The other day I was thinking about life’s blessings, challenges, and worries. I suppose most of our days' thoughts could be summarized in those three categories.
I remembered a long-ago “joy journal” I kept for a while, a New Year’s resolution to daily record one positive observation, happening or thought. I had no idea what happened to it.
We’re getting some new furniture, so two nights ago I cleaned out a bedside-table drawer stuffed with greeting cards, notes, and letters. Among the correspondence was a small notebook. I didn’t recognize it at first. But then I read the title page.
The opening entry was on the first day of 2002. We had returned from seeing in the new year with our friends, Rick and Gay Kirkton. My entry:
Heated bed pad. Warm, comfortable, and something I didn’t know existed until we slept in Kirktons’ bed last night. I kept waking up in the night thinking, Ahh … this is great.
Also that month:
No cavities! In fact, no cavities for the boys, either, and no charge as cleanings / check-ups are covered. The boys have never had a cavity. Good dental care pays off.
Then one on finding a blessing in the midst of something hard:
David’s surgery today for throat cancer appears successful. Praise for the doctors.
And later, one for something simple:
For the warmth of my nice ear muffs from Galyan’s.
Here's one for recognizing privileges in the obvious, but often overlooked:
For all the luxuries that seem like our lifestyle: oil changes at Walmart, eating out, automatic washers and dryers, dishwashers, microwaves. Our days are blessed by these things we take for granted.
I feel grateful and cheered re-reading these simple – and complex – joys. I don’t know why I stopped making entries.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pick up this small joy journal and begin again daily recording life’s blessings. I’ll do one a day. Although each day has so many when you think about it. And if you don't think about it, give it a try. I dare you.
I’m reminded of the beautiful old hymn, Count Your Blessings.
I spent a portion of the last two nights going through the drawer's paper greetings, taking time to look at each one closely. The two who send the most, both over the course of the years and layers of paper, and now, are Gay Kirkton, and our daughter-in-law Allison. Coming in third is a stash from Cheryl Bennett.
Some are stacks of birthday greetings for Brian from his former staff and students. Some are notes from people I can't place, who were perhaps in our life for a short season or reason, and wedding invites to marriages both sturdy and no longer united. The paperwork with only signatures got tossed. Those with personal notes are kept, amounting to about half the stash.
Email and Facebook have been hard on the stationery and card industry, but it’s still a joy to get a thank-you note in the mail, or a funny birthday card hand-picked and signed with a note, such as a few prizes sent to Brian from his brother, Steve. So here’s an entry for today, the first of my rekindled commitment:
Grateful for those who take time to send a greeting either on paper using ink and a stamp, or in other ways, expressing their personal thoughts and sentiments in writing. It's still a kick to get mail -- on paper or electronically.
How about you? If you started a joy journal today, what would be your first entry? There’s joy in our journey. And it’s all a journey.
“I grew up in the boonies,” I told Brian Sunday, as we meandered along our back-road route to Brownsville, Indiana, located not far from the farm where I grew up.
Of course my words didn't make for a news flash, and as we roll from U.S. 40 to Abington to Brownsville on this gorgeous November morning, we’re reminded that this area is still the boonies. Even so, imagine how much more so it would have been in 1806.
That was the year on our minds, the same year that the Methodist Church became a presence in tiny Brownsville. We were headed there to celebrate the occasion with not only members of the current Brownsville United Methodist Church, but with visitors, with the Greenwood Church Methodists, and with Liberty's Edwards United Methodist Church choir.
My lifelong friend, musician Karen Parks Bunch, was there to sing and play piano, accompanying church organist Charlotte Telker. Karen provided the special music along with her husband, the Liberty church’s choir director Kevin Bunch -- and with the choir. As I did, Karen grew up in that little Brownsville church.
While our hometown church has been served continuously by Methodist preachers starting with the early circuit riders in 1806, it’s interesting that the current pastor, Shelley Dodson, is the longest continually serving minister in this church’s 210-year history. She’s been there since 2004. One busy reverend, Shelley also serves the Greenwood UMC, and has a day job as interim bursar at Indiana University East in Richmond. Whew!
During the service, Shelley read some key points in the history of this body. The Indiana Territory was organized in 1800, and it didn’t take long for the Methodist Church to bring its Christian influence to this little neck of the woods in what would become Union County, and become the state of Indiana 200 years ago this year.
After a few years of circuit riders’ services in pioneers’ log cabins, the first Brownsville Methodist Church was built of brick in 1814, near the present building. The congregation grew and in 1828, land was deeded for a larger structure. Church history doesn’t record why the building wasn’t ready until 1844.
That building, however, stood for 101 years before it burned down in a Sunday-morning fire in 1945. However, before that bad turn, things got rocky in other ways. In 1860, the nation’s Civil War divided this body and a number of members left to form the Christian Union Church in 1865.
The Methodist Church went into decline to the point where windows were broken, the roof damaged, and doors stood open. In 1871, some members saved it with remodeling the dilapidated 1844 building, and it was re-dedicated in 1873. And so it went for 71 years until the 101-year-old building burned down nine days before Christmas 1945.
The congregation decided right away to rebuild and they got busy with planning and fundraising. To make do, they met for services in the Brownsville School. The new church – the brick limestone that’s there today – opened in 1948. There was a big celebration over it being paid off in 1952.
There was another big celebration on Sunday. It included a sermon about trusting God with the future of the church by the Rev. Mick Miller, assistant district superintendent. And being Methodists, cake and coffee followed. They even broke out the church's white china.
But first came the official bicentennial photo. For that, Brian and I stood behind the pulpit in the same spot where we lit a unity candle 38 years ago on our wedding day, a fine October afternoon not so different from Sunday’s fine November one.
As we stood there, I felt proud to be part of the Brownsville UMC extended family and so glad that we made the effort to attend.
This church. Home. Roots. This church provides a deep sense of belonging. One attendee, the former Janice Parks, whom I’ve seen once in the last 50 years before Sunday, but whom I would know anywhere all the same, even handed me an envelope of old family photos ... photos of my family!
They had been in her father, Gene Parks’ things and she thought I might like them. Where else could I be on the planet where something like that could possibly happen? Where her family would save photos of mine for somewhere around a century? And where a descendant would care enough to give them to me? To even consider that I might be there that morning? Unbelievable! That's home folks for you.
Yes, I’m from the boonies all right. These boonies.
If I could change that fact, change this place on the map that I call home, change this sweet church in the wildwood -- I wouldn’t.
Congratulations to Rev. Shelley Dodson who is the longest-serving pastor of this church in its 210-year history. (Photo provided by Brownsville United Methodist Church) Meanwhile, below is Geneva Floyd, who at 96 works behind the scenes constantly because she loves Jesus and people, and they sure do love her. Right, a look at the sanctuary.
And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. – Exodus 13:21-22
I attend an international, non-denominational Bible study nine months a year called Bible Study Fellowship. Each year is a different in-depth look at a particular topic, with references taking you all over the Bible.
BSF resumes the week after Labor Day and this session, which runs through early May, we’ll be in the book of John.
In the six previous years the studies have included (in no particular order here) Isaiah, Genesis, Acts of the Apostles, Matthew, Revelation, and Life of Moses. I have loved each study as part of my lifelong pursuit to become biblically literate. When you study the Bible, it comes alive to you because it is the Living Word of God.
If I had to select a favorite study so far, I’d pick Life of Moses. His life, and the miracle of God bringing His nation, Israel, out from slavery in Egypt on a journey to the Promised Land, is alive for me on so many levels! The year of the study was the same one I literally experienced that Promised Land of Israel for myself with a group from my church and I will never be the same. The Word came alive as we physically walked upon the pages of the Bible in 3-D color.
I keep thinking about God manifesting Himself before the Israelites as a Pillar of Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night. How did the ancient Jews ever get over that? How could they quibble and complain when God led them on a daily journey where they saw Him in those forms, protecting and leading? Man, would I love a selfie with God the Pillar of both Cloud and Fire!
Oh, but I do the same as they did. Don’t we all? And today, God is living inside me as He is inside all Christians. Yet sometimes we take Him for granted or we rail or complain or doubt. I say this often: I’m being an Israelite again.
Still, I can't quit thinking of God appearing as a constant Pillar … leading and protecting.
I think of the manna He provided daily for His people, Israel. It was perfect nourishment, the supply to meet their daily needs. Yet they were not to store it away as spares for tomorrow in case God didn’t show up with more. No, He promised that He would provide it daily. They had to trust.
The thought of the manna is with me lately. When I want more than He has provided, want a spare something, want more than I need today, I am tempted to ask God why I don’t have that reserve.
He shows me the manna. His showing me the manna is in the form of supernatural, spiritual provision that keeps coming to mind. It is enough to trust Him. I even wrote the word MANNA on a slip of paper and taped it to my computer. He’s that serious about this topic, and I’m that serious about remembering it.
Lately, the Hoosier skies have been putting on a show of wonderment. They are just clouds, I know, but they are part of His creation and they are spectacular, and I think of God as that Pillar of Cloud, leading, protecting. Facebook posts have been full of beautiful skies filled with clouds and sky, stunning sunsets and starry night scenes. It's all at once as new as today and as ancient as creation. I could spend hours looking up.
These photos were taken yesterday during my drive home from work. Enjoy the scenery, and don’t forget to look up.
The Bible Study Fellowship I attend is Monday nights at the host church, the Middletown Church of the Nazarene. This year’s study is Monday, Sept. 12 at 6:55-8:55 p.m. Email me at email@example.com for information. OR, just show up! There’s an introduction class that night. BSF is free and you’ll be surprised to find a couple of hundred women there too from all manner of denominations and backgrounds. Regionally, BSF also meets Tuesday mornings in New Castle, and there is a Richmond class. Wherever you are, there's likely a BSF class close enough for you to attend.
Back in January 2007, Ovid Community Church had an experiment, of sorts. Everyone was encouraged to sign on with a life group that seemed to suit them and commit to just six weeks, no more. At the end of six weeks, those in the group decided if they wanted to continue to meet and continue “doing life” together.
Not only did our group continue, but (blessing of blessings) heading toward a decade together, we’re still at it. The group, which we named the Midlife Moms (MLMs for short) has changed as some have come, some have gone and many remained a part for all these years. Our current roster is 12.
The thing about church is this: if all you do is go and sit in a pew on Sunday, you won’t get to know others, develop relationships, or have personal support or encouragement in times you need them. A life group is a combination support group / Bible study / social group. A life group is a space to get to know one another and know them well. We humans have a deep desire to know and be known by both God and others.
We’ve done many interesting things through these years from put on church dinners to creating women's church retreats, hosting a garage sale and donating our proceeds, to enjoying many studies together. We’ve prayed and cried and giggled and been there for each other.
The journey continues.
And this weekend, it continued at our annual summer lake weekend at friend Terri’s place on Cordry Lake in Brown County. I can’t get over how easy it is to put together our lake weekends. An email goes out: What does everyone want to bring? The slots are filled quickly and on Sunday – we enjoy the best meal of the weekend with our leftover brunch where we clean out the fridge.
We usually do some sort of craft or creation on Saturday nights and this year we made bandana bracelets, courtesy of our friend Donna S.
The entertainment revolves around boating and swimming and deck sitting. Glorious!
We left Friday, came home today (Sunday) and still, the time is too short, the boat rides and swimming and giggles over too quickly.
So tonight, I am grateful. Grateful to God for the blessings of these women, for our church and for these lake weekends when we can refresh and renew. Thank you Terri for a great time.
I always loved girlfriend time growing up, having a slumber party in PJs with one friend or several.
It’s great news that girls our age can have this kind of fun too.
Captions: Upper left, only half of our gals could make it this time but we have a great time no matter the number. Upper right, a sampling from the leftover buffet -- our favorite meal of many for the weekend. Lower left, Donna S. supplied the craft this time: plastic piping rings wrapped with one-inch wide strips of bandana and glue-gunned together. Far right, a look at the wrists that wear the bracelets, in a "We are the World" kind of moment.
CAPTIONS: Donna holds the page with Katherine Sherwood's Date Swirls recipe and Pat Buell with her mother's Date Swirl Cookies. Katherine made the cookies for six decades. Lower left, the McClellan women's vegetable soup, and bottom right, old-fashioned macaroni salad. All these recipes are in That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
There is a trend among certain fictional novelists to mention homemade food within story lines, followed by those recipes at the end of the chapters or books. I enjoy this approach because it adds another dimension to a story. The reader gets a taste, as well as is able to physically become a part of the action, by preparing and enjoying those recipes.
While writing Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast, it wasn’t long before I knew I would “season” my tale with special recipes. It was a natural fit for a book about a bed-and-breakfast. But what to include?
The three signature dishes in that book came from my mother and two of my best friends. My mom’s spice cake is probably a 150-year-old recipe, an old-fashioned eggless, milkless and butterless treat also known as a "Depression Cake" that hailed from her mother.
The cake was part of every special occasion during all the years my mother baked. Growing up, when I woke up on a Saturday to the distinctive scent of that cake baking, I knew that a special event or holiday was unfolding.
The granola recipe was adapted from The Best granola I have ever eaten, which came from friend Gay Kirkton, and to Gay from her mother Betty Greenwood, and from Betty’s friend to her. That’s how recipes go, and they tend to evolve from person-to-person. The funny thing is that granola is a favorite of a particular group of my friends who think of it as Donna’s granola and it is that too because I put my own twist on it. I was delighted to get both Betty’s and Gay’s permission to reprint the recipe and add my twist.
The sugar cookies, which were mentioned numerous times in the first book as Sweetland’s signature sweet, came from my friend Patti Broshar-Foust, who treasures that recipe from her Aunt Martha. Those cookies have been a big topic inside our friendship and were even baked by Patti and decorated by me for son and daughter-in-law Sam and Allison’s bridal shower.
So, having fictionally used three terrific recipes in the first book, the time came to decide what to serve up in That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. In a previous blog, we unpacked in detail food writer (as well as upcoming cookbook author) Blaise Doubman’s delicious Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie.
I also knew I wanted to use the recipe given to me by Brian’s Aunt Wilma for the vegetable-beef soup that all the McClellan women, including my late mother-in-law, made and I still enjoy serving in cold weather.
Included is my own Simple Chicken Salad – which people seem to like for its, well, simplicity, but would be easy to embellish with veggies and or grapes to suit more complex taste buds.
I also included my mother’s macaroni salad, which I have always thought was the best of its kind. Sure enough, at a book club discussion, where the food of book two was served, one of the readers made this dish and said her husband declared it the same.
But there was one more recipe that I really wanted to include. It was for a type of cookie that I have thought about my entire life, but, ironically, seldom actually tasted. It was for the date-nut swirl cookies I remembered from my childhood.
The cookies came into my life from farm wife, family friend and neighbor Katherine Sherwood. I can still picture that sweet woman standing at the top of her long country lane handing off a plate of the goodies as a Christmas treat for my dad, who was a farmer-school bus driver. They were delicious. All these years later, eve my brother, Tim, remembers them as tasty besides.
So does everyone who knew Katherine. As with my mother and her spice cake, with Patti and her Aunt Martha’s Sugar Cookies, and with Gay and Betty’s granola, the date-nut swirls were Katherine’s specialties.
I spotted the recipe in an old Brownsville cookbook and with Katherine having passed on, I contacted her daughter Pat, who is still active in the church and community. SURE, she told me. Not only could I use the recipe but she said her mother would have been thrilled. I was elated. The recipe is in the book, along with a “must-do” tip. Pat said no matter what, be sure to use black walnuts in the recipe. She recalled how her mother hand-gathered and hulled walnuts from their rural Indiana woods for the precious nut meats.
To use English walnuts in this recipe would be a sacrilege, Pat explained. She said these cookies have been all over the world as they made their way by mail from Katherine to servicemen abroad.
Fast forward to last Sunday. The Brownsville UMC invited me to give a little talk following a pitch-in lunch. I brought Blaise’s sugar cream pie (which is fabulous, I might add) and meatloaf the way mom made it (simply ground beef with oats, onion, eggs and ketchup). I hoped that Pat would do the very thing she did: bring the famous cookies. It was only the second time she had made them as she said there was no way they could be as good as her mother’s.
They went like hotcakes. Pat made them with candied cherries, which she recalls her mom adding for the holidays. Others at church Sunday commented that they didn’t remember them with the candied fruit. I don’t either.
But one thing I know for sure. These cookies taste exactly as I remember. They are fantastic. So if you make them, remember that tip to use the black walnuts. Those give them their distinctive flavor. The cookies are soft and chewy on the insight with a crispy crunch on the outside.
It’s fun to share these truly hometown, tried-and-true recipes with readers-- in a novel way, of course.
Both of my novels are available directly, signed if you want, by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also on Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Better yet, book me for your club or gathering and along with giving a program I'll bring stacks to sell and sign. And we'll have a good time!
Here comes a universal truth. Even though there are people from all eras of our lives that we would dearly love to see again, and there are old haunts we’d love to visit, we usually don’t.
We don’t want to bother people. We wonder if there would be anything to talk about, and we’d all end up disappointed. We shudder at the thought of being awkward or worse, unwelcome. So we say things like, “Who has the time? Maybe someday...”
One glorious thing my books do is give me a legit reason to see those people and visit those places. Sunday was one of those times. I was invited to the church that I grew up in, the Brownsville United Methodist Church in Union County.
We attended Sunday’s service, then the pitch-in, and then I gave a little program and sold some books.
I wasn’t even born the first time I was inside that church. And after that, my mother was visibly pregnant with me when my brother David got married there. I was probably all of two weeks old the first time I was hand-carried into the building. The thing I can’t get over is that quite a few of the women who were there then are there now such as Geneva, Barb, Charlotte and Pat. (More about Pat coming in my weekend post.)
There in that church I grew up, voted in my first presidential election at age 18, got married at 20. There I stood beside that church during my parents’ and my brother David’s and other loved ones’ graveside services. People who share my DNA and so much more are at rest on both sides of that building.
That church is home.
I could have spent all of Sunday there, alone, taking in the view from where my mother always sat, thinking, remembering, praying. Examining each panel of the gorgeous stained-glass windows. Peeking behind the curtain in the storage room where they kept (maybe even still keep) the beautiful angel costumes I couldn’t wait to become old enough to wear in the Christmas pageants. So they were made of white sheets and the halos of sparkly silver tinsel. That is the stuff of real angel attire, right?
I wanted to see if the little, round children’s table was still there and of course it was, in the former nursery, right where I sat when I was 2 or 3 or 4. The vintage Jesus pictures were still where they were supposed to be. Good. Charlotte Telker was still seated at the organ that Luva Cain bought for the church so many years ago. Yes.
Charlotte told me that she loved to hear my grandmother play the piano. That would have been before I was born when she was the church pianist. I don’t run into anyone who remembers my grandmother. What a treat to hear from someone who does.
I wanted to take in everything there in close-up, slow-motion detail, but instead, I got an overview.
The Methodist hymnals were still in their places on back of every pew. I listen to contemporary Christian music daily and I love my wonderful current church’s praise team and rocked-out tunes.
But oh how I treasure those old hymns, besides. The Old Rugged Cross. What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Blessed Assurance. It is Well with My Soul and a thousand more. (Speaking of thousand, O for a Thousand Tongues is a good one.)
Last night I went online and ordered myself a Methodist hymnal. I’m going to tuck it in the side pocket of my car and I’m going to use it every chance I get. If you see a random woman with the windows rolled up in a random parking lot belting out I Love to Tell the Story or Holy, Holy, Holy or A Mighty Fortress is Our God, think nothing of it. It’s just me, returning to my roots.
Yes, I am grateful for a reason to go back home Sunday, and I thank Pastor Shelley and the rest of those beautiful people from the bottom of my heart for inviting me, making me feel welcome, loved--for making me feel at home.
Because I was home. And I miss it already.
No spot is so dear.