A New Way-kind of Summer

Ah, summer.

That magical time of year when anything can happen, or at least that’s what I like to think. It’s a break from the routine of life: from school, from work, from closed-toe shoes, from pants and sweaters, from the mundane routine that can get boring and stale and old. It means seeing family and cousins you haven’t seen for a while, visiting new places, and reading at leisure for more than a few minutes at a time.

Summer 1986
My mom and me on one of our family vacations, probably around 1986.

When I was a kid, summer meant a break from school (even though I was one of the weird kids who really liked school and eagerly awaited buying supplies like pencils and notebooks and colorful folders). My family usually took some sort of vacation, even if it was just camping in a state park. One of my favorite vacations involved camping with my cousins when I was around five or six. My cousin Jamie was three weeks younger than me, and being two towheaded kids, we looked like twins and were inseperable. I have no idea how long that trip was, but I have fond memories of Jamie and I hiking our campsites together, seeing Mt. Rushmore, and exploring Story Book Island in South Dakota. When I was older, we still went camping, but then it was my brother that tagged along with me, even though we had that unspoken sibling agreement to ignore each other completely when it was convenient, and to “not touch” each other in the minivan.

When I got to high school, summer meant one thing: New Way Singers. I had the privilege of being a part of Nebraska Christian College’s New Way Singers program for four years, every year I completed a year of high school. This meant rehearing with about a hundred and twenty other high schoolers for several days at the beginning of June, then sending us all out on three tour buses around the Midwest to perform concerts every night at churches for a week and a half. The three tours would then come back together for a final concert a the end of the tours.

Forty-plus kids on a tour bus with handful of adults for two weeks? What couldn’t be fun about that?

NWS 2000
New Way Singers East Tour, 2000. This was my junior year, the year of the blue polos. See if you can spot me!

I had a blast! I got to do three of the things I love: sing, worship Jesus, and make new friends. We would start each concert with the New Way Singers theme song, which would start with our group of forty singers at the back of the sanctuary. The music would begin and we’d start snapping our fingers to the rhythm, marching up the aisle in pairs of two. When we reached the stage and mounted the risers, we’d keep our backs to the audience until the last singer had reached the stage. Then, on cue, we’d whip around and start singing:

“Start the music! Let the melody begin! Our song is just waiting to be sung!”

NWS 2001 Final Concert
Final concert in 2001, the year of the red racing polos. We always performed one song with sign language.

After each concert, members of that congregation would volunteer to house us students for the night. Believe me, I’ve stayed at some interesting places! Elderly people who wanted nothing more than to hear about our lives, young couples who were on fire for Jesus, and families with kids who wanted us to play with them: they all came to our concerts and opened their homes and hearts to us. There was the one couple who had four of us girls stay in a trailer on their property and had a composting toilet. There was the teenage daughter of a single mother who let us sleep in her room, but she had to listen to Michael W. Smith’s “Friends are Friends Forever” song to go to sleep. I think it looped about 15 times before I finally fell asleep that night. I still can’t hear that song without shuddering. (Sadly, it’s the weird homes that I remember most!).

While the performing was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of New Ways, the friendships and memories I made are also high on the list. From staying up all night talking on a backyard trampoline, and riding roller coasters until we threw up, to “cruising” through someone’s (extremely small) hometown late at night and praying together with new friends, it was two weeks of my life that I miss just a little bit every summer.

The Surprise Gift!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the Inkspirational Messages posts these past two weeks. It’s so much fun hearing about my fellow Inkspers’ childhoods. And I’m completely amazed at how many actually still own toys from their childhood. Like the others, I played with dolls (Barbies mostly) and paper dolls, but they’re long gone. And, honestly, I can’t recall a specific item that stood out as a Christmas gift.

Well, there was one gift that stands out. I received it during winter time, but I don’t recall if it was for Christmas.

Let me back up a bit and give you the entire story (as I remember it, that is.) One day when I was in school (don’t remember what grade), my mom came to pick me and my siblings up. This never happened, mind you. We took the bus. Always. All Mom would say was that she had a surprise for us at home.

So, we kids are all dying, wondering what was so important! Never had the two mile drive from town seemed so long.

We pulled into the driveway, Mom parked the car by the house, and there was a collective squeal from the station wagon. Sitting there in the middle of our backyard was a shiny yellow Ski-Doo! Having grown up in a family that loved snowmobiling, a family who owned a couple of heavy Polaris’ sleds that I hated driving, this made our winter! The biggest problem was sharing it with six siblings.

My snowmobiling days are long behind me, and I don’t know whatever became of that Ski-Doo, but I’ll never forget that day. Hmm, I’m gonna have to talk with my siblings and see if they remember it the same way…

(The above pic isn’t our Ski-doo, but it sure looks like a great sled, doesn’t it?)

Christmas Traditions

Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com by AstarEgg
Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com by AstarEgg

I grew up in the military. My father’s job required we move every two to four years. As I never had a place to call home, every Christmas we were able, we spent Christmas at my grandparent’s home. They lived in central Arkansas. My parents, sister and I traveled vast miles to fellowship with the ones we love.

Living far from family meant I didn’t take them for granted. Our immediate family became very close as we only had each other to rely on during hardships. As a result, we became close with my grandparents spending the summers there as well.

This is one Christmas tradition I have maintained with my own family. My husband is not in the military, but we do live thirty miles from the grandparents. Every Christmas my husband, girls and I pile our belongings and presents into the car and head to spend the week with my family.

My sister, her husband and children do the same. We cook together and eat loads of good food. We play games of all sorts, and have deep life discussions drawing closer to one another through our struggles. My children play with their cousins and time is well spent and cherished.

On Christmas morning the grown-ups pile into the living room while the kids wait for a call to come in and see what awaits them. Smiles and surprise adorn the children’s faces as they round the corner to see their gifts. Presents are opened and the room fills with laughter and love. It truly is a wonderful time of the year.

My only hope is when my children are grown they will want to carry on the same tradition. But should they not, we will roll with the punches and make new traditions as each family does. Giving hope, love, laughter and comfort to the next generation.

 

Question: What Christmas traditions does your family have?

Third Born?

When I read Lorna Seilstad’s Oh, Baby! post talking about family birth order, I quickly scrolled down to Third Born Children traits (I’m 3rd of 7!). And then I sat scratching my head. Out of the list, only three traits matched my personality: emotionally strong, imaginative, and practical. The rest? So not me.

Now, the list from the first-born child? I marked off almost every trait. Wait for attention, struggle with guilt, responsible, bossy (my siblings will tell you, Bossy was my #1 trait growing up), conservative, etc.

So, out of curiosity, I wanted to find out what a quiz would tell me. I Googled Birth Order Tests and discovered several. Naturally, I gave a few a try.

Family

At Parents.com, I got First Born.

At GoToQuiz, I got First Born (76%) and Middle Born (72%)

At Quibblo.com, First Born again.

Interesting, huh?

But, really, it’s no surprise to me–it seems I have a natural propensity to go against the flow and not fit neatly into a box. I’m contrary by nature. Just ask my brothers and sisters…

But, regardless of where I am in the birth order (or serpentining through it), there is one place I do fit in, where we all fit in, and that’s as a child of God. We’re all loved completely. With Christ there is no favoritism, no firsts, lasts, or middles. We’re all Children of the King!

>>> LAST DAY TO ENTER CONTEST! <<<

While Love Stirs PromotionLeave a comment for a chance to win the prize package. It includes a copy Lorna Seilstad’s newest release While Love Stirs, a Fannie Farmer cookbook (Charlotte goes to Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery), and a Recipe for an Amazing Woman cutting board. 

Giveaway ends at midnight on Friday, May 23, 2014 and is open to those in the continental U.S. only. Winner will be chosen by Random.org. The more comments you leave in the next two weeks, the more chances you’ll have to win.

Blessings Along the Journey

Roller Coaster-Dusso JanladdeMy writing journey has been a cross between screaming down a zip line, hanging on through the ups and downs of a roller coaster, and floating on a lazy river. There have been mountain top experiences followed by long walks through the desert. But I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. I’m thankful for every experience. One of the reasons is the people God has put in my path.

Friends – As Rose mentioned in her post yesterday, I too have connected with writers across the world. What an unexpected blessing! One of my critique partners is from Australia so we spend time learning about each other’s world through the writing process. I got to meet her briefly this September when the train she was taking cross country to the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis made a short stop in St. Paul. Traveling with her was our 3rd partner, from Washington state. Such a blessing to gather together on the station platform.

Camping4 2013

Family – While my immediate family has always known I love to write, it was truly a blessing to experience their love and support when I began the journey to publication in earnest. My husband and kids have walked beside me every step, cheering along the way. My younger brother has also stepped into the world of fiction writing; it’s been a blast to share dreams, experiences and writing.

Critique Partners – Writers who are serious about their craft know, without a doubt, they can’t do it alone. What a blessing to gather with others in a place of safety, encouragement, honesty and love, whether in person or across the miles.

I don’t know where the saying comes from but I love it – God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. One of the ways He does that is through those He puts in our path. I’m thankful for each and every one of them.

Who has encouraged you on your journey?

(roller coaster photo by Dusso Janladde)

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We’re giving away a copy of Rose Ross Zediker’s current release, Wedding on the Rocks to one lucky winner. The contest runs until November 30th. All you need to do it leave a comment!

JENNIFER EDWARDS IS BACK HOME AGAIN…Wedding On the Rocks Cover 1

When she traded small-town life for the bright lights of Chicago, Jennifer Edwards yearned to discover a world beyond Faith, South Dakota. So when her father’s illness calls her home to run their cattle ranch, she tells herself it’s temporary. Then why is she even thinking about a future with archaeology professor Brett Lange-the boy she left behind-whose life’s work is digging up the past?

Twelve years ago, Brett had a crush on Jennifer the size of the T-rex that put his hometown on the map. Now she’s a citified magazine editor who prefers designer duds to dungarees. Except that’s not the real Jennifer. Brett needs to make her see how a little faith can go a long way in uniting two perfectly-in-sync hearts.

The Silver Lining of Adversity

Me on the left, Sue on the right

I grew up in a family of four kids – girl, boy, girl, boy. Raised by a single mother who was working full-time and putting herself through six years of college, it could have been a recipe for disaster.

Not so, Grasshopper.  All four of us actually turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself.   🙂  Sue, the oldest, has been in Human Resources for her entire career. Steve, second born, has been a highly successful and recognized college track coach. Me, third born – well, you can decide. And Scott, the “baby” is a popular college professor on the East coast (and a PhD to boot).

My sister and I are four and a half years apart. She’s the typical first born – responsible, focused, driven, big heart. The “put your head down and work” kind of person. The family protector. I’m the typical third born – a peace maker, afraid of my own shadow growing up, happy to just go along so we’d all get along. But even being so different, we were still good friends. (During thunderstorms, when we were young, she’d let me crawl into her bed. Her twin bed!)

She married a year or so out of high school, when I was just barely into high school, and went off to live a grown-up life while I was still growing up. When she moved to Chicago, we kept in touch often. She came home for visits, I went there for visits. Our first-borns are just seven months apart.

I was thrilled when she moved back here. While “the boys” have lived away their whole adult lives (one in Iowa, the other in Virginia), Sue and I were happy to be back in the same place, raising our kids together, hanging out with our mom. Little did we know we would become each other’s lifeline during a particularly difficult and painful journey.

Sue and I are the two on the left

The four of us siblings have stayed close all these years. When we’re all together, which is about every other year, we cram in as much life as we can. Makes our spouses crazy but we love it. Our greatest bonds have been around our faith, our mom, and our shared sense of humor (which our mother had in spades).

So when Mom started showing signs of forgetfulness, we burned up the phone lines sharing our concerns, making plans, and being worried together. Sue and I, however, had the job of physically caring for Mom. And we did it in tandem.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a particularly difficult disease because there’s no treatment, no way to slow it down once it starts. From her early seventies until she died at 79, Mom slowly faded into someone we didn’t recognize. It would have been unbearable dealing with it alone, but together my sister and I were able to face it side-by-side, even finding things to laugh about. (If you don’t laugh sometimes, you’ll cry the whole time.)

From having Mom’s license taken away, to moving her into assisted living, then memory care, then behavior care, Sue and I made all the hard decisions together. Paring down Mom’s belongings. Finding the right next place for her to move. And making sure she always had cookies available – when she got ornery, the staff could wave a cookie in front of her and she’d change her tune in a heartbeat. (They called her the Cookie Monster.) And while “the boys” couldn’t be with us often, they were always there in spirit, agreeing with our decisions, encouraging us, appreciating us from afar.

Through years of watching Mom change from an extremely independent, bright, articulate social worker to a tiny, confused, toddler-like being, Sue and I held onto each other. God did an amazing thing during that time – when I had reached my limit and simply couldn’t deal with one more issue, Sue was there to take care of it. And when she was at the end of her rope, I stepped in. Over eight years, that pattern never wavered. We held each other up while walking the awful journey of Alzheimer’s with Mom.

During the week Mom was dying, we were with her nearly every minute. If there had been a baton, we’d have been handing it to each other as one came to give the other a break. At the end, all four of us kids (along with a mix of spouses and grandchildren) were there to say goodbye with laughter and tears. It was an amazing end to an amazing journey.

The best part? Sue and I are stronger because of it – as individuals, as sisters, as friends. While we’d all like Mom back as she used to be, we know she’s in a far better place now, healed, whole and talking God’s ear off. And Sue and I? We know without a doubt we have each other’s back. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

**REMEMBER – Each time you share a sister story during this Sisters series, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of When Love Calls for yourself and a matching copy for your sister. Contest closes at midnight central time on May 3rd, and is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. Name to be chosen by Random.org. **

All in the Family

There are so many worthwhile giving and volunteering opportunities, it’s difficult narrowing them down. Do I talk about New Life Family Services, an organization that helps women and men through every aspect of an unplanned pregnancy? Or what about The Literacy Site, a site where you simply click the Click Here to Give button, and you’re automatically donating money for books? Oh, and I can’t forget Go Red for Women, an organization that raises awareness about heart disease in women (the number one killer among women! February 1 is National Wear Red Day).

But, I digress.

Perhaps the most rewarding volunteering I do is with the family. One activity we participate in every year is Operation Christmas Child, an organization that collects shoe boxes that individuals, families, and others fill with gifts for needy children. Our family organizes this event in our church by advertising it, giving out empty shoe boxes, and collecting and delivering the full boxes to an area collection site.

Click <here>  to watch a brief video showing one of our church techies having a little bit of fun with the empty shoe boxes.

Whether your family simply fills a shoe box or works in an OCC distribution center, it’s a great way to show your children how blessed we really are, and how important it is to give back.

One fun and easy way for the entire family to give back is by donating time to area food packing organizations such as Feed My Starving Children or Kids Against Hunger. You get to pack nutritious meals to send to the poor in your area and around the world. The packing events are always a lot of fun and go by too fast. It would be a great way to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or other significant events, or even just because. Both organizations are looking for donations and volunteers. (For those of you in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area, I need to put in a plug for the Omaha Kids Against Hunger run by my very good friends Kelly Jo and Nick Yaksich.)

Another organization our family supports together is Soldiers’ Angels. It’s a nonprofit that provides aid, support, and comfort to those serving in the armed forces. Through Soldiers’ Angels, we adopted a soldier several years ago who, at the time, was stationed in Iraq. All that was required of us was to write him a letter once a week, then send one to two care packages per month. They ask for a six-month commitment with no promise of returned letters.

We were greatly blessed by our soldier who loved corresponding with the kids and answering their myriad of questions. He’d send pictures and coins and other gifts. He even sent me a draft of a YA story he’s written.  He became like a big brother to our kids. It’s been wonderfully rewarding for our entire family.

As I’m writing this post, the Soldiers’ Angels website shows that 185 heroes are waiting to be adopted. I’m challenging our readers to click on the banner below and adopt a soldier. All that’s required of you is a few minutes a week spent writing a letter and then mailing a care package once or twice a month. Let’s leave no hero behind.

A Fruit-of-the-Spirit Woman

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …

Galatians 5:22 – 23a (ESV)

Often when we talk about the *ideal* Christian woman, Proverbs 31 is brought up. Admittedly, that passage can be a little hard to live up to, but my mom, Annette Bryant, could do it.

Even more so, though, when I look at my mom I see a Galatians 5:22 woman, someone who really exemplifies the Fruits of the Spirit. She’s someone I’ve always looked up to and still strive to emulate. St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” My mom’s life preaches the gospel, and that’s witnessed through the fruits of her spirit.

LOVE – On September 27th my parents will have been married 54 years! Go ahead an applaud. I am. Is there a greater expression of love than remaining married for 54 years? In those 54 years they raised seven children (and we all still get along!). Those seven children added six in-laws to the mix plus 21 grandchildren, and now one great-grandchild. And each of those children/grandchildren are loved generously and equally.

Post-Thanksgiving Shopping Day: My mom with her daughters, daughter-in-law, & granddaughters

JOY – Running a farm isn’t an easy life, but my mom, born and raised a city girl, always took that in stride. I don’t know how, but she found joy in growing a garden, in driving tractors, in making umpteen meals per day. (Breakfast, lunch, dinner, lunch, lunch, supper, snack. Farmers’ll understand.)

 

PEACE – Peace and seven children don’t go together, right? Oh, that’s not to say we didn’t fight, because we fought well, but Mom was always the peacemaker. She set the example for calm in a family of hot tempers. Nothing seemed to rile her up. Wish I could say the same.

PATIENCE – I remember many busy summer nights when Mom would have supper ready by 5:30, but unfortunately, the fields had other ideas. Mom would patiently wait for Dad and my brothers while keeping the meat and potatoes warm. Don’t know how she did it.

KINDNESS – Kindness exemplifies my mom’s spirit. I think she invented Minnesota Nice. 😉 She’s always making things for people: blankets, scarves, pies … And whenever anyone needs her, she’s there. Even from 3-1/2 hours away. When our 2nd pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, she made the long drive the very next day offering needed support.

GOODNESS – People have often said my mom should be up for sainthood. I agree. She is truly someone who is set apart from others.

FAITHFULNESS – Mom has lived out her life of faith quietly, demonstrating rather than preaching. Thou she’s always been involved with church activities, it’s the between-Sundays actions that display her beliefs for others.

GENTLENESS – Children have always been drawn to her gentle spirit. Who better to have 20+ grandchildren?

SELF-CONTROL – In all my nearly 50 years, I don’t know that I’ve seen my mom really lose it (Too bad my kids can’t say the same…) or do something out of character. Sure, she’s had her moments of justified anger or grief, but she’s always been controlled. And I know that’s the Spirit within her.

When I grow up, I want to be just like my mom.

A Letter to My Teenage Self–You Are Never Alone

Dear Brenda,

I understand it’s a lonely time in your life. Making friends has never come easy. The same holds true for many your age. I wish I could say that struggle will ease over the years, but few things worthwhile are achieved without effort. As you strive, always remember to be yourself. God made you uniquely you and He treasures who you are. Remember, you are never alone.

And don’t forget to look for friendship within your own home. Siblings make the best of friends and will always be there for you.

Those dreams you have of writing a book, they’re more than just dreams. God has crafted that gift especially for you. Don’t  bury those longings where you’ll never find them, but act on them. Receive God’s gift and multiply it. You’ll find no greater act of worship.

You’re growing up on a farm, one of the best places in the world, but it won’t always be there for you. Take time to enjoy the beauty around you. Cradle the kittens and roughhouse with the dog. Take walks through the cornfields and sing down by the lake. Throw snowballs and go sledding. Bike. Swim. Walk. Enjoy the skies dotted with innumerable stars and be awestruck by the northern lights. Breathe in lilac’s spring bloom and autumn’s spicy harvest.

Always accept your grandma’s offering of molasses cookies. Nothing fills her heart more than watching her children and grandchildren enjoy her baking. Your acceptance of her gift is her treasure.

Never stop making music, be it blending with a choir, harmonizing with friends, or playing guitar alone by the lake, praising the Creator of song. Music will always unlock your stoic facade and sing the truth to your heart.

And, in all things, remember the One who breathed life into you, the Giftor or your dreams, the Painter of nature, the Architect of music. Your life will climb peaks, slide into valleys, and plateau on the plains. Yet through every moment, He is with you.

Even when no one else is around, you are never alone.

Sincerely,

Your older, wiser, and always-learning self.

A Little Music is Good for the Soul

I have a confession. I’m not much of a music buff.  Oh, I like good music.  But I’m the last person on the planet any of my friends will ask about a group or an artist, group, or song title, because honestly, I usually can’t answer their question.  I’m just not that into it.

Now, that doesn’t mean I live under a rock.  In fact, I have pretty eclectic music tastes.  They run the gamut from the really hard stuff to country music, and even a little jazz.  About the only thing I won’t listen to is hard-core rap and opera music.  I also listen to both secular and Christian music.

But when it comes to songs that touch my soul, there are a few that I have always loved and a few new ones that fit (or at least have fit) my personal placement in life.

On the side of songs that touch my soul are Go Tell It on the Mountain. Specifically the Dolly Parton version.  I grew up listening to Dolly Parton, and I always imagined that she and I were soul sisters.  I remember very clearly walking the quarter mile gravel drive from the bus stop to the house during the time that my parents owned their farm, singing Dolly songs loudly the whole way.  Go Tell It on the Mountain was always the first song of choice. And the second was her He’s Alive.

Amazing Grace will always be a favorite traditional hymn. But if I’m telling you the whole story, I have always loved it, but there’s a new version that’s only been out a year or two by a popular Christian group that I absolutely adore.  Can’t remember the group, but I could belt out the song, given the chance and someone willing to listen.  That last part might be a bit of a stretch, though, because as we used to say in the hills in Kentucky, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!

Not being able to carry a tune makes songs like Monster and Rebirth by Skillet great songs for me.  I can sing right along with those songs and they’re loud and screechy enough that no one really notices that I’m off-key. Those songs fit especially well for me when I’m just not feeling like my heart is in the right place.

Happy Plastic People is another favorite (again, I don’t remember the artist/group).  The point of the song is to be who you are instead of a happy, plastic person.  As I have re-discovered who I really am after years of pretending to be someone else, this has become an anthem of sorts for me.  I don’t want to be a pretend person…I much prefer genuine, even if that sometimes makes people uncomfortable.

Discomfort isn’t a problem when I’m listening to the newer version of Jesus Love Me that my husband introduced me to a couple of years ago.  It’s nothing like the version that we learned as kids.  Instead, it’s a jazzy, bluesy, wailing version that’s both very adult, and somewhat soothing. Even better, it lifts my spirits when I can’t seem to remember that no matter where I’ve been or what I’ve done, Jesus loves me.

I’m not the person who has to have music on all the time.  In fact, I spend most of my time in relative quite with no music or television for background noise.  I like the quite. The sounds of the house living around me when I’m the only person home or awake are more soothing to me than most music.  Those sounds, along with the sounds of the family and dogs are my hymns.  They speak to me every day of the love that God has for me.  He loved me enough to forgive me when I wasn’t worthy of forgiveness and he loved me enough to bless me with this family. So, to hear those blessings – to really hear them – is the best melody I could ever be granted the privilege of listening to.