FRAGMENTS

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.” ~ Anais Nin

Author Interview – Jennifer Murgia

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I have been so silent! On every front — I’m finally writing a new novel, one I’m really happy to be writing, and it’s taken me away from all social media. Also, my mom and Wayne came to visit, which was absolutely wonderful. I’ll try to write about their visit next week.

Anyways, I came across Jennifer Murgia’s name a few months back when new owners took over the small press that published As Waters Gone By. Jennifer and I chatted on Facebook a couple of times and I liked her right away. Down to earth, kind, and very interested in what you’ve got to say. I read her latest historical novel and asked if I could do an author interview… If you’re a writer and you like write historical fiction, this is a great interview to read!  More Soon!

1.  Forest of Whispers is a wonderfully multi-layered historical novel. Can you tell me a little about how you came up with the idea of this story?

~ Thank you! I had so much fun writing it.  I’m sort of a history “sponge” and particularly fond of witch tales. My own family tree sprouted in Germany (both maternal and paternal sides) and there have been plenty of stories passed down involving rumors of witchcraft. That’s fodder for a novel! My grandmother lived with a gypsy witch for some time in Germany and read Tarot Cards. Further back, my mother was able to trace the lineage of a great, great, great grandmother rumored to have been a witch in Southwestern Germany, the very location FOREST OF WHISPERS unfolds.

2. I can only imagine you had to have spent considerable time researching your story. It takes place during the era of the Black Plague in Germany… Do tell… Why Germany? And what kind of research did you do?

~ I could spend hours combing for facts: online research, Medieval studies, books, movies… Even as a fiction author, I do believe bringing an authentic vibe to the table is crucial. Why Germany? German witch hunts started the original frenzied wave of perscecution. Not Salem. Not England. In Bavaria, Bamberg alone condemned over 60,000 men, women and children for witchcraft during a time that was particularly chaotic and full of religious tension.

The Great Plague first appeared in Germany in 1348, quickly spreading throughout Europe and not returning again until about 1709. In total, the Black Death is believed to have killed 137 million people during a span of 400 years.

3. Do you research and write together or did you do all the research at the beginning and then write your novel?

~ I did quite a bit of research at the onset of writing my novel to get a solid foothold, but I did do plenty of research as I wrote – sort of bouncing back and forth to make sure my facts were straight: the herbs that are indigenous to the Black Forest, the acts of torture and tools of the time period, clothing . . .

4. As I was reading this story, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the depth of your prose. You have rich layers of description but you never let your words get away from you. How many drafts does it take you to get your story to a place where you’re satisfied?

~ Wow, thank you! I wrote about 2 drafts after hearing back from my agent (I’m so terribly lucky that she’s editorial-minded) and fine tuned and polished the final draft numerous times before sending it out on submission. There were about 2 rounds of edits (nothing major) with my editor before it went to production. But I always feel I need draft after draft, after draft to get it right. I’m very critical of my writing and have been immensely lucky to be paired up with incredible people who share the same vision as I do.

5. Tell me a little about your writing journey… You helped start Playlist Fiction, didn’t you? And you run YA Fest on the East Coast … You are busy! You also recently came alongside the marketing side of Leap Books… Do you like marketing more than writing? Or are they two sides of a similar coin? In all the things you’ve done, your creativity shines… Is that your favorite part of the writing life?

~ Goodness, I guess it is a journey now that I look back on it. It’s so hard to believe FOREST OF WHISPERS is my 5th book. There will soon be six. Its sequel, CASTLE OF SIGHS releases Sept 15, 2015.

My writing journey started in 2007 when I wrote my first book, ANGEL STAR (Lands Atlantic Publishing). It was released in 2010. There are three books in the series.

My YA Contemporary, BETWEEN THESE LINES, was unable to find a home in the market, so under the hybrid umbrella Playlist Fiction, it was self published through MacGregor Literary Agency, along with four other incredible authors. Publishing under Playlist gave my book a home and it gave me the creative control to manage the book. However, I’ve really found that I prefer traditional publishing. It’s just my thing.

In 2012, I co-founded YA FEST with fellow author and friend, Cyn Balog. It’s become a POWERHOUSE of an event that unites teens and authors at the local library in my hometown. What was meant to be a homegrown festival has garnered interest from NY Times Bestselling authors nationwide and publishing houses who “book” their authors to appear. We now have a waiting list a mile long and are booked two years in advance. 2015 will also introduce YA FEST Junior, an event aimed for Middle Grade authors and readers.

Yes, I was asked to not only head the marketing department of Leap Books, LLC, but to join the ranks as partner with fellow authors Shannon Delany and Judith Graves. I never saw it coming and am enjoying it immensely, and yes, there are days where I truly think I’ve found my “other” passion. Creating, as a whole, brings me great joy.

6. Advice to other YA writers who want to do historical fiction? What are some of the important aspects to keep in mind?

~ I tend to think of historical fiction as “Literary Archaeology”. My advice  on retelling the past? Become the past. Absorb it. Read and research. Print pictures and leave images around to help pull that time into NOW. Imagine your life as it would have been back then and add your voice. You’ll find, I’m certain, that the past isn’t so different from today.


Once again, Jennifer Thank you! It’s so fun to meet and work with other writers. and I wish you all the best with this novel and many more to come…

~ Thank you!

Jennifer Murgia writes moody fiction for teens—from paranormal fantasy, to contemporary gut-punchers, to her latest, a 17thcentury historical mystery (about witches!) She also moonlights as Marketing Director for Leap Books and runs a teen book festival on the east coast called YA FEST. In her spare time she chills out with her kids, snuggles with her cat, obsesses over THE WALKING DEAD and tries not to eat too much ice cream. Find her at www.jennifermurgia.com

FOREST OF WHISPERS is a 17th century Bavarian witch mystery published by Spencer Hill Press. It was chosen as a FALL 2014 HOT TITLE by School Library Journal and is a 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Award Winner. It is available in print and eBook through booksellers nationwide.

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/forest-of-whispers-jennifer-murgia/1118619871?ean=9781937053567

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Forest-Whispers-Jennifer-Murgia/dp/1937053563/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412359352&sr=1-1&keywords=forest+of+whispers

Indie Bound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781937053567

 

On Fear and Creativity

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I’ve started a new novel. I actually started another novel about three months ago and quit half-way through. It’s been years since I quit writing a novel mid-way, but I had no choice. There was no more story. So instead of freaking out I went on a few long walks and thought about what was going on. I think I figured it out.

There’s this book I’ve wanted to write for a long time, one I’ve taken notes on and had dreams about in the night. One I’ve been afraid of. So I steered clear of it and talked myself out of writing it and tried to do something easier, something more obvious, something I had more control over. But finally, it dawned on me that it’s really hard to write what you don’t love because you are trying to be safe. Writing a novel takes months, years, many many hours of labor at the computer, in a notebook – scrawling words, submitting yourself to criticism, listening to people tell you where it’s bad, where it’s good, what’s wrong, what’s right with it. If you’re going to lay yourself out there – you might as well do it over something you believe in. 

But that’s the tricky part. If you write what you absolutely love and it still gets rejected, maybe it’s the tell-tale sign that you’re not supposed to be a writer. So, why not hang out in the land of security and write stories that make you feel safe?

Because it won’t feed your soul, that’s why.

And this is where you have to decide what it is you’re trying to accomplish when you write your books. What it is you’re doing with your gift with words. Telling stories is one of the oldest traditions and it’s one of the most widely used traditions. People write stories from all over the world. Why have I joined them? What is it that makes me want to write?

After ten years and dozens of rejections, heaps of criticism, some praise, and quite a lot of indifference, I’m still writing. I get up in the morning and find that when I put my 1,000 words to the page I like this world more. I see this world more clearly. But I have to decide: do I write for me, or because I’m trying to prove something, maybe because I want people to like me?

Truth is, I discover areas and secrets about myself when I’m writing a story and it’s fascinating. When I listen to the story and get out of the way and let it live, let it breathe – it comes to life and I find out things I didn’t know I knew and discover truths I didn’t know I believed. That’s one of my main reasons for writing. But in order to get to the deep things, in order to move past the obvious and into the intuitive, I have to trust and I have to risk. I have to go where I haven’t gone before.

In order to go where I haven’t gone before, in order to risk and let go of my fear — I have to make a decision. Will I let fear overcome me, or will I overcome fear with life?

Today, I’m going to overcome fear with life. I’m going to trust that the story brewing inside me is important and that it will one day serve a purpose. And I’m going to get out of the way and yield and let it breathe and live and become real.

Now faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see … It takes faith to be creative

I’ll keep you posted.

Much Love,

Tina

 

Life in Chile

Today, rather than writing words, I thought it was time to post some pictures. Pictures of life and growth, of hope and friendship, of the aching passage of time. I’m amazed how grown my children are, of how full they are of their own thoughts and opinions, of their own jokes and endless capacity to tease me and Rodrigo. I’m also amazed that this is the third October I’ve spent here in Chile and so far, my favorite. We’ve barely begun the month, but the spring here is mesmerizing. The sun is shining, flowers are coming into full bloom, and it’s warm.

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The kitchen is almost finished! And as for the other pictures …  I feel they speak for themselves. Just a small taste of life here.

Have a good week.

Much Love,

Tina

 

 

Random Bits and Pieces – September

I was going to share this on Wendesday, but I decided I couldn’t wait another moment. I have some fun news and some great book reviews to pass on and even though it’s Monday, I’ve decided to share.

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As a writer I’ve been feeling like I needed to find a way to expand and stretch myself and get to know some more artists and authors and writers out there. So, I began hanging out a lot more on Twitter. @TinaBustamante is my little twitter handle, just in case you want to connect there. While on Twitter, I started coming across so many incredible men and women writers – great writing quotes, blog posts with helpful advice, and I began to feel a greater sense of belonging in the larger writing community. There was this one group that kept jumping out at me and I looked them up – A wonderful writers guild of bold and daring women trying to make a difference. A new friend, Marlena Graves, encouraged me to apply and they accepted my application. I am a new member of the Redbud Writers Guild! Please check out their website, get to know this amazing group of writers and speakers … well worth your time.

What I’ve Been Reading:
The last few books I read were some of the best books I’ve read all year. My sister, mom, and my friend, Karissa sent me books for my birthday and so in August and the beginning of September I read:

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Oh my goodness. A fellow blogger and incredible writer mentioned this novel in one of her posts and I was intrigued. We tend to like a lot of the same stories and so I asked my mom to get it for my birthday. My sister sent it to me while she was in Seattle on a visit. It was such a beautiful novel. It takes place during WWII in Germany and in France. Honestly, I wasn’t very excited for yet another WWII novel. Don’t we have enough? Maybe not. It took Anthony Doerr ten years to get his story finished and I felt the weight of those ten years as it wrapped me up, whispered hope and integrity, light and loss, suffering and a great gentle silence. At the end, when I read the final pages and quietly closed the book, sitting on my bed late in the night, I cried feeling the great questions of life and death, evil and human responsibility invite me to sit with them and keep them company and be overwhelmed with them.

Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout:
This was the only Elizabeth Strout novel I hadn’t read. I have read her most recent The Burgess Boys about three times and I’ve shared how much I appreciated it. And I was deeply grateful for Olive Kitteridge. But Abide with Me sort of left me speechless. It’s a quiet book, many would probably find it boring and wonder what in the world it’s about. I read it in two big gulps and spent an afternoon in awe once I was finished. This story was incredible to me. Somehow Strout captured humanity and Christianity and cruelty and gossip and the desperate need we all have to accept ourselves and give ourselves and our good friends and fellow church members permission to be broken and to be weak, to grieve and mourn and to expect less performance and more love from one another. The novel built and built and then crescendoed in this quiet resolution that left me speechless. It’s her least popular novel – which does not surprise me because it’s about a pastor who’s grieving the loss of his wife in the late 1950′s in a small East Coast town in Maine. But if you have a tender heart and you like quiet books that speak about important things — you might just pick this one up and let Elizabeth Strout work her magic …

And the other book I absolutely adored last month was An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Barbara Brown Taylor was a pastor for many years and in this book she pastored me, she beckoned me in and sat me down and gave me a cup of coffee and talked to me about the geography of faith – in new and old ways, in every day and in extraordinary language. My copy is underlined, ear marked, and crinkled from carrying it around everywhere because as soon as I finished it, I started it all over again. It’s probably one of my new favorite spiritual direction/spiritual formation books. Barbara Brown Taylor gave me courage to accept some of the ways that I love to pray, to go further down old and new roads in my walk with God, and she helped me see that so much of what we do is sacred and holy if we invite God to be on our journey with us. It’s a small book. It won’t take you long, but I encourage you to get a copy and drink it in … It’s well worth your time.

I will let you go now … Thank you for your friendships, your time, your interest. I haven’t shown a lot of pictures lately. This is because our internet is far from satisfactory and it takes a long time to download images. I apologize.

What have you been reading? I would love some recommendations.

Much Love,

Tina

 

Lisa Cronkhite – Author Interview

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Hi Friends,

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing a quick interview with another Leap Books writer yesterday and thought I’d share! Lisa Cronkhite is the author of the novel Deep in the Meadows – a recent release with the same publishers as Waters …

Lisa Cronkhite lives in the United States and is not only a novelist, she is also a poet. It’s always a pleasure to find out what inspires other writers and glean as much as possible from their knowledge of the craft. Thank you Lisa for being answering a couple of my questions!

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Tell me a little about your book… What do you hope people will enjoy about it?

 Deep in the Meadows is about a young girl, Bianca “Bee” who is still trying to get over her brother, Jimmy’s death that was 10 months ago. As his year anniversary comes, she starts to feel his presence more and more and starts to think Jimmy’s death may have not been an accident like the police reports say.

I hope people will enjoy the fact that they’re not alone when they grieve and that you can move on, and believe that presence is still with you always. Also about Bee’s mother and mental illness, I want people to become aware how it affects lives.

 When did you realize you were a writer?

When I started writing a poem a day, sometimes two a day, it kept pouring out to me. Seems I still have things in me to pour out.

What are some of the things you learned during the revisions?

Show don’t tell. Try to work on my character development as much as possible.

Who are your favorite writers?

Carol Goodman, Brenna Yovanoff

Advice for aspiring writers?

Keep writing. Keep trying new things out. If your POV isn’t working, try a different POV. If present tense isn’t working, try past. Keep having your work critiqued and keep critiquing others, you will gain a lot of insight to your work and build up a support group.

Thank you for your time, Lisa … I particularly appreciate the advice about how we need to keep writing. And the idea that it’s okay to try a different POV and learn from being critiqued. 

Feel free to hop on over to Amazon or Leap Books and buy a copy.

Please come back on Monday for some Fragments … and Wednesday for some Random Bits and Pieces … I have some fun things to share! What I’ve been reading and something else that I’m excited about.

Much Love,

Tina

 

Married Fifteen Years

IMG_1380On my fifteen year wedding anniversary I spent it at my neighbor’s house eating empanadas, sopaipillas, and roasted lamb. Emma and Lucas ran around all day riding four-wheelers with their friends. We had two girls staying with us from an orphanage, so I was busy making sure they were happy and eating, and whether they needed anything. Rodrigo and I hung out, meandering around with all the variety of people – laughing, toasting to marriage, toasting to life in Chile, feasting together. All in all it was kind of a wonderful way to ring in fifteen years.

When I got to Temuco two years ago, I didn’t know how life was going to turn out. I didn’t know who would become our friends, where we would live, or if we’d like it here. I only knew that it was time to move to Chile and more particularly, that it was time to risk something. We’d grown stagnant in the States and it was time to move out of our comfort zone and feel insecure, feel naked and vulnerable. And do something new and good for our family.

Fifteen years ago, I risked something as well. I gave some promises to a very handsome latino man whom I had fallen in love with. I was happy to make those promises and happy to make them to him. But they were scary, sacrificial, and in some way in this have-to-be-happy-all-the-time consumeristic culture they were downright daring. To make a promise to be someone’s other – no matter what comes – is one of the greatest gifts we’ll ever give. To promise to love that person as a verb and a noun. To hold unswerving to those promises even when everything in you wants to throw their laundry out the second story window and burn the underwear they can never quite get into the damn laundry basket is downright amazing.

I have two children from my marriage. Two children whom I love with every breath in me. This is because I loved another first. To give life to another human being because you and this one person have somehow figured out how to become one flesh, in spirit and in body, and want to bring a baby out of your love is one of life’s every day beautiful miracles.

It’s no small feat to make it fifteen years. We married young and have grown and changed and have had to find our way back to one anther on a couple of occasions. We’ve had to choose to make it work even when it wasn’t working and stand still and wait, choose love, choose to yield and choose to be for one another when almost everything begged otherwise. And here we are.

There have been a couple of times in my marriage when those promises we made were what held us in place. Till death do us part … kind of encompasses it all, doesn’t it? I’m not a stickler about marriage. Marriages end and break apart all the time in today’s world and there are reasons for this – some necessary and some incredibly selfish. It’s not my place to tell a person what they should or shouldn’t do, or my place to tell a person when it’s right to leave or stay. These things are personal. And private. There’s a whole world behind the closed door of a marriage room. We best be careful not to judge that which we cannot see.

However, I think it’s okay for me to say that if a person can stay and it’s safe to stay, if your life isn’t in danger and there’s some kind of mutual love and respect, even if small – it’s in your best interest to try and make it work. To hold to the promises you made, even if very young and even if very difficult. We can be a hard lot to love, us people. But love over time, heals wounds and gives one a safe place to grow.

The other night my neighbor, Sonia came to my house and told me her story. She and her husband live down the road from us. It’s obvious she absolutely adores her husband and he loves her. They’ve been married over thirty years. She told me that when she got married she didn’t love him. She only wanted to escape her family home and he seemed a good route to go. Her father didn’t like him and she decided that was good enough reason to marry him. They started dating on November 7th and got married two weeks later. I asked her how long it took to love him and she said a few months. Apparently, she went home for a visit about six months after they got married and she spent the entire time in the bathroom crying because she missed him so much and so she went home and told him she’d never leave his side again. I thought this precious. They are together every day. And when she was sick from surgery he was the only person who took care of her and she says, it was with the kindest care.

(The picture below is Sonia’s husband. I think she did well, don’t you?)

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There is a great mystery to marriage. To watch the intermingling of two lives become one flesh is sacred stuff. And how they become a family, a whole unit, is a lovely thing to see and a lovely thing to be a part of …

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I love Rodrigo Bustamante and I am so thankful that fifteen years ago he said he would love me. I hold his promises to be some of my most sacred gifts.

Much Love,

Tina

 

On Murder and Evil and God’s Goodness

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For those who haven’t heard — A young woman named Erica Faith Hagan from Kentucky was found murdered in her small apartment on the Baptist school campus in Temuco Chile. My children do all their sports on this campus and we have many friends there.

Consequently, this last week has been filled with rumors: rumors of murder, of motive, of possibilities, and also a week of great fury and shock. “How could this have happened?” they ask.

It’s hard to accept the truth of great evil, the capacity we have to do harm to one another, to commit murder.

But deep down we know the truth. We are all capable of hurting each other.

From what we can tell and what the newspapers are saying, the police have found the murderer. A guard at the school, working night shift. He was a new guard, and had keys to every apartment. This explains why there was no break in. They found blood on his shoes, and various other pieces of evidence. When the police went to pick him up at his house, he was quietly reading his Bible.

Seriously, it sounds like something out of a horror movie.

The police concluded – as of now, it had to do with money. 300,000 Chilean pesos – which is the equivalent of six hundred dollars.

Her parents flew in a few days ago and from what I’ve heard, they will fly out with Erica’s ashes. Loss. Pain. Sadness.

And soon, the rumors will cease. This man will be tried, and will most likely spend the rest of his life in the prison we drive by almost daily.

Even though the rumors will cease, people will talk of this murder for many years to come. Of this American girl who was here for a month and then was killed on the school campus. And years from now, people will whisper as they walk by the apartment building and tell the story.

Truth is, we take murder seriously. Almost everywhere in the world. We value human life enough that when someone kills another person, the world rages, people cry out for justice.

Years ago, a friend asked me to come and see a house she was thinking of purchasing. She wanted me to pray in it with her and wouldn’t tell me why. I walked through the house and everything seemed fine. Turns out, she was worried because someone had been murdered there almost a decade earlier and she didn’t want to move into a haunted house. I appreciate her apprehension.

People at the school are struggling to make sense of it all, are trying to come to terms with what happened on their campus, and trying to figure out how to trust God in the midst of it. This is one of the great dilemmas we are all faced with at some point or another. How to trust in God’s goodness, in the face of great evil.

I don’t have the prescription. These things are so personal. Each person must come to terms with evil and with good, with God’s presence and with his silence in their own way. When we try to tell people how to make sense of it, or what to believe about it all, it is somehow so offensive. Take Job’s friends. They did their best to tell Job how everything should be looked at and it did not make Job feel any better. And they got it wrong.

I prayed with a man a few days ago who is struggling with a crisis of faith. He shared some of his story – his family history is filled with so much harm and cruelty I felt my own soul shake as he gave an account of everything. So much harm.

There is a promise that holds me steady. At the very end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, God makes a declaration: “Behold. I am making all things new.”

For now, this is what I hold onto. This is what has helped me. I have seen God make things new. My own story cries out in declaration of God’s goodness and his capacity to redeem, to stand on ruins and rebuild. There are places in my life where I can point and say with absolute assurance, where evil tried to destroy, God did something tender and beautiful and used it for good. God took destruction and evil and made something beautiful with it, is still making something beautiful with it. No one can contradict your own story. This is why the power of one’s testimony is so strong.

So I pray for Erica’s family, for the teacher who found her body, for the murderer, for those involved in the investigation. I pray that God would weave His life, His love and His redemption through it all and somehow over time, make all things new. 

How have you wrestled with good and evil and God’s presence in it all? I’d love to hear.

Much Love,

 

Tina

 

On Place and Belonging, and Erica Faith Hagan

Since we moved onto our land, I’ve been thinking a lot about one’s sense of place. The sense of belonging a person has to specific portion of land, to a city, a country. Place and setting are important for writers – in some cases setting almost takes on a personality. As a reader, this is also true. Prince Edward Island is forever Anne’s island. I hear the name and immediately think of Anne of Green Gables and all the wonderful adventures she had there. Anne’s place is almost as real as my own hand in front of me. The feeling I had when I read those books – of belonging, of home, of someone finding their home has stayed with me.

I’ve been to many places in my life. My feet have trekked through more streets than I know how to process. My head has rested on many pillows over the years.

Over time, the place where we are, where we live shapes us – shapes our personalities, our mannerisms, our way of interacting with strangers, even how we deal with foreigners. It’s interesting to me how many times I am asked what my reason is for being here in Chile, specifically in Temuco. I have to explain that I’m not on a visit – that I live here. And then I’m asked to explain why. After I tell whomever is inquiring that my husband is from Chile, they usually have a more tolerant grasp of my reason for being in their city. And the question that always comes next is … whether I have adapted to this place. They want to know if I’ve adjusted. They almost always have a wary look on their face when they ask, as if they’re not sure they want to hear the answer.

Truth is, I’m not sure how to answer their question. There are things I like about living here, people I’m fond of, perhaps even a few whom I’ve grown to love. I’ve settled into a routine, a way of being, and I’ve learned some of the undercurrents of the culture that help me orient myself around their particular slant on truth. But I feel foreign. I feel different. I notice that I’m looked at when I walk into a store, or an event – especially when people hear us talk in English. We get stared at, sideways glances. My children notice.

Despite feeling foreign, I don’t feel out of place. And I think it’s important to distinguish between the two. I feel secure about where my feet are standing. However, I’m discovering that this stems from something more internal in me, rather than because of external realities. I’ve come to terms with my foreigness, with my otherness here. And somehow I’ve made my peace with it. That is not to say I intend to stay here forever … or that we feel at home here. Those are different questions. With different answers.

Something happened over the weekend to this place, to this city. Something tragic. Saturday afternoon, the police found the body of a young American woman brutally murdered. Erica Faith Hagan. She came for a five month visit to help students with their English. From Kentucky. She was killed in a small apartment on the school campus where my children went to school and where they do all their extracurricular activities. She was twenty-two years old.

For Erica’s family and for her friends, Temuco Chile will now be a place of terrible loss. Always.

The school where she was murdered will be altered forever. Blood was spilled. Violence and cruelty and a terrible injustice occurred on their soil.

Personally, I can’t help but feel a specific and poignant pain for her parents. I too have a beautiful daughter. A daughter who may want to travel one day, who may want to go to a foreign place to help people with their English. We send our children to new places believing, hoping, praying they will be safe. We send them to specific places known for their safety, or we weigh the cost when they choose to go to a place known for danger. Many parents say no to certain places. Temuco Chile has been relatively safe. However, her life was snuffed out, it was crushed here. There is nothing that can make this better.

Erica Hagan was from my place, from my homeland. We spoke the same language growing up and she died in the place where I currently reside. The same city. These things, though not significant, certainly helped me feel her parents’ pain and horror in a different way. Perhaps, in a closer way. I don’t know.

I went to bed on Saturday night with deep sorrow and a grave sense of horror – fighting back the tears. I woke with the same pain.

If I were in Seattle, Kentucky would feel far away. Here in Temuco, Kentucky feels close to home.

The disorientation her family must feel breaks me. To die far from home is one thing, to be killed far from home is another. And on the campus of a private Christian school makes it far more disorienting.

I am an American woman living far from the place I call home. And this story weighs on me.

To Erica’s family and friends, I offer my deepest condolences. I am so sorry for your loss.

 

Much Love,

 

Tina

 

 

A Woman at the Store

IMG_3040One late morning a few months ago, I went into the nearby grocery store to pick up some items for lunch. I was moving fast, needing to get back home. I noticed a woman, brown curly hair, thin. She had the store basket tucked into arm and inside her clenched fist were money bills, revealing their various colors to me.

This woman’s face was stern, serious. It was obvious she had a lot on her mind. At the pastry section, where I was filling my bag with fresh bread, she was picking out desserts, carefully-calculating the price of each one. It clicked. She was getting ready for some guests. And I assumed the money clenched inside her tightly bound fist, was all she had to pay for her special lunch.

I said something to her and she snubbed me, not really even acknowledging my presence. Some people aren’t quite sure how to respond to a happy, blonde lady with a weird accent. She went on ahead and I weighed my bread and then went down the drinks aisle.

A few minutes later, I ended up behind her in the check-out line. She watched every item go through the scanner, staring at the price above on the monitor like she was in an eye examination. When the last item went through and the cashier totalled it all up – she was short on cash. Not by much, a couple dollars maybe. She unfolded all her bills and handed them to the cashier and then opened her purse scavenging for loose change. After a few seconds, the cashier asked what she wanted to leave behind.

I don’t usually have cash on me – but thankfully, that day, I did. I pulled out my change and set a few dollars beside the woman and the cashier. “Here. I’ve got some extra change. This should take care of it.” My voice was quiet and I tried to sound as kind as possible but also hoping to downplay it.

The woman and the cashier got confused, like neither of them knew what to do. They stared at me. Then, the woman who was short on money waved her hand fiercely trying not to accept my extra change. I assured her it was not a big deal. “It’s only a couple of dollars. I’m happy to make up the diffference. You go and have a wonderful lunch.”

She came undone. Tears welled up in eyes and she fanned her face, flapped her hand in the air, trembled a little. I reassured her, reaching my hand toward her. “I’m happy to help. I’m sure you’d do the same for me.”

At the time, all I could think, as I watched this woman crumble under the weight of a stranger’s kindness was, “Has life been so cruel to you that you don’t know how to react when someone is gracious?”

She answered my unspoken question. “No one has ever done anything like this for me.” She dabbed at her eyes.

I reached out and toucher her arm again, giving it a tender squeeze. “Please, just go and enjoy your day. Be blessed.”

The woman wanted my number to pay me back, which I refused. And finally she went on her way with all the items she needed for her lunch. Her face had transformed – years melted off.

The cashier checked my purchase. Her eyes were misty and she explained that as a cashier, who sees a lot every day, she had never seen someone something like that – a stranger helping to cover someone’s bill.

I walked out of the store that morning so heavy-hearted. Can it be so hard for people to see the person standing in front of us – in need – and not be moved?

Yes, it can. We grow calloused, jaded, dubious. We judge the scene in front of us, without knowing the backstory.

We grow suspicious that we’re being scammed or tricked and so only choose generosity if we know exactly what’s going to happen with our gift. All the while, we really don’t know anyone’s whole story. How can we? We see in part.

And then I think of the One I’ve chosen to follow, the one whose life I’m supposed to be imitating. He helped people all the time. Jesus healed the ones who asked to be healed. One time he healed ten lepers, and only one came back to thank him. He didn’t withhold his healing hand because they had ungrateful hearts. He didn’t mandate a particular response to his kindness.

Jesus fed five thousand men, plus women and children … knowing full well that even though most would never forget that day, very few would let it transform their lives. He gave anyways …

If we must choose, I say we choose generosity and kindness as our way … It undoes people and changes their faces … 

I’d love to hear one of your stories about generosity … It always changes us.

Much Love,

Tina

 

On Packages and Friends and Being Loved

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My birthday was last week. I am still thinking about the fact that I am thirty-seven. My life looks nothing and everything like I wanted it to be. One of the things that surprises me is how thankful I am for the most simple things – in ways that used to not touch me ten years ago. For example, my heart is so much more tender and full and open than it used to be. I always used to cry. I’ve always been like a sopping wet sponge, just squeeze a little and a lot of water will come out, but I’m more tender than I was before. I’m not sure how that happened. Maybe if a person cries enough over a long enough period of time, the tears run into the heart and soften it up. I feel like my heart has softened, and yet in all the ways true paradox works, it’s always stronger, more resilient, more courageous than it used to be. I think this is because I’ve been loved well. God’s love does wonders.

My mom and sisters sent me a package last week with books. Books! The ones I want to read and hold and smell and a new pair of earrings and cards and post-it notes. I’m remembered. And I’m loved. And today two other packages arrived. One from my dearest of dear friends Karissa – who is raising six kids, has goats and chickens and a garden and many other things to worry about besides me. And yet she took the time to send me coffee, (Thank you God!) and goldfish and a movie for the kids, and books. Books! Real paper.

And a new friend sent me her book in the mail from Ontario – seriously, let’s talk about locational extremes. (Thank you, Laurna!) And yet, even though she lives far far away from me, our hearts are connected. We’ve emailed back and forth and I’m amazed. So many glorious connections.

What I’m trying to say, not very fluidly is how very thankful I am for friendship. For the near and the far, for the ones I’ve known for more than twenty years and for the ones I love but haven’t actually met face to face. I used to take my friendships for granted. I don’t anymore. I’m so very very thankful that we love each other, that you accept me for who I am, that you l like me and hear me. I am also so thankful that I have the rare and special privilege of accepting you – for who you are, for the gifts and beauty you bring to this time, to this era – and to delight in it all – that our paths have crossed on this earth.

Friendships, the ones that are honest and deep, kind and long-suffering are worth the effort it takes to maintain them. That’s what I want to say today.

Much Love,

Tina