Losing Faith & Finding It Again

“Finally, there is another reason, well known to Job, why even good men must drink the bitter cup of temporal adversity: in order that the human spirit may test its mettle and come to know whether it loves God with the virtue of religion and for His own sake.” St. Augustine

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A recent reviewer of one of my books wondered if I was depressed when writing it. They were seriously worried for me.  I found this kind of touching. I probably was depressed at the time because I borderline always am. I no longer fret about it though. The sounds of train whistles and small planes buzzing in the sky bring me delicious sadness that I’ve learned to embrace.

Suffering is such a big part of the human experience I cannot imagine how to avoid writing about it. I used to worry that my characters were too flawed — yet I am as flawed.  I suppose the real worry was (and is) that I’m too flawed. It’s a funny thing though because I’m drawn to and adore really flawed characters, historical figures and Saint Peter in the Bible — not to mention my family.

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A little grace …

But there is a delicate balance in life. Little graces abound in times of trouble and those things, even though small, sometimes transport our spirits far more than the big joys on happy days.

I’m drawn lately to the Catholic Church’s view of suffering and how even our sufferings can be offered up to souls waiting around their tombstones for some love. Suffering with purpose makes a world of difference. One word from a friend has brought me back to the Catholic Church this year with all its stupendous flaws and breathtaking beauty.

To walk into a Catholic Church, after years of time spend singing songs in plain white rooms and drinking coffee during sermons, is to walk into a visual, virtual heaven on earth.

When Notre Dame burned my heart burned for Western Civilization with its novels and stained glass and deep theology. The smoke did not blind me to the scandals of the Church (and of all churches and all people). The smoke alerted me to the desert my heart had become.

Why did a Catholic Church burning have any meaning to me? What did it matter to me in America? It made me think of the death of beauty. The death of truth. The death of goodness.

Not that these things are all dead. They sit waiting for us to return to them especially in times of suffering, but we’ve made the atmosphere smoky with lesser things. My adopted daughter takes selfie after selfie to find beauty in herself when the source of beauty comes from being part of a trinity of beauty, goodness and truth. A filter can’t do that.

A year of suffering in ways that some would find trivial made it impossible for me to stomach writing blog posts. I didn’t feel like faking and I didn’t feel like whining or bitterly debating politics. I read from the mystics and the early Church fathers and embraced the beauty and transcendence of the Latin mass at the risk of alienating my husband. I realized that not pushing your ideas upon people too hard really does leave space for reconciliation and grace — especially in marriage.

The suffering of mine took many forms this year as time in a self-imposed desert can do, but it opened up a world of new ideas, of new people — here and in the great beyond, it brought the sacred back.

TRUTH. GOODNESS. BEAUTY.  Is there need for anything else?

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A farm trinity of beauty and cuteness!

Sheep Therapy

Okay, so here’s my solution:

Let me back up to let you know what the problem is.

We suddenly have a ton of cute and cuddly animals I don’t want to eat. My husband has been diagnosed with a weird form of arthritis that only seems to respond well to a strict vegan diet. Our sheep are meat sheep.

But the sheep are more than their supposed foodie purpose. They are distinct personalities who in many cases adore human friendship.

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So here’s my idea: sheep therapy or basically sheep chill time. I’m not a therapist and don’t want to be one (I already have the high maintenance little girl to contend with).

But I’m wondering if people would enjoy coming by the farm just to hang out with the friendly sheep, goat and horse.

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I’m envisioning a very quiet version of a petting zoo … maybe?

There are some concerns though. I do want to get back to writing some day. Lately I’ve had to begin training myself to be a horse trainer. I’ve had to help a few ewes give birth and our daughter has ratcheted up her boundary breaking (a common after effect of adoption) so I’m not sure how many days I could even devote to this new plan.

 

Any ideas??? I’d love some input from you all. Do any of you have daydreams about opening shops or selling tea online? Let me know in the comments and be sure to leave any advice you might have!

Look! My books are in the library!

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The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

 

Have You Ever Been Fearful?

Last week I let my fears get the best of me — and it’s not  the first time.

Many of my bad decisions over the years have come from a place of fear. I wish the fears were related to grizzly bears or insects because it’s pretty easy to rid yourself of those types of fears since they’re obvious.

My fearful tendencies are usually more subtle because I’m great at rationalizing them or ignoring the deeper causes all together.

A few weeks back my husband got me a pony (actually a mini horse) and I was thrilled for about three days.

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Here’s what triggered an insane panic attack that also lasted about three days (not including the physical recovery time):

  1. When the lady dropped off Hobbes he was much bigger than I imagined he would be — and to be fair — much cuter. He was also skittish and head shy. This we had been warned about but it was still unnerving since he was at least a hundred pounds bigger than I thought he would be. The kind lady had spent a year working to get him used to people and did a great job but he still has a long way to go. The FEAR set in when she mentioned he needed his hooves trimmed ASAP.
  2. I called a vet-recommended farrier whose tone let me know right away that he thought I was an idiot for taking in an unknown rescue animal. The more he talked the more I could feel my excitement draining from me while fear flooded in. He said he’d come by in a few weeks. That meant each day that I woke in dread of his call since Hobbes was just barely letting me touch him.
  3. Randomly, this other lady who I’d been talking to over the last few months who does Christ-based equine therapy for humans called me about something. When I told her I had a mini horse now she was super excited for me, but warned me that if there was one thing I should know it was that  Hobbes should NEVER EVER be given second cut hay because it is too rich and the horse could die from founder (which is a sort of fever in the feet). She continued to give good advice that I don’t remember because I was pacing the floor waiting for her to hang up. As soon as she did I raced to the barn and tore the second cut hay outta there.
  4. I spent the day driving around to all the places in the county that I could think of that had first cut hay to no avail. I also forgot to eat. By nightfall I was a mess and spread the lovely anxiety all through the house as my husband called the guy he knew —  but the guy was drunk and didn’t have any hay.

Did I mention that I burst out crying to a few people I didn’t really know over the course of the day?

Now here’s the part I find so amazing. I had been praying to God to reveal my weaknesses and also to make it clear that the revelation would be from Him. I assumed if ever I got an answer it would be something about impatience.

As I walked through the two days of hell that I basically created I felt in my soul that God was answering the prayer: FEAR OF MAN IS MY IDOL OF CHOICE

The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted. Proverbs 29:25

You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it. Deuteronomy 1:17

If I were to say to you that I was afraid for Hobbes and his health that would only be the side of the thing I wanted you to see and maybe applaud me for, but the truth is as I ran around all day my thoughts were about the condemnation and shame I would feel if it were exposed to the unknown farrier and the unknown imaginary judges that I was imperfect and in way over my head.

Fear and shame run rife in my family, but that doesn’t mean I get to wallow in it. I wallowed for a little while until I remembered a sign advertising hay I’d passed many times. This is silly but even at my age I still feel a strong anxiety about phone calls especially when I’m in need, but I knew that I could not let my husband make the call. I knew God was basically saying that fear just wasn’t a foolish thing but a total lack of faith in Him and an idol that kept me from living a victorious life (church speak).

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”Matthew 16:23

I called and the guy on the other end answered.

“I’m really hoping you have hay because I’m desperate and freaking out because we have a mini horse and there’s no way he’ll lift his feet for the farrier and I’m irrationally afraid that he’s going to die of founder by tomorrow morning — he won’t right???”

There was a long pause. “Hey, take a deep breath. Your horse will be fine. Okay, what I want you to do is enjoy tonight with your family. I’ll set a few bales of hay out tomorrow morning and you come by and I’ll give you some help since I have a few minis myself.”

There was something in his voice that was super Zen.

I was shaking on the phone because as he was speaking I knew God was showing me what life could be like if I didn’t carry around a whole ton of pride and shame.

When I got off the phone I burst into tears. Our adopted daughter came beside me and said, “I didn’t know you were anxious like me. That’s another way that we are like twins.”

Apparently she was happy about it.

When I got to the horse barn the next day I was a lot calmer. I realized that if Hobbes didn’t get his feet done right away it wasn’t all my fault — after only a few days of knowing him. I wasn’t a superstar trainer. This would be a huge learning season for me. The man with the hay took time out to show me ways to calm Hobbes  (and me) down. He was so kind and not judgemental!

It reminded me of how in elementary school I was so humiliated that I didn’t already know the stuff the teacher was being paid to teach me. Irrational but me — STILL.

IMG_0250The lady who gave us the horse called and offered to come show me how to handle the hoof situation (this also made me cry because she offered to drive an hour and a half for free!). When she came Hobbes was a brute and didn’t let her do a thing which was oddly comforting.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has to do with punishment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

 

 

Further reading:

LAY ASIDE FEAR OF MAN

DETOXING FROM THE FEAR OF MAN

FEAR OF LOSING APPROVAL

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

A Random Blended Family Dog Tale

I’d dreamed of  having my own Cavalier King Charles Spaniel ever since art history classes when their adorable little faces peeked out from behind skirts of royals in masterpieces. Huckle had me bewitched at once. He was spoiled and not impressed with boys and men. He wanted to be man of the house.

In the tumult of a divorce which soon followed Huckle matured into a sex-crazed teenager. My second husband was not impressed. He had him immediately fixed but his Napoleonic temperament remained (which endeared him to me even more). There’s something impressive about an eleven pound dog who makes people heel. Our boys were afraid of him because he growled at them over throw blankets on the couch.

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The Cavalier Escapes!

One Sunday as we were getting ready for church, our son (who back then in the blended family was my husband’s son) let the dog out by mistake — and stood there gaping. My daughter and son had a special attachment to Huckle because it was their dog from before. They started berating my husband’s son and then pushed  past him along with my husband to chase the tiny king down the three acre field that led to a frothing spring river.

For most of this time I was blissfully unaware in the shower.  By the time I entered the kitchen I could see through the glass doors far in the distance the family slowly returning up the go-cart path. Yes, we had a go-cart. It was embarrassing to my city slicker kids for about ten minutes until they had their go on it.

Turns out Huckle had jumped into the river. My husband had too. The girls waded in but my husband yelled to get back ashore. By the time they made it to the house they were all muddy and sweaty except or Huckle who had been carried in triumph by his servants.

I wondered if it was a Cavalier trait to kick and stomp with his back legs when he wanted something. My husband and Huckle found common ground that day. Timothy kicked and stomped in his mud-stained yellow shirt as we called one of the few family meetings we’ve ever attempted to have.

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My kids rolled their eyes at the family sitcom notion of civilized meetings. Timothy’s kids were frightened by the looks my kids were sending them when they thought I wasn’t looking. Timothy stormed on. “Huckle is part of this family and there’s no excuse for letting down Huckle. He doesn’t know any better, but you kids do know better.”

My daughter grumbled. “It was your kid who let the dog loose.”

My son signaled for her to shut up.

Timothy took an impatient breath but  let the comment go.  “So, because Huckle is an important part of the family we will have to adjust our budget to buy Huckle a shock collar.” He waited for the looks of horror around the table to subside. “It’s either that or Huckle’s gonna die.”

Another gasp.

“It wasn’t that long ago that Huckle ran unto the highway and you all followed …” he reminded us.

I was one of those crazed lunatics, by the way.

Huckle escaped death on many occasions even with the collar. He got Lyme and a lung infection but charmed even the most hardcore anti-purebred vet who ran out on several occasions to bribe Huckle to eat by offering McDonalds.

As the vet never failed to remind me, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are susceptible to heart problems. He died a few years back but had lived a full and pampered life until the very last day. I was home alone and was glad about it. He was my special sweetheart.

What’s your favorite dog breed? This is a no judgment zone as far as dogs go. We have rescues and purebred critters. A true blended situation. Have you noticed certain endearing things about a favorite breed? Has your dog ever caused conflict (or resolved conflict)? Let me know in the comments!

 

5 Great Books About Military Wives in 19th Century America

Since you all know I love history and historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well.Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

BOOTS AND SADDLES

THE COLONEL’S LADY ON THE WESTERN FRONTIER

VANISHED ARIZONA

LIFE AND MANNERS IN THE FRONTIER ARMY

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD

 

5 Great Books About Civil War Soldiers

Since you all know I love history and historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well.Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

THE STORY THE SOLDIERS WOULDN’T TELL

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS

THE LIFE OF BILLY YANK

HARDTACK & COFFEE

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD (and series)

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

 

There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. ~John Lubbock, “Recreation,” The Use of Life, 1894

Look what my husband got me for Valentine’s Day! When my husband showed the picture of the mini horse to a friend at work he said, “I thought your wife wanted a quarter-horse not one quarter of a horse.” (I actually have my eye on an aged standard-bred but no matter).

Anyway in order to adopt a horse most organizations tell you that you need to have at least one other equine on the property as a companion. My husband sort of liked the idea of getting a donkey, but as I scrolled through Craigslist this little guy caught my attention and so I sent the picture to my husband — just to point out how cute he was.

My husband texted me back: You want him for Valentine’s Day?

He also told me later that to himself he said: we have to have him.

So Saturday morning the wonderful couple who had saved him from the kill pen delivered him to our house!

It is estimated that over 100,000 horses are shipped for slaughter every year to Mexico and Canada.

Some people think rescuing from kill pens does nothing to solve the problem of over-breeding and seeing horses as just a commodity, but, for the individual horses rescued, it makes a difference.

As so often happens when dealing with people from Upstate New York, I came away inspired. For no material gain this couple takes in animals and finds them new homes. Not only that but in this case they had an entire care package of grooming supplies, special feed and even a beautiful winter coat for the little guy my husband renamed Hobbit or Hobbes for short.

The generosity of some people just astounds me.

I spent all day yesterday with my first horse, just reading Tom Jones and allowing him to get used to me since he’s a little timid. At one point I could tell he was already pretty comfortable with his surroundings. There he stood, basking in the winter sun while the sheep sleepily chewed their cud. His eyelids kept drooping until he finally napped with the rest of the barnyard animals.

Save 150,000 Horses From Slaughter Each Year By Ending Auction And Export

The Indian Wars: 5 Great Books About General George Crook

Since you all know I love history and writing historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well. Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

GENERAL GEORGE CROOK AUTOBIOGRAPHY

GENERAL CROOK AND THE WESTERN FRONTIER

ON THE BORDER WITH CROOK

WOLVES FOR BLUE SOLDIERS

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

IMG_4252A few weeks ago I visited with a lady who rescued a cream-colored dairy goat from a farmer who had bred the goat multiple times. No problem there, but when the goat waddled out of her cozy, straw-filled stall into the main section of the sweet-smelling barn I saw right away why this woman had felt the creature needed to live with her.

The goat had deformed front hooves that caused her to walk on her knees. She also had a huge under-bite which made her look funny. My first thought was that most people would have put this animal down at birth. Instead the farmers bred her multiple times (maybe a financial necessity) before agreeing to give the goat away.

At this point when the lady was telling me the story  the goat had come up beside me, giving me soulful look. It leaned in like a Golden Retriever would waiting to be petted. The lady told me that many adults and children have found peace and some healing from emotional wounds just by sitting with this little beam of sunshine. Who is to say that her life doesn’t matter?

For you have formed my inward parts: you have covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works; and that my soul knows right well.

My frame was not hid from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.

Your eyes did see my substance, being yet unformed; and in your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are your thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!

Psalm 139:13-17

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Pray for New York