Author Archives: janellwoj

About janellwoj

Debut author of Embracing Hope, a contemporary Christian romance

The promise—and the reality of restored eyesight

“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”
Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. —Luke 18:41-43

This is the week! I start down the road to better eyesight with a corneal transplant on Jan. 17. And I’m ready—more than ready! I’ve talked with my ophthalmologist, researched, and found kindred spirits who share my experience to answer my questions and give me an idea of what to expect. Still, there are unknowns and people respond differently to the healing process. Bottom line, I’m facing a three-month recovery process.

eye-diagramTo recap: I have Fuch’s Dystrophy, a heredity disease. I haven’t found a link in my family, but because it emerges after age 50, it’s possible a family member who had it was never diagnosed, thinking it was just aging.

Fuch’s is a rare condition when cells in the corneal layer called the endothelium die off. These cells normally pump fluid from the cornea to keep it clear. When they die, fluid builds up and the cornea gets swollen and puffy. Vision becomes cloudy or hazy. As a result, I have foggy days even when the sun is shining brightly. Glares bother me, and I’m more sensitive to the sun. I no longer drive at night. I tear up to the point where people think I’m crying. Reading is difficult.

An Eye on Hope

There is no cure; the only treatment is a transplant. I have every confidence in my doctor. When I was first referred to him I did the typical internet research a little apprehensive about to whom I was entrusting my eyesight. I was quickly reassured after reading his bio. In fact, I wondered why I was being sent to a professional with such an impressive resume. Then it dawned on me how serious this was.

The preciousness of sight has impacted our family in several ways. My maternal grandfather was blinded in one eye due in a work accident. He didn’t let it stop him from driving, though. Heck, he’d drive us 200-mile round-trips to Dodge Center, Minnesota, to meet our Minneapolis family halfway. A second cousin-once-removed (or some removed number) lost an eye in a car accident. She wore a glass eye, but it didn’t negatively impact playing in and winning regional golf championships.

And now me. As a professional writer and debut author, eyesight is indeed precious: It’s both my livelihood and my passion.

The Transplant Reality

The sobering fact about the transplant is the cornea comes from a deceased person. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for donor programs, and the individuals and families who make the difficult decision to donate organs. While my transplant isn’t a matter of life or death, I’m grateful for the person who will help me see better.

I’m also grateful to the Lions Club in New Brighton who gifted me with a grant to help cover medical expenses. The New Brighton Lions are affiliated with the Lions Club International Foundation, of which one of its programs is saving sight. Right in my back yard is the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank at the University of Minnesota.

Thanks also to my loving and supportive family and friends; my church families (Elmwood Evangelical Free Church, St. Anthony, MN; Calvary Baptist Church, Greene, IA); social media family; and my author family at Heart”Wings” women’s fellowship for all their prayers.

Because of my surgery and recovery, I’m unsure how active I’ll be in social media and blogging over the next couple of weeks, so be patient. I’ll keep you posted, and when it’s over, my theme song will be “I Can See Clearly Now.”

Related Article: Insights about Eyesight

 

 

 

 

 

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When I kick the bucket, you get the family stainless steel flatware

bucketA sheaf of paper sits on my desk awaiting action. I attempt to read the contents, but my eyes cross trying to make sense of the legalese. The sheaf has three parts, each escalating in significance, but all have the same objective: establishing what happens when by husband and I become incapacitated and/or, to quote my grandmother, “Kick the bucket.”

Here it is, early in the new year, and I’m sitting at my desk staring at the Legal Trinity of the End of Life: Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, Last Will and Testament. I’ve had them for several days, under my day planner. (Symbolic, huh?)

willIf that sheaf wasn’t enough to tune me into my mortality, I had a routine doctor’s appointment last week. Remember the days when you’d go in for a physical and the doctor’s questions revolved around your general well-being? Now they include the query, “Do you have a health care directive?”

“Why? Do you know something I don’t just by taking my pulse and blood pressure?”

Am I going to be carried out of the exam room feet first, one foot stuck inside a rusted dented bucket?

Taking out an Advance

Advanced Planning is a fact of life (well, death), and I get it as I’m nearing the threshold of qualifying for the 10 percent senior discount at the dry cleaners and choosing entrees from the senior section on the back of the menu.

Although my husband and I had a will, it was over 20 years old and things have changed in our lives: like grandchildren! We did online research on advanced planning documents hoping to find something simple to do on our own. You know, a fill-in-the-blank will.

But even the sample wills on websites such as Legal Zoom are chock full of terms like fiduciary, indemnification, per stirpes, and my fav, perpetuity. Crickets! We decided the smart thing would be to use an attorney.

stack of paperOur wills ended up being 18 pages, single-spaced. Two-thirds of one page deals with “Powers and Authorizations Regarding Digital Property.” In other words, who gets my five-page list of logins and passwords. Our wills are considered simple by our attorney. Can you imagine how many volumes—or gigabytes—the Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg wills are?

Seriously, in my research I found an informative article by, appropriately enough, AARP, that spells out 10 things you should know about wills. Bottom line, you don’t want to die without one. Just ask the heirs of Prince.

There’s a fourth end-of-life component that shouldn’t be overlooked: final arrangements, a.k.a. what they’ll do with the bucket. Some years ago my husband and I filled out a packet of information from a local funeral home. We felt so good that we were taking matters in our own hands so the family wouldn’t be making decisions on the fly.

Now if we could FIND the packet. I hope it wasn’t in the “gently used” items we took to the thrift shop when we moved four years ago.

 

The Reason for the Season

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Mary AngelBirth of Jesus Foretold to Mary – Luke 1:26-56

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!

Mary's songAnd Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lordand my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

“From now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.

“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

“He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

 *****

Joseph’s Dream – Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph dreamThis is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

*****

The Birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-20

Mary Joseph BabyIn those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

ShepherdsAnd there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

*****

The Magi Visit the Messiah – Matthew 2:1-12

WisemenAfter Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

 

 

 

 

Photos of Christmas Past

I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry as I paged through a family photo album from the 1960s. I was looking for a certain photo, and in the process was transported back in time to childhood Christmas innocence. It’s amazing the memories that the settings evoked. Take a look and see if you’ll get a nostalgic rush, too.

1967 – Grandpa and Grandma Butler’s house in Greene, Iowa

G and G Butler CmasMy grandparents didn’t put up a tree, which never bothered me. The working fireplace with gifts stacked in front was just as Christmassy. Grandma decorated with artificial poinsettias, which might be why I came to love the poinsettia as an adult.

A red wagon with metal body and rubber wheels which is now considered vintage (a.k.a. old).

The walking doll I named Sandy, after a pretty classmate with straight blonde hair, who I envied.

My mother’s plaid skirt, my plaid skirt, and Dad’s plaid shirt were so stylish! Back then. Mom had the cat’s eye glasses and white anklets, also in fashion.

I wonder whatever happened to the clock sitting on the fireplace mantle.

 

 

1969 – Our farmhouse, Bristow, Iowa

Family christmas

Gold décor was all the rage judging by the gold carpet, gold drapes and gold wallpaper.

Yes, that’s a bicycle in the living room. Mom made sure the tires were untouched by Iowa dirt, mud, gravel, snow or slush.

My brother, Phil’s, plaid shirt and black horn-rimmed glasses were hip back then. Notice one of the two shirts he received as gifts is just like the one he’s wearing.

I can’t remember the name of the baby doll I’m holding, but she had thick black eyelashes.

The tree, somewhat straggly, was adorned with store-bought and homemade ornaments.

Looking closer at the upright piano next to the tree are a familiar Christmas carol songbook and the purple John W. Schaum lesson book, both evidence of our pathetic attempts at playing the piano.

My plaster handprint (also gold) hangs on the wall next to the piano.

The blue and white rectangle box in front of my brother is Scribbage. , a dice version of Scrabble.

Framed wedding photos of my aunts and uncles sit on the bookcase. One couple was married on the day I was born.

I’m pretty sure the TV is black and white.

1969 – Living Nativity

Christmas programThe second photo pulled a gasp from me: a Nativity tableau photo at Calvary Baptist Church in Greene. It was taken in the basement, based on the black and beige tile floor. I chuckled over the bathrobes and bath towels; especially the (ugly) orange and yellow one. The angel had the best costume; I was probably jealous.

I recognize about half of the cast, most who have scattered around the country. I’ll let you pick me out. Today, the actor in the red robe with black trim and black head covering is the adult Sunday school teacher at that church. I’ll show him the photo when I visit the next time and we’ll get a good laugh. My heart fluttered seeing a little girl in the cast who will spend her second Christmas in heaven this year.

In the end, I both laughed and cried as I studied the photos. Do I wish I could go back in time to that brief period in my life? For the plaids and the décor, no. For the piano lessons, no. For reenacting the Nativity, yes. For the innocence, most definitely!

And I never did find the photo I had been looking for.

 

 

 

 

Sugar, icing and everything nice

Christmas cookies 2My mother, Shirley, lived in the era when a woman’s career of choice (or necessity) was a stay-at-home mom. Add the setting—an Iowa farm in the 1960s and 1970s—and you have my childhood.

My mother would be up at dawn every morning fixing breakfast for my father, my brother and me. As soon as the breakfast dishes were done, she started work on dinner. As soon as the dinner dishes were done, she began prep for supper. Added to that were seasonal mid-afternoon lunches for the hired help baling hay and harvesting crops.

To meet the culinary needs of her farm family, my mother had scads of cookbooks: hardbound, soft cover, magazines, church and community organization publications. She had two recipe boxes with handwritten recipes and newspaper clippings from a host of cooks. She developed and adapted her own recipes—most in her head by trial and error. One recipe stands out because it meant two things: I got to bake hands-on with my mother and it was Christmas.

A Sweet Back Story

My most treasured recipe is for sugar cookies. It was handed down from Bertha Knutson, the elderly pastor’s wife at the small town Baptist church that my family founded in the 1940s. It’s the church where I gave my heart to Jesus Christ and was baptized. I have dim memories of Mrs. Knutson: white hair pulled back, simple black dress, matronly figure. Her husband, George, was near retirement when he was called to our church in the 1960s.

We usually made Bertha’s sugar cookies just at Christmas, which is what made the experience special. Mom had old-fashioned aluminum cookie cutters of a Christmas tree, star and bell. The cookies were frosted with thin white icing that dried in a smooth almost translucent layer. Red and green sugar sprinkles completed the sweet masterpiece. I liked to put a chocolate chip at the top of the Christmas tree to represent the star. In later years, I added red or green food coloring to the icing, but it wasn’t the same so I stuck with white.

Cmas cookies 3Labor Intensive (to a 10-year-old)

The cookies took considerable work and patience, especially for a 10-year-old kid eager to eat them and lick the icing off the beaters. Dough was mixed, refrigerated, and rolled out using a rolling pin covered with a cut-off tube sock—relax, the sock was never worn—on a flour sack towel, both dusted with the perfect amount of flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Mom was careful to roll out the dough to even and optimal baking thickness, and carefully cut them without wasting dough. Leftover dough was re-rolled later and she used every morsel. She used a floured spatula to move them from the towel to the cookie sheet.

Baking was tricky: not too brown, not too pale. Ten seconds could make or break cookie perfection. But with a big brother and my dad around, the burned cookies never went to waste.

From start to finish, the process was time-consuming and my mother and I are perfectionists. Seeing platters stacked with Christmas sugar cookies was satisfying. But watching my dad and brother gobble them up in two quick bites was a bit demoralizing—all that work gone in seconds! So we started over again and put them in the freezer.

christmas cookiesBertha’s Sugar Cookies
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 scant tsp. baking soda
1 cup shortening

Mix like pie crust with pastry blender and refrigerate.

In another bowl:
2 beaten eggs
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix egg mixture with dry ingredients. Roll out, cut, and bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. For best results, keep dough refrigerated until ready to roll out.

Sugar Cookie Icing – Not an Exact Science

Remember what I said at the beginning that my mother adapted recipes using trial and error? That was how she made icing. She used a “scoop” of white Crisco and “drops” of either almond or clear vanilla flavoring; regular vanilla dulls the white. She’d “dump in” powdered sugar and a “splash” of water to make the icing thin enough to dry into a smooth layer without dripping over the cookie. If she had to add a bit more water or powdered sugar to get the right consistency and ended up with too much icing, that was fine with the family—leftover icing is great on graham crackers!

As I was writing “Embracing Hope” I decided to include Christmas scenes to advance the plot. My memories kicked in and I added baking sugar cookies to the action. So, thanks, Bertha Knutson, your recipe has stuck with me for four decades and its memories wound up in my novel.

Showering little blessings on the seniors in our lives

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly … – Leviticus 19:32

elderly holding handsIt struck home recently when a Facebook friend sought prayer for her elderly mother who had just lost another friend. Her mom was wondering why she was still around when she couldn’t help anyone or do anything for her family. Her daughter’s simple yet profound answer was, “You still love us and you do every day!”

I’ve entered that phase—middle age—when our concerns and focus switch from our kids to our parents. It’s sobering and a little scary. Our generation is watching as the parent who was strong, confident, and in control for decades, begins to weaken in health and spirit. Their spouse has passed away. Their family may not live close by for frequent visits. They may have health issues that keep them at home. As a result, they are lonely, feeling forgotten and useless.

Do you want to give an elderly person a smile and the feeling that they matter? Is there a neighbor, parent of a friend or church member living alone—or an elderly couple—who needs TLC? Shower them with “little blessings.” It doesn’t have to take a lot of your time or money, but the results can be priceless as you put a smile on their face and in their heart. They realize that someone cares about and loves them.

Daybrighteners

I’m not an expert on working with the elderly, but I have experience dealing with my parents and elderly relatives, and have witnessed how people outside the family have been a blessing. Here are ideas on how you can brighten the day of an elderly loved one.

  • Send a pretty card with a short note (or longer if you wish). Use snail mail as most mail the elderly get are bills, advertising circulars, and healthcare correspondence. Or the mail box is empty.
  • A phone call works wonders, even if it’s just a few minutes. It breaks up their day. If they don’t have much to say, it’s OK to talk about your family or activities, the weather (some rarely go outside), or news around the community. (They might feel disconnected if they don’t get out much.) Or they might talk and talk and talk and talk. Let them and listen! They need a sounding board. Sure, they might complain, but let them get things off their chest. Just stay away from gossiping and criticizing.
  • A 10-minute visit can brighten their entire day. If you see family photos on the walls or shelves, ask about them. Imagine the thrill when you express interest in their family! Consider bringing something when you visit:
    • Packets of coffee or tea; flavored coffee creamers
    • Flowers or a plant that doesn’t require much care
    • A couple pieces of fruit or vegetables
    • Magazines or newspapers. It’s OK if the publications are a few days old. The elderly can be isolated from the world around them and may not be aware of the news. Try to keep the negative news to a minimum; news features and photos work best.
    • A library book if you know their interests. Explain you’ll pick it up when it’s due—this assures them you’ll be back and they won’t have to worry about returning it themselves.
  • Suggest going for a drive. It’s amazing how much this will mean to them. If there’s a coffee shop on the way, ask if they’d like to stop. If money is a concern, offer to pay.
  • Whether it’s on the phone or in person, offer to pray with them. It means a lot when they know someone is praying for them.

Of course, your efforts may get shot down. Some elderly don’t like to talk on the phone or don’t like drop-in visitors (consider calling first). They might feel obligated if given food or little gifts. Yet your overtures might open the doors to opportunities more suited to their interests.

And if they offer to help you in some way—bake cookies, make tea, sage advice from their years of experience—by all means let them! That will give them purpose and a boost of confidence.

Just realize that you can make a difference in their everyday lives and give them reasons to be thankful for the days—and years—God has given to them.

Thanksgiving A.S.A.P

praying handsI admit this is not original (gasp!). I found it through a special networking group to which I belong. I have to share it, especially with Thanksgiving at hand.

Ever wonder about the abbreviation A.S.A.P.? Generally, we think of it in terms of even more hurry and stress in our lives. Maybe if we think of this abbreviation in a different manner we will begin to find a new way to deal with those rough days along the way

There’s work to do, deadlines to meet
You’ve got no time to spare
But as you hurry and scurry
A.S.A.P. – ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER

In the midst of family chaos
“Quality time ” is rare
Do your best; let God do the rest
A.S.A.P. – ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER

It may seem like your worries
Are more than you can bear
Slow down and take a breather
A.S.A.P. – ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER

pro-church-media-441073God knows how stressful life is
He wants to ease our cares
And He’ll respond to all your needs
A.S.A.P. – ALWAYS SAY A PRAYER