Monday, December 31, 2007

Ring Out the Old

When I was a teenager living in California, our church would have a Watch Night Service beginning about 8 pm on December 31st. All ages of people, from little kids to the elderly, would show up for this event. We'd have a potluck of desserts, play games, and visit. If I remember right, those with really young children would leave by ten, but the rest of us would stay the course. Around 11:30 we'd gather in the sanctuary for a time of worship. We'd keep one eye on the back of the room, where the big clock hung on the wall. The clock that was supposed to guide the pastor's sermons on Sunday mornings. Our voices would join together in singing the old hymns like "I Surrender All" or "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go." On the tick of midnight we'd take turns praying out loud, committing our lives to the Lord's service in the new year.

As a Christian teen, I loved that special night. I always felt a sense of excitement about the coming year, and yearned to grow closer to God as I went through it. I wanted my life to count for something and to be a witness to others. I was willing for God to mold me however He best saw fit.

And you know what? He answered all those prayers. I stayed close to the Lord and went on to become a pastor's wife as well as a missionary. I continue to yearn to grow closer to God with each passing year. I carry with me an awareness that I'm a witness as I'm out and about in my community. Pastor Brown is in glory now, but I hope he knows how much I looked forward to ending the old year with my church family.

Do churches even have Watch Night Services anymore? I haven't been involved in one for decades. But I just talked to my husband, who is on a piano tuning trip to Nevada, and he was going to a Watch Night Service in a little Baptist church in Hawthorne. So obviously some places are keeping the tradition alive. It might be a good thing to reinstate here in Oregon. Who knows? There might be a young person (or old) who could really benefit from that yearly recommittment to their faith.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

An-ti-ci-pa-tion!

With a title like that, you probably think I'm writing about Christmas. Wrong!

When I joined ShoutLife about three weeks ago, an evil virus took over my computer and then wiggled its way into my heart. It was so stealthy, that for a week or so I didn't even realize I'd been attacked. I went through my daily routine without a problem. As soon as I woke up each morning, I would hurry to turn my computer on and see which new people were reaching out to me, asking me to be their friends and share in their lives. Each day was met with a sense of anticipation as I wondered what the words on the screen would say to me.

Last week, the insidious virus reached my heart and stopped me cold. There was no cure for it. No cure other than repentance. You see, I had allowed the excitement about these strangers reaching out to me to be the most important thing of my morning. There was a sense of approval and worth brought about by seeing how many people had contacted me.

And that's when God spoke. The Great Physician pointed out that I had let this cut in to my daily appointment with Him. Instead of anticipating my time with Him each morning, reading His prescription for my life and getting my approval and feelings of worth from Him, I was pushing Him aside, anxious to get my fix from the computer.

I listened when He spoke. I read directives He'd given me in the past: Seek first the kingdom of God; I will fill you with My love every morning.

That's when I made the committment to meet with the Lord each day before turning on my computer. Nothing is more important than spending quality time aligning myself with His words that bring life and hope. Words that tell me I am loved. That tell me I'm worth more than I'll ever know.

His mercies are new every morning. Now that's something to anticipate!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stop Yelling at Me!

I must have been born with a sensitive spirit, even though I'm the oldest of five. I always hated to be yelled at. Now, you have to understand that I really wasn't yelled at. My parents could simply raise their voice to get my attention, and I would feel they were yelling. A loud snap of their fingers had the same effect--instant obedience. When I got engaged to John, we came to an agreement that we would never yell at each other. We even go so far as to try to be in the same room when we talk to each other, so that there's no sound of discord in the house.

So, what's a nice girl like me doing on a place called ShoutLife?! I resisted it for months, this Christian version of MySpace. But Christina kept telling me I needed to power up and join this awesome group of people. She also warned me to wait until a week when I had few commitments, as it would be very time-consuming when I first joined.

She was so right! I don't have it within me to push one little button and "accept all" the people who have written asking to be my friend. No, I have to respond personally to each one. I go to their profile page and see what we have in common before writing to them. That helps me see each of them as an individual, rather than just a name. I like doing it this way and have met some great people, but it's taking more hours than I dreamed possible.

In closing, I want to give a big shoutout to all my friends, both old and new. Shoutout? Did I really say that?

Monday, November 26, 2007

HUGE Fiction Giveaway

My daughter Christina and I cowrite books about relationships. We are a relationship. We want to dominate the relationship brand. And we want to have at least 500 subscribers to the Ashberry Lane Newsletter by the first of the year. Should we expect you to sign up and work hard at strong-arming your friends to sign up while you get nothing out of the deal? No way!

Compassionate as we are, we've worked up a HUGE new incentive. How better to promote our relational fiction than featuring other fiction that focuses on different types of relationship? Why don't we give our supporters a chance to win EIGHT autographed books? What a great Christmas present that would be! Or what a lot of Christmas shopping done for you!
Without further ado, we present, with a booming voice,

ASHBERRY LANE'S BOOK GIVEAWAY

For the Friend Relationship: Roxanne Henke's After Anne

One of our absolute favorite books. As you watch Olivia and Anne struggle through a difficult challenge, you'll want to be a better friend.




For the Prodigal Relationship: Robin Lee Hatcher's Return to Me

How many of us have walked away from what our father wanted for us? Or away from our Father? This story will remind you that the you can go home again.








For the Marriage Relationship: Robin Jones Gunn's Wildflowers Wildflowers

Married Genevieve falls in love with the man she least expected could win her heart. It's not who you might think ....







For the Sibling Relationship: Lauraine Snelling's Ruby (Dakotah Treasures #1)

In the first of this frontier series, Ruby must deal with her new "inheritance" while protecting her sister from its influences.




For the Man's Perspective on Relationships: James Scott Bell's Breach of Promise

A heart-rending story of a man trying to keep his family together.




For the Supernatural Relationship: Tosca Lee's Demon: A Memoir


Don't let the title of this book scare you away. There is no glorification of the demonic, but an enlightened fresh look at what History means.




For the Relationships Gone Bad: Bette Nordberg's Serenity Bay

A truly terrifying story of woman who married Prince Charming and discovered he wasn't.





For the Single Among the Marriage-Minded: Camy Tang's Sushi for One? (The Sushi Series, Book 1)

You'll laugh. You'll relate. You'll be impressed with this debut novel from up-and-coming author Camy Tang.



EIGHT books. ONE winner. Here are the ways to win:

Current subscriber and previous referrals are already in the hat. Any new subscriber or referral will gain another entry.

Publicize this to your homeys through newsletters: one entry.

Blog about the contest: one entry. (Email us if you need what to post.)

Include it in your Christmas cards: two entries.

Tuck it in the gift bag with the fruitcake you'll be leaving on random doorsteps: five entries.

Subscribe! Spread the word! Flood the blogosphere! Take over the world!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Last Update About the Fire















This picture of my precious Ashcraft grandchildren was taken just hours before the fire last Sunday.Every thing in the photo was lost, but every body was saved. We are so blessed.

The Red Cross put the family up in a motel for four nights before they were able to move into a small rental house. When I talked to Johnathan on the phone his first night there, he sounded very excited. "Grandma, at my new house I have windows AND curtains AND walls!" Nothing like losing all those things to make one appreciate what we take for granted. The community has rallied around them, providing the family with basic necessities and lots of love.

Speaking of community, that is about to change. Several weeks before the fire, Mark had been approached by the Athena Police Department, asking him to apply for an opening they had. Athena is a small town NE of Pendleton, heading toward Walla Walla, WA. Mark had the interview on November 1st and knew he wouldn't find out the results until the 16th. Meanwhile, the fire occured on the 11th. As Mark and I stood before his burning house he quietly said, "I've been asking God for a sign." I replied, "I think this is about as close to a lightening bolt as you're going to get!" He was informed on Friday that Athena wanted him, and he accepted.

No one in Pilot Rock, including his kids, knew of this possibility. The girls (Brenna 15, Cassie 13) have grown up there. They were devestated when told that they'd be moving. In the span of 5 days they lost their house, their church, and now their school and friends. I would really appreciate your prayers for them as they work through all the emotions pounding through them. (And we're talking teenage girls, here!)

Holly's parents spent the weekend with them, helping sort through the few things they were able to salvage from the house. Strange things made it through, like Holly's spider plant she's had for years and the collection of crosses she had in her basement bedroom. Probably the strangest thing was the survival of the unity candle from their wedding. You just don't expect a candle to make it through a fire!

The four kids came back to Salem with Holly's parents yesterday, and will be spending the week with them. That will give Mark and Holly time together as a couple to deal with the changes and challenges ahead of them. A job change is a big enough stress, but to have all the rest of this going on at the same time...

The upside is that we'll get to have the kids with us on Thanksgiving Day. There'll be cousins here, as well as great grandparents and aunts and uncles. At this fragile time in their life, they'll be surrounded with family.

I pray you'll have that same blessing this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Newspaper Article with Pictures

This is a really good article about the fire. Our son, Mark, is featured in it. When the reporter mentions that Mark chuckles, just be aware that he is famous for his chuckle--a deep bass going ha-ha-ha, with pauses between each one! Follow this link to the article: East Oregonian.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fire Update















My heartfelt thanks to the many of you who have contacted me directly or left a comment here in response to my blog about the fire early Sunday morning. (If you haven't read that particular blog, scroll down and read it now before continuing with this one.)

I've called Mark and Holly on a daily basis and they are coping well and sounding strong. The family has spent the two nights since the fire at the Best Western Motel in Pendleton, as there are no motels in the small town of Pilot Rock. A member of their church has a vacant rental and will let them have temporary shelter there. It will be a tight fit for their family of six, but as Holly says, "At least it will be a roof over our heads, which is more than we have now!" The insurance adjuster toured their former house yesterday and declared it a total loss. The foundation is all that might possibly be useable.

Here are pictures taken by a neighbor that morning. I don't know if anyone got photos of the house with flames, but the ones of the burning church next door are pretty powerful. The outside walls of the house are still standing, but the inside is gutted. In fact, fire reignited in Cassie's bedroom yesterday, more than 24 hours after it started.

(I don't know why the pictures and text look just fine when I preview this blog, and are messed up when I do the actual post. And Christina's not able to help me figure it out, as she can't navigate the stairs with her bum knee!)



Sunday, November 11, 2007

Where There's Smoke...

I sat in front of my computer last night, wanting to share about my experiences of the day, but having no idea where to start. So I didn't.

This morning I woke up at 5:02. The quiet and darkness were as comforting as the blanket that hugged my shoulders. A stark contrast to 24 hours earlier, when the waning hours of night were broken by shouts, flames, and cold.

John and I had gone to eastern Oregon for the weekend. We'd spent Friday night with an older couple in Condon. I got to visit my heart out while John tuned pianos at their church and the Elks lodge. We left Friday morning and headed to Pendleton. John tuned four pianos there while I spent time in the local Christian bookstore, library, and went to lunch with a friend. My daughter-in-law, Holly, works at Walmart, so I spent some time (and money) there while waiting for her to get off work at 3:30. I rode out to Pilot Rock with her and was greeted with delicious hugs by our four grandkids. (These are the ones we took to Disneyland in August.) John arrived in time for dinner and we had a great time as a family that evening. Cassie is turning 13 next Sunday, and I had bought 7 books for her at the Oregon Christian Writer's Conference last summer, and had them autographed. She is a voracious reader and writer and I was sure she'd be thrilled with autographed books. We celebrated her birthday that night and she was overjoyed with her gift. I done good!

Things quieted down in the house around 10:30. John and I got to sleep in 4-year-old Johnathan's room. That handsome little guy slept on the top bunk, John and I on the bottom. We put our ear plugs in and closed the bedroom door so the dogs wouldn't join us during the night. At 5 yesterday morning, I woke up and turned over in bed and one of my ear plugs fell out. I tucked it under my pillow and heard a man's voice yell, "If they're going, they need to go now!" Honestly, my very first thought was, "How rude! It's early Sunday morning. No one needs to go anywhere!" I had a second to wonder whose voice it was, as I knew it wasn't my son Mark's. They had another guest (also named Mark) spending the night, and he had bedded down on the couch in the living room. It didn't sound like his voice, either.

Our bedroom door burst open and Holly flipped the light switch. She swooped sleeping Johnathan off his bunk as she yelled, "Mom, Dad, get up! The church is on fire!" (Their house is next-door to a 95-year-old Presbyterian church.) I reached beside the bed for my glasses, slid my slippers on, and tore a blanket from the bed to wrap around me. John was scrambling beside me. As I left the room and headed for the front door I could feel intense heat on my face. A neighbor woman had Kaylee bundled in a blanket and was tearing through the living room. I follwed them out. Holly was right in front of me (I think--things are kind of a blur!) and she yelled that the two older kids, Cassie and Brenna, were already out. We all ran across the street, except for Mark, who was in his backyard, spraying the church-side of the house with the garden hose, trying to keep the fire from spreading to the house. But the heat was so intense, the water evaporated before it could do any good. Once her kids were safe Holly went to move her van from in front of the house. The plastic handle was already bubbling from the heat, and she singed her hand a bit, but was able to move the car to safety. Mark got his truck moved, a neighbor moved Mark's new motorcycle, and John had "happened" to pick up a pair of pants as he ran from the house, and his car keys were in the pocket, so he could move our car, too.

I cannot yet describe the sight that met my eyes as I looked across the street from my safe vantage point. The three-storied church was ablaze, flames leaping in the air. The sounds of wood crackling and windows exploding filled the air. I couldn't even pray. Couldn't form a coherent thought beyond, "Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord." The kids had been taken to a neighbor's house across the street and I knew they were all safe. I stood in the street with my arms around Holly. She was moaning and then exclaimed, "My house in on fire!" The heat from the conflagaration had started a fire in their attic. We'd been out of the house for ten minutes, if that.

The Pilot Rock volunteer fire department showed up with two pumpers, and finally a tower truck from Pendleton. For hours, literally hours, we stood and watched both structures burn. Soon into the process Holly asked a friend to take Cassie and the twins across town to a friend's, so they wouldn't be watching their house burn. Neighbors brought out blankets and coffee, gave hugs and condolences, and the classic offer of "If you need anything, let me know. We'll help however we can." Pilot Rock is a very small town and that community knows how to pull together. Not only had they lost their historic church, but also the house of their senior police officer. The house burned for hours. For some reason, the fire fighters were unable to get the blaze subdued.

But God is good. And may I say again, GOD IS GOOD! There were nine people sleeping in that house, on two levels. All of us got out safely, including three dogs. A neighbor across the street had been awakened by his dogs barking. He and his wife saw the engulfed church and ran over and saved our lives by pounding on the door and yelling. If that other Mark hadn't been sleeping on the couch in the living room and heard the pounding, it would have taken more time and effort to alert us to the danger, and who knows what might have happened. I think we were all out of the house within a minute's time.

We all scooted out with only the clothes on our back. John's and my carry-on bags that we travel with were in our room, along with our credit cards, my purse, medications, etc. We knew it would be a real bother to have to replace those things, but nothing compared to what Mark and Holly were facing. Four hours into the fire, Mark and Holly were allowed to make a trip into the section of the house that wasn't currently burning, and bring out a few things. I looked up to see Mark carrying our bags to us. I couldn't believe it, but my purse survived, as did all the contents of my wallet. Even my cell phone made it through and still works! Holly brought out her precious wedding gown that her mother had made for her years ago. It wasn't damaged. And Mark rescued the flag that had covered his grandfather's coffin years ago. Very fitting, as yesterday was Veteran's Day.

A friend drove Holly and me over to where the kids were. The twins ran to us, wanting held and hugged. Johnathan said, "Grandma, my house got break-ed." Kaylee told me her house was "fired." As I loved on those two little ones, that's when the tears welled. What if we had lost one of them? What if something had happened to the older girls? As the grandmother, I found myself dealing with the what-ifs. Poor Mark and Holly have to deal not only with the what-ifs, but also the what-is. The work ahead of them is staggering. Yes, the house was fully insured, but that doesn't make replacing everything an easy job. It's all going to take time. The kids have lost their house and their church, all at the same time. Life will be very different.

John and I left around noon, as there was nothing more we could do. I was so thankful we'd been there and able to be a support for our kids. John had only bedroom slippers to drive in.(Well, and his clothes!) A neighbor girl gave me a pair of socks and shoes, and over my pajama bottoms I wore a pair of pants Mark had found in his truck. I had sleep-top on, but no bra. (I finally joined the Women's Liberation Movement of the '70s and burned it! I did have a light-weight jacket that had been in our car overnight, and could wear that when needed so I didn't look indecent.) I had my glasses on, no makeup, and hadn't combed my hair since Saturday morning.) And that's what we looked like as we traveled home. As we stopped at McDonald's for something to eat. As we went into Fred Meyers to buy a new pillow for John. And you know what? I really didn't care. We had survived a near-tragedy. We might not have looked pretty or smelled very good, but our whole family was alive. Nothing else mattered.

Other people were taking pictures, and when those are sent to me I'll definitely post them. I think this particular blog is long enough. I don't even know if many people will read it, but I needed the cathartic release of getting some of my thoughts down on paper, so to speak. I'm so thankful for the prayers of those of you who knew what was going on. For those of you who hear about it this way, please pray for the Mark Ashcraft family as they go through this difficult time. I'm sure I'll need to write more about the experience, but this it for now. Go love on your family!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

One Fine Day


Friday was a glorious fall day here in the Pacific Northwest.The azure sky was punctuated by the orange, yellows, and reds of deciduous trees, and the air was fresh. It was the kind of day that screamed to be used in reckless abandon instead of wasted indoors. Luckily for me, the grandkids had no school due to teacher in-services. I wouldn't have to play by myself.

A few days earlier I had been walking the back part of our 15 acres and came across a couple of trees that took me back to memories of my childhood. My dad was with the Forest Service and there were times we lived in the mountains. As the oldest of five children, I took it upon myself to direct what and where we would play. One of our most favorite things was to find a place to build a fort. Sometimes we actually constructed a structure, but usually we would clear out an area under some trees and use it for a base. We played for hours in an innocent world of Cowboys and Indians, soldiers (I always got to be the nurse for the wounded ones) and just playing house.

I invited Andrea and Joshua to join me in fixing up a fort here on the Ashberry property. The forest floor was covered with windfall and tangles of blackberry vines. But we were the mighty conquerors and within an hour I had sawn off lower dead limbs, which the kids carried to a nearby area. I was able to make short work of the berry vines, too. As you can see in the picture, I left branches that they are able to climb up, swing from, and bounce on. They ate their sandwiches in their new fort, gathered leaves to use as money, and began playing Star Wars. A new generation, but with the age-old ability to use their imagination!!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Novel Case of PMS

I'm sure most of you don't look forward to a monthly dose of PMS. I had extensive surgery eight years ago and haven't been bothered by that problem since then. No, if I'm in a bad mood (which is very rare) I have nothing to blame it on but myself. I may try to say, "Oh, well, it's just that time of the decade," but no one seems to take me very seriously.

Yesterday, though, I was hit hard by PMS--Post Manuscript Syndrome. Christina and I met our goal of completing our deep edit of On The Threshold by the end of October. At 5:15 last night we emailed all 86,000 words to our agent, who was planning on sending it today to an editor who requested the book in its entirety. And now begins the hard work--waiting to hear something back. Our book is contemporary fiction, and we've been told that historical fiction is what many of the publishing houses are looking for now. So it's harder to sell our product to the marketing team. But I figure that it took us eight years to write this, so doesn't that make it historical?

By the way, I was wrong in my last post when I said we'd never gotten to this point before. Christina reminded me that we've had a full manuscript at two houses in the past. But this is a different book, in so many ways. Our writing has deepened and so have our characters. We weren't ready to be published before. Hopefully we are now.

I'm all for repeating this kind of PMS. The only type of cramps I had were writer's cramps. Sure, there was a headache sometimes, but usually just when searching for the perfect word. And the bloating? That was caused by a big story that needed to be told. Now that we've sent the manuscript off, there's a feeling of relief and accomplishment. And the next story is already percolating. Or is that just a bad case of indigestion?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Veritable Smorgsboard

It's been so long since I've blogged that it's hard to know what to say! (Who, me? At a loss for words?) So I'm just going to bring you up-to-date on a few different things.

Footing the Bill- My acupuncture treatments are continuing to go very well. One of the benefits of my weekly sessions is that I've learned how to spell "acupuncture!" (I had always thought it had two "c's" in it. I hope I get that word in the next spelling bee I'm in!) Dr. Deborah Nixdorf (www.fghealthandfitness.com) has spent hours of non-session time researching what could be causing my peripheral neuropathy and how to treat it. We've become friends in this journey together. My foot pain is definitely lessening and I'm sleeping much better at night.

Ninety-one and Still Counting- My sweet mother-in-law, who lives in a Memory Care facility about 25 minutes from us, turned 91 this week. For her big 9-0 last year, her daughter had flown in from Wyoming and her other son from Texas. We'd had a big family celebration in the conference room of her facility. Christina and I had brought a tasty, celebratory meal from home. The room was festively decorated and we had a wonderful time together. I think my favorite part was after dinner and presents when we all continued to sit around the table and sang songs off the top of our heads. Our repertoire included songs like "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah," to the old hymn "In the Garden" to lullabies Mother used to sing to her children. She joined right in with us and we had a precious time together. This year was different. She's still as sweet as ever, but the memory is no longer there. John and I brought in a little pastry for her to have after dinner, and we took her back to that same conference room and played part of the video tape we'd made last year. Showed her the section where we were all singing. There was no glimmer of recognition, no singing along. When I asked her who a certain person was on the tape, she thought it was her sister Ruth, when in actuality it was her daughter Judy. Her decline is very evident and we just treasure the remaining time we have with her, however long that is.

Writing Right- Christina and I have been working with great focus on the final edit of our coauthored book. For the past month we have spent hours a day going through it chapter by chapter. Editing is hard work, but fun as we do it together. By the time we quit yesterday, we had only 38 pages left to edit, and a new chapter to write. We hope to have that done by Tuesday. Then we'll spend a day or two going through and looking for words we've overused and replacing those. (Every author has pet words they rely on.) So by the end of the week we should be able to send it off to our agents, David and Sarah Van Diest, so they can send it to any editors that request the full manuscript. We've never been at that point before.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Poor Ziggy


Today I had my second visit with Dr. Deborah Nixdorf, a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in nearby Forest Grove. (You can find out more about what she has to offer by going to www.fghealthandfitness.com.)

She spent a good deal of time going over recent lab results from blood work ordered by my primary physician. I'm a former nurse, so Ive been trained to look at lab work and if it falls in the normal range, consider it to be okay. But as Deborah was saying during my visit, there's a difference between acceptable and optimal. That made sense to me. So we're working together on some things that will bring me closer to that optimal level. Of course, when she talked about cuttingback on my carbohydrate consumption, the word "mutiny" did cross my mind!

Several people have said they want me to do updates as to how acupuncture is working for me. What I can tell you is that the week following my first treatment, I noticed a difference in two areas. One was that the sharp pains, the sensation of having a strip of hot tacks dragged across the top of my foot, has gone away. I still have a general numbness and tingling, but not the intermittent pain. Secondly, my insomnia has gotten much better. I'd been taking sleeping pills every night for months before my first session. Six out of the last seven nights, I've been able to get non-medicated sleep soon after turning off the light. Ever since I was a young teen, my mind has whirled at night, keeping me too busy to fall asleep. Deborah calls that "mind chatter."

One of the things I'm supposed to do is to take 100 deep breaths during the day. The kind of breaths where the air goes all the way down to your tummy. You can actually feel the abdomen rise and fall when done correctly. After she inserted the 15 needles and left the room, I closed my eyes and started doing my deep breathing exercise, slowly counting up to 44 by the time she came back. I said, "I made it to 44." She hesitated a moment, then said, "What?" I opened my eyes and looked over at her. "I took 44 deep breaths while you were out." She chuckled. "Oh, I thought you were saying you were 44 years old." We got to laughing about how busy she'd be if word got out that in 10 minutes of doing acupuncture she could remove 11 years from one's age!

So, I continue to view this as a journey the Lord has me on. Do I understand all of it? How acupuncture works? No way. But I know the Bible says I am "fearfully and wonderfully made." There is wisdom accrued through the ages that can strengthen my body and help me feel better. I'm all for that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Pins and Needles


I tried something brand new yesterday. I guess it's been around for centuries, but it was certainly new to me. Acupuncture. Yep, that voodoo doll-like thing where you pay good money to have someone stick you full of needles. And then they have the nerve to tell you to relax!

For a number of years I've been plagued by peripheral neuropathy in my left foot (now invading my right one too) and Restless Leg Syndrome. And did I mention insomnia? The medication I'm taking for the neuropathy and RLS is something I will be on the rest of my life. I'm hoping for another 30 years or so, and hate the thought of having to take meds all that time. My husband, who is very traditional, suggested I look into acupuncture.

Yesterday was my first session. After an involved interview concerning my health history, the doctor had me lie on my back on the exam table. A wedge (not to be confused with a wedgie) was placed under my knees. I must confess I was a wee bit nervous. I do fine with blood draws and shots, but still....

She placed a total of 14 needles in my feet, around my knees, and in my hands. Lucky number 15 went between my eyes. And you know what? I can honestly say it didn't hurt. Most of the time I could just barely feel something going through my skin. She turned the lights down low and put quiet music in the player. Before she left me for about 10 minutes, she said my job was to just relax and breathe deeply. Breathe in whatever I wanted, whether it was energy, or love, or peace. And to breathe out any impurities. Then she closed the door behind her and left me on my own.

As a Christian, I wanted to be sure I wasn't falling into some mystic religious thing. I relaxed and thought, "Okay, God is the source of all energy and is constantly working. What I want to take in is Jesus and His power. So I just kept saying the name of Jesus with each inhalation. And exhaled anything God didn't want in my life. I pictured Jesus being the River of Life freely flowing through me from top to bottom.

It ended up being a spiritual exercise for me, in the best sense of the word. I felt very relaxed and rested when the doctor came back in, as though I'd just had a massage. She tweaked each needle and then removed them, and I set up another appointment for next week. I'll let you know if this works for me.

Photo courtesy of eganu rirrun

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Texas Hospitality




Last Wednesday through Sunday Christina and I were off in the big city of Dallas, Texas, to attend our first American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. We've been told (by a reliable source) that this is the largest Christian writers conference in the world. With over 500 people there, I believe it.

Our adventure began before we even left Gaston. A fellow ACFWer had contacted us after subscribing to our newsletter (http://www.ashberrylane.net/) and after some correspondence back and forth Rebecca Barlow of Poetry, TX (isn't that a neat name?) invited us to spend Wednesday night with her. Can you imagine inviting a complete stranger (or in our case, strangers) to come spend the night in your home with your family? I love that as Christian writers there really is a deep feeling of family and connectedness even with those we've not met face-to-face.


Wednesday night happened to be Rebecca's husband's birthday. So after she picked us up at Dallas Love Field Airport, she drove about 40 minutes to the Southern Junction restaurant where we met her husband and another couple. I'll tell you, we don't have places like the Southern Junction in Gaston, OR! We walked in to this huge room with a dance floor and a live Country Western band. It was fun to watch people dance the two-step, line dances, etc. Almost made me want to get out there and join them!


This steak house was phenomenal. You actually go to a refrigerated display case and choose your hunk of meat, take it over to a seasoning station and doctor it up however you want, and then over to a huge grill where you cook it to your own liking. And don't forget the two pieces of Texas Toast you grill along with the steak. Then over to a baked potato bar before making your way back to the table. I've never had such succulent meat before. Yummmm.

Rebecca's house was absolutely lovely, as was her family. It's so encouraging to see Christian families who are really making a difference in the world. Thanks, Barlow's, for a great start to our stay in Texas. You rock!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Ticking Time Bomb

Whew! And may I say it again? Whew!!

Time is moving so fast, I can hardly keep up with it. Seems there are only 30 seconds in a minute these days. Too much too do, too little time to do it. Last night I was on the verge of tears, feeling overwhelmed and undertimed. So what's causing this feeling?

John and I are Commanders for a brand-new Awana club starting today at our church. Neither of us has worked in an Awana club, let alone been the one overseeing all facets of it. And since it's a brand-new venture, no one has any idea how many kids will be showing up at 5 o'clock tonight. Could be 30, or maybe twice that much. We've been putting hours in on preparation for the last several weeks, but we were still up until 12:30 AM "last night." And hit it hard as soon as we woke up this morning.

Then there's the excitement and preparation that Christina and I have. We leave Wednesday morning to fly to Dallas, TX, for the American Christian Fiction Writers(ACFW) Conference. We'll have some of our work critiqued, meet with editors, attend classes, meet authors we've looked up to for years, and make lots of new friends. I'm sure it will be a glorious experience to share together, but I'd like to be more rested before I get there.

Oh, and did I mention I've got a Women's Ministry meeting to attend Tuesday night? At least my hair is already colored, and I guess my weight will just be what it is. I've been too busy to make it to Curves more than once this week. My wardrobe is basically selected, and my husband is sufficient enough to fend for himself, so I don't have to have meals prepared ahead of time for him.

I pray for strength and joy in all that I do. I got an email from ACFW this morning and the following verse was mentioned. I took it as God's word for me today. "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father encourage you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. God loves us, and through his grace he gave us a good hope and encouragement that continues forever." (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17)

With that, my tears are gone.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Here Comes the Bride!

This past week John and I drove down to San Jose, California, to attend the wedding of my niece, Rachel Smith, to Daniel Forbes. John officiated at the ceremony, which he tends to do a lot for my family. Since he became a minister over 30 years ago, he's married his sister, my sister, my brother, a niece, a nephew, even his own daughter...! I smell a tabloid headline lurking in there someplace.

The wedding Saturday evening was outdoors in the backyard of the groom's family. Both families had worked hard to make this a magical night for the couple. The reception area was covered with ethereal billows of white netting, making a canopy between the tall oaks. Hundreds of white lights crept along the netting, turning the location into a fairyland after dark.

All of my siblings and most of their families were able to make it. Our family has the best time when we get together. We all have a quirky sense of humor, which I guess seems pretty normal to us. My youngest brother, Daniel, (yes, same name as the groom) was the emcee for the reception. He broke out some dance moves that totally embarrassed his teenage kids. Like he said later, "I don't have a shame gene in my body!"

We had to leave before Rachel and Danny took off on their honeymoon, as we had a 12-hour trip ahead of us the next day. But we took with us the joy of young love and fresh beginnings, the couple's gift to us.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Next Leg of the Trip


"She's unresponsive."

The nurse's voice on the other end of the phone broke through the simple plans I had for the day.

I was doing my weekly cleaning for a lady, so called John at home and told him that the Memory Care facility had just called to say his mother was unresponsive and they were shipping her out to the hospital. He took off to meet her there and I finished my work and joined them.

Mother will be 91 in October, and as I entered her ER cubicle I wondered if she would make it that long. "Deathly white" is an appropriate description. She was talking with John, though she had no idea who I was when I went up to place a kiss on her forehead. I told her I'd been married to her son for nearly 37 years. "Really?" she replied.

After 5-1/2 hours in the ER (our shortest visit so far!) it was determined that she has a GI bleed from an unknown cause. Of course they could do furthur tests or exploratory surgery, but we have long ago opted out of that line of attack. She is so ready to go to heaven and while we don't want to do anything to hasten that event, neither do we want to delay it. The doctor suggested it was time to get hospice involved, and we agreed.

The hospital social worker came in to talk to me (John had gone to work by then) and said she had arranged for hospice workers to meet us at Osprey Court as soon as Mother was transported back there. She left a couple of hospice brouchures for me to look at.

Mother must have been getting bored by then, as she reached out her hand and said she wanted "that piece of paper." So I handed her one of the brouchures and there she sat, reading outloud the following hospice guiding philosophy: "You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of life. And we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die." (by Dame Cicely Saunders)

It was poignant to see her sitting there reading about her upcoming journey. How long it will take, we have no idea. How rocky the road will be, we don't know. But the fact that our family can travel this together, assured that she will reach her final destination, is a source of peace and blessing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Our California Adventure

Brenna and Cassie

Kaylee and Johnathan


We did it. We did it and we survived.

Take two grandparents, blend four grandchildren (ages 15, 12, and 4-year-old twins), add two days in Disneyland/California Adventure, mix in one day at Sea World, and what do you get? A grand finale to the summer of 2007.

Those of you who read my last blog know that on a whim my husband and I decided to take our son's kids to Disneyland. Four days after our decision, we were on our way. The trip was full of firsts for these kids, as they had never flown before, been in a city bigger than Portland, or been to Southern California. "Look, Grandma! They have real palm trees here."

I got to sit between the twins on our flight down. As we were building up speed down the runway Kaylee said, "Grandma, I'm scared. I need your hand." And with her other hand, she covered her eyes. Johnathan loved the speed, but was quick to express his feelings when we reached cruising altitude above the clouds. With all the disgust he could manage (which was quite a bit) he exclaimed, "But God's not HERE!"

Johnathan and I had another adventure together. John was across the room at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon with Kaylee asleep on his lap, when Johnathan informed me his stomach hurt and he needed to go to the bathroom...NOW! So I hurried him to the nearest facility, only to find the usual line snaking outside from the women's restroom. I was afraid he wouldn't be able to wait so told him to go into the men's and I'd wait for him right outside the door. Wait, I did, for about 5 or 6 minutes.

Then a man came out of the bathroom and said to the women in general, "There's a young boy in here and he's complaining."

"He's probably mine," I replied. "What's he complaining about?"

"I think he's asking for his grandma."

"Yep, he's definitely mine."

At that moment the janitor I'd recently seen enter the restroom poked his head out the door. "There's a little boy in here and--."

"I'm his grandma," I said.

"You'd better come in. I think he needs you."

I explained I really didn't want to go into the men's room, but the janitor insisted the coast was clear. Trepidation oozed from my pores as I entered this hallowed place. As soon as I did, I saw a bunch of men lined up at the white porcelain altar. I cupped both hands around my eyes, creating a narrow tunnel by which I could navigate my way to the far stall. "I'm not looking! I'm not looking!" was my noisy mantra as I progressed, but it brought me no peace.

I joined Johnathan behind the closed door and helped him finish his business, trying hard not to listen to the sounds around me. When we were done I opened the door a crack and yelled, "Is it safe for a woman to walk through?" The only response I got was a flurry of flushes. Again I yelled, "Is it safe for a woman to walk through?" My dear friend the janitor replied, "Yes, it's clear." As I opened the door wider he continued, "Well, mostly clear." (He'd make a terrible weatherman.)

Johnathan and I finally made it back to the rest of our group. "From now on, you have to take him to the bathroom," I told my husband. But in all honesty, I have to admit that my foray into the men's room was my most exciting adventure in Disneyland. It was like mixing a little of the Peeter Pan ride with Splash Mountain, plus some spinning Peecups (oops, I mean Teacups) with It's A Small World.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mr. Spontaneity

My husband, John, is not known for making quick decisions. He usually mulls things over, looking at the pros and cons. So imagine my surprise the other day when he suddenly said, "I think we should take the Ashcraft grandkids to Disneyland next week." I about fell off my stump! (We were camping at the time.)

Today I made the 2 hour trip to The Dalles to meet our four grandkids who had been ferried there from 2-1/2 hours away in Pilot Rock. After having a not-so-bad meal at McDonald's I turned the car around and brought them back to Ashberry Lane to spend the night.

These are our son's children. Brenna is 15, Cassie 12, and Kaylee and Johnathan are 4-year-old twins. They have never been to Disneyland nor have they flown, so we're talking about some really exciting days ahead. We fly to Anaheim tomorrow, spend the next two days at Disneyland and California Adventure, go down to Sea World in San Diego for one day, and fly home the following day. So I won't be writing any blogs until the end of the week.

Actually, who knows if I'll have the strength to write then, as John and I are not spring chickens (we're more like sprung chickens!) and I'm sure I'll be worn out by the time we get back.

I don't know if we're brave or crazy to be doing this. Probably a little bit of both. All I know for sure is that we will be busy making wonderful memories with a clutch of priceless grandchildren. And isn't that what the Magic Kingdom is all about?

Tea For Two...Er, I Mean, Five

(Disclaimer: I wanted to post a wonderful photo from yesterday, but I can't get it to work. So I decided to go ahead a post this message and add the photo later.)

Yesterday was my mother's 77th birthday. Used to be that anyone that age seemed old to me, but not anymore.

In her honor, four generations of us got together for tea at the Stratford House in Hillsboro. I had been there once before and knew Mom would appreciate the ambiance.

My sister, Jeanine, who lives in the Salem area, picked Mom up in McMinnville and then swung by Ashberry Lane to get Christina, 8-year-old Andrea, and me. Then it was off to the Stratford House for a lovely luncheon.

It's a wonderful gift to me to have my mother living so close after years of living 12 hours apart. And though it was her birthday, I thought of the many gifts she's given me.

There's life itself! I'm the firstborn of five children.

She's also the one that told me about new life and led me to a saving knowledge of Christ when I was just five years old.

Mom set a great example of what a Christian woman should look like on the inside. (And she's still beautiful on the outside.) I know she's not perfect, but the desire to closely follow the Lord has always been one of the key parts of her life and it helped me to yearn for that in my own life.

She's a dynamic Christian woman who still wakes up each morning with the longing to make her life count for the Lord. To see the people God brings into her path each day as Divine Appointments.

She and Dad continue to have a vibrant marriage after 58 years. Now that's a gift you don't get very often!

Then there's her outgoing personality and her ability to just be herself. A wonderful sense of humor and the ability to relate to people of all ages. She's just plain fun to be around!

So, Mom, thanks for all the gifts you've so abundantly given to all your children. I know I speak for all of us when I say, "We love you."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Sky Is Falling!

Did you happen to catch the Perseid meteor showers this past weekend?

Every year about this time the night sky is filled with falling stars. When our children were young, we woke them up at 4AM and went out on the patio to watch the stars make their arc across the sky. I served star-shaped sugar cookies and Coke and we made a party of it. Good memories!

Now that we live in a multi-generational house with young grandkids, the tradition has come down another generation. Because of Joshua's gluten allergies, the star-shaped cookies went by the wayside. But Sunday night, around 11 o'clock, the six of us gathered comforters and sleeping bags and lay back on the driveway to watch God's firework display. Joshua, who at six is a literalist, worried that we might get wet from the meteor shower! (Spoken like a true Oregonian.)

The day had been very cloudy, but a brief rain shower late in the afternoon cleared all that away, and we had an uncluttered view of the heavens. The night air was cool and we were grateful for the blankets covering us. Frogs croaked, their deep, harsh tones carrying across the darkness. The fir trees surrounding the house stood as sentries, keeping the distant yelps of coyotes from being too fearful.

The two kids loved not only seeing the meteors, but also various satellites that followed their preset march across the sky. By the end of the evening Joshua decided he wants to be an astronaut. Might as well dream big!

It was a great opportunity for Christina and Kevin to deepen their kids' understanding of the handiwork of God. And when Kevin said, "Okay, Lord, give us a grand finale," the brightest star of all flung itself like an acrobat across the midnight sky, a flaming tail marking its demise into the horizon. Our collective "Ooh," rose as praise to God.

More good memories.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sisters

Do you have a sister?

Mine lives about an hour away from me. We were able to spend the day together yesterday, and that was a lot of fun. Jeanine is six years younger than me. As children, we always shared a room. We both remember lying in our twin beds at night, holding hands across the gap between us and singing songs. (She went on to become a very good singer. Must be because of all the training I gave her!)

Another memory that stands out in my mind is of when Mom and Dad gave me a brand-new bedroom set for my birthday when I was 15 or 16. Imagine my shock when I walked into my shared bedroom one day and realized my dear sister had scratched a VERY naughty word into the front of my desk! To this day, she has no idea why she did it. Her woodworking ability stayed with me for years, even after I got married. There was always fear in my heart that when our pastor or Sunday School teacher would come over to visit, the sunlight would illumine that offending word!

Now Jeanine and I are both adults. Not only that, but we're both grandparents! (When did THAT happen?!) Our conversations are filled with cute stories about our grandkids, how things are going with our families, self-disclosure, and challenges we're facing. She's a big supporter of my writing life.

So today I wish for you a special time with your sister. Maybe through a phone call or email if she's not close enough to visit. Reminisce about your life together. Plan to build new memories in the future. If you don't have an actual blood sister, ask the Lord to bring someone into your life who can fill that void. My mother had no sisters, but about 20 years ago she met a woman who slipped into that niche as though she'd been designed for it. And she probably was!

As women, we need other women in our lives. Friends who will walk with us through the bad as well as the good. People to share our tears and our giggles.

Happy Sistering!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

As Time Goes By

It was only a week ago, though it seems much longer. I was an active participant in the Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference Sunday through Thursday. My daughter, Christina, and I were the co-chairs of the hospitality committee. Usually the word "committee" leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but working with Christina was nothing short of joy. The theme for the conference was "Let Your Light Shine", so all the gifts we found for the editors and agents, as well as the centerpieces for the tables, were lighthouse-themed. I don't consider myself gifted in the area of creativity, but Christina and I managed to pull it off. We were also responsible for arranging transportation for people from the Portland Airport to Canby Conference Center. Then there were all the "angels" we had to find. I don't know about you, but I am not often aware of angels around me. But the summer conference was filled with angels--people who were willing to tape the coaching classes and workshops.

Christina and I were in editor/author Karen Ball's coaching class each morning, and what an amazing teacher she is. Karen is very open in sharing experiences in her life and how they effect her writing. I learned a lot from her and had fun in the process.

We had three editor appointments during the conference. These appointments last for 15 minutes and are an opportunity to present a proposal for a book and have the editor take a look at your writing. It's like a 15-minute job interview and can be very stressful. Christina and I have been at this business long enough to not dread them anymore. All three asked for us to send them more, so that was very encouraging.

We got back to Ashberry Lane late Thursday afternoon and our two families left Friday morning for a weekend at church family camp near Mount Hood. I did nothing but relax while I was there. Sat around and visited with many friends, watched other people play active games, read, and ate. It was just what I needed after the previous busy days.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thought #25

In a little flip-chart book of sayings that my mother gave me for my birthday, I opened to this one the other day. It's penned by that over-productive writer, Anonymous. I've read many things written by this author and while some of them have been very good, others have lacked meaning. There have been times I've read something they've written and thought to myself, "Wow, if I'd written that, I wouldn't want to claim it!"

But this was a worthwhile offering: If you don't get everything you want, think of the things you don't get that you don't want.

You may, like me, have to read that statement a couple of times before the truth of it starts to sink in. None of us get everything we want, but how fortunate we are that we aren't given all the things we don't want. Cancer, death of a spouse or child, a house fire. We can immediately think of those things we don't ever want to have to deal with, though we all know of people that have.

It also made me ponder all those things I thought I wanted, didn't get, and then in hindsight was so grateful that I didn't get them. That boy I had a crush on in high school that turned out to be of a faith that was totally incompatible with mine. I remember after a series of miscarriages telling the Lord, "I just want a baby. Any baby. I'll even take one with all kinds of problems." And then he gave me Christina, a healthy, bright child who brought me nothing but joy.

What about you? I'd love to hear about things you thought you wanted and didn't get, or what things you didn't want and didn't get. Drop me a line!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Did You Miss Me?

I feel rather awkward starting this blog, as it's been a month since I last wrote one. Like anything else, it's difficult to get back into the routine.

I do have a good excuse for my silence, though. My mother-in-law, who has lived in a Memory Care facility just 16 miles from us, has required much of my attention these past four weeks.

On Mother's Day John and I took her out to lunch after the church service we hold at her facility. If you want people to clear a path for you, just take a 90-year old woman with a walker along with you! Everyone at the crowded restaurant moved aside to let her through, so of course I tagged along! Mother had a wonderful time. She smiled a lot, enjoying watching little girls in their crisp summer dresses. We knew she was tired when we took her back to her facility.

Several hours later, as we were getting ready to begin the service at our new church start, we received a phone call. Mother had fallen and was complaining of a lot of pain in her hip. So the facility called an ambulance and we were soon at the hospital with her. Thus began the saga.

Her hip was broken and she had sugery on it the following day. Her life, and ours, has not been the same since. Let me just say that 90 years, Alzheimer's, surgery, and narcotics do not make a good mix. For several days I was afraid we'd suddenly lost her, as far as her personality went. Mother was not there. She'd been replaced by some very frail woman who only spoke gibberish, no longer knew what to do with a spoon or a toothbrush, and couldn't chew her food. As a former nurse, I knew that the after effects of surgery can wreak havoc on the elderly, but it's different when it's your elderly!

Over the weeks she has improved some, but we know she will never be the same. She's been back and forth between the hospital and a skilled nursing facility. She had one very bright day last week when I walked in and hardly recognized her, as she was back to looking and acting like she had before the fall. But that improvement lasted only for a few hours. She's now pretty unresponsive to us. Seldom is there light in her eyes. There have been many times when we've thought the Lord was calling her to heaven.

And that's where she longs to go. Numerous times in this past month she has said, "I just want to go" or "Now when I'm gone, don't worry about me." We've told her she's free to leave us whenever God calls. We hope it will be soon and that she won't have to suffer more.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Conferences and Golf--Both Are Hard Work

This past weekend my co-writer daughter Christina and I attended the Christian Writers Renewal held at Seattle Pacific University. I'm hoping the renewal part will hit in another day or two, as so far it's mostly been about feeling exhausted from being there! Simply said, it was a jam-packed weekend.

We talked our husbands into going along with us, as a sort of mini-vacation. "You guys can drop us off at the campus Friday at noon, and then spend the rest of the day golfing. We'll be back at the motel early enough to spend time in the hot tub before getting a good night's sleep. On Saturday you could go hang out at the Harley store and dream of screaminging down highways, the wind at your back."

They fell for our convincing spiel. (After all, we do write fiction.) Christina and Kevin took their two children to a friend's house late Thursday night so we could get an early start on Friday. By the time we got to Seattle around 11, the sky was beginning to clear and the guys were drooling at the thought of their upcoming golf game. We all ate an early lunch together, then they let us off on campus.

Christina and I were kept busy the rest of Friday and all day Saturday meeting with editors/authors and attending classes. We continued to learn more about the craft of writing and the book industry in general. Along the way we made some new friends and were able to spend quality time with people we've met at other writing conferences.

Turns out our experience was much better than the one our husbands had golfing. In fact, it was so bad that Christina's husband, Kevin, refuses to even acknowledge that they went golfing! And this from a man who loves to play. Turns out they went to a course that was right next to the airport and the jets were constantly flying overhead. It was so loud that John had to put earplugs in to protect his I-make-a-living-tuning-pianos ears. The greens were poorly maintained and nearly impossible to play. At least to play well. Kevin quit keeping score by the fourth hole. For some reason they opted out of going to the Harley store on Saturday, though I'm not sure why. The more I think about it, however, they probably couldn't bring themselves to brave the craziness of the Seattle traffic and streets. They kept telling us that "it's impossible to get there from here" no matter what "here" and "there" we were talking about!

Now we're back in our quiet little berg of Gaston. We're not sleeping next to the Space Needle at night, but I think the douglas firs crowning our hills are even more beautiful than that tourist attraction. And there's certainly no chance of getting lost on the way home.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Got Milk?

"So how are the twins doing?" I asked my daughter-in-law, Holly, during a recent phone conversation.

Kaylee (see my blog entitled "Where'd The Stairs Go?") and Johnathan will be four in July. This is an age where they seem to think they're capable of doing more than they actually can.

"You should have seen them the other morning," Holly replied. "I didn't hear the alarm go off, and the older girls had already left for school. The twins decided they were hungry and could get their own breakfast."

She went on to say that because of their large family (four kids) they buy those giant bags of cereal and empty them into big plastic storage containers. The twins had managed to get the gallon jug of milk from the fridge, the cereal from the counter, and bowls from the cupboard. Then, instead of pouring cereal into their bowls and adding milk, they skipped the middleman and poured as much milk as they could directly into the plastic containers that held the cereal. Holly arrived in the kitchen to see them dipping their bowls into the wonderful mix of milk and cereal.

I laughed. "That's pretty funny from this distance."

"Actually, I thought it was funny, too," Holly said.

I thought of how our perspective can change as we mature. If that had happened years ago when Holly's oldest (now 15) was little, I think Holly would have found it a frustrating way to start her day. But she's now a pro at this mothering thing, and has learned to see the humor in childish attempts at independence.

But she hasn't slept through the alarm lately!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Forget Me Not

She stared at the photograph, confusion clouding her eyes. "He told me to sit and wait on the cement," she said. "And then his wife died and we were . . . together."

My 90-year old mother-in-law, her mind riddled with Alzheimer's, brushed a finger across the glass covering the picture of her and her husband on their wedding day 22 years ago. They had both lost a spouse to death, and that April day was the beginning of a new life for the two of them.

Due to her illness, we moved her to Oregon two years ago so we could care for her better. Papa, as Leonard was called, stayed in Arizona so his daughter could tend to him. Separating the two of them had been a gut-wrenching decision, but had worked out well. They were able to have weekly phone calls to stay in touch, as well as exchange cards, letters and snapshots. Their love stayed strong, as well as their commitment to the Lord. Over the past two months, however, his deafness and her declining ability to string together a sentence that made sense had stolen their ability to converse over the phone. Because of Papa's advanced age (99) and Mother's frail mental and physical condition, they were unable to travel and see each other.

"I think I want to see him. Can I?" She looked questioningly at my husband as we sat beside her this week.

John reached for her hand. "You'd have to go to heaven to do that, Mom. He passed on yesterday."

I watched her face for a reaction. There was none.

"Oh." She folded the hand towel that was resting on her lap. "I've been busy today."

"Mom?" I said. Her wrinkled face looked up at me. "Mom, what John is saying is that Papa died yesterday. He had a heart attack, and now he's in heaven."

A quick sheen ran across her faded eyes. She turned toward John, as if needing him to confirm what I had said.

"Yes, he's in heaven now," John said. "Just think--he's not crippled or deaf anymore. And he'll be there waiting for you when you get promoted."

Her fingers stilled and she sat quietly, a far-away look residing in her eyes. "I might go soon."

The three of us reminisced, recounting the life they'd shared together; the many trips they'd taken throughout the States, the weekly luncheons with close friends, involvement in their church back in Arizona, and always, their daily prayers for their family.

"You had 22 years of marriage together," I reminded her.

"It wasn't long enough," came her instant reply.

The three of us joined hands and took turns praying. John led, thanking the Father for Papa's life as a godly man. I followed, asking the Lord to continue to take good care of Mother and to bring her comfort. Mother's prayer was filled with thankfulness that God was always with her.

We gave her tender kisses and left her alone with her thoughts, a CD of hymns playing through her earphones.

When I went back to see her the following day, she had no memory of our conversation from the night before. Even when I mentioned "your husband, Leonard," she did not respond. How thankful John and I were that for those brief moments her mind had cleared enough to understand at least a little of what had transpired. God had parted the clouds in her mind so she was able to honor her husband's life with her memories and a prayer.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Read My Lips

I'm getting older, and not afraid to admit it. Fifty-five is staring me in the face, and that face sure shows a different reflection than it used to. When did that happen? and how?

John has pictures hanging in his office of me as a twenty-year-old. "You were such a sweet young thing," he says, with just a hint of wistfulness in his voice. Is it time to call the plastic surgeon, I wonder. No, that's nothing I would ever do, partly because of lack of money and bravery, but mostly because I'm perfectly happy (except for those ten extra pounds that seem to hang around. And I do mean hang around!) with the way I look. Am I a perfect 10? No way! Just an average-looking woman with a wonderful life.

But the other day, I looked like I'd had a run-in with a quack plastic surgeon. Do you remember Goldie Hawn's HUGE lips in the movie The First Wives Club? The collagen injections had gotten out of control and her augmented lips covered nearly half her face!

I got the same results, but in a much cheaper manner. Ten days ago, for only 20 minutes, I chewed a piece of gum that contained xylitol as one of the ingredients. Later that night, I noticed my lips were very tingly. The next day when I looked in the mirror, I saw my lips were at least twice their normal size, and I have big lips to start with. That's when my daughter, Christina, reminded me that I'd had the same reaction a year ago when I'd had gum with xylitol in it.

The extra fullness has slowly faded away, leaving in its place cracked lips that are peeling and gradually recuperating. I should be back to normal in a day or two.

But for those of you who suffer from the terrible plague of thin lips, I suggest you go out and buy a pack of Extra! gum and see if you get the same result I did. I could be saving you thousands in plastic surgeon fees!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Where'd The Stairs Go?


The other day we had the joy of having three of our grandkids spend the weekend with us. They live over by Pendleton, OR, across the state from us. Before John and I moved to Gaston, the Ashcraft grandkids were only 12 miles away and we saw them several times a week. In fact, I took care of the twins every day until they were 18 months old and began ganging up on me. (There's a reason God doesn't make 50-year-old women bear children, especially when it's two against one!)

The twins, Kaylee and Johnathan, are now 3-1/2 years old. Their big sister, Brenna, who will be 15 next month, was here with them, and what a help she was! She's going to make a great momma someday.

As most of you know, we have two young grandkids who live upstairs, so the cousins were back and forth from one level to the other. Poor Kaylee had a difficult time finding her way back to the upper story. We have a long hallway with the stairwell near one end, and she would consistently head in the wrong direction down the hall when attempting to go upstairs. Then she'd stop, lift her hands in consternation and ask, "Where'd the stairs go?" Time after time I'd point her the right way, only to have to repeat myself the next time she came downstairs.

I realized there was a spiritual lesson in Kaylee's dilemma. Sometimes I wander around, knowing where I want to be, but unable to see how to get there. I throw up my hands in consternation and ask, "God, where'd the stairs go?" The path for my life and the answers to my questions may be right in front of me, yet I don't see them. And He patiently says, "This is the way, walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21)

How thankful I am for a God who cares about the details of my life. For a Saviour who longs to show me the direction I should go, and will whisper in my ear when I need to turn right or left.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Northern Exposure

Last week John and I headed way up north to Vancouver, British Columbia. It was designed as a business trip, but ended up being a lot of pleasure, too. Other than an overnight camping trip last summer, it had been over a year since we'd been off together, just the two of us.

Oh, and 16 of our new best friends! We were all there for some intensive training on how to do church plants. No, it wasn't a horticultural forum, though there was a lot of talk about the importance of deep roots, core values, and a spreading outreach. Of vitality and growth.

The meeting focused on how to start a new church, from the tiny seed of an idea, to the mature growth that God brings about. Some of you may be thinking, "Aren't there enough churches around already? Why do we need another one?"

Good question! What I came to see more clearly than ever before is that each church has its own personality. Its own way of responding to the needs of the community around it. What you may like in a church may be unappealing to someone else. There is a need to have many visions of what the church can accomplish in our generation and culture. Some of these new churches will concentrate on how Christians can be involved in social issues. Others are reaching those with specific interests, such as the arts. Some are starting out as small study groups meeting over coffee at Starbucks. So many ways to reach so many people, while all are centered in the reality of the difference Jesus can make in one's life.

As John and I begin the new church plant, Master's Hands, in the small town of Dayton, OR, we are excited to be a part of a bigger picture. No two photos will look alike, nor are they intended to. The framing may be different, the focus varied, but the subject will be the same--Jesus Christ.

We're thankful for the exposure we received up north.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Pillow Talk

My husband was out of town last week, tuning pianos in Pendleton. When he's away for the night, I let the grandkids (they live upstairs) take turns sleeping with me. It was eight-year-old Andrea's turn on Tuesday night. She came downstairs to my house and we got into our jammies, laid in bed and talked. And talked. She has a train of consciousness that speeds down the track like the out-of-control engine in The Polar Express. I just lie back and listen until she runs out of steam.

"Grandma, did you know that a girl in my class moved? I think maybe it was because she was mean and didn't have any friends. Her parents never taught her the difference between right and wrong. Mom says that some kids don't have parents that teach them the right things. But my mom and dad always try to teach me what God wants me to do. And Grandma, I can jump rope really fast now. And the dentist thought I was really brave when I got the shots for my cavity. And..." We ended up praying together for her former classmate.

The next night, five-year-old Joshua shared my bed and the deepest concerns of his heart.

Joshua: "Grandma, did you know that sometimes when I toot, I can make the toot go back inside me?"

Grandma: "Wow, that's really something!" (I was thankful it was dark so he couldn't see my face, and he didn't seem to feel the bed shaking with my contained laughter.)

Joshua: "I have growing pains in my leg right now."

Grandma: "Do you want me to rub your leg?"

Joshua:"No, I want to grow! Sometimes I can grow by just stretching and squeezing my ears and my nose and my neck without even using my hands. Did you know snot is the medicine that keeps my throat from hurting when I try to stretch it?"

Grandma: "Well, I always wondered what snot was for!"

I know the day will soon come when Andrea and Joshua no longer think it's a treat to sleep with Grandma, but for now, I'll continue to enjoy the insights they unveil as we share a pillow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine Thoughts

Thirty-seven years ago, after a church Valentine banquet, my husband and I shared our first kiss. He was in graduate school and I was merely a high school senior. We had met the end of December at a Campus Crusade for Christ conference, not knowing at the time that our lives would soon merge and we would walk side by side for decades.

I was 18 when we married. A very innocent, naive girl, but sure that marriage to John was what the Lord had in mind for me. I still have love letters we wrote during our engagement, where I pictured the perfect marriage lived in a house surrounded by a white picket fence covered with climbing roses. You might have imagined the same house!

As you know, life doesn't turn out quite like that. We all experience times when marriage is not joy and bliss. When we either throw up our hands and give up, or determine to do the hard work necessary to see it through and build a vibrant, growing marriage.

If I had it to do over again, would I marry John? For sure, but I would make some different choices. I would find better ways to show him how much I respect him. How much I love him and need him. I would never cause him to doubt that he's the most important person in my life.

Luckily for me, I can do it all over again. Each day is a fresh start. Another chance to choose the right responses and to put him first. Another day to walk side by side till death do us part.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Point of View

My husband and I were at a Valentine's Dessert at our church Friday night. Mixed among the chocolates, candlelight, love songs, and desserts was a wacky rendition of The Newlywed Game.
A part of me wanted to be one of the couples chosen to participate, while the other part thought John and I might not score very high. It would all depend on the questions asked.

We were not called up front, though I played a very important role as Quality Control, having to nix many of the responses that Kent Fordyce tried to pull over on the others as being correct answers. To say he has a tendency to stretch the truth is putting it mildly! I must admit that he and Kathy did win the game fairly, beating out those who had been married fewer years than they have.

One of the questions the men were supposed to answer about their wives was this: Which would your wife think was the most romantic--a dozen roses, a picnic on the beach, or a quiet table at a fancy restaurant?

Though John and I weren't officially playing, we kept comparing our answers throughout the game and were doing quite well. So I was surprised when he said he would have picked the fancy restaurant as my romantic selection. I informed him that the picnic at the beach was more romantic to me.

"You mean you would rather eat peanut butter sandwiches on a sandy beach that stinks like seaweed and has a strong, cold wind blowing in your face?" he asked.

"Oh, that's not what my beach looked like," I replied. "I saw it as a beautiful day with a warm sun shining through the blue sky, a barely perceptible breeze brushing our cheeks, and a picnic basket filled with goodies."

What was appealing to me was appalling to him, simply because of our points of view. Isn't that often the way it is in life? Let's give each other the opportunity to explain where we're coming from before we decide we disagree!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Care For a Sandwich?

You've heard of the Sandwich Generation, haven't you? They are the baby boomers who are caught in the middle of life, caring for their elderly parents on one hand, while the other hand is still involved in their children's lives. These boomers are like the filling between two slices of bread.

For some, the tension is overwhelming, causing rifts in relationships. Parents demand more and more time, requiring help for the basic needs of life. Adult children ask for financial aid, or presume babysitting is always available. What's a boomer to do??

I feel like I'm living in the midst of this, but in a way most people don't get to experience. Both my husband's mother and my parents live only 25 minutes away. But that's not a negative thing at all.

My mother-in-law is 90 years old and lives in a memory care facility for Alzheimer's. Until we moved her here from Arizona a couple years ago, we only got to visit her once a year. Now we get to spend time with her at least a couple times a week There's a bond there, even with her dementia, that we've never had before. We lead a worship service at her facility every Sunday and have this wonderful little congregation of people in different stages of Alzheimer's. They have enriched our lives.

My parents moved from California just over a month ago. We've always been close and correspondended on a daily basis, but there's something so special about having them near and being able to drop in and see them any time I feel like it. They're only in their 70s, so they still are very involved in life around them and in reaching out to others. They have added a new depth to my life.

My husband and I share a house with our daughter and her family. She and Kevin and the kids have a complete house upstairs, while John and I have our own house downstairs. It has been an incredible time of sharing our lives with those two generations. Getting to watch the grandkids grow and get in on all their activities is just great. We have a connection with them that most grandparents miss out on. And since Christina and Kevin are some of our best friends, we've all found it easy to live together. Plus it's always so handy to have someone to borrow milk from!

So I guess what I'm saying is that being involved in multi-generations of family can be a very good thing. I'm finding that being the filling in the sandwich is very fulfilling!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm Really on the Ball

You know those big exercise balls you can buy? The ones that promise a svelte, youthful figure with consistent use? Let me just say that they should come with a throbbing red sticker stating "Caution, if you are a woman over 50, this may be dangerous to your health!"

I've been using the ball for a couple of months, and while I can't claim to be svelte and youthful, I am definitely more flexible than I used to be. So flexible, that I decided to attempt a new move, which was my first mistake. The directions were pretty simple: lie with your upper thighs on the ball in a basic push-up position, then press your shins into the ball and draw them forward, bending your knees and bringing your legs and the ball under your torso. You end up kneeling on top of the ball, with your palms remaining on the floor. The woman (of indeterminate age) in the accompanying picture looked like there was nothing in the world she would rather be doing. I wanted to join her.

Usually I at least insert my contacts before putting myself through my paces, but this particular morning I'd decided to exercise as soon as I got out of bed. So there I am in front of the big sliding glass mirror in my room--hair sticking out every which way (it must not have been a restful night!), in my comfortable pjs, my thick glasses on my nose.

I assumed the position. Nothing to it. At least not until I did that part of bringing my legs and the ball under my torso. Everything happened at the speed of light and before I knew it I was moaning on the ground, my neck at an odd angle, my heavy glasses ground into the delicate skin on the bridge of my nose. A glance in the mirror revealed a large crescent of skin had been torn from my nose--the only weight loss I would experience that day.

It's been 10 days since my "incident" and I'm still recovering. Makeup is just now able to conceal my brush with death.There's a bold X across that exercise on the sheet of instructions. Even if that is the one exercise that would guarantee me the fountain of youth, I'm not tempted to take even a sip from it.

And now when people ask if I've done my exercises for the day, I just try to play it cool.

"Me? Exercise? Maybe, maybe not. After all, it's no skin off my nose!"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Time on my Hands

It's a rare event. I'm home. Alone. Completely by myself. No one else here.

Most of you probably don't realize how unusual that is. But when you live in a three-generational house, and like spending time with each other, there's usually other people around. Not so tonight. John just left for his weekly symphony rehearsal and Christina, Kevin and kids are at Tae-Kwando. So there's nobody here but us chickens! (I mean, two rats, one cat, and two dogs.)

So what will I do with this gift of time? I could do some writing, as I need something to show for myself at critique in a couple of weeks. Or I could sit down with some writing that someone else has already done and got published. I could write emails. And there's always the daily crossword puzzle if I want a bit of a challenge.

What seems to be drawing me, however, is simply making a mug of mocha and reaching for my journal. In the busyness of everyday life, I've forgotten all about my mental resolution to write an account of myself at least a couple times a week. I'm not expecting any great thoughts or deep ponderings, but one never knows. Genius may strike when least expected!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Sock It To Me!

Why is it that little things can get me down while getting my dander up?

A major illness--I think I could deal with. Financial difficulties? Car problems? Frustrating, but do-able.

But when my husband presented me with several pairs of his socks that had holes in the toes, and asked me to repair them, I dug in my heels.

"John, nobody darns socks anymore. That's why God created Wal-Mart!"

My dear husband shook his head and replied that Wal-Mart was for when there were holes in the heels, not just small ones in the toes. That's what a needle and thread were created for, he maintained.

So for the past two weeks, a small pile of white athletic socks has languished atop our dresser. Maybe I thought if I ignored them long enough, they'd simply give up the ghost and disappear. Or perhaps I should have run them through the washer again in the hopes they'd join their distant cousins who have been eaten by the invisible Laundry Monster, never to be seen again.

Yesterday, as John sat on the edge of the bed and sewed a sock before finishing getting dressed, he told me how dishonored he felt that I hadn't done anything about them yet. That wasn't the message I had wanted to send, but it's the one he received. I simply wanted to procrastinate and simmer about how unfair it was, in this day and age, to expect me to darn his socks.

But tonight, while he was at his symphony rehearsal, I sat down with my sewing kit beside me, John's socks in my lap, and reading glasses perched on my nose, hoping to find that pesky little eye of the needle. And you know what? It really wasn't such a terrible job after all. I didn't even have to mutter under my breath!

In a small but tangible way, I've now shown my husband that, darn it all, he's worth it.