Revisits!

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Return of Bliss

Since I switched to Kindle Direct Publishing, I’ve been revisiting my novels in the Dinkel Island Series.  This weekend a Second Edition of Book 2, RETURN OF BLISS, has gone live in both e-book and paperback formats.  There’s a new cover, extensive rewriting, and a new organization to the story.

If you’re new to the Dinkel Island Series, this book would make a great starter.  Things are alive and active in the quaint Chesapeake Bay community.  Crime and grief seem to lurk in the shadows.  A cold case from a Maryland abduction with connections to Lighthouse Point is stirred to new life.  The discovery of a mysterious cache’ of money in Tranquility Bay tweaks the suspense.  Ed Heygood is now retired and moves back to town at Stan Grayson’s invitation.  Both men are now widowed and ripe for new relationships–romance is in the air.

Sarah Jones keeps the grapevine hot with each new development.  A new crime spree has the Old Geezers, as well as everybody else in town, speculating about what’s going on.  When a gospel group presents a program at the Wesleyan Brethren Church, one member helps solve the riddle of the mystery money.  Will bliss–restoration, completeness, wholeness–return?  Will the cold case be solved?  What will happen with the mystery money?

Return of Bliss is a story of redemption and hope rooted in Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  What joys will unfold?

If you’ve read the first novel, you’ll meet some new, colorful characters in this one:  Cybil Froster, Pastor Kate Sheppard, Molly Pringle, Herb Melloman, Doc Patcher, Darrell Tellerson, Jimmy Charles, Ben Wartman–to name a few.  Who are they?  Lots of folks from the first story are also still present.

Return of Bliss will be available in an e-book special offer November 1-5.  Why not pick up a free copy for your e-reader, tablet or I-phone?  When you’ve read the book I would invite you to send a review to Amazon.  This helps me know how my writing is being received, and helps browsers to decide about checking out the book.  Amazon has a link for doing a review on the order page.  

Next up:  I’m starting on a Second Edition for Book 3, Secrets at Lighthouse Point.  Once that’s complete, I’ll be tackling Book 4!  I can’t wait to see what new things will be going on next with the Dinkel Island folks!

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Lost and Found!

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After retiring from the ministry, I continued a habit I had relied on for decades.  I kept a calendar/workbook to organize my activities, and compile important records I would need at the end of the year.  

During the first eleven years of retirement, I traveled as an artist.  I also worked on staff in several churches, or served part-time pastoral appointments.  In my calendar/workbook, I recorded meetings, visits, events, attendance, and even honorariums.  I also had a contact list of key people.

The next stage of retirement involved becoming a caretaker for my wife as she dealt with a severe neurological condition.  My notebook came to contain an elaborate network of medical information, providers, and related material.   

During this time I also began writing.  My calendar/notebook, became the repository for pertinent information and contacts related to publishing.  

So, when a question arose Easter Sunday about scheduling something, I reached for my calendar/workbook.  It wasn’t on my desk, or in my car.  I practically turned the house inside-out trying to find it, to no avail.  It was gone!   

I tried to remember where I might have put it down away from home, and made some phone calls, with no success.  When I prayed about this, I felt an assurance that it would turn up.  I even had an intuitive picture in my mind of my workbook lying on a paved surface somewhere.  I called places I’d been, but no one had seen it.  No one had turned it in.

On Tuesday, I decided it was simply lost, so I bought a new one.  My wife and I called places to recover appointments we knew were scheduled in coming weeks.  Many clues were in my computer, but not a duplicate of the workbook.  

Tuesday evening I noticed my cell phone was turned off.  I found a missed call with a message from a man I’d never met, who lives near our home.  He had found a calendar/notebook along the heavily-traveled highway in front of our subdivision.  Seeing information inside that looked important, he started to look for the owner, ultimately calling me.

I called him back and we met a few minutes later.  I thanked him and gave him a copy of one of my Dinkel Island novels.  I also thanked God.  The book was in rough condition, having been through a deluge of two severe thunderstorms, and there were tire tread marks on it, so it had been run over.  Most entries are still legible.

Finally, I realized what had happened.  I had loaded some things in the back of my car on Saturday.  The calendar/notebook in my hand made it difficult to do this, so I put it on the roof of the car, intending to move it inside.  Then I went into the house for something before backing out of the garage and driving away–forgetting I’d left the notebook on the roof.

We have a low speed limit in our subdivision, so it rode on the roof until I stopped, then accelerated, pulling into traffic.  That’s when it came off the car.   Remembering this, I could identify the pavement I’d seen in my prayer/vision.  

The lost was found!  It was never lost to God, but it was to me.  When I prayed, but didn’t understand the answer, God sent someone else to recover it for me.  Thanks be to God!

In our bustling world of emotional frenzy and surface interactions, we sometimes miss the honest goodness that resides within most people.  I thank God for one good man’s efforts.  I hope I am as diligent for others.

Paul!

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(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Some time before Mary and Hugh celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, Paul accomplished something most people would have said was impossible.   It began one evening years earlier when Mary paused to talk with him before saying goodnight.  She noticed he seemed restless, and wondered why.

“Paul, you seem a little uptight tonight.  Is something bothering you?”

His eyes widened as he responded,  “Mother…I have…something…to say,.”

She pulled a chair beside the bed, sat down, then leaned forward.  “Okay, I’m all ears.  What’s on your mind?”

Paul spoke laboriously, almost taking a breath between each word.  “I have…something…to do…and….”  His breath gave out, and he turned his head to the side.

Mary stroked his arm.  “Take your time.  I’m listening.”

“No…not now.”

Mary was puzzled.  Because his speech took so much effort, Paul often made succinct remarks that signaled deeper, unspoken thoughts.  She encouraged him to take her to that deeper level.  “Is this something you want to do tomorrow?”

“Maybe…I need your…help.”

Mary leaned closer and spoke warmly.  “What is it, Paul?  What do you need me to do?”

He took a deep breath.  “I…want to…write a”…he exhaled…”book.”

Usually Mary had a pretty good idea what was going on in Paul’s mind, but this caught her off guard.  “That’s a big order.  Are you sure?”

“Yes!  God…told me to…write a book…to…inspire people.”

“So, you feel God is giving you a message, and you need me to write down the words for you…is that right?”

Paul turned his head toward her as his body arched to the extent his restraints would allow.  He squealed with delight.  “Y…yes!”  He expelled tension as he smiled.  “Can you…do that?”

“Of course!  What is the book about?”

“God…and…faith.”

She leaned over and kissed his forehead.  “That sounds good.  I know you have a lot to say.  Let’s talk more about this tomorrow.”

Paul relaxed, and she saw how exhausted he was.  “Good night,” she whispered as she moved the chair back to its proper place, and turned out the lights.  She thought back to the out-of-body experience Paul had shared with her after he nearly died from post-neurosurgical pneumonia seventeen years earlier.  That’s when he told her, “I saw Jesus! He said my parents need me here, and i still have things to do.”

When she raised her children, Mary had shared her faith with them.  She encouraged each one to listen for God’s call that would show them their own unique purpose in life.  Her two sons became ordained pastors and her daughter a nurse.  Now she sensed Paul was discovering a unique purpose that would authenticate his life.  Lord, she prayed silently, I know you have a special purpose for Paul.  Help us see clearly what it is.  She went to sleep wrapped in a sense of assurance.

The next day she and Paul established the ground rules.  Knowing how much energy this would take for him, they decided to dedicate an hour at a time to the project, whenever he felt up to it.  Formulating his thoughts and emotions into words, then waiting while they were transcribed, would take an immense effort from him.  She wasn’t sure he had the stamina to actually do this…it would be a long, drawn-out process.  He was determined, and a teacher at COHOPE offered to work with them, so they launched the project.

Writing the book stretched out for several years.  Finally, in 1979, the manuscript was complete.  It consisted of poetry and prose, all hand-lettered.  There was a photograph of Paul in the opening pages.  To save on cost, they formatted it for letter-sized paper, folded in half.  He dedicated it to his mother, and she wrote an introduction.  Once they had the copyright, a local printing company in Harrisonburg produced the book.

“One Day at a Time,”  was the title Paul gave his book.  It was about his journey, learning how to get through life in spite of severe disabilities.  He observed the activities, attitudes, and reactivity of able-bodied people around him, then plugged in his own perspective.  He had a formula:  take things in stride, one at a time, don’t get in a hurry, never stop trying, and trust God in everything.  At first reading his words might seem simplistic, but reading through again, with an ear tuned to his spirit, could unlock the hidden depth of his insights.

Paul came to experience a consciousness of God’s presence in everything.  He expressed it as “seeing” God and wrote a poem around this theme.  “I saw God when I woke up,” he wrote, and called the role of all the experiences where he felt Go’s presence.  He saw God in the sunrise, sunset, trees, water, birds, wind, terrain, weather…everywhere.  When he saw God, he discovered love at the root of everything.

Constant tension marked Paul’s world.  Opposing forces pulled against the center of his life, yet that’s where he found God’s healing touch.  When one part of his brain wouldn’t let him express feelings in a coherent flow of words, God’s Spirit would overcome the tension, communicating spiritually beneath the words.  The same was true when he wanted to raise his arm and his brain produced a contrary motions instead.  God put people in his midst who understood this and helped him resolve the conflicts his movements produced.

Some severely handicapped people faced these tensions by withdrawal.  Paul faced them with engagement.  His mother gave him that flexibility.  Someone would walk up to Mary in a public setting and say, “You should be ashamed of yourself, strapping that poor, helpless young man into that chair!”  She would reply, “If you knew him, you’d understand those straps are merciful.  They keep him from harming hisef, or others.”  Paul would say to her about such people, “If they only… understood…themselves, they…would understand me.”  He had great insight.

 Paul wrote about his faith in a piece titled, “My Testimony.”  He wrote, “The Lord touched me.  He filled me with the Holy Spirit.  He told me, ‘You are ready to do my work every day.  I will tell you what to do.  You tell others that I have filled you.'”

He told what happened to him at a Full Gospel Meeting.  “People were around me, and then the Lord was with me right in that room.  He held out His hand and talked to me.  Then He touched me, filling me with His love and the Holy Spirit.  And I thought I was drinking water.  After that, I felt like the Lord lifted me all the way out of my chair!  After He did all that, He took away my fear.  Then He took away His hand.”

Mary had mixed feelings when Paul left the Keezletown church to join an evangelical congregation in Harrisonburg, but she had raised her children to be independent.  She was thrilled as his faith and excitement grew through that fellowship.  Sometimes if felt to her as though he was simply on loan to her and COHOPE–that God would call him home, and the time would have gone by too swiftly.  Then she would pick up his book and let the title sink in, “One Day at a Time.”  She gave thanks, and treasured each day God gave her with this very special son.

Among Paul’s poems was one titled, “Autumn.”  He wrote, “I always love the Autumn wind in October.  It reminds me of when I was little.”  As the poem unfolds, he says:

“Autumn is here,

And I feel like singing a new song!

The wind is blowing the leaves

Off the trees.

And how lovely it is outside!

What is Autumn?

Autumn is many colors!

How does He do it?

By His love.

And the Lord turns the leaves gently

From glory

To glory,

Like us!”

It was on an autumn day, October 25, 1988, when Paul made a sudden announcement during lunch at COHOPE.  “I’m going…on a trip…alone,” he told his mother.  “You can’t…go with me…this time.”

Mary saw a glint of excitement in his eye.  Hmmm!  Something’s up.  Maybe he’s hatching a scheme to get someone to take him somewhere–maybe a pretty girl.

“So, where are you going?”

Paul didn’t respond.  Seeing a far-away look in his eyes, she decided to let it go–he’d tell her more when he was ready.  They finished lunch, and the day wet on with no more mention of a trip.  In fact, Paul didn’t speak of it again until five months later.

Early in 1989, Hugh T called Mary with a question.  “Mom, how long has it been since you were in Cincinnati?”

Mary thought back.  “Gosh, I’m not sure…I guess the last time, Hugh and I went together for some shindig when he was working for Samuels.  Why?”

“Well, I’ve been telling Sharon about my growing up there, and it occurs to me I haven’t been back in decades.  We’ve decided to take a few days the last week in February and drive out.  Now, hold your hat…we’d like for you to go along.  Interested?”

 It was something “out of the blue,” as the saying goes, for Mary.  “Well, that would be wonderful, but I have responsibilities here, and your dad can’t drive distances like that any more.”

“Oh, we’ll do the driving.  Just thought it would be a fun trip and give you a chance to go back again.  We’re leaving Monday, February 20th, and will be back by Saturday so I won’t have to get a substitute for Sunday.  How does that sound?”

“It sounds great!   Let me think about it and talk it over with Hugh.”

When she told Hugh about it, he said it was a good idea, and he’d be fine staying there to keep an eye on things,  She called Hugh T back and agreed to go.

In Cincinnati, they visited the old dairy farm property in Covedale, which was now a residential subdivision.  The Big House was still there, although altered somewhat in appearance.  So was the house Elmer and Merle had built, but the house where Mary was born was gone.

They visited Price Hill, Norwood, Blue Ash, Sharonville, and Clifton.  Many neighborhoods had changed, but they found most of the houses where she and Hugh had lived.  After a visit with her brother and his wife, they drove out to Springfield to visit her parents’ graves, and Highland County to the burial sites for Hubert’s parents.  As planned, they returned to Keezletown on Saturday.

Mary hadn’t realized how much she would miss Paul and the COHOPE family.  He was delighted to have her back.   Then he made an announcement with a familiar ring.  “I’m going…on a trip…soon.”

At first, she thought he was just being playful because she’d been away, and he wanted her attention.  Then she remembered five months earlier…back in October.  Somewhere in her spirit she heard an alert sounding.  Lord, what’s going on here?

A settled feeling came over her.  “That’s nice,” she said to Paul.  “You can tell me about it later.”

When Hugh T was getting ready to return to Richmond, Paul said to him, “I’ve got…a…secret.”

“A secret?  Can you give me any hints?”

“I’m going on…a…trip.”

“Where?”

“That’s the…secret.  You will…know…soon.”

After Hugh T and Sharon returned  to Richmond, Mary settled back into her routines.  Then on Sunday, Paul became ill.  He was worse by Monday, and they called the doctor.  He had viral pneumonia.  When it continued to worsen, Paul was put in the hospital.  Things did not look good.  By Thursday, he was place in the hospice unit.

“I’m very sorry,” the doctor told Mary.  “Paul just doesn’t have the strength to pull through this,  We are making him as comfortable as possible.  If there are family members who want to see him, they need to come soon.”

Mary sat with Paul Friday night.  They had elected to do no “heroic measures,’ and his tubes had been removed.  He was sleeping more peacefully than she had ever seen–no twitching nerves, unruly hands, or hard breathing.

Mary leaned back, closed her eyes, and released her emotions.  She sobbed a flood of tears.  Letting go of her son was so hard.  He’d been so much a part of her life for so long. Her comfort was that she knew he was ready, and God would now receive him through that tunnel of light where he had met Paul years earlier, then sent hi back to finish his task on earth.

During the day on Saturday, Paul was alert, relaxed, and speaking more clearly than he ever had before.  His siblings and many friends came and went.  Hugh relieved Mary for several hours, then she returned.  During the night Paul awoke briefly and talked to her.

“I love you, Mother.  Thanks for taking care of me.  Tell all my friends I love them.”

Then he was ready to sleep again.  He smiled.  She leaned over and kissed him.  “I love you, Paul.  God has many wonderful blessings waiting for you.”

He opened his eyes a few moments later.  “You will be all right, Mom,” he said, then closed them.

Sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning, he died.

And Mary was all right.

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter,” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

 

Majestic Aging

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(Weathered Wall, Acrylic on Canvas by Hugh Townsend Harris)

What’s it like to be old?

I’d say it is like being enriched!

Take an old, retired tobacco barn in Halifax County, Virginia, for instance.  Seen from a distance, the barn appears to be almost lifeless, wood rotting away, in danger of toppling over.  But take a closer look.  See beyond the obvious to the character masked by the effects of aging.  That weathered old structure is actually in an enriched, majestic state of being.

Aging is a majestic process.  It’s the most universal and persistent of all human experiences.  We start it as soon as we’re born.  It’s a ripening process.

We associate wrinkled skin, thinning hair, loss of hearing, and generally a state of decline with the idea of being old.  So we don’t want any part of it.  “I’m only as old as I feel,” we tell ourselves.  Well…maybe…sometimes.  Some of us feel the wear and tear differently than others.  Ripening is about being enriched at a deeper, inward level.

The secret to majestic aging is staying alert, active, connected to God and to others, exploring new options as life’s stages unfold.  It’s learning to be comfortable in our own skin, not taking ourselves too seriously because now we know it really isn’t all about us anyway.  

When I missed my mother for the first Christmas in seventy-nine years I wrote a blog about “Feeling Old.”  Where once I had persistently seen my glass as half-full, I could now see it as half-empty.  I can now appreciate what it means to have more days behind me than in front of me.  That’s a good thing!  It frees me to capture the essence of each moment, each relationship, each unfolding experience.

It means I’m being enriched from the inside-out…just like the wall on that old tobacco barn.

That’s majestic!

 

Feeling Old

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It’s December 28th–three days left in the year!  The Christmas tree is still up.  The candles are still in the windows.  Even with the fireplace lit, there has been a bit of a chill in the air this season.

I miss Mom!

Except for two years when I was overseas in the Army, I’ve always spent some part of Christmas with Mom.  No matter where I lived, my family and I either went home, or she came to us.  When pastoral duties interfered with Christmas Day, I visited her for New Years.

The season has felt strangely silent this year.  I feel old.

I’ve known other times of loss, but Christmas didn’t feel this way on those occasions.  Dad died in 1999–on New Year’s Day.  We had watched him die slowly for years, receding into an Alzheimer’s world where we couldn’t go.  When he died I felt relief.  I didn’t feel old.

Of course, there have been other losses–my grandparents, my brother, Paul, and my sister, Merle.  There have also been aunts, uncles, cousins…and close friends.  Paul died of pneumonia in 1989.  Sis died from complications surrounding a diabetic seizure in 2002.  I didn’t feel old when they died.

Aging has been a mysterious journey for me.  I have looked into the mirror and found my father’s face staring back at me many times, but I never felt old.  I’ve been blessed with good health and energy.  I’ve explored my creativity through art and writing.  I’ve always seen the glass as “half-full.”  This year it seems to be “half-empty!”

Mom had an intrinsic vitality that captured and inspired others, including me.  She was a woman of enduring faith and courage.  She took challenges in stride as opportunities.  She suffered, but she also persevered, and you never felt that her suffering had defined her parameters.

She strode through life in deep companionship with her Lord.  When she made mistakes, she owned them.  No excuses.  No blaming.  When she stumbled, she picked herself up.  She always had time to connect with you, rejoice in your successes, and feel your pain.  I always wanted to be like her in those things.

In recent years when her resources were small, Mom found ways to give gifts that became her trademark at Christmas.  For me, it was always a small package of handkerchiefs.  For someone else it might be one of her “treasures” from a shelf, or perhaps a book.  She would hand me my handkerchiefs with a twinkle in her eye.  “I always know what a man needs,” she would say, then laugh.  What she really gave us were pieces of herself.

So here we are.  No great family gathering this year.  A few phone calls.  Mostly quiet remembering.  Before me the portal of a challenging year begins to swing open.  I look to God with gratitude for all he has given me, all he has taken, and all he has yet to reveal.  I thank him for Mom.

I miss her.  I miss calling to check in with her.  I miss occasional notes from her that would show up in the mailbox.  And yet…and yet I sense her presence still with us in the fiber of our daily lives.

And I feel old…as I should after seventy-nine Christmases past!  It’s about time!

Thank you, Lord, for each day you grant.  Help me to use each one well.  Amen.