Fact, Fiction, and a D-I-Y Life

by Jane Rubietta

My husband stood beside me, our fingers clutching the frozen fencing. The unexpected ice storm shut down many roads in Tennessee, but we slid up to this gateway to my grandparents’ farm. Though the acreage sold 20 years prior, I hadn’t returned. My husband creaked open the unlocked gate and, in our station wagon with three small kids, we inched along the icy lane to the old farmhouse.

 Smaller than my memories, and decrepit in its presentation, still, the house contained poignant history. We peeked through the windows to peeling wallpaper and sagging ceilings. I grieved the loss of place, the lack of love and respect for such an antique beauty.

A decade slipped past. This time I steered a rental while on a Tennessee book tour. An internal map guided me straight to the farm, this time without a gate—or ice and snow. Cotton fluffs dotted the dark soil, reminiscent of last year’s harvest. I crept over in my dress clothes and heels to collect a few wisps.

Then I noticed. The sycamores lining the lane…gone. Fields rolled straight to the gravel’s edge. But surely soon I’d see the barn and tractor shed and the old gas pump. And the house.

Except, no. In their places, dirt and more dirt. I crawled from the car again, rooted at the edge of the house’s memorial site. So many stories, collapsed with the walls, the memories of hope and laughter, hardship and hard work. The scents of buttermilk biscuits and the smoke house with the best cured ham and bacon anywhere in the country.  

That day, a novel began to stir. About a woman who, wounded by her family, evacuates her past, and creates her own Do-It-Yourself life far from the fertile fields and painful memories. 

When everything she’s built threatens to collapse, Evelyn Lewis returns to liquidate her inherited farm. If only it were that easy. That’s no fun. Under the roasting southern sun, Evie realizes she must excavate her past in order to build her future. 

Is it biographical? No. But geographical, you bet. Though the farmhouse is larger in the novel than in real life, and waits in dire need of a kind hand when Evie reaches the cattle guard before the short driveway. 

The Forgotten Life of Evelyn Lewis is filled with laughter, sweet tea, healing, hope, lots of hammers, reclamation, and the surprising gift of friendship. 

No one, perhaps, is more surprised than me (well, except my family) that from so many fingers-clutching-fences places, I’ve become an author and speaker. Twenty of my books are non-fiction; with Evie, I wanted to experiment with real people working through the very real issues I write about. While it was a finalist for a couple of national book awards, the real blessing, to me, about The Forgotten Life of Evelyn Lewis comes when someone says, “It felt so good to laugh.” “I will never look again at another person with the same lens. People carry so much inside; I want to honor that.” Or, “Evie’s journey helped me heal.” 

It’s been a harsh year. I hope t The Forgotten Life of Evelyn Lewis will continue to help us laugh and love and heal. Meanwhile, last summer, in the spirit of reclamation and rebuilding, I published Brilliance: Finding Light in Dark Places.Six weeks of readings lead us in both our present and past realities, and invite us out of the shadows to the One who said, “I’m the Light of the world.” 

Because even though life feels a lot like a D-I-Y project, it really isn’t. As Evie ultimately figured out, it’s a “Come to Me” journey, where we collect others along the way. Although laughter and sweet tea help a whole lot.

Jane Rubietta is a platform coach and speaks internationally (well, pre-pandemic she did) and writes stirring and deep works, both fiction and non-fiction. Her Tennessee roots appear via an occasional drawl, or a masterful pitcher of sweet tea. She’s never figured out buttermilk biscuits, and has found that words are powerful tools for rebuilding a life and a world. Find out more at LifeLaunchMe.com and JaneRubietta.com

Piecing Life Together With Slow Stitching

by Cleo Lampos

My mom seldom had empty hands. When she finished pressing dough into loaves, feeding the chickens, or ironing heavy cotton, her fingers picked up scraps of fabrics left over from the feed sack clothing she designed and stitched for my sister and me. From these bits of cloth, postage stamp quilts emerged. Cozy coverings for an uninsulated home in central Iowa farmland. Frugal living with a needle and thread.

 These images impressed upon my mind at an early age translated into the historical fiction that I have written. In A Mother’s Song, the novel that highlights the orphan train, an entire chapter is dedicated to the history of frontier quilt patterns. One of the characters is buried with her favorite comforter wrapped around her, a custom of many pioneers. The novel binds family, home and second chances with love.

Another historical novel, Riding the Rails to Home: A Newsie Rides the Orphan Train, includes the quilt square that Stephen carries as a reminder of his mother, who dies of cholera. At the end of the book, the Nebraska patchwork of wheat fields yield homesteaders who sew a Hugs and Kisses quilt to welcome this adopted son to the community.

The most personal of the stories based in history is Dust Between the Stitches. After reading my mother’s diary of her early marriage to my father in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, my fascination with Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Sam with their feed sack creations sparked a story of a Depression era teacher who quilts. At the beginning of each chapter, a typical 1930’s piecing pattern is highlighted. The appendix to the book presents a brief description of each design.

But the most compelling part of quilt making is the quilters themselves. After joining a quilting guild, I found myself talking with the sew-ers more than actually constructing a fabric masterpiece. Their stories intrigued me and spurred my imagination. Eventually, researching every movement in quilting from pioneer stitchers to Gees Bends needle crafters filled many hours. The alliance of Amish and Hmong to produce high quality quilts inspired me. Learning how a therapist who works with anorexia patients has used the soft curves of fabric to heal their souls brought tears to my eyes. These and many more historic and personal accounts encouraged me to share the ways that quilting provides therapy, creativity, functionality and community to so many women. Piecing Fabrics: Mending Livesis the first compilation of narratives about needle work.

This month, the second book brings more stories to inspire and encourage stitchers.  Creating Comfort-ers: The History, Philosophy and Ingenuity of Quilters chronicles the women who used their threads and needles to fight in WWII. Deaf quilters are introduced. Even baking projects with a needle crafter’s touch are explored among the crazy quilt of topics covered within the pages of this nonfiction book. The hopes and despair of real women create the masterpieces that give snuggly comfort.

Slow stitching allows time to meditate. To ponder the thread of creativity that flows like a running stitch through the fabric. To think about the women who find their lives richer from the creations of their hands.

 Hands like my mother’s.

Cleo Lampos is an educator, writer and speaker who desires to equip parents and professionals to maximize the potential in every child. Lampos’ compassion for students who suffer from poverty, broken homes or foster care is based on her own experiences as a child. Her father died when she was three, and her step-father moved the family from state to state. Born in Colorado, but raised in Iowa and Wisconsin, Lampos attended nine schools before beginning high school. Her personal philosophy in life is that “broken lives can be healed when the pieces are given to the Creator.” In all her speaking, teaching and writing, the hope and the grace of the gospel shines through. Learn more about Cleo’s books on her blog http://cleolampos.com

Companions for the Journey

A long time ago, before I had published a single word, a writer friend invited me to join a Christian writers’ group. Of course, I declined. I was much too uncertain of my calling or my future as a writer to accept. Eventually, my friend talked me into it, and I discovered the many blessings of partnering with other companions in the journey of faith. I grew a lot over the next few years, in confidence and in my writing ability. And then my husband’s work involved a job change, and we moved from Canada back to the United States.

At the first Christian Writers’ Conference I attended in our new area, the leaders encouraged participants to form a critique group with other attendees who lived nearby. I leaped at the chance. The group was large at first, but commitment and determination soon whittled us down to a faithful few. For more than twenty-five years now, Jane Rubietta and Cleo Lampos and I have been meeting to share our lives, encourage each other, and critique each other’s writing. When we began, none of us were published—and none of our children were married. Now we all have multiple books and publications to our credit—and multiple grandchildren!

We have cried with each other through our many disappointments, and joyfully celebrated each publishing milestone. We brainstorm plots and characters and titles together—and we laugh a lot. And eat a lot. Our writers’ meetings always involve great food. There were times when each one of us was ready to quit, but we always convinced each other to hang on to our calling as writers. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jane and Cleo.

You’ll get to know them a little better next month because I have asked them to blog in my place during the month of February. I will be on a much-needed sabbatical from writing to recharge my batteries. I wrote a Christmas novella this year in addition to my usual, yearly novel, and I need a break. They will tell you a little about themselves and their work—which I’m always thrilled to endorse!

Where would any of us be without our friends? I know my life would be much lonelier without them. But even more than keeping us company, we all need people in our lives who will help us discover our gifts, and challenge us to step out in faith, and hold us accountable to the ministries God has given us. We see Christ through these friends and experience His deep love for us, in spite of our faults and failures. 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 with them. 

How I became a Daughter of Grace

“I have asked my friend, fellow-writer, and marketing assistant Christine Bierma to write a guest-post for me today. I think you’ll see that her recent experiences have made her uniquely qualified to write about the appalling racial injustice that we’re seeing in America.” ~Lynn

I attended my first political rally in 47 years last week. It was in my hometown, just a few miles up the street. I read about it on Facebook and felt compelled to attend even though I was only 10 days post-op from knee surgery. Why? I went because God introduced me to the most wonderful group of loving Christian women I’ve ever met about 2 years ago. And they happen to be black. 

Ella, “Peaches” was the first lady I met. She had intentionally sought out a primarily white church and attended a Bible study there. If you ask her retell the story about her experience, she will tell you that it took two weeks to summon up the courage to walk through the doors. She knew she would be the only black woman in the room. However, she has an incredible ear to hear God’s voice and his instruction was “to go.” As she sat in a room full of women who she didn’t know and who didn’t look like her she heard God yet again instruct her to speak. 

Speak to the woman sitting to her right and ask her to teach at the yearly conference Peaches’ women’s ministry was holding later in the year. The woman she asked to speak was my best friend. 

Later that week, my friend asked me if I would come for lunch and meet Peaches. My friend was unsure how she should react to a woman who spoke so powerfully about hearing and obeying God’s voice. It was over chicken salad and lemonade that I met and listened to Peaches tell me about her vision for a women’s group that included white women and black women and hispanic woman; women of all races and colors. She had a vision that one day, this group would come together in unity and praise God together. She was already leading a group of black women from her church who called themselves, Daughters of Grace. Now, she felt she needed to find some white women to join them. And that she told us, is where we came in. 

Instantly I was mesmerized by her passion and her love for God. I never heard anyone speak about race so plainly and I never dreamed of being part of a multiethnic group before, in fact, most of my upbringing was about segregation. I’m not sure my community was inherently racist, but it had been built on the principle of separatism. I grew up in a Dutch family, went to a Dutch conservative church, went to a Dutch school, a Dutch college, married a Dutch man. My whole life had been defined by being around people who looked like, thought like, lived like and worshipped just like me. Even so, Peaches had captured my heart in a way I was not prepared for with her fervor and the way she spoke about the Holy Spirit. It was compelling, unfamiliar and I wanted to know more. 

The first meeting my friend and I attended was at Peaches’ church in a town about 45 minutes away from where I lived. I was nervous not knowing what to expect. As I pulled up to the church, a young black man was standing outside the building and as I looked at him, I realized I was afraid. I am ashamed to even write about my fear because of what I know now. Now when I see this man, I know his name and have held his children. But at the time, I was suddenly confronted with the racism that I didn’t even know existed in my heart. Somewhere during my life I had learned, accepted and believed that black men were dangerous. I do not have one reason, not one experience that led me to believe that except that at that moment, I couldn’t deny it.  

The night at the church was filled with many firsts for me. It was the first time I was one of only two white women in a room. I was very aware of my race and that I did not look like everyone else. It didn’t help that Peaches stood up and told the whole room that she had brought two guests with her, as if everyone there hadn’t already realized who we were! As we sat there and watched, listened, worshiped and prayed my fear began to fade away.  I was still hesitant to let down my guard but that didn’t stop the group from embracing me. They hugged, prayed over and prayed for me with genuine love.  It was overwhelming.  Although I didn’t understand everything that I saw or heard that night, the Holy Spirit was evident and powerful. 

At the end of the night we stood in a circle around the tiny sanctuary and linked arms and sang, “There’s a sweet sweet sprit in this place, and I know that it’s the spirit of the Lord” As I looked around the room at all of the beautiful women and listened to them sing I was compelled to share that experience with more of my white friends. I saw and felt a unity there that I had never known before. God was so evident in that room that night but in a way that was totally new and different for me and everyone in that room. He was showing us a facet of his beauty we had never seen. 

That is the story of how I became a member of Daughters of Grace. The story of how God introduced me to a community of beautiful believers who have welcomed me and my whole family and included us with open arms.

It is because of those relationships that I went to CVS last week and bought a poster board and spent an hour writing out Black Lives Matter. It is because of those relationships that I limped through my town’s city center with my son and my husband and said the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and took time to think about the injustice that many of my friends experience daily that I never have had to confront or name. 

A few days after the protest I was on a Zoom call with the board members of Daughters of Grace and was asked to lead the group in a closing prayer. I took some time to tell my sisters that I loved them and that my heart broke for their sons, husbands and nephews. That I was worried about their safety and that I was sorry that I had never thought about it before. Then I asked about their thoughts and experiences. 

Peaches told us that she is afraid every time one of her sons is pulled over. She is afraid one of them will say something that will put them in danger. I’ve thought about that for days now. I have never been afraid that one of my sons would be in danger when interacting with a police officer. I’ve never been afraid that someone would call the cops on them. Ever. Her story has made me think about how different our experiences are and how unfair that is. 

In John 15 Jesus commands us to love one another and then he goes a lot further and says, “greater love has no one than this; to lay down your life ones friend.”

What is the answer to injustice and racism? Love is. 

What I have been learning with my sisters in Daughters of Grace is that I can not truly love you if I don’t know you. Once I get to know you, you are no longer a stranger. Once I get to know you, I am no longer afraid of our differences. Once I look into your eyes and listen to your hopes and dreams, once I meet your family and hug your babies, I am no longer afraid. And even though we look different and we may worship differently and we may speak differently, we are no longer strangers, we are now friends. If you are my friend and I see that you are being mistreated, misunderstood, misrepresented and that your power, your voice, your life is not being valued, when I see that, I can’t help but stand. I can’t help but cry. I can’t help but pray and long for a better tomorrow. Because I love you! 

As I look at the life of Jesus, he never met anyone he didn’t want to get to know more, unless it was someone misusing their power. He had no time for people who believed they were better than others. What Jesus did have time for were those who were marginalized, forgotten, poor, broken, abused and misunderstood. He went out of his way to be with people who didn’t look like him, didn’t act like him and didn’t come from the same place as him. He loved people so deeply that he would stop everything he was doing to listen. And today, I think that is what we as Christians are called to as well. 

When I say “we,” what I mean is those of you who look like me. White people. We need to listen. Listen without talking. Listen to what our fellow brothers and sisters of color are saying about their experiences. 

Assume a posture of humility for a moment.  Humility will lead us to reconciliation and unity and love. Love is the answer. 

Today, would you take a moment to ask yourself, what would it mean to love like Jesus did?

To learn more about Daughters of Grace visit their website at www.daughtersofgrace.net or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DaughtersofGraceSisters/

To read more from Christine Bierma visit her blog at www.christinebierma.com

God’s Posture Toward Us

Today I welcome my friend Christine Bierma from Atrustworthysaying.com as my guest blogger. She has graciously allowed me some time away to rest, relax and recharge. She has been writing a series called “Postures” that considers the many postures that we can take as we approach God and the postures He takes toward us as we approach him. This is the second post in this series. To read more, please visit her blog at atrustworthysaying.com.

What do you think God’s posture toward you is? I’m not looking for the Sunday school answer but what you truly believe. When God thinks of you, are his arms open, closed, crossed, indifferent?

Does he have his finger lifted to you in accusation? Is he shushing you? Are his hands raised in a “whatever” pose? Has he completely turned his back?

Or, is he waiting with his arms wide open? Is he turning his ear toward you so he can be sure to give you all of his attention? Is he busy or is he waiting for you?

I believe many of us, if we are honest with ourselves believe that God the Father, is standing in judgement of us. Ready to heap shame and “shoulds” all over our head until we crumble from the weight of it all. Isn’t that what we’ve been taught? We sing Jesus Loves Me This I Know but just as soon as the song is finished we are given a list of our failures and shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of failures and shortcomings but that is the entire reason Jesus came to earth. He came to give us the assurance of forgiveness and to welcome us into his kingdom. He did not visit this planet to shame us or to shake an accusing finger in our faces until we relented.

You can study all of the gospels for your entire life and you will never find Jesus using shame as a weapon or a tool to bring us closer to him or to control us. You can search the Old Testament and the New Testament and not once come up with an example where God used shame to control his people. He just isn’t into the control game.

What you will find is a God who is grieved that his precious people have turned their backs on him. You will find a father that is hurting because of the poor choices his children have made and you will see him weep for the hurt and pain they bring upon themselves. You will find a loving God who is willing to move heaven and earth to allow us to come back to him.

Do you know who is in the shame and control game? Satan.

The prince of darkness wants to control us and lead us away from the Father. Shame is the perfect tool, especially for Christians. When he whispers shame into our ears he makes it sound spiritual, it feels like it is coming straight from God himself. Doesn’t it?

The scriptures tell us that “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans 8:39

When shame, fear, condemnation and rejection start to swirl around you and weigh you down, bring this verse to mind and let it’s truth cover and protect you from the attack. God is not condemnation and fear. No matter what someone in your past has told you, no matter what you own inner voice screams at you, no matter what religious institution has smashed this lie into your heart, it is not true.

What is true is God is love.

Jesus himself said the greatest commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

Look at what that verse doesn’t say. Fill in the blank all the things your own condemnation believes are more important than the command to simply love God. Each of us will have a different list but it is a list of lies. That list simply does not exist in the scriptures.

God waits for each of us with open arms.

He will never force us to come into his presence or to serve him, he always gives us the choice. He isn’t waiting to condemn or shame us, but rather he is waiting to love us like we’ve never known.

He is waiting with his arms open wide!

The best writers are readers

I am thrilled to welcome my friend Rachel McMillian as a guest blogger this week. Ken and I are on a bike trip in Europe and I’m so thankful that Rachel was willing to help me on the blog. I hope you enjoy her writing, look for her books and add them to your “To Be Read” pile. Welcome Rachel!

As a writer, I use books as some people might a course or a workshop: studying structure, and dialogue. Noticing the way an author immerses me in a world, culture and moment in history that inspires me to read more.    But reading not only enhances my ability and confidence as a writer, it helps me strive to be a better human. For instance, several publications including the Washington Post and the New York Times have lately featured research suggesting a correlation between reading and empathy.  As a woman of faith, empathy is a natural extension of my Christian worldview.  As a writer and reader, empathy is a sure-fire way to ensure a created character is an extension of a fictional friend.

While I read to learn from authors who excel at their craft, I also read for encouragement: to find the characters who parallel my journey, who express my doubts and my fears, who I empathizewith.    When Christy Huddleston asks Miss Alice endless questions after she moves to Cutter Gap in Catherine Marshall’s masterpiece Christy, I see a bit of myself in her earnest desire to encounter God and His word on a deeper level.  One of the most powerful moments in my reading life occurred when I read a scene in Lynn Austin’s Fire by Night. Julia Hoffman, a nurse in the Civil War era, recognizes she has much to offer the world beyond her cushioned upbringing and wonders how she is supposed to follow her fiancé Nathaniel Greene without question– even as God nudges her to serve others and use her recently discovered gifts:

“But aren’t women allowed to hear from God?” she asks her friend Phoebe. “Are only our fathers or our husbands qualified to tell us what God wants? I thought’s Id heart God speaking to me.[…] So should I try to become the person he wants me to be or the person God wants me to be?”

This conversation in my copy of the novel is translucent with wear, underlined and highlighted.  It spoke so deeply into my own insecurities as a woman of faith and challenged me to seek out God’s voice beyond human expectation.

In Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, grace is incarnate in the character of Joe Gargery-a kind blacksmith and the protagonist’s brother in law who time and again pays ungrateful Pip’s debts and welcomes him home with open arms despite cruel and neglectful treatment. There is empathy here, sure. There is also Christ’s love. We are alwayswelcome with Him—no matter what we have done.

So, yes, I learn about structure and syntax, story and pace when I read a novel as a writer. But most importantly reading reaffirms who I am. It challenges and encourages me. It strengthens my empathy and my Christian faith. It allows me to step into another person’s shoes and walk around in them (to paraphrase Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird).

In my latest historical series, the catalyst that sends my hero Hamish DeLuca, a talented Toronto lawyer to Boston, is a panic attack.  Hamish, thus, flourishes in his adopted home: finding footing as an amateur sleuth. But, he still suffers from an anxiety and panic disorder in an era where his symptoms were heavily stigmatized and largely misunderstood. Hamish’s mental illness and his symptoms come by him honestly. I don’t impart anything on him that I have not experienced myself. In this vulnerable way, I am able to hopefully establish empathy in my relationship with my readers and combine my earnest love of writing with the hope and passion I have encountered through the fiction I re-read and cherish.

The best writers are readers.

So read on: those who read to inform their own scribblings and those who read to find themselves in other people’s pages. Read to help you become a better writer. Read because it will make you a better human. Read to ask questions and read because it asks the questions you might have been afraid to ask.  Read in every occasion. Given enough time and page I guaranteeyou will find yourself—again and again— read because empathy is alive and apparent in the well-worn pages of a favourite book.

Rachel McMillan is the author of the Herringford and Watts mysteries, the Three Quarter Time series of contemporary romances set in opulent Vienna, and the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries praised for bringing an authentic 1930’s Boston world to life while normalizing the fictional conversation surrounding mental illness. Her first work of non-fiction, described as a romantic’s guide to independent travel, releases in 2020. Rachel lives in Toronto, Canada

Tell me when

I’m very happy to introduce my friend Christine Bierma as my guest blogger today. Besides being an excellent writer herself, Christine is the founder of Launch Right a social media boutique company that has been an invaluable resource to me and other authors. Welcome Christine!!



My husband and I went to out for dinner this past weekend to celebrate his birthday. I spent some time alone at our table and rather than whip out my phone and check Facebook or my email, I took those few moments to look around and observe the people sitting near me.

I watched two interactions that looked similar. A lady at the table to my right had ordered a salad and the waiter had come over to offer her fresh ground pepper. I watched as he slowly sprinkled the spice over her plate and quite quickly saw her hold up her hand and smile saying, “Thank you, that’s enough.”

Almost at the same time, a gentleman just beyond her was having parmesan cheese freshly grated over his pasta. He too was allowed to tell the waitress when she had given him “enough.” He smiled and watched her turn and turn and turn the crank on the cheese grater and laughed with the whole table when he finally held up his and and said, “Ok, thats enough!” His dinner guests were commenting loudly how they were afraid he was never going to stop, that he may have taken all of the cheese.

Both of these interactions were almost the same, and yet they weren’t at all. A little or a lot? It sort of depends on what is in the grater.

Have you ever felt like you were looking up at God saying, “That’s enough, thank you.” The pepper of life is falling down on you and you are quick to say, “No more please.” Or, have you ever looked at your life and had it feel like God was grating Parmesan cheese all over your days and you didn’t want to ever say, “Stop.” I’m not sure where this analogy goes but it makes me chuckle.

At dinner my husband and I discussed how blessed we were. “Beyond measure” is how the Bible puts describes God’s blessings. I could sit here and list all the amazing blessings I have been gifted with; a complete A-Z list with footnotes included. I’m overwhelmed when I drink in all that God has given me. The “cheese” of life is gooey and melted and makes me feel a little guilty because He has given me so much.

And yet, at the same table where Doug and I discussed how richly blessed we are, we shed tears. It’s was such a strange juxtaposition. We miss his dad who passed away a year ago, we know Emily is going away to college soon, there are prayers we’ve prayed for years that still feel unanswered. It’s the pepper of life.

King David wrote about pepper and cheese, although he didn’t exactly use those terms. Not every psalm but many start with praise and adoration. David gives voice to the many blessings of God. Then for some reason David also includes what he is struggling with and talks about the people or circumstances that plague him and cause his heart to ache. He then ends with an affirmation of who God is and testifies that God will never change.

Our lives can overflow with blessings and our hearts can ache all at the same time. Laughing through tears isn’t abnormal, in fact, it’s the most real any of us can be.

I encourage you to open up the Psalms today and see for yourself what King David has written. You may find a voice for the unspoken words of your heart. Laugh with Jesus about the blessings he has given you but also let him see your tears and allow him to speak to your pain, to your fear, to your longings.

Pepper and cheese may not be the deepest thing I’ve ever written about but I hope it does make you think…and maybe laugh a bit too.

If you’d like to read more from Christine you can find her at www.christinebierma.com or if you need some social media help contact her at christinebierma@gmail.com.

Spiritual NICU

It is a pleasure to welcome my friend, Christine Bierma, as my guest on this week’s post. Christine is a talented young writer who posted this touching story on her blog, atrustworthysaying.com. We both know Baby Lucy’s parents and continue in prayer for this precious little one who was born at only 28 weeks.

Lucys-feetRecently I’ve spent many days inside the halls of the Rush University NICU while a little girl, who has captured my heart, fights to grow strong in a world she wasn’t meant to be in yet. She is being required to do things her little body isn’t ready for and to excel at tasks she isn’t at all qualified to accomplish.

It’s unfair.

It’s hard to watch.

It’s miraculous.

Each day she amazes her parents and her doctors as she clears hurdles and learns to be more and more independent. How much her tiny body needs to grow before she can leave the NICU is overwhelming if you look at it as a checklist. Each day has ups and downs and sometimes, it feels safer to just live hour to hour, your heart could break with concern otherwise.

Each time this little miracle clears a developmental hurdle all of her monitors are green and the alarms attached to her are silent for awhile then a nurse or doctor comes in to change or tweak something. Inevitably they take something away from her that has allowed her to rest comfortably or adjust something that will require her to adapt and change. As soon as they do, her monitors start vacillating from green to yellow to red and back again. The alarms in her tiny hospital room beep loudly signally that she is dangerously close to needing help. This constant push by the medical staff is maddening to her young mom who wishes with all of her being to see her little one safe and content and happy. It breaks her parents hearts to see their new baby girl fight and struggle, gasping for air or fighting to keep infections at bay.

Lucy-and-Danielle“Why?” her mom cried to me, “Why do they keep doing that to her? Why can’t they just leave her alone for awhile? I can’t watch, it feels like torture!”

As an outsider, an observer, I can clearly see that the doctors are simply doing what is required of them. I also can see that mom and dad are clearly doing their job. I can see that everyone has the same goal: to get this baby girl to graduate from the NICU. And yet, everyone has a different role to play. The medical staff has to push and push so that development will continue, even if it means pain, discomfort, risk and failure. The old adage two steps forward, one step back is very much a way of life. Our baby girl needs them to push her in order for her to grow strong and some day be independent.

However, in the midst of this pushing to develop, “kangaroo care” is so vitally important. Kangaroo care is “a method of caring for premature babies which involves holding a baby skin to skin with a parent for as many hours as is allowed.” This close hold will help regulate the baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing and allow her to bond with her mother or father. She needs this love, this cuddling, and closeness. She needs to feel the warmth of her mother, to hear her father’s voice or rest in the rhythm of her mother’s heartbeat. There is no needle poking or prodding or pushing for a developmental milestone. There is only love and oneness and warmth and acceptance.

She needs both her doctors and nurses pushing and her mom and dad’s love in order for her to grow to the very best of her ability.

Watching her makes me think about myself, listening to her mom makes me think about God and how he cares for me in my spiritual growth. As I examine both her physical growth and my spiritual growth I have come to realize that God has me in a sort of “spiritual incubator.”

lucy-incubatorGrowth is never easy. It looks easy I guess, but there is a lot of effort involved, and sometimes pain. My own boy grew 6 inches in the year between freshman and sophomore year. He had tremendous pain in his legs and has stretch marks on his skin as permanent scars to remind him of that year. What kind of spiritual stretch mark scars do I have?

I sometimes feel like the alarms of my spiritual incubator are deafening as they continue to ring. There are times in my life that I have felt very close to needing to be “intubated” and I wonder out loud why God continues to push me and allow so much stress, conflict or turmoil in my life. Why is everything so hard? Why doesn’t He love me?

There are times that I long for God to pull me close and give me some “kangaroo care” and he does. I love the times when God feels so close I can hear him. The times when the words of the Bible speak directly to my heart and I rest in his close embrace. Unfortunately, it seems I can’t stay there…there is more growing to do.

This spiritual incubator is a hard place to be…it doesn’t feel safe all the time even if it is exactly the only environment that I can survive in. You see, as children of God, we are not designed to survive or excel in this sinful world. We need God’s constant touch, his constant oversight, his prodding and poking so that we can grow. We need his kangaroo care so we can survive. Let to ourselves we would not survive, we need Him. His goal for us is not to stay in this world, this time, this place…his goal is that we will graduate to someday be with him, in eternity.

This world is not our home, it’s the NICU…a period of time spent in a place that will one day be ancient history, a piece of our story. I don’t completely understand how it all works, God’s ways are mysterious to me on a lot of things. One thing I am certain of however, is that God loves me unconditionally and more than I could ever understand; just like my little fighter is loved more than she knows or understands. Her parents would give their life to save hers in a heartbeat if they could. They would trade places with her and take on all of her struggles to save her from one day of pain.

God loves us like that. In John 3:16 the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave is one and only son, Jesus, to die for us, to take our place. That whoever believes in him should not perish but would have eternal life.”

Jesus did give his life to save mine. One day he will take me home to be with him just like one day our rock star baby will go home to be with her family.

Until then…we grow.

To follow the story of the little fighter, Lucy, I have grown to love so much you can visit her CaringBridge site.

Written by Christine Bierma atrustworthysaying.com

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

unpackingI was in the mall the other day and Christmas had arrived. Already? I’m not ready! But this year I want to be. Not for all the glitter and trimmings and presents, but ready for Jesus to arrive in my heart in a deeper, more meaningful way. So while I haven’t bought a single present yet, I’ve begun to read a very special Advent book: Finding the Messiah: From Darkness to Dawn—the Birth of Our Savior by my good friend and fellow author, Jane Rubietta. Her book is exactly what I needed to read as I prepare for Christ’s advent, so I’ve invited her to be my guest blogger this morning.

Please welcome Jane Rubietta:

JRubietta high res 226We moved over the summer, and are still finding things that we”d lost. Still missing stuff. Still walking around boxes of not-yet-unpacked goods, still avoiding eye contact with cardboarded pictures and mirrors and anything remotely resembling decor. Only last week did I manage to put together the third bed, complete with sheets. We are missing one of the little wheels for the frame, so I found some blocks of wood. It should work. 🙂 Yesterday I found the pillows.

So even with the house in disarray, the beds are made. Even though to reach them, one must sidestep carefully the dresser in the middle of the floor, the upside-down tables waiting for a home, the baskets of extra bedding, the books begging for shelves.

MovingBoxesThe good news is that whether we can find our beds or not, God has made a way for us to find the Messiah. It’s hard to find Christmas in the middle of real life and all the holiday hubbub and marketing. All our wants and hopes rev their engines, dominating our calendars. Ordering (or disordering) our wallets, bulking up our credit card balances.

Seems like, every year, I get to December 25, exhausted, with a pile of dishes in the sink and wrapping paper jamming wastebaskets, and my heart crashes. “What just happened? I have missed it. I’ve missed Christmas, again.”

My grief at missing Christmas has overtaken all other pressures, including deadlines, the storage-state of our home, and everything on my to-do list. This year, more than any other, I hope to deeply seek the Savior.

One of the simple tools that I will use to prepare the resting place of my heart, is silence. Start out with only sixty seconds, maybe, where I still my heart and soul, and point my heart toward God. Want to try it with me?

Creche Holy FamilySet the timer on your phone, or your stovetop, for one minute, haul in a deep breath, and exhale all the words in your brain. Focus, then, on God. God’s love. God’s gift in Christ. Invite God into that place. No need for words. Just pointing your heart.

And then wait there. If your mind derails, downloading a bunch of worries and words, exhale again, reload with God”s presence, and wait some more.

The seconds flee, refilling us with a new sense of calm. Of peace. Silent Night? Silent Minute? Whatever it takes, snag a few and be still.

That level of deep silence is the kind of silence that changes us. Changes our attitude and direction. Changes our day, our relationships. Our hope. Today, and for the upcoming holidays. Just a minute a day, or two or ten…

Let me know how it goes. I”d love to hear from you about how you enter into this Advent season. May this be the year that the Promised One comes, scatters our shadows, shatters our fears, wraps us in the light that is night-splitting love and forgiveness.

Finding the M, Jane RubiettaFinding the Messiah: A 28-Day guide to deeper devotion during Advent!

Advent is for us all. The brokenhearted, the barren, the aged, the young, the disillusioned, the faithful, the doubting; people going through the motions of faith though faced with God’s silence.

Finding the Messiah: From Darkness to Dawn–the Birth of Our Savior is a unique look into the hearts and souls of the people who people the Advent narratives in Scripture.

Because we, too, are Advent people, and their lives inform our lives, and lead us into significance–because they lead us to the Messiah.

Tired of missing Christmas? Find the Messiah, and find both your greatest adventure and the fulfillment of your greatest desire.

Join me on a four-week daily Advent-ure, beginning the first Sunday in Advent, November 30, 2014.


Storing up Sunshine

I’ve asked my good friend and writing-critique partner, Cleo Lampos, to be a guest blogger for me today. Cleo has a brand-new historical novel, A Mother’s Song, from Oak Tara Publishers, detailing the true story of the Orphan Train. If you don’t know what the orphan train was, you’ll find out when you read her heartwarming book. Make sure you have a tissue handy! Cleo also has a fiction series with Oak Tara in which the main characters are teachers, like Cleo herself was for more than 30 years, as well as policemen, firefighters, and other “ordinary heroes.” Welcome Cleo!


“There is an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1 The Message


           The kitchen knife slides easily across the cooked beets, creating burgundy cross sections of summertime goodness slipping into sterilized jars. A cup of hot vinegar-sugar syrup tops the beets then the metal lid and ring are secured. Thirty minutes in a hot water bath and pickled beets are placed on the shelf. During the cold, snowy days of winter, a jar will be opened to tantalize the taste buds, waking up the flavors deep in the mouth. Companion jars of strawberry preserves invite thick slices of homemade bread to the toaster. A half pint of peach jam made from the tree outside the kitchen window reminds the taster that food mileage is measured in feet and inches, never in miles. Home canned green beans, carrots, tomatoes and salsa bypass winter’s icy windows to recapture bare feet in the soil. Food from the garden stored in glass jars at the peak of the season brings back the warmth of summer during winter’s frigid hibernation. Sunshine in a jar.

Writing words is a lot like canning a season’s produce from the garden. So many seasons of life bring unique perspectives and issues. When my children toddled around my ankles, I wrote sentimental articles about motherhood, the joys of nursing, the wonders of pregnancy. Precious memories translated into words. Several vignettes published about the exploits of my preschoolers fueled my desire to keep expressing myself with words. But the seasons changed and so did my life. The teenagers cohabiting with my husband and me became surly at times, causing tension and emotional outbursts. These events translated into teary entries in my journals. Fortunately, we moved to another season of memories to store with words. Empty nest, marriages and grandchildren. A time of regaining the innocence of life. Happy, joy-filled pages of resolution and contentment. Sunshine in a journal.


           Today my writing harvests the accumulation of my life as wife, mother and teacher to produce articles and books. With words, tragedy is stored as triumph when a teacher friend’s son is murdered and she begins a ministry with at-risk youth. With words, challenges are interpreted as potential when my experiences as a special education teacher demonstrate the value of every student. With words, despair is translated into dreams in the historical fiction of a boy who rode the orphan train. In the collection of words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters that all writers create, we store up hope for our readers. We want them to turn to these passages again and again in the dark dreariness of their lives to feed their souls. Sunshine in a book.



Cleo Lampos, preserver of produce and words, lives with her husband, Vernon, and two cats on an urban homestead in the Chicago area. During the summer she enjoys storing produce from their garden in the canning kitchen in the basement of their bungalow. In the winter, retired teacher Cleo writes articles and books. Teaching Diamonds in the Tough:Mining the Potential in Every Student was published by Lighthouse of the Carolinas (2012). Second Chances, Book 1 in the Teachers of Diamond Projects Series, was released in 2013 by Oak Tara. The next book in the series, Miss Bee and the Do Bees was released in the winter 2013. Also released in 2013 by Oak Tara is the historical fiction A Mother’s Song which chronicles the Orphan Train epic. Visit Cleo Lampos at www.cleolampos.com Teachers and Other Everyday Heroes