Inside Shadows..

IMG_7878-0.JPGAuthors are mysterious people.. Citizens who live in secretive places .. with secretive lives.. right?

Well …that isn’t me.

I am just an average Joe (or Joe-etta)! I’m the mom who donates all her daughter’s old books to the school library.. in a sweatshirt and jeans.. and a messy ponytail. (gasp– shocking I know).. I’m the lady who you pass on the road, singing her heart out. I’m the stranger who smiles at the toddlers in grocery carts… and yes.. I am the lady who cries in the lobby of the school when her son has a hard day.

I am NOT mysterious at all.

So maybe I can’t really be an author?!?

HOWEVER… I have written a book.. Shadows!!! (note the extremely proud.. and excited smile.. almost like it is my newborn child)… and four months later?!? Four months after contacting a publisher .. it is published. On that day?  The day that my book, Shadows, went “Live” online? YUP… I was the lady doing the happy dance .. in her pj’s! I was so happy to have that long process done.. and so happy to be able to introduce my beloved characters to the world.

Now if you are looking for spoilers for Shadows?? Then you would be in the wrong place… I love that no one expects the twists and turns in my book. I love that readers say they (literally) can’t put Shadows down. I love that my friends call me to say they love where Shadows leaves off.. but that they couldn’t have predicted the ending. And if I gave you spoilers?? Well that would.. umm… “spoil” the surprise for you… So in a sense.. by not giving you spoilers.. I am giving you a gift.

But this morning? This morning as I sit here, sipping my chai.. all warm and cozy in my favorite sweater and my thick.. warm.. wool socks.. I realize that I can really identify with Emma..

Shadows follows the life of Emma.. Emma Fern Wells… Emma feels she is plain. Plain with no distinguishing characteristics. Everything about her is average… and she is ok with this. Add to this that Emma is busy.. so busy that she feels like she has no identity.. no chance at being noticed by anyone. And she accepts this.. content for now. It sounds dramatic.. but it isn’t! Emma just… exists…

I can relate to Emma… In my life I don’t stand out.. and I like it that way. Why? Well.. because I like to watch people and observe their natural behaviors. When you don’t stand out? Well… everyone relaxes around you. It’s a wonderful life! And I understand busy.. (Ok.. my husband says I crave busy.. While I don’t know that I would go so far.. I will admit I volunteer my time freely.)

But here is where our similarities stop..

For one.. Emma is young.. (alas.. with 2 children taller than me.. I cannot claim youth.. Although I am not sure at what point I became “not young”.. hmm?? I seem to have missed the transition)..

Beyond that?? Emma stays focused on her work long enough to finish each task.. She lets her mind wonder while she churns her butter .. but her feet stay firmly planted. Me??? Well the chapter in Shadows .. the one where Emma burns the cookies? Sigh.. that describes me much better.. especially when I am in the mood to write..

Now.. I placed this young (and focused) girl in the community of Vermontville, Michigan.. shortly after it was settled.. so 1850 era. I used common names in this valley.. common family names… and the fact that it was a farming community.. Then? Then my book took flight… the characters came alive… I laughed with them.. cried with them.. and fell in love with them..

But the storyline? I have had that in me for awhile.. long before I moved to this picturesque valley. Where do my stories come from? Sometimes from a section of a song.. you know the phrase that has you wondering what happened in the songwriter’s life that would make them write it? My ideas are sometimes born in that moment. Sometimes when I see people in public.. with happiness or love.. or worry.. painted on their face.. Ideas are sometimes born in their emotions. Sometimes when I read other books.. by other authors.. the characters that are overlooked.. the storylines they leave undeveloped.. ideas are just waiting to be born there.. Sometimes during research, I will come across old traditions, commonplace crimes of the times, historic events, natural disasters.. weird unexplained phenomenons… I have found these facts to be a lot stranger (and more unpredictable) than fiction. In these facts.. stories are just begging to be told.

But a lot of the time? Ha.. a lot of my story ideas are born from my dreams.

I have some of the craziest.. most vivid dreams.. Dreams that seem so real.. I am still thinking about them when I wake. In fact, well into my day.. I will still be wondering how they would have ended. From these dreams? YUP.. the best of my ideas are born.

But storylines aren’t straight.. they curve.. and stop… They veer off.. and merge with other storylines.. THIS “maze” of storylines?  This is what makes a good story.. This is what kept me up typing until my eyes wouldn’t stay open.. This is what prompted me to take a notebook with me to every appointment.. every meeting… every spare second that I could jot down notes…

Confused?

Ok.. take my life… I am so excited about my book being published!?! So excited that I do a crazy book lady dance every time there is a “first” in my life.. First book sold online.. first blog read in a new country.. first book sold overseas.. first review posted online… etc.. you get the picture. But my excitement? It doesn’t overwhelm me like you would think.. Why? Because life doesn’t travel in a straight line. I have kids.. I have a family… I have responsibilities.. ha…. I have LAUNDRY…  and right now I have a 3 year old nephew who has to have 18 months of chemotherapy. If those things didn’t affect my excitement? Well? Then I would be a robot..

In order for Emma to be realistic? In order for this character to seem ALIVE… she has to let her surroundings affect her. She has to let her friend’s life-changes affect her thoughts. She has to let her previous encounters effect her future actions. She HAS to let her emotions affect her choices…

If I can make Emma comes “alive” for a reader? Then they won’t be able to put her “life” .. her story.. down. They will want to keep reading until they know how her story ends..

.. and for me… life doesn’t end..

So neither does Emma’s story….

Be prepared..

IMG_6998Ever since the day my daughter was born, she has proven to be unfailingly … unpredictable. If I thought she would act a certain way, she would always pick the other. If I thought she would do great at something, she would refuse to try. She was SO unpredictable.. it was almost predictable..

As a young mother, I decided I was going to rock my infant daughter to sleep every night (because my wise mother had not allowed us to rock our baby brothers)… At 3 weeks old? At 3 weeks old, my daughter decided she had enough of that. She screamed until I laid her in her bed. She peacefully fell asleep on her own. This pattern continued with having to feed herself.. dress herself.. pick her own clothes. What ever I thought she would choose? She would suddenly chose something else.

I decided early on.. I was going to have to be prepared for anything.

My motto became… BE PREPARED!

I remember one camping trip fondly. My daughter was 2.. and fairer than any child I had ever seen. So I dressed her in a swimsuit.. in case she got wet in the wash tubs again.. or got too close to the water pumps… or “accidentally” spilled her juice on her clothes again. Then I slathered her from head to toe in a strong sunscreen.. that way I wouldn’t have to call out to her to stay in the shade.  Setting her down outside the tent, I then sprayed her with bug spray .. so the mosquitoes wouldn’t carry her away.

With a nod of satisfaction… satisfied that I had been as prepared as I possibly could be.. I turned back into the tent to prepare my second born.. my easy going son.

I had only JUST started dressing my son… when the laughter started. I am not talking about cute giggles. I don’t even mean a short laugh of amusement… This was full blown laughter.. and it was coming from the adults in our camping group. Trying to catch his breath, my husband called out, “Hey honey.. come here a minute… and… and bring the camera.”

Scrambling toward the door… I stepped outside to see my beautiful blond haired child.. covered in black dirt… from head to toe. While I was preparing to protect my daughter’s porcelain complexion, I happened to create the perfect glue. So perfect in fact, that when she laid down and rolled around in that dark sandy black soil? It stuck instantly to her.

And in the middle of that dirt caked face? A beautiful smile…

So I laughed with my family.. and reached for the camera. But I vowed.. I would be better prepared next time.

Then one night, I tucked my second grade daughter into bed.. and reached for the book on her night stand. Startled, I realized it wasn’t the same book that I had been reading to her.. It wasn’t the book I had been reading to her every night for the last week..one chapter at a time.

“Where is the book we were reading yesterday?” I asked her, confused.

“Oh I finished that one .. that is the next one in the series,” she replied nonchalantly.

“You finished it?” I repeated, still confused. “How? We only read chapter 10 last night..”

Taking a deep patient breath, my daughter replied.. “You left off where it was getting good.. I had to know how it would end. So I took it to school today,” she finished with a shrug.

“But we were reading it together,” I stated bewildered.

“You go ahead and finish it,” she encouraged. “But tonight you can start this one.” Pointing to the book I held in my hand.

In that moment? In that moment, I realized I was never going to be fully prepared. I was always going to be surprised by her.

So I decided…

I would go on being prepared.. but I needed to let the control go. Or at least the illusion of control. You see?!?  I never really had control. And I knew that I needed to just let the rest go.. I needed to let the NEED to feel prepared for ANYthing go.. and just lean on faith.

Now that my daughter is a teenager.. YUP.. she is still unpredictable.. But she no longer surprises me every time. We have come to expect her to be unpredictable. Always taking her two choices.. knowing that she will choose the only option we didn’t offer… We have just come to expect it.

So my new motto has become.. BE prepared and leave the rest to God..

This works for me.. most of the time. I still prepare myself for several scenarios… and occasionally I am still surprised by the unexpected. And occasionally? Occasionally, I am unprepared for it.

No matter how many times I talk myself through it? I am always surprised when someone lets me down. When someone that I look up to, behaves in a way I could not predict… in a way that disappoints me… it always takes me by surprise. I have to force myself to give that surprise back to God.. and to lean on faith. Faith that THAT person is dealing with unpredictable surprises of their own. The faith that everyone needs understanding.

It works well.. until the next time.

Recently, my family had something happen.. that none of us were expecting.. and we certainly weren’t prepared.

My youngest brother and his wife have a 3 year old son. Beautiful 3 year old boy.. with a beautiful soul.  As he progressed through his “terrible” 3’s? We, as a family, prepared to help guide the independence.. we prepared to keep a straight face when funny sassafras came out of his independent mouth… we prepared to pretend to be firm when needed. We all want this amazing boy to be the BEST that he can possibly be.. so we prepared to support his parents when needed.

But we prepared for the wrong thing…

My nephew was diagnosed with NF this spring. NF stands for Neurofibromatosis. A genetic disorder that we all believed to be characterized by large birthmarks .. and cyst growth on the skin. Again we prepared.. we prepared to make him feel comfortable in his skin. With these growths.

But again.. we prepared for the wrong thing…

Neurofibromatosis (NF) can cause tumors to grow on nerves… and cysts on bones… and anywhere.. on any organ system in the body.

My nephew? Well this beautiful  3 year old boy has cysts growing on his leg bones.. causing so much pain that he can’t sleep.

We weren’t prepared for that….

Then through a routine eye exam, they found what the specialists knew could happen. A non-cancerous tumor growing on his optic nerve.. behind his eye. Non-cancerous prepares our hearts to not be scared. But in fact, these tumors are too risky to operate on. When left unchecked, a growing tumor can damage his eye sight. The solution?

Chemotherapy.

Our beautiful, sweet, amazing nephew… needs chemotherapy..

We weren’t prepared for that either…

I don’t think anyone could be prepared for that…

“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn; and a time to dance;”  Ecclesiates 3:1-4

God has never promised us a perfect life… and it is not even close. But He has given us other promises. Promises to give us strength.. promises that we need not fear what He has planned for us.. promises that all things will make sense someday. And in these verses.. He tells us that after the tears.. there will again be laughter. Sometimes that laughter comes in the middle of the tears.. like a rainbow in the midst of a storm. Sometimes… it’s much later… after the storm is but a memory.

I don’t think we will be able to fully prepare this young boy …or ourselves… for the next 18 months.. But we can definitely try .. The rest? The rest we will have to take on faith. Faith that God will be there and get us through what we aren’t prepared for. That he will get this young boy and his parents through whatever they aren’t prepared for.

I have a feeling that my nephew will be more prepared for his chemotherapy treatments then us adults will be. After all.. he has 2 amazing parents with a deep faith in God. But it is always hard to see a child struggle through hard treatments.

So this week? This week was my time to weep.. and it was my time to break down.

But next week? I am praying that next week will begin the time of healing for my nephew.. and a time for laughter.. and a time to build up .. To build up in preparation for this road we will travel with this beautiful boy.. and his parents..

And in 18 months… I am praying it will be our time to dance…

The year of the locusts…

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Once upon a time.. a long, long time ago… the locust took over…

Actually in truth, it was 1875.. and the worst of the locusts were only there for the summer.  So they should have called it the Summer of the locusts. (Just my opinion, of course..)

During this Summer of the locusts.. Farmers watched their fields of mature crops get eaten to the ground by black “clouds” of these locusts. A locust is just a grasshopper, right?!? Such a simple insect.. seemingly harmless on it’s own. But in clouds of 1000’s? Clouds that took five DAYS to fly over towns on the prairie? Five days that they blocked out the sun. In these clouds, the locusts took everything… Crops, leaves from trees, clothes hanging on lines, ax handles, fence posts… everything…

A tiny insect most often no longer than an inch and a half.. brought farmers to their knees.

If the locusts had just eaten all the clothes on the line.. the farmers may not have lost their farms.  If they had just eaten the ax handles, the animals may not have faced starvation.  If they had simply ate the crops.. the farmers may not have had to seek shelter with family elsewhere… But these small insects ate everything in their path.

Some of these farmers did give up. Total loss of faith. And I have to admit I can see why… Knowing your children have no clothes.. no food for tomorrow.. no way to chop wood to cook with… nothing to feed your cattle.. the cattle you were fattening up for market.  With NO WAY to support your family? Yes.. I can easily see why they would pack their families up and move on.

And still… many farmers did not give up.

Maybe their losses weren’t as severe. Maybe it hadn’t been wash day for them.. maybe their sheets, towels and extra clothes were safely tucked inside. Maybe little “Johnny” had remembered to take care of the ax and the rakes… sparing their handles.  Maybe they had already put up a supply of hay before the locusts came. There is no way for me to know for sure if the severity of their losses affected their decision to stay put.. and to have faith…

But have faith they did.  Many farmers picked themselves up and replanted their crops in June. Not knowing if the crops would even grow in the typically dry, hot months… Going on nothing but faith.. they re-planted. And hoped…

They were gifted with unexpected rains that summer and their crops flourished. Their immense faith was rewarded.

  “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten– the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm– my great army that I sent among you.” Joel 2:25 NIV

What a great promise that God gave His faithful followers… Those who showed faith and replanted.. God repaid them their lost crops. Those who lost their faith.. those who packed up their hungry families and moved on? They moved on– empty handed.

How could they have such faith? Faith placed in a God who admits that HE “sent” the great army “among them”? How can faith withstand that statement? There could be many reasons.. but to me? To me there is another promise that stands out in God’s Word.. A promise that echoes with comfort for me..

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also placed ignorance in the human heart, so that no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV

Why locusts?

On this beautiful fall day, why am I writing about locusts?

After weeks of not typing a word.. why are my first words about locusts?

It’s simple… this was my Summer of Locusts.

Now it is true I have quite a few grasshoppers in my garden.. but my locusts don’t really jump around and eat tomato plants.

This year has been long months of trials after trials… you know how it goes…. A screw in your brand new car tire.. unexpected expenses.. sickness.. medical mysteries… teenage “stages”… disrupted plans.. squash bug invasions.. a fungus killing off half your garden… delays.. watching a child suffer… and funerals.

As I watch the world around me.. I see that I am not the only one suffering from Locusts. A young family buried their newborn..  A beautiful soul called out for prayers as her father slowly left this world.. My whole family grieved when my uncle was unexpectedly called home.. a beloved sister in law lost both of her parents within months of each other and watching a young nephew suffer.

Oh yes.. we have all had a Summer of Locusts…

And what have we done?

What have I done?

I hate to admit it.. but my Locusts brought me to my knees.  I am the farmer who collapsed to her knees in the dirt. Shocked as I looked out at the destruction left behind. Helpless in that moment.. speechless against the pain.. but not hopeless. I held that hope tightly in my hands.. fearing if I loosened my grasp that I would lose it completely.

As I looked around.. among what remained.. I saw things out of place with the grief.. things out of place with the sadness and stress.. Little things. Little things that show God’s promise to repay our losses. I watched my daughter use her voice.. her gift from God.. to comfort others. I watched people step forward to share stories of how my Uncle touched their lives.  I watched my parents tearfully give their beloved brother into God’s care. I watched with pride as my little brother fought through his grief and sang song after song with me in my Uncle’s hospital room… singing through tears and choked voices. Even through my tears and shock, I could see the Blessings God was repaying.. my book successfully being published.. a letter from our new exchange student.. watching my nieces and nephews display love and comfort to others.. watching them grow into their beautiful souls… and feeling the love and support all around me.

So I pulled myself to my feet.. wiped my tears and began picking up the pieces.  But I still clung to that hope. Holding it tightly in my hands lest it fall apart too..

“When are you going to write again?” my niece asked me one day. And then she asked it again the following day.. and the day after that.  She might as well have been asking me, “When are you going to loosen your grasp on your hope? When are you going to trust it? Plant it in the ground .. and with a little faith.. watch it grow…”

I think I will…

I think I just did…

..and in the end… it will be beautiful…