CONTEXT: Writing and Waiting

Time Photo7/14/16 I photographed my calendar and wrote this blog post the second week of  May, and set it aside to wait to see how I should end it– which totally depended upon someone else, and now I know.

In the winter of 1838-39, the 600 or so citizens (records differ) of Quincy and/or Adams County, Illinois, took in 5000 Mormons who had been expelled from Missouri by Executive Order of the Governor. When I learned that a publisher was buying books for a series for adolescent girls in which something historic happened in a specific place and year, I wanted to write about that.  So began a decade of fascinating research on the beginnings of Mormonism.

I finished the book, only to be informed that the last book in the series had just been purchased.  So I used my research to write another one.  A publisher and an agent have seen the first few chapters of it, and said they loved it; but one was afraid it might be too controversial, and the other wants me to develop a “platform” for my writing before she will represent it. Last week another extended an invitation to submit a full proposal for it with a complete manuscript.

I had written, and rewritten, and rewritten again, and saved each edition of each chapter in Word files, but I had never before put all 30 chapters together into a whole book.  Last week I edited each one word-by-word and saved them in one gigantic file, and Saturday night I submitted it.  I feel like I’ve been grieving ever since.  Isn’t that peculiar?

Maybe not.  The research and writing occupied most of my discretionary time for a decade, and now it’s done. The end of the process is a really good thing–I completed it!  But suddenly not having the motivation and the reason to write THAT book feels like a gigantic loss of direction in my life. Many agents and publishers issue the caveat that a writer should wait 60 or 90 days to receive a response, and if none has come by then, the agent isn’t interested. The author doesn’t know if the agent ever saw it, saw it and can’t decide, or loved it and is taking it forward for purchase.

7/14/16 Now 60 days have passed, and I never heard back.

CONTEXT: Observations in My Garden #3 Know Your Weeds

IMG_6893  I could hardly wait to see how my gardens were going to look when we returned from a trip to Minnesota. The vegetable garden on the east side of the 4′ high woven metal fence was doing great–tomatoes, peppers, and several kinds of greens for salads were all small, but thriving. Squash plants were pushing through the ground. Many of the 90 onion sets had begun to grow a little. That done, just a day or two before we left, I had planted a whole garden of zinnia seeds on the east side of the fence, and watered it well. The packets said they would germinate in 10-12 days. Then we left.

My last two posts have been about the sorry showing of zinnias–only a few here and there, and more weeds than flowers. None of the ones in the flower bed were more than about 4″ high, and certainly none of them was boasting a bloom. The weeds had to go.

But about 5′ over, on the east side of the fence, smack dab in the middle of a row of onions, was a lovely, tall, robustly healthy, BLOOMING zinnia! I certainly didn’t plant one there, and zinnias are annuals, so a seed should not have survived over the winter out there. Where did it come from? I don’t know.

I tackled the unwanted weeds. The salad garden was beautiful–a row of leaf lettuce, a row of mixed greens with kale, a row of Bibb, a row of black seed. Cauliflower and broccoli. Quite a variety!  But there were some strangers in the rows, too–volunteer tomato plants that had sprouted from unharvested fruit last year. I’m very sympathetic to volunteers in any context, so I let them grow. Now they have virtually taken over the salad garden.

So is my blooming zinnia in the onion row a weed?  Are the tomato plants in the lettuce bed weeds?  Nope. They are good things–a zinnia and tomato plants–in unusual places. I must make the choices about them, like in the rest of my life. Sometimes something is fine when it is where it is expected to be, and fits in properly. There’s nothing jarring about its presence. Habits, things we believe, even friends are like that. But that same something might be quite surprising and appear completely out of place and inappropriate in an unexpected setting. Does that made it a “weed”?  I don’t think so. Just like in my garden, it’s up to me to make choices. I have the responsibility to tend the “garden,” whether it is composed of dirt or life.

This summer, I appreciate the beauty of the zinnia blooming in the onion row more than I value having a “perfect” row. And I’m looking forward to harvesting unexpected tomatoes from where they volunteered to grow long after the summer heat has made the lettuces too bitter to eat. There will be more to share than I even planned! Next year, however, I may opt for symmetry, beauty, and only intentionally planted flowers and veggies. I need to be willing to make the choices for my garden and my life, and accept that what’s best for me and for my garden this June might be quite different next June–and that will be just fine.  God put some spontaneity in nature to remind us not to get too set in our ways.

 

 

 

CONTEXT: Observations in My Garden #2 Weeds and Good Examples

IMG_6894 (1) This flower bed that should have had four rows of three different varieties of baby zinnia plants poking their heads through the ground when I returned from our trip…didn’t. More than half of the vegetation was weeds, the few little zinnia sprouts were struggling, and the ground was as dry as sand. You may recall from Observation #1 that the only thriving zinnia was in the onions, in the vegetable garden on the other side of the fence.

So I pulled all the weeds, then I bought a few already established zinnias in pots and set them out among the dry, wilted, pathetic little flower sprouts–a little encouragement by example, you know. ;-D  Then I hauled out the hose and set the sprinkler to R..A..I..N  for several hours, twice. Today–just three or four days later, this is what it looks like!  See the little plastic store tag in the left photo?  That brave little model I bought and planted in the middle of the garden is BLOOMING–what an example for the others! ;-D

Sometimes when we’re floundering a little, we need to figure out which things are the flowers in our lives and which things are the weeds.  Then we need to get rid of the weeds, even if they appear to be bigger, stronger, and more attractive than those timid little flowers that aren’t even big enough to bloom yet. They may be just filling up space now, but they will take over if left unattended. Encourage the flowers with some good role models and lots of water of the Word,  and the sunshine of care and attention.  It might not be long at all before those flowers are just reaching toward heaven on their own, and popping out new leaves and buds all over the place!

Please Like if you like, and please reply.  Can you think of any weeds you’re tempted tolerate in YOUR garden?  Who is your “flowering example” that encourages you to bloom?

CONTEXT: Observations in My Garden #1–Zinnias

IMG_6894 (1)

God sends completely unexpected encouragements in the middle of discouraging messes. 🙂

I haven’t posted to this site for weeks, because my computer crashed and took down with it my wifi, dedicated external hard drives, and network. I tried to fix it, and so did experts, and whenever I just couldn’t deal with it anymore, I gardened: I planted 90 onion sets, rows of four kinds of peppers, two kinds of tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, five kinds of herbs, strawberries; a bodacious salad garden of three kinds of lettuce, four kinds of greens, cauliflower and broccoli; and a flower garden of three different heights of zinnias, just like the one that was so spectacular all along the fence last year. Planting two gardens full of so much promise was very hopeful and therapeutic.

Then my husband and I needed to take a trip 600 miles from home for a week. Back home the rains had come and the sun was hot, and I just knew my garden was thriving. Then we had car trouble and our return was delayed almost another week. In June. When the sun is hot and the rains come.

When we got back home, my gardens were lush and green, but only because one particular weed had virtually carpeted them both and grown to about 18″ tall. I had to part paths in the vegetation to find the squash and zucchini plants that had emerged from the seeds I had planted. The shade-loving lettuce was thriving under the umbrellas the weeds formed. The zinnias? Not so much (See photo above). From hundreds of seeds, there were only a few spindly little sprouts a few inches tall.

But when I started clearing those weeds from around the rows of onions down the middle of my vegetable garden, look what was there–one perfect, fully grown zinnia, blooming like crazy! IMG_6893

We might have good ambitions and plans and execute them nearly perfectly, laying the groundwork for future outcomes. Then even while we’re doing good works, the plans might seem to be
overrun by things that are undesirable and out of our control. The exact plan we had anticipated so eagerly is overwhelmed, overruled, dwarfed, minimized, or even dead.

Maybe God just intended for that particular dream to be planted and growing all by itself, in a little different setting with others not one bit like itself, where it can really shine, like my zinnia in the row of onions. He can do that. Sometimes we just have to leave things alone for a little while and allow ourselves to be pleasantly surprised.

CONTEXT: Small Changes

Dogwood red from stairs 4-18-16

Some of us don’t like change–note the “us.” Even accepting small changes can be a challenge. There’s an unnerving sense that something isn’t right.  A subtle disequilibrium persists while you wait for an outcome, even if the answer doesn’t really matter at all in the great scheme of things–like whether my dogwood that has always been pink will forever after be subtly red like it is this year.

The Holy Spirit is designated in the New Testament as the paraclete, the One who helps–the Helper Who comes alongside and counsels as we go. G. Campbell Morgan loved to quote one phrase from Deuteronomy 33:17 in sermons:  “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” Sometimes when things are changing around us and we don’t know how they’re going to turn out, and we think we’re not going anywhere, just waiting, that’s okay, too.  God’s all-powerful arms are there for support, His Spirit has come along side, whether the change is big or small, or the result is temporary or permanent.

I suspect that thinking about the significance (or lack thereof) of the small changes helps us accept them, and more importantly, be less panicked and more willing to wait and see what in the world God is going to do next, when the big changes come.

Are you expecting a change in your life soon?

CONTEXT: The Old and Familiar

Squirrel outside office 3-12-16 My desk in the new upstairs office I’m slowly creating is the mahogany dining room table I knew as a child.  When I sat at it then, it was in the center of the room, and my focus was on what was on it.   When I sit at it now, I’m at eye level with the branches of a massive dogwood tree outside the window and my attention is often drawn to what I can see outside. Today there is a squirrel in that dogwood tree whose “dining room table” has almost certainly been my yard for generations of his family.  And now we’ve made eye contact and surprised each other, me looking out, him looking in.

I think my old mahogany table/desk is to me what that dogwood tree is to him.  Both vantage places offer the security of the familiar, and allow us to feel emboldened to pause and study things we’ll never get to physically explore because they’re too foreign, too dangerous, too far away in distance or time, or simply incomprehensible to us.  The squirrel has no understanding of my desk, and never will, and I can’t climb to the top of a tree, and never will;  but unlike him, my ultimate exploration will be a “forever” instead of a “never.”  The Bible says,”Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for him.” Someday, the secure support of the old and familiar won’t be needed anymore, and as much as I enjoy it now, I won’t mind at all!

CONTEXT: What’s YOUR Biggest Hat?

People commonly speak of “wearing different hats,” indicating playing different roles in different contexts. I might describe myself as a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, pianist, retiree, gardener, artist, singer, author, or writer, depending upon what I was doing at the time. My business card says “Research and Writing Consultant.”

Many years ago, I collaborated with someone who had a doctorate in history to write a high school US history textbook for a major publisher.  He resigned from the project before it was finished, and the senior editor combined that man’s contribution and mine, and added a great deal of her own, and published the book with no authors, just herself as editor. I felt slighted at the time, but she was right–for that book, I was a researcher, not the writer. Later, personal experience articles I wrote were published in Guideposts and elsewhere with my tag line, and academic articles were published online and in professional journals; but none of the six or eight books I’ve written has been published–yet.  🙂

So do I have a writer’s hat or an author’s hat? Does it depend on what I’m writing, or if it gets published or not?Red hat 5-7-16

I don’t know, and I don’t know if it matters.  I just need to make sure I show up with the right hat at the right place.  At 11:27 last night, I sent off a 99,968-word manuscript of a novel I wrote, to be considered by a publisher.  At that moment, I felt very much I should go out and get a hot fudge sundae and wear my author’s hat.

But today is Mother’s Day, and I’m happily calling myself a mom. Get out the biggest hat!

What are you doing when you “wear your biggest hat”?