Best Friends

Everyone needs a best friend—someone to laugh with, cry with, and do fun and crazy things with. Today I’m celebrating some of my dearest friends.

Friends like Cathy who has an amazing sense of fashion and loves to go shopping with me. I was tired of my same old dreary clothes, so Cathy trolled through my closet with me and helped me decide what I should donate to charity. Then we went shopping to re-fill all those empty clothes hangers. It was especially fun to find a 60% off sale in one of our favorite stores! I had a ball trying on clothes and buying a new outfit for an upcoming speaking event. Cathy is the one who first encouraged me to speak at church events years ago. She prayed with me and gave me the courage to do it.

She is also my biking buddy. Along with our husbands, Cathy and I biked more than 200 miles while on vacation in Florida last January.

My friend Jacki went with me to two of my speaking events recently, driving me and helping me haul all of my books inside, set them up, and then sell them. I consider that “going the extra mile” for friendship’s sake.

We also went to a greenhouse together and bought flowers for our gardens. They were so beautiful and colorful and fragrant, it was like taking a mini-vacation. It’s so much more fun to do everyday things like this together.

And these are my faithful writer friends, Jane and Cleo. We have been meeting to share our lives and critique each other’s writing for more than 25 years. When we began, none of us were published—and none of our children were married. Now we all have multiple books to our credit—and multiple grandchildren!

We have celebrated each publishing milestone and cried with each other through our many disappointments. We brainstorm plots and titles together—and we laugh a lot. And eat a lot. This Indian restaurant is one of our favorite places to go for our writers’ meetings.

Where would any of us be without our friends? I know my life would be much lonelier without them. If you have friends who are dear to you, I hope you’ll take a moment this week to tell them how much they mean to you, and to celebrate God’s gift of friendship.

Apple Pie and Other Treasures

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It was supposed to be a fun excursion to do research for my next book, but icy rain poured from the winter sky as our friends, Paul and Jacki, drove my husband and me through the Michigan countryside.  Paul is a lifelong resident of Western Michigan and knows just about every back road and fun, out-of-the-way place on the map—and a few places that aren’t on the map. “I want to show you something,” he said, as we pulled into a little town I’d never heard of. “Do you like pies?”

Of course! Who doesn’t? We drove past humble houses, down streets without traffic lights or sidewalks, and pulled into the driveway of a small, unassuming, brick home. The garage door stood open but there weren’t any cars in it, only a nice-looking riding lawn mower and the usual clutter found in most garages, hanging from hooks and heaped around the perimeter. “Who lives here?” I asked.

Paul shrugged. “I don’t know.”

We piled out of the car and dashed through the rain into the open garage. I like to think of myself as adventurous but walking into a stranger’s untended garage, uninvited, seemed odd. I expected the door leading into the house to open at any moment and for the owner to ask us what we were doing.

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Two huge, ancient-looking chest freezers stood along the rear wall of the garage. Paul opened the lid of one and asked, “What kind of pie do you like? There’s apple, cherry, blueberry, pecan . . . Ooo, and homemade apple dumplings!” A hand-lettered sign listed the prices. A battered cardboard box collected the money on the honor system. “We’ve had these pies before,” Paul said. “You just take them home and bake them. They’re delicious.”

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He explained that this was a fund-raising effort on behalf of a local church. The women gathered together every so often like an old-fashioned quilting bee and spent the day baking in the church kitchen. The finished pies were sold out of this garage. I glanced around but didn’t see any security cameras. The entire endeavor operated on trust, and had become well-known in the community and surrounding area. Everyone for miles around knew where the small, brick house was, and that the garage door would always be open. The freezers would always be filled with pies. The cardboard moneybox would be waiting.

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I felt like I’d stepped back through time into a kinder, gentler era. “I don’t believe it!” I said. “Who does this kind of thing?” Until two years ago, I lived in the Chicago area along with six million other people. This pie-selling setup would never work there. No one would ever agree to leave their garage door open all day, and their lawnmower and other household goods unguarded, with only a flimsy door leading into their home—not to mention leaving several hundred dollars-worth of pies in unlocked freezers. And with soaring energy costs, no one would ever volunteer to pay the electric bill for two huge, non-energy-efficient freezers.

So, what sort of people would ever be this generous, this trusting?

People who had faith in God and wanted to support their church. People who put serving Him ahead of their material possessions. People who trusted that even if the worst happened and thieves broke in their home, God would somehow use the situation for His glory. People who believed that their “neighbors” included strangers they’d never met who might be in need of a pie.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I’m guessing these trusting, pie-selling homeowners will have a whole pile of treasure waiting for them in heaven.

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We chose a plumb an apple pie and put a $10 dollar bill in the money box. It turned out, Paul was right—the pie was delicious!

The Secret

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The fairy-tale-themed wedding was lovely. My husband’s nephew and his bride made a beautiful couple. Afterwards at the reception, the DJ invited the bride and groom and all the other married couples out onto the dance floor for a Generations Dance. It was crowded at first, but each time the DJ called out an anniversary—five years, 10 years, and so on—couples who had been married for only that length of time had to sit down. At last, only the bride and groom and the longest-married couple remained. I was surprised to find that Ken and I had won. We’ve been married for more than 46 years.

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The DJ handed us a microphone and asked us to tell the new bride and groom the secret of our long, happy marriage. I’m not sure how I replied, having no time to prepare. But I’ve thought about it a lot since then and here are two of our “secrets.”

The most important one is to build your marriage on the foundation of Christ. There’s a very good reason why scripture tells us not to be unequally yoked with a non-believer—it’s because it doesn’t work. Since a Christian’s life-goal is to love and serve and glorify God, marriage becomes very difficult when your partner has a conflicting goal. What’s more, a successful marriage is going to require grace and forgiveness many times over, and this doesn’t come naturally to us. We learn what true love and forgiveness really are from God, who continues to love us in spite of our stupid mistakes, and who forgives us at great cost. The secret of a happy marriage is to follow His example and love each other sacrificially.

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Ken and I were fresh out of college when we married, and we each had dreams and goals for our lives. The first goal for Ken was a graduate degree at Yale University, so I postponed my dreams for a few years and worked to support us. His bigger dream was to play full-time in a symphony orchestra, and so after graduation when he won a position as principal trumpet in the National Symphony Orchestra in Bogota, Colombia, we left family and friends to move to South America. We did the same thing a few years later when Ken won principal trumpet in the orchestra in Thunder Bay, Ontario and later in Winnipeg, Manitoba for a total of eleven years of Canadian winters.

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In the meantime our family was growing, and my first dream was to be a stay-at-home mom to our children. Ken took several jobs in addition to the orchestra so I wouldn’t have to work outside the home—teaching, music minister at a church, and even playing in a dance band until the wee hours of the morning. When I began to pursue my dream of writing, Ken immediately became my greatest advocate and cheerleader. I’ll never forget the day he brought home our first computer—an expense we couldn’t afford. I hadn’t published a single word, but he told me he believed I would become a great writer, someday.

WP_000469And so my second secret to a long and happy marriage is to take time to prayerfully plan and dream together. Then do everything you can and sacrifice whenever you can, to help your partner fulfill those dreams. Thanks, Ken, for 46 wonderful years. It has been an amazing adventure!

The End

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Typing “The End” at the end of a manuscript is one of my most satisfying moments as a writer. It comes after months of sitting at my desk and writing page after page of words. A few days ago, I typed “The End” after completing my latest novel, 461 pages and 141,042 words long. It felt wonderful! By the time you read this, I will have given the novel a final edit from start to finish and sent it off to my editor.

Now what? I plan to read books in front of my fireplace, visit with friends and family, watch old movies, and go on a vacation someplace warm.shoreline

But that won’t really be “The End” of this novel—although I wish it were! When I return from vacation, I’ll find a letter from my editor with suggested changes for improvement. I have to admit that I dread this stage of the writing process the most. I’m always convinced that my novel is perfect—The End! My editor often says otherwise. I’ll spend the next month or so hashing over these suggested changes with him and re-working the parts that may need improvement. Once again, I’ll type “The End.”

But it won’t be.

A few months later my editor will send me a copy of my novel showing all of his editorial changes. That will be my last opportunity to edit the book myself. I’ll see it again in the form of Page Proofs, showing how the typeset words will appear on the printed page, and it will be my job to read through it for typos and other minor errors. My novel will finally become a printed book in October of 2017. Don’t ask me why it takes so long for my publishers to get to “The End” of their job. It baffles me.

By the time I hold my novel in my hands nine months from now, the euphoria I felt a few days ago when I typed “The End” will be a distant memory. I will have started the writing process all over again—coming up with an idea, researching it, creating new characters, sitting down at my computer five days a week and writing. “The End” of that book will be months away. The author of Ecclesiastes was right when he said, “Of making many books there is no end.”GetAttachmentThumbnail

One of the most stressful times for me will come next fall when this newest novel will be published. I always pray that readers will enjoy my stories and be blessed by them, and so waiting to hear from them is agonizing. Receiving an e-mail from a satisfied reader is the greatest moment of all. Only then, when readers are laughing and crying along with my characters can I finally feel the satisfaction of coming, at last, to “The End.”

When I reach “The End” of my life someday, I imagine that meeting Jesus and hearing Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant,” will be even more satisfying than finishing a novel. In the meantime, I have a lot of writing and re-writing to do to the story of my life, and lots of changes to make. I pray that with His help, I write it well.images

Different

shorelineThe young man who stood alone on the pier, gazing out at Lake Michigan was different from me in many ways—his age, his ethnicity, and his style of clothing, to name a few. But like me, he obviously had come to the beach on this warm, fall afternoon to enjoy the gorgeous day and picturesque view.  Because I’m a shy, quiet person, it never occurred to me to speak with him. But my girlfriend Cathy is naturally friendly, and she struck up a conversation with him. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and join in.

Earlier that morning in church, our pastor had encouraged us to stop looking at the things that divide us—our political views, our economic status, our religion, our gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity—and learn to see the Imago Dei, the image of God, in the people around us. After a political season that left our country fractured and angry, the pastor challenged us to be peacemakers, bringing shalom and “wholeness” to our little corner of the world, one person at a time.

And so in spite of my discomfort, I began talking with “Jason.” I quickly learned that he didn’t fit any of the stereotypes that I had assumed from his outward appearance. In a warm, soft-spoken voice, “Jason” told us that he was new in town and hadn’t made many friends, yet. He had moved here from a huge city because he wanted a different life from the one he’d been living, and a new start. He now had a good job as a restaurant manager, and a nice apartment. And he loved coming here to the beach to watch the ever-changing lake. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and warm laughter then went our separate ways. I would like to think that as we spoke, any stereotypes he may have had of me were shattered, as well. Because as different as Jason and I are, we’re also the same in the most important way of all—beloved by God.nri3614-i1

It’s not a New Year’s resolution as much as a “new life” resolution, but I pray that I’ll approach people differently in the year ahead. Talking with Jason gave me a tiny taste of how wonderful it is to see people as individuals, not in categories. It makes me wonder how many other “Jasons” are all around me who I’ve unfairly characterized as “different.” And while I don’t plan on making it a habit to strike up conversations with strangers on the beach, I do plan to look at how much alike the people around me are instead of noticing our differences. I want to be a peacemaker, bringing shalom and wholeness wherever I go, one person, one conversation at a time. Imagine how the world could be healed if each of us did the same?

 

 

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Dad and Charlie

Charlie is in the middle with his arm around Ken in the Cub Scout uniform

My husband Ken had a best friend growing up named Charlie. In a time when kids rode bicycles all over town, explored down by the creek, and played outside until the stars came out, Ken and Charlie did it all together. They were in the same Cub Scout Troop, attended the same elementary school, built model cars together. When Ken’s dad took him fishing and on overnight camping trips in the woods, Charlie came, too. Those trips became even more meaningful after Charlie’s dad died at a young age.

The best friends lost touch after they graduated from high school and went to different colleges. But when Ken attended his high school reunion this year—his first ever—there was Charlie, also attending his first reunion. It’s amazing how much these two men still have in common, and how they’ve bonded again as if the years had never passed. Then Charlie told us a story that touched my heart.

When he was fourteen, Charlie gave his life to Christ. His youth leader told him to think of a special person who didn’t know the Lord, and make a commitment to pray for him every single day. Charlie chose Ken’s dad.

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Dad was a kind, gentle man who worked as a master woodcarver for an upscale furniture company most of his life. His parents divorced when he was young, and being poor, he didn’t fit in or feel welcome among church-going people. He left school after the eighth grade and went to work to help support his mother and sister. Even after he married and had six children of his own—my husband being the youngest—Dad never did feel comfortable enough or “good” enough to attend church. He was a wonderful, loving father in every way, which is why his family, and “adopted” family members like Charlie, loved him so much. But he never said a word about faith in God.

It’s so hard to find a way to talk to our closest family members about our faith and our need for Christ. We get together every year at holidays like Christmas, and we want so badly to lead our loved ones to Jesus—and we just can’t seem to find a way or the words to do it. And so the years pass, and we always hope there will be a better time, an easier way to say what’s on our heart. And much too often, the end comes before we ever have a chance.

Charlie faithfully prayed for Dad every single day—all through his college years, all through the years that he and his wife were raising their family. He moved to a different city, and he and Ken weren’t in touch any more, but he continued to pray, wondering if his prayers had ever been answered.

Before he died at age 82, Dad went into the hospital for the last time. Charlie’s mother happened to work in the same hospital and, remembering him from their days as neighbors, went up to his room to see him. She asked how he was doing, and Dad said, “I’m at peace. I’ve given my life to Jesus, and I’m at peace.” Charlie’s prayers had been answered at last.

This Christmas season, Charlie’s story challenges me to do two things. First, to never, ever, stop praying for family members to give their lives to Christ, no matter how long it takes. I’m praying that I’ll find the right opportunity this Christmas, and the right words to say in a loving way. And second, I’m challenged to make a commitment, like Charlie did, to faithfully pray for someone who has touched my life, even if I may never know if or when those prayers are answered.

But I do know that we’ll see Dad in heaven, someday. And for that assurance, I say, “Thank you, Jesus.” And thank you Charlie.

Tea Time

img_0495It’s getting down to the wire. Christmas is coming and so is my book deadline. Right about now I get tend to discouraged, wondering if this book I’m racing to finish is any good, and if so, what the ending should be. I’m putting in long hours in my office, while at the same time, I’m conscious of Christ’s advent and unwilling to let the celebration pass me by. My friend Jacki had the perfect solution to both dilemmas. “Let’s have a tea party and invite some of your readers. And so last Thursday, we did.img_0500

img_0496Seeing Jacki and Paul’s house beautifully decorated for the season helped me relax and move into the season with thanksgiving for the gift of God’s Son. And the new friends I met gave me the encouragement I needed in my sprint to the finish line. “Wear something fun,” Jacki told the ladies she invited. Or bring a teacup or other item with memories. Three young sisters, Emma, Lauren and Sophie wore vintage dresses that young Emma had sewn all by herself. What talent! We decided that Emma’s outfit and darling hat made her look like the model on the cover of my book, “Wonderland Creek.” Sophie (and her doll) looked as though they had just stepped off the cover of “All Things New.” And Lauren, with her cute dress and vintage shoes, could have posed for “A Woman’s Place.”img_0497

img_0498Jacki and Deb wore their mothers’ fur wraps that were all the rage in the 1940s. Several ladies brought their favorite teacups, including one from a British antique shop that commemorated Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953.img_0499

img_0501We asked the ladies to share some of their memories and stories with me (I never know when I might need a good story for a future novel), and I ended up hearing several very touching ones, including the Hallmark-worthy tale of how Maria met her husband, and how Norma’s father paid a surprise visit home during wartime. I would tell you the details but I just might steal them for my next novel, and I would hate to spoil it for you.

img_0503We all had a wonderful time, and I came home singing Christmas Carols and ready to add heart and love and wonder to the final chapters of my novel. So, thanks for sharing a cup of tea with me, ladies. And for reminding me what Christmas—and my novels—are all about.

Open to the Sky

img_4254Last month, we celebrated the Feast of Sukkot with our Jewish friends and family members. One of my favorite things about the holiday is building and decorating a Sukkah or booth on our back deck. First, we constructed a frame out of two-by-fours then enclosed three of the sides using tarps. Next comes the fun part—decorating it with natural materials such as cornstalks, cat-tails, and pine boughs. We had cuttings of mint and Russian sage from our garden this year, which made the inside smell wonderful! Last came the homey touches—adding a tablecloth and napkins, candles, hanging lanterns, even pictures. This year the weather cooperated and we were able to eat all our meals in this outdoor booth without getting rained on or bundling up in countless sweaters.

The Jewish people live in booths to remember how God watched over them and protected them and provided all their needs while they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. And so one of the “rules” for creating an authentic sukkah is that the roof cannot be totally enclosed. You’re supposed to be able to see the sky and the stars overhead when you look up, and remember that God is watching over you. He’s got you covered.img_0064

The Feast of Sukkot (sometimes called the Feast of Tabernacles) is one of the three yearly feasts that the Jewish people were commanded by God to celebrate. It comes at the end of the agricultural year and, like our Thanksgiving Day, celebrates the harvest. We know from the Gospel of John chapter 7 that Jesus obeyed the commandment and went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast with His disciples.img_9873

I find it interesting that God made celebrating Sukkot a commandment. That’s how important He thought it was that His people take time to stop and remember everything He has done for us. To remember how He has provided everything we need—including a bountiful harvest. In the description of the feast in Leviticus God says several times to cease working! This is a day of rest! You shall do no work! It’s an act of trust. We can stop working—He has us covered.

As the Feast of Sukkot approached this year, I was already behind on writing my latest novel. I couldn’t afford to stop working for the holiday. Besides, I’m no longer bound by the Old Testament Law, am I? Yet I really wanted to spend time with my family and friends! In my daily devotions, I happened to be reading the book Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World by Shelly Miller. She teaches that one of the reasons we stop work and rest as God commanded is as an act of trust. We need to remind ourselves that the world won’t stop spinning if we take a day of rest from our work. God has everything under control. In other words, instead of looking frantically around at all the things we need to do, we need to look up! There is no limit on His ability to supply all of our needs if we simply trust and obey—the way the Israelites did when they lived in tents in the wilderness. I can rest and trust. So I turned off my computer for five days while our family was here, and I celebrated this feast of joy. And guess what? When I added up my page count at the end of the month, I had completed even more pages than the quota I had assigned myself.

skyI wonder what would happen if I lived each day of the year this way? If, instead of trying to keep all of my many plates spinning like a circus juggler, I remembered that God commands me to rest for my own good. He offers rest as a precious gift. I can almost imagine Jesus sitting in a sukkah with His disciples, looking up at the open sky and saying, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”

Welcome!

One of my favorite hobbies is interior decorating. I’m an avid fan of magazines and TV programs that transform a rundown house or a piece of outdated furniture into something beautiful. I love scouting thrift stores and yard sales for bargain items that I can repurpose, just like my favorite interior designer Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” As anyone who has visited my home knows, I enjoy rearranging my furniture and changing accent pieces every now and then for a totally new look—without spending a dime, of course. In fact, I have a “décor closet” filled with items I can swap out as the seasons (or my whims) change. My goal is always to create a comfortable, welcoming space that my family, friends and guests can enjoy.

A few months back, I looked at my website and decided it was overdue for a change. I wanted a space that reflected my style and personality, but that was also a warm, welcoming place where my readers and I could get to know each other a little better. I wanted it to have information about my books—especially when a new one was released—and a place for readers to contact me. I wanted an up-to- date event calendar so that I could meet some of my readers in person the next time I’m speaking or visiting a bookstore in their area. And since I wanted to send out a newsletter occasionally when I have something new or fun to share, I wanted to feature an easy way for interested readers to sign up.

I confess that my talents are limited to writing (and maybe amateur interior design), so I needed lots of professional help with my website redecorating project. I’m very grateful to my savvy marketing and publicity expert, Christine Bierma, for all her hard work and great ideas, as well as to the very talented graphic and web designer, Cori De Roos, for the beautifully renovated site. It has been under construction for the past few months, and now I can finally open the door and welcome you in for a visit! Thank you for your patience while the reconstruction has been taking place.

We’re inching closer and closer to the October release date for my newest novel, “Waves of Mercy,” so I hope you enjoy this sneak peek at the cover. And here are behind-the-scenes photos from my research that I hope will pique your interest. I’ll be revealing more about “Waves of Mercy” in my coming newsletter so make sure you sign up for it.

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The welcome mat is out! Please let me know what you think. I look forward to visiting with you here in the future.  As a thank you for visiting, I will be giving away a signed copy of one of my books to two of the readers who comment below. Contest Ends on Sunday, August 14 at 7pm EST

 

Blessings,
Lynn

Independence Day

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When I was a girl, we always celebrated the Fourth of July at my grandmother and grandfather’s home in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. They had a beautiful piece of property on the edge of the woods with shade trees, a small pond, and a spring-fed stream that meandered through it. The brook was stocked with fat, brown trout and was cold enough to keep our soft-drinks chilled on the hottest summer day. My grandparents had a gift for hospitality. All their friends and relatives arrived with pot-luck dishes to share and looked forward to this grand summer picnic all year. So did my two sisters and I.

My grandmother’s four sisters, who I secretly referred to as “the old aunts with the mustaches,” celebrated with us every year. They always seemed so ancient to me but were probably no older that I currently am! Last year at a family reunion at my niece’s home, I turned to my sister and said, “Hey, now we’re the old aunts with mustaches!” I wonder how ancient we must look to the younger generations.reunion2

One of my favorite Fourth of July memories was the day my Great Uncle Otto walked into my grandmother’s kitchen while she was making potato salad for the picnic. Grandma always used a shot glass for a measuring cup and that day it was filled with vinegar. Uncle Otto, who was fond of schnapps, spotted the glass of amber liquid and thought it was for him. Before anyone could stop him, he downed the contents in one gulp. I didn’t understand the torrent of German words that followed but I could guess their meaning by the coughing and sputtering that accompanied them!

IMG_3549We roasted hot dogs over a wood fire, ate Kuchen and homemade sauerkraut, and drank grandma’s delicious home-brewed root beer. When it grew dark, we lit sparklers and played games in the warm summer night. I took America’s independence and freedoms completely for granted back then, but my grandmother and great aunts didn’t. Their father, my great-grandfather Friedrich, immigrated to the United States in the 1880s to avoid being drafted into the German army. He was a pacifist and was about to be called into service even though he was married to my great-grandmother Louise and had a small daughter, Great Aunt Martha. I fictionalized some of his story in my novel, “Eve’s Daughters,” and told how he escaped over the Swiss border, found work in America, then sent for his family to join him. I found the record of their arrivals in the archives on Ellis Island.

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Ellis Island

My grandmother and the rest of her sisters were born here. They kept in contact with their relatives in Germany for many years and grieved over the suffering they endured during WWI and WWII. After the second war, the area where they lived in eastern Germany fell under control of Communist Russia and my family lost touch with them. Great-grandma Louise’s family was Jewish and all died in the Holocaust.

I realize now that as my family gathered on Independence Day each year, they must have been thinking of the family members they left behind—parents and great aunts and uncles who never knew the freedoms they knew, especially the freedom of religion. And they must have been very thankful to God for the life they enjoyed in America, with children and grandchildren running around in the warm, summer evening, swatting mosquitoes and lighting sparklers. They had truly been celebrating America’s independence and freedom.

FullSizeRender(7)This year, my sister and brother-in-law are coming to visit, and as we sit together on our beach, watching our town’s firework display, that’s what I’ll be celebrating, too.