Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Journey of Coming Home

“It was like coming home…”

We’ve all heard the expression. We associate that “coming home” feeling with memories and familiarity. Sometimes it has to do with food or smells. For me it means people.

Five years ago, just after Breathing on Her Own was released, Tom and I packed up our things in Florida and along with my mom we headed home to Ohio. The trip home was to include a jaunt to the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. We’ve spent many vacations there with family and friends. Two dear friends, Toni and Lowell live there year round, unlike the rest of us retirees who were splitting our time between cold and warm climates. Our visit was to include time with them. 
Five Years Ago the Book Club at "The Farm" Gave Me a Gracious Welcome

Toni suggested Breathing on Her Own to the book club in the community where she lives. As a result, one of my first book signings and speaking engagements was with an incredible group of women from “The Farm.”

I remember that event well. I read the first chapter of the book, autographed copies and enjoyed the beautiful spread of food the women had prepared. Tom was by my side. He rushed about setting up the small television so everyone could see the book trailer my daughter Allison had made. He carried books in for me and even checked my hair to make sure my curls (which pop up in crazy ways in humid conditions) were minding. 

Later that year, Tom died, making my memories of the event all the sweeter to cling to since my life was turned upside down. As many of my readers know, I stopped writing my books. I managed to keep the blog going, but I felt as if the ink had run out of my pen. My strongest advocate was gone. 

Healing comes. But it comes slowly and in unexpected ways. Eventually, I polished a book I had written before Tom died. While still living in Kosovo, I submitted it to Ambassador International. Libby’s Cuppa Joe was released this past March. I know that would make Tom happy. 

My Dear Friend, Toni
This week, I had the opportunity to meet up once again with my friend Toni and some of those same precious women who have continued to support my writing efforts. Toni asked others to join us. There were twenty-seven of us in all. I tried to prepare. You see, the trip to Myrtle Beach was emotional. It can be hard to walk about…in and out of the dreams you shared with the man you loved and no longer have at your side. I wondered how I would fare standing in front of these women and telling them of my life experiences. 

Speaking about my journey…the journey so many of us face yet never fully expect. The journey of life and death. The journey of reclaiming your life piece by piece when more than half of you is torn away. The journey of moving out of a home you shared into a new one and then moving halfway around the world. The journey of finding your voice again through your pen when you are too choked up to speak. 

The journey of “coming home.”

Sweet Tea...Becasue in the South They Know How to Do It Right!
And that’s what happened. We gathered for dinner; People I met five years ago and new friends of the “Ladies Night Out” crew. We chatted and joked. We laughed and we cried. I shared my journey…and we laughed and cried some more. I don’t live in Myrtle Beach, but gathering with these women in this place was, well…like coming home.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Heritage of Faith...A Legacy of Love

I Still Enjoy Grandma's Quilts
This past Sunday we celebrated MOM. It was a great day for many and a troubling day for others. I saw many posts on social media about people who no longer have their mothers. 

I know I’m blessed to have my mom here…in good health…and active. But as Mother’s Day is a day of remembering, my thoughts were drawn to my grandmother and great-grandmother as well. I’ve often thought of writing three novellas trying to tell their stories and capture what I’ve gained from these women. Maybe someday I’ll do that. I know what I’d call them: Samantha’s Blessing, Ophia’s Prayer, and Nora’s Love.

Samantha’s Blessing

I never knew my great-grandmother, though if you ask me, or any of my cousins about her you’ll get a fair description. My grandmother was the oral historian in our family and told us all about her mother…what she knew, that is. Grandma was only seven-years-old when her mother died leaving her and her siblings orphaned.

Grandma often told the story of how her mother, Samantha, blessed them on her deathbed. How she “looked down the line” at each of her children’s faces and told them she had to leave. “God bless mother’s children,” she said. She told them to trust in Jesus and do what was right. 

And they did. 

They had to…the uncle who was supposed to care for them robbed them of their inheritance and left them to fend for themselves. I met a man at my grandmother’s funeral who told how his father came by the farm where they lived and saw them all lined up at the fence. They were waiting for the chicken to lay an egg so they could have breakfast. 

That uncle who was to care for them took my grandmother away to be a servant in his house. She was to see to the needs of his two children. She was to clean their chamber pots and such. As their servant, my grandmother never finished grade school.

But she had so much more. She had her mother’s final words.

Grandma and her siblings survived. They all fared well in the community and Grandma married one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. My grandfather. They had seven children. When the youngest one was around two-years-old, that mean old uncle of hers and his wife fell ill. 

Their children didn’t come to care for them. 

My grandmother, carrying my infant uncle on her hip, walked frequently to her uncle’s house and cared for him and his wife. 

One day her oldest daughter challenged her. “Why? As mean as those people were to you, why help them?”

Grandma’s answer? “Honey, if I don’t forgive those poor old people, how can I expect Jesus to ever forgive me?”

Ophia’s Prayer

Because I had heard this story so many times, I never questioned my Grandmother Ophia’s prayer. She prayed every day that God would allow her to live long enough to see her children grown and on their own. She didn’t want her own children to experience the hardships she had lived through.

“I asked God to let me live long enough to see my own children grown and now here you are, Becky. He’s let me see you grown with your own little girls.”

Grandma lived to see six of her children to adulthood, marry, and have children of their own. She cuddled and cooed in the ears of great-grandchildren and prayed over them as she had her own babies.

Grandma is the one who taught me that God always gives us more than we ask for or deserve.  (Though, I always thought she deserved the best.)

Nora’s Love

My mother, Nora, could well be the model for unconditional love. I know. I’ve been the recipient of her love lavished on me for over half a century. Never wavering love. Love without abandon. Love laced with bear hugs and chicken ‘n dumplings. Love you don’t have to work for…you have it because you are there.

My mom’s ability to love others is rooted in Samantha’s blessing and Ophia’s prayer. It is a love first founded in a relationship with God and nurtured within a family filled with love. Hers is the perfect example of forgiveness and care.

Don’t get me wrong. My mom isn’t perfect. I know that, because none of us are…but she is the perfect mom for me; the perfect grandma to my daughters; the perfect GG (great-grandma) to my eight grandchildren.

Rebecca’s Faith

And so it comes to me. You see, while my trust in Jesus is my own, I have a rich heritage of faith. Without it I couldn’t have breathed after Tom died. Without it I couldn’t have moved to Kosovo. I couldn’t have taken on new challenges. I am the recipient of Samantha’s blessing carried through the years. I am the target of Ophia’s prayer that rings in my ears to this day, and I continue to be the beneficiary of Nora’s love.

This is my heritage. My inheritance… received only to be passed down to my children and my children’s children and so on. 

What legacy will you leave? What will be the title of your life?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Your Voice Counts...

I am often asked by readers about reviews. “Do they really matter?”… “I wouldn’t know how to write a review”….or something along the lines of “What if I don’t like the book?”

It happened this past week. Someone saw a Facebook comment I made about getting a review on my birthday. I said it was the best present ever! The person reading my post responded with, “How do I write a review?” 

It’s a fair question. A good question. Authors aren’t insulted by it at all. In fact, it is great when someone asks. We love it! Here are a few guidelines to help you, though.

Three Basic Guidelines:

1. Write an honest review. Even if you don’t like the book, be honest. Don’t sugarcoat it. 

2. Be specific as to why you did or didn’t like the book. “I liked it because I grew up in Door County and it brought back sweet memories.” Or  “I didn’t like it because I like books with explicit sex scenes and bad language. This one was too sweet.” Of course neither of these are real reviews of Libby’s Cuppa Joe but if they were, the specifics would help other readers decide if they would be interested in the book or not.

3. Choose a “star rating.” I kind of go with the 
            one star = “Yucky, I couldn’t stand it.”
            two stars = “A good story idea but it was poorly written.” 
three stars = “Meh…the book was okay but I could take it or leave it”
            four stars = “Wow…this was pretty good”
            five stars = “Wow!!! I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone!”

This is just me…you can determine your own criteria…but your stars and specific comments should go hand-in-hand.

How long should the review be?
There is no set length. I will share, however that short reviews are often read by many, whereas longer reviews are glossed over. I have an author friend who received a review so long and detailed there would be no need for anyone to read the book! You don’t want to spoil the plot for other readers. And more words doesn’t always mean better.

Where can I review the book?

You can review a book on Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else it or readers hang out. For example, Libby’s Cuppa Joe is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble as well as for purchase through the publisher, Ambassador International. Copies have also been purchased directly from me. 

So let’s say you came to a book signing and purchased a book from me, the author. Can you still leave a review on say, Amazon? Sure. Simply say in your review, “I met the author at a book signing.” 

One more word of advice…be sure you are reviewing what you think you are reviewing. One author’s debut novel received a glowing five star review. In the comments however, the reviewer wrote, “I’ve read every book in this series and they keep getting better and better.”  The author, though at first thrilled to see those five beautiful stars, came crashing down. “What series?”

Now for the “How-To”(I’m using Libby’s Cuppa Joe as the example since it is my newest release.) This would be after you read the book of course.

Go to 
·      Type in Libby’s Cuppa Joe in the search bar. I hyperlinked it to the title here so you can click on it.
·      See where it says reviews? You can click on that link or scroll down to where it says “Review this Product.” (hint: it is under my picture and a few ads)
·      Choose the “star” rating: remember…one is yucky, two is not so good, three is “meh”, four is pretty good, five is great, or “Wow, I’d recommend it to someone.”
·      Write your honest comments. Your comments need not be long, just honest and match your star rating. You get the idea.
·      And if you didn’t buy it on Amazon? No problem. You simply say, “I bought the book at a book signing”…or  “I met the author at an event”
·      That’s it. Submit your review.

Do Your Words Matter?
Of course a book receiving many reviews advances in rank and tends to draw in more readers. But another big “plus” is that feedback helps writers grow in the craft. We learn what you like and don’t like. We know when we’ve hit the mark or missed it completely. Sometimes your comments lead a writer to craft a sequel or explore one of the secondary characters more in-depth in a subsequent novel.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Another Trip Around the Sun

My grandfather died July 16, 1971. Tom and I were engaged at the time and I remember Tom talking about how Grandpa died so young. Young? Really? Grandpa died on his sixty-sixth birthday. Sixty-six sounded old to me. And Grandpa seemed old to me. So did Grandma. 

To my way of thinking…my grandparents were always old.

But here I am…a grandmother to eight incredible young people. The oldest just got his driver’s license. His brother was in a golf tournament this past weekend and is talking about the high school golf team next year. 

The other “Grands” are reading and writing and acting so mature I’m amazed by them. The youngest may not be reading much yet as he’s only two, but he is articulate and tall…making people think he may be older than he really is. 

I wonder if my grandchildren think of me as old. Probably. But they are too considerate to say it to my face.

There were so many things I wanted to do before I got old. Some of them I’ve completed…like hiking and skiing and writing a book. I’ve travelled and lived in wonderful places. I have friends literally all over the world. I think I’ve made a difference…mostly for the good…sometimes not so much.

I look around me and realize I’m not old at all. I know so many more people who are much older than I am at this point in time. They’re active and fun. Yes, we’re all getting those gray hairs, and I’ll confess…sometimes I call it a late night if I stay up after the news. 

Actually, I am merely getting older…not old. I think there’s a lot left for me to do. More books to write; more adventures ahead. And I still want to learn to play the piano. 

I have time. I think I’ll take a little snooze. After all, I won’t be sixty-six until…uh…tomorrow.

Yep. This time last year I celebrated my birthday in Kosovo with a wonderful group of people. We got dressed up and went to a fancy restaurant. My hair was blond. Don’t ask. [If You Want to Visit My Birthday Celebration in Kosovo, Click Here]

This year my hair is returning to its normal color with its natural glistening highlights of gray. My family is gathering at my house for dinner. I decided if the weather is warm we’ll have a cookout. If it’s cold and rainy I may make chicken and dumplings. It isn’t the food that’s important. It’s the people. 

Like birthdays. The year doesn’t matter. It’s the people you share those moments with that are important.

I’ve never been one to hide my age. It’s just a number. I want my time here to count for something. I want to always enjoy my family and friends. Despite their ages…or mine. And I want God to look at me and say, “A life well lived.”

So since I’m crafting this post before the big day marking the completion of another trip around the sun, I think I’ll dig out the music and make another attempt at playing the piano. 

As for you? Take a walk. Hold someone’s hand. Enjoy the season. And if you want to read a book…may I recommend Libby’s Cuppa Joe? (Like the way I worked that in? It's Available On AMAZON)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

From India to Kosovo With Love

From India to Kosovo With Love
Here is a Picture of My Granddaughter &
the Indian Barbie I Bought for Her In Mumbai

Four years ago this month I traveled to India with my daughter. I’ve shared that story before (Click Here to See Pictures and Read That Entry) but some experiences, like a good cup of tea are better when steeped a bit over time. It’s only then we can enjoy the richness of what has been placed before us. 

It was late in November…Tom had been gone barely a month…if that…when Kendall asked me if I wanted to go to India with her to help girls who had been rescued from human trafficking situations. She said the trip was “next year in April.” To a person living in a fog, next year or even April sounded like light years away. It didn't matter. I figured I’d probably be dead by then anyway.

I agreed that evening, though my level of commitment wasn’t very high. I went to bed later that night apologizing to God for not consulting him first. I realized however, that ever since Tom died I had been praying with every breath I drew in. It was how I survived.

The first meeting for those of us signed up for the Go India project was in January. I still must admit I wasn’t “all in.” I prayed that if God didn’t want me to go, he’d get me out of this. Seriously. Sounds horrible to admit now, but that’s where I was in the process. 

One of the requirements for the trip was a valid passport. I took my passport in for inspection knowing that wouldn’t be the stopping point. My passport was valid. One of the team leaders looked it over and told me I needed a new passport. She was something like… maybe twenty years old so I was pretty sure her math skills or reading skills were off. I pointed to the date issued and the date it was to expire.

“Your passport has to be valid for six months after the return date.”

What? That’s ridiculous! Your passport should be good as long as it’s good! (I felt like Tom in that moment, borrowed his attitude and threw a little internal fit.) I studied the date and did the math myself. My passportwas good for five months, three weeks, and four days after our return date. Three days shy.

Reluctantly, I forked over the money for a new passport. I mean, they hadn’t kicked me off the trip because I was too old. Nor had they kicked me out because of funding or the fact I was a widow. To not go because of a passport issue seemed silly. If I didn’t get it renewed at this point, I knew I would likely let it expire and never travel again anyway.

I went to Mumbai, India in April 2015. The experience there was remarkable. I hope I was helpful. I know serving there with my daughter helped me in my grieving. 

Two particular instances stand out for me as I write this today. Both tell me that God intended for me to be on that trip. 

One experience happened at “church.” It was a small gathering of people in what looked to be an apartment. We had been told that a man in our group might be asked to read scripture, speak, or pray. Women weren’t asked to do these things. The men in our group gathered one night to get information on what they should or could do. We women chatted for a bit while they met then headed off to bed. 

The next day, at the end of our church service, the pastor looked directly at me and asked if I would offer the closing prayer. I looked around. I thought he meant the man behind me, but no. I was the one. I walked to the front and prayed a sort of double prayer. I call it that because even as I spoke words audibly I was praying silently for God’s words to be shared. I left the church feeling loved by God…that he would trust me with this honor to pray for these people. 

By the way, I am always praying that no matter what I say people will hear what God wants them to hear. 

The second powerful experience for me happened that same week. It was an affirmation that I was exactly where God wanted me to be at that moment. 

We had completed a floor activity with the girls. My group finished early and I leaned back on my hands, my legs stretched out. A voice…nearly audible washed over me saying, “You are exactly where I want you to be right now.” 
A Relief Map One of My Students Made of Kosovo

It was so close and so real, I turned to see who said it.There was no one there. I knew it was God telling me I was where I needed to be. At the same time I knew he wasn’t suggesting I become a missionary to India. He was telling me I was being obedient.

I know I’ve shared bits and pieces of all of this here and there. I think pulling it all together is important. Our lives are like tapestries. It is important to see the threads that make up not only who we are, but the  plans God has for us as they unfold over time.

The path to eventually serve in Kosovo was paved long ago.
·      They needed a teacher. I prepared for that role first at the University of South Florida and then through my experiences at Fairfield City Schools.
·      Tom and I visited Kosovo in 2005. It wasn’t totally foreign to me.

·      But most importantly, when I was contacted to travel to Kosovo, the start of school was a few weeks away. I arrived in time. I had a valid passport. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ohio: The Magnet State

I’m from Florida.At least that’s what I’ve always said. 
I was born in Ohio, lived in Arizona a while, moved back to Ohio, then to Florida. 

Picture Of a Tree in My Backyard in FL
I understand why I usually say I’m from Florida. I went to high school there. That’s where I got my first driver’s license and where I lived when I started dating. I went to the University of South Florida. I got married in Florida and my first two children were born there. Tom and I bought our first house in Florida.

All of the “rites of passage” pieces from childhood to adulthood took place for me in Florida.

We had just had our second daughter when the research team Tom was a part of decided to move. The choices were Texas or Ohio. Cincinnati, Ohio to be specific. I was born in the neighboring town of Hamilton. I had family in the area. Moving to Cincinnati would also mean Tom could complete his Masters degree at the University of Cincinnati in biomechanical engineering. 

When the team decided Cincinnati was the best place to continue their groundbreaking research in the treatment of spinal cord injury, it was for us, as they say, a no-brainer. But Florida was our home. Our parents and Tom’s siblings lived there. We waved good-bye and promised to return in a year or so after Tom finished his degree. 

That was in 1978.

And except for our retirement when we returned to Florida, Ohio has been “home” for four decades. Ohio is still home. I lived for a while in Europe, but when I returned, it was to Ohio. I’ve decided Ohio is a magnet state. It draws me back time and time again.

A Conch and My UC Turtleneck
Ohio to Arizona, then back to Ohio.
Ohio to Florida, then back to Ohio.
Ohio to Florida again, then back to Ohio.
Ohio to Kosovo, then back to Ohio.

Yep, Ohio is my home. I’m proud of it…even though I am from Florida. 

Where are you from? 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Climbing Mountains

When I taught at Cincinnati Christian University, one of my responsibilities was to advise students. Advising usually takes the form of helping map out what courses to take to move toward the goal of graduation. Sometimes it spills over into other areas of life. 

I had a student come to me unsure about finishing her degree and becoming a teacher. She had married and she wasn’t sure she could continue taking classes. 

“I want to be a teacher,” she told me. “But if I can only take only a few classes at a time, it will take me forever to graduate.”

I remember turning to the blank side of her paper and drawing a mountain. I told her there are many ways up the mountain. 

“Some people climb straight up,” I said as I drew a line leading straight to the top. “Others meander along the way and stop now and then.” I drew a line that wound its way back and forth finally reaching the summit. “The point is,” I told her, “the view is just as beautiful from the top no matter how long it takes you to get there.”

Tom Hiking a Trail in the Grand Canyon
These weren’t just words. I live that life. Tom and I married when I was a freshman and he a sophomore in college. We had dreams and goals. We both wanted to graduate. And we did. We took the scenic route, which included having children along the way…to our Bachelor degrees, our Master degrees and our Doctorates. Both of us. 

But that ideology spills over into all areas of life. It’s the notion of starting a task and seeing it through to completion. It is a reminder that finishing a race is more important than winning it. 

It surfaces in my faith walk and means I need to consistently read my Bible and be diligent in connecting with other believers. It is a matter of growing in faith one step at a time.

The same thought is in my writing life. I think it safe to say not one book has been published without being written. And there is great satisfaction in writing “The End.” Writing a book is a different kind of mountain and though many long for the view at the finish of the course, few see the work through to completion.

Tom Finished the Climb and the View is Great!
And this view is evident as I commit to finishing this life on earth without Tom by my side. I know I’ll get there one day and the view will be just as beautiful for me as it is for him now.

My former student finished her education degree. She has children of her own now. A few years ago she told me she still has that map of the mountain. She pulls it out from time-to-time to remind herself to stay the course. 

Perhaps we should all post a trail map of the mountains we face each day on our wall. Every day we would wake up and get ready for the climb. And with each day we’d get a little closer to the top.