deal, proof to those of us with imperfect faith that what He did for Jesus, He will do for us, too. And on that day, I’ll see my beloved again, and we’ll have eternity to explore the cosmos holding hands and taking joy in the being together. Until then, I have work yet to do. Lord, give me the wisdom to find it and the strength to complete it.
Guest blogging today on Wichita Area Romance Authors site. http://warawriters.weebly.com/blog
(I began this series many years ago. However, the lessons bear repeating.)
Three years ago during the holiday season, I was impressed by the Christmas-light-wrapped evergreen trees in what used to be called Pelican Park, just north of the swimming pool. To me that Christmas the variety of the trees and the lights called to mind and celebrated the diversity of humanity.
This year, the trees are showing me a different lesson — the fact that, despite our diversity, we all share certain commonalities, that the differences between us blur as life passes on. For instance, with the passing of time, the bulbs faded, to the point that the pink and red are almost indistinguishable. You have to look close to tell the difference between the white and yellow, or the blue and green. As they burnt out, bulbs have been replaced on the strings of lights. When the proper colors were not available, substitutes were used. Therefore, this season, we have some white lights among the pink, some yellow among the orange, some green among the blue. This is exactly the way humans are becoming. Very few of us, especially in the melting pot we call America, are of pure heritage. In fact, some of us celebrate the diversity of our ancestors, serving the lutefisk of our Swedish heritage alongside the tamales of our Mexican forebears.
There are other blendings not so obvious. Some of us come from a farming background, but may share more of that childhood in common with a city child from Arkansas than we do with a child from today’s family corporation farm. That child may have more in common with the child of a Wall Street banker than with my father, who farmed from the twenties to the sixties. Those from around the world who are alumni of a particular school may be more similar, at least on game day, than they are to their neighbors. Single parents across the country, even across the world, share concerns that the married couple across the street will never experience. All parents, married or single, share common fears and hopes. All children, from toddlers to octogenarians, who have lost a parent feel a common loss.
And there is a deeper lesson, beyond the trappings of the now imperfect lights. Once those trees were just saplings, twenty or thirty feet apart. Now, not only have their root systems intertwined, the trees themselves touch. They are growing closer together, and they will continue to do so. As humans age, we also grow closer to those around us, if we allow ourselves to do so. As youngsters, we distrusted those different from us. They appeared different, therefore they could not be at all like me. Yet, as years go by and experiences shape us, just like the wind and rain and lightning and heavy snow shape this grove of trees, we grow closer together, no longer isolated individuals, but a cohesive group that draws shelter from our similarities and no longer fears our differences.
Just as it did three years ago, the same sun still shines on these trees, and the same Son still shines His light for all humanity. These trees still draw their nourishment from the source underground, and all humankind has the opportunity to draw on the same stream of Living Water. The Bible says that every man shall acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Until that day comes, I hope that we can all continue to grow together and find our common ground. And that is lesson two of the evergreen grove — harmony and hope.
(Author’s note: This post first appeared several years ago, before the lights were changed to white, before the hospital was updated, back when there was a Christmas truce in wars. But despite change, I think it bears repeating.)
They stand near a busy intersection in Pratt, America. Just north of the empty, snow-dusted swimming pool, they serve as a stepping stone in a path of parks stretching from the highway that borders the south edge of town to the capstone park adjoined by Highway 54 as it cuts Pratt in half. They must be visible from some of the hospital windows, just above them on the hill, these seven stately evergreens, each wrapped in a different color of festive lights.
As I drove past them last night, intent on just where on the racks and shelves of the busy stores I would find each item on my list, I was stopped short in my mental rush by the simple beauty of the arrangement. Each tree is unique in its own right. Though all are old and tall, some tower above the others. Some are full and round, others tall and spindly. Some cluster together, but two stand aloof at opposite ends of the grove. Some have branches that drape down, others’ branches sweep upwards as if in praise. Each is a testament to the glorious diversity of evergreen trees.
Then the lights — white, yellow, red, orange, pink, green, blue. Some are spaced precisely around the trees, others splashed on with a hurried hand. The orange lights blaze out for all to see. The blue ones are so subtle, they can’t be seen until night is well advanced. Together they present the same colors that make up the spectrum and the rainbow.
Shopping finished and more at peace, I drove back past the lights — and there it was. Glorious diversity. God made each of us as unique as this grove of evergreens, the tree that symbolizes the never-failing quality of His love for us. Some of us are round and full, others tall and spindly. Like the trees, some of us gather together, while others stand aloof. Some of our shoulders droop, while others of us lift our hands in praise. We are covered in many colors of skin, just as the trees wear different colors of lights. Yet each of us is a testament to the glorious diversity of the world we live in.
As this Christmas season rushes by us so fast that the bright colors begin to blur, I hope we can take the time to appreciate the world God made for us — the glorious diversity and the marvelous complexity of it. Each year near midnight on December 24, the entire world does seem to pause, to hold its breath for just a moment. Warring guns fall silent, and people around the world stop. Some give thanks that a baby was born nearly 2,000 years ago, just so He could die for us. Some people may even look heavenward, wondering when that bright star may come again.
Until it does, maybe from time to time we can remember the lesson of this grove of evergreens. Although each of them is different, they draw their nourishment from the same source underground, where their roots intertwine to help each of them stand. They all draw warmth and life-giving light from the same sun. They’re not so very different from us, this grove of trees. And as they stand together to celebrate this season, their lights send a message to all of us.
I’m guest blogging November 11 on my editor’s website: http://aliciadean.com/alicias-blog/ Every Tuesday, she posts a Two-Minute Writing Tip. With several books to her credit and a job as an editor for The Wild Rose Press, she gives some good advice. The interview will let you learn more about me, What the River Knows, and my writing process.