Bertie's War

"Connecting to the hearts of wounded women"

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Bertie's War

Bertie's War

My first published novel, about a girl growing up in the shadow of the Cold War and the Cuban Missle Crisis.

Making the Most of Opportunities

At the beginning of the MLS season, hopes were high for the Seattle Sounders to have the best soccer season ever, but amidst injuries, suspensions, etc., our team has not played well and is fighting for a playoff spot. The match yesterday was against our arch rivals, the Portland Timbers. Tensions were high.


Sounders were up 2-0 in the second half, which normally a comfortable lead, but the crowd remained on edge. The Timbers scored. It was 2-1. A tie wouldn’t help, we needed the win. Key positions on the pitch were filled by inexperienced athletes. Would they crack under the pressure? Underperform during a set-piece? Commit a foul that would allow the Timbers to score the equalizer?


With seconds left, a seasoned Sounder’s player is called for a foul just outside the penalty box. The teams line up for the free kick. If the Timbers score, they will tie the game with no time remaining. If the Sounders defend well, they will gain the win.


It is down to this. Whatever has happened in the previous ninety minutes is irrelevant. Unfair penalties, missed fouls, none of it matters because right now, the Timbers have the opportunity to score the equalizer. Right now, the Sounders must defend with heart.


The ball is kicked and sails over the net–not into it–and the crowd erupts with cheers and high fives. Sounders win!


The opposing coach criticized the referees, and it is possible he was justified, but like life, not even soccer matches are always fair. We want them to be (both life and soccer) but time and again, we are hit with the reality that fouls are committed without penalties, and penalties are awarded without justification. We can shout for the ref to issue a red card for that grievous misconduct, but he isn’t listening to us. We can whine to our neighbors, but all that does is make our mascara run.


What we can do is follow my grandmother’s advice. She’d say we must “play the hand we are dealt.” The Timbers had opportunities, but didn’t capitalize.


I can’t spend my life looking backwards on the fouls committed, called or not, whether my mistakes or other’s. Am I ready to grasp the opportunities life presents? Regardless of fairness, I want to choose to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

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Great Expectations

Last week I was at a Christian writers’ conference in Oregon.  It wasn’t my first conference, so I went knowing what to expect. Isn’t it interesting how often God messes with our expectations?


I expected to reconnect with my “conference buddies,” but I didn’t realize how blessed I’d be with making new friends.


Because I paid for an extra class on marketing, called a “bootcamp,” I expected to learn a lot about how to launch a new title, something I’ve felt confused about and less than eager. I didn’t expect to have the information so well explained, the steps so well broken down, that instead of dreading marketing, I’m excited to apply what I learned.


I expected the keynote speaker to be topnotch, even though his name was unfamiliar to me. I didn’t expect him to speak so clearly to my heart, as if God had hand-picked him to drill home the message I needed to hear.


I expected to be able to stay on my diet. Let’s just say some expectations are more realistic than others.





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I Cried

I cried this morning as I prayed. I apologized to our gracious Father for the new court decision that stands against Him. As I entered His throne room, praising Him for His holiness, His mercy, His compassion, I experienced His comfort.


He reminded me that my country never has been and never will be perfect. He reminded me that He does not see boundaries, he sees people. And He loves them whether they live in North America or South Africa. In all countries, throughout all generations there have been laws and cultures that contradict His laws, but His love never ceases. I am blessed to live in America, but this country is not my Savior.


I cried to him that I was afraid for the culture my grandchildren would face. He reminded me that our faith is increased through struggle. The danger to the future is not an unchristian society but in not taking a stand regardless of the laws of the land. Light never shines so brightly than against a dark backdrop.


I cried because I knew I had failed to love as He requires. I’ve come alongside drug addicts, offering them hope, support, showing them His love. I’ve been gentle with the divorced, knowing He hates divorce, but offers grace for all. I’ve wept with those who had abortions, and directed them to counsel and forgiveness. I’ve taken care of abused children, and prayed for their parents. But the homosexual? I’ve avoided the discussions. I’ve made an attempt to understand their perspective, but backed away from personal interaction.


And I cried and confessed to God, that I failed to love them. I know the scriptures that condemn the sin. I know God hates it, as He hates abortion and divorce and violence and lies, but when has anyone come to know a loving father when all he sees is condemnation? The love God asks of me is not permissiveness, but neither is it holier-than-thou finger pointing, or worse, pretending it doesn’t exist.


It is so easy to condemn those whose sins are different from my own, but offer abundant grace to those with like weaknesses. I didn’t know how to approach the issue, so I ignored it, and wasted opportunities to show God’s love. But the conversation has come knocking on all our doors, and we must decide how we can take a stand for God in a holy way.


Crying isn’t going to get the job done.

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Cracked Vessels

I was at a Christian writer’s conference a couple weeks ago and listened to Allen Arnold of Ransomed Heart Ministries teach a series of classes. He used an analogy that has stayed with me. I think of it daily.


I am a cracked vessel. And my cracks bother me at times. I know God values me, that I am loved by Him. But sometimes I’m ashamed of the wounds I’ve suffered. I’m disappointed in myself for not being stronger or wiser or prettier. I know He loves me just as I am, that I don’t earn His love, but still, I wish I hadn’t been weak or foolish. I am ashamed of my “cracks.” I don’t mean the wrongs I have done–that’s a different topic. What I’m referring to are the hurts inflicted by others or by situations. I wish that I had been strong enough not to be wounded. You know? I wish the rejection by a loved one didn’t pierce my heart. That the thoughtless, cruel actions of another didn’t make me cry. I want to be stronger.


But I’m not. I am broken. I hurt. I take this brokenness to God and He sustains me, but the cracks don’t disappear. I try to cover them, to pretend they don’t exist, but it is a facade. God sustains me, strengthens me, but He doesn’t erase the scars.


And then, I heard Allen Arnold talk about the Japanese art of kintsugi. It is the process by which china and pottery is repaired. As I understand it, gold dust is mixed with a lacquer and applied to the broken vessel. The lacquer makes the object stronger than before it was damaged, and the gold highlights the break. Each broken vessel becomes a unique work of art, more valuable, more beautiful than before it was damaged.




My wounds are not weakness, they are what make me unique. More beautiful and stronger than before the damage.




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Raise Your Hand

A study was made using six-year-olds through eighteen-year-olds. The results made an impression because we’ve all been there.


This is what happened. While in groups of their peers, the test subjects were shown pictures and asked to raise their hands when they saw the color green. All but one of the participants in each group was told to raise their hands when orange was displayed, purposely answering wrong. The results? 75% of the time, the lone hold-out, the participant not in on the secret, held up his or her hand, knowing the answer was wrong, but unwilling to be different from the group. The statistic held through all the groups, all the ages.


Seventy-five percent would rather be wrong than different.


It’s natural to assume we’d be part of the twenty-five percent that stood for the truth, but such studies are a warning to us. Has our desire to fit in, to be liked, to feel a part of society, tempted us to compromise, to accept the group’s answer, even though it’s wrong?


Fear of rejection is universal. We have felt its brutal sting, and carry the scars. And that is what we risk when we stand alone and raise our hand for what is right. Rejection. Abandonment. Loneliness.


Which is why community is vitally important. An ember separated from the rest of the coals dies quickly, just as standing alone for what you believe becomes wearisome. Banding together with like-minded friends strengthens us. I want to be seen as special and unique, but not as a freak, not as the lone holdout.


So fear of rejection trumps standing alone for truth seventy percent of the time.


Ahh. But that is the rub. We have One who has promised to be with us, and we never stand alone, when we raise our hands for truth.



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Up Hill Battle

The view from the cliff was amazing. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Worth the effort to get there.


But the return trip involved a long, steep hill.




And I’m a chubby, older woman, with knees that sometimes moan and hips that sometimes groan.


I’d been there before. Seen it before. Walked the trail before. In other words, I knew what I was getting myself into. But that spectacular view!


The wind picked up. A chill crept through my rave green, Seattle Sounders hoodie. Was that rain on the horizon? It was time to go back.


Did I mention there was a long, steep hill?


I’ve heard it said that to accomplish our goals, we need to keep our eyes on the prize. I looked up, kept my eyes up, but step after step, it seemed I made no progress. The top of the hill was too far away. The task was beyond me, I hadn’t the strength.


I looked down. And a few feet ahead I saw a bracken fern. Surely I could get to the fern. A few feet farther was a clump of delicate deer ferns. And a few feet farther from them I saw an oddly shaped rock. I kept my eyes on these goals, because I could achieve them. As soon as I passed one–a fir cone, a rock, a muddy spot on the trail–I’d find another.


Okay. I did sit on the bench placed strategically at the corner of the switchback. I waited there until my heart quit pounding in my ears, and my breathing no longer sounded like a freight train. But then it was back to choosing small targets. I felt the progress, as if I were marching victoriously to the top. When I looked up, at the ultimate goal, my spirits dropped. It was still so far away, as if a powerful trickster kept moving the top of the hill always out of my reach.


I looked back down at the near goal. Regardless of how I felt at the moment, the path I trod would get me to the top, a step at a time. Past another fern, another rock, another fir cone, another bench.


And this is what life is like. We have these great goals: to lose weight, to publish a novel, to sing the National Anthem at a baseball game, but they seem so unattainable, so far away from possible. We keep our eyes on them, and force ourselves forward, but the distance never seems to shrink, and we are tempted to give up. Sometimes we do give up. We lose the dream and step off the path.


But little goals–I’ll write 500 words every day this week–are attainable. They create a habit of success. And we make it to the top of the hill. The path we are on will take us there. We just keep moving our feet past that next sword fern.


…let us throw off everything that hinders … and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12: 1-3



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The Word Became Flesh

John 1: 1          In the beginning was the Word.


Genesis 1: 1     In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


John 1: 1 – 3    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.


Genesis 1: 3     And God said, “Let there be light…

Genesis 1: 6     And God said…

Genesis 1: 9     And God said…

Genesis 1: 14   And God said…


We celebrate Christmas to rejoice the coming of Jesus, and rightfully so. But it struck me the other day how much of a sacrifice His coming meant for Him.


In the beginning He existed as the very Word of God. Such a position! My words, whether spoken or thought, define so much of who I am. Existing as the Word, made Him one with God’s thoughts. God created by speaking the world into existence. Jesus was not Jesus then, He was the Word of God, the power behind all of creation.


And He left all of that to redeem us. He left His position as the Word, never to return to it. Once identified as Jesus, He gave up being the Word. He left heaven, come to earth for a time, then returned to heaven, but He didn’t return the same as He left. He didn’t pick up where He left off.


John 1: 14        The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.


He sacrificed His identity as the Word.




He is exalted. Sits at the right hand of God. Is honored and praised. But is no longer the Word.


He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, Prince of Peace, all critically important to us. But at such a cost to Himself. His sacrifice was not only at the cross. When he became flesh, he walked through a door that changed His identity forever from Word of God to Son of God.


I know we are all filthy creatures, wretched and poor. Our value exists only because He imparts value to us. That value lifts us out of the mire. I visualize a babe in the manger—the Word becoming flesh—joining us in the mire, never again to attain the position He left, and my heart grows more full of gratitude than ever.


Merry Christmas to us.

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Christmas Cobwebs

It’s been perhaps a decade ago, but once upon a time I was depressed. Not having-a-bad-day depressed, but full-fledged can’t-get-out-of-bed deeply sad. As the holidays neared I grew anxious about disappointing my family. My counselor said what many advisors repeat during this time of year. “You don’t have to do it all. Choose the activities that mean the most and let the rest go.”


It was wonderful advice, not because it gave me freedom to limit Christmas activities, but because it made me examine which of the holiday traditions were most meaningful.


And I realized they all were.


I love the music, looking at lights in the neighborhood, and buying presents for important people in my life. I cherish the advent calendars and Christmas parties. My heart sparkles along with my grandchildren’s eyes when they see every room in the house is decorated. I like the all red tree in the library and the white and silver tree in my bedroom, enough that it is a pleasure to trim them each year, along with the traditional anything-goes tree in the living room. The library is full of snowmen and the dining room boasts Santas. Nativity scenes take over the living room. Carolers sit atop the piano, nutcrackers are on the mantel, candles are everywhere.


Cookies are baked and candy is made to give to loved ones. And all of it gives me joy.


But how can we “do-it-all” and keep our sanity?


I follow the advice of my counselor. Only instead of cutting back on Christmas, I set aside those tasks that claim my attention most of the year. Cobwebs are free to inhabit the corners and I’ve always suspected that vacuuming weekly is highly over-rated. I spend a minimum amount of time in the office, just enough to get by. And I serve fewer meals made from scratch. I cut back on meetings and let other commitments take a back seat. It’s too cold outside anyway to exercise.


And I don’t feel even the tiniest inkling of guilt.

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Waiting for the Exit

I don’t drive much after dark because my depth perception isn’t great. Anything with lights looks close, and if there are many lights, they all look the same distance away. I’ve learned to cope. Sometimes I find myself coming home after dark on the freeway, so I stay in the right lane and, since the difficulty is thinking things are closer than they are, the only real result is plenty of distance between me and the car in front. Sometimes I get behind someone going slower than I’d like, but passing is complicated. I not only have to know when its safe to pull over left, I have to judge moving back to the right lane. Usually I don’t attempt it.


But the other night returning home from writer’s group I found myself following a car going 45 on the freeway. It was raining and windy. Caution was called for, but when it slowed to 40 than 35, I got nervous. Cars coming up behind us could easily over-estimate our speed.


I had to decide: Which was more dangerous for me and the others around me? To continue in the right-hand lane at 35 or change lanes?


Here is the noise that bombarded my head as I crawled down the freeway, a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, windshield wipers whipping back and forth:


Thirty five is too slow! Those cars are coming up behind too fast. Switch lanes and pass him. No, never switch lanes after dark, that’s the deal you made with yourself. Whoa! That truck sprays a lot of water. Wish these windshield wipers had a faster speed. Good grief, another truck. It will be one after another with more water spray if I don’t do something. Okay take a deep breath and pass. No, don’t. Just stay tight until your exit. No, go, now. It looks safe now. But there are lights back there. Maybe I’ll wait until there are no lights at all. This is a freeway. There will always be lights. How far to the exit? 


I thought how much of life is a guessing game. Is it better to do this or that? Do I homeschool or use a private school? Do I eliminate carbs or minimize red meat? Do I go to this church or that one?


Choices I make affect more than just myself, but it occurred to me as I changed lanes, potentially affecting a half-dozen other vehicles, that when fear is the motivating factor, none of my options “feel” right.  I can “freeze” into inaction for fear of making a wrong choice, and that freezing can be the wrong choice.


When I quiet the noise in my head, and listen for the Spirit to whisper His wisdom, I unfreeze. I switch lanes or home school or choose a community of worshippers in confidence because, after all, we are not given a spirit of timidity.


And waiting for the exit isn’t always a good option.

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A rose by any other name…

I read an article recently that–how do I say this–annoyed me.


In essence, the author was criticizing criticism. I have a glass-half-full personality, and tend to see the positives in most situations, but found it ludicrous to be judged as unloving should I find fault.  She wrote in her article, “simply put criticism is an opinion with a negative connotation. Opinions in themselves are not bad. Opinions can be given in love, but criticism cannot.”


I beg to differ. As a writer I belong to two writer’s groups. In both groups, we read each other’s work and point out what we like and what we don’t like. We offer our opinion. We criticize. The negative comments help me much more than the positive ones. How could I know my weaknesses without someone pointing them out? The men and women in my writer’s group tell the truth about my writing because they care. What a disservice it would be to me to only point out what I’ve done well. I need and appreciate their criticism.


And this isn’t true only in judging literary works. More than once in my life, loving friends have pointed out faults in my actions and words and I have benefitted from their criticism.


My Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines criticize as “to examine and judge with regard to beauties and faults; remark on.”


We know that the meanings of words can alter over the course of a hundred plus years, so I also consulted my current Webster’s College Dictionary. Its definition of criticize:  ”to find fault with; censure; to judge or discuss the merits of; evaluate.”


I own a business. I appreciate that God blessed me with a creative mind. What I am not blessed with is business sense. I shudder to think where my endeavors would be today without the honest evaluation and judgment of those wiser than I. How can I criticize those advisors for criticizing my bad decisions? I thank them for their judgments!


To be critical for the sake of finding fault is a hurtful thing. But just as hurtful is to see a weakness or sin in someone’s life and not care enough to talk with them about it. James 5: 19-20 tells us, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this:  Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”


There are ways to hurt people with unjust and cruel criticism, just as there are ways to hurt people with permissiveness and flattery masquerading as love. Both are a matter of heart not vocabulary.


I agree that unasked for opinions judging the number of children I have or my choice to homeschool or why I drive an SUV are uncalled for and should be ignored. People who delight in pointing out the faults of others are hurtful not helpful.


But “speaking the truth in love,” is a gift, whether that truth is a praise or a criticism.

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