Friday, July 31, 2015

Writing Sisters: The Privilege Of Writing

Everyone's Story welcomes authors  and sisters Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, who are perhaps known more commonly as the Writing Sisters. While Betsy and Laurie have touched my heart with the premise of their debut novel, of whether our lives actually matter and to whom, what I also admire is their love and respect for the power of story. I hope you enjoy the week with Betsy and Laurie. Please check out their BookGiveaway offer (and for an extra bonus point check out the special option at the end of this blog feature**) And, enjoy the gripping opening of THE SHEPHERD'S SONG. Betsy, Laurie, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Betsy and Laurie are offering 1 printed copy of THE SHEPHERD'S SONG to 1 randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, August 7th between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment (you may choose to use the Contact Me form to privately send me your email address--the form is in the right-hand sidebar on the blog's main page, toward the bottom).


From THE SHEPHERD'S SONG by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers

Kate McConnell opened her eyes. Where was she? There were bright lights above her. Movement. The sound of a siren wailing.
She closed her eyes and opened them again, hoping somehow this all would go away. It didn’t.
An ambulance. She was in an ambulance.
What had happened?
A man’s voice called out behind her. “Female, age about forty-five, multiple injuries. BP: ninety over sixty. Pulse: one-forty. Respirations: twenty-five, short and shallow.”
Each bump and jolt of the ambulance brought pain, crushing pain in her chest and stabs of pain down her right leg. Kate tried to grab her chest, but her arms were strapped down. She shivered uncontrollably. Her blue sweater and pants were covered in something wet—gooey and wet. Blood. He was talking about her.
A brief memory came—her car sliding on the slick road, the sound of breaking glass and crunching metal. A car accident. Panic rose in her chest. She had been in an accident.
The newspaper would later say it was the worst traffic accident ever on that section of I-95 between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore—twenty-five cars, six semis, and one bus. The temperature Thursday had been fifty-five degrees, a beautiful day. Then, Friday, it fell to thirty-one, unusual for October. A sudden snowstorm dropped more than two inches of snow in just ten minutes, creating whiteout conditions that took everyone by surprise, including the drivers on I-95.
The voice behind her continued its calm clinical assessment. “In and out of consciousness. Possible head injuries.”
“Help,” she whispered. Each breath was raw. There wasn’t enough air. Dizziness swept over her. She tried again. “Help.”
“Hold on. Try to stay awake.” A young man leaned over her, making eye contact. His voice was calm, but she saw fear in his eyes.
She tried to nod but couldn’t.
“Be still; we’re on the way to the hospital.”
Everything in her wanted to fight free of the straps and the stretcher, but she couldn’t even move her head. Pain radiated from her chest and leg.
The voice began again. “Bleeding profusely from a gash in right leg—looks like an open fracture. Possible internal injuries.”
For a few seconds there was silence, the only sound the hum of tires on the road.
“Will do. We’ll be there in five to eight minutes, depending on traffic.”
What had happened? Kate remembered her morning, speeding from one activity to the next, pushing her old station wagon to the point where it shook. An early-morning run to the grocery store, then back home, then a twenty-mile drive to deliver dinner to a friend who was recuperating from surgery, then a stop to drop off the dry cleaning, then five more things on her to-do list. Then the snow had started.
The cleaner’s. She had been trying to get back to the dry cleaner’s, but for what?
She felt a hand on her forehead, and she opened her eyes. The young man’s face came into view again. His nervous eyes studied her.
“What’s your name?”
She tried to focus. Her name?
“Kate . . . McConnell.” She gasped out each word.
“Your birthday?”
She tried to come up with the answer, but it was too confusing. Tears welled up.
“It’s all right. Just stay with me.”
“What hap—?” She wanted to finish the sentence but could not.
“You were in a car accident on the interstate.” He held her arm, feeling for a pulse. “There was a pile-up. It’s a mess out there.”
Her mouth opened and closed with a question unasked. She wanted to say the words, but nothing came out.
“Matt,” she finally gasped out the name of her son. “John.” Her husband.
“No one was with you in the car. Just rest and stay calm. We’ve got you.”
She could feel the sway of the ambulance as it passed other cars. The voice faded in and out. She closed her eyes.
A new thought came. She might die. Would it be like this, the end? So fast? With so much undone?
Kate’s mind drifted back and forth, weaving in and out of the events of the past week.
“I don’t think my life matters,” she had told a friend. “I’ve been a Christian for almost twenty-five years, and I haven’t accomplished anything. I can’t point to one single person that I’ve had an impact on, even in my own family.”
“Of course you have. You serve on the church worship committee, you deliver meals every week to people in need, and you’re always writing down scriptures for people.”
“But are those the important things?” Kate had asked. “Do those things matter?”
John. He mattered. And Matt.
“Oh, Mom,” she could hear Matt say. “You don’t believe all that stuff.”
Matt, who had drifted away from faith when he’d started college, now refused to go to church at all.
She couldn’t get through to him.
Was she really dying?
Someone lifted her eyelid. It was the young man. He looked closely into her eye, as if he was examining her soul.
“Stay with me now.”
She felt the ambulance sway, then the jolt of a sharp turn.
“Help,” Kate gasped again as pain stabbed through her side.
“Stay with me.”
A wave of dizziness. Then nothing.

John McConnell hovered over the documents on his desk, every ounce of attention focused on the case before him. Behind him shelves and shelves of legal books reached to the ceiling.
“Mr. McConnell. A phone call, line three.” His secretary spoke from the doorway.
“I said to hold all calls.” He continued scanning the document.
“I know, but . . .”
“I am well aware that we all need to get out of here.”
From his twelfth-floor office he had been watching the snow fall. Two inches piled up on his windowsill, and reports of accidents had begun popping up on the Internet.
“Did you finish those edits on the Johnson case?” he asked.
He tried to refocus his attention on the work before him. It was complicated, and now his concentration was broken.
“It’s the hospital.”
He looked up. Her pale face and wide eyes shattered his calm. A ripple of fear grabbed his stomach. Something terrible had happened. He knew it. He fumbled for a moment with the receiver, then got it to his mouth with shaking hands.
“This is John McConnell.”
“This is Metropolitan Medical Center. We have an emergency vehicle on the way.”
“Is he all right?” John’s voice went up in pitch. His mind was filled with thoughts of Matt. His son was an inexperienced driver, and in this snow . . .
“Mr. McConnell, it’s your wife.”
“My wife?”
“Yes, Kate McConnell. She’s been in an accident. She’s being transported here.”
“How is she? What happened?” A million questions flooded his mind. He could see Kate as he’d left her that morning, loading the old station wagon with the dry cleaning, recycling, and meals for friends.
“Hey, you’re not taking all of those, are you?” he had said when he saw her carry out the chocolate cupcakes.
Kate had smiled, dimples showing. “I saved a few for you.”
He touched the note that he had found this morning in his briefcase. Do not be anxious about anything. Her neat handwriting stood out from the crisp white of the paper.
Kate was a bundle of energy and a bundle of life. How could she be hurt?
“Mr. McConnell? Are you there?”
“We don’t have the details, but please come as soon as you can.”
“I’m on my way.”
Leaving the file on his desk unfinished, John McConnell ran for the elevator.

Matt was in class when he felt his phone vibrate. He considered ignoring it. He was really engrossed in this lecture. The only other thing that could possibly interest him would be the weekend’s plans. It was Friday, and he was not yet sure what the next few days looked like. Maybe Joe had gotten tickets for the Rusty Bucket concert. Matt slipped the phone out of his pocket.
Emergency. Call me.
A text from his dad. That was unusual. His dad hardly ever called him, much less texted. Something must have happened. Matt was glad he’d sat in the back. He left his books open on the desk and slipped out into the hall. Did they find the empty beer bottles under the deck? He pressed call. Was he going to have to listen to his father’s lecture about drinking and all the legal ramifications?
Matt steeled himself for the lecture.
“It’s your mother, Matt. She’s been in an accident. She’s on her way to Metropolitan in an ambulance.”
Suddenly everything dissolved away: the hall, the classroom, the lecture that he’d been so into. They were gone, and the words coming from his phone were everything.
“Not Mom.”
He couldn’t take it in.
“Son, it’s true. I don’t know her condition. Come to the hospital as soon as you can. I’m on my way there now.”
Matt couldn’t speak.
“Matt? Are you there?” He heard the concern in his father’s voice.
“You okay to drive?”
“Yeah, Dad.”
The phone went dead.
Matt stood frozen in place. It couldn’t be his mother. She was the strongest person he knew. He had seen her handle difficult situations with ease, and handle several at once. “Mega-Mom,” that’s what his friends called her. One tiny blond woman, totally in control. He couldn’t imagine Mega-Mom in an ambulance. It must be someone else. Someone borrowed her car. Something like that.
He waited for his phone to buzz again, for his dad to call him back and say that it was all a big mistake. What if it wasn’t a mistake? No, he couldn’t think that. He had to keep it together. He had to get to the hospital.

A blast of cold air hit Kate’s face as the ambulance doors opened, jarring her awake. She could hear voices. It came back to her in a rush. The accident. She’d been in an accident. She opened her eyes to movement. People were reaching into the small space around her, all talking at once.
“Kate McConnell, trauma patient.”
“Got it. Ready. Lift.”
She felt a jar as the stretcher was pulled forward, then lights and swirls of snow. The wheels hit the ground, and they were inside within seconds. Masked faces in white and green hovered over her. Gloved hands touched her.
Two blue eyes looked down at her over a white hospital mask.
“I’m Dr. Belding,” a calm voice said. “I’m taking care of you.”
The white lab coat was comforting. His white hair spoke of experience. He was in control. No fear in his eyes.
“We are going to fight together,” he said. “Stay with me.”
The face turned, and the voice changed to business.
“What IV access do we have?”
The paramedic was writing on a clipboard. He answered without looking up. “Eighteen gauge in the right and left arms, both running well.”
Dr. Belding grabbed the end of the stretcher and started pushing. “Let’s get her to the trauma room and get her intubated.”
They moved quickly down a long green hall. They rounded a corner, and the motion stopped for a second like a turning of the tide, then all ahead again, into a spotless room with gleaming metal machines and bins of white sterile packages. Mechanical noises came from all directions, beeping and whirring. The gloved hands moved over her, loosening the straps and cutting away her sweater and pants.
“What’s the blood pressure?”
“Seventy over fifty. And decreased breath sounds on the left.”
“Open up those IVs.”
Kate could not seem to grasp what was happening to her.
“Can you hear me?” Dr. Belding’s voice reached into her confusion.
“Can you hear me?” Louder this time. “Give me a thumbs-up.”
Kate wanted to lift her thumb, but the slightest movement seemed impossible. She concentrated. She fought with all the determination she could muster. Her thumb went up slightly.
“Good. Let’s get some antibiotics on board, and some morphine, too.”
Kate’s body was not her own. She felt someone open her mouth and put a tube down her throat. No. No. I’m here, she wanted to say. I’m still in here. She was helpless as chaos swirled around her. In the midst of it all, one kernel of peace came to her. The Lord is my shepherd.
Of course. The twenty-third psalm. That’s why she had been going back to the dry cleaner’s. The psalm had been left in Matt’s coat pocket.
A memory came—a vivid picture of herself sitting at the kitchen table, carefully copying Psalm 23 onto a clean white piece of paper. She was writing as neatly and clearly as she could, praying over each phrase. Then she was folding the paper into a square and putting it in the pocket of Matt’s wool peacoat. She had imagined him finding it and reading it. How could he not be moved by the promises it held and the clear picture of God as his shepherd?
Instead, anger.
How long would she have to fight with him? And why didn’t John help her with the fight?
Now this.
Dr. Belding’s blue eyes came into view.
“You can rest now,” he said. “We’ll take care of everything.”
Wait. Who was telling her to rest? She was confused. Did God want her to rest? No. No rest. She had so much to do. She had to get up and get out of here. Her work was not done.

Not yet, God, she prayed. Please, not yet.

Sharing Your Story by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers

We love the name of Elaine’s blog, Everyone’s Story. It reminded us of the Frederick Buechner quote "The story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all."

That’s our favorite thing about writing – telling stories that inspire people to understand their own story and their place in the bigger story of God’s love for us. We wrote The Shepherd’s Song about the 23rd Psalm. It’s an overarching story of one woman’s struggle for significance but also contains twelve stories of individuals touched and changed by Psalm 23.

The best part of writing the book – better than the amazing way we found our agent and publisher – better than writing together as sisters - has been hearing stories from our readers. It seems that the 23rd Psalm written so long ago by David is still relevant and still connecting people to their Shepherd. Now that’s good writing!

After the book was released we waited. Would anyone read it? Then emails began to come in. We heard from an atheist in India who discovered that God was real and could be trusted. We heard from women in a prison in South Carolina who found hope in the stories of second chances. We heard stories from women overcoming cancer, struggling with marriages, wondering if their lives mattered. We were blessed by our readers and their stories.

What a great privilege it is to write.  Stories connect us and are universal. In the spring The Shepherd’s Song was published in Bulgarian. Next month it will be published in German. In the beginning of the book is a verse from Isaiah 55:11so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

What an amazing promise from God to writers.

Thanks, Elaine for having us on the blog today. We would love to hear stories from your readers. Does anyone have a story to share?

Betsy and Laurie's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Everyone’s Story hosts @WritingSisters, Betsy Duffey & Laurie Myers. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

What’s the best part about writing? It’s not what you think! See what @WritingSisters say. (Tweet This) 

Authors: Do you hope & expect to hear from readers? @WritingSisters want to hear from you! (Tweet This)

Authors' Bio:
The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars. They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, THE SHEPHERD’S SONG, was being released in paperback  April 2015.
You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books.

Places to connect with Betsy and Laurie:

**It's summer and time to have a bit of fun. Please take this month's new Poll on the right-hand sidebar on your summer reading pleasure. You'll earn an extra BookGiveaway point for the Writing Sister's offer if you take the poll and comment about it within your blog comment (and yes, I'm going on the honor-system). Thanks!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bruce Judisch: When A Novel Teaches A Lesson To Its Author

Everyone's Story gives a warm welcome to author Bruce Judisch. I confess that because of my own fascination of WW II, and that my author's theme centers around how people treat--or not--each other, that I have invited Bruce to guest on my blog. Yet, I also went "oooh" upon discovering Bruce because I know his novels also reflect on my viewers' interests. Bruce's contribution this week is eye-opening intriguing! Every time I read Bruce's last line of his message fresh tears of gratefulness fill my eyes. I hope you enjoy this feature. Please check out Bruce's wonderful BookGiveaway. Both Bruce and I look forward to hearing from you.

Bruce is generously offering a set of KATIA and FOR MARIA to 1 randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, July 31st between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment.

A Story within a Story by Bruce Judisch

I imagine few writers begin researching their next novel with the expectation that it will change their lives. I certainly didn’t. And yet…

“On September 21st, 1941, the Serpa Pinto sailed into New York’s harbor with 55 refugee children from war-ravaged Europe. Together, Jews, non-Aryan Christians, and other “undesirables” crowded the railing and gawked at the Statue of Liberty as the ship maneuvered toward Ellis Island. Among them, Ania squatted and chattered into the ears of Lilli-Anna and Kammbrie, two years old this day.”       Excerpt from For Maria

Ania, Lilli-Anna, and Kammbrie are fictional characters. The 55 refugee children are not. Among them was a little boy named Oswald Kernberg.

First, let me say that For Maria was both a joy and a heartbreak to write. Research intensive and emotionally exhausting, there were times during the one and a half years it took to produce the first draft that I set the manuscript aside for a week or two just to regather my thoughts, my wits, and my heart. Little did I realize where that research would lead me.

During that research, I encountered a gentleman who would become not only a friend, but an inspiration. His name, Art Kern—his childhood name, Oswald Kernberg—now in his 80s. He’s circled in the above photo. I soon discovered what Art and other children of the Kindertransport endured to be beyond imagination. At least my imagination. Yet, I have never met a person more positive, joyful, and uplifting than Art Kern. Here’s his story* in his own words, excerpted from an essay he wrote about his life, surprisingly titled “Luck.”

“I am 10 years old. I am sitting on the floor of our living room leafing through my parents’ photograph album. My parents aren’t home. I am taking photographs out of my parents’ photograph album … parents, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins, and putting them in an envelope. I must hurry. I don’t want my parents to see or know what I am doing … I know that I must leave my parents’ home tomorrow evening.”

Denied immigration to England, the US, Paraguay, Uruguay, Cuba, China, and Palestine, among other places, in final desperation, his parents applied through the Vienna Jewish Community to get their two sons out of Austria. Art was chosen; his brother was not. Over the next 2-3 years, Art lived in several children’s homes in France run by the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (French Children’s Aid Society), the OSE. His eventual journey to the US would come in fits and starts.

“In May of 1941, I am told that I have been chosen to go to the USA with a children’s transport … I am overjoyed … and it somewhat compensated for the fact that I had just found out my parents and brother had been deported from Vienna to Poland.”

But two days before he was due to leave, his place on the manifest was revoked. Devastated, he spent the next two months languishing in another OSE home near Limoges. Then, in July, a second transport prepared to depart. Two of the children selected to go fell ill, and their places were given to Art and another girl.

The end of his story?

“I arrive in the United States and a whole new world opens up for me. I am placed in a foster home … I am given clothing … I am enrolled in school … When completing high school, I receive a scholarship, enroll at CCNY … and graduate in 1952.”

In the following years, Art would marry and complete a career in the aerospace industry in LA amid a small group of other Kindertransport alumni. They dubbed him “The Librarian,” as he maintained records of their heritage and spoke at public venues about their experience. His closing words:

“I have had a wonderful life; however, it took more than a village to raise this child. It took the governments of three countries, many people and many organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to raise this child! … Thousands of children did not get chosen for any Kindertransport and perished. I was chosen for two. TALK ABOUT LUCK!”

I asked Art how he could lose his entire family to the Holocaust, go through what he did just to survive, and yet still find such joy in life.

He simply replied, “I lived the life my parents saved me to live.”

When I have “bad days”—difficulties at work, rush-hour traffic snarls, a favorite TV show cancelled—and I start to gripe, I remember Art. My thoughts turn toward my children and grandchildren, all alive and thriving. I relax in a peaceful home that has never been ripped away from me by black-shirted men in jackboots, practice my faith without being beaten or worse. And I resolve to live the life God saved me to live.

*Blog note: Bruce Judisch has been granted by Art Kern, and encouraged by Art Kern, to quote his personal story.

Bruce's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Why does author @BruceJudisch make me weep #grateful tears when I read his blog feature? (Tweet This)

Everyone’s Story: @BruceJudisch on when a novel teaches a lesson to its author #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

#BookGiveaway of #WWII & post WWII novels by @BruceJudisch (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Bruce Judisch lives in Universal City, TX, with his wife of 42.5 years (high school sweetheart), Jeannie. They have 3 children and 14 grandchildren. Bruce has published four novels (not including the Barbour collection), and has a fifth manuscript finished (Quimby Pond, a romantic mystery set in NW Maine). His website contains synopses of each book by clicking the book cover.

Places to connect with Bruce:

Friday, July 17, 2015

April McGowan: When Not Accomplishing Your Goal Is A Good Thing

Everyone's Story welcomes author April McGowan. Having seen April's name all over reader and writer venues, I was excited when I won her novel MACY on another blog. Loving the author's voice, and cheering along for the main character, I couldn't put this book down. I'm so happy April is joining us this week, and am thrilled to learn that her 3rd novel is circulating to publishing houses now. Blessings for success, April! Viewers, please kick back a few minutes and enjoy an excerpt of MACY and take in the encouragement April shares. And, do check out her BookGiveaway offer. Both April and I look forward to hearing from you.

April is generously offering 1 paperback signed copy of either MACY or JASMINE to 1 randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, July 24th between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment.

Here's an excerpt from MACY to enjoy:

From MACY by April McGowan 

They say there is a time and a place for everything. I could tell by the way Arthur held his fork, this was neither. It swiveled in his hand, looking more like a stabbing device than an eating implement. The pieces of salad fell from the tines onto the booth’s laminate tabletop, splattering it with red Catalina French salad dressing. As if listening in, the restaurant seemed to go peculiarly quiet.

He leaned toward me. Steel gray eyes stared me down. “You’re what?”

“We’re going to have a baby.” I whispered, certain everyone had turned their attention on us. Then the busboy dropped a tray of dirty dishes, and a half-eaten portion of chicken-fried steak hit the big trucker at the bar, and gravy coated the wall. They no longer cared about two strangers in the back, their lives at a sudden impasse.

I curled a strand of red hair around my finger, gripping it tight. My husband’s gaze bore down on me, and everything around us went still. It reminded me of the time we stayed over in California during one of their earthquakes. The breeze stopped and the birds quieted like someone’d tossed a blanket over the whole place. Then it came on us, shaking me to my core, tossing me from my comfortable seat.

I gripped the table. Arthur shook his head at me, and disgust curled his lips into a false smile. “I’m a long-haul trucker. We live in our sleeper cab. We don’t have a house.” He listed things in a cold, detached way that told me his stress level had reached an all-time high. I also noticed he left the biggest issue off his list. He never wanted children. Until the moment I took the pregnancy test, neither had I.

“Would you like some herb tea?” My hand shook as I lifted the silver teapot toward him.

His eyes refocused on me. “Tea?”

I motioned to the basket of mixed teabags the waitress had left for us. “To calm you down.”

I waited for him to yell. Maybe take a swing at me. But he didn’t. Instead, Arthur did something that surprised me. He got up, tossed money on the table, and walked out. Stunned, I didn’t move. He must have needed time to think. After all, I’d had a week to process the idea. He’d come back in a while, and we’d figure out what to do. Arthur could be a hard man, no one knew that better than me. The baby would change all that.

A picture of a house nestled in the trees, a garden out back, and maybe a dog to keep us company while Arthur was out on the road, formed in my mind. I touched my stomach, daydreaming, until a familiar rumble startled me back to the present. I peered out the window, tipping to the side to see the parking lot, and saw diesel smoke bellow out of the chrome stacks.

He was warming up the truck. I took fast bites of my lunch, not wanting to make him wait for me any longer, but my stomach rebelled. I’d get a to-go box and take it with me. And the tea—that’d be just the thing to settle my stomach on the road. I almost got the waitress’s attention when I heard the engine shift from idling to engaged. My hand froze mid-air and I watched as if in slow motion. Our big rig pulled out of the parking lot and past the window where I sat. The brown cab, splotched with dirt and oil from thousands of miles on the road, moved across the front parking lot of the restaurant, pulled out, drove to the light, then turned the corner out of sight. My heart raced, but my legs went numb.

He’d left. He’d be back, he had to come back. I read the maps for him. He probably went to get supplies to let me finish lunch. We were overdue on an oil change—hadn’t he noticed the shop up the road? I nibbled my food, glancing out the window between bites, sure he’d come pulling in any minute. Any minute.

A full hour later, I still sat in the booth. The waitress refilled my hot water pot. “You okay, honey?"

I started to say what we all say when a stranger asks such a question. I started to tell her I was fine. Instead, when I opened my mouth, a sob came out.
“He’s gone,” I managed to get out and then swallowed hard, realizing a new point of panic. “I don’t even know where I am.” The smell of fried potatoes and eggs wafted off the waitress and traipsed over to my nose. My stomach churned.

“I’m sure he’ll be back.”

I glanced at her hopeful blue eyes. Her name tag said Donna. The lines around her smile and age spots on her hands showed her to be in her mid-fifties. “They all come back.”

“I didn’t think he’d leave.” I shivered even as others around me shed their jackets. Maybe I was going into shock.

“Come with me, sweetie.” She pulled me up from the booth and led me down the hall, past the kitchen entry—where I held my breath—to a door painted white with a seventies confetti sparkle. After pulling out a key, she unlocked it, revealing a long shadowy staircase.

“We’ve got a small apartment up there. Just a studio.” She paused, her voice softening. “It’s unoccupied. Go lay down a bit. Life always looks better after a nap.”

At the very suggestion of a nap, my body went on autopilot. I trudged up the stairwell and she closed and locked the door behind me. For a moment, I considered if I’d been voluntarily kidnapped. As I topped the stairs, I found a cozy room with a kitchenette. In the corner sat a daybed, all made up, as if waiting for me. I headed toward it, past the love seat and small coffee table, my eyes focused on the pillow. Everything was clean, dust free, hair free. I lay down and turned my face into the bedding. As the aroma of baby powder dryer sheets met my nose, I gave in and cried myself to sleep.

The smell of coffee woke me. I cracked my eyes and took in my surroundings. It hit me again that I’d been abandoned, and I buried deeper under the comforter. A bright light came in through the window sheers as the sun rose. I heard rustling in the kitchenette and saw Donna’s back.

“What time is it?” My croaky voice surprised me. I must have cried harder than I thought.

Donna turned and gave me a soft smile. Her eyes held regret. “Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you. It’s just a bit after five.”

“Five? In the morning?” I sat up too fast and the room spun.

Donna rushed over and kept me from toppling off the bed. “I peeked in on you after closing last night, and you were sleeping hard. You looked like you needed the rest.”

I’d been there all night. We’d been married for seven years and not once had I spent the night away from Arthur. He’d never even let me go home for a visit.
“I’ve got coffee in the kitchen.”

Autopilot kicked on, because otherwise I’d be sobbing. “Thanks.” I looked around and saw a door. “Is that the bathroom?”

“Sure is. You go clean up—fresh towels inside. Feel free to take your time. You come on down for breakfast when you feel up to it.” She patted my back and headed out of the room. Her heels clicked on the stairs as she tromped down. “I’m locking you in, but you can flip it from the inside. It’s just to keep wanderers out.”

“Thanks,” I called. Bracing myself against the bed, I got up and waited for the room to still again. Low blood sugar ran in my family. I remembered hearing my mama complaining about it when she was pregnant with my sisters and brother. That must be what was wrong with me. Heading into the bathroom, I found not only fresh towels, but a bottle of shampoo, soap, packaged toothbrush, and toothpaste. A shiny clean hairbrush sat on the mirror shelf. And a fresh package of underwear, amazingly just about my size, lay on the back of the toilet. Tears pooled in my eyes.

Glancing into the mirror over the tiny sink, I caught sight of matted red hair and mascara stains running down my cheeks. I hoped I hadn’t ruined Donna’s pillowcase. In the shower, I ran my soapy fingers over the tiny hump I imagined on my stomach. Realistically, the baby couldn’t be showing yet—but something felt different. Firmer. As I stepped from the shower, emotionally lighter, nausea washed through me. Before I knew it, I was over the toilet, vomiting bile.

My mother survived this four times, and toward the end of each one, resentment began to show. As it was only my third time throwing up, I didn’t feel bitter yet. Maybe that would come later?

Fully clothed and cleaned, I felt more human. My toast had gone cold. A real breakfast sounded good. I headed downstairs, thinking about how I could pay back Donna for her kindness—and for the breakfast I would eat. My hand protectively covered my stomach. I needed to figure out what to do next, but I couldn’t get my brain to engage. I didn’t have any cash on me. I needed to find my bank. Regret passed over me. I’d worked hard to save my secret money for emergencies.

Being abandoned qualified.

The restaurant murmured with early morning customers, sipping coffee from their mugs in zombie-like trances. I could almost see the light of life begin to sparkle in their eyes. The aroma of ham and eggs and all things breakfast-like cozied around me.

“There you are.” Donna gave me a bright smile and motioned me to a booth. “What sounds good this morning, sweetie?”

“An omelet, some hash browns, side of fruit?”

“Coming right up.” Donna turned to go.

I caught her arm and motioned her to come closer so I could whisper my shame. “Donna, I don’t have any money right now.”

“It’s on me.” She winked.

Again, I was taken aback. It’d been a long time since I’d met anyone who didn’t want something for, well, everything. Worries rushed through my head. All of my things, though few, were with Arthur. I had no clothes. I had no job. I had no means of getting a job. Reading road maps for the past seven years, and raising my siblings before that, didn’t qualify me for much of anything. While my schoolmates were finishing high school and working at the Fresh Freeze, I directed my husband across the country. My meager savings wouldn’t last long at all.

Donna put the plate before me. “What’s your name, honey?”

This woman fed and housed me, and I’d never even introduced myself to her. I blushed. “Macy Stone.”

“So, Macy, what are your plans?” Donna tucked her order pad into her apron pocket and sat down across from me.

Panic threatened to pop the lid covering my emotions. I had never been on my own. I thought marrying Arthur would take care of my future and give me the freedom I’d dreamed of. Bit of a mistake there. “I need a job.”

“Just so happens, I’m down a waitress. You ever waitressed before?”

I shook my head.

“I can train you, but you need to assure me you’re in for the duration. I don’t want you skipping off to the next place as soon as I get you broke in.”

I almost laughed. I’d never skipped anywhere. And I had no place to go. “What if Arthur comes back?” My question was a hollow one.

“If he comes back, then you can go with him. If you want to.”

My eyes locked on hers. If I wanted to?

Have you ever looked at a lion in a zoo habitat too small for it? You’d expect it to pace back and forth, yell and carry on to be let out. But it just sits there with all the hope squeezed out of it. The idea that there could be something else doesn’t enter its mind anymore. It was just waiting. Waiting for the next rain, for the next meal, for the next time little kids made growling noises at it.

That had been me. But for the first time in my life, I wondered if there was something more.

Submission and (the writer's) Life by April McGowan

When I started writing I was having some health struggles, but I was managing. Years later my illness has taken a turn and demands more control over my life than I'd liked to admit. I've powered through, I've looked past, I've plunged on—but it wasn't until I looked up that I found peace.

Our lives can change when we least expect it—illness, tragedy, or loss is never planned. In those times, it's tempting to grasp for more and more control, but it's a futile attempt. When you are fighting a chronic illness, it's even more futile because the energy you could use more effectively elsewhere is spent on holding fast to something you really should let go of.

My condition comes with severe and surprise fatigue. I never know how much I'm going to accomplish in a day. At first, this frustrated me to no end—and it's still a shock when I'm going along minding my own business and then suddenly I can't go anywhere except to bed. But as I give more and more of my day over to the Lord, I find it's easier to accept those moments. Notice I didn't say like those moments, I'm not sure if that will ever happen, although it's something I hope for.

In the past two years, there’s been a huge shift in my focus. I get up and pray for what the Lord might enable me to do rather than what I want to do. This brings great peace when I can't do all I plan to (which is daily!), because I can rest in God's plans instead of my own. This submission brings great freedom.

Some days that includes writing a few hundred words, or several thousand, or none. Sometimes that means staying still all day or missing out on an event I’d been very excited to attend. More often than not, though, the Lord enables me to go and do things I never thought possible. I’m so grateful because I know it’s by His strength and His power I’m moving at all. I’m carried in the very palm of His mighty hand—what a blessed place to be.

I've come to see, though, that I should have been living my life like this all along—ill or not. That's where He wants all of us. Rather than going our own way, we should pray in submission for what He might have for us every day, every moment. It' s our best hope so we don't miss anything He has in store for us and this, in turn, brings a greater intimacy with our Lord.

Are you powering through life with your own agenda, longing for a peace that eludes? Or are you sitting alone feeling useless because of an illness or circumstances beyond your control? I’d offer up neither are a right place to be. Start your day out by not starting, but by sitting still, praying for what He might have for you today. You will be surprised at where He takes you.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Psalm 37:3-5 Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

April's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Inspirational fiction author @AprilKMcGowan: What happens when you don’t accomplish your goals? (Tweet This)

Everyone’s Story: Author @AprilMcGowan on #writing and #ChronicIllness (Tweet This)

Like #ChristianFiction #Women’sFiciton? Check out @AprilMcGowan’s #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
April McGowan loves to read and write healing fiction. She and her husband, two children, and her mews, Spookers, live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. April is a member of Oregon Christian Writers and American Christian Fiction Writers. When she’s not writing, homeschooling her two children, or playing board games, you might find her at her drum kit, imagining she’s on a world tour. Hey, it could happen. April’s next novel, To Hold the Light, is with her agent, David Van Diest, and she’s in progress of writing her first non-fiction title, Things Your Chronically Ill Friend Wishes You Knew.

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