Down the Valley of the Shadow

I’m still sick.

You have no idea how much I did not want to have to start this post with that sentence yet again.

I really thought at the beginning of October that I’d have Diversion finished by the end of the month–I even went ahead and commissioned the cover art, which you can see along with a sneak preview of the book if you pledge $5 or more on my Patreon. When a worsening flare meant work took up all my energy for more of last month than expected, I thought I’d be able to set aside the first two weeks of this month to buckle down and get the book done, assuming I could keep on top of grading well enough not to need to spend much time on it each day.

It hasn’t happened.

What has happened? Fever. Fatigue. Brain fog. Pain. Nausea. Upper respiratory crud. Struggling to figure out what I can eat without spending the day in and out of the bathroom. Struggling to do more than veg out with TV and crochet or computer games or wandering in circles on the ‘Net. The last two weeks have been the worst yet out of this year-plus slog. I’ve barely managed a paragraph all month.

A week from today, I go for what ought to be the final round of tests to get this mess diagnosed and get treatment started. But I have essays coming in this weekend, and grading those is likely to use up all the energy I have between now and the deadline for getting books published through the various outlets I use in time for holiday sales.

Barring a miracle, Diversion may not get finished this year at all.

I’m crying as I write this. I know a lot of the pressure I’m feeling in this regard is self-imposed, but I still can’t help thinking I’m letting you all down by not getting a book out this year. And I’m really, deeply sorry.

How can you help?

  • Buy things I’m selling, whether books or items from my CafePress shop.  Christmas is coming, after all.   Surely you know someone who needs a journal or a mug or a T-shirt or who likes good books, right?
  • Support me through Patreon.  Anything, even a dollar a month, will help.  (I still need to get my backer acknowledgment page set up; it’s on my to-do list.)
  • Help me get the word out about my works.  Granted, I’m horribly introverted, but even if I weren’t, I’m just too sick–and broke, frankly–to do any sort of full-court press of marketing on my own.  Here again, anything will help, even if it’s just a short tweet or a Facebook share. Reviews on Goodreads and Amazon would help, too.
  • Above all else, pray for me.  His ability is far, far greater than my inability (or disability).
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Worth remembering

There is a limit to the doctrine of the prayer of faith. We are not to expect that God will give us everything we choose to ask for. We know that we sometimes ask, and do not receive, because we ask amiss. If we ask for that which is not promised–if we run counter to the spirit which the Lord would have us cultivate–if we ask contrary to his will, or to the decrees of his providence–if we ask merely for the gratification of our own ease, and without an eye to his glory, we must not expect that we shall receive. Yet, when we ask in faith, nothing doubting, if we receive not the precise thing asked for, we shall receive an equivalent, and more than an equivalent, for it. … If he does not give you precisely what you ask for, he will give you that which is tantamount to it, and that which you will greatly rejoice to receive in lieu thereof. Be then, dear reader, much in prayer, and make this evening a season of earnest intercession, but take heed what you ask.

— C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Evening devotion for May 19

New Year, New Plans

So, long time no blog, eh wot? Joys of chronic illness….

As frustrating as the latter third of 2015 was for me health-wise, however, I’m determined not to let such things hold me back (at least as far as I can do anything about them) in 2016. I plan to finish at least Loyal Valley: Diversion, release an omnibus collection of the first four volumes in that series, and commission audiobooks of everything that’s out thus far. I still plan to participate in Fort McKavett’s West Texas Heritage days (now in May) and hope to do the same at Fort Martin Scott and possibly some other living history events in the area. And there’s a potential opportunity that I’ll share more about if it gets closer to reality.

And you can help make all these things happen.

I’ve taken the plunge and signed up for Patreon, which allows you to pledge recurring monthly support–as little as $1/mo. or as much as you want to give. Various levels of support will receive a variety of rewards, like exclusive sneak previews of book content and acknowledgement here and in print. The more funds I can raise in this way, the less time I’ll have to spend scraping together a living through freelancing and the more time I can devote to writing and research.

(I don’t currently plan to quit teaching, even if I no longer need the money. Teaching is fun.)

I’ve also got myself a YouTube channel now. Not that I know what I’ll do with it yet–it might be more for Patreon stuff–but it’s there. 😀 I’d like to get back to Literature You Should Know over on Smash Cut Culture, too, assuming I have the time and energy.

So that’s what’s new with me. Alles Gute zum Neuen Jahr!

Events and non-events

“You haven’t posted anything in x days,” Facebook nags me.
Well, no, Facebook, I haven’t. I’ve been sick for two months, and it’s been all I can do to keep up with my teaching obligations, let alone other paying work, never mind attempting to do any marketing for Loyal Valley: Captives now that I’ve finally managed to get the cover set up such that CreateSpace won’t resize it incorrectly or attempting to start on Loyal Valley: Diversion. Thanks for the automatic guilt trip!

The joys of life with chronic illness…

Because I am so woefully behind with teaching and fighting such severe fatigue, I’ve decided not to try to make it to Fort Croghan or Llano Wild West Weekend this year. The book sales would be a help financially, but I’m just not up to it. However, I will be at the Kingsland Library’s Breakfast with the Authors tomorrow, Oct. 7, from 9 to 10:30.

Also, this past Saturday, I got to meet and have a lovely chat with Celia Hayes, who also writes about the German Texan experience during the 19th century! We swapped books, and I’m looking forward to making time to read The Quivera Trail, which is set around the same time as Loyal Valley. I’m also looking forward to her forthcoming Tales of Luna City, which sounds like the kind of book anyone who’s lived in a small town will find hilarious because we know all the characters….

Yellowstone, 2000: An Allegory

Yellowstone new growthTwelve years have passed since the fires came.
The burned-out lodgepoles tower still,
Standing like ghosts too proud to fall
’Til a strong wind comes and lays them low.
I remember this forest from long ago,
When I was a child and the trees were old.
Now the sun comes further down
Past the ashen pillars of yesteryear
And shines upon a brighter green
Of new, young trees that grow so thick
The scars upon the mountainsides
Are black no more, but green again.
The pines grow slowly, and some will die
Before they reach their fathers’ heights—
The porcupine’s girdle is fatal yet—
But still they push toward the sky,
Each needle aglow with the thrill of life.

Poem © 2007 Elisabeth G. Wolfe. Photo © 2000 William D. Wolfe III. All rights reserved.

Of Flood and Drought

Pardon my rambling a wee bit–it does, as usual, arrive somewhere in the end.

Regen, Regen,
Alle pflegen
Sich, darüber
Aufzuregen.
Regen, lass mich
Überlegen,
Bin ich dafür
Oder bin ich dagegen?
–Die Prinzen

Rough translation: “Rain, rain, everybody feels the need to get all excited about it. Rain, let me consider, am I for it or against it?”

My sweet friend Bethany has written a beautiful post on the question of rain and its dual nature, blessing to the parched and curse to the flooded. It’s a duality I’ve been struggling with myself in recent months, having rediscovered the Jars of Clay song “Flood” in a season where I’ve felt my theme song to be America’s “A Horse with No Name” (except that I’m still not quite sure I’ve hit the point of “It felt good to be out of the rain” yet). And it’s found a new twist in the last week as I’ve watched the lake levels rise while friends claim to be losing sleep over the loss of life downstream.

There is no silver lining! those friends have screamed. Who cares if the lakes are recovering and the fields are green when people are dead?
But wait, I thought suddenly. Look how much water the lakes have caught. How much worse would things have been had the lakes not been low enough to absorb the flood?

There’s a Romans 8:28 in there, but the parable could have several applications, I think. Maybe the fuzziness is due in part to my filtering the idea not only through my own experience but also through that of Jared Padalecki, whose #AlwaysKeepFighting campaign against depression took on new urgency when he worked himself into deep exhaustion that worsened his own struggles, and Carman, who announced earlier this week that his pushing himself too hard too soon after going into remission from cancer was threatening the health of his heart. Thanks be to God, both of these brothers had wise advisors (friends, family, and co-stars in Jared’s case, good doctors in Carman’s) from whom they sought help and whose advice to rest and heal they heeded (Jared by canceling con appearances, Carman by canceling his latest Kickstarter-funded album project); and they also had supportive fan bases encouraging them to take care of themselves.
But of course, we don’t have to be celebrities to have a fan base–Hebrews 12:1 tells us of the “great cloud of witnesses” that’s cheering each of us on, no matter how obscure we are in the eyes of the world. And especially when we’re in times of drought, however literal or metaphorical, it’s important to remember the promise of Psalm 127:2b: “He giveth His beloved sleep.” After all, when Elijah was suicidal in 1 Kings 19, the first thing God did, even before giving him a message of hope, was to make him do nothing but sleep and eat for two days.

I keep thinking back to a message God urgently wanted me to hear at the beginning of this journey, from Priscilla Shirer’s excellent study Discerning the Voice of God, drawn from the story of Moses: “When you’re in the desert season, God is preparing you for the next big thing.”* The seasons of our life aren’t just measures of the passage of time; they also season us, as one seasons wood or metal to strengthen it for a given purpose. And I keep thinking that the droughts of our life, the ones that drain our reservoirs so dangerously, also hollow out a space in our life to contain an oncoming flood. Maybe it’s a flood of blessing, the “pressed down, shaken together, and running over” kind that could have been the ruin of us if God hadn’t made room for it. Maybe it’s a flood of hardship of a kind that only someone who has been through the desert on a horse with no name can weather. Or maybe it’s a matter of God putting us in the gap to absorb a flood, of blessing or of curse, that someone “downriver” from us needs to be spared lest that person be utterly destroyed.

Note that I’m not trying to say the drought of 2011 and the dry years since are unequivocally good times because the land and the lakes have been able to absorb so much of the water dropped by the recent storms. The suffering in this part of the state during this drought has been terrible. Nor do the drought seasons of our lives necessarily cease to be hard or necessarily kill off only sins and other parts of our lives that needed killing off. Romans 8:28 doesn’t mean that the bad things that happen are actually good or that we deserved them in some way. Tolkien captures the tension well in this exchange, between Manwë, the archangel ruling Arda as God’s regent, and Námo Mandos, the archangel of judgment in whose house the souls of Elves rest within Arda, from Chapter 11 of The Silmarillion (emphasis mine):

It is told that after the flight of Melkor [= Lucifer] the Valar sat long unmoved upon their thrones in the Ring of Doom; but they were not idle, as Fëanor declared in the folly of his heart. For the Valar may work many things with thought rather than with hands, and without voices in silence they may hold council one with another. Thus they held vigil in the night of Valinor, and their thought passed back beyond Eä and forth to the End; yet neither power nor wisdom assuaged their grief, and the knowing of evil in the hour of its being. And they mourned not more for the death of the Trees than for the marring of Fëanor: of the works of Melkor one of the most evil. For Fëanor was made the mightiest in all parts of body and mind, in valour, in endurance, in beauty, in understanding, in skill, in strength and in subtlety alike, of all the Children of Ilúvatar [aka Eru = God], and a bright flame was in him. The works of wonder for the glory of Arda that he might otherwise have wrought only Manwë might in some measure conceive. And it was told by the Vanyar who held vigil with the Valar that when the messengers declared to Manwë the answers of Fëanor to his heralds, Manwë wept and bowed his head. But at that last word of Fëanor: that at the least the Noldor should do deeds to live in song for ever, he raised his head, as one that hears a voice far off, and he said: ‘So shall it be! Dear-bought those songs shall be accounted, and yet shall be well-bought. For the price could be no other. Thus even as Eru spoke to us shall beauty not before conceived be brought into Eä, and evil yet be good to have been.’

But Mandos said: ‘And yet remain evil. To me shall Fëanor come soon.’

It is, rather, a matter of God making all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). I know in my own life, I’ve sensed God closing doors and changing interests in ways that make me suspect something big is coming from somewhere away upstream… I just pray I’m ready for whatever it is when it hits.

* Funny thing is, when I rewatched that lesson just now, I didn’t hear that exact quote again, even though I remembered her saying it several times. Hmmmmmm….

Soul-wounds

The lawyer in my nightmare and I have been snarling at each other, he trying to impugn my character, to say it’s all my fault I got backed into a corner and was on the point of having to decide where to spend the last bullet in my gun when help arrived and I didn’t have to fire it at all, I arguing that it can hardly be my fault that a pack of idiot guys decided not even to ask for fear of being told no. And then, suddenly, I recognize this creep who’s made his living defending the indefensible.

“You haven’t changed at all, have you, B?” I say, and he freezes. My eyebrows rise. “You were hoping I’d forgotten, weren’t you?”

The judge bangs his gavel. “Really, Miss Wolfe–”

“Let us call things by their right names, Your Honor,” I retort. “I’m Dr. Wolfe, and I went to school with this man.” And I tell the court the truth–that B had bullied me all through seventh grade simply because I wouldn’t go out with him. “Did you know [a certain guy who wasn’t exactly a friend] offered to fight you for me?” I ask B. “Maybe I should have let him.”

And then I woke up.


The courtroom scenario was pure nightmare. The bullying, on the other hand, really happened.

“That was over twenty years ago,” you may say. “Why don’t you just get over it already?”

The truth before God?

I thought I had.

Giving Thanks for No

Axiom: God always answers our prayers.
Corollary: His answer usually falls into one of three categories: “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.”

The corollary vastly oversimplifies matters, I find; for example, it doesn’t take into account the way He answers questions or the fact that “Yes” doesn’t always look like we think it should, such as a request for healing being answered by His taking the person Home, which is the ultimate deliverance from bodily woes. But it’s still a useful corollary as far as it goes because it reminds us to accept the answers we may not want to hear.
That’s my chief quibble with the Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers.” The speaker’s prayer was answered, but he hadn’t wanted to hear the “No” he received. However, the larger point of the song–that we should be thankful for the times God doesn’t give us what we want because He knows they’re not what we need–is a very good one.


I sat in a mentor’s office one grey day early in the semester, looking for advice. He was teaching a class I really wanted to take, but to do so in addition to the classes I was already registered for would mean taking an overload, and I didn’t know whether to attempt that or drop one of the other classes or just what.
He knew, however, that the previous semester had been extremely hard on me physically and emotionally. Christmas had helped, but I still had a lot of healing to do. So he explained what the workload in his class would be like and told me gently that I wasn’t well enough yet to keep up with it all. The other classes would be better for me.
I nodded, disappointed and relieved at the same time. “Thank you for telling me no,” I said.


Years later, I interviewed via Skype for an editorial position at an academic press on the East Coast. It sounded like a cool job, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to move.
“I don’t know what I want, Lord,” I confessed in my prayers. “What do You want?”
“I want you to trust Me,” He replied.
“Okay,” I said. “If You don’t want me to take this job, don’t let them call me for a second interview.”
I received a rejection letter by the end of the week and thanked Him for the answer.


The following summer, I interviewed for a position at a state college in the hope of being able to teach the kinds of courses I’m teaching now for BCF, online. What they offered me instead, basically for peanuts, were three on-campus sections of the single hardest course in any English department. I had one day to decide.
I didn’t want the job. I felt exhausted just thinking about it. But I hadn’t had any work coming in all summer and had no truly promising prospects on my radar, and I didn’t know whether my hesitation was from God or a result of my own fears of burning out.
So I prayed and asked friends and mentors to pray. Most friends outside the English department couldn’t see past “YAY! JOB!” But several mentors asked the same questions and gave the same cautions, and the more I prayed, the more God confirmed that the no really was from Him. And He repeated what He’d told me before: “I want you to trust Me.”
It may have been the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I turned down the job. And two months later, I received a contract from a translation agency that remains one of my biggest clients.


A few months after that, I came to the conclusion that it was time to leave Waco, and it looked like the right doors were open for me to move back to Llano. At the same time, however, I got word of a teaching position at a Christian college in Fort Worth that sounded like a really good fit. I applied, and they asked me for a phone interview.
“Okay, God,” I prayed before the interview. “I really don’t know what I want. Show me what You want.”
And the interview began with the dean admitting that they’d already hired someone else but wanted to interview me anyway in case, as they hoped, another position came open within the next couple of years.
So I moved back to Llano and haven’t regretted it.


Now, I won’t try to kid you. It’s not always that easy. Walking by faith gets downright scary when not only can I not see light at the end of the tunnel, I’m not even sure whether I’m facing the right way or whether I’m about to walk smack into the tunnel wall. And there have been many times in recent years when I’ve gotten my hopes up about an opportunity, especially with regard to my writing, and been bitterly disappointed when it fell through.
But in quite a few of those cases, I now realize that God, like my dear mentor, was telling me I wasn’t well enough yet.
It’s hard to be patient, to wait for His timing, especially because I’ve spent so much of my life in school that I’m used to seasons having pre-defined end points. This post-doc in hardship is taking a lot longer than I’d hoped! But if there’s one thing I know from long experience, it’s that God tells us no because He loves us and wants the best for us, even if we never understand the answer this side of eternity.