Home-A Poem in Three Parts

Beginning

Years and miles evaporate

like the morning’s ocean fog where

the strong, bright gleam of

friendship holds true.

Holds true like trees that have

weathered decades of sun as we

weathered our own wearying

waves of life, lapping at the edge

of our friendship, threatening

to erode the years of tears

and laughter, the breaking

in between.

In between we hold on, reach

out past the yesterdays touching this

day as we raise high our glasses,

crystal etching the air, the sound

like a chime announcing

we are still here.

Middle

I threw myself at roaring rolls

of foam and froth, abandoned

my limbs skyward as I jumped

the tops of broken, bowing

breakers, exploded in laughter,

surprised after all these years that

I still know how to dive when needed,

that my body remembers the bounce

and bob of moving water and most

of all, recalls the healing taste of salt,

the wondrous sky-blaze balm

that is the sun.

End

The melodious midnight insistence

of cricket backdrops my sleep.

I drift into memories of summer

nights when this accompaniment

was the only sound, a lullaby

for my youthful self; I rest

with a song.

-c. Jody Lee Collins 2017

 ~~~~~

I recently returned from a 5 day visit to Southern California, the land where I grew up. I spent my days and evenings with family and friends, enjoying the rich, singular experience of a place that is buried deep in my bones. My mind was flooded with memories when I came home and, as usual, poured out into words. (‘Beginning’ first appeared on this blog in September, 2016).

 

 

Five Tips to Grow Your Reach & Your Readers {on blogging}

For those of you who have been reading my words about faith and life for the last few years, the following piece might not be, how shall we say, riveting? The focus of what I share below is mainly directed to other writers and bloggers~

At the beginning of the year, God gave me the word ‘Adjust.’ Boy, has it been an apt descriptor of 2017 (and it’s only May!) Part of that adjusting has been to refine the purpose of my blog–I recently changed the tagline to read, “Encouraging Readers to Find their Voice & Deepen their Faith”. (For those subscribers reading via email, you’ll have to click on over to my blog to see it. I’ll wait.)

My passion IS encouraging other writers to find their voice. Over the 5 years I’ve been blogging, although I’ve no great numbers of followers as the blogsphere goes (I almost typed ‘glogosphere’), what I do have is rich relationships with once invisible friends. And, as a blessing and a bonus, the reach of my words has grown little by little.

Like every other good thing grows–little by little.

Blogging for me has always been about people, not platforms. The apostle Paul’s admonition is to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  That’s where I want to spend my efforts.

So–here are 5 tips on how to grow the reach of your words and your readers:

  1. Talk like yourself–No one else has your voice, your vision or your view.  (click on the ‘Categories’ tab above to find other posts On Voice). We don’t need any copies or clones, we need YOU–your experience in life is the lens that shows us what you see–and we want to see it, too.
  2. Cast a wide net--submit work in multiple places. Here is a list of four places to start with. Scatter joy, as the saying goes, and see where it lands. For a random writer like myself, this is a good approach. If you’re more linear and like deadlines and sequence, still, looking at other places to submit your work is a good idea. One of my new favorite sites for moms is Kindred Mom, facilitated by Emily Allen.
  3. Comment on the blogs you follow–(I only follow a handful of people whose voices add to my life–you need to decide who those people are for you.) Over time, writers notice who’s showing up each week to weigh in and leave comments and connections are formed. Connections often lead to relationships and readers come through relationships.
  4. Participate in Link-ups to meet other writers/bloggers. Weekly ones that I like are Faith on Fire–Lyli Dunbar’s blog and ‘Faith-Filled Friday’ at Missional Women. (Links are below). The guest host/blogger has a particular day that everyone gets to post their week’s work and you can usually add your piece during the week. The protocol is to visit the ‘neighbor’ on either side of your link and leave an encouraging word. These writers will often return the favor, reading your work and commenting. When I began blogging 5 years ago I met many, many people this way, some of whom are actual, real life friends. Comments come through connections.
  5. Engage on social media–Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I originally thought Twitter had less than redemptive qualities, but changed my mind after going to a panel at a Writer’s Conference where the process was de-mystified for me. The beauty of Twitter is that conversations are 140 characters (not words) long–quick, quick, quick. Once you choose who (m?) to follow (VERY important) it’s like being at a child’s birthday party or high school reunion, with conversations going on 24/7 and you drop in at any time. Instagram is the quieter, gentler version of Facebook and people are vewy, vewy quiet….but it’s a beautiful place to meet people and enjoy some remarkable photography. (Instagram only works on phones and tablets, not computers, by the way.) If you’re not sure how it’s set up, find a teenager.  Once you have an account, you will be able to also search for people to follow, who may in turn decide to follow you. Facebook is well, Facebook, and if you can manage the time you’re on there–a constant battle–it has a tremendous upside to it. The upside for me is the virtual connections that come via conversations which open the door to being able to speak into peoples’ lives–much like real life.

Of course all of the places we steward are words are important–which is the privilege we have for the opportunity to literally send our words out into the world.

May God guide you in the way you steward your voice, your view and your vision!

Of course, if you found this blogpost helpful, please drop a line in the Comments or share with friends using one of the ‘share’ buttons below.

Thanks for reading.

~~~~~

  • If you’d like to participate in the Friday link up at Faith on Fire–Lyli Dunbar’s blog, click here.
  • The Missional Women Link up (also on Fridays) is here.
  • Kindred Mom’s ‘Write for Us’ info is here

One last note:

I facilitate a small group of bloggers from around the world (literally!) in a Facebook group (there are about 40 of us). Here’s some more information if you’d like to join in the conversation and connection:

Glory Writers Facebook group is a place for believers to connect and encourage each other through their communication gifts. All of them–writing, photography, artjournaling, what-have-you. We ask questions, share discoveries and talk about what inspires us. The group is a community–the questions and comments can come from anyone and everyone on all manner of topics pertaining to using our gifts for God.

Share what’s on your mind and we’ll chime in. Our greatest joy is cheering for you as you grow in your craft from where you are to where you want to be.

(By the way, Facebook says this is a ‘closed group’–but all you have to do is knock on the door and ask–we’ll be happy to welcome you!)

Background:

‘Glory Writers’ – Putting Faith into Words-was borne out of a weekend in September of 2015 at a Christian Writer’s Retreat-‘Abide’, co-lead by myself and Kimberlee Conway Ireton. There we held a space to write & create, pray & worship, while enjoying the beauty of the natural world in Leavenworth, WA. People wanted to find a way to keep in touch and Glory Writers was born.

Nouns-Some Thoughts on People, Places & Things

“…you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink

but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone

but on tablets of human hearts.”     II Corinthians 3:3

Last week I traveled to Southern California, the land where I grew up and lived until I married.  Five days of returning and rejuvenating was definitely good for my soul. Although I often visit there each summer to see my sisters—usually in August–this was my first trip in the month of May. (There are some definite perks to being a retired teacher). I knew the area had seen more rain than ever this year so I was looking forward to green hillsides, rich tropical flowers and blooms of the jacaranda trees.

20170505_150946

I was especially looking forward to eating fresh California strawberries.

As soon as I hopped into my rental car I headed down the freeway to one of the last remaining strawberry farms in the So Cal beach area. The bright colors of fresh produce were a balm to my eyes, if there is such a thing, and the aroma of fresh strawberries jogged a place deep in my memory.20170501_121438

After selecting three baskets of ruby red fruit, one of the farm’s owners and I chatted about changes we’ve seen in the last twenty-five years. The near disappearance of strawberry fields which dotted varying plots of land throughout Orange County, including several acres across the street from Disneyland. Also gone were hundreds of acres of orange orchards; the fragrant smell of orange blossoms on the evening breeze a thing of the past. No more open spaces, just tracts and tracts of homes on the hillsides, crowded beaches and ten-lane (!!) freeways. Yes, the land of my birth had changed drastically.

I was surprised to see signs between the airport and the ocean announcing “Tourist Information Ahead.” The place where our humble (poor) family lived all my growing up years was now a tourist destination. I wondered if there were maps for the movies stars’ houses (or maybe mine?)

Anticipating sunshine, warm temperatures and blue skies, I happily settled in after arriving at my sister’s house. My brother and sister-in-law also joined us for the week ahead. One great joy I had during the week was going out two different mornings to watch my brother the surfing pastor paddle out and ride the waves. (He caught two!) There may not have been any orange blossom fragrance wafting on the breeze, but with my back to the crowds and my eyes on the sea, I was at home; the sand at my feet and ocean view the same as I remembered.

Water and waves still form and crest as they always had. Shorebirds chased back and forth, rocks rolled towards my feet in the drenched sand. The water, waves, birds and shore were unchanged.

~*~*~*

The culmination of our visit was a ‘goodbye house’ party, thrown by my sister on the occasion of her upcoming move. My siblings and I, along with our spouses and children, have twenty nine years of memories in that house–hours in the pool, movie nights together, backyard barbecues. Baby showers, weddings, birthdays–years of special gatherings. Because my siblings are all close in age and went to the same schools, we also shared many of the same friends, some of whom were invited that night.

Life is weird in high school, to say the least. But it’s funny when you’re older how cliques and cool cars and the right clothes pale in comparison to true friendship. My sister had stayed close to a small of circle of classmates whom my brother and I also knew; most of us had been friends for (cough) fifty years. My heart overflowed with gratefulness as folks sat around the living room, desperately trying to follow varying conversations. The decibel level rose and fell, people were sharing photos on phones, telling old stories, laughing at “rememberwhens?”

As I stopped to listen, I realized most of the people in the room–all of the people in the room–had been there for my sister during devastating, difficult times, including a cancer diagnosis and the loss of a child. These were true friends, a rare treasure.

20170504_163421

~*~*~*~*

I thought about how orange trees form and grow only to be torn down, strawberry fields are ripped out, paved over open land becomes freeways….but what remains? Is there anything we can recognize, count on, remember by?

I’m mixing images here—waves and water and friends that anchor us—but I couldn’t help thinking about the Israelites setting up stone markers as monuments to God’s faithfulness over the years. Every time there was a deliverance or God intervened, the people were told to gather stones and pile them in place to remember.  Decades would pass, places would change and grow, populations would impact the landscape but one thing that remained were the markers of the goodness of God.

Sometimes people are those markers. When the land you’re born in is unrecognizable or you feel adrift, friendships that last through thick and thin, good times and bad are like the waves and water—constant, true, powerful when you need them.

No matter where I live or what it looks like, the friends who’ve stayed in place remind me of not only who God is, but who I am and where I am in the world.

Those friends are letters written not in stone, but etched deep in my heart.

 

On Prayer, Potatoes and Pulling Weeds

I have two garden beds in my back yard—one a perennial bed of flowers, the other a 12×6 rectangle of mostly weeds. The flower bed is behaving as expected this time of year–peony shoots with their magenta spikes heading skyward, the clematis tendrils beginning to twirl up and around the bird gazebo. A ‘Sombrero’ Echinacea (bright orange) is just beginning to sneak back through the dirt and the columbine leaves are unfurling.

The other space is a mostly weed bed formerly known as a vegetable garden. I have absolutely no illusions about actually planting a real garden this year, although I gave it a try. I recently impressed my friend Natalie by telling her about all the lettuce and green pea seeds I planted a few weeks back. She can’t see the weed-infested dirt around those sprouts so she doesn’t know how far from Martha Stewart-y my urban spot of green actually is.  Half of the peas were dug up and gnawed on by squirrels and about 10 of the sprouts have survived.

The lettuce has yet to be seen.

We had some nice-ish weather the other day here in Seattle so I went outside to pull weeds in the, ahem, vegetable garden. I had no grandiose ideas about making any kind of dent in all the volunteer greenery out there, I actually just wanted the therapy. Pulling weeds and praying is one of my favorite things to do. I pray out loud or sing while wielding my handy digging tool. I love it.

Imagine my surprise when I found next to the Mint that Would Not Die four potato plants sprouting through the dark earth. I thought I’d dug them all up last year, but there they were next to the stray sweet pea vines and self-sowing sunflower seeds. Like an invisible surprise, they’d been growing all this time. They’re Yukon Golds—yum.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It made me think about how often when we are despairing that God will ever answer our prayers because we don’t see anything happening. But underneath the surface of our lives, often in the dark, His power is growing and moving on our behalf. There is life about to happen and we just don’t know it.

Flower and vegetable seeds have a necessary process for producing a new plant—they must shed a dead layer, a shell, then push roots down into the earth then force their brand new leaves up through the soil. It takes time and patience and a lot of energy. God has all the time, certainly all the power, but sometimes we are short on the patience part. Or the faith part. “God, why is this so hard right now???”

We have to hold on for the right season and trust God’s timing. When you have a new opportunity to see growth or change in your life or a need for provision, close your eyes and imagine what God might be doing behind the scenes. Maybe there are some weeds to pull, some things that need to go before you’ll be able to see what God is doing. If you feel weary of waiting for an answer, take your eyes off the soil and look up.  When we least expect it, God is often working invisibly on our behalf, waiting to bring surprises our way.

And they might look like gold (potatoes).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

God occasionally answers prayers you never actually pray, but gives you what you need because He knows anyway. My son and his family were without a car for 2 months last summer (they have 5 children) and God did an amazing miracle that left them speechless.  Click here to see just what God did through the folks at Flash Love Vancouver (WA).

A Letter to My Son & His Wife Re: The Grandkids

“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,  Who finds great delight in his commands.

His children will be mighty in the land;  The generation of the upright will be blessed.” Ps. 112:1,2

Dear Aaron and Courtney,

After several days looking forward to seeing you and your family this weekend, it seems like I blinked and our Easter visit was over. Next thing I knew, your Dad and I were comparing notes on the three hour drive home, like reporters who’d been at the same baseball game only on opposite sides of the field. I’ll go with the baseball metaphor here; although the nine of us were in and out of each others’ dugouts, most of the weekend we were there I hardly had a chance to talk with you. Dad was filling you in on all the particulars of his old pick up truck that we were giving you or you were tending to one of your brood.

It was clear we’d each missed some significant plays on the field, what with all the player movement and such. (Argh with metaphor. Blame it on the pre-season Mariners game you and Dad were listening to.) Of course with four grown ups and five children aged 14 years to 5, there are a lot of moving parts to our visit; it was impossible to be everywhere all at once, privy to every conversation.

Somewhere on the I-5 between the capital in Olympia and the main gate at Ft. Lewis Army base, I told him about my interactions with each of the kids and Dad shared the various conversations he’d taken part in.

We thought you’d like us to fill in some of what you missed and may not know about your wonderful kids. Your investment in their lives is pouring out in God-honoring ways.

  • Friday night while Dad was going to pick up Aaron from work I waited for the kids and Courtney to arrive and join me at the hotel. They anticipated a pizza dinner and a swim at the pool. That hotel apartment with the full kitchen was a godsend, especially since we needed a place to cook two pizzas! After cutting and serving various portions of combo or pepperoni, we finally sat down at the table together. Although some of the kids were several bites in, when I said, “let’s stop and pray”, everybody stopped to link hands. Peter and Abi each announced, “I’ll pray! I’ll pray!”

Peter was first and poured out a grateful heart, thanking God for “not being homeless” and “having Grandpa and Grandma give us a truck.” He also told God he was happy about the pizza. The ease of his words and his ready attitude showed me he was used to talking to God about just about anything, which will do him well in his almost 11-year-old life.

  • As we were driving along, I remarked to your dad about the pizza dinner prayers. “Well, you should have heard Abigail later on,” he said. “I was talking about my ear recent surgery to help me hear and she offered to lay hands on me and pray for me.”

“Oh, Grandpa, I’m sorry you’ve had so much trouble with your ears,” she said. “God thank you for making a way for Grandpa to hear better.” She didn’t hesitate a bit; it was clear that a conversation with Jesus was a very natural thing to have.

You and Courtney have done a great job modeling for your children how to pray.

  • While you and Dad were finally catching up on pizza in the hotel apartment we all took to the pool to swim. I was amazed at 7 year old Paul and the way he took to showing me all he could do in the water. “Get your phone, take a video, Nana!” And he proceeded to jump off the edge of the pool, cannonballing into the water and waving his arms Olympic style when he rose up to the surface. He was so proud of himself; I remember on our many past visits over the years that he was often the one sitting on the pool steps, too timid to even get wet.

Good job investing in all those YMCA swim lessons for your kids—it’s made Paul a confident young man.

  • I remarked to Dad also about the way your oldest, Hanan, hung out with him and enjoyed all the car talk. He loved being with both of you guys, taking part in all the particulars of tires and engines and carburetors. Clearly the male bonding over speed and fast cars is a real thing. You may not have noticed, but we did. That 14 year old likes being around you. That is no small miracle.
  • Sunday morning after church we offered to go pick up all the kids from Sunday School so you and Court could visit with friends. Luke, the 5 year old, showed me his cross picture he’d made. “That’s Jesus there on the cross, Nana. I drew Him.”  “And this here” (scribbled orange color) “is the Holy Spirit,” and this (scribbled green color) “is God,” “and this” (scribbled brown color) “is the devil.” “Jesus beat the devil and He won.” “That’s why we have Easter.”

Feeding and clothing your family and getting yourselves to church each week is no small feat. Courtney and you do an amazing job making it a priority—the truths your kids are learning are sinking in and making a difference in your childrens’ lives.

~~~~~

Most people have photographs of their family on Easter morning, but this weekend I have memories instead.  We packed a lot into twenty four hours–pizza night, swimming time, church together, Easter brunch, and Dad’s crash course about the pick up we were gifting you. It’s impossible to recall when we were all actually still long enough for a photo, so I’ll have to close my eyes instead and remember.

Sunday morning, Grandpa in his ponytail and cool shoes, you with your new spiffy hat, Paul’s bowtie, Hanan’s towering frame or us girls in all our Easter finery. Peter snuggling that afternoon with his mom for a nap, favorite stuffed toy next to him.

Photos can gather what’s seeable but they’ll never catch what’s invisible—the respect, love and care families have for God and one another.

Those are just as real as any picture on my frig or in my phone. Your dad and I rejoice and applaud you for the way you and Courtney have kept the first things first.

Those are the memories we take with us; I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I love you both,

Mom

God Can’t Make You But You Can Let Him

Just when you think there’s going to be a breather between some professional sports championship or another, a new season starts. Remember the Sweet Sixteen in basketball? Done. Now we have baseball to think about. Our Seattle Mariners have already played several games—they’re about even for wins and losses—but I still can’t get used to it.  In my mind baseball is a summer sport, but the April weather in the Pacific Northwest says anything but summer. No matter; our M’s are used to the rain and sunshine so they travel here and there, swinging at pitches, throwing, catching and striking out. It’s practice, practice, practice.

*******

Little League baseball wasn’t around when I was little, we just had our neighborhood match-ups, usually boys against the girls. I’ll never forget that fateful day when my head collided with a bat. I was playing catcher; my friend Colleen was up to bat and when she swung through her pitch, I ended up getting knocked ‘thwap!’ in the head. I fell down unconscious and the next thing I remember was sitting in the front seat of our station wagon, a rag held to my pounding head, my mom frantically driving to the hospital. We made it to the emergency room where I received a multitude of stitches. I still have the suggestion of a mild lump right above my left eye and a very, very faint scar. That’s a fun story to tell but there is nothing fun about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

* * * * *

   God’s not using a bat these days but he is budging me ever closer to playing my own position in the correct game in the season where He’s called me to practice. Because, boy, can I get in the wrong place. The field of Christian bloggers is a big one, the voices out there are many and the messages come thick and fast. I fall prey time and time again to wondering what all the other players are doing.  I don’t want to just be outstanding in my field, I want to be outstanding in everyone else’s field—looking at the uniforms, admiring the bright colors, noticing the cheer of the crowd when a star player is up to bat.

Then I hear the voice of The Coach hollering at me from the dugout, “Keep your eye on the ball!”

“No, your own ball, not that one!”

I am prone to want to be everywhere else instead of exactly where God has called me to be.

I want to sound and look like the homerun hitters, the crowd pleasers. I imagine the cheers and attention of onlookers applauding my brilliant plays. Wouldn’t it be grand to have all those followers?

And there He is again, an aside this time, just He and I standing at the edge of the grass as the sun goes down.  A whisper, “You weren’t made for the big crowds, the nameless faces. You want a personal touch when you swing your words out into the world, connecting with people one at a time. That’s who you are.”

The reminder rings true deep down.

I wasn’t called to be playing the field out under the lights, waving to the fans in the stadium. I’m more of a snack bar conversation kinda gal, chatting one-on-one with the folks in front of me in line waiting for their hot dog and coke. You know, where we can talk about the weather and our kids and our week.

I come alive when I’m sharing in an intimate group around a living room or kitchen table, talking in a small chapel or chatting with friends on a front porch. I feel the pleasure of God and the most like myself when what I have to say is welcomed bit by bit, little by little, one friendship and one connection at a time.

* * * * *

When a principle or phrase is being drilled down into our spirits, don’t we often say God is really “driving it home?” Maybe it’s because He knows how many times we have to run the bases to come around again and again to what we know is true. And I’ve been running the bases a lot.

I know my propensity for distraction, the mixed-up desires I have to be like everybody else, but I’m turning again in the direction of the dugout early and more often. When I consider the corner of the world where I’ve been given a chance to bring light to others, when a bat goes swinging and a ball comes my way, I’m learning to stand my ground and yell, “not mine! Not mine!” and let another player catch it.

If I start complaining about my position on the field, or glance at the scoreboard to see who’s ahead, I remind myself to stay tuned to the Coach. My prayers are changing from, “God please help me hear you,” to, “God, I give you permission to speak. As many times as you need to, remind me this patch of grass, right here at short stop, glove in hand is where I need to stay.”

“And if you need to, yell like all good coaches do.”

I’m keeping my eyes on the ball, and if it connects with the bat and gets knocked out of the park, I’ll let God decide who sees it. I’m just going to keep on swinging.

To the Tune of ‘Lilies’, a Poem

There is a song in petals,

the rainsound of notes on thirsty

earth feeding spring’s new flowers.

There is a melody in the making

of a garden where silent, shriveled

seeds wait to burst, pushing

through wet soil with their magic

strength inside.

There is a harmony in the golden

leafwhisper and silent shout

of green dusting the tips of

dogwood and rose, tulip, lilac, moss.

The symphony grows as God

bouquets the Earth with color

and we hear that far off tune,

the resounding music that calls

us beyond this heaven to our home.

~*~*~*

I was reading Psalm 45 this morning; the Scripture that God spoke to me years ago when I began writing, “my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” I noticed the text said it was written to the “tune of ‘Lilies'”, perhaps a song…and I wondered, what do lilies sound like?