Home is Where the House Is… Sometimes

Craig removing loose paint from the foundation in the basement stairwell, August.
Craig removing loose paint from the foundation near the basement door, August.

One year ago at this time, we were packing our two-story-plus-full-basement-and-attic house in preparation to move 200 miles away. We’d already sold the house but were waiting for the buyer’s lender to complete all the details before the deal closed. That finally occurred on October 11, and we closed the sale and took possession of on our new place on October 16.

Almost as if to commemorate that event for its anniversary, Craig’s mom is selling her house, and has to be out by October 17. She’s in the Cleveland area, and we’re here in Maryland. We’ll be going to Ohio. Craig has two sisters and a brother in the area, as well as two nieces and a nephew, so it’s not as if Mom has to deal with everything herself. However, we’d like to participate, too, rather than leave it all to them.

She’s been in that house since 1957. She’s complained about “this dump” for the nearly 40 years that I’ve known her. Nevertheless, she’s not happy about leaving. It’s a big change for her, and I appreciate that it’s difficult emotionally. She’ll be moving in with her youngest daughter, Gail, and her three kids (teen and pre-teen), which will be a huge adjustment for all of them. But they’re delighted with the prospect and will make her very welcome there, and as happy and comfortable as is in their power.

This year's garden in its prime, August 15. (All that's left now is peppers, tomatoes, and green beans.)
This year’s garden in its prime, August 15. (All that’s left now is peppers, tomatoes, and green beans.)

I’m not fond of moving. It’s a lot of work! But I do enjoy the excitement of new people, new places, and new experiences. Both Craig and I are very happy we made the move last year, and we anticipate his mom will be glad, too, once she’s finally settled into her new home.

Our situation is very different from hers, of course, in many aspects. In some ways, there’s no comparison (except for the actual work involved in both moves). Rather than selling the house to avoid having to keep it up, we bought a house with the intention of changing it to suit us.

We have, in fact, made some major changes over the past 10 months. I showed you before-and-after pictures of the kitchen, our first big project, some time ago. This summer, we put in a garden, Craig built a new shed, and he (along the help of a professional tree-removal service and also from Scott, our son-in-law) did some serious landscaping work. You’ll see various pictures scattered throughout this post.

Front of house in November, 2012 (taken by the listing realtor)
Front of house “before” (November, 2012) (photo taken by the listing realtor)

I’ve discovered one unexpected consequence of this moving experience: it’s almost turned me into a neat freak. How so? Well, at first, we worked on the old house and fixed everything we could possibly fix (I give Craig the credit for this), even so far as patching and painting or wallpapering the inside of all the closets and built-in cabinets. When I say everything, that’s exactly what I mean. Then, of course, we had to keep it spotless for a couple of open houses and frequent showings. (This was much easier than last time we’d sold our house, as we had no small children or pets to mess things up.) After a while, I grew accustomed to having everything neat and clean.

Front as of September 25. Next year there will be flower-filled planters there, but otherwise, this is the "after" picture.
Front as of September 25. Next year there will be 3 flower-filled planters there, but otherwise, this is the “after” picture.

Then, we cleaned everything in the new house before moving in, such as washing walls, woodwork, windows, shampooing carpets, etc. Once we got settled in, every closet, drawer, cabinet and cubbyhole was clean, neat, and organized.

Now, it’s beginning to get that lived-in look—and that bothers me! Yesterday morning I defrosted and reorganized the deep freeze (which needed to be done whether I wanted to or not) and my spice cabinet in the afternoon. Over the next month or so, I hope to do the same everywhere throughout the whole house. Because, after having things clean and organized for so long, I’ve decided that, though I still don’t like the act of cleaning, I do like the result. And, much like with defrosting the freezer, it’s far easier to do it before it gets out of hand. So I might as well just keep up with things instead of waiting until things fall out of the cabinets when I open the doors.

Another view of the new-and-improved front
Another view of the new-and-improved front

For now, though, I think I’d better pack and prepare for our trip to Ohio tomorrow. Another moving day is coming up.

Oh, by the way: I’m still on schedule to release The Last Toqeph, the fourth and final book in the Gateway to Gannah series, in October.

Stay tuned for more news on that front soon!Lost and Found

 

 

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Back to Faith

P1030227I’m back to the topic of faith, which I began last month and continued with the second installment a couple weeks ago. I hope to wrap it up today, because it was never my intention to start a series; all this started about with some meandering thoughts about a magazine article.

The first post was a general observation about faith and human nature. In the second, I pointed out that the fervency of our faith is less important than the object of it.

I published the second post late in the evening and then went to bed, but it occurred to me after I laid down that the article might need some clarification. So that’s what I’m going to attempt today.

The story I told in Part II of this accidental series was an actual event, related as accurately as I recall it. I don’t know if either of the men were Christians, but it sticks in the back of my mind that at least one of them was, or at least, he was an active member of a church. In any case, however, a reasonable person might dispute the conclusion I drew. One might wonder, if one or both men’s faith was in Christ, didn’t God let them down by allowing such a terrible thing to happen? Even if neither of them were believers, we all know people who love the Lord but bad things happen to them anyway. Isn’t our faith misplaced in a situation like that? What good does faith in Christ do when it doesn’t protect us from disaster?

I consider these questions legitimate, and I regretted not thinking to address them last time until after genieLampHeartI’d published the post.

By way of answering now, let me simplistically point out that God is not a genie. The Christian faith is not about saying some magic words ending with, “In Jesus’s name, Amen” and expecting God to do our bidding.

God is God. That means He does what He will.

Yes, He considers what we want, and He loves it when we talk to Him and pour out our hopes, fear, and dreams. Very often, when we make a request, He’s happy to give us what we ask for. But one of the biggest benefits of prayer is not in getting Him to do our bidding, but in aligning our wills to His. The more we pray, the more we change. No amount of prayer can change Him to suit us.

The Bible is full of examples of this. (So is the whole history of the world, but for now, I’ll limit the discussion to what we see in the scriptures.) One of the most poignant is found in John 11. Jesus’s dear friend Lazarus was deathly ill, and Lazarus’s sisters sent a servant to Jesus and asked Him to come to heal him. (In other words, they prayed to Him.) But instead of coming to the rescue, Jesus stayed where he was for a few more days. He didn’t go until Lazarus was already dead and buried.

But He loved Lazarus and his sisters! They were suffering, and He could have helped them, but He didn’t! What’s up with that?

He’s God. He accomplishes His purposes, not ours.

But the most powerful example, of course, is the humiliation and agony Jesus went through Himself. He could have stopped that nightmare at any time. But instead, despite His sweat-soaked prayers to the Father to allow “this cup to pass from me,” He allowed this, the world’s most monumental travesty of justice, to be carried out to its horrifying completion. Because God is God.

To question the love — or power — or existence — of God because bad things happen is to assume we know better than He. That every painful thing is bad, and everything we like is good. That we can judge God by our standard.

file0001864884953God is not Santa Claus. Believing in Him doesn’t mean being good and going to church, or being nice so He’ll give us nice things and keep us from evil.

Faith in God means trusting Him even when what’s going on makes no sense at all. It means believing what He says whether or not we understand it. Looking at things from His eternal perspective rather than from our limited, earthbound viewpoint.

I have faith in my car’s brakes to stop me. I have faith in the roof of my house to protect me and the contents from bad weather. I have faith in my marriage of almost 39 years. But faith in God trumps all that.

Despite my confidence, I know brakes fail, buildings fall apart, and marriages end. God won’t allow any of those things to happen unless and until it suits His perfect purposes. But when something horrific does happen, I’ll know He’s got everything under control, just as He did when Lazarus died. Just as He did when Jesus stood before Pilate.

It goes against our human nature to let go and trust–even, as the article in Wired magazine stated (in part I of this series), when confronted with evidence of our own inferiority.

It’s especially hard when things fall apart. We want to take matters into our own hands. But trusting myself more than the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent God is just plain foolishness.

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Friends and Book Covers

In The Story in the Stars, no one wears a space suit. So why is there one on the cover?

I’m not quite finished meandering through the topic of faith that I began two blog posts ago. However, I’ve decided to take a break for today and revisit the subject of writing. (Once upon a time, this was a writers’ blog, as you may recall.)

The idea for this post started with contemplations on book covers. Probably everyone reading this knows I was never happy with the first impression the covers of my first two books give, and so I made cover art a high priority for the next two.

While I was working with Ken Raney of Clash Creative on the covers of Ransom in the Rock (released in May) and The Last Toqeph (to be

Ransom in the Rock: A cover that represents the book's content!
Ransom in the Rock: A cover that represents the book’s content!

released next month), two of my writer friends revealed the covers of their novels. The artwork on both intrigued me, for different reasons. Both titles are debut novels. Both novels are through the same publisher. And both authors are special friends of mine.

I asked them about the possibility of appearing together on my blog, and they liked the idea. So that’s what we’re doing today, and I’m delighted to welcome them to Y’s Words. Instead of a typical guest spot or interview, we’re just going to sit down and have a chat with the three of us. Pull up a chair!

I met Ane Mulligan back in 2002 in an online writers critique group. Hard to believe that was more than 12 years ago! But we stuck together through thick and thin, and although she lives in Georgia and I was in Ohio, we’ve also met personally. (At a number of ACFW conferences.) Ane’s always been one of my most enthusiastic encouragers.

I met Susan Lawrence at a writing retreat in Kansas City. That would have been… I don’t remember the year. Do you, Susan?

SUSAN: Hmmm. It must have been 2009. That was the year I wrote my first novel.

Yes, that sounds about right. We’ve been friends ever since, and we’ve even had the opportunity to view one another in our natural habitats. In fact, I made Susan’s hubby get up early one morning to take me to the Des Moines airport. He probably didn’t mind much, though, because it meant he could finally get me out of his house.

Ane’s a multi-talented lady whose literary bent used to be toward drama. I understand you’ve published quite a few plays, haven’t you, Ane?

ANE: I have. I started writing scripts in 1996 for my church. Our pastor loved to illustrate his sermons with sketches. I’ve written over four dozen, everything from the 90-second sermon starter to one-act plays and full-length musicals. LifeWay was my first publisher and published several of mine. After they closed the line, and I got my rights back, I self-published them on a CD.

Yes, Ane always was a bit of a drama queen (ha ha). But I didn’t meet her until she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. Never one to be half-hearted, she jumped in with both feet, even quitting her job in order to leave more time for writing. And working with American Christian Fiction Writers—she’s been very active in that. What offices have you held with ACFW, Ane?

ANE: I was the Zone Officer on the Operating Board for four years. I love ACFW and I love setting up chapters around the country. I’m now on staff as the Zone Coordinator, doing the same thing, overseeing the chapters.

SUSAN: And I’m attending my very first ACFW conference in September, where I’m looking forward to meeting Ane in person.

I’m a little worried about that, Susan. Whatever she tell you about me, don’t believe it, because she has an overactive imagination. But I’m happy you’re going to the conference—and that you’ll get to meet Ane and some of my other friends. You’ll have a wonderful time.

Atonement for Emiy Adams But let’s talk about covers. Ladies, you’re both at the mercy of your publisher. How much input were you able to have on your cover art?

SUSAN: My publisher did let me make suggestions but ended up going a different direction altogether. Now I think it is the perfect cover art and I can’t imagine my story in any other cover.

ANE: I ended up with the sweetest deal of all. Lighthouse agreed

Chapel Springs Revival
Chapel Springs Revival

to allow my hubs, who is an artist, to paint my cover. Poor man. It wasn’t easy pulling an imaginary town from my brain. To me, Chapel Springs was more of a feeling. Even though I could picture the buildings, I hadn’t given them form. So, Hubs would paint, then call me to come down to his studio and look it over. I’d tell him, “It’s a little more like this,” and show him a photo I’d found online. And I’d say, “But not quite like that.” We went this way through a good dozen photos until he got it. I love the end result.

I can’t help but notice, Susan, there’s a quote from a distinguished author on your front cover, talking about how good the book is. (And it is good – for sure and certain!) Seems to me endorsements like that should be on the back, not splashed on the front. What do you think about that?

SUSAN: I love the quote from one of my favorite authors and my dear friend, Yvonne. I think it fits perfectly on the front cover.

Aw, shucks. Thanks. Ane, do you have an endorsement on the front?

ANE: I do, from Gina Holmes. “Like coming home to the place you wish you were from.”

Well, maybe that’s more common than I thought. I guess I just never noticed before. As readers, do you judge a book by its cover?

ANE: It’s the first thing that catches my eye. Then I read the back cover copy. But the feeling the cover evokes will be what I notice first.

SUSAN: I agree. I know a cover does not a book make, but I will grab the book with the cover that appeals to me.

I think we’re all on the same page (pun intended) on this subject. But do you think a book cover should show a scene from the book itself? Is factual accuracy important? Or is the key thing to create the proper feeling or mood?

ANE: I think the key is the feeling or mood it evokes is the most important.

Susan, did you have something in mind for your cover initially?

SUSAN: I did. I thought I wanted something to show the accident scene. The actual cover of Atonement for Emily Adams shows Emily in a cemetery. In the story, she isn’t ever in a cemetery. But it could have happened. And I agree with Ane that the feeling or mood evoked is what is critical for a cover.

Ane, tell us about Chapel Springs Revival.

ANE: It’s a romp through miscommunication in marriage. Claire and Patsy, my two characters, are a hoot. A little like Lucy and Ethel, they’re both artists. Claire moves without thinking and goes through life without any filters between her brain and her mouth. Patsy says, “With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.”

Susan, tell us a little about Atonement for Emily Adams.

SUSAN: It’s the story of a young woman who accidentally kills a child. She tries to atone for that unspeakable act by doing all the good she can do. It doesn’t work out so well for her. The message is that true atonement comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.

What does it feel like to hold your book in your hands or see it on a shelf?

ANE: After eleven years, it feels GREAT! It’s like giving birth. I don’t think anyone but another writer can appreciate the journey, but for one whose journey has been a long one, it was worth every frustration!

SUSAN: I love to see it and hold it, but an even greater joy is to get feedback from those who read it. To know that my writing has encouraged, inspired or uplifted someone is a blessing beyond compare.

For any reader who has been trying for years to get a novel published, like the three of us did for so long, what advice do you have?

ANE: Don’t ever give up! Your time may be just around the corner. Besides, if you’re truly a writer, a storyteller, you couldn’t quit writing anymore than you can quit breathing.

SUSAN: Work at it – attend conferences, join a critique group, read books about writing, and write, write, write.

Sounds like good advice. In fact, it’s pretty much what I’d say. Thank you, my dear friends, for stopping by to chat. I wish I could be with you at the conference next week (insert pouty face here), but I spent all my money on cover art…

Ane Mulligan – Southern Fried Fiction

More about Ane: While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction website, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.

More about Susan:
Susan grew up on a small farm in the heart of Iowa. As a small child she learned to love

Susan Lawrence
Susan Lawrence

country life, writing stories, and her Savior, Jesus Christ. A graduate of Kansas State Teacher’s College, she taught special needs children for thirty-three years before retiring to devote more time to writing, speaking, and storytelling.
Susan lives with her husband, Gary, the love of her life and her best friend of forty-four years. She is the mother of three and grandmother of seven beautiful and brilliant grandchildren. She enjoys spending time with family, biking, and traveling. But most of all, she loves to tell the story, the good news of Jesus Christ, in writing, in speaking, or in living.
You can find more about or contact Susan at www.susanrlawrence.com, on Facebook or email her at srlauthor at mchsi.com.

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Faith, Hope, and Love

P1030227Yesterday I followed a car with those words on a bumper sticker: FAITH HOPE LOVE

This famous trio is named in 1 Corinthians 13:13 to round out the famous “love” chapter that used to be so frequently quoted at weddings. As a result, we think of these as Christian attributes.

I’ve been thinking about faith since my last post (which I wrote over a month ago–argh!), and I wanted to talk about this then but ran out of time. Seeing that bumper sticker reminded me, so here I am, finally, attempting to finish the thought I started writing about in early August.

Though it’s true that faith, along with its sisters hope and love, is vital to Christianity–indeed, without faith it’s not possible to follow Christ–faith is not unique to Christianity. A person can hope without knowing Christ. A person can love without believing in God. And a person can have faith–even vibrant, life-changing faith–without Christ.

But it’s not the sincerity or strength of our faith that matters; all that counts is the object of it.

Many years ago I read a newspaper article that illustrated this point better than sermonizing ever could. I don’t recall all the details, but this was reported as a factual incident in national newspapers some time in the early 1980s.

Two boys were best friends growing up. After they graduated, they went to college KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAtogether. They were Best Man in each others’ weddings and godfathers to the others’ children. At one point, they quit their jobs and started a business together.

They’d come up with a new kind of bulletproof vest that was lighter weight and more comfortable than the typical protective gear at the time. They marketed it to businessmen who traveled in South and Central America at a time when revolutions and terrorism made it dangerous to do business in that part of the world. Their pitch was that they were selling peace of mind. The vest was invisible beneath clothing, and it was so light and comfortable, you could forget you were wearing it.

They invited a number of international business executives to a luncheon and a demonstration of the product. After the meal, they brought out a vest and allowed the guests to try it on. I don’t recall if they were able to demonstrate how it deflected bullets–I believe this event was at a hotel, so they probably weren’t able to do any actual shooting, but they may have shown a film or photos of what happened when a bullet struck the armor.

What I do remember was that, during this demonstration, one of the partners put on the vest and the two announced that they would demonstrate that the vest not only protected against gunfire but also against a knife attack. Right there in front of their potential customers, the one partner drew a knife and stabbed his friend with it — and the armor effectively deflected the blade.

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 9.37.01 PMThe audience was impressed, and the two men were no doubt pleased with their response. Did visions of dollar signs dance in their heads? Did they think about the educations they’d be able to provide their children with the profits from their new business? Did they think about the jewelry they’d buy their wives?

I have no idea. But I’m quite certain they had complete faith in their invention; it had already proven itself in various trials. The man wearing the vest had complete faith in his friend though he wielded a lethal weapon against him. And the man with the knife had no doubt that this sales pitch would be a success.

Like an exclamation point at the end of the demonstration, he made one more lunge toward his friend with the knife. But this time, the blade penetrated the armor and entered the wearer’s heart. He died in his best friend’s arms.

Those men both had absolute faith in themselves and their product.

It’s better to have an imperfect faith in the perfect God.

 

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