People’s Stories Belong To Them

I remember the day I had to apologize to my daughter. I broke one of my personal rules as a writer and a leader:

People’s stories belong to them.

This is especially true in regard to pastor’s children who already feel like everyone knows their business.

My husband and I have been on staff at the same church for thirty-two years. Many of the members have known my children since the day they were born. When our children were little, it was not an issue to talk about my struggles with discipline or potty training or bad grades in math, but now our children are adults living grown-up lives and to their dismay, their mom, who is still a pastor’s wife, is now a writer! A writer who one day forgot the rule:

People’s stories belong to them.

When I was going through cancer treatment, along with both of my parents, the lines became blurred about whose story belonged to whom. Although my parents had given me carte blanche to talk about their stories, this permission did not trickle down to include our children. One daughter was struggling with difficult circumstances at the time and I shared some of my concerns with friends in church. Okay, okay, it was over the microphone. In front of the entire congregation.

Major stepping across the line. In army boots. Stomping through the mud.

The writer and pastor’s wife in me didn’t show up in church that Sunday. The mom inside me did. The mom who was overwhelmed.

But that didn’t give me any “get out of jail free” cards. I still screwed up.

I had to apologize, even though in my mind I wanted to justify it, saying “how can people pray if they don’t know?”

Let me ask you–do you want to be known as a prayer project?

Earlier that year I had been chatting in a circle of people, a mix of friends and strangers. A friend had started asking me pointed questions about my cancer treatment, questions I wouldn’t have minded sharing with her personally, but suddenly I felt I had a spotlight on the personal details of my life.

You know that saying, that if you are nervous in giving a speech, that you should picture the audience in their underwear and you won’t be nervous anymore?  That’s fine when you are the speech-giver, but in this situation I was the audience and all eyes were on me and I didn’t like feeling exposed. Vulnerable.

In regard to my daughter, it was a lesson I had forgotten and needed to remember–as a mom, as a pastor’s wife, and as a writer.

Have you ever felt exposed when someone shared parts of your personal story? Have you ever shared someone else’s story and regretted it?

(And yes, I had my daughter’s permission to post this story. In case you were wondering.)

 

Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at www.lynnehartke.com. You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Sometimes Writing is Like Washing Eggs

I pulled the photo album from the shelf, the binder bulging from photos and story. I flipped through the black and white pages of faces unknown and known.

  • Of Mom and her siblings on the front steps of a South Dakota farmhouse.
  • Of elementary-age Mom with dark hair between her blonde-haired sisters, Sylvia and Joyce.
  • Of mom as a teenager dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, next to her brother, Glenn, helping their dad with the haying on their 480 acres.

I turned pages until I came to a section of memories my mom had written before her death four years ago.

Her history. Her story.

A tale about eggs.

Yes. Eggs.

“Eggs were a year-round cash crop for the family,” Mom had written. “Many chickens were raised and eggs needed to be picked daily. Evening after evening Lillian (my grandmother) would sit in the kitchen and wash more than 200 eggs. If she missed a few days, she could have 1000 eggs to deal with.”

Every night my grandmother washed eggs. After the laundry with a wringer washer. After feeding grandpa and eight of the twelve children that were still at home. After the dishes in the small, white ceramic sink. After mopping the floor from the muddy footprints of twenty feet. After prayers and tucking into two bedrooms.

After it all, Grandma washed eggs. With circular movements, Grandma washed off the dirt, blood, and chicken poop. Sometimes she would be so exhausted, she would fall asleep while still sitting in the chair. Jerking awake, she would pick up one egg, and then another, going late into the wee hours while the cuckoo clock on the wall ticked off the minutes.

Daily. Monotonous. Un-glorious. Necessary.

Life.

I was contemplating my grandmother’s endless eggs last week while I was doing the unexciting task of editing a manuscript, taking apart sentences egg by egg. I wanted to wait until I felt inspired. I wanted to work on a creative, fun, and new project. I wanted to go clean the kitchen. I wanted to read a book. I wanted to go sort out a closet.

I wanted…(you get the idea!)

Instead, I looked at verb choice. Commas. Sentence fragments. I read my editor’s notes and made changes. I checked a reference for accuracy.

So much of writing is about washing eggs.

What eggs do you have to wash this week?

 

Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at www.lynnehartke.com. You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Discovering Deep Secrets in the New Year

The Crosscut and Massacre Grounds trailhead usually has only a few cars parked in the dirt lot on the side of the First Water turnoff, but today we struggle to find a parking spot in the rows and rows of vehicles. The trailhead is named after a group of miners who lost their lives here in the 1800s, purportedly by a group of Apaches. Jacob Waltz, a Dutchman, claimed to have found that mine, but took the secret location to his grave, adding one more story to the legends and lore that surround these mountains.

We are not joining the thousands who have gone searching for the gold hidden in the area, but have taken the 45-minute drive from our home because we are looking for a different type of treasure.

Snow in the desert.

We cross the creek bed several times before climbing a gentle slope to a saddle. A dusting of snow covers the surrounding cholla and brittlebush, but our destination lies before us. The Superstitions are clothed in white.

Mollie, our rust-colored mutt, does not know what to think of her first frozen adventure. She stays on the trail, but as we stop to take photos of saguaros and prickly pear with their uncommon winter hats, Mollie forgets her fear and bounds after birds and other creatures, her tail a curled flag behind her.

The snow deepens as we dip into a narrow basin, the trail hedged by mesquite and hop sage bushes, the pink flowers peeking out of their white blanket.

 

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“It’s like Narnia,” my husband comments as we step around boughs weighted with snow, referring to a scene from the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The children in the story find themselves accidentally entering the world of Narnia through a wardrobe or closet.

As they step further in, pushing their way through the winter coats, the children are surprised by how much room is inside. Fur coats give way to pine boughs. Wooden floors give way to snow-covered paths.

Although it had first appeared small and confining, the wardrobe actually was a doorway to great adventure. The lives of the children would never be the same.

Cheryl Sacks and Arlyn Lawrence write in their book, Prayer-Saturated Kids, “[The children] discovered when they stepped into the wardrobe, the inside was larger than the outside” and “that the further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets.”

1 Corinthians 2:9-10 (NLT) states, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.”

God’s deep secrets. I long for that here on the trail, in the desert. The thought intrigues me. Speaks to something inside me. More than secret gold lost in these hills, I desire to discover God’s deep secrets here in the new year. In my life. In my writing.  

What a treasure!

As the sun warms the mountain, we stop and listen. After quieting our breathing, we experience something I have never heard before: the sound of the desert melting.

 

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Sometimes new sounds … deep secrets … can only be heard in the standing still. The stillness beckons me to leave my ordinary world and discover Narnia.

Is it time for you to enter into that place? To quiet your life and meet God? To step further in and discover how much bigger everything gets as you open the door to prayer and enter the world of God’s secrets?

Perhaps if you are quiet enough, you will experience your own melting and you will find yourself walking on snow-covered paths that lead you to adventure.

 

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Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This post originally appeared on her blog at www.lynnehartke.com when it snowed on New Year’s Day 2015.

Word Becoming Flesh in the Life of a Writer

 “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us….” John 1:14. (NIV)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was called to carry the Word Made Flesh. Saying “yes” to that plan involved a huge surrender on Mary’s part. Obedience brought her under scrutiny and censure, not only in the public eye, but also–initially–with Joseph, whose opinion she must have valued.

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel told her, which was saying, in essence, “You are about to be shunned and ostracized in your hometown because you are going to get pregnant with God’s son and although you have never been touched by any man, nobody is going to believe your story and they are going to whisper and point at you when you walk by and call you harlot and whore and turn their backs when you enter a room.”

Sometimes the hardest part of being a Word carrier is believing the truth of The Word and not the words others speak over us.

Yes, as followers of Christ, we too, are Word carriers. Through our lives, we demonstrate Christ to those around us.

In the book Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr, she reflects on this time in Mary’s life and asks, “What kind of surrender is happening in you? Do you ever experience being called by a Word larger than your understanding? What is the newest Word that has become flesh in you, dwelling deep in the recesses of your being?”

As a writer, I can think of three words or phrases becoming flesh in me. 

  1. Trust is a word larger than my understanding. God is in charge, I am not. Oh, how hard this is for me to remember! I get caught up in book sales and deadlines. I get caught up in numbers! Not words. Numbers! God does not ask for the numbers to get larger in me, but His words. His life-changing words. Trust needs to expand in me.
  2. Fear not are words larger than my understanding. My college writing professor always told me that the job of the writer is to write what people cannot say or are afraid to say. “To write is to take an ax to the frozen sea within us,” Frank Kafka once said and I need those words to become larger in me. Fear not.
  3. Live real words is a phrase being made flesh in me. Not just written words. Not just paragraphs in my safe little office. A writer does not create sentences in a vacuum. Writing does require solitude and space, but words don’t leap onto the page out of nowhere. Life-changing words find their way on paper after living out the Word made flesh among His living, breathing creation. Live real words are words still being made flesh in me.

Today, on your journey of faith as a writer, I pray you say yes to the surrendering, not as a defeatist, but as one who walks one more step into life larger than your understanding, as the Word is made flesh in you. 

Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at www.lynnehartke.com. You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

 

A High King, 3000 Dead Men, and the First Case of Copyright Law

On a recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit the monastic site at Durrow, in the county of Offaly which was founded by Saint Columba (also know as Colum Cille or “church dove” in Ireland). He served in Durrow from 553 to 563 A.D.

The stories surrounding Colum Cille are woven with a mix of truth, history, and legend. This particular tale involves a high king, 3000 dead men, and the first possible case involving copyright law.

Not exactly a soothing bedtime story.

According to the blog Daily Scribbler, Colum Cille did not always live up to his name’s meaning of peaceful dove.  He is said to have slain monsters, and definitely had the death of men on his conscience, before he went to Scotland to “save as many souls as he had doomed.’

In regard to monsters, tradition says the Columba was asked by a chieftain to help him slay a dreadful beast named Suileach (the Many Eyed). When the animal charged out of a cave, the chieftain fled, leaving Columba to fight the beast alone, cutting the animal in half.  The story then slips into legend involving a tail that came back to life, and a head that crawled towards the saint, before he utterly destroyed the creature.

In regard to the death of men on his conscience, it all began with a book.

Yes, a book.

According to the blog for Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), Colum Cille borrowed a book of psalms from St Finnian, a volume that Colum Cille’s former teacher had obtained on a trip to Rome.  Books in those days were rare and valuable, and without permission, Colum Cille made a copy. (This did not involve a scanner, a copier or a camera. This meant meticulously writing the text letter by letter–not a five-minute job.) When Finnian heard of it, he was incensed and demanded that the unauthorized copy be surrendered. Colum Cille refused.

The case was brought to Diarmait mac Cerball, High King of Tara.

The book, Did You Know: 100 Quirky Facts about County Offaly, states that after hearing both sides of the case, the High King talked about what would happen if someone borrowed a pregnant cow who then had a calf:

To every cow its little cow, that is its calf, and to every book its little book [copy]; and because of that Colum Cille, the book you copied is Finnian’s.

Colum Cille was not happy with the ruling, but had bigger issues with the High King. About that same time, EWTN states that Prince Curnan of Connaught fatally injured a rival in a hurling match (a traditional Irish sport). The prince sought sanctuary with Colum Cille, but that protection was ignored when Diarmaid’s men dragged the prince away from the saint and killed him.

Whether it was this incident, or the copyright decision, Colum Cille stirred his men to war. In the year 561, men loyal to the High King and men loyal to the saint met in battle and 3000 men died.

History records that for his role in sending “3000 unprepared souls into eternity,” Colum Cille was brought before the church for a vote of censure and excommunication. Although this ended up not happening due to St Brendan speaking on his behalf, Colum Cille chose a self-exile to Scotland. He spent the remainder of his days trying to win as many souls for Christ as those that had perished in battle. 

The moral of the story:

Cite your sources, author friends. Copyright law is serious business.

 

Lynne Hartke can usually be found writing about the desert where she lives in Chandler, Arizona. Her first book, Under a Desert Sky, was released by Revell/Baker Publishing Group in May 2017.

Birding, Writing, and Who Cooks For You?

Roadrunner. Quail. Red-tailed hawk. White-winged dove.

I don’t recognize very many birds in the Sonoran Desert where I live in Chandler, Arizona–a lack I want to rectify, so on an early morning in June, I show up to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix wearing proper birding attire: khakis, a long-sleeve cotton shirt and a broad-rimmed hat. Around my neck are binoculars that I scavenged from the bottom of a camping bin underneath first aid supplies, water bottles, a hot pink fanny pack, and mosquito netting. The thin strap is already cutting into the skin of my neck.

As a newbie, I am welcomed and handed a tri-fold official birding checklist with the names of 102 birds commonly found on these weekly jaunts in the gardens.

“All the brown birds confuse me,” I admit to Annie, a talkative regular who comes to the gardens at least three times a week.

“LBJ’s,” she says, “Little Brown Jobs.” Annie sports a harness-type strap for her binoculars so the weight is removed from her neck. I make a mental note.

New lingo. New equipment. I have more to learn than just bird names.

A man joins the group who just returned from a quick tour of one of the garden loops.

“Mallard with six babies,” he proclaims, “over on the pond.”

“Whoaaaaa!” the entire group exclaims in unison. If this was a vote for homecoming king, I am convinced he would be awarded the crown.

“Also saw a bullfrog nearby,” he admits.

Heads shake. Tongues click.  Eyes lower.

“Maybe there will still be four or five babies when we get over there,” says a heavy-set woman in a droopy hat. People nod hopefully.

Bullfrogs eat baby ducklings? Who knew?

“Puffin at ten o’clock,” says a man attired in denim.

A puffin! In Arizona? All eyes swing to the spot in the sky where he points.

An untethered metallic balloon floats among the clouds. “Happy Graduation” adorns the silver front.

A puffin. Birding humor.

For the next ninety minutes we explore the various trails. Official birders make check marks on their lists. I make notes in my small journal as I stick close to Andre, a white-haired gal with deep tan lines and a deeper knowledge of Arizona birds.

We see a Gila woodpecker taking a dip into an organ pipe cactus bloom. We count twenty-one white-winged doves looking for food under the palo blanco trees. A Gambel’s quail duo keeps an eye on seven young chicks. We focus our binoculars on a baby curve-billed thrasher in its nest in a cholla cactus, the long thorns warning off intruders, but not deterring its mother who returns with red fruit from a neighboring saguaro cactus.

Binoculars aim. Cameras focus. Pencils record.

“Listen,” Andre instructs. “Do you hear that?”

Woo-WOO-woo. Woo-WOO-woo.

“A Eurasian collared dove,” she says. “The second syllable is the longest. Not native, but it has spread across the United States since it was introduced to North America.”

“How is the call different from a white-wing and a mourning dove?” I ask.

“A white-wing sounds like ‘who cooks for you.’ A mourning dove has a different rhythm to it’s call, usually five syllables. Coo-OOO. Coo. Coo. Coo.” Andre sings the songs of the doves while I take notes.  A cactus wren scolds us from the branches of a mesquite tree.

“Look!” I point to a roadrunner lurking beneath a succulent.

“Good eye,” Andre says. The sun glints off the bird’s feathers as I get close enough to snap a photo of the blue and bronze skin near its eye. Several people pat my shoulder as they mark “roadrunner” off the list.

For a moment I am one of them. A birder.

“Who cooks for you?” a white-winged dove asks as I gather my four pages of notes and head to my car. A LBJ flies over head. I am determined to learn his name the next time I return to the gardens.

Where are you learning new things to add depth to your writing?

 

Lynne Hartke’s first book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May with Baker/Revell Publishers. When she is not writing or blogging, she is out hiking desert trails.

How To Recover After a Big Event

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As authors we all have deadlines that loom over our heads, filling our brains and our calendars with all the details. For lack of a better term, I am going to lump all those deadlines under the title of a Big Event. How do you recover after a Big Event? I  don’t know about you, but I tend to minimize my need for rest and move onto the next Big Thing.

How To Recover After a Big Event:

Perhaps you are like me. When the Big Event looms in your horizon, you push everything else aside, saying, “I’ll save that for after the Big Event, because everyone knows l will have more time after the Big Event.” 

Well, after the Big Event has arrived. That sucking sound you hear? It’s my calendar about to implode. 

My Big Event was a trifecta: a fundraising event I chaired for the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life, our youngest son’s college graduation, and the release of my first book, Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty, and Faith in the Hardest Places. All three events occurred in a ten-day window–because, you know, all major events for 2017 needed to happen in the beginning of May.

I knew I would be tired.  I was unprepared for the absolute exhaustion I would experience when it was over. 

Perhaps your Big Event was a wedding, a job change, a book proposal, a personal milestone, a remodeling project, a completed manuscript, a writing class or a long-anticipated vacation. The Big Event consumed your calendar, your energy, your emotion, your time. You busted your butt, obsessed over it and spent every free waking minute focused on it and now it is OVER.

The Big Event is over and you find yourself depleted, out of gas, and struggling to make it through a normal day.

So, what happens after an experience like this? You’re exhausted and depleted. You need a period of recovery. Achievers forget this so easily. You are groomed to be industrious and effective, but not to allow for recovery or transition between projects. – Sharon Teitelbaum.

Yeah, that pretty much describes me. You too?

Now what? How do you handle it? How do you recover?

1. Look Back

We live in a culture that tends to look forward. Achievers, especially, find purpose in the next big project, yet taking time to reminisce and celebrate what you have accomplished is important. Process the event with others and keep a visible reminder of your achievement – a photo by your computer, a shell from the family vacation, a framed certificate over your desk.

Last week I spent time loading photos from the cancer event and graduation and enjoyed reading reviews from the book release.

2. Look Inward

Recognize that you might be feeling a variety of emotions after a Big Event, including highs and lows, exhaustion and elation.

“It’s natural, too, to feel sad, disappointed, even depressed at the end of a big project, even one that’s a resounding success. The things we do define us as people, and the biggest things we do are the biggest part of us; losing them, even by choice and design, is hard.” – Dustin Was

Be kind to yourself. Rest when you need it. Go to bed early. Do something therapeutic whether it is baking, gardening, watching endless shows on Netflix or getting a pedicure.

3. Look Forward

After you have had time to rest and transition, it is time to focus on the next event and plan some new goals.

Take a little time to reflect on your finished project. See how you might build on the success you’ve already achieved. Then get ready for the next big thing.

What about you? How do you recover from a Big Event?

Lynne Hartke’s first book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May with Baker/Revell Publishers. When she is not writing or blogging, she is out hiking desert trails and pastoring with her husband in Chandler, AZ.

So You Want to Be on Television

So you want to be on television? What outfit should you select? What should you avoid wearing?

Dangling earrings or studs? And how about that red lipstick?

Recently, I was interviewed on our city’s cable station for an upcoming event that involved a non profit where I volunteer. Before the show was taped, I received some helpful hints from the production staff.

1.  Know Your Material.  Interviewers dislike blank air space. If you struggle with speaking extemporaneously, ask if you can have a list of questions ahead of time. If necessary, offer a list of questions of your own.  Practice your answers. If you are talking about your book, look again at your media kit, because interviewers might not read your book, but probably will glance at your press materials.

2. No Plaids and Stripes. Avoid busy patterns or anything that can detract from the message of what you are saying. Are you considering that botanical print covered in roses, chrysanthemums, and daisies? Save that for your next garden party and choose something else from your closet.

3. No to Pastels. White, ivory and pastel fabrics will wash the color right out of you and reflect too much light. Our city’s production staff did not want me to wear black and white together, either, as it presented a contrast problem for the camera. Best colors: medium to bright solids in blue, brown or green.

4. How about footwear? I have filmed at this location several times. At the first filming, my feet were not visible, so at my next filming, I came in flip flops, unaware that the set had been remodeled. I was glad I hadn’t come in pajama bottoms, thinking only my top half would be visible! I have learned my lesson and  I now come prepared from top to bottom!

5. Professional attire? As the saying goes, dress for success. Simple classic styles are best and a jacket or collared shirt helps hide the microphone. For my recent taping, they requested I wear a shirt from the organization I represented. Thankfully, I had one with a collar.

6. How about those dangling earrings? If the necklace, bracelet or earrings are too noisy or too sparkly, leave them at home. Anything that might reflect the lights should not be worn.

7. That favorite red lipstick? Again, no. Red tends to look like it is bleeding on camera (not the look you are going for). Natural makeup is best, but remember that the lights will wash out complexions, so you can wear more makeup than normal. (Just be cautious. Bozo the clown is not the look you are going for either.) The staff will apply powder, if necessary, to reduce shine for men and for women.

8. Cell phone? Ask if someone can take a photo of you on the set and then turn the phone off until after the filming.

9. Body Posture. When the production staff sent me a recording of a recent taping, I noticed that I had sat too comfortably back in my seat. I was also seated between the interviewer and another guest and had turned my head to the left and right, rather than my entire body. Both of these mannerisms added weight to my face and to my middle. For a slenderizing look, it is best to lean forward slightly and, if possible, to turn your upper body (and not just your head) during the interview.

10. Enjoy yourself. You’ve got this! For authors who are more comfortable with the written word, it can be a bit daunting to speak without notes. Remind yourself that you have a message you want heard and be thankful for an open door to a wider audience.

Lynne Hartke’s first book, Under a Desert Sky, releases on May 2 with Revell/Baker Pub.

Entering Through the Back Door

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The two-story farmhouse where I grew up had a back door that faced west. Visitors and family members entering the house through that door found themselves in the mud room, where boots could be removed to leave puddles on the linoleum and coats could be hung in what was aptly named The Coat Closet. (Note: Minnesota Norwegians aren’t known for complicated labels.)

Before my parents remodeled, the front entrance consisted of four cement steps that opened into the room known as the Play Room. (See previous comment about Norwegians.) Within that room’s walls my sisters and I orchestrated fashion shows for our Barbies and my brother and I fought wars with little green army men. The piano and various other musical instruments took up residence in that corner of the house, giving an entirely different meaning to the word play as we dutifully plunked out thirty minutes until a ringing alarm released us.

One house. Two doors. I have no memory of ever entering the house through the front door. The front door was used only by people who didn’t know us: delivery services and door-to-door salesmen. 

For those who knew us–neighbors, friends, relatives and family–they all used the back door. Perhaps because the kitchen–the heart of the home–was the next room after you hung up your coat. The back door was the fastest way to getting a cup of coffee and a little lunch, which in a farming community had nothing to do with “little.”

Recently, I taught a writing workshop to participants who wanted to record their cancer stories. As a seven-year breast cancer survivor, I understand the value of capturing a difficult story on paper and sharing it with others. I also knew that unburying the deep parts of a cancer journey can be difficult. Memories are often stuffed as patients have had to deal with the chaos of living in the overwhelming now. It is sometimes difficult to bring those stories out into the light of day.

The class began with the typical questions:

  1. What day were you told that you had cancer?
  2. What was your diagnosis?
  3. What treatment plan did your doctor recommend?

People shared the facts, the analytical details. Breast cancer. Skin cancer. A parent with three cancers. Chemo. Radiation. The participants shared important details, but the questions were lacking. The inquiries didn’t invite the telling of a story, the intimate details of a life. 

Rather, the class invited others into the front door. A place for strangers.

For the second round of writing, I read a story from my journal about a day I was swimming laps at the gym after my diagnosis, a day I decided that I was going to beat the woman swimming next to me to the wall. She didn’t even know it was a competition, but on that day I decided that cancer would not win. I talked to the class about the smell of the chlorine. The feel of the water on my skin. The exaltation of touching my fingers to the wall.

Then I said, “We all have those moments when we decide that cancer will not win. I want to know about yours. Maybe it was wearing a certain outfit to treatment. Maybe it was going religiously to chemo. Maybe it was doing something that was physically challenging. Tell me about a time when you determined that cancer would not win.”

People picked up pencils or typed on their laptops. One man told about wearing purple–the color for cancer survivors–to treatment. A woman told a story about putting on lipstick and a wig to feel beautiful. Another told about training to run a marathon. 

One by one, people shared hard things, but with smiles on their faces. In the midst of a difficult diagnosis, at that moment in their story, they were victorious. 

I realized something important. By asking a question tied to an emotion, I invited people into the heart of their story, a task, we, as writers, attempt to do every day. We don’t spout facts and figures about relationships, conflicts, and belief systems.

No, we pick up our pencils and we invite people to enter through the back door, where they can hang up their coats and leave their boots to leave puddles on the linoleum.

Lynne Hartke’s first book: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty and Faith in the Hardest Places is coming out with Revell/Baker in May 2017. She blogs at http://www.lynnehartke.com.

A Library Located in a Village of Stilted Houses by the Sea

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I loved going to the library as a girl. In the summer, after chores were done, we would go to town once a week, a trip that included a stop at the library.

I would always get the allowed quota–four books. 

At home I would sit in the tire swing under the elm tree and escape to faraway places in the pages.

I never imagined in the shadow of cornfields, alfalfa, and soy beans, that one day I would travel to a library in a village of stilted houses by the sea:

Our driver parked the van at the curve of a road on the mainland, near a dirt entrance across the bay to a smaller village of sea gypsies, the gypsy part of the name being a misnomer because they don’t move from place to place. They live there, a few hundred yards from the mainland in their simple stilted homes, because the lore of their people states that if they would leave, their skin would become diseased; they would grow sick and die.

sea library 1

“Where’s the library?” we asked our host as we passed a group of boys listening to a boombox, while laundry dried outside a simple house with a satellite dish in the backyard. As part of a literacy program we had been invited to check out the library in this small fishing village in Indonesia.

sea library 7

Our host pointed in the distance, to a destination I could not see, because all I saw in front of me was a series of rough wooden planks, nailed together in a single, rickety path above the water.

Walking the plank suddenly had an entirely new meaning as the boards weaved side to side as I shuffled across one and then another. I peered at the water six feet below as it flowed back and forth with the current. What happens when cell phones get wet? I wondered, as I took step after cautious step, on planks number three, four and five.

What happens when library visitors get wet?

My husband comes across

I was thankful for the years I spent as a child balancing on railroad tracks as I imagined being a tightrope walker on my way to our no-boys-allowed fort in a culvert under the tracks, never imagining I would need those high-wire skills four decades later.

Eventually all six of us made it across, some uttering not-very-silent prayers for God’s deliverance.

When we arrived at the library in the village school, we discovered the building was closed. School testing happened that week and the kids had a half day, an education reality that is common around the world. We stood around in the 85-degree heat with 90% humidity. The circle of sweat on my cotton t-shirt widened exponentially with each ticking minute.

“We can come into this home,” our host said, motioning us into a blue house with a corrugated metal roof across from the school.

sea library 4

“Have a seat, have a seat.” The woman and homeowner directed me to a far corner. Our group of six and a dozen children trooped in behind. Candies and other snacks hung down from the ceiling. The home was also a store.

We were invited to tell a story while the woman served crackers and bottled water. My husband told a tale of another stilted house with a boy, his noisy sisters, and their cows. It was a story about gratitude. Our interpreter echoed my husband’s hand motions and side effects, adding a few of his own, while the children listened, entranced.

The homeowner smiled as the children sang a song, moving with the tempo. More children arrived on the front porch, but there was no more room inside. 

In our culture, I hear arguments about the relevance of libraries in a digital world, but those debates were silenced for me in a stilted village where children pressed against the metal screen covering the front window in hopes of getting closer to the words, while the sea and the people swayed.

Do you have a library story?

Lynne Hartke’s first book: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty and Faith in the Hardest Places is coming out with Revell/Baker in May 2017. She blogs at http://www.lynnehartke.com.

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