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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

Scripture: So be very careful how you live. Do not live like those who are not wise, but live wisely. Use every chance you have for doing good, because these are evil times. So do not be foolish but learn what the Lord wants you to do. Ephesians 5:15-17

Luke 12:48 Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.

Be Informed

Have you been listening to the speeches at the Republican national convention this week? I have been learning more about the candidates from hearing the speeches and analysis on TV. Unless you are cut off from the media altogether, you can’t help but learn something about all of the candidates who are running for office in November, including the highest office in our land.

I find it very interesting that the first Mormon is running alongside a born again Catholic against the first sitting African American President. Our times are certainly a lot different than one generation ago, aren’t they? Don’t worry. I’m not going to comment on Mormonism or Catholicism, nor am I going to encourage you to vote any particular way for any of the candidates. What I want to do in this D-mail is to remind you of the great privilege and duty you have as an American citizen to vote, and vote intelligently, for the people who will lead us in the coming years.

I believe God charges us to gain as much wisdom as we can about the issues and candidates. In the next two months, there will be a plethora of forums from which you can gather information about the candidates and their stance on the many crucial issues set before America. I know that God wants us to pray for our country and the many candidates who are seeking office as well as for our fellow citizens who will be voting in November. I believe that God has given us the freedom to choose our leaders and the responsibility to choose wisely. Our vote can bring about good or it can support evil. The apostle Paul told the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:15-17), who were living in dangerous times as well, to be very careful how they lived. They were to live wisely amongst people who did not agree with their beliefs. They were to take every chance they had to do good to those people. He told them to learn what the Lord wanted them to do.

At this time in our nation’s history, we need to elect those who will seek God for guidance and learn what God wants them to do for America. If you have not taken the time to learn about not only the candidates for President, but those who are running for Senate and House both at the federal and state level, now is the time to do it! Read newspapers from various biases, read the candidates’ websites, watch a variety of news programs on TV, listen to the radio broadcasts that can inform you. Tune out the mud-slinging and get to the real issues. It is your duty as an American and as a Christian. If you haven’t done your homework, how can you decide wisely for whom to vote? And if you don’t vote your conscience, then you will be responsible for the life you will be leading under a leader you don’t approve of.

Luke 12:48b says, “Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” We have been given great freedoms in America and therefore, much is required of us as citizens to influence the future of our state, our country and even our world. Experience has taught us that much, hasn’t it? So, I charge you to do your homework before the first Tuesday of November. Take any opportunities to share your position as a Christian voter with others. And when November comes, I charge you to get out and vote – no excuses. If you don’t know where to look to find information on the candidates, please write to me. I can at least share with you the resources I have found to be helpful.

Prayer: Lord God, I thank you that I live in a country that allows me to speak my mind and find truthful information on those who run for government office. I lift this supremely important election before your throne. You know what our future holds in all phases of life. I pray that as you see into the hearts and lives of the people who will lead us, that those who have integrity and want to do your will will be elected. I pray that our nation will get straightened out financially, morally, and spiritually as we lean on you to make it happen. I pray especially for the Presidential race. Help us to know the hearts of the men who want the office and may the best one succeed to the office in November. And Lord, I also pray for those who are facing homelessness, danger, destruction, and financial ruin because of the hurricane and flooding. Provide for them, Lord, and send them help through your church. In Jesus name, Amen

At the end of my  week at the Writers Confernce, my husband, Chuck, drove down to Green Lake to join me for a weekend at the Angel Inn B&B in Green Lake.  It was his birthday and we celebrated by swimming, taking a boat ride around the lake, sipping wine on our lakefront balcony, eating out, going to a flea market and shopping for furniture.  We highly recommend Angel Inn! Food was excellent, the owners were friendly and charming, and our room was luxurious.  I’ll post some photos soon.

Last week I attended the Christian Writers’ Conference in Green lake, WI.  The conference is held on the grounds of the Baptist conference grounds, a huge place with beautiful shoreline, acres of woods, and all sorts of recreation.  I’ve been there many times before and this time did not disappoint.  I took a short story writing class from John Lehman, the original editor of a national literary magazine called Rosebud.  I’ve sat in John’s classes before and always learn something.  This time I learned the concept of “writing in scenes”, something that play and screenwriters know all about.  A scene must have at least 2 characters, each with a goal, conflict, and a conclusion that carries the story into the following scene and ultimately to the final conclusion.  It was a great week spent with other writers and old friends.  Outside of class, we attended lectures by each of the instructors in their specialized genre and expertise.  I had a one-on-one meeting with Cynthia Ruchti, a Christian radio host and author.  We discussed the possibility of putting together a book of my best D-mails for publication!  She thought it was a great idea and gave me some advice on how to do it.  I’ve written more than 350 D-mails over the years so it will take time to go through them all to choose the best ones - and then edit them down to 750-800 words!  She suggested that I attend the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton, Ill next June to shop it around.  One of the great things about the Green Lake conference is the accessability of the instructors.  Everyone is so encouraging and helpful that even beginners feel comfortable and excited to keep writing.  The students and instructors all had our meals together and spent free time writing and enjoying the beautiful grounds.  By the end of the week I had produced a short story, my first ever crime story!  It has been accepted for publication at an emagazine site called Lit Noir.  Here are the first paragraphs of the story:

The Sticky Key

by Cathy Conger

The night of January 11th was bitterly cold. The only light inside the music building shone through the small window of the door to Laura Olson’s assigned practice room. She was practicing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in E minor for her upcoming senior recital, but a sticky key was driving her nuts. Middle C felt dead under her fingers.

“Oh, come on!” Laura slammed both palms down on the keys. “They were supposed to fix this crappy piano weeks ago. Thirty thousand dollars a year for this school and I can’t get a decent piano to play.” She struck the annoying key again. Nothing. It felt like the hammer beneath the key was stuck. She kicked off her woolen clogs and lifted the lid of the piano, revealing the row of hammers and taut strings. “Hope nobody catches me doing a little piano tinkering,” she said, glancing toward the door. “Hey, so what? I’m the only one anal enough to be here on the coldest night of the year anyway, and Stam won’t notice.” She looked down at the dirt her socks had picked up on the linoleum. “I’ll bet he and his trusty broom have never even been in this room.”

Laura climbed up on the piano bench and stuck her right hand down into the works of the old upright. With her other hand, she struck middle C while she watched for its hammer to move. As she suspected, it wasn’t striking the string.

“Hmm. Something must be stuck under there,” she muttered. Feeling around between the hammers, her fingers met with something squishy, like a soft, little pillow. “What the heck?” she muttered. She pulled her finger away and hit the key again. This time she noticed a little puff of dust as the hammer came down. She tried it again. Another puff. Grabbing a pencil from the music rack, she pried the thing out, only to have it elude her fingers and drop down between the hammers. On her tip toes, she thrust her hand into the works as far as she could reach and felt around. “Gotcha!” she said, when suddenly the doorknob rattled. She practically jumped a foot, nearly dropping the bag. Whoever it was started banging on the door. “OK, OK! I’m coming.” Climbing down from the bench she shouted, “Who’s there?

“It’s Dr. Sterling. I need to use this room.”

“Just a minute.” Laura tucked the small, powdery bag into her jeans pocket and opened the door. “What’s wrong? You nearly scared the liver out of me!”

Dr. Sterling pushed past her into the room. “Oh, sorry Laura. I didn’t know somebody would be here so late. Listen I’m afraid you’ll have to pack it up for tonight. I need this room.”

“Why don’t you use the piano in your office?” Laura said. “It’s a lot better than this piece of junk.”

Sterling looked at the open piano lid. “What do you think you’re doing to this `piece of junk’?”

“I discovered a sticky key. Really annoying, so I thought I’d see what the problem was.”

“You’re supposed to report things like that to the music secretary. I’m surprised at you. A senior should know not to tinker with the schools’ instruments. Gather up your things and run along now. I’ll report the problem to the secretary in the morning.”

Pg 2

“But, I…”

“Good night, Laura.” Sterling interrupted, crossing his arms like a scolding parent.

Laura shrugged her shoulders. “OK, then. Let me quick get my clogs and my backpack.” Throwing her coat over her arm, she slid carefully past Sterling to the door. “Well, good night, Dr. Sterling.”

“See you in class tomorrow,” he said as he closed the piano lid. “Oh, Laura.”

“Yes?”

“ You didn’t find anything in there, did you?” His suspicious tone on top of his odd behavior was beginning to give Laura the creeps.

“In the piano? No sir. Didn’t get the chance,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. No sooner had she pulled the door closed behind her than she heard the lock turn. “That was weird,” she thought, a chill running through her body. “Something funny’s going on.” Her heart was pounding as she took the little bag from her pocket and examined it by the light in the hallway. It was a plastic bag about two inches square with what appeared to be some kind of white powder inside. Peering more closely, she noticed a split in the seam. Most of the white powder had leaked out in her pocket.

“This must be where the puff of dust came from,” she murmered. “I wonder what this stuff is…and how did it end up under the hammer of a piano?” It suddenly occurred to her where she’d seen a bag just like this - police shows on television. “Oh my God!” she gasped. “Cocaine.”

to find out what happens, watch for The Sticky Key at www.Lit Noir.com

In early August I headed up to Door County, Wisconsin to a place called The Clearing. The Clearing is a folk school on beautiful wooded grounds where all of the arts are taught year round. I took a two day class on free motion quilting on a home sewing machine.  It was a small class with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher.  Free motion quilting is done on a regular machine with the feed dogs down so as to allow the sewer to move the fabric freely under the needle.  It is a skill that requires a good machine, the right thread and needle, and a lot of hand-eye coordination!  We learned to quilt all sorts of designs based on 5 basic shapes, the straight line, the S, the arch, the wave, and the squiggle or meandering line.  It was hard!

I managed a decent looking squiggle but the rest of the designs were tough.  The trick is to balance the speed of the machine (ie. the foot pedal)  with the speed at which you push the quilt sandwich past the needle.  Too fast and you get teeny tiny stitches too difficult to see.  Too slow you get big, sloppy stitches.  Once you get your stitches the right size and consistent, you learn to push the fabric around with the palms of your hands in whatever direction your design is leading.  My arches ( supposed to look like rounded m’s) were never the same size or width!  The crests of my waves were too pointy or too rounded, too far apart, or too high.  No two came out the same!  I was completely exhausted and frustrated by the end of Day 1.  It didn’t help that the quilter across from, who had only been quilting less than a year, was amazing!  Her shapes were consistent and actually looked like something recognizable.

Day 2 was a little better, but I definitely needed many more hours of practice before I could actually tackle the real thing. The teacher was so supportive and we learned a lot about threads and creating our own quilt designs.  The Clearing staff served 2 excellent lunches.  I have been practicing some since then and now have all the tools that make free motion quilting easier (there’s always a new tool to buy, isn’t there?)  I am going to have a go at a baby quilt panel that I sandwiched and basted.  I’ll try to remember to take a photo to post when I finish.  You can find out more about The Clearing at www.theclearing.org They offer a lot of great classes (not just sewing classes).

Scripture: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

Why Don’t You Call Me?

I think one of the greatest inventions since the telephone is Caller ID. The ability to screen the myriad number of telephone calls we get each day takes most of the annoyance out of the ring of the telephone. I can just let a call go unanswered as long as I know it isn’t a family member or close friend. No guilt, no running to the phone from the bathroom! These past months of the 2012 big election year have been the worst, haven’t they? I swear the Republican National Committee has called me twice a day for over 2 weeks – and they must be pretty persistent because I never answer! I can’t think of a single stranger I want to talk to that badly.

However, if my husband or one of our children or my parents or siblings call, I will bend over backwards to race to the phone. When you are expecting an important call from a child or other loved one far away ( like what military families are experiencing) , you’re on pins and needles waiting for the call. When each of my children was studying abroad, a phone call from them, carefully planned to account for the time difference, was very precious. And when the children and grandchildren head home from visiting us, I insist that they call once they are home to let me know they are safe. I can’t imagine what it must be like for parents whose children never pick up the phone to stay in touch. My son, Pete, had a college roommate from Brooklyn who evidently didn’t call home much. Consequently, his mother would call him – a lot. Usually the call went to the answering machine and, according to Pete, sounded something like this,

At the tone, please leave your message. Beeep…

“Hello Adam! Are you “they-ah”, Adam? Adam, this is your “moth-uh”. Why don’t you “coo-all”? You know your “fath-uh” and I worry when you don’t “coo-all”. How busy can a son possibly be that he can’t pick up the phone to “coo-all” his “ moth-uh”? Adam, I’m going to the “mahket” now, but I’ll only be out a few minutes. I want you should “coo-all” me. Oolright? So, goodbye.”

Click

We got such a kick out of this typical New York Jewish mother with her Brooklyn accent, but really, the longing in that mother’s voice was truly moving. When someone you love doesn’t make an effort to communicate with you, it really hurts. Sitting by the phone, waiting for the child I’m worried about, the child I have been fervently praying for, isn’t funny at all.

I wonder if God is like Adam’s mother in a way. God, are you waiting by the phone for me to call? Do you show up every day during quiet time and wait for me to come? How many different times have you called out to me? How many ways have you tried to build communication with me and I haven’t responded?

I know God doesn’t worry about me in the same way that we mothers down here worry, but he certainly cares about his children every bit as much and a lot more. He longs to meet us and spend time with us. Someone once told me that Jeremiah 33:3 is God’s telephone number. His line is never busy and he will never put us on hold. He says to us,

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

It feels strange sometimes I know to sit all alone in an empty prayer closet and try to hear the voice of someone we cannot see. It’s awkward at first to talk to the air, isn’t it? But God is there. He’s said so all through his word. He’s asked us to call. If you knew a dear friend would be sitting in the same place in the park every day, expecting to meet you and share all the best news and advice, you would go, wouldn’t you? God is that friend. They said of Jesus that he was a friend to sinners so even if you feel unworthy, he still wants to spend time with you. He is the best listener you’ll ever know.

One of my favorite hymns is called In the Garden, partly because my Grandma Rosie used to sing it often and partly because the words are so refreshing and uplifting. It was written in 1912 by C. Austin Miles. The words go like this:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Miles wrote of his experience writing this hymn as follows,

One day in April, 1912, 1 was seated in the dark room, where I kept my photographic equipment and organ. I drew my Bible toward me; it opened at my favorite chapter, John 20–whether by chance or inspiration let each reader decide. That meeting of Jesus and Mary had lost none of its power and charm. As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary. As she came to the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in, and hurried away. John, in flowing robe, appeared, looking at the tomb; then came Peter, who entered the tomb. As they departed, Mary reappeared. Leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Then, turning, she saw Jesus standing before her, as did I! 1 knew it was Jesus. She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched and looking into His face cried, “Rabboni!”

I awakened in sunlight, grip­ping the Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating. Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.

If you could walk and talk with Jesus and hear all the sweet words he had for you, wouldn’t you race to that place? My prayer for myself and for you is that this communion could happen every day for us. And the joy we’d share as we tarried there, none other would ever know.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my dear friend, how long have you been waiting for me to come to the garden? How many times have you called me and I have ignored your call? How long have you sat by the phone waiting for me to call home? Please Lord, forgive me for neglecting you. Forgive me for neglecting the precious time we could have together. Allow me to hear your voice so that I cannot mistake it. I want to walk and talk with you. Amen

Scripture:

Psalm 6:2-7

Psalm 7:1, 2, 9, 10, 17

Psalm 10: 17

Psalm 13:1-2

Psalm 16: 2, 8

Psalm 18: 2

Psalm 20: 1-4

Psalm 22: 11, 14

Psalm 25: 15

Psalm 27: 8, 13, 14

Psalm 30:2

Psalm 32:8

Going to Pieces

This week I spent two days taking a quilting class at a retreat center in Door County, Wisconsin. I must confess that I found the skill set we were taught to be pretty difficult. By the end of the first day, I was ready to pack it up and go home! It didn’t help that the lady sewing across from me picked everything up so fast! She seemed to have no trouble at all doing beautiful work. I was stressed out to put it mildly. Day two went better, but I still was on the verge of “falling to pieces” (that’s a quilting joke!). However, because I really want to be able to use these skills, I will have to discipline myself to practice them daily until I too can do work to be proud of – which is too bad since I thought I would master this stuff right off the bat!

Anyway, on the drive home, I began to think about how our lives are like a quilt. Except for what is called a whole cloth quilt, all quilts are made up of many pieces cut from various yards of cloth. When the pieces are sewn together in patterns, they become a quilt. When we look at a quilt, we recognize that it has been pieced from many shapes, yet we think of it as one whole blanket or covering. Sewn together properly, a quilt will function as something stronger than its many pieces. Any normal person is going to experience at least one time in their life when the stresses or tragedies they face will cause them to fall to pieces. In the middle of life’s tribulations, we wonder if we’ll ever be able to pull ourselves together again. Some of us never do. But there is a way to recover.

The secret to pulling ourselves together again is to rely on God rather than ourselves! Only God, who knows what wholeness for each of us should look like, can pick up our many pieces and weave them back together until, like a quilt, we are stronger than before and more beautiful too. I never cease to be amazed how the stacks of fabric pieces I have cut from a dozen colors and designs, come together to make a beautiful and functional piece of textile art, which is the quilt. In the same way, I am amazed to see how God can take a broken, frazzled human being and knit them back together into someone whole, strong, and more beautiful than before. In Psalm 7 we find David crying out to God as a man who has most certainly fallen to pieces despite the fact that God has anointed him the next king of Israel.

“O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” Psalm 7:1-2

In Psalm 6: 2-7, David cries,

“Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? Turn, O Lord, and deliver me because of your unfailing love…I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.”

and later,

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13: 1-2

“Do not be far from me, Lord, for trouble is near and there is no one to help… I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax and melted away within me.” Psalm 22:11, 14

But David comes to the same resolution over and over,

“O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring an end to the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure. My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart… I will give thanks to the Lord because of His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” Psalm 7: 9-10, 17

You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them and you listen to their cry.” Psalm 10:17

I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing… I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:2, 8

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer,; my God is my rock in whom I take refuge.” Psalm 18:2

“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release me from the snare.” Psalm 25:15

The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?… My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face! Your face will I seek… I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27: 8, 13-14

O Lord, I called to you for help and you healed me.” Psalm 30:2

Are you at your wits end? Have you fallen to pieces as a result of stress or tragedy? Do you feel lost, without direction? Do what David did. Fall into the arms of God and ask him to sew you back together again.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20: 1-4

For our God says,

I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (Psalm 32:8)

Prayer: O Lord our God, how great is your goodness which you have stored up for those who fear you. I trust in you. You are my God. My times are in your hands. May your face shine on all those who turn to you in their distress. Knit those who have fallen to pieces back together again like a beautiful, strong quilt. Amen