Tuesday, October 30, 2007


As I've mentioned before, I dream every single night, and wake nearly every morning thinking, What in the world was that all about? My dreams are often full of wild, continent-hopping adventures. Twice this week, I dreamt things that sent me scurrying for pen and paper when I awoke: one was an intense, full-length murder/suspense movie (in which Penny Marshall played a grizzled, yet oddly tender-hearted factory foreman) that I should probably turn into a screenplay (perhaps minus Penny Marshall); one was an idea for a book. But I also had two odd dreams this week--dreams that together have me wondering what's up.

The most recent was a dream in which I was asked to babysit an elephant--a very tiny elephant. When I arrived at the door, the little guy was playfully trying to get out as I was trying to get in. I kept laughing and coaxing his little bumpy trunk back inside the door. When I eventually did get in, we spent a long afternoon playing outside in the baby elephant's very, very steep backyard.

That's strange enough, I suppose. But coming as it did on the heels of another animal dream, it seemed even stranger.

Last Friday night, while I slept in the upper nook of a tiny cabin I shared with three other women (I was teaching a women's retreat for Calvary Chapel Longview, Washington), I dreamt that I was in southern California with friends from The Word For Today, the Calvary Chapel publishing division I work for. We were just moseying along on a leisurely stroll, when I spotted a tiny baby gorilla on the side of the road. I picked him up and he fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. I bonded with that imp in one heartbeat, and from that moment on, he was mine. All his needs were taken care of by me--which included a lot of yogurt. He loved yogurt. I can still feel his little mouth clamping down on a spoonful of yogurt, watching me with those brown eyes.

After a time, I taught him to talk. And one day, near his first birthday, he said to me, "I want to invite that pig to my birthday party."

I said, "Pig? You mean Wilbur?" I had read Charlotte's Web to him quite a bit; it was a favorite.

He nodded.

"I'm sorry, honey," I said, "but Wilbur is a grown-up pig now." The baby gorilla didn't believe me, so I had to pull another book down from the shelf and show him a picture of an adult Wilbur having new, grown-up adventures.

I woke from that dream missing my baby. I mean, really missing that gorilla. I think I actualy have been grieving all week.

Am I losing my mind? Or am I supposed to become a vet, or move to the jungle, or ... what?

Go ahead, friends. Analyze away.
*   *   *

Photo found on www.aboutcinci.com


Friday, October 26, 2007

the box

It's crossed my mind a half dozen times this week. And then my online writers' group posed the same question: in the event of a disaster, what five things would you grab from your house? Since the question was posed to a group of over 500 writers, the angle we were asked to consider was what five professional things we'd save. But since this is my blog, and not my yahoo group, I'm going to take out the "p" word.

I'm imagining a box. It's probably going to have to be a big box, because one of my items--and yes, I'm counting it as one--is the distressed end table/box to the right of my couch. Within that box are family pictures dating from the early 1900s through to my son's graduation this last June. So don't challenge me on this. The end table goes in the box. And since the end table is just around the corner from the staircase, and I've got two framed photo montages hanging right there (one for Zac and one for Tera, showing their growth from birth to 18 and 12, respectively)--and technically, we're still talking photos--I might as well slip those frames in too.

Next, I'm placing my Bible in that giant box. Now, as one of my writer cohorts pointed out, the Bible is readily available online. Bibles are easy to replace--at least in my part of the world. But I could never replace the fifteen years of notes I have in my wide-margined Bible. The book of Romans, for instance, is awash with color. It's so covered with arrows and asterisks and exclamation points and regular old words that some pages have literally not another spare inch of white space to offer up. Some pages are barely clinging to the spine. So I want my Bible.

Without question, I have to take my laptop. Not only does it contain my books and all the correspondence related to those books, but it's bulging with novel ideas. I've half a town captured in those files, populated with an almost complete cast of characters, all pulled from the character sketches I've been collecting for a dozen years. The men from Rotten Ralph's are in there. So is the traveling boy, and Charlie, and Lillian. Not to mention, my laptop is loaded with recipes. I mean loaded. And many are my own concoctions. Recipes ... and 2000 of my favorite songs ... and more pictures. Move over, end table. The laptop is coming in.

And then, I think I need one of my grandmother's teacups and saucers from the big cedar chest in the living room. She loved collecting those cups, and every time I push something aside in that chest, in a quest to find the turkey platter or the gravy boat or a tablecloth, and I see one of those delicate, floral-patterned cups, her memory comes to visit. While I'm digging in the chest and selecting a just-right cup, if one of my great-grandmother's doilies or a long-ago Kismet score card happened to fall into the teacup and take a ride to the box, who's to notice?

And lastly, because it is a tangible reminder to me that God sees all the tucked-away longings and losses we carry, and sometimes brings the balm we most need, I'd put my mother's note in the box. I keep it on the shelf above my writing desk. As I think about it, her diary is right there, right next to her framed note. Might as well keep those two together.

Some of you are counting. But I say, if you have time to stand there while I salvage pieces of my life and count the items in my hand, you have time enough to help me grab five more.

So now it's your turn. Here's a giant box for you. What will you fill it with?



Monday, October 22, 2007

mosaic winners

We're at the Home Town Deli and Espresso--our office away from home. Dave is typing prayer requests to send to our church e-prayer chain. Tera is drinking cocoa and working on a chapter from her science book. From the speakers overhead, Aretha and her girls are making their case for respect. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me ... Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me." And I'm cutting little slips of paper so Dave can pick three winners.

He closes his eyes, which I find endearing. Reaching into the pile, he picks the first name: TaunaLen.

And the second: Deitra.

And the third: Vicki.

Congratulations, you three! Your books are ready to mail out. Could the three of you email your addresses to me? You'll find my email address on my profile.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

blog tour: amy grant's mosaic

Almost immediately after agreeing to an invitation to review Amy Grant's new book, I thought, What have you done? Everyone in my life will tell you I am buried in writing projects--truly, no-visible-daylight buried. But I had promised.

When the book came, I devised a plan. I figured I'd trick myself into reading it by attacking it in barely noticeable increments. It's the same method I use for keeping the house clean: pick up something every time you enter a room, and before you know it, your house is clean. The problem was, my scheme crumbled within the very first chapter. I didn't want to stop reading. So I read another, and another. And twice in three chapters, I got goosebumps. Twice in those same three chapters, I cried.

Amy Grant is a long-time friend. Mind you, she has no idea who I am. But we go back a fair distance. The year I turned 19 (which was the year she turned 19), I went to visit an ex-boyfriend turned good friend (Jeff Ellis) at Pacific Lutheran University. He had arranged for me to stay in the dorm room of two girls he knew there. Before they headed out to morning classes, they set me up in their room and gestured toward their record player. "You should hear this album," one suggested as she left. It was Amy's first release. I listened the first go-round out of a mixture of politeness and boredom; the second time out of just-awakened hunger. I listened to that album all morning. And to this day, whenever I recall the words to "My Father's Eyes," I'm back in that dorm room, heart pounding madly, wanting to know Amy's Father, and wondering if He wanted to know me.

Since the year it was released, her first Christmas CD is the first to go into the player whenever I pull all our Christmas things from the back of the closet. It's the CD I put on just before we call the kids downstairs to tear through their gifts.

I've loved Amy as a far-off encourager, and loved her music. But could she write? I had my doubts. She had them too, for she addresses that unspoken, but clearly present question in her introduction. But it didn't take long for me to find the answer for myself. She can write. Her voice is easy; her timing unflawed. She knows when to pull in for poignancy. She understands rhythm. I enjoyed every page and wished the book was longer.

In Mosaic, Amy shares vignettes from her life. Most are ordinary moments that another soul might have drifted through unthinkingly. But Amy has an ability to catch the lessons others miss. She hears God's heartbeat in places you wouldn't think to listen. Interspersed between her stories, Amy has included the lyrics to many of her songs. You'll read about the moments that spurred her to write those lyrics and meet characters who begged to be captured in song. And along the way, you'll find yourself feeling thankful that this woman thought to share her life in just this way.

My sister, Megan, and I have an odd ability to laugh at a joke a good second or two before anyone else in the room catches on. We're always just a tiny bit ahead of everyone else hearing the same jumble of words. Meanings fly toward us. I felt that sensation as I read Mosaic. Amy would lead me to a point, but I'd find that truth rushing to meet my heart before I think I should have gotten there. At one such moment, when describing what it was like for her sister to send her first son to college, I knew what was coming before I really knew, and I couldn't stop the tears. I anticipated that extra long phone cord, because I'm that same mother these days, keeping the cell phone charging near my ear, just in case Zac should call.

This book is a gift. I hope you'll read it, and I hope you'll pass it on.

* * * * * 

* To purchase a copy of Mosaic, CLICK HERE.

Want to win a copy of Mosaic? I have three copies to give away. Everyone who comments on this post between now and October 21 will have a chance to win. Names of all posters will be put in a hat (more likely, some sort of bowl I will snag from the kitchen) and I will ask my husband, the pastor, to draw three names. Does that make you rest easy? Make sure you give me a way to contact you--email, blogger i.d., etc. Books will be sent out early next week.

Want to double your chances of winning? Run over to Christian Women Online and read their review. Darlene is also giving away three books this week.

Happy posting!



Tuesday, October 09, 2007

twenty down

"How could I prepare myself for an absence the size of you?" ~unknown poet

"Make him a rhubarb pie," my cousin, Tracy, suggested. I'd asked him what his father might like for his 64th birthday. "He hasn't had rhubarb in ages, and that's his favorite."

So early that morning, I followed Tracy's directions and pulled into the parking lot of a market in Newport Beach, California. I probably should mention that Tracy and I had only just been reunited after a 26-year separation. I'd been staying in his home for two days, trying to catch up and reconnect. I hadn't yet seen his father, Phil, but at the business Phil and Tracy built (Wet Okole ... they make really amazing custom seat covers), a potluck was being thrown to celebrate Phil's birthday. If I could get my hands on a pound of rhubarb, I'd get busy making a crumble pie.

Maneuvering past a forklift and around a pile of produce crates, I stepped over a mound of rejected corn husks and broccoli stems and wove my way into the market. Twenty pairs of dark brown eyes fastened on me, until one man said, in thick English (and not nicely), "We're not open. Come back at 10:00."

It was 8:00. I needed those two hours to chop, coat, dot, pat and bake. "Is this the only place where I can get fresh rhubarb?" I asked, not liking the desperation in my voice, but not knowing how to expel it. "I really need to make a pie."

The barker hesitated, sighed, and asked (again, not in a very nice way), "How much do you want?"

"Just a pound."

He sighed again to make sure I knew how awful I was, and then said, "I'll sell you a pound." And then, fearing he might look soft in front of the other corn peelers, he raised his voice a notch. "You wait over there!"

I obeyed. And I almost didn't say anything when he brought back three pounds of rhubarb. "It's going to cost a lot," he warned. I had to agree when the total came to $11.

"I ... uh ... only need one pound."

I think if he knew the English words for ungrateful, unappreciative, or stingy, he would have used them. Instead, he just glared and thrust half the red stalks to the side. I paid for my 1 1/2 pounds of rhubarb, hurdled and darted my way through the fruit and veggie obstacle course, and hurried back to Tracy's.

Once in his kitchen (and I have to say, I have never enjoyed cooking anywhere as much as I enjoyed cooking in that expansive, seldom-used, all-for-me space), I set to work. As I was assembling all my ingredients, Tracy's houseguest, Dennis, came home and set his keys on the counter. "What's up?" he asked.

With my laptop on the counter and a playlist blaring at top volume, and Dennis and I chatting away about things both significant and not, I almost managed to keep my thoughts on September 28th, 2007. Almost. But while washing the red and green rhubarb stalks, my thoughts kept drifting to September 28th, 1987. I made roast beef, potatoes and gravy the night before, and dished some up, and brought it to her house ....

Scooping a cup of sugar, a couple of spoonfuls of flour, and a dash of salt in a bowl, I began blending it with my fingers. I then broke an egg into the bowl and began smooshing it together. But she never answered the door ...

A quick slice through the length of the first stalk, then another, and then I began chopping it in tiny chunks. I left the food on her doorstep, and drove to the school to get ready for my class ...

More chopping. Dump each pile into the egg and flour mixture. Stir. And when they called to tell me she had killed herself, all I could think was, "How am I supposed to live another 50 years without her?"

I didn't tell Dennis about the anniversary. And when I arrived at Wet Okole an hour and a half later, I said nothing to Tracy, either. We were here for a party.

"Come back and see my dad," Tracy said. I followed him through a doorway to a pair of desks--and there was Phil. Though more than 30 years had passed since I had seen him, I remembered liking him very much. And nothing had changed. His eyes were soft when he smiled. He held out his hand and I took it. And then he said, "You look like your mother ... she was a beautiful woman."

Phil took a big slice of rhubarb pie topped with fresh whipped cream, and thanked me. But the real gift had been his.

Labels: ,


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

how i spent the last hour

From this perch (again ... in the coffee shop), I can watch the students sprawled on all those fake leather couches. They laugh at the antics of one another, and wave at newcomers who saunter around the corner. One girl twirls her keychain around her index finger. Another moves to a wooden chair, tilts it back on two legs, and twists her shoulder-length blond hair in a temporary bun. When she tires of holding it, she drops the bundle and it untwists itself to her shoulders.

A boy walks in wearing a green sweatshirt (how can he do that in this heat?) and sporting iPod earbuds. He looks around to see who else is in this room, drops his backpack and his Bible on the table next to me, and heads toward the coffee bar.

A girl directly across the room from me sits on an equally tall perch, dangling her skinny girl legs in time to her own privately heard iPod playlist. She's typing on a Mac like mine. Her hair is my length, my color. I wonder what she's typing; wonder what she's thinking. I wonder why she's at this Bible college ... and I wonder what God might do with her life.

My own child is not here. He'd planned to be. Without my knowing it, he'd turned down an invitation to head Yucca-way with a friend for a birthday party. When I found out he'd done that so we could spend time together, I told him he could have gone. But he shook his head and said, "That's all right. Besides, Ryan's already left."

We had walked toward the coffee shop together, talking about those little un-noteworthy things you talk about while meandering. But when we rounded a dorm wall and began to cross the street, Zac looked to the right and said, "Hey, there's Ryan. He hasn't left yet."

"Go, Zac," I said.

"I couldn't," he said back. "I should stay here with you."

We've eaten twice at O'Hana's Hawaiian Barbecue since I got here. We've sat on those fake leather chairs and talked with his friends. We've shopped at the mall. We've called and sent each other a dozen texts. We've hugged and said 'I love you' and enjoyed the nearness of one another. Did I want to spend another two hours with him? Of course. But did I love him enough to give him a guilt-free hall pass? You know I do.

"Go with Ryan," I said. "I have so much editing to do ... go have fun."

He hesitated only a second. "Are you sure?"

My kiss said yes. Oh, how I love that boy.

Lord, have Your way with him. Take him just as far as you want him to go. Make him a man who will capture the world for You, who will share Your heartbeat with all who will listen.

Do the same with the Mac girl, the boy with the backpack, the laughing duo on the couch, the girl in her tilted-back chair.

Make them Yours ... and then launch them.

Labels: ,


Monday, October 01, 2007

murrieta-part 1

I'm not sure I've ever attempted a blog post while in the midst of such chatter. I'm in between teaching sessions and taking a break in the Overflowing Cup, a coffee shop, which is on the grounds of the Calvary Chapel Conference Center in Murrieta, California. To my left, a line of some 40 women snakes past the display of Paul Bunyan-esque eclairs, Boston Cream Pie slices, and other thigh-padding pastries. They try not to look, but I have seen their eyes drift toward that case whenever the conversation pauses.

To my right, another hundred or so women sit at round tables amidst mural-adorned walls. There's an underwater scene, a trompe l'oelle brick wall, a train, and Simon Peter's Bait Shop.

The noise in this place is almost deafening, but it's a beautiful sound. These are sisters in Christ, and their love for Him and for each other is evident. We're here to worship together, to pray together, to whisper our burdens to one another.

One of those women is waiting for the computer, so I'll have to write more later. For now, I miss you all at home ... but I'm blessed, and getting more refreshed with each hour that goes by.