Love & Appearances in Sarah Loudin Thomas’ new release, “Until the Harvest”

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’  “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.  “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’  “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”  -Matthew 13:24-30 (NIV) | Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Until the Harvest, the second full-length novel in the Appalachian Blessings series by Sarah Loudin Thomas, is officially out today!

You can find my full review here, but this post is more a rumination on character and theme. Since I’ve wavered quite a bit on my “Devotionals on the First of the Month” resolution (and have completely fallen off the train of “All Other Blogging Plans Whatsoever”), we’re gonna let this post pull double-duty. (And y’all know this is a spoiler-free zone, so read on with impunity!)


Back in February, I wrote about my seven-year-old self tackling one of life’s big questions—What is love? For one of its characters in particular, Until the Harvest is about this question, too.

Wise, West Virginia, 1976—There’s a sneaky little quirk to Margaret Hoffman’s character arc. She thinks badly of her parents, and her mother in particular, for being overly concerned with appearances over substance, but doesn’t see herself falling into similar ways of thinking. Margaret believes herself unattractive, and takes her outward appearance as an indication that love is not for her. Of course, her mother piles on nasty comments that foster this negative self-image, so it’s little wonder Margaret feels the way she does. And as is so often the case, she fails to recognize in herself the very flaw that defines her mother.

Beyond the scope of loving her little sister Mayfair, love is a mystery to Margaret—to the point that the news of an upcoming wedding between two very elderly neighbors slightly grosses her out. I don’t recall her basing this on their gray hair and wrinkles, but their circumstances as nonagenarians is still an external factor. She wonders, what’s the point of loving if they hardly have any time left?

In terms of her spiritual life, Margaret devotes a bit of thought here and there to “Christian charity” and “the Christian thing to do,” in spite of not having much use for church or prayer. These thoughts sound okay, but they demonstrate an externally-driven faith. She does love the poetry of the Psalms and is not closed off to belief—but she doubts that she is lovable, even by God. Her talents for organization and service appear purposeless to her, when in fact they are channels for tangible expressions of love.

Margaret has her own version of the appearances game playing out—her own field of wheat and tares sown in her heart. In other words, she’s a great character, plagued with the same bad and wounded thinking that barges into real life. If this sounds harsh, it’s only because it’s a little easier to identify the whisper of lies when you’re reading about them in someone else’s head.

So where does truth come in to counter? How does God teach us to love? Sometimes, He does it by sending us someone unlovable. In Margaret’s case, that person scores no “outward appearance” points. Once Mayfair nudges her sister to care, Margaret finds that she’s not so callous as to leave a dying person to their filth. Her talents do have purpose: to show love, even for someone who doesn’t have much time left. And it’s not pointless at all.

Turns out, those acts of love for a dying person spread healing to places physical death can’t even reach.

People. Words. Experiences. Their surfaces rarely tell all. Sometimes we have to wait until the harvest to see what kind of fruit they bear.

"I'm saying that miracles don't  always feel like it at the time.  I'm saying that blessings can be  difficult, but they are blessings  nonetheless." -Perla Long Phillips, Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Photo Credit: © Akorotaev | Dreamstime.com – Bindweed And Barbed Wire Photo  

Disclosure Statement: I received a free influencer copy of Until the Harvest from Bethany House. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

P.S. Sorry for the fits and starts, y’all. I’m working on queuing up some good posts for this month. :)

Searching for Treasure in the Copies and Shadows

Last month, I wrote about the weather–that it comes from the treasuries of God. I suggested that even literal and figurative bad weather can be looked upon as treasure if it sends us back to God and His promises.

I’d like to continue examining this idea. There’s a section of Scripture that has me absolutely convinced that when the Bible talks about the treasuries of God, it’s describing a literal heavenly place. Surprisingly, the passage in question doesn’t specifically mention the treasuries of God at all.

Copies of the Original

Hebrews 8-10 discusses the old covenant and the new covenant, the symbol of the tabernacle, the inadequacy of the Law as a means of salvation… It’s a meaty text, but allow me to highlight the verses that set me on a treasure hunt. (All NASB, emphasis mine…)

Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and a shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” –Hebrews 8:4-5

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. –Hebrews 9:23-25

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. –Hebrews 10:1

This has long fascinated me. Heaven seems so far away, and spiritual things so difficult to understand. Seeing is not believing, but it is so much easier than believing, and that makes sight such a comfortable substitute for belief.

God knows that about us.

That’s why the idea that God would place concrete earthly things before us as representations of literal heavenly things just thrills me. Symbols, metaphors. Copies and shadows of spiritual things.

So, if we’re on a treasure hunt, then let’s talk about gold.

We understand gold. It’s shiny. Rare. Valuable. Useful. The love of money is the root of all evil, but gold itself? Gold is mined from the earth. It’s part of creation. Gold is good.

Keeping that in mind… well, we like to joke that this verse comes out when the church needs money, but consider Malachi 3:10 for a moment…

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” –Malachi 3:10

This verse plainly illustrates a connection between physical storehouses and God’s heavenly treasuries. What if we learned to seek these connections? After all, it’s only once in a while that we happen to find things that are rare and valuable if we’re not looking for them.

Proverbs 8:17-21 speaks to us as wisdom personified and says,

“I love those who love me;
And those who diligently seek me will find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
Enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold,
And my yield better than choicest silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
In the midst of the paths of justice,
To endow those who love me with wealth,
That I may fill their treasuries.” –Proverbs 8:17-21

Gold is concrete; the fruit of wisdom is not. Yet because we understand gold, the pursuit of wisdom and its fruit becomes more understandable too, and earthly treasure becomes for us a copy and shadow of the real thing.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7

© Atomazul | Dreamstime.com – Coins With Copy Space Photo

If you are interested in this topic and would like me to speak about Spiritual Treasures at your event, send me a note via my contact page and I will follow up with you.

In like a Lion, Out like a Lamb

I’m backdating this post to March 1 so it will reside where I want it in the timeline of this blog, but my devotional post for this month is late, late, late–and even that fits with what I have to say. I couldn’t have written it without some tumult.

 “Orchid Flower In Rain With Sunlight.” Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Orchid Flower In Rain With Sunlight.” Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all heard the saying, if March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. Where I live, we had a big snow two weeks ago, which quickly melted. Ever since, the weather’s been all over the place. Mild and rainy. Suddenly warm. A quick dusting of morning snow a week ago, and evening temperatures in the high sixties last night.

Weather is unpredictable. We know this, even while lamenting the forecasters’ attempts to get it right.

I used to complain about snow and cold–and still do, if I’m honest. I’m a sunflower. I always joke that I live where I do for a reason, but it’s not a joke, not really.

Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.

However, I learned something that made me desire to learn to change my attitude about turbulent weather.

I’ve blogged on this, one of my favorite Bible verses, several times before:

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.”

And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”

-Matthew 13:51-52

This verse has grown important to me in the last several years. The question of treasure is one I enjoy coming back to–mining deeper, if you will–and at some point I started to think about things like treasure in heaven and spiritual storehouses. I dug into the Word and found precious gems in Deuteronomy 28:12, Job 38: 22-23, and Jeremiah 10:13–all of them showing examples of what we see here:

He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
Who makes lightnings for the rain,
Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries.

-Psalm 135:7

As it turns out, the weather comes from the treasuries of God, which made me feel pretty much not-okay about bitterly complaining when it didn’t suit me. Both lionesque and lamb-like weather come as God wills, and there’s little to be done about either.

And of course, lion and lamb imagery is familiar in another context, as well.

The Lion

Throughout Scripture, lions signify boldness occasionally and destruction often. There are literal lions (think Daniel in the lions’ den) and figurative lions (Psalm 22:12-14, for example).

And there are passages that describe the Lord as a lion. Isaiah 38:12-14 is one. Here is another:

He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He is to me like a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in secret places.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces;
He has made me desolate.”

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.”

-Lamentations 3:9-11, 31-32

To be sure, there are times when the Lord will bring, or allow, pain into our lives. Destruction. Tumult. Stormy weather (literally and figuratively). Yet we see that His mercies aren’t far removed from these lion times.

We can’t predict them, and oftentimes we can’t prepare for them, at least not in a tangible sense. Those times send us falling back on the Romans 8:28 promise…

But what if the lion times also come straight from the treasuries of our God? Could it deepen the believer’s faith to look on discipline, hardship, and loss, difficult as they are, the way the Word of God refers to lightning and wind, as coming from His treasuries?

The Lamb

And then, eventually, the skies clear.

Most of the time, particularly in the Old Testament, lambs were discussed in the context of sacrifices, but they can also convey gentleness, as in Psalm 78:70-72 and Isaiah 11:6.

At times, both senses are evident:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.

-Isaiah 53:7

The sacrifice of Jesus for the salvation of mankind was certainly His greatest gift to us–an unsurpassed treasure. That He went to the cross in acquiescence, obedience, and gentleness gives His followers a model to emulate. Even when we have tough stuff to face.

It’s an example that also has the value of great treasure, in the same way that we delight in the gift and respite of a perfect spring day.

That is one of the awesome facets of the character of Jesus: that He is both Lion and Lamb (as in Revelation 5:4-6), and He will use everything at His disposal (which is literally everything) to draw us to Him–destruction and gentleness, storms and sunshine.

Friday’s Faces from the Past: Introducing Laura Broadway (AND a book update!)

Since today is my birthday (woo-hoo!) I’m sharing one of my very favorite finds with you!

To know her is to love her

I “met” Laura Broadway at the local antique shop. Sadly, this cabinet card lacks a photographer’s mark, but I’m guessing she lived in Illinois based on clues from other photos in the same group. Inconveniently, there are no guarantees that the whole pile of pictures all came from the same attic, so it’s really just a guess.

Laura Broadway

I made her acquaintance via her note penned on the back.

Dear Cousin Orpha I send you this my Photo as you know I am much Better looking than this is when you want the Milk to sour quick hold this Photo over it your affectionate Cousin Laura Broadway

(If you love this as much as I do, you can see the scan here.)

Don’t know about you, but I like her. She’s got vinegar–enough to sour milk, evidently!

The search begins

Of course, while poking around on FamilySearch, I couldn’t find her. Or rather, I found Laura Broadways, but I had no way to narrow down the field. The name was simply too common…

…which gave me the idea to look for Orpha Broadway.

This too was a guess–after all, cousins may or may not share a surname. None of mine are Heinemans, after all. That’s just how the apples fell from the tree.

However, I did find an Orpha Broadway. In Illinois, no less.

I do believe this tree bears more shaking than I have room for today, but this is a mystery I want to revisit, and soon…!

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“As you know, I am much better looking than this is”… [Tweet this]

Finally, a use for those unflattering photos! [Tweet this]

Also, I have a novel update!

Just in time for my birthday! Whispers in the Branches is in the final stages of production and may be available as early as next week. It’s received several warm endorsements, including this one:

In Whispers in the Branches, debut author Brandy Heineman pens a fast-paced, entertaining and ultimately touching story mixed with ghosts and genealogy and sprinkled with God.  Her delicious prose sizzles and soars as she introduces grieving Abby Wells who uproots her life in Ohio to search for family secrets in Georgia.  Abby encounters a haunted house, a feisty great aunt and a young, handsome caretaker in her new surroundings as she grapples with grief, the truth of her family’s past and the unseen presence of something deep and spiritual.

–Elizabeth Musser, author of The Swan House,The Sweetest Thing,The Secrets of the Cross trilogy

It’s exciting and humbling that I’ll soon have my very first book out there to offer to all of you. :)

What I know…

I have some good tid-bits for your this time–

The ebook edition of To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer is on sale. Pretty sure this deal ends today, so if you want it, get it now. Karen is one of my favorite authors, and I loved this book so much!

Also, those of you on Twitter should know about two fun genealogy chats:

#GenChat meets every other Friday night (10 ET/ 9 CT). It’s hosted by pro genealogist Jen Baldwin, and covers a specific topic in a Q&A format. It’s a fun way to learn and get a variety of perspectives on how to approach various research opportunities.

#AncestryHour is a newer gathering held every Tuesday at 7PM Greenwich Mean Time, which is in the middle of the afternoon for USA tweeters like yours truly. This is an open-ended link-sharing and question-asking free-for-all, and is an especially good place for UK and Scottish researchers.

That’s all for now!

Thriller Thursday: A Moment That Changes Everything

Interior Dancing Pavilion, Exposition Park at Conneaut Lake, PA

On my last trip to the antique shop, I found this postcard with a note to Mr. Carl Shartle of Meadville, Pennsylvania on the back.

I forget sometimes that rural Pennsylvania life wasn’t all churning butter and butchering chickens. The dancing pavilion was a fixture of Exposition Park at Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania. In its time, it was called “one of the best equipped summer resorts in the State.” (Source, 1911.) It also boasted a bathing house on the lake, a hotel, and a racetrack. For Carl and his family, dancing, boating and betting were only ten miles up the road if they cared to indulge.

I will say that I knew the odds of this being a relic of a forgotten romance were slim to nil when I bought the postcard. As I was researching, though, there came a moment that changed everything. This light-hearted “Mystery Monday” post transformed into a grimmer “Thriller Thursday” entry. Ye faint-hearted, proceed with caution.

Mr Carl Shartle Meadville, Penna RFD OK. Sat eve Well see you about 8:30 At the foot Of the dancing Pavillion

I should have known. Something about the lack of enthusiasm in the note planted a question mark in my mind. I know I’m bringing a modern sensibility to this, but the phrase “OK Sat eve” just doesn’t brim with excitement, does it?

No endearments. No signature. Presumably, Carl knew who accepted his invitation for Saturday night, but I’m thinking like a woman here. My husband knows who he’s married to, but I don’t miss an opportunity to scrawl “<3B” on my little notes to him, even if they’re just about heating up leftovers.

Although the photo side of the postcard is dated August 24, 1909, there’s (once again) no stamp and therefore no postmark dating the message. Did Rural Free Delivery require postage? And actually, since we have no way of knowing whether the postcard found its way to the antique shop via his old collected papers or hers, there’s nothing to say this note was ever actually delivered.

Perhaps it was, and Carl enjoyed a lovely evening with the sender. Or endured a wretched one.

Perhaps it was not sent, and he was left without an answer.

Maybe she wrote out her response, and then changed her mind. I have unsent letters socked away in shoeboxes—maybe this was one of hers. Who knows?

First, a little context

Here’s what we do know.

Carl R. Shartle was the son of John E. Shartle and Eliza Bower. He was born in Vernon, Crawford county Pennsylvania in August 1890 (though there’s some minor conflict over the exact date), and he died of tuberculosis in Cornplanter Township PA on December 7, 1937. (Source: Death certificate.) Only 47 and single.

I took a stroll through the census records, as one does when meeting a new quarry for the first time. It looks like he lived in Vernon for most of his life (although y’all might know how I feel about making that particular assumption). Harmonsburg Road still exists, and on the aerial map view, it’s surrounded by lots and lots of green. Here’s what I learned:

1900: At age 9, Carl attended school 8 months that year—better than a number of the neighboring children.

1910: Carl was enumerated twice. On April 16, 1910, he’s listed as the brother of John Fred Shartle, staying with his wife and daughter in Sharon PA. He’s working as a storekeeper of the Gun Works.

He’s also listed on April 20, 1910 as the son in his parents’ household. John and Eliza married in about 1888, his second marriage, her first. She is listed as having one child, and “Karl” is listed with them. This time, Carl’s occupation is given as bookkeeper of the Gun Works.

In the overall context of his life in farming, I looked on his job at the Gun Works as a possible manifestation of the rebellion of youth. It looked to me like striking out on his own, away from his parents’ farm. Then I found a more likely reason for his job.

As for his actual residence, my conclusion is that Carl was actually living with his brother. Moms have a tendency to believe that their babies’ real homes are with them, always.

1920: Maybe she was right, too. Carl lived with his parents, working as farm labor.

1930: Carl took his father’s place as head of household, and his mother lived with him.

(A peek at the 1880 Federal Census to find Fred before Carl’s time reveals that the brothers also had an older sister named May; other sources here and here suggest she later became Mrs. Powers H Kineston.)

Asking questions, digging deeper

Carl’s 1917 draft registration card poses a question, too. The biographical details are consistent with the other sources, and the card gives us his basic physical description, so we know that he was tall, of medium build, with light brown hair and gray eyes. He also claimed his mother and father depended on him for support, and in the section about physical disabilities, he reported that his right eye was weak.

If catching the mood of an email or reading between the lines of a text message is tricky, then so is deciphering a man’s circumstances (and honesty) from the sparse remarks on a draft registration card. Sometimes it’s hard to know just what a man was hoping for. Did this fairly represent Carl’s reality, or was this an overstatement of his hardships?

The Moment That Changes Everything

I needed to find more on the Shartle family, and I wasn’t finding much in Ancestry’s newspaper collection. I thought I’d try Fulton History—mostly a source for New York papers, but my rural Pennsylvania folks turn up sometimes. Maybe Carl would, too.

My search only found one result, but it was enough to change the tone of this story and nestle the puzzle pieces into a sad, sensible picture.

The Post, Ellicottville, NY, Wednesday November 25, 1908.

“Carl Shartle, aged 17, of Beatty Station, near Meadville, Pa., was accidentally shot in the face, Friday, and he is in serious condition, though he may recover. He was helping with the fall butchering. James Kineston, a brother-in-law, had shot a hog with a rifle, but did not kill it, and Carl seized the animal and, not being able to manage it alone, called for help. Mr. Kineston responded, first laying the rifle across a barrel, and a moment later the gun was discharged, the bullet striking Carl in the left cheek. The bullet passed through the boy’s cheek and the roof of his mouth and the base of his nose, lodging under the right eye.”

A confirmed bachelor.

A woman’s reluctance.

A desk job for a farm boy.

A weak eye confessed on a draft card.

A man with a disfigured face, the awful souvenir of a moment that changed everything.

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