Pulitzer Prize Good News

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded last Thursday to Kazuo Ishiguro, which is good news. Ishiguro writes literary novels that defy genre boundaries and garner popular appeal.

Here’s the New York Times online story about the award. And here’s a Times 2015 interview with Ishiguro that explores his reading opinions and related reflections. A former editor, Robert McCrum, muses about his friendship with Ishiguro in this piece. And James Wood, of the New Yorker, gives his take here.

If you want to dip into the award-winning literature of Kazuo Ishiguro, be prepared for the unexpected. You may want to start with The Remains of the Day, his portrayal of a dignified butler on an introspective journey at the fading of his days.


Reading Recommendations

sunsetAfter a recent speaking engagement, I was asked for some book recommendations. Having expended a great deal of mental energy into the talks I’d just given, I felt a little brain dead and came up with only a few favorites. I did recall and mention, however, this earlier post that includes a variety of nonfiction related to literature as well as some fiction (both CBA and literary). That earlier post also talks about starting a book club.

Because I wrote that post several years ago, it’s definitely time for an update.  I also need to clarify something I said in front of the group. I spoke about finding one of Lynn Austin‘s books particularly meaningful when it described the struggle of Dutch settlers, and I’m pretty sure I gave an incorrect title. The book I was referring to is Waves of Mercy. But if you picked up Wings of Refuge, you’re also enjoy reading about how a woman’s archaeological adventure leads to a new understanding of the Middle East and her marriage. Lynn is a humble, godly woman who reminds me of Elisabeth Elliot.

Another favorite author in the Christian fiction genre is Ann Tatlock. In Every Secret Thing, a teacher learns how to cope with the present when she learns how to deal with the past. I’ll Watch the Moon is about a girl’s growing maturity while her brother is hospitalized with polio.

Jeanette Windle grew up as a missionary kid and spent many adult years in missionary contexts in foreign countries. This real life experience lends verisimilitude to her suspenseful books, and her painstaking research results in such remarkably accurate descriptions that she has been questioned by drug enforcement agencies about how she knew so much about their work.

I haven’t read any of the Amish novels written by Dale Cramer, but I enjoy the blue-collar male protagonists in some of his other books. One of my favorites is his Bad Ground, which is a coming of age novel with a young man who learns about work and relationships. His Summer of Light is a delightful novel about an unemployed husband and father who discovers a lot about himself and his family.

When it comes to literary fiction, the first name that comes to mind is Larry Woiwode. I had the privilege of participating in a week-long fiction workshop under his direction a few years ago (you can find my posts about that here, here, here, here, and here). Larry’s published works include novels, a memoir, and helpful books on writing.

Another literary author is Wendell Berry, creator of novels set in the fictitious town of Port William, Kentucky. His Hannah Coulter is a realistic portrayal of a woman’s long and difficult life.

Bret Lott has written many literary novels as well as an excellent book on writing, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian.

Charles Martin is a fresh voice who skillfully constructs his plots in a way that keeps the reader guessing. I love When Crickets Cry, and I’m pretty excited to see the movie based on his The Mountain Between Us. 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is one of my favorite novels. I love its imagery and mystery. I’m not a huge fan of her other fiction, but this one shines with luminous writing.

Island of the World by Michael O’Brien is a beautiful and tragic book about great loss with healing through faith. This is a difficult book to read, but one that shows redemption through Christ.

To Kill a Mickingbird by Harper Lee may be my favorite American novel. I also enjoy several Victorian authors, especially Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope.

I hope you find these reading recommendations helpful. Feel free to leave a comment. If you’re interested in my work, hop over to my new author page on Facebook and comment there.


winterIt’s November, the between month. Between leaves tumbling in sun-warmed colors and snowflakes feathering from a slate sky. Between roaring combines churning dust clouds and dazzling white blanketing latent fields. November. Cold, gray.

I was born in a dreary November more than 80 years ago. In the same old farmhouse that cradles my weary bones and bleary memories. I am cold and gray. I am November.

Shrieks pierce my mind. My heart thumps in my throat as the ambulance careens around the corner and lurches into our pasture.

My eyes flutter open and focus on the book in my lap. The sound is only the phone. And like the old fool I am, I’ve left it in the kitchen again.

I grasp the sides of my walker and hoist myself out of the recliner. It will probably stop ringing by the time I get there. “Don’t you dare do that to this old lady.”

My slippers shuffle across the linoleum to the table, where I’d left the cordless phone after Charlie called during breakfast. I pick it up and press talk. “Hello?”

“Maggie, that you?”

“You were expecting Marilyn Monroe?”

Elizabeth chortles, and I wait for her snort, but she cuts it short. “You okay?”

“Of course, I’m okay. I’m standing here talking to you, aren’t I?”

“You weren’t in church yesterday, so I just wondered.”

“You and half the county.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, honey.” She chuckles.

I ease into a chair. “Well, maybe only Charlie.”

“Checking up on the old lady?”

“Just like you.”

“You mean I’m an old lady too, or I’m checking up on you like Charlie?”

“Both.” I grin, even though she can’t see it. “When are you coming over for Scrabble?”

“You up to it this afternoon?”

“Sure, I’m always ready to trounce you.”

“Ha!” She laughs like a crowing rooster. “Look up last time’s score.”

“Can’t. I threw that paper away.”

Now her laugh ends in the familiar little snort. “See you at two.”

“Wear your asbestos pants.”

She doesn’t reply because she’s already hung up.

I guide my walker to the desk and replace the phone in its charger. No sense letting the battery go down before something happens and I really need it.

The ambulance vision flashes in my mind, and I take a deep breath, dancing around the other images vying to be seen. I stretch out both hands in front of me and focus on the gnarled knuckles. The indented finger around my wedding band.

When William slipped on the ring, he looked into my eyes and the corners of his lips rose in that slow smile. If not for his smile, I wouldn’t be here today. In the decrepit old house where I spent most of my life, except for those college years in Iowa City. My brother, Charles, worked beside Dad every day and was obviously cut out to be a farmer, but that wasn’t the life for me. I was going to be a teacher, move out east or maybe to the west coast. Anywhere far from hogs and corn.

Then during Christmas break of my junior year, William Briggs from down the road came calling. And his slow smile stole my heart. His brother wanted to take over their family farm, which was fine by him because he planned to become a doctor. I easily envisioned myself as a doctor’s wife. I could teach while he was in medical school.

But by the time I walked across the stage to receive my diploma and teaching certificate, things had changed. Charles had been killed in action in Korea. Dad came in from scooping a heavy spring snow out of a feed lot, laid down to rest, and never woke.

Neighbors rallied to put in the crops and do the chores, but my mother didn’t have a head for business and needed someone with brains—someone like William. We moved up our wedding, and then we moved in with Mom.

I shake my head in a vain effort to dispel those memories. Adjusting to married life and the first year of teaching had been difficult enough, but complicating things by living with my mother while William learned to farm the place had been insane.

I take a deep breath. What I needed was some exercise. On the enclosed porch, I slip on my hooded sweatshirt and zip it up. I wrestle the walker through the door, and the cold air startles my lungs.

The walker slides along the smooth path into the pasture. A wisp of morning mist rises from the pond in the hollow like an unsettled spirit. I bow my head. The moment stretches into minutes. Then I turn away.

I stand and survey the land, feeling like a tiny figure frozen in a Grant Woods landscape. Acres of corn stubble spread like dunes of raked sand. Bean fields that lay covered with gold and russet velour blankets only a few weeks ago, now rest like shaved gray heads.

Clouds scud above, and a gust of wind invades my jacket. Time to turn around.

As I near the house, the LP truck rumbles down the road and pulls into my driveway. A man hops out, gives an energetic wave, and dashes around the back of his truck. By the time I’m within talking distance, he’s already fastened the hose onto the nozzle and another five hundred dollars flows into the tank.

The driver is Harold and Lucile Stanhope’s boy. He grins. “Should you be walking clear out there by yourself, Mrs. Briggs?”

“You offering to come walk with me every day?” Why can’t I remember this guy’s name? He was in Margaret’s class.

He laughs. “I wish.” He makes a note on his clipboard so the Co-op doesn’t neglect to send me the bill. “Nothing I’d like better than to walk with you on a fine day like this.”

I raise my eyebrows. “What’s so fine about it?”

“It’s not raining, and it’s not snowing. Yet.” He checks the tank’s gauge. “The roads are clear and dry.” He looks at me and grins again. “Yep. It’s a fine day.”

His name still eludes me, but I remember he has a daughter getting married soon.

“How are the wedding plans going?”

“Oh, the planning’s done. Jennifer got married in October.” He patted the pulsing hose. “Now I just have to work my tail off to pay for the blessed event.”

My legs and arms are turning to jelly, so I head for the back door. “Well, best wishes to the happy couple.”

“Thanks.” He waves.

“See you later.” I maneuver through the door, and he has the good sense not to offer to help me. Why can’t I remember his name?

My hood hung up, I push into the kitchen. What’s for lunch? The daily question. The refrigerator contains some wilted lettuce in a baggie, a few cheese sticks, and Rubbermaid containers I don’t want to open for fear of what might be growing in them.

Soup’s always good. I open a can of chunky chicken and dump it into a pan.

The phone blares, and my heart leaps. But it’s probably only Margaret.


“Hi, Mom.” It is Margaret. “How’re you doing today?”

“Fine. You?”

“Fine, too.”

My daughter and I have scintillating conversations.

I decide to ratchet it up. “What’s on your agenda for the afternoon?”

“Paperwork. Then leading bingo in the activity room at 3:00. Want to come into town for it?”

“No, thanks. Elizabeth is coming over for Scrabble this afternoon.”

“Oh, good deal. Keeps the Alzheimer’s at bay.”

“We can only hope.”

She laughs. “Mom, I work with elderly people all day, every day, and you’re the sharpest pencil in the box.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Glad I’m sharp enough to write, since I can’t dance anymore.”

“Who are you kidding? You never could dance.”

I chuckle. “You got that right.”

“Have you had lunch yet?”

She’d moved into hovering daughter mode. And her question reminds me of the soup on the stove. “I’m heating some soup, which looks like it’s boiling. I’d better take care of it.”

“Don’t forget to turn the burner off.”

Definitely hovering. “I won’t.”

As soon as I hang up, I shut off the burner and put the pan on a cold one. I check again to make sure the knob is turned to off. One time the oven was on all night. I shudder to think what that did to the REC bill.

I eat from the pan to save dishes and dump the extra in a container, which joins the others in the fridge. I slide my walker into the living room and sink into the recliner. As I reach for the open book lying on the table, my fingers brush Emily’s picture.

The book feels heavy as I pick it up, but I hang onto it like a lifeline. I smooth the page and stare at the words, which blur. My mind wanders shadowy paths.

A baby’s face smiles at me, drool dripping from her lips. She giggles and grows into a leggy teen, bouncing on Blackie’s back as he bursts from the barn and pelts toward the pasture. I run outside, yelling for him to stop. But Emily tugs the reins and spins him around, laughing. “It’s okay, Mom. I have everything under control.”

Only she didn’t. She couldn’t control the demons in her mind. The demons that drove her to tie a gunny sack full of heavy rocks to her waist and wade into the pond. She tied knots well, and her body stayed submerged until Charlie glimpsed her red shirt shimmering beneath the surface. By the time William and Charlie dragged her out, it was already too late. William cleared her airway and performed CPR during all the years before the ambulance screamed down the road. He kept at it, until the EMT pulled him away and told us she was gone.

So many gone before me! Charles, Dad, and Mom. My precious Emily. Two little grandbabies who never saw the light of day. And William. That dear man with his slow smile and his warm heart.

He would have been a wonderful doctor. He loved people. But he loved the land too, and he was a great farmer. He taught me to see beauty not only in breathtaking sunsets, but also in the deep sheen of corn leaves. The myriad hues of green in the trees and grasses covering the rolling hills.

And I taught. Other people’s children off and on, but mostly my own. Teaching Emily to sound out words as she cuddled on my lap. Teaching Charlie to count apples and subtract the ones we peeled. Teaching Margaret to form letters on the blank backs of desk calendar sheets. Good times. Special moments with my children who had grown up so fast. Now their children were adults, some married with kids of their own.

“Yoo-hoo! Anybody home?”

Elizabeth waltzes through the kitchen and into the living room as if she owns the place. “Oh, sorry. Did I wake you?”

“No.” I blink. “Well, maybe I dozed off for a minute. What time is it?”

“It’s 2:00 on the nose, honey.” She gets the Scrabble game out of the hall closet and brings it to the kitchen table. “I said I’d be here at two, and I am.”

My body seems heavy as I struggle to stand. “Sorry I’m not ready. I haven’t even made coffee.”

“I’m not drinking coffee lately anyway.” She opens the board. “It bothers my gallbladder.”

I ease myself onto a chair. “You ought to have that thing yanked.”

She wrinkles her nose. “Easy for you to say. I don’t want to have surgery if I can avoid it.” She shakes the bag of tiles and holds it out to me. “Go ahead and take one. Let’s see who starts.”

I examine my tile and smile. An A.

She glances at hers. “Aha! I got a C.”

I show her my tile. “Looks like I make the first move.”

“Oh, shoot.”

As I place my seven tiles on the rack, I keep smiling. This game is off to a great start.

Elizabeth loses gracefully as always and puts away the game. She goes to her car and brings back a small casserole in a disposable pan that she puts in the oven on timed bake.

She pauses on her way out. “Now, remember. Supper will be ready at 6:00.”

“I know.” You’d think I hadn’t just beaten her pants off.

Her car shoots down the road, leaving a comet trail of gravel dust. The sun has dropped behind the barn and casts long shadows.

I slip on my sweatshirt and head outside. The morning’s gray sky has broken into white clouds that sail across intense blue. The humidity must be low for once.

I pause by the pond. No mist rises now, and I allow the images to wash over me.

Emily’s pale face surrounded by her darkened hair, streaming dank water onto my shirt and pants as I cradle her head in my lap. William bending over her face, pressing his mouth to hers. Charlie pressing her chest with his crossed hands. Water bubbles between her parted lips like suffocating baby drool. I will her to gasp. I beg God to make her breathe again. But she doesn’t.

I lean on my walker and look at the hills. That’s where my help comes from.

Bent and broken corn stalks gleam in the light of the low sun. Tall grass stems glow like bronze reeds. It’s a fine day for a walk on the farm. Especially for November.

Time for this old lady to go home.

The above short story by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-9 of the December 14, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

Pella’s heritage: Broken teacups and blooming tulips


canalDuring the first week of May, 300,000 tulips in beds lining streets and filling parks of Pella, IA, usually bloom. Whatever the condition of blossoms, local people celebrate their Dutch heritage with an extravaganza of colorful parades, folk dancing, interesting exhibits, and delicious food. Copious amounts of food. Visitors can feed their inner child with funnel cakes, cotton candy, and sno-cones. Ethnic foods range from walking tacos to egg rolls. But highlights for those who graze their way through the three days are distinctly Dutch delights like poffertjies (tiny custardy pancakes), stroopwafels (small round waffles with syrup layered between), and vet bollen (deep-fried dough balls filled with raisins and covered with sugar). Pella bologna can be purchased in many forms, including on a stick. And tourists wait in long bakery lines to buy pastries, especially almond-filled Dutch letters, shaped like an S.

Each year, over 100,000 people flock to Pella’s Tulip Festival to eat the food and see the sights. A successful festival depends in large part on thousands of local volunteers who do everything from donning authentic costumes and scrubbing streets to pushing their babies through the parade in antique buggies. Generations of families carry on such activities as treasured traditions.

baby-paradeMany participants descend from Dutch grandparents or great-grandparents who settled in the area. A few trace their lineage to Dominie Scholte, the minister who led about 800 immigrants to America in 1847 to escape famine and religious oppression in the Netherlands. The colonists determined to name their New World settlement Pella, based on the Decapolis city where Christians found sustenance and refuge when fleeing from Jerusalem in the first century.

Most of the Holland Colony camped outside St. Louis, while Scholte and two other men scouted for a suitable site in Iowa. The three selected a spot on the fertile prairie between the Skunk and Des Moines Rivers and purchased 18,000 acres at about $1.25 per acre (land in the area now can sell for $6,000-8,000/acre).

Many of the families initially lived together in a large shed constructed for shelter. Some stayed in sod houses for two winters, until they could afford to build more permanent homes. A few, like the Scholtes, moved into cabins purchased from previous inhabitants.

Scholte’s wife, Mareah, may have been the most reluctant settler. Accustomed to a more genteel life, she found it difficult to adjust to pioneer living. Although an accomplished woman, she is remembered for crying over broken china. Only a few items of her prized blue and white Delft survived the voyage. The remaining pieces paved a path from the family’s original cabin to the two-story house Scholte built to assuage his wife’s longing for her old home.

windmillAlthough the Scholtes are often idealized, they were flawed people. But the biblical record repeatedly shows how God uses broken people for His purpose. We are jars of clay—often cracked—through which the light of Christ shines by His grace (2 Corinthians 4:6–7).

Not every settler agreed with Scholte’s theological convictions. Some refrained from joining his church, believing that it did not follow the church order adopted at Dort. Later immigrants of similar beliefs joined with earlier settlers in establishing the True Dutch Reformed Church in 1866. The first congregation of its denomination west of the Mississippi River, this church became the First Christian Reformed Church, which still exists, and from which Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) and many other local and far-flung Reformed congregations sprang.

Nearly half of Pella’s almost 30 Christian churches remain Reformed in theological perspective. They embrace doctrines of grace often summarized by the TULIP acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance (or better, Preservation) of the saints. When it comes to the Reformed faith, you could say tulips bloom year around in Pella.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the June 15, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Puritan project

reformation_heroes_front__33203__81433-1294352909-1280-1280Since last March, I’ve been writing biographical sketches about Puritans. These will appear in Puritan Heroes, which I’m writing with Dr. Joel Beeke for Reformation Heritage Books. Puritan Heroes will be formatted similarly to RHB’s popular Reformation HeroesMarketed for all ages, it will be written to appeal to twelve-year-old readers.

This is a big project that I was reluctant to take on. Puritans? What do I know about the Puritans? The required research seemed staggering. And weren’t the Puritans a bit boring? How in the world would I make biographical information about them interesting to adolescents?

But the Lord led me to believe this was something I should do, so I signed the contract. My life seemed busy before, but it has been intense since. And, like most people, I have family and other commitments that keep me from focusing exclusively on work.

As usual for a large project, I created a chart to schedule my writing. I’d have about three weeks per Puritan. Wow! That was tight. A little too tight for comfort, but I kept on schedule…until what we euphemistically call “the holidays.” That oxymoronic time of year when we feast and fellowship with family, giving thanks to God for all He’s given us and (a short time later) praising Him for the great gift of salvation through Immanuel, God with us. The last two months of one year and the beginning of the next are full of joy, but always seems to include unavoidable stress. This year, my schedule became unexpectedly complicated with another project and family matters.

I fell behind on the Puritans. Still, I’m more than halfway through the project with the first drafts for twelve of the twenty-two proposed subjects completed. I’ve focused on one at a time, and God has provided the information needed for each story.

Something surprising happened along the way. I fell in love with the Puritans. I felt an amazing affinity for each individual and rejoiced in their wholehearted faith. I had long known Anne Bradstreet as a fellow poet and kindred spirit, but many of these dead white men now live vibrantly in my mind as well.

41fser4qegl-_sy346_What joy to learn from John Howe about Delighting in God, to witness the marital love and fruitful ministry of Joseph and Theodosia Alleine, and to discover the “warm-hearted divinity” of Richard Sibbes (p. 128, Richard Sibbes, Early Stuart Preacher of Piety by Harold Patton Shelly).

Lord willing, Puritan Heroes will be close to being in your hands by this time next year. Meanwhile, I’m embracing the challenges and blessings of my Puritan journey.

Birthdays and Rebirth

Keith, Beverly, Joan, and Glenda (me)

Who doesn’t love a birthday party? Celebration and gifts. Cake and ice cream. No one loved a birthday party better than my sister, Joan.

I vividly remember the day my parents arrived home from the hospital with Joan. Mom got out of the car, and I ran forward, happy to finally see the mother my two-year-old self had been missing and eager to meet my baby sister.

“Mommy, can I carry the baby?”

She smiled her Mona Lisa smile. “Thank you for wanting to help, Glenda. I think I should carry the baby.” She reached into a diaper bag and pulled out a bottle of milk. “But you can carry this bottle.” I felt proud and helpful.

The memory of my mother holding the baby close to her heart as I carried a baby bottle serves as a good image for my life with my sweet Down Syndrome sister, whose earthly body we laid to rest yesterday. I did what I could to help my mother, all of my siblings did, and Joan had a special place in our hearts, but no bond is like that between a mother and child.

clappingIn the 1950s, people often institutionalized special needs children, but my parents wanted Joan to grow up with her two sisters and three brothers, as well as the foster sister who later came into our home. As we grew, we all realized that rather than Joan being a burden, she was a great blessing.

From the time I was a little child, it was clear that Joan loved Jesus. And with her unique childlike faith, she knew Jesus loved her. When some of the younger grandchildren sang “Jesus Loves Me” at an anniversary celebration for our grandparents, she sang out with all her heart and voice. As an adult, she professed her faith in Jesus Christ and became a full member of her local church, attending faithfully and tithing the money she earned in a sheltered workshop. There is no doubt about Joan’s spiritual rebirth.

Joan loved people and laughter and birthdays, especially birthdays. She liked the presents and she liked the fun and she thoroughly enjoyed the food. Communication was difficult for her. She rarely spoke more than a word or two at a time. She wrote little more than carefully forming the letters of her name and a few simple words. But she knew birth dates. She could recite the month and day for every family member, including spouses when her siblings married and nephews and nieces after they were born. She could even say the dates for a few of the older nephews’ spouses and my first grandchild. Yes, Joan loved birthdays!

14-yrsHer own birthday was the highlight of each year. Even when she could no longer recite dates, could hardly see or hear, and became completely dependent upon others for care, she would still tell anyone and everyone that her birthday was May fifth.

Her love for birthdays led us to plan a special celebration of her life that included chocolate cake and ice cream with sprinkles and other toppings. It also led me to write a tribute reflecting a bit of a birthday theme and attempting to capture her unique personality, which blessed my family in countless ways.

The funeral sermon yesterday touched my heart and felt like a special present from the Lord. Pastor Sheldon Starkenburg talked about Joan’s childlike faith. He noted how 1 John 3:2 shows it might be better to talk about human “beings” as human “becomings” and linked that to Ephesians 2:10, which speaks about each believer as God’s workmanship. When God translated Joan to glory, He finished her earthly masterpiece.

How incredible to think about Joan seeing Jesus and worshiping Him without her earthly limitations! Someday He’ll come back and raise her earthly shell from that pretty blue coffin, no matter how much both have decomposed by then, and Joan will be truly and completely reborn. With her, all God’s children will experience the final rebirth of the resurrection. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Remembering Dr. Richard J. Venema


c-r venema opc ga-2005
Drs. Cornel and Richard Venema

On November 30, 2015, the Lord took home to glory Dr. Richard J. Venema at the age of 93. He served many churches in multiple federations and was well-known within the Reformed community as a forthright defender of God’s truth.

Writing a memorial piece always carries the danger of either idolizing or idealizing a man, but Richard Venema’s frankness was apparent to all who knew him. At the funeral service held in Sheldon, IA, on December 15, his son Dr. Cornelis P. Venema read from a message sent by his brother Rick: “For all my life, I thought of Dad as a good father, even though he was hard to get along with sometimes—” at which point, murmurs of amusement rippled through the gathered family and friends. Everyone, it seemed, understood that about Richard Venema, but also knew him as a passionate man of God.

Noting that his father would not want a eulogy, Dr. Cornel Venema said he’d like to share one thing: “He had not only many years of life, but they were full of work and labor for the Lord.” He added, “He, together with my mother, served a number of churches in a variety of circumstances and places. Dad proved to be a blessing to many.”

Some of the ways he blessed many were evident in a continuing stream of communication to the family. Some people expressed not only sympathy, but also how Richard J. Venema influenced their lives.

richard-nicole venema and gov
Montana’s governor recognizes Dr. Venema’s 50 years of ministry

On the Helena funeral home’s website, Sally Apokedak (who now lives in Georgia but attended the OPC in Wasilla, AK, while Richard Venema served there) wrote about how his booming voice frightened her children, but they always ran to hug him after the service or when he visited.

“Richard Venema was a pastor at heart,” she says. “I was struggling in a certain situation, and I’ll never forget him standing over me and yelling, ‘You forgive, you forgive, you look at Jesus on that cross and you forgive.’ And what could I do but obey? I could easily have gone a whole different direction at that critical moment. He shouted at me because he loved me and he invested much time and energy into my family. Pastor Venema was seventy-nine years old by the time I met him, and serving as pulpit supply, but he wasn’t coasting. He was working while it was yet day. I trust he’s hearing a ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ right about now.”

At the Sheldon funeral service, Rev. G.I. Williamson, an ordained OPC minister and associate member of Cornerstone URC in Sanborn, noted that Richard Venema had examined him when he came to New Zealand in 1963, but that he examined Richard in 1994 when Dr. Venema became affiliated with the OPC.

Preaching from John 14, according to Richard Venema’s expressed instructions, Rev. Williamson stressed the resurrection of the body. He noted that being born again, the first resurrection, is good. Departing from the body to be with the Lord is better. But the bodily resurrection on the day of the Lord is best. He said, “When Christ returns, Richard J. Venema will be seen again.”

At an earlier service held December 4 at Emmanuel Chapel in Helena, MT, Pastor Jonah Barnes also preached on John 14. He prefaced his message by saying, “When I visited Richard in the hospital…he made sure that I would not spend my time…speaking highly of him. He told me, ‘Keep it short,’ and…I am not here to direct you to Richard, but to the King who has conquered death and lives to die no more.”

He said, “Christ lived the perfect life. Richard did not, neither can you, or I. But Christ has come as the way, the truth, and the life….’” The text of his entire message can be found at: jonahmb.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/richard-now-triumphant

RJVRichard James Venema was born on April 15, 1922, near Hospers, IA. He and Carrie Van Surksum were married in 1944. He initially resisted the call to ministry, successfully raising turkeys with his father and farming for some years. But in 1947, he followed the Spirit’s leading to pursue college and seminary training in Grand Rapids. He was one of the Calvin students who became known as the “sacred seven” for taking a stand against liberal teaching.

Nevertheless, he faithfully served the CRCNA for most of his ministerial career. He graduated from Calvin College in 1951, from Calvin Seminary in 1954, and was ordained that same year in Bethel Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, IA.

Under the direction of the CRC Board of World Missions, he was on loan to the fledgling Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ) from 1958-1963. Upon returning to the States, he served the Harderwyk CRC in Holland, MI, from 1964-1966. The CRC’s Board of Home Missions then called him to the Friendship House, a ministry for Native American Indians in the San Francisco Bay area (1966-1970).

He served a series of First CRCs during ensuing years: Pella, IA (1970-1975), South Holland, IL (1975-1980), and Chino, CA (1980-1989). In 1981, he received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard, IL.

While serving First Chino, Dr. Venema decided to retire. In 1989, he and Carrie moved to northwest Iowa to be near her failing parents. Only two weeks after their move into their newly-built dream home, Carrie was diagnosed with cancer.

Treatments granted a reprieve. The couple traveled extensively interspersed with Richard’s stints as interim pastor at Calvary CRC in Orange City, First CRC in Sheldon, Calvin CRC in Rock Valley, Ireton CRC, Doon CRC, Sanborn CRC, and the CRC in Salem, OR. He served some of these congregations more than once and also ministered to the newly-established independent Reformed church in Salem for several months.

As Carrie’s health declined, she and Richard discussed his ecclesiastical future. He was convinced that retirement did not free him from his Form of Subscription pledge to uphold the truth. He was examined and received as a minister in the OPC in 1994. A couple of months later, Carrie passed away.

He made a commitment to serve a newly-organized OPC in Anchorage, AK, beginning in May of 1995, but first returned to New Zealand to serve the North Shore Reformed Church for two months. In 1996, he married Mary Hogan in Anchorage. She passed away only ten months later, while the couple traveled in Europe.

In subsequent years, Dr. Venema preached in Anchorage and Wasilla as well as many locations in the contiguous US: Pella, Sioux Center, Salem, Walnut Creek (CA), Boise (ID), and three months at Covenant OPC in Orland Park (IL).

He married Nijole Liubaviciute in 1999. For several months, he flew to Alaska to preach for two Sundays before returning to their home in Tinley Park. The couple then moved to Alaska, but he soon was called to serve as Stated Supply in Helena, MT. For several months he flew there once a month to preach for two subsequent Sundays. In 2003, he and Nijole moved to Helena, where he served until that church was discontinued in 2009. They moved to Chino, CA, and affiliated with the congregation he had previously pastored. After being received by the URCNA in 2010, he finally and fully retired from active ministry.

In 2013, Richard and Nijole moved back to Helena and attended Emmanuel Chapel, a congregation associated with the CREC (Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches). He passed away on November 30, 2015, after a brief illness.

He is survived by his wife, Nijole; his children Gerard A. (Patricia) Venema of Grand Rapids, MI, Richard C. (Virginia) Venema of Augusta, GA, Cornelis P. (Nancy) Venema of Dyer, IN, Laura (Peter) Janoschek of Aalen, Germany; son-in-law Ed De Young (late Karen) of Lethbridge, AB; step-daughter Ieva; 14 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren; sisters Theresa (Peters) and Melvina (Marlowe Pranger) Vander Linde; sisters-in-law Audrey (late Henry) Venema and Norma (late Alvin) Venema.

weddingI’ve seen some great pictures of Dr. Richard J. Venema, from the one of Montana’s governor recognizing him for 50 years of ministry to the leonine profile on his online obituary. But my favorite remains the one of escaped kittens playing around his feet while he performed the outdoor marriage ceremony for my husband and me.

Because I, too, am one of those people whose lives were changed by his gruff and passionate love for me and the Lord.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-17 of the January 13, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Looking for whip-poor-wills

Image found on Illinois Raptor Center website.

Have you ever heard the whip-poor-will cry down the twilight? Years since I’ve heard the haunting chant, it still echoes in my mind. A chance glance recently reverberated melody and memories.

As a subscriber to Iowa Outdoors magazine, I receive its lovely DNR calendar each year. Each month features a gorgeous picture showcasing Iowa’s natural beauty. The dates are sprinkled with fascinating facts and timely reminders. May 2 tells us: 1890 Large meteorite strikes 11 miles northwest of Forest City, and Walleye season opens on Iowa’s Great Lakes.

A May 24 notation made my body pause and my mind reel backward: Look for return of whip-poor-wills.

Five years after my husband and I were married, we built our house on a wooded acreage. We would live in the basement and finish the hollow frame bit by bit. Soon after we moved, we discovered one of our location’s treasures: whip-poor-wills nested in the shrubbery along the fence line about fifty feet from our front porch. On summer evenings, we sat on the cement block serving as a temporary step and listened to the onomatopoetic call. (You can hear it at this link.) But we never saw the elusive and well-camouflaged nocturnal bird.

What a thrill to hear that rare call! And what piercing memories my mind associates with it. Little boys leaping to catch fireflies. A young husband’s strong arm cradling my shoulders. Stars sharpening in a darkening sky. Cool air. Warm hearts.

But one year the whip-poor-will was silent. The new neighbors on the other side of the fence had dogs. Whip-poor-wills don’t build nests, laying their eggs directly on the ground. We never again heard the whip-poor-will sing.

Some years ago, I wrote this poem, dedicated to my husband:



When you and I

were in our prime,

we sat on the cool concrete step

with bare feet in dark grass

as dusk deepened.


Boys who had leaped

to snare random spurts of pale light—

squished into glowing rings on fingers—

quieted in beds.


Above our heads,

the Milky Way materialized

in a pointillistic arc

of bright blessing;

while the whippoorwill

sang vespers.


© Glenda Mathes, 2006; revised 2010

Standing and staring at the calendar created a melancholy feeling. If only I could look for whip-poor-wills with any expectation of seeing them return!

Thoughts and memories tumbled in my mind for a few days, until I wrote a new poem:

Look for return of whip-poor-wills


The tiny notation

On the calendar

Prepared by the conservation department

Puckers time as keenly as a pleat

Pressed by my mother’s hot iron

A quick stitch

Skips from childhood cotton

Past bridal satin

To parenting denim


And we two sit

On the front stoop

In evening’s cool

As the whip-poor-will

Sings its onomatopoetic song

Low tones bracketing

Rising trill


The melancholy notes soar

From earthy berth

Through honeysuckle blossoms

Past quivering cottonwood leaves

To echo in the deep blue

That turns black as a bruise

While the lonesome chords

Encircle my heart

And constrict


As I stare at the calendar


Waiting for whip-poor-wills


© Glenda Faye Mathes, May 2016

The poem’s persona is imaginary, but grows more real to me as I age. The whip-poor-will echoes in my mind may haunt me, but whatever losses in my life, I wait for a return far more significant. I look for the return of the King of whip-poor-wills and every other created being.



Discovering Delight blog tour

Discovering-Delight-front (1)I recently received news about an amazing Cross Focused blog tour of Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law.

I’m thankful to David Woollin and the other folks at Reformation Heritage Books for their efforts in promoting my work. And I especially thank God for these wonderful reviews!

Uriah Courtney, Exoneree

Glenda-UriahAnnouncing…[drum roll] a new Facebook page for the memoir project I’m working on with Uriah Courtney.

Uriah is a high-profile exoneree who was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated more than eight years for a sexual assault he did not commit. Sentenced to life in prison, he eventually was released after new DNA testing conclusively matched another man, a registered sex offender who lived with three miles of the crime scene at the time.

The California Innocence Project (CIP) took on Uriah’s case and worked with law enforcement and other organizations to obtain the new testing. CIP efforts secured Uriah’s release and his subsequent exoneration. CIP has supported and encouraged Uriah in amazing ways. They’ve posted his story, pictures, and videos of his release and his emotional reunion with his son. Because the wrong conviction was a sexual assault against a minor, Uriah was not permitted contact with his son while he was incarcerated. His son was two-years-old when Uriah was arrested. He was ten when Uriah finally hugged him again.

Uriah-GlendaLast spring, I interviewed Uriah and wrote an article about him for Christian Renewal. After that, we both felt compelled to share Uriah’s story with a wider reading audience by writing his memoir. Uriah began sending me chunks of memories, which I started organizing and crafting into chapters. Through a series of amazing providences, I flew to San Diego last fall to meet him and work with him in person for a few days.

Since then, we’ve moved forward on the project and have sought publishing avenues. Both of these aspects remain works in progress, but we trust God will provide exactly the right publisher and editor in his perfect timing. We’re aiming at an August manuscript completion date.

And we’re already promoting the memoir, particularly through the Facebook page. Check it out! You’ll find more pictures of Uriah and our time together in San Diego. When you visit the Uriah Courtney, Exoneree page, be sure to “like” it. We do.