Gathered Fragments

by Harriet E. Michael

And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” John 6:12 (ESV)

I first noticed this verse in an old handwritten book my father has on his shelf. It was handed down to him by his mother who got it from her mother. It appears to be an old journal of some type. On the pages of the book are poems gathered and carefully written by its first owner. Some are famous poems while others are original work by family members. My grandmother and even my father have some original poems hand written by them in this treasured book. The book is titled, “Gathered Fragments” and this verse is written in beautiful penmanship on the first page.

old journal 2

These words in scripture were actually an instruction by Jesus to his disciples after the miraculous feeding of five thousand people. The crowd which gathered to hear Jesus was hungry. It was lunchtime and the people were without food. Most of them had come spontaneously without planning ahead even enough to have brought lunches. Rather than going home, the disciples found a little boy with a small lunch of five loaves of bread and two small fish. After blessing the food, Jesus broke it into pieces, and offered it to the hungry crowd who consumed it eagerly. Then, when the crowd had eaten all they wanted, the disciples were told to “Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost.”

Isn’t that a beautiful instruction? How do you gather fragments? Do you have a collection of some kind? Perhaps you collect rocks, coins, or stamps. Maybe you like to make scrapbooks? Do you keep old photos and relics from years gone by; polished and put in a place of honor in your home or give them away as special gifts? My father has a plaque hanging in his home of an old letter he wrote to his mother from camp when he was a child. His sister found the letter and made a very special birthday gift for him one year. Maybe you have carefully held onto family heirlooms so you can pass them to the next generation. Or perhaps, you gather fragments in other ways. Maybe you can or freeze garden vegetables for winter eating or maybe you gather and dry herbs, fruits, or vegetables.

canned food

I have written about this concept before. In fact this blog post is drawn from a previously published magazine article I once wrote. But as I thought about our topic this month, this verse and practice kept coming to my mind. I think one of the best ways to keep costs down is to have a habit of gathering things that can be reused at another time by us or by others.

When the disciples gathered the fragments in the Bible story, they had twelve baskets left over. Though this was a miraculous occurrence, the underlying principle is still valid. If you or I form fragment gathering habits, we will find abundance in our lives too. And so will others whom we bless with our fragments–carefully gathered and lovingly given.

Click to tweet:  “Gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost.”

Writing Prompt: Share about something you gather and reuse. How do you keep / alter it for future use? How/ when do you use it again?

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Clean it Up!

By Harriet E. Michael

These are words I’ve learned to dread when coming from an editor. Cleaning up a manuscript is no fun. At least it’s no pleasure cruise for me; I understand there are strange people in this world for whom these words sound like an order to have fun. These people are sometimes called editors and they are an alien breed to me. At the same time, I need them desperately and am glad they exist.

I recently released my debut novel, “The Whisper of the Palms” published by Olivia Kimbrell Press. When my editor first received my novel, he sent it back to me telling me to clean it up. pc-1207686_1280Thankfully, he gave me specific things to do to clean it up. Here are two of them, which may help any writer trying to present as clean a manuscript as possible to an editor, whether it be a large manuscript like a book or small, like an article.

 1)      Change passive verbs to active. My editor had me doing word searches for all being verbs: is, was, were, am, are, be, being, been. He asked me to change these to active wherever possible.

2)      Do not start sentences with what he called the FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Again, my editor had me doing word searches for these words and asked me to change it anytime I had started a sentence with any of them. (And this is my favorite vice! I love starting sentences with and or but. Ugh!)

 A couple of weeks later, I was practically cross-eyed from all the word searches but I had a cleaned-up manuscript!  

Click to tweet: Cleaning up a manuscript is no fun.

Three-word prompt: I’m editing because …

Add your 3 words to the three-word prompt to create a six-word short-short story! We’ll publicize our choice of the best one on Facebook and Twitter and other outlets. One all-around winner will be chosen at the end of April!

The Whisper of the Palmsa new release from our own Harriet E. Michael!

Africa beckoned but would Ali have to go alone?

Growing up in the foothills of North Carolina, Ali Blackwell dreamed of going places she had only seen in books and magazines. She lived in a small farmhouse that her farmer father had built with his own hands, and the prospects of ever leaving her little town of Union Mills appeared unlikely. Her family barely scraped by on the sale of produce grown by her dad and brothers and the supplemental income they earned working at the nearby textile mill.

Kyle Edmonds, a few years her elder, lived in a larger house in South Carolina. He possessed things Ali only dreamed of—extra clothes and shoes, a house with indoor plumbing and electricity, a family car, a bicycle and other toys, just to name some.

They could not have been more different.

However, both heard God’s still small voice calling them to foreign missions. How will their paths cross? What obstacles will they face? What will their future hold?


Born in Nigeria, West Africa, as the daughter of missionaries, Harriet E. Michael is a writer, gardener, wife of 38 years, mother, and grandmother.

She holds a BS in nursing from West Virginia University but has discovered her passion for writing. Since her first published article in 2010, she now has over a hundred and fifty published articles and devotions.

Harriet is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Louisville Christian Writers. She is the author of three books, “Glimpses of the Savior” published by TMP Publishing and “Prayer: It’s Not About You,” a finalist in the 2011 Women of Faith book contest, published by Pix-N-Pens Publishing Company, and her debut novel, “The Whisper of the Palms” published by Olivia Kimbrell Press.

Her stories, articles, and devotions have appeared in publications by Focus on the Family, Lifeway, Standard Publishing, David C. Cook Co., Bethany House, American Life League, Crosswalk.com, Christian Communicator, Judson Press, The Upper Room, Pentecostal Publishing House, Smyth and Helwys, and more.

She is also a Christian speaker who loves to talk to women’s groups about prayer or other topics or speak at writers’ conferences on free-lance writing, non-fiction writing, and devotional writing.

You can also follow her at www.harrietemichael.blogspot.com

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Precious Pup

by Harriet E. Michael

They say a really great dog may only come around once in a lifetime. In my life, Buckles was that dog. He was a brown English Field Cocker. My husband drove to Chicago to get him when he was just a pup. He was the runt of the liter, the leftover puppy, the one nobody else wanted. The first time I laid eyes on him, I thought he was either the most beautiful pup I had ever seen or the ugliest—and I wasn’t sure which. He looked a little like a baby cow. But soon it became clear to me that he was indeed beautiful! So much so, that in the years that followed, people always commented on how striking he was.

But the best thing about him was his personality. He was gentle, loving, obedient, and completely non aggressive with children or anyone. But when he got out in a field hunting with my husband, he was a great retriever—aggressive, obedient, faithful and worked tirelessly.

My husband’s high school friend and hunting buddy, Jim, liked Buckles so much he made the trip to Chicago to get an English Field Cocker for himself. She’s solid black and named Ziggy. One of Jim’s reasons for getting a female was to someday get a puppy out of Buckles.

That is where we ran into trouble. For reasons unknown to us, Ziggy and Buckles were not able to conceive. Over a period of four years, at every possible opportunity the dogs were put together hoping Ziggy would get pregnant–but to no avail.

Ziggy was getting older and Buckles was quite old, so in desperation, Jim took the dogs to a vet and had Ziggy artificially inseminated by Buckles. And that is how at eleven years old, Buckles became a father and we were given our pick of the liter. buckles-and-colt

Buckles and Colt (father and son)

Each time we went to Jim’s house to look at the pups, I was, of course, hoping to find one just like Buckles. There were no brown pups–only solid black ones and white with black spots, so I had to judge by their personalities. The personality was more important to me anyway. My husband wanted a male and there were four possibilities. The first time we were there, when the pups were only a few weeks old, one little solid black male kept wagging his tail. I picked him up and he immediately stretched his little neck to try and nuzzle against me–something Buckles did!

“Look!” I exclaimed pointing to the mannerism we both knew so well. My husband took the pup out of my arms and held him up, placing the pup’s nose against his nose. The little guy’s tail wagged a mile a minute. I laughed and took him back. Holding him to my nose, I told my husband to look at his tail. Then we held each of the other male pups and none had either mannerism–none tried to nuzzle and none wagged their tails when held up to our noses.

On the next visit, this same little black male came running to us, wagging his whole body. Again, I laughed. Because, again, this was a Buckles’ characteristic. Buckles was double jointed and when he wagged his tail, which he did most of the time, it looked like his back legs had come unhooked from his body and the whole back part of him would move back and forth vigorously.

It only took two visits to know which pup was most like his father in personality, and that’s the one we wanted! We have not been disappointed. He is laid back, sweet-natured, gentle, and loving–just like the old man.

A couple of Christmases ago, we had one very old, very sweet, brown dog who we have loved completely for going on twelve years and one small, active, happy, precious pup running circles around his dad. On Christmas Eve when I saw that adorable puppy running to my husband with a chewed string of lights in his mouth, bringing it to him and proudly dropping it at his master’s feet, like a faithful retriever should, I didn’t even get annoyed with him. Instead, I laughed and thought how blessed we were to have one of Buckles’ pups running around our house, chewing up our Christmas lights.

They say a really great dog may only come around once in life … but then again, they may be wrong!

colt

Writing Prompt: What was your favorite pet in your lifetime? What made him or her special?

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A Harmattan Christmas

by Harriet E. Michael

Nigeria, where I grew up,  is a country on the coast of West Africa just beneath the Sahara Desert. Christmas in Nigeria comes in the middle of the dry season–a special part of the dry season known as Harmattan.

Wikipedia defines Harmattan like this: The Harmattan is a dry and dusty West African trade wind. It blows south from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. Humidity can drop to as low as 15 percent. In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days, comparable to a heavy fog.

harmattan

Against this backdrop, we celebrated Christmas. My father used to say he liked the fact that Christmas came in the middle of Harmattan. In America everything would have been stark, cold, and dreary, with the trees bare and the air full of winter’s chill. And in the middle of this otherwise dreary time, Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior with ornamented and brightly-lit trees, gifts, good food, and Christmas cheer. Likewise in Nigeria, when the world was dry and dusty, all the leaves and grass a dreary brown, Christians celebrate the joyous birth of their Savior with songs and good cheer.

tree-lightsI loved the Christmases of my childhood! They were unique and wonderful. We used a small casuarina tree for our Christmas tree and decorated it with whatever we could find. Many of us had brought those old-fashioned large bulb tree lights and we had electricity, albeit somewhat unreliable.

This is not me, but my hair looked a lot like the girl in this picture!

This is not me, but my hair looked a lot like the girl’s in this picture!

On a humorous note, when I was a baby, I had very thin wispy blonde hair. During the Harmattan season the static electricity from the dry blowing air caused my hair to stand on end most of the time and my family fondly called me “Harriet the Harmattan cat” because my hair looked like the hair on the back of cats when they arch in fear or anger.


Writing Prompt: Have you ever spent Christmas away from home? If so, describe your experience, if not, write a fictional Christmas away from home story.

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Thanksgiving Cheeseball

by Harriet E. Michael

Thanksgiving! So many thoughts come to mind with that word—pilgrims, Indians, harvest, fields of cornstalks against a blue sky, frost on the pumpkins, crunchy leaves, crisp air—and of course, food!thanksgiving-pic

Others are writing about various Thanksgiving food items, but I wanted to add one of my favorite side dishes, or perhaps it might be served as an hors d’oeuvre .

I found this recipe a few years ago, and fell in love with both the taste and the appearance of it. I have made it every year since and I also serve it at Thanksgiving related functions. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Turkey Cheeseball*

2 pkgs. (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese (about 8 oz.)
¼ cup buttermilk
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp garlic salt
¼ tsp pepper
1/3 tsp minced red pepper
2 scallions, finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbs chopped fresh dill

Garnishes

Cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, sugar snap peas, apples or other fruits or vegetables arranged to look like a turkey tail, beak, and legs. 2 cloves for eyes (see picture)

  • Line 6” diameter bowl with enough plastic wrap to overhang the sides by 4” In a separate bowl, on medium-low speed, beat cream cheese, buttermilk, lemon juice. Worcestershire, paprika, garlic salt, and pepper until blended. With a spoon, stir in red peppers, scallions, parsley, and dill. Spoon into lined bowl. Cover with overhanging wrap; refrigerate at least 3 hours.
  • Garnish to look like a turkey. (see picture)cheese-ball-2
*Recipe reprinted from Woman's World magazine, 12/2/2013 issue.

Writing Prompt: Give one of your favorite Thanksgiving foods or decorating ideas.

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I Miss the Rains Down in Africa

by Harriet Michael

Okay, I know. The real words to that song are “I bless the rains down in Africa” but personally, I miss the African rains and so many other things too! As some of you may have noticed, my blog posts often have some connection to Nigeria, the nation of my birth. I’m a Third Culture Kid—a person born and reared in a country different from her citizenship. Well, I actually had duel citizenship until I was 18 and had to choose. Of course, I chose the USA. That was the right choice, but I do miss so much that I left behind in Africa. Thanks for letting me tell you again about a place my heart loves.

Though travel to Nigeria today is not advised due to political dangers, such as Boko Harem and other sad realities, the country does have some incredible places, many tucked away forever in my memory.

There are beautiful rivers to see. The Niger, near where I was born, is a wild river. Swimming is not recommended due to the possibility of crocodile attacks. But it’s beautiful, just the same. My family crossed it in a large open canoe-type boat with wooden seats and a thatched roof when I was about 10. I remember sitting on that boat and thinking it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in my short life. The first time I ever visited Disney World and rode The Jungle Cruise, I was taken back in a flash to that moment in my early life when I traveled the Niger.jungle cruise

The Ethiope is a different story. It’s tame and wonderful. Most all of my missionary kid friends have fond memories of swimming in the Ethiope. Here is how I described snorkeling there in a post on my personal blog a few years ago:

“The place we entered was only about a five-minute swim from the pier, but it seemed to take forever to get there. First we drove for a while, then walked a small path for what seemed like a long time. Finally, we came to the river. From the bank we could see the other side. Even to a child it did not look too far to swim. My dad put goggles, flippers, and a snorkel on me. Another missionary went in first, then me, and my dad behind me. What happened next was like entering into a world of wonder—one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

What appeared to me to be a short, easy swim to the other bank suddenly seemed wild, challenging, exciting, and even scary. As I kept my eyes under the water, in an instant I saw the ground below me drop what seemed to be a mile. I don’t really know how deep it was but it was clear to my child’s eyes that it was deeper than anyplace I’d ever been before. It was over my head and my dad’s by a long shot! It felt like I was swimming from the top of one underwater mountain to another, as I swam from that shore line to a sand dune a short distance away. The river floor below was alive too! There was grass swaying and fish swimming everywhere. I understood why my dad wanted to be behind me and didn’t want me swimming this part of the river by myself. And I was really glad he was there!

Very soon the three of us were on the sand dune resting. I sat in utter amazement and wonder at what I had just seen. Then we set out again and swam to the pier which seemed to be just around the corner. The river floor below me in this part was much more shallow, brown in color from the sand, less green and not so alive.”

Eku River

This is an actual picture of the Ethiope River shared with me by a childhood friend who grew up in Eku, very near the river.

Another place I fondly recall from my childhood is the warm springs in Ikogosi. The mission had a retreat there when I was a child. The place was managed by missionaries, John and Doris Mcgee, and the beautiful chapel on the grounds was designed by missionary Wilfred Congdon. Even as a child, the warm water had been diverted in part, so as to gather in a swimming pool but flow out again so it would not become stagnant. Today, it is a resort. The pictures from the website show much development, but the chapel still stands. http://www.ikogosiresort.net/ Ikogisi chape

The chapel in Ikogosi in the 1950’s, when it was fairly new.

There are so many other places I could write about—the Yankari Game Reserve–I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard stories about it from my childhood friends, http://www.wcsnigeria.org/Wild-Places/Yankari-Game-Reserve.aspx.  The incredible rock formations in the northern Plateau State, http://www.nigeriagalleria.com/Nigeria/States_Nigeria/Plateau/Riyom-Rock-Formations-Jos.html, –and so many more.house in Jos (Joy)

I love this picture! It was taken about three  years ago by a childhood friend on a visit back to the Plateau State.

I miss these places, but I must admit, I’m glad I am a US citizen. Ours is truly the greatest nation on earth, and we are blessed to live here.

Writing Prompt: Make up a fictional adventure in Africa. Include why you went there (business, pleasure, mission work?) and what happened while there.

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The Faith of a Child

by Harriet Michael

Owens GKs-1964In the summer of 1988 when my oldest son was six years old, our family took a vacation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Sadly, it did not turn out to be much of a vacation. We only had five days. Travel took up two of them, leaving us only three days of actual vacation time.

On the first day, my younger son fell off the couch while playing.  He suffered a cut on his forehead that required a trip to the emergency room for stitches. On the second day, our dog died. She was a very old dog, and we knew she didn’t have long to live. In fact, that was the reason we brought her with us rather than leaving her at a kennel. But even though it was not unexpected, it was sad, just the same.

Aside from all of this, the weather was lousy! Hilton Head was having a torrential rainstorm. There was so much rain; the water came half-way up the wheels of the cars in some places on the roads. Rain poured down the entire three days of our vacation … well, almost.

ocean rain

On the third day, my oldest came to me complaining, “Mom! I want to play on the big tree house in Harbor Town. Let’s go play!”

I told him that I wished he could too, but it was still raining. I added, “And I can’t make the rain stop.”

His eyes lit up and he said, “Well, I know who can stop the rain!”  Then, with a big smile, he exclaimed, “God!” He added that he wanted to pray and ask God to stop the rain.

prayerI must confess my reluctance to even let him do this. I was full of doubt. I listened with doubt in my heart as he prayed this request in his innocent way.

After the prayer, he went back to watching television. I went back to cleaning the kitchen, where I turned on the TV to check the weather. It did not look hopeful. There was a front dropping rain on all of South Carolina as well as several other states. Furthermore, it was a stationary front. It was not going anywhere for quite a while. Since we were leaving the next day, I was fairly convinced this prayer was not going to be answered the way my son hoped. I began considering ways to help my son understand that sometimes God says no to our requests.

sky-912238_1280To my surprise, within the hour, the rain began to taper off. Then it stopped altogether. I quickly put my children in the car and drove to Harbor Town. I watched with amazement as they played on the giant tree house. I watched with more amazement as the skies completely cleared. For about two hours, there was not a cloud in the sky. People came onto the tennis courts, swam in the pools, perused the shops, and visited the restaurants.

I kept thinking, “The entire island is indebted to a six-year-old for his prayer, even though they don’t know it.”

treehouseAbout two hours later, clouds began to form again and drops of rain began to fall. We piled back in the car, went back to our condo, back to playing inside and watching TV.

But what a little miracle God did in response to a prayer prayed in faith–the faith of a child!

Writing Prompt: Write of a time when you experienced a direct answer to a prayer.

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