Ready for the Sights of the Season (sort of)

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol   

I’m sure you’ve noticed….the fervor of the Christmas season often assaults us from September’s end all the way until December. The other day while shopping at Costco I felt just that–overwhelmed by an onslaught of Christmas music, faux decorations and mountain of toys two aisles wide. While I rounded the corner next to cases of hummus and casserole fixings, I sighed and pondered our desperate need for a slower walk into the coming season.

I wish more folks in the world ordered their lives around the church calendar and its feasts rather than the calendar of consumerism. Along with harvest decorations and the Halloween costumes there’s mechanical Santas and fake flocked Christmas wreaths at nearly every department store around.

I suppose Costco prescribes to Dickens’ philosophy above, that of keeping Christmas (almost) the entire year. While I support the spirit of this sentiment–being filled with peace and goodwill towards all men–the crush of gift-giving and pressures of picture-perfect holidays miss the point completely. We would do well–I would do well–to remember the need for a slow walk into the season; Advent is the perfect place to begin.  

After All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) we observe All Saints Day on the church calendar, an occasion for remembering all the saints, known and unknown. After that is the last church feast day in Ordinary Time-the Story of the People of God, Christ the King Sunday on November 24th. We are then ushered into the season of Advent and the months that encompass the Story of Jesus from his birth until the celebration of Pentecost. This graphic below is helpful to me, a clueless Evangelical, when it comes to understanding the church year. Perhaps you’ll find it an aid to your understanding as well.

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photo credit-Renovare.org

As with much of Christianity, the church year can be radically countercultural, a much-needed light showing a better way to live. In a culture that is often too hurried and distracted, the church year helps us pay attention because it draws our focus continually back to Christ.    -K.C. Ireton, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year

5 Questions for… Sheila Wise Rowe

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This is third in a series, “5 Questions for…”, conversations with Christian writers of color. (You can read my other two interviews HERE-with Deidra Riggs and Sophfronia Scott).

I met Sheila Rowe at the Festival of Faith & Writing in April 2018 (pictured above in red, between poet Luci Shaw and writer Michelle Van Loon). Sheila was one of the featured readers at a book launch party for “The Wonder Years—40 Women Over 40,” an anthology edited by Leslie Leyland Fields.

Though she is quiet and low key in person, Sheila is a gentle powerhouse for Jesus. I chatted with her briefly after the party, remarking on the essay in “The Wonder Years” about her time living in Africa. The gathering was too short and I wanted to get to know her better. When I returned home to Seattle, I reached out about interviewing her. She said yes and I’m so grateful she did. I learned a lot first hand about what it’s like to be a Christian and an African American in our country right now, and how particularly to pray.

Here are 5 Questions for Sheila, but this time her responses are via audio (right below the list of questions.)

I hope you’ll take 10 minutes to listen and be informed, encouraged and inspired. (And find out about her Paris designer thrift store find!)

1.       Tell us about the Cyrene Movement. On your website it says the focus of your ministry is three-fold, to “Heal Racial Trauma – Realize Potential – Embrace Community.” How did this work come about? 

2.       The tagline of your first book, The Well of Life is, Heal Your Pain, Satisfy Your Thirst, Live Your Purpose. Tell us about that second phrase–Satisfy Your Thirst.

3.       You recently signed a book contract with Intervarsity Press. Tell us about the subject and how you came to write it.
 
4.       You are a gifted and anointed counselor as well as a very adventurous spirit. Tell us about your ‘day job’ at Rehoboth House that focuses on counseling and transformation.
 
5.       Lastly, you and I have a common love of thrift stores–what’s the most memorable find you ever purchased from a secondhand store?
You can read more about Sheila’s work and ministry on her website HERE. 

5 Questions for…Sophfronia Scott

sophfronia2I  met Sophfronia Scott at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids April 2018.  I’d admired her writing work from afar, particularly an essay in Ruminate magazine about dancing in her kitchen. I knew she’d be speaking at the Festival and scanned the meeting places, looking for her beautiful dreadlocks and beaming smile. I noticed her at one of the hotel counters and taking gumption in hand, I introduced myself, told her what a fan I was of her writing and asked if I could interview her. She said “yes!” May I introduce Sophfronia Scott.

1) In your essay collection “Love’s Long Line” you begin by telling your readers about the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary where your son Tain was attending 3rd grade. After this book, you went on to write a book with him, “This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World.” What was that process like, working with a young child who also happens to be your son?

First of all, your readers should know that the way our book is set up, I’ve written the main narrative but each chapter contains a section called “Tain’s Take” where he’s written his version of the story. I didn’t want a combined voice because Tain’s voice is really what got us here. I thought he should have his own space in the book. Working on that space wasn’t always easy. We recently spoke to the writing classes at his school, Newtown Middle School, and one of the things Tain told his fellow students was how frustrating it was because of the many times I would send his writing back to him because he hadn’t told a story fully or included enough details.

As we started to work I found it interesting how the questions Tain asked about the process and the issues I guided him through were the same ones I work on with my adult creative nonfiction students. Tain was concerned that he couldn’t remember exactly some of the events because he was younger, really another person, then. At the time he was 12 writing about when he was 5 to 9 years old. I taught him how he could research his own life, how there were clues to help him. He interviewed our minister and the Sunday school director at our church. It was hard work, especially as the deadline pressed upon us. But I’ll never forget the day when the finished book arrived and I put it on the passenger seat of my minivan for when I picked him up from school. When he saw it he said, “We did it!” and high-fived me. I loved that moment.

Aging With Grace–40 Women Over 40 Tell All

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Festival of Faith & Writing, Grand Rapids MI April 2018 photo is mine. j.l. collins

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 NIV

Two weeks ago I took my first ever trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing, a gathering for Christian writers, bloggers, authors and poets at Calvin College. One speaker in particular that I hoped to connect with was the powerhouse that is Leslie Leyland Fields. 

In real life Leslie lives with her family in Kodiak, Alaska, where they own a commercial fishing business. In the summer she leads writing retreats on a remote island that you only get to by bush plane. She has also managed over the years to raise her children, to write and teach workshops, to speak and inspire people around the world. Her life and work always point to Jesus.

Leslie just turned 60 but has the power and energy of someone much, much younger. I think she’d credit Jesus for a lot of that energy, but she also is blessed with kindness, graciousness and humility, all rare commodities these days.

Leslie took on a book project several years back as she was heading into the other side of 50–gathering women from all arenas and stages of life to talk about aging. She was looking for voices of women over 40. And 50. And 60. And 70. Luci Shaw, the oldest contributor, will be 90 this year. That immense undertaking became “The Wonder Years–40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength” (Kregel Publications).

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Aging is not for the thin-boned or the faint of heart. As we climb year by year, whether it’s a mountain or a ladder, we need to stop for a long moment and consider the view. We need to ask questions. Maybe we should even check our ladder.  Leslie Leyland Fields

As I head into my 66th year this August, I am aware of the need for the world to hear from women of a certain age, writers and speakers who are sometimes overlooked. Where is a book that talks about aging gracefully that isn’t about face lifts and beauty products? We need the voices of older Christian women who can be examples of what to do (or give warnings about what n o t to do) as we walk this road of life with Jesus.

Leslie noticed this, too.

“Maybe we older women just want to be seen again,” she writes in the Introduction.  I would concur. We have wisdom, experience and perspective, life lessons to offer those who will listen. We’ve also discovered that gravity is not the kindest force in the universe, which is why Leslie bought a leopard print push up bra when she turned 50. (More on that later.)

I met Leslie at the book launch party for The Wonder Years (photo of the readers group above) and told her I’d write a little something about the book. I sent 5 questions to ‘interview’ her in this space and she typed me back her answers. From Slovakia! After she’d been without her luggage for 5 days…After she’d been to South Africa. See what I mean? Persistent powerhouse.

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Forthwith, a little something about “The Wonder Years–40 Women Over 40, On Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength.”

1) Tell us a little about your journey to curate this book–what was the genesis of the idea to gather these writers?

When I turned 40, I started thinking seriously about what kind of old woman I wanted to become. I knew some elderly women I did NOT want to become! It seemed clear to me then that we either age intentionally with purpose, or we drift flesh-ily into the worst version of ourselves. I wanted to pursue this, but I was too busy to pursue this as a book. Then, blink and flash, I’m 50! Now I REALLY wanted this book that didn’t yet exist. This last year I turned 60, and here it is.

2) Forty Women Over 40 is a collection of essays grouped in 3 topics-Firsts, Lasts and Always. How or why did you choose these three topics?

When I thought of the kind of wisdom and experience we gain through the decades, it occurred to me that it could all be grouped into these three spaces:  Firsts: the things we’ve done for the first time in our middle ages! (The point: middle age and older is the beginning, not the ending of our gifts, purpose and labors.)  Lasts: the things we now have the wisdom to let go of. We don’t have to hold onto regret. Or anger. Or unforgiveness. Or perfection. We’re smart enough now to know how to lighten our load!  Then, Always: So we begin new things; we let go of lesser things, then there are the rock-strong truths and values we will always cling to no matter what else time strips away, until death do us part: Love. Fun. Hope. Self-sacrifice. And much more.

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3) When you spoke about the book at your launch party you mentioned it took 10 years to put together–what was the main reason it took so long? And did you ever want to give up?

I wanted to give up many times. Anthologies are much harder than they appear. I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account, but this book did take about 5 years to accomplish. And it’s my fourth anthology. So I kinda know the ropes. But there are many obstacles, including finding a publisher! Publishers don’t like anthologies because typically they don’t sell very well. And—I think there were a lot of men in those decisional positions who just didn’t get how starved we women are for role models ahead of us. Aging is not a joke. It’s real. The cultural messages about aging are pathetic. They’re self-serving, about entitlement and “you’re so worth it, baby!” And of course you are, but your neighbor is worth it too! Turning 50 or 60 or 70 doesn’t mean we quit the call to loving God and others so we can hang out at the spa all day, speaking our mind and having our nails done. Yes, all clichés, but this is what women’s magazines and media tell is our due. This is what our advancing years earn for us. And I have to say, “That’s it? that’s all you got? We older women have SO much to offer the world!”  The Wonder Years is a lovely swift kick in that direction.

4) It’s probably not fair to ask, but do you have a favorite essay (or two) from the collection? 

Yes, you’re right. That’s like asking which one of your kids is your favorite. Here’s what I’ll say. Check out the writers here who are publishing for the first time. We’re always attracted to the big names—-and I’m grateful for all of the well-known women in this book. They deserve their fame. But—-check out Martha Levitt’s essay, which will break your heart. Look at Michelle Novak, who will pierce you with the beauty and pain of her enabling disability. Read Vina Mogg’s piece on caring for her mother with Alzheimers. Heather Johnson on buying a horse farm and becoming an equestrian at close to 50. It’s a thrill to be the first to publish women like this who really have something significant to share.  And—-yes, read them all! Each one has something important and beautiful to impart.

5) Last burning question–did you really buy a leopard print padded bra when you turned 50?

I’m glad you’re getting to the heart of the matter! Of course I did! I can’t make up that stuff! I am ridiculous! And I still wear that padded bra, but now I’ve got another one or two to round out the bra wardrobe. So many choices! 

The Wonder Years is available on Barnes & Noble and at Amazon.