Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Christmas Stockings


                                                                Ecclesiastes 9:10 
Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might…
           Why do I think I can sew?  Let me rephrase that…why do I think I like to sew?
            I don’t like to sew.  Not even a little bit.  But I LOVE hand-sewn things.  I admire people who sew and appreciate very much the labor and talent that goes into sewing.  Before I tell my story, let me give you some background…
            My sister is the seamstress of the family.  I am the baker.  My mother sewed and my sister sewed and they did so beautifully.  Me, not so much.  Maybe that was imprinted on my psyche…”Heather, you should sew, you should enjoy it…what’s wrong with you?”  Not that anyone ever said that to me.
            I never liked sewing or ironing or anything fabric-related.  I don’t even make my bed…because…so much fabric.
            Still, when we lived in Georgia for a year in 1986 – our first year of marriage - I worked at a sewing factory.  Yes I did.  I sewed plus-size women’s clothing…and it’s a good thing because the machines had a blade that cut off the fabric as you sewed and I’m pretty sure I turned some size 24 blouses into size 12.  And, I was slow.  The idea was to move at a pretty good clip.  My supervisor, Winkie - yes, that was her name, did not like me—not even a little bit.  The supervisor was judged by her section’s “production” and I kept our numbers from soaring.  She was on me like a tick.  Needless to say, I only worked there a couple of months and quit (no, I wasn’t fired but Winkie didn’t shed any tears when I announced my departure).  I hated the work.
            I sewed curtains for each house we’ve lived in and when the kids were little, I even sewed them nightshirts for Christmas eve one year.  It was a Jiffy 1-hour pattern.  One hour start to finish the package read.  Shoot, even I can do that!  Eight hours later the first one was done and I was exhausted.  Why did I take this on?  Why?  Maybe it was the loving feeling of wearing something made by my mother that I wanted to duplicate for my kids.  Yes, that must have been it. 
            Fast forward to this week.  My seamstress sister made our family Christmas stockings - two of them are 31 years old.  They’re tired.  They’re well-loved.  They’re on their last legs.  It was time for new stockings.  I shopped around and found some lovely choices but something stirred in my soul.  “Make them yourself,” I told me.  I balked.  “No…it’s too much trouble.” I replied.  “You’ll sew love into them and honestly, how hard can they be?” I teased.  I believed me.  I fooled myself into going to Hobby Lobby.  I was tricked into buying fabric and fur for the cuffs.  I wasn’t sure how to make them but I was going to do it!
            When I got home, I put a call in to my sister.  “Oh, they’re so easy,” she said.  She told me I could do it.  She sounded so confident.  I believed her.  “I’ll come over and help you with the cuffs,” she promised.  And with that, I hung up the phone and cut out the stockings.   Did I mention that I found some lovely upholstery (translate: expensive) fabric in two colors with which to make the stockings?  I did.  And I cut the stockings too small.  When my sister demonstrated how to sew a cuff, I found that my hand would not fit into the top.  If my hand can’t fit into the top, how on earth will SANTA’S hand fit?  It won’t.  And there was the rub. 
            “You can leave them as they are, or remake them,” my sister stated plainly.  Well, duh.  But something I hate more than sewing is RE-SEWING.  Ripping something out or starting over—I’d rather have a root canal. 
            Well, I thought, we’ll just put small things in the stockings and hopefully after they’re put in, we can get them back out.  An exercise of faith.  Yeah, that’s it.
            But I knew what I had to do.  So I went back to Hobby Lobby and bought more fabric and had a nice conversation with the fabric cutting lady about sewing—as if I partook of this evil all the time—and I’m pretty sure she saw right through me.  I brought it all home and let it sit for a couple of days before sticking my fingers into the scissors one more time, taking a deep breath and cutting bigger stockings.  This time my hand fit inside and although a couple of them are still a tad tight, I have faith that someone in the family will be able to fit their hand in and dig out the bottom-dwelling goodies.
            When the stockings were sewn, one more thing had to happen.  Ironing.  The seams had to be ironed flat.  Kill me now.  I don’t iron.  I avoid it at all costs.  Clothing purchases are made based on whether or not the item will ever need to be ironed, even if it is left inside the dryer for an extended period of time (not that I ever forget my laundry in the dryer).  Any doubt of permanent press potential deems an item of clothing unworthy of purchase.  No joke.  So I found and drug out the ironing board and iron.  I commenced pulling out the seams and ironing them down.  I have to admit, it did wonders for the stockings.  Perhaps that part wasn’t as torturous as the rest.  And handing them off to my husband to hang on the windowsill adjacent to the chimney with care, was quite satisfying.  I ironed all six stockings and they hang in a row, looking pretty spiffy if I do say so myself.  I didn’t enjoy making them, but I’m glad I did.  Sometimes the hard things are the most satisfying.  As I sewed, I thought of my family and how much I love them and how much I hope they appreciate these @%#$ stockings…just kidding.  What I really thought about is how much I will enjoy filling them with goodies I know each one of them will enjoy.  Stockings are the best at our house!  I’m glad I remade them in spite of my deep desire to scrap the whole thing.  Lord willing, I won’t have to do it again for another 30 years! 
            I still don’t like sewing, but I love sewing for my family. 


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Making a Mark...

Psalm 147:10-11
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
Nor his delight in the legs of a man;
The Lord delights in those who fear him,
Who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Several years ago, I broke my leg while roller skating at my nieces birthday party.  In the months I spent recovering with pins and plates holding my leg together,  Psalm 147:10-11 became my life verse.  At the time, it was very relevant to my leg situation.  There was no delighting in my legs at that time…I wasn’t allowed to use either of them.  It was the obvious application.  As time goes on, though, this verse has gained deeper meaning. 

I stayed home with my kids.  I am very thankful that I was afforded that privilege.  I wouldn’t change those years for anything.  But the world doesn’t admire stay-at-home moms.  And let's be honest, the kids don’t really admire them either.  It’s a thankless and tiring job.  There is a lot of sitting on the sidelines…literally and figuratively.  While I was sitting on the sidelines of a soccer field, other moms were climbing the career ladder, gaining notoriety, making a mark.  Every time I tried to do something “bigger” I felt God telling me to stop…then the verse.  Sometimes it read something like this: “I do not take pleasure in your accomplishments or talents, I delight in your obedience.”  Sometimes I would argue, “But you gave me the gifts, I need to use them!  NOW!” Didn’t God realize the train of notoriety was leaving the station and I was stuck doing the dishes?  Did He really want me to miss out?  I finished the dishes and read my kids books and went to countless track meets and band concerts.  I wasn’t unhappy to do it, but I wanted more.  I wanted to make a difference in the world.  I wanted to be somebody.  I wanted to have an answer to the question “What do you do?” that didn’t make me shrink with anticipation of the response, which was usually something along the lines of “oh, is that all?”  My verse reminded me that what was important to God was not my title, God isn't impressed with busyness and accomplishment, He desires my obedience.

Now that my kids are grown and gone, I am able to pursue the other things that my heart has longed to do.  Things I believe that God put in my heart to do…eventually.  I realize that I’ve made a mark in the lives of my kids...in my marriage…by doing what God called me to do when he gave me my children.  And really, I do not make the mark.  God does.  His love reaches through me to touch the lives of others.  

I still have longings of mark making…and so I write.  My life verse speaks loud and clear…in a new way...

My pleasure is not in the things you do, or the way you write,

I delight when you trust me and cling to my unfailing love.

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for God's patience with my impatience.  I'm thankful for my husband and children.  I'm thankful that I have purpose even though motherhood is no longer a full-time job.  And most of all, I'm thankful for God's Word.   

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Wake-Up Call

I’ve been very passionate about the election. 
I’ve had strong opinions about the candidates—and my opinions have changed and re-changed as accusations and videos and emails have dropped like so many bricks.
I’ve been upset and anxious and…I hate to admit, faithless. 
Until recently.
At some point in the past couple of weeks I couldn’t stand it any longer.
I had to let it go.
I woke in the night and prayed…night after night.
And peace has covered my anxious heart.
Peace and a humbling conviction.
The words that come to mind as I pray are…
Be bold.
As I’ve pondered and sought answers I’ve discovered that we are in this predicament due to our own complacency. 
We dropped the ball.
We shrugged our shoulders at depravity.
We winked at sin.
We have listened to false teaching.
We have looked upon ugliness.
And then we have the audacity to ask for favor in this election.
Now that we find ourselves facing the consequences our own negligence, we ask God to save us?
That’s one kind of bold, I suppose.
Brazen is the word I would use.
God doesn’t owe us a godly leader. 
He gave us this incredible country founded by men of faith and principle.
Maintained by bravery and ultimate sacrifice. 
We’ve let it rot.
This election is what’s known as a wake-up call.
Wake up, Christian!
Stand up!
Buck up!
No matter what the outcome of the election is, we have to get busy with the work we were put here to do.
We have to stand up for righteousness. 
Tell the truth, even when it’s not easy.
Love with grace.
And…be bold.

2 Peter 3:8-12
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

It doesn’t matter who wins the election. 
What matters is what we’re doing to share God’s saving grace with the lost.
Our country did not end up in this condition because we were actively doing God’s work. 
We fell asleep on the job.
I fell asleep on the job.
I’m awake now. 
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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Revisions...

            

           I was talking to a friend about the message of my novel.  The story has many messages I suppose, but perhaps the most important one is the message of grace.  I want to share the truth that no one of us is better than another; that we are flawed and imperfect and perfectly redeemable. 
            I filled my story with imperfect people making mistakes and doing harm.  One character, though, remained less tainted than the rest.  Claire—my main character.  She was a little anxious, but otherwise filled with faith and good will.  Bless her.  What a gem.
            My beta readers weren’t as impressed with Claire as I was.  They said she was boring.  They said she lacked excitement.  They said she was too safe.  She was. She is the stay-at-home mom married to the cop who always had a wonderful attitude about life’s challenges.  A Pollyanna.  Yawn.  The thing is, I’m writing what I know, Claire was a cleaned-up version of what I hoped I could be.
            I am not as wonderful as Claire.  My attitude stinks.  I’ve entertained angry, unkind thoughts about my husband and sometimes I judge people unfairly and I am selfish.  My house is often messy and I waste more time than I’d like to admit and I’ve withheld forgiveness more times than I can count.
            Claire was fiction at its finest.
            So, I got to work on her.  If my life was the inspiration for Claire, she was going to have to gain some flaws, angst and ugliness.  I was going to have to let her fail.  Allow her to be stupid and selfish and wrong.  She was going to have to suffer shame. 
            Why?
            Because if I’m going to write about grace, I have to give grace a dark place to go, so the light of grace can shine brightly.
            I showered Claire with flaws and angst and ugliness so that my readers will care and relate and possibly see themselves in her story.  It hurt to do it because I share some of her flaws—what if people think I’ve done those things?  And there it is.  A truth.  People don’t relate to perfect Christians who have it all together and can show us how to have it all together too.  They relate to real, broken, messed up people who had to scrape and scratch their way to God's grace.  What if people think I’m just like Claire (because the resemblances are pretty stunning)?  Well, maybe they’ll relate and feel a sisterhood and realize they can find sweet grace too. 

            I celebrate with Claire as she overcomes the bondage of sin and anger.  I celebrate with her as her eyes open to the joy found in giving and receiving grace.  I have grown along with Claire as I’ve helped her find her way.  
          As the revisions continue, I am thankful for the opportunity to improve my manuscript. I’m even more thankful that in real life, we can revise our story too.  There’s plenty of grace to go around.
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Monday, September 19, 2016

Fluttering Leaves...


            I don’t know why I haven’t taken solo morning walks for so long.  Summer mornings are warm and wonderful, yet I haven’t walked solo for months.  I think about it, usually in the evening, and vow to go as soon as Alex leaves for work the next morning…but I don’t.  I get distracted.  The phone rings, the laundry beckons or I have people to see and places to go. 
            This morning I went for a morning walk by myself.  I drove to the Chehalis Western Trail and plugged in my ear buds. As I walked, Needtobreathe, Switchfoot, Hillsong, Colton Dixon and many others serenaded me.  It struck me how important this time is.  It’s time with God, with nature.  It’s exercise.  But maybe the most important thing is the creativity (my lifeblood)…of music, nature and spending time conversing with God.  The inspiration flowed…slowly at first and then swiftly like a flash flood.  I struggled not to sing out loud with the music…
Yahweh, Yahweh
Great is your glory when you go before me
Oh, we sing
Holy, Holy
Your ways are lovely So high above me
Yahweh”
(It sounds great when Needtobreathe sings those words, but nobody needs to hear me sing it, so I sang loud and proud in my head.) 
            The changing of the seasons was in full display on the trail this morning.  Apples decorated the branches of trees, leaves with traces of yellow and orange, some with bright red veins, drifted to the path in front of me.  Some tardy blackberries struggled to find the warmth to ripen on the vine next to their spent neighbors.  I noticed something in the grass and almost dismissed it as garbage (there was garbage nearby) but the pure white mushroom—perfect and untouched—glistened in the dew of morning.

            Then I saw a fluttering.  A leaf dangled and danced just below a branch.  Funny, because there wasn’t wind.  I stopped and watched.  Colton Dixon’s song filled my ears and my heart as I watched the leaf quiver in an invisible whisper of a breeze.
“This life I hold so close
Oh, God I let it go
I refuse to gain the world and lose my soul
So take it all I abandon everything I am
You can have it
The only thing that I need is
More of you
Less of me
Make me who I'm meant to be
You're all I want all I need
You're everything
Take it all I surrender
Be my king
God I choose
More of you and less of me
I need more of you
More of you”
            Why was that leaf moving like that?  Why did the slightest breeze move one leaf but the others remained still? 
            The leaf wasn’t connected to the branch.  It was separated, held in place by a thread, perhaps a strand of a spider’s web or a thread of its fiber.  The slightest puff moved it to and fro, it danced with every whim of the air. 
            Connection.  It had everything to do with being connected.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14)  The leaves with a strong connection to the branch remained still.  Unmoved.
            That little fluttering leaf was a sweet reminder of the importance of being in close relationship with God.   Spending time with my Savior, reading His Word, offering Him praise and thanksgiving and sharing my heart with Him, and most importantly listening for what He wants to share with me.  I don’t want to flutter and sway or quiver with fear and doubt.  I want to cling to the One who created me, loves me and saved me.  I need these morning walks for more than just the exercise, I need them to strengthen the connection to my Savior.  Praying as I stroll through His creation, singing His praises.
            I can’t wait to see what He shows me tomorrow!

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Process...


It’s a long process. 
Writing…rewriting…revising…revising again…etc.
I thought my manuscript was ready to be seen by agents.  I really, truly did.
Nope.
I’m only done with my second draft.
I have three more to go.
I went to the writing conference with high hopes, but ten minutes into my first class—a class on writing fiction taught by a prolific author, I knew my manuscript was far from ready.
And I was okay with it.
I truly want it to be good enough.  I truly want it to be right.
So I sat in class and soaked up all of the information that I could—feverishly writing every little tidbit that fell on my ears.
I filled a notebook.
I learned a lot.
I’m making revisions now—major, manuscript-altering revisions.
I’m not talking tweaks.
And, wow, it’s so much better.
I’m filled with hope that I’m moving in the right direction.
The other good thing that came from the conference was confirmation.
Real live agents said that my story was good.  
That the writing was good. 
That my story had potential.
It just isn’t ready…yet. 
I can work with that.  I will work with that.  I’m happy to work with that!
I had a mentor meeting with another published author who was very encouraging.
“How will I know when it’s ready?” I asked.
“The first novel always takes the longest,” she replied.  “But it will be much easier to know when your second novel is ready.  The first one takes a long time.”
Encouragement.
I can do this.
So I plug away, feeling energized by feedback and faith that someday my hard work will sit on my shelf...in the form of a book.