Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The news published early in the day, that our part of the country could possibly see a rocket launch into space. I saw the report at 7 a.m., thinking I had missed the event, not realizing until later that we’d actually have the chance at 6:45 p.m. Details go unnoticed before the coffee hits my system.

That night, after we picked my husband up from work and did the various dinner and homework routines, we dragged our porch chairs to the middle of the front yard and set our sights on the southeastern sky. Traffic rolled by as the evening darkened, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought of us, sitting in our yard, staring at the sky.

rocket launchI called us “weirdos” because, let’s be honest, it is not normal to set up chairs on your lawn, at night, in the fall, to search the sky. To be aware that something out of the ordinary is happening when you could just go about your day.

We sat and we watched and we checked Twitter because that is where we found updates on the rocket’s launch. That night, it was canceled because of a boat nearby. Disappointed that the launch was postponed, we continued to watch the sky for the International Space Station to cross over our little piece of earth.

The minutes ticked by and I began to wonder if we’d missed it. If maybe we should head inside and get the kids to bed because it was a school night, after all, and what in the world were we still doing in the front yard after dark staring at the sky? Lunatics, I tell you.

We craned our necks to the north, hoping for a glimpse, and then suddenly, there it was! A bright light streaking across the night sky, so obviously not a star.

And in an instant the universe became both small and huge. Small because we were connected, in a way, to the people aboard the station, watching their path across our part of the earth. Huge because they and it were way up there and we were way down here and the wonder is hard to contain inside myself.

To think, we could have missed it.

The next night, we did it again, setting our chairs up in the yard, waiting for a streak of light to pass across the southeastern sky. Checking and rechecking Twitter for updates until we finally got the word that the rocket exploded not long after launching. I’m not sure who was more disappointed, the grownups or the kids.

We never saw the rocket launch but I’m not sorry we stopped what we were doing those two nights to gaze at the heavens.

Because I think this is what the kingdom of God is like.

Jesus stepped into our ordinary world. His coming was witnessed by stargazers who had studied the skies, and later announced by a man who could read the times and herald his coming. The kingdom of God is here, he said. It’s closer than you could imagine!

I wonder if anyone could feel it, that sense of the world being small and big all at the same time. If God coming close to us in the form of a man made Him all the more connected to us and all the more vast. Certainly, there was a sense of wonder.

And it’s not just that the kingdom of God came with Jesus. It’s that it’s still here now. It’s moving and building and shaping and restoring, and we can’t always see it.

But every now and then, we find people who help us see it. They’re looking beyond the ordinary day to something extraordinary. They’re in an unusual position at an unusual time to get a better glimpse of this spectacular happening. And those of us who don’t know, haven’t heard, think maybe they’re just crazy or dreamers or idealists. Why can’t they just be like everyone else and stick to what’s normal?

Still, they stand and they watch and they point and say, “Look! Can you see it? Amazing!”

And sometimes we join them and sometimes we miss it. And sometimes we see something extraordinary and sometimes we’re disappointed.

No matter what, though, we’ve opened ourselves up to the possibility of the extraordinary.

Though we didn’t see anyone else sitting in their yard looking at the sky, thanks to social media, we discovered we weren’t the only weirdos we knew.

This, too, is what the kingdom of God is like.

It is extraordinary. It is happening now. And even when we can’t see it, we can talk about it and find others who are looking for it, too.

 

I am unashamedly in love with England. I’m not sure if the love preceded the college semester I lived there or if that semester only intensified my feelings, but pictures, shows and stories of England leave me with a longing like it’s home.

willowgroveUntil I save up a whole lot of dollars, books are my substitute for travel and Sarah Ladd’s Whispers on the Moors series is a ticket to England without leaving home.

The third in the series, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall, has been my favorite so far. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review. And to read about the two previous books in the series, check out my reviews of The Heiress of Winterwood and The Headmistress of Rosemere.)

In this story, Cecily Faire is taken from her home as punishment for indiscreet behavior, and after being educated at Rosemere, she accepts a position as lady’s companion to a dying woman at Willowgrove Hall. There, she is confronted by her past as she tries to start anew. Nathaniel Stanton, steward of Willowgrove Hall, carries secrets and awaits the day he can be free from his position. Cecily and Nathaniel must decide if their respective pasts will keep them from a future together.

Ladd creates such likable characters in a charming setting, and I wanted so badly the best for each of these characters. (I also wanted to buy a plane ticket and tour the moors of England!)

A cup of tea, a rainy day, even some cold winter nights would be the perfect companions for these stories. And if you’re waiting for the return of Downton Abbey, these are a happy distraction until January.

This series has gotten better with each story, and I’m looking forward to the next series of stories from Ladd.

For thefull scoop on the book’s release and to read other reviews, click here. Read on for more about the author and a fun giveaway she’s hosting for the book’s release!

About the author: 
laddSarah E. Ladd has more than ten years of marketing experience. She is a graduate of Ball State University and holds degrees in public relations and marketing.The Heiress of Winterwood was the recipient of the 2011 Genesis Award for historical romance. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.
Find Sarah online: website, Facebook, Twitter

Award-winning author Sarah E. Ladd examines how to escape the clutches of a tainted past in the final installment of her Whispers on the Moor series. A Regency-era novel, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall cleverly shows that even though our pasts may be shameful or painful, God can take the darkest personal histories and turn them into the brightest futures.

ladywillowgrove-400-click

Celebrate with Sarah by entering her Kindle HDX giveaway!

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 2nd. Winner will be announced November 3rd here.

ladywillowgrove-enterbanner

On any given Sunday, I can expect to hear certain things during a church gathering. Songs of praise. Prayers. Announcements about activities. Bible verses.

But a couple of Sundays ago, I heard three words I never, ever, ever, expected to hear in church.

They weren’t swear words or anything like that, but they were a bit shocking.

Are you ready for them?

Here they are: washable feminine pads.

Sorry if I lost a few male readers with that revelation, but if you’re not too squeamish, stick around and hear why these words were part of our service.

Every once in a while, members of our church volunteer at a GAIN (Global Aid Network) distribution center in our county. Recently, a group took a Wednesday night to help out at the center, and the following Sunday, our pastor reported on their activities. Sometimes, the groups work with boxes or blankets. This time, though, they helped in a completely different way.

They traced a pattern and cut material to make washable feminine pads for women in developing countries.

Now, ladies, I don’t know about you, but I can hardly even talk about my monthly “gift” without squirming and getting embarrassed. My husband is completely comfortable making a run to Target or CVS for supplies when I’m desperate, but I feel like I might as well be wearing a blinking sign when I purchase the same products. So, I could hardly believe my ears when this topic was talked about at length at the start of our service by our pastor.

And there were pictures! Pictures of our church people doing this work. I wanted to crawl away or laugh nervously.

But then I got over it. Or I tried. Because the reality is this: I have nothing to be embarrassed about.

Women in developing countries face real shame about their femininity. You can read more here. Shunned. Degraded. Ostracized. Imagine if you had to miss 20 percent of your school year? If you couldn’t go out in public for the duration of your period?

The simple solution is this topic we talked about in church: washable feminine pads.

Shame on me for being embarrassed to talk about it. And for thinking only of myself.

How easy it is for me to go to a local store and pick up what I need and carry on with my day (mostly) during that time of the month. How easy it is for me to not even think that someone else doesn’t have it that way.

And this is my main problem as privileged American: selfish, narrow-minded thinking.

Slowly, I’m gaining knowledge, becoming aware of the needs of people worldwide, convicted of how my selfishness negatively affects people I don’t even know.

I won’t ask if you’ve ever thought about the menstrual cycles of women in developing countries because until that Sunday, I hadn’t.

But what about the source of your luxuries?

We’re entering a season of the year where sweets and food and gifts take front and center. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. This is an important question all year long, but at least during this end-of-the-year stretch, we need to talk about it and remember.

When you eat chocolate, do you think about how it got to you? Do you know about children enslaved to harvest cocoa beans so you can have a sweet treat?

What about when you drink tea or coffee? Do you wonder if the farmers who grow it get paid fairly?

How about that quinoa you eat because it’s a health food fad and is a good source of non-meat protein? Do you wonder if your consumption of it, our demand for it, impacts the Andean people where it’s grown?

What about your chocolate hazelnut spread that uses palm oil thus destroying the habitat of orangutans? (I learned this while visiting a zoo.)

I could keep going talking about our technology and the minerals used in our phones and computers, about the diamonds we covet and the corruption bred in the countries where such things flourish.

It’s overwhelming. Really. There’s almost no part of our lives untouched by the corruption and exploitation of others. That’s the bad news.

The good news is we have choices. Lots and lots of choices. And we have knowledge.

And even if we can’t change everything, we can change some things. Now. Even if it’s just one thing.

Not long ago, I switched to fair trade coffee in my house. This is not a huge sacrifice because Costco sells it in bulk and it’s not terribly expensive. It hasn’t really affected the amount of coffee I consume. It’s not as easy when I’m drinking coffee away from home, but it’s possible. More companies are using direct-trade, fair trade or other sustainably sourced beans in some of their coffees.

Then I started buying fair trade tea. I don’t drink as much tea as coffee, and this one is much more obvious in its impact on my finances. Fair trade teas are not cheap. But neither is justice.

Our next move is chocolate, and I will confess that this one is hard because chocolate is everywhere and it’s cheap. The fair trade kind is expensive (and delicious!) and not in every candy aisle. It’s a special trip or an online order. But, it’s not impossible.

October is fair trade month, and through the website Klout, which tracks online influence, I received a box of fair trade products as a gift. Snacks made with fair trade chocolate, a quinoa/rice blend in a box made with fair trade quinoa. Tea, both hot and cold. All of it delicious and all of it fair.

So. What’s my point? I started off talking about washable feminine pads and now I’m on to fair trade food.

I think my point is this: it’s easy to look away or think only of ourselves, of the cost to us, which is really only monetary. It’s easy to want to be comfortable and not talk about things like child slavery or women being shunned for having a period.

But we need to know. And we need to talk about it. And we need to act.

It’s good to get a little squeamish. It’s good to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. Because then we’re better able to identify. To say, what if it was me?

My challenge to you (and to me) this season is to make one small change you can carry through beyond the first of the year. Swap out your favorite tea with a fair trade brand. Buy a bag of fair trade coffee. Check the source of your favorite chocolate treat. Ask more questions about where your food comes from. Buy your next new outfit from a company whose clothes are ethically sourced and fairly made. Read a book about human trafficking or corruption in governments whose resources are valuable.

There are a lot of companies to choose from, a lot of lists on other blogs out there to help you with these decisions. If you need specific direction, leave a comment about the change you’d like to make and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.

Or just leave a comment about the change you plan to make so we can encourage each other to stick with it.

On Fridays, I’ve been telling you stories of meaningful friendships. You can read past posts about the friend who got me through hard times, the friend who takes me as I am, and the friends who’ve been on a journey with us across states. And you can read this guest post about a friend who was right next door. Maybe you have a story to tell too? Send it to me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com, along with a picture, if you have one, and I’ll post it here on an upcoming Friday.

tbt Lisa & Nikki

This is my favorite picture of Nikki and me, taken years ago when we were counselors for a week at Rock River Bible Camp. I love it because it is SO not our personalities. At least, not obviously. We’re the quiet introvert types. I mean, when this picture was taken, Nikki was a librarian and I was a journalist. Writer. Librarian. Not exactly the roles that bring to mind fun-loving party types.

But to me, this photo describes our relationship.

Nikki and I became friends at a time when we both needed a friend. We were post-college, career women in our 20s without boyfriends or husbands or children like so many of the people we knew. We’d both gone away to college and returned to our hometown area, attended the same church and were trying to figure out what exactly God had in store for people like us. (That’s what I was trying to figure out anyway.)

We started hanging out with other people our age at the church, half of whom Nikki was related to. I was sort of an outsider having not grown up in that church, but they all accepted me, Nikki included, and somewhere along the hanging out, she and I got to be really good friends.

After my second roommate moved out, she and I started talking about the possibility of living together. I remember this conversation because the conditions were not ideal. At the time, I lived in the smaller half of a house in town and she lived with her parents. To make this roommate thing worked, we decided we’d need to move to the larger half of the house and Nikki would need a raise of a certain amount at work. Both seemed a bit impossible on our meager salaries, but God surprised us both and made it happen.

Living with Nikki (I can’t remember now if it was years or just a year–I’m old and my memory isn’t what it used to be) was one of the best times of my life. Sure, we had bumps along the way. I was a bit immature and didn’t know that friends could disagree and still be friends. We didn’t always agree on things, but I mostly remember it as a time of deep friendship. And I think where individually we might not have been brave enough to do certain things, together, we spurred one another on.

Nikki traveled to Ohio with me for a friend’s wedding, and we stopped to visit an island along the way. We made our half-house a welcome place for people to gather and weekly hosted our friends for food and hanging out and looooong nights of Trivial Pursuit. We watched Anne of Green Gables and Pride & Prejudice and swooned over these love stories.

And as our own love stories began, we confided in each other our deepest feelings. I remember the day she told me about her growing feelings for the man she would marry. And the day I confessed that I was falling for Phil. We encouraged each other in those relationships. It was her idea that I dress as Phil one year for Halloween. (Sorry, I’m not sure where those pictures are!) She gave me this plaque as a reminder of our friendship. I still display it prominently next to a poem she wrote me about our friendship. best friends

Our lives have us in two different states right now, but she is one of the friends I most want to spend time with when we’re in the same state, even when it’s almost impossible to make it happen. Not long ago, I purposed to meet her for lunch and hang out for an afternoon so she could know the state of things in our marriage. It was the kind of conversation I wanted to have in person. And though I was afraid our friendship had changed because we’d been apart and things had changed so much for me, I was grateful to discover that things had changed for both of us, but our friendship remained. (I am now plotting a double date night for us when we’re home next. This is your fair warning.)

Not all friendships stand the tests of time and distance, but I’m grateful this one has.

Nikki is still an encouragement to me, and I’m blessed to call her “friend.”

rare birdRare Bird is the kind of book I usually try to avoid. Books are an escape for me, and stories of tragedy are ones I don’t often want to consider because they’re just too hard to read.

How incredibly selfish of me. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program.)

While I wish no one ever needed to read this kind of book much less write it, I’m so grateful that Anna Whiston-Donaldson poured out her grief journey on the pages of this book. Losing her son Jack at 12 years old in a freak neighborhood accident–unthinkable. I related to her thoughts about doing enough right things to keep her family safe and feeling like a failure when it wasn’t enough. Whiston-Donaldson is real and raw about the stages of grief, about unexpected losses of friendship after a tragedy, and how hard it can be to go on. And yet, her story is inspiring. It does not gloss over the reality of pain and suffering, but it doesn’t leave it as hopeless either.

This book made me cry real tears for a boy I never knew. I laughed at family stories so vivid I felt like I was there. And I felt the edges of terror creep into my soul as the depths of grief sought to overtake this family. A couple of times I even uttered, “no way,” at the visions, dreams and messages she received about Jack after his death. (I am not one to quickly believe in messages from beyond, but I also haven’t experienced that kind of loss yet, so what do I know?)

Rare Bird is a beautiful story. And a terrible one. And I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book quite like it. You don’t have to have experienced loss to read this book but if you have had a loss like hers, it’s a must read. Whiston-Donaldson’s words are tender and poetic at the same time they’re jarring and harsh. It’s a glimpse into grief that few of us see firsthand.

A word of caution to those sensitive to language: Whiston-Donaldson uses words that some people might find offensive. But in the context of grief and loss, they are entirely appropriate.

An unforgettable memoir about an unimaginable tragedy and an incomprehensible faith that sustains.

It’s 6 p.m. and the kids are finishing their homemade mac and cheese at the dining room table. This is our fifth dinner in a row, just the three of us, and I am quick to leave the table to find other things to do after I’m done with my food. So, I’m washing my hands in the bathroom, and even though I’ve been looking at the same soap scum/yuckiness for days (maybe weeks), it’s like I see it for the first time, and suddenly I HAVE TO CLEAN THE BATHROOM.

The kids are still eating, and I’m tracking down a washrag and the baking soda. I don’t bother to change into a “cleaning shirt,” I just attack the grime in the same clothes I wore out of the house earlier in the day. And I’m feeling good because I’m finally doing some cleaning after a week of doing only minimal housework because of a writing deadline and an abnormal school schedule.

Then from the dining room I hear, “MAHHHHHM! Corban spilled your water on accident.” So I stop the cleaning I’m doing in the bathroom to discover a puddle of water on the dining room table that, thankfully, has only made a dry paper towel wet. It could have been library books or a computer or phone because you know how the dining room table is like a magnet for all the things.

Clean that mess. Back to the bathroom. Call it quits before I decide to take the shower curtain down and scrub it like I normally do. Remember that the girl child’s booster seat cover is still in the washer and needs to dry before we go pick up our fourth family member. Start the kids on their Saturday showers because, by heaven, our outsides will be clean on Sunday morning even if our insides feel less than.

Look around at the million other messes in the house and wonder where the energy will come from to tackle those. To cook dinner this week. To meet those writing deadlines. To respond to e-mails and organize events and continue to take care of the house.

I am often overwhelmed by all of it, and I know it probably  means I’m too busy or that this week was just out of the ordinary and things will settle down, and I really don’t know where to cut back or how to say “no” to any of these things.

So, I’m learning to tell myself a couple of words on an almost daily basis.

Do you want to know what they are?

It’s okay.

Revolutionary, right? Two words no one on the face of this earth has ever spoken before.

Simple words. On the surface, almost meaningless.

But those words are propped up by a big important word.

Grace.

But grace is a complicated word, and it’s church-y, and I don’t always understand it and sometimes it’s overused to the point that I don’t even know what people mean by it.

So, when I have a hard time giving myself grace, I say this instead: It’s okay.

It’s okay if your house is a complete mess because you’re tired of all the daily life stuff. Or because you’re chasing a dream, trying to live out a purpose beyond the walls of your house.

It’s okay if you spent $34 at the gas station on “dinner” while driving across the state from a visit to friends because you just want to keep going and not stop. (In all fairness, it was from Sheetz, which has significantly better quality food than your average gas station. I ate hummus. The kids had fruit.)

It’s okay if dinner looks like pizza or mac and cheese or take out more nights than you care to admit.

It’s okay if your preschooler wears the same shirt twice in one week because the second time is picture day and he won’t wear anything else. (By the grace of God, you had time to wash it between wearings, but it’s okay even if you didn’t.)

It’s okay if you don’t fold the laundry, if you forget to wash enough shirts for your husband’s work uniform and he’s getting ready for work as you realize this.

(And it’s okay if you try to make a pretty graphic for your blog post and the application doesn’t save it and you have to scrap the whole thing and try again the next day.)

Are you hearing my heart? Because I need to hear it, too.

There is grace for all this ordinary mess.

grace for ordinary mess

And it will not stay this way.

Today, maybe we don’t have the strength to do it all the way we want to, but tomorrow … well, as my favorite literary heroine famously said, tomorrow is another day.

Give yourself permission today to let something slide. Stop telling yourself you’re a bad mom/wife/person because of (fill in the blank). Get through today and deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

It’s okay. And it will be okay.

Are you listening, Lisa?

It’s okay.

The past few Fridays have been devoted to Stories of Friendship as I aim to honor meaningful relationships in my life. You can read past stories here and here, as well as a guest post on the subject here. If you have a friend you’d like to honor with a story of friendship, e-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Last weekend our family took two days and headed west to Pittsburgh to hang out with some dear friends whose home is often a resting place for us as we travel from our home back to Illinois to visit family. Rarely do we get the chance to hang out for an extended time and always when we do, we find ourselves lingering and leaving later than we expected.

So today’s story of friendship is dedicated to this couple: Josh and Rachel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is them more than a decade ago, when the story of our friendship began. Before Phil and I were an “us,” Josh and Rachel were friends of ours. I met them at a weekend retreat for college-ish age students. It was a terrifying experience for me walking into it because all of these people had grown up with each other and I was an outsider. I’m an introvert anyway, so being an outsider compounds the problem. I could have slipped through unnoticed but Josh is one of the first people I remember taking the time to talk to me.

I remember sitting on a couch, fading into the background, and him jumping over the back of it and nearly knocking my head with his feet. Then it became a running joke, how Josh almost killed me at my first retreat. And Rachel, a talented musician and singer, welcomed my feeble attempts at guitar and singing after I’d barely learned how to play.

This couple has always been an encouragement to us. They have ties and roots in Illinois. They understand where we come from. They love Chicago as much as we do and Rock River Bible Camp holds a special place in their hearts as it does ours.

About the time we moved to east-central Pennsylvania, they moved to western Pennsylvania, and it’s been a blessing to have friends who know our experiences in the past and the present. Friends we can pick up with immediately and don’t have to explain our messy past lives to. Not much anyway.

We raid each other’s fridges when we’re staying. I dig through Rachel’s cupboards looking for coffee because I know she’ll have some. We look out for each other’s kids. We talk about life and books and ministry and artistic callings and balancing all of the things we love. Rachel’s dad officiated the marriage of Phil and me, so that’s practically family right there. And when we visited their current church on Sunday, people asked if we were Josh’s family. I wanted to say, “Yes! He’s our brother!” because some relationships feel like that.

Our friendship spans more than 10 years. That picture up there was then.

This is our now.

pa kidsSo much has changed in our years as friends. Multiple moves. Lots of kids. (I remember when all these kiddos were born and now they run and jump and talk and laugh and fight and wrestle and hug!) And our friendship has rolled with the changes.

We had a chance this weekend to take a group picture of the four of us while eating breakfast out (Josh arranged for a sitter to watch our crew of munchkins so the grown-ups could enjoy breakfast! Do you see why we’re friends?!) and I totally forgot! So, the picture of the kids will have to suffice.

I’m giving myself a few tears just thinking about these precious friends and how much they add to our lives.

It is rare to have a friend couple that has lived in the same two states as we have and had many of the same hopes, dreams and desires.

Our couches and guest rooms are always open to each other.

So are our lives.

I wish everyone could have a Josh and Rachel in their lives.

(Maybe you do! If so, tell me about them!)

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,526 other followers

%d bloggers like this: