Tag Archives: female Christian writers

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.

Image result for church calendar graphic

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 Continue reading

5 Questions for…Sophfronia Scott

sophfronia2I  first met Sophfronia Scott at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids last April. 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.

2) One of your essays in “Love’s Long Line” is about reading an old letter your father had written to you. You liken the process to “peeling off the emotion, lies and last of all, the story I’ve told myself about all those pieces just so I could endure them.”  Do you find you are still peeling those layers?

Yes. Not those layers specifically but I’m always peeling layers in general. We all have so many layers and I don’t think we’ll ever be done with them because we are still creating them all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s simply growth, just like the rings within a tree. But it’s good to peel back to get a sense of where I’ve come from and a hint of where I’m going.

3) Practical question: Your writing experience covers a gamut of genres and styles–fiction as well as non-fiction, and work as an author and editor. When and how did you make the change from being an editor at Time and People magazine to writing for yourself, so to speak?

It started while I was at People magazine. Working for those magazines was really a training ground for me because I went straight to Time out of college. As the years went on I could feel that apprenticeship ending and I began to think about what I wanted to write on my own. Eventually, while working at People, I fell in with a group of actors and being around their energy and creativity inspired me to get to work on my first novel.

4) Names are important, the spelling of them especially. I am constantly respelling my name–Jody with a ‘y’ not ‘i’–as are you, adding the ‘f’ in the middle of ‘Sophfronia.’ Tell us about your son’s name–Tain.

Here’s the story: When I was pregnant and learned I was having a boy I knew I wanted him to have an Irish name to represent my family’s Scotch-Irish ancestry. But back then there were so many Ryans and Aidans and Connors! One day my husband, a musician, told me about a jazz drummer, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and said Tain was a cool name. I agreed. It was simple yet different and elegant. Then a dear friend who happens to be well versed in Irish lore told me, “Tain is an Irish name!” and referenced a book, an epic called The Tain. It’s the story of a cattle raid. Tain means cattle or bull. The fact that the name suited both aspects of myself and my husband and so much felt like it was supposed to be Tain’s name made it easy for us to go with it.

5) The essays in “Love’s Long Line” weave in the theme of forgiveness, because, as you say, if we live with unforgiveness, we don’t tend to our families and our gifts, we forget how to experience joy. The Sandy Hook tragedy will always be a part of your experience–How do you and your family, especially your son Tain, “experience joy” in your everyday lives?

Tain reminds me daily how to experience joy because it arises so naturally from his very being. He sings and whistles to himself all the time. And when he’s doing something that he loves to do, like being with his friends or acting in a musical or playing his favorite video game, I can see he’s totally invested in the moment and enjoying it thoroughly. I think experiencing joy is about being open to the wonder of life and love that is so simply in front of us every moment of our lives. Sometimes there are obstacles, yes, especially when terrible things happen but I’m always seeking to learn about how to deal with them. Recently I’ve read The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and found it both helpful and hopeful. I feel all that we need is ever near us, ever closer than we think. We have to notice it, and accept that joy and love, especially God’s love, is right there for us.

You can find Sophfronia’s book Love’s Long Line and the book she and Tain

co-authored, This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World

on her website.

Aging With Grace–40 Women Over 40 Tell All

Wonder+Years+Launch--contributors-best+photo

(l to r) Charity Singleton Craig, Shelly Hunt Wildman, Laura Lynn Brown, Leslie Leyland Fields, Heather MacLaren Johnson, Michelle Van Loon, Sheila Wise Rowe, Poet Luci Shaw, Amy Buckley

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).

wonder years cover

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.

Wonder--just+want+to+be+seen+again

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.

leslie l fields

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! 


Amazon is currently backordered for “The Wonder Years”, but copies are available at CBD and BarnesandNoble.     If people want them for Mothers Day-May 13th-they should order now!

 

DWELL–Retreat Announcement–Join Us?

I’ve been waiting to share this almost-a-secret for two months–ta da!

After last fall’s Abide writing retreat, which Kimberlee Conway Ireton and I both felt was a little glimmer of Heaven, we were very excited to hold another retreat. This one will be different, of course but we’re going to try to keep the same spirit of waiting on God and communing with one another that characterized ‘Abide.’

This September, we’ll be heading back to Grunewald Guild for a weekend of worship, writing, sharing, prayer, and community. Our desire is to create a quiet, relaxed retreat for women writers—space to write and create, to pray and worship, to connect at a heart level with other women writers, and enjoy the beauty of the natural world.
For those who want to be social, there will be plenty of time for connection over meals, over an art activity, and during the sessions. And for those who want to be quiet or alone, there will be lots of time to simply be (or write or hike or sleep)—we are intentionally keeping the retreat slow-paced and contemplative. We want you to come home refreshed and rested and energized for the work ahead.

Our theme for 2016 is ‘Dwell: How does Jesus live through our art?’

We dwell in Christ—and He in us. How then does He live through our art? Over the weekend we will prayerfully consider this question and explore a variety of possible answers.  

Our key Scriptures will focus on Christ indwelling us, and our dwelling in God. 
 
We’d like to spread wide our narrow embrace to encompass more—more possibility, more creativity, more beauty. More God. We hope and pray that this weekend, like last year’s retreat, will be the beginning of that wider embrace. If you’re interested in joining us, here’s everything you need to know:
WHAT: a weekend of worship, laughter (and maybe some tears), and camaraderie among women writers of faith. Kimberlee will facilitate lectio divina with our Scripture passage, plus a writing activity or two (at least one involving POETRY, of course.) There will perhaps be a guided writing time led by Jody as well.
WHO: YOU, we hope. (Well, and Kimberlee and I 🙂
WHEN Friday, September 9 – Sunday, September 11, 2016
We’ll start around 5 on Friday evening and finish up around noon on Sunday.

WHERE: Grunewald Guild (http://www.grunewaldguild.com/), near Leavenworth, WA

HOW MUCH $$: We have several options for lodging that affect the price. All prices include 5 meals (dinner Friday through brunch on Sunday).
Option 1: Shared room (one roommate): 
            $219 early bird (by March 1); $259 regular (after March 1)
Option 2: Private room (your own slice of silence): 
            $259 early bird (by March 1); $299 regular (after March 1)
Option 3: Dorm-style room (up to roomies; twin beds, 1 bathroom downstairs–rooms are above the Library)                   $159 early bird (by March 1); $199 regular (after March 1)
All shared and private rooms have a sink in the room. Toilet and showers are shared among all residents on a floor. Towels and bed linens are provided. (Toiletries are not.) Please note there are a limited number of private rooms and limited beds in the dorm. We’ll be handing them out on a first-come, first-served basis. For that matter, there are a limited number of shared rooms, too.
All meals are eaten communally in the Dining Hall in the Main Centrum Building.
We’ve got room for 20 people, friends, so get your registration in ASAP to reserve your spot!

How to sign up: Shoot me an email (heyjode70{at}yahoo dot com) with your ‘Yes’, along with your name, snail mail and email addresses, phone number, and room preference. I will be setting up a Paypal account this year, so payment will be easy.

Your spot is reserved once we’ve received your email AND your payment in full. 
(Keep that early bird deadline of March 1 in mind!)
Please prayerfully consider whether Dwell is a place that God would like to meet you.
It’s not for everyone, but maybe it’s for you?

Writing & Retreats, Accompanied by Angels

 Sometimes a big idea starts as a small nudge, a whisper you might ignore for the wildness of it all. You carry the dream of an idea around and wonder if someone else is hearing it, too. Then one day you jump in and ask, “Do you have a moment or two to talk about well, Something?”      
     And you make a date at the park, the one where the air show is practicing (’cause you forget when you pick the location that’s it’s August and the Blue Angels are in town) but you picnic anyway.
     And over tuna and chips you blurt out your “what would you think about????” to your bosom friend and she practically shouts (because of all that noise–remember the jets?), “Yes. I’ve been thinking that, too!!”
      And you spill out your thoughts, scribbling fast on paper (because she has four children to manage–all you had to remember was your lunch and your journal) and the dream starts to take shape.What if we did something different? Not to go against the stream, but create our own current?
     What if we found a quiet place for writing and retreating and relationships where women of faith could be encouraged to live into their gifts as Jesus grows in them?
     What if, instead of all the ‘how-to’s we gave away what we know–and Who we know–and wove that into 3 days of writing and listening and practice–and REST?                              
     What would that look like?  What would we call it?  You dub it ‘Abide’ and now that it’s named, it’s really happening….and oh….Jesus, we expect you to show up, big time.
     You find the Holy Spirit had been speaking to you both—for many, many months–about the same word–Abide. Through the same Scripture passages–John 15.  And you talk about what that might look like–a session on Lectio Divina (a phrase you’ve never heard but want to know more about) and maybe practicing poetry–even pantoums.
     And you share your passion about Writing as a Spiritual Practice–just listening to Jesus in the woods with your journal and pen and some questions.
     Then you plan and you pay and pray and you meet and over many more lunches (noisy ones, there’s all these kids…) and you cry for the connection and the peace that God is bringing with the little band of 12 women God has put together.
     Then you ask for someone to help you lead the worship and one of the attendees is a stellar guitar player and you practice (more than once) and the glory comes down like a kiss from Heaven that says, “Yes!” again.

And you know Jesus is up to something. 
Something big. As big as the sky with the angels above the trees in the blue you can’t see the end of.

And you thank God for your friend Kimberlee.
 
And you tremble in your boots at the big God that whispered the nudge
in all it’s wild goodness.
And you fly.
~~~~~~~
After eighteen months of prayer and planning, 
my friend Kimberlee Conway Ireton and I are heading over to the 
Cascade Mountains in Washington this weekend to scope out the setting for ABIDE.
This is our first writer’s retreat for women of faith,
a place of rest and relationship,
borne of a little dream from our big God.
You’ll come? 

Sharing a Dream–‘Abide’ Writer’s Retreat

A Retreat for Women Writers of Faith
 
Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain.”                                                   –John 15

When I first met my friend Kimberlee she had just returned from a writer’s retreat in Texas.  While we drank tea and ate sandwiches, she began to share a vision with me about a smaller, more intimate, restful kind of true writer’s retreat. You know what, it might look like if SHE were in charge.

God had been stirring a desire in my heart for the very same thing, but I held onto my Big Idea for awhile. I wanted to give it time…was this really you, God?

Then last summer I popped the question–What if? What if we did just that–started small and created a quiet, relaxed retreat for women writers? Provided space to write and rest, to pray and worship, to connect at a heart level with other like-minded creatives, and to enjoy the beauty of the natural world.

And most of all, what if we allowed the space–physically and spiritually–to tune into what the Holy Spirit might be speaking into our lives?
‘ABIDE’ IS THE FRUIT OF THAT DREAM

In October, we will be heading into the Cascade Mountains for a weekend at Grunewald Guild, a retreat center outside Leavenworth, Washington. We have room for 17 other women to come with us, and I would absolutely love it if one of those women was you.

We’ll be meeting from Friday, October 16th at 4 pm till Sunday, October 18th at noon

at the Grunewald Guild. (You can check out their website to see photos of the campus and the rooms: Grunewald Guild.)

Many times the words of John 15 are are hard to believe, especially when we don’t see the fruit we want to see. In such moments it is easy to shrivel up inside ourselves and our disappointment and pain. Instead, we need to keep clinging to the vine —because God is infinite possibility, and only by abiding in Him can we also dwell in possibility.

Over the weekend we’ll ponder this, reflect on ways to abide in Christ, worship together, share stories, write, make art, laugh, cry, and rest.
Kimberlee and I will be leading some small groups—very small, there will only be 24 of us altogether—modeling various writing practices. We look forward during this time to having other people share as God leads as well.
The cost for the weekend (room, board, art supplies) is $229.00.

$100.00 is required to reserve your spot.

If you have questions or want more information about the retreat, please don’t hesitate to ask! Just shoot me an email back, and I will happily answer your questions.

Will you please prayerfully consider coming? I would dearly love to have you there.
~~~~~~~~~~
A note about Kimberlee—she lives in Seattle, is a writer and blogger, mom of four and has a wicked sense of humor.

Her two books are ‘Circle of Seasons—finding God in the Church Year’ and ‘Cracking Up—A Postpartum Faith Crisis’. Her website is http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/