FIVE THINGS I’M THANKFUL FOR
By Cheryl Bristow, a.k.a L. A. Racines
Author of historical novel, A Shield in the Shadows
This was a challenging question. I am actually grateful for almost everything in my life! But having to choose five from among them is no small task.
To give you a bit of background about me, I am Canadian, a born again Christian believer since the age of 11, a wife, mother and grandmother of four, and a life-long lover of great books and good stories.
As a young girl I read Anne of Green Gables, and decided then and there that, like Anne Shirley the heroine, and L. M. Montgomery the author, I too, wanted to be a writer someday. I set out at age 13 to read the books considered “classics” of literature at the time, and pretty much achieved that before I got to university.
I assumed I would study English at McGill University, but one look at the curriculum made me quickly turn the page. Instead I studied Anthropology and Sociology, and after graduation I headed for Africa to teach, basically looking for real life adventures in the lands I had studied. So far there is nothing particularly unusual about any of that.
So, what are the five things I am thankful for and want to share with you this Thanksgiving season?
1. A normal childhood
I doubt I appreciated that at the time. Didn’t everyone have one? Of course not, but I did not know that then. My own home was peaceful and orderly, my mother was strict but fair, and my father created a skating rink in our backyard in winter, organized street dances and corn roasts in the summer, put on a magic show for the neighborhood children at Hallowe’en, and dressed up as Santa at Christmas to hand out presents to us all. He even made cloth dolls for my sister and myself. I cherished mine. Even though my winter coat was thin and I had to wear a lot of hand-me-down clothing, I was growing up in an environment where I could focus on school, friendships, and other childhood interests. Thank God!
As I got older, I rebelled, of course. There was a song that came out in the 1960’s by Malvina Reynolds. It was called Little Boxes and mocks suburban housing and middle class ambitions as “little boxes”, “all made out of ticky-tacky“, and which “all look just the same”. I began to eye my life and neighborhood through that lens and decided that the most boring existence in the world had to be a suburban housewife like my wonderful mother. (I have since decided that it’s not at all bad, especially these days.) I applied to CUSO, the Canadian equivalent of the Peace Corps, and was accepted to go to Nigeria as a high school teacher at a prestigious co-ed school deep in the forests of Yorubaland. There I taught mostly French, Bible Knowledge and African History. It says a lot for the much higher qualifications required these days that I would never be accepted with just a general B.A., but then I had to scrounge for materials, especially in the history course because there was no textbook, and try to stay one step ahead of my advanced French students.
I arrived just before the Biafran War broke out, and remained for my full two-year term, even though every other sending country had pulled their volunteers out. It was lonely at times, tough-going because of the amount of work and responsibilities I had, and a little scary at times, but I knew my role was important for the students. I travelled home on a shoe-string budget via the Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel and several other countries, and appeased my need for adventure for many years. Thank God, because as a struggling clergy wife and young mother, those opportunities would not come again soon!
3. The plan of God for my life
My conversion at the age of 11 was a very powerful experience. I was breathing heavenly oxygen for several months thereafter, and every year my two-week stay at a Christian camp revitalized my faith. University was a challenge because of the concerted attempt to knock some sense into anyone who has the intellectual feebleness to believe in a personal God, or that Christ is the only True Way to God, but my spiritual life was sustained by fellowship and Bible Study with a wonderful group of Christians from many denominations. Thank God!
After university I innocently got into the occult through witnessing a couple of Ouija sessions, and then, to prove that the ‘ghosts’ were real, I conducted two Ouija sessions myself for skeptical friends. As a result, I immediately lost the sense of God’s presence with me and all appreciation for beauty in nature and music, and over time a heaviness weighed on my spirit and I began getting impulses to drive my motorcycle off the road. After several years of joylessness, I became convinced that even I, a born again Christian, could have an oppressive spirit operating in my life. I was engaged to be married and didn’t know if I even wanted to live. My fiancé prayed for me and commanded the spirit(s) to leave in the name of Jesus, and the next morning I was back to normalcy. I knew it because once again I was able to look at something beautiful and rejoice again. Thank God!
As the wife of a clergyman, I busied myself with leading several women’s Bible studies. One day I took a close look at the Beatitudes and got really angry. The picture Jesus was painting of the kind of person I was supposed to be did not add up with who I really was, even after nearly 20 years as a Christian and student of Scripture. I told God that if He didn’t find a way to “fix” me and fix the fissures in my faith, that I would just have to forget the whole thing. Almost immediately God led my husband and me to a Christian community that taught the life of the cross. That was hard, but it was also the start of some serious deepening in my walk with God. I began to walk in a spirit of repentance. This led to another crisis. I got so good at ‘being wrong’ and trying to fix everything in my life, that I became emotionally frail. I had to learn the difference between the ongoing condemnation that the Enemy of our soul uses to cripple us, and the sharp conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit gives us when we need to face our sinfulness. Once again I was pulled from the deep water by a loving God. Thank God!
I never gave up on the dream of being an author. As a clergy wife and mother, there was little time for pursuing my own goals. It was frustrating, and I wondered if I would have to give up on my dream. During the long decades of that desert period I took writing courses, helped to edit a magazine and published several articles, but there was no time to do a novel. I came to realize that I really did not want to write unless I had something to say that was worth reading. Life experience and maturity tend to grow that capacity.
The time came when I had a word from the Lord. It was a prophecy. It came at a moment of great need and rang true. It also contained some clues that I could follow. I went for it. The time was right. The location was conducive. I was now only a few years from retirement so would have the time to write, and I had enough money to pay for all the books I would need to prepare. The novel I wrote was worth the wait. It is far better than I ever thought I could do. Since publication, A Shield in the Shadows has won a couple of awards, been well reviewed and won praise from men and women alike. Thank God!
4. My computer
Sometimes I think about Charles Dixon and Jane Austin, and other writers who wrote their books prior to the modern computer age. I am old enough to remember having to type a letter to Mayor Jean Drapeau, the long-time mayor of Montreal TEN TIMES, because it had to be error-free, so writing A Tale of Two Cities, or Mansfield Park long-hand, or just using a type-writer seems like a nightmare to me. The book I have written required years of research, and then as I wrote it, a lot of fact-checking. Thanks to the miracle of computer technology and the invention of the World Wide Web, I am able to fix mistakes before anyone else sees them and carry on, explore the topography of particular locations in the Alps and Italy, learn about what kinds of horses the Gothic warriors rode, find out when white flags were used to indicate surrender and truce, and many other minute details. It makes my work seem very impressive and is actually very easy. Thank God!
5. A reason to get up every morning
When you retire you no longer have the chaos of a Monday to Friday work week, and usually you do not have many family responsibilities either. Life slows down A LOT!
When we left our last full-time church and moved to a new community, we no longer had responsibility for them, and lost contact with many of them. My call to write gives me a reason to get up every morning. I do not know what the future holds, but I know what I have to do now and for the forseeable future, and that is a real gift. Thank God!