First Class Faith

“Mom! Mom!” I woke up with a start, the sound of the voice still ringing in my ears. The voice had been my own. I’d been calling out to my mother so I could tell her about the envelopes.

What is this? I’d wondered when the first envelope arrived in my mailbox, and then when I opened it, “Why would someone send me a birthday card meant for a Dad?”

What it was, what each subsequent mysterious envelope has been, in essence, is an affirmation of faith.

A couple of weeks ago I posted what I hoped would be taken as a light-hearted, yet well-intended plea for help in my goal to attend a Christian Writer’s conference in November, a plea that also requested prayers for my hopeful endeavor. One of the conference leaders had planted the idea in my head of treating the conference like a mission trip, but initially I hadn’t been completely sold on that notion. Granted, much of my writing is intended to encourage and inspire others, but I still couldn’t see a reason why anyone should help me in my quest for a conference. What would they get out of it? Instead, I believed I could just sell a few things on eBay and help God help me. After all, God helps those who help themselves. I did what I thought my mother would do and got a little creative about making some money towards the conference. I posted some beautiful, artistic magazines on eBay. 175 people “watched” my set of magazines go for a low-ball bid of less than $30. That was disappointing, but I still had a few tricks up my sleeve. I posted some children’s books I’d picked up at book sales. The conference fund slowly worked its way to almost $100, but prestigious conferences replete with big-name editors and agents don’t come cheaply, and $100 was just a drop in the conference budget bucket.

And then there was the motel room.

And the paid critique my friend Mary and I decided we both needed.

The Pro Member supper at the table with those editors.

I reconsidered the idea of the conference as a mission. What was it about the three-day workshop that would lead a conference head to suggest I treat it as a mission trip? Well, it wasn’t just any conference, but a Christian one. Having attended one this
summer, I knew that there was more to a Christian conference than just networking and learning. There was also the spiritual aspect I won’t soon forget.

I have reiterated many times on this blog and to anyone who will listen, how I am a changed person since my mother’s death last November. Oh, the seeds of change were planted with my husband’s cancer experience in 2006, but whatever God had been working on in me cumulated in November of 2010 as I watched my mother die, and in the weeks following her death. Everything she had ever attempted to teach me about faith was brought home to me upon her death, and since then I have grown exponentially, spiritually and creatively. I understand, finally, how one can be a vessel of God.

“You have talent for writing and for speaking,” my father had told me years ago, and he was neither demonstrative nor generous in compliments, so I’ve never forgotten his words. “Use them for good and not evil,” he’d added with a chuckle.

I know now what he meant. The power of words, written or spoken, can go in either direction. They can be used to as arrows to be slung at their target in meanness and spite, or to lift others up, to inspire and encourage.

Sorting through my mother’s books and papers, I came across many references to her ten children and their many talents. How she yearned for each of us to use our God-given talents! I have the same desire for my eight. It is neither money nor fame I wish upon them, but an enjoyment in what they do.

Writing has been a joy for me for over 20 years. More recently, public speaking has been added to my roster of joyful activities. Especially since my mother’s death, I have felt the call to use both my writing and my public speaking to reach others, and when possible, to also glorify our Lord, no small feat in the world of publishing where a bestselling book about putting children to bed has the F-word prominent in the title and shallow celebrities can sell pretty much whatever drivel their publicist decides they should write.

I have been unable to sufficiently explain what has transpired in my life since last November except to say that my mother’s influence on me has extended far beyond her death. Any attempt to explain this falls flat, and frankly, may even sound slightly ridiculous.

You believe your mother left you some of her creativity, along with the numerous notebooks and boxes of holy cards? Uh-huh. Right.

You ask yourself what your mother would do before you do an interview or enter a room full of strangers for a speech? What would Mother do? Just who do you think she was? Jesus?

And you think your mother wants you to go to this writing conference for some reason?

Yeah. Right.

Well, I think your mother wants you to buy a plot of swampland I have for sale.

I finally decided this conference could be like a mission trip for me, since I was feeling led by God (and my mother) to go there. So, I posted something on my blog, asking that anyone who felt led in that direction would either pray or send a dollar or other donation to the cause.

A couple of days later, I felt kind of stupid for having done so, and I removed the post. It felt too much like begging. I was embarrassed I’d actually written it. Maybe no one had noticed, I thought.

Someone noticed. That very day I got the “Happy birthday Dad,” card from a woman whose father had died before she could give it to him. His birthday was the same as mine, and she donated $5 to help get me to the conference. I felt a lump forming in my throat. My eyes filled with tears as I wrote her a thank-you note. I couldn’t believe her generosity and caring. The next day I worked for my sister, where another dear woman had left a $5 bill for me. Then the first envelope with no return address arrived, a pretty
blue envelope with money folded inside a sheet of yellow legal pad paper. It was that envelope that prompted me to call out to my mother in a dream. I so wanted to share with her what was happening. She’d always loved a good inspirational story.

Today a white envelope was in the mailbox, again with bills folded inside a piece of paper. And this morning, Fed-Ex delivered a box of 50+ Barbie dolls to my sister’s consignment store, all the way from a New York friend who wanted me to sell them to help meet the conference fee.

Mom, Mom!” I called out to my mother’s back to get her attention. I woke up before she turned around, the realization that it had only been a dream slowly dawning on me. I will not see my mother’s face again in this world.

Mom, guess what I got in the mail today? I’m going to the writer’s conference!” I imagine the look on my mother’s face when I tell her; the satisfied smile as she lights up a cigarette and takes a swig of the cold coffee in the cup next to her, her head nodding as if to say, “See, I told you so.”

She wouldn’t have been surprised in the least.


Today’s Inspiration~ A True Angel Story

I grew up in a home where guardian angels were as real to me as each of my nine siblings. As I child, I felt a sense of peace knowing that I had my own personal angel watching over me. Later, as a mother, I have continued praying to angels each night for help watching over my children. There was one time in particular that I know those prayers were answered.

The winter of 1996 was a ferocious one; with a constant onslaught of ice, snow, and more ice. My six children and I had been stuck in the house for days because of the inclement weather. When the sun finally appeared one day, our family was excited to head to my mother’s house where my sister was meeting us for an afternoon of sledding on the neighbor’s hill. The road leading up to my mother’s driveway was steep and our car’s tires started spinning at the bottom, but after several tries we made it about halfway up,
where my husband David parked on some bare patches of rock and gravel. As soon as he stopped the car, the children tumbled out and ran to the hill adjacent to the road where their cousins were already sledding. Our 14-year-old daughter Beth assured us she would take care of 3-year-old Matthew so we could go in the house and visit. Less than half an hour later, 10-year-old Michael ran into the house breathlessly announcing, “The car slid backwards and almost killed us! Beth jumped in and saved us!” David ran out the door and I rushed to the front window where I could see the car at the top of the neighbor’s hill, in the opposite direction than it had been parked. The children had already resumed their sledding and no one was hurt, so David moved the car to the bottom of the hill, and I thought nothing more of it. Beth, however, came into the house and was silent for the rest of the visit.

That night, before she went to bed Beth approached me and said quietly, “Mom, I need to tell you what happened at Grandma’s,” and she recounted the full details of what had happened that afternoon.

She and Matthew were sitting on one sled at the top of the hill, along with her brother Michael and cousin Michelle on another sled. The other children were already at the bottom of the hill when Beth heard the car rolling down the driveway, 30 yards behind them. She hadn’t heard it start and suddenly realized that the car was sliding directly towards them with no one in it. She jumped up.

 “I don’t remember running, Mom, or even opening the car door, but all of a sudden I was there, the door was open, and I jumped in, slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel. The car slid sideways, caught on gravel, and stopped. I looked out and Matthew was standing there, just a couple feet away.”

Her voice breaking with emotion, she continued,” If the car hadn’t stopped, it would have run over Matthew. He would be dead.” Her eyes filled with tears, and I hugged her, a chill going down my spine as I realized the full impact of what she had just said.

Tucking Michael into bed later, I asked what he had seen. “I heard the car, but I just thought Dad was going to get gas or something. I heard Beth gasp and jump up, and all of a sudden she was in the car. I didn’t see her run or open the door, she was just there.”

In an instant, I could have lost one or more of my children in a freak accident that day. Both my children remembered Beth jumping up one second, and being in the car the next. I wondered how Beth could possibly have risen from the sled, ran up the driveway, opened the door and jumped in so quickly. I knew the answer: she couldn’t have, at least not without some divine help. Beth said it before I did, when I hugged her again before bed. “It had to be angels, Mom, helping me get to the car.”

You can bet I thanked those angels before I slept that night.


On a Mission From Mom

Youth fades; love droops; the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope
outlives them all.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

It has been nearly a year since my mother’s death. One after another, each of my siblings have reached that milestone; a birthday without a greeting from their mother. I will reach that milestone on the same day we all reach the one-year anniversary of her death. You see, my mother died on my birthday.

“Oh, you poor thing,” some have responded at this pronouncement. “How awful. Forever your birthday will be associated with your mother’s death.”

As difficult as that day will be, I am comforted by the suspicion that my mother may have bestowed some great gift upon me the day she died.

“How special that your mother chose the same day to leave this world as the day she brought you into the world,” one astute friend marveled when I tearfully informed her my mother had died, and on my birthday.

What gift my mother gave me, I am not certain, but how else to explain what has happened in my life in the past eleven months? I spent hours sorting through my mother’s things, with siblings, and all alone. I see my mother everywhere; in the brown crock full of bright red flowers at my front door, in the trunk full of her writing in my entryway, a trunk that is covered with a quilt she made and a teddy bear she crafted propped in the corner.

Several times a week I glance at the old shaker-style cabinet that holds a colorful plate she fancied and bought at a garage sale, or a book she treasured, and I can’t help but smile to myself.

Most of the winter and into the spring, I traveled several miles to her empty house to write, creativity spawning more creativity, until one day I noticed it just wouldn’t stop, not even at night. As my head hit the pillow in sheer exhaustion, my mind kept spinning stories and weaving words, so much so I had to leave a notebook on the floor near the bed, lest I forgot by the time I get downstairs.

In my mother’s notebooks and writings, I saw the repeated references to her children’s talents and her hopes they would utilize their gifts.

Who else besides my husband and children spurred me on to apply for a writing job at the local newspaper than the dear, deceased mother who cheered in the corner? When I prepared for my first interview with total strangers, I faced down a specter of shyness that had haunted me over half my life.

What would mother do?” I asked myself, and the memory of her natural curiosity and caring braced me for a process I now actively enjoy. I’ve met artists, a young singer, and other creative people my mother would have loved talking to.

I wrote and practiced a speech this winter in the very same house I had practiced my high school speeches and lines for a play. Public speaking, after years of the muddled-mommy-mind syndrome! Besides feeling my mother’s approval, I could hear the faint voice of my father. He used to say, “You have a good speaking voice. Use it and your writing talent for good, not evil.”

By May, I knew I wanted to attend my first writing conference. Did I dare?  “What would mother do?” I wondered again, and then remembered how much she had loved the art shows she’d participated in and her calendar notations that showed how much she looked forward to her meetings with the Ruth Suckow board, where she could meet kindred creative spirits.

I went, and came home nourished; heart and soul.

I followed advice from other conference attendees (some who are now friends) and signed up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and found sources for my book. I designed an author website. I started a youth writing class and enjoyed the creative energy from the young people so much I was prompted to submit a proposal for a similar writing course for adults. I submitted a proposal for a couponing workshop after I was contacted through my new website. I will be speaking at the Dyersville library in November and a writing conference in May.

In other words; the ideas, the enthusiasm, and the creativity just keeps coming.

So when I recently got invited to yet another writer’s conference , this time in KS, in not one, but two separate e-mails, I was intrigued, but I didn’t allow myself to think too much about it. After all, it was more than five hours away. I did look at their website and the interesting topics they would be covering, but tried to put it out of my mind.

10% off the conference fees for being a member of this e-mail list,” one e-mail announced. “Another 10% for being a contributor to one of our books,” said another.

I took a second look at the website. The names on the roster of speakers were impressive.

I wrote my friend Mary and asked if she would consider going.

I prayed. I prayed that God would help me find a way to get to the conference.

Then I talked to my mother.

What would you do, mother? You never left us, except to have babies in the hospital. But if you could have and Dad had encouraged it, would you have nurtured your creative and spiritual spirit by attending something like this?

I watched as more obstacles fell away; my friend Mary had that weekend free. She wanted to go. She had a tidy sum of money tucked away just for the express purpose of a writer’s conference. Yet another discount was offered me, dropping the total by 30%. If I joined their group, I’d save an extra $50. Sign up before November 1st? Another discount. I was encouraged by two of their leaders who actually took time out of their busy schedules to answer my e-mails. But how to pay for a hotel, food and the remaining conference fees?

“We had one woman talk to her church who treated it like a mission and gave her the funds,” one of the leaders mentioned helpfully. I looked around me at church this morning and though I saw plenty of friendly faces, I knew in my heart I couldn’t do it. A mission of mercy, maybe. A mission to a foreign country to save souls? Certainly. But a mission of ME and my creative self? Not hardly.

I sat in my desk chair and looked around my office this afternoon, perplexed. What could I sell? What would my mother do, I wondered yet again, and my eyes lit upon a pile of magazines waiting to be read. I’d been picking up these magazines everywhere I went; Half-Price Books, thrift stores, eBay, a book sale… I’d even bought one or two of them off the stands when Borders was going out of business. With articles on paper crafting and the artistic illustrations, they’d spoken to me, just as I knew they would have to my mother, which was why I picked them up in the first place. They’d reminded me of my mother. In her own way, she’d done something similar by pasting pictures that spoke to her on brown paper bag “pages” she’d hand-sewn together. Mom was making beauty out of trash long before it was the hip thing to do. She’d made little denim jumpers out of her skirts, Raggedy Ann dolls out of extra fabric, and rugs out of rags long before shabby became chic.

“I could sell those,” I thought to myself. But first, I had to read them.

It took me two hours to pore through the pages of altered books, scrapbook ideas, artsy homemade cards and wall-hangings and interviews with creative people. By the time I got to the last magazine, I was just flipping through the pages. I realized something then; As much as I love paper, stickers, and rubber stamps, I wasn’t going to be making a scrapbook in the next year or two. I’d probably never make an altered book, and I’m certainly not going to be trying my hand at sewing or piecework anytime soon. Why, I could hold onto these magazines for years and they wouldn’t do anything for my quest to be more creative.

But going to the conference would.

So, there they are, in all their glory; my magazines are posted on ebay, and my own conference fund established.

And I can’t help but think my mother would have come up with a similar idea.

A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also
on the past in the guise of fond memories.  ~Honoré de Balzac