Nearly Half a Century

Last week, my husband Ken and I celebrated our wedding anniversary, and it was an almost-big one—47 years. We are inching our way toward half a century. And what a crazy, exciting, 47- year ride it has been! When Ken proposed to me he said, “If you marry me we’ll probably never be rich, but we’ll see the world.” And he was right. We met while attending college in Michigan, got married in my home state of New York, and moved to New Haven, Connecticut where we celebrated our first anniversary.
Our very memorable third anniversary was spent camping in a pup tent in Maine and having to evacuate as a hurricane swept up the Atlantic coast. On our 5th anniversary we were living in Bogota, Colombia and trying in vain to find American-style pizza for the celebration. Anniversary #10 was spent in Indiana in 98 degree heat with no central air-conditioning in our tiny, three-bedroom house. We went to the opposite extreme for anniversary #13, living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, where the weather starts turning frosty in August. And we celebrated # 15 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where the mosquitoes will carry you off as hostages in late August. Twenty of our most recent anniversaries were celebrated in the Chicago area, which has the best pizza in America, by the way. And now, after many vacations and trips to far-flung places, we just spent our 47th anniversary relaxing on our beach in Michigan.
Back when we were newlyweds and needed a car, Ken and I decided to splurge on a little two-seat, burgundy-colored, Triumph Spitfire convertible. We drove that little car all over the country, including a memorable cross-country trek from Connecticut to Anchorage, Alaska where Ken performed for the Alaska Festival of Music. By the time we reached our sixth anniversary, our son Joshua had just been born, and the sports car had to be traded in for a more practical vehicle. What followed were many wonderful, hectic years spent raising our three children, helping them finish school, reach their dreams, and find jobs and spouses. And now Ken and I are alone again, and that’s kind of nice, too. When we first became empty-nesters, we would gaze across the dinner table at each other and jokingly say, “Hey, I remember you!”


About a week ago, Ken and I were out for a morning walk when we spotted a cute little second-hand, burgundy-colored, Mazda Miata convertible for sale. Wouldn’t it be fun, we thought, to return to our early years of tooling around the country together, side-by-side with the top down? It didn’t take much to convince each other, and we bought the car as our “almost-fiftieth-anniversary” present to each other.
We were barely out of our teens when we met and married, so we’ve had plenty of time to live, love, and grow old together. We began as best friends and still are. Romance is great, and every marriage needs a strong, healthy dose of it. But there’s a lot to be said for friendship, too—enjoying each other and sharing hobbies and interests. And while I don’t think we’re crazy enough to drive all the way to Alaska again, I’m looking forward to some surprising new adventures in our little sports car as we approach our fiftieth year. So, happy anniversary, Ken! I can’t wait to see where we end up next.

A Wonderful Visit

I just returned from a wonderful visit with my mother and my sister Peggy and her family in the little village in New York State where I grew up. The town is nestled in the Shawangunk Mountains, and seeing the mountains again is like seeing old friends. I always forget how much I’ve missed them while living in the flat Midwest. Peggy and I had a chance to go on several hikes while I was home, taking her new rescue dog, Franny, with us.
We hiked around a mountaintop lake.
And admired the vistas of the valley, below.
We let Franny swim in this creek and she “shared” the cool water with us as she shook herself dry.
We hiked across the Hudson River on a former railroad trestle that has been converted into a rails-to-trails pathway called “Walkway Over the Hudson.”
Hiking in the woods and enjoying nature always restores me. When I take time to look at creation, I’m reminded of what a glorious God we serve. Seeing His infinite creativity renews my own urge to create. And being with my family—the people who know me the best and love me the most—helps me remember who I am and where I’ve come from.
It puts my lifelong journey into perspective and helps me see how God has shaped me along the way. I returned to my home in Michigan refreshed and ready to dig into the work that God has given me to do. My prayer is the same one that Moses prayed:
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. . . .Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. . . . Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. . . . establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90)

When Plans Change

My husband and I planned our summer vacation months ago. All spring, we’ve looked forward to exploring the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with our friends, seeing Tahquamenon Falls, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, and taking a boat tour through the Soo Locks. But then a family medical emergency cancelled our plans. We’re thankful that God answered our prayers and the emergency ended well, but our trip will have to be postponed until next summer.

Our change in plans has started me thinking about some of the summer vacations we took with our children when they were small. One of the most memorable was a trip from our home in Winnipeg, Canada to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, towing a borrowed pop-up trailer. We awoke after our first night of camping to find that all four of the trailer’s tires had gone flat. After a trip into town to buy four new ones, we were on our way again. Once we arrived in the Rockies, we discovered that the trailer had a broken heater, so after a few very cold nights, we changed our plans and headed south to the Grand Canyon and warmer weather.

Somewhere around Durango, Colorado, several warning lights on our car’s dashboard began flashing. We made a detour to a repair shop and learned that the pop-up trailer had a faulty electrical system, which was draining our car’s battery. After more repairs and a new battery, we were on our way again.

We showed up at the canyon at sunset, which is a beautiful time to arrive unless you need a campsite. All of the campgrounds were full. Signs throughout the park threatened enormous fines for camping anywhere except in designated sites. And it was a long, hot drive back to the nearest town.

Weary and desperate, we pulled into a parking lot behind a restaurant for the night. We didn’t dare to “pop up” the pop-up and risk a costly fine, so we decided to sleep in our car. All five of us. In our Toyota station wagon. Our sons Joshua and Benjamin slept in the two front seats, reclining them back as far as they would go. Ken and I emptied the luggage from the back of the car, folded down the rear seat, and slept there with our daughter, Maya. I use the term “slept” very loosely. “Dozed” is more like it as Ken and I folded ourselves around the wheel wells and tried to avoid Maya’s flailing arms and legs.

All night long, I expected to hear a dreaded knock on my window, and to face an angry park ranger ticketing us for not camping in a designated area. I planned to reply, “Does this look like we’re camping? If we were camping I would be asleep in the trailer behind us, not folded like a pretzel in our Toyota!” The long night ended without any fines. In fact by morning, the entire parking lot was filled with cars and trailers and rumpled families just like ours. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how hard it would be to find a campsite at the Grand Canyon.

We saw a lot of beautiful sites on that trip and had a lot of fun. For Ken and me, it was memorable because of the costly tires, the new battery, the electrical work, and the sleepless night. But when we asked the kids what they enjoyed most about that trip, guess what they said. “Sleeping in the car!” One of them asked if we could do it again.

I dislike change, especially when it collides with my well-laid plans. But it seems as though the unplanned, unexpected changes that come our way leave a deeper imprint in our memories than when everything goes according to schedule. I will get to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula another year. But in the aftermath of our medical emergency, I saw how beautifully our family pulls together and shows our deep love for one another. Our faith has been strengthened after sensing God’s presence throughout the crisis and knowing that He hears and answers our prayers. In the end, that’s worth much more to me than a pile of vacation photos.

Where have you seen God at work when your plans were changed?

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


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

Copy of P1000584

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.


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


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


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?




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.

Dad with our son Joshua

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.