December 2021 Story Sparks

For Advent, that preparation time before Christmas, Jerry and I have participated in a Poetry and Prayer zoom devotional. A half an hour to hear poems, reflect, ask for prayers and pray for others and then hear a blessing. It’s been a calming, insightful way to approach Christmas this year. The poems are all by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Mary Oliver. Ruth Graham described Mary’s work this way: “The way she writes these poems that feel like prayers, she channels the voice of somebody who it seems might possibly have access to God.”

I’ve needed those voices this season, not always feeling that access to God though I know I’m the one forgetting to put my hearing aids in.  One of the poems gave me direction. Don’t Hesitate says this:

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it….Whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.            

This is one of the messages of Christmas. Mary didn’t hesitate once she recognized God’s voice. Joseph didn’t either. And the shepherds made their way “in haste.” The kings started their journey as soon as they heard, scripture tells us. To hesitate might well deprive us of that unexpected Joy. “Don’t be afraid of its plenty.”           

It brings to mind a time when not hesitating brought me joy. And still does. It was 1994. I overheard my pregnant office mate tell her Lamaze teacher that she didn’t have a birthing coach. With great courage and not hesitating, I asked her if she might be willing to have me be her partner. I lived 2.5 hours away; I wasn’t a relative — she had many — and I was white in a Native world. I was astonished when she said “Yes!” Without hesitation.

I attended the classes, and with one false alarm when I drove the 100 plus miles without a baby at the end, the child arrived a week later without a hitch (though not without pain. Her mom asked for the epidural too late!). Actually, my office mate wanted to have the baby when her favorite doctor was on call and so it came to be. I got to cut the umbilical cord and hold that baby and remembered to pray for her as she entered this amazing world. I’ve rarely felt such happiness. I cried driving home under a sequin-studded sky, so full of joy.

That baby — Lorissa — stayed in my life. We lost touch for a time but then as a young adult, she lived with us for a time. And now, she’s a mother of Ella Mae and expecting a baby. For five days during this advent, she, her husband and Ella Mae (three years old) visited us. That they would use vacation time to spend with a septuagenarian and a ninety-one year old guy is astonishing, don’t you think? I do.

The photo on the left is of me, Ella Mae and Lorissa at The Living Desert here in the Coachella Valley in Southern California. I will be forever grateful to her mother who brought this baby and woman into my life and who didn’t hesitate to do it.

This season I’m listening harder to the voice that tells me not to hesitate but plunge in and not be afraid of the plenty. It’s my wish that you, too, will have occasion to receive the invitations that without hesitation, you’ll accept. And most of all, you’ll discover this season that “Joy is not meant to be a crumb.”

Healing of Natalie Curtis on Bestseller List

I want to thank all of you for helping make The Healing of Natalie Curtis so well-received. Last week it made the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Bestsellers list. That means readers from Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Northern California visited their local independent bookstores or shopped online to find a copy.  Thank you all so much for supporting me and more, independent bookstores. The comments from readers have been poignant. One woman wrote that she thought the healing would mean Natalie performed her piano music again. But healing comes in many forms. Like stories, healing meets us where we are, if we let it.  “Stories are medicine” wrote author Clarissa Estes. Natalie found her healing and I hope you find yours too.

Wonderful Eminent Oregonians Review

This year I also had the joy of working with two great authors — Greg Nokes and Steven Forrester — on the book Eminent Oregonians. Here’s a summary review from the Eugene Weekly.

“If you’re looking to learn some history you may not have been taught in school, Eminent Oregonians: Three Who Matter should be your next read. By authors Jane Kirkpatrick, Steve Forrester and R. Gregory Nokes, this quick read recounts the lives of three trailblazing Oregonians that paved the way for future generations: Abigail Scott Duniway, Richard Neuberger and Jesse Applegate. As with any biography on influential people throughout history, this book provides merely a snapshot into the lives of these individuals within the context of their time. As Forrester, a co-author, tells Eugene Weekly, “Oregon has become such a myth, but these are reality tales.” A consistent theme for me while reading through this book was, as Forrester put it, a string of “‘I didn’t know that’ moments.” For all the history classes I had taken, including a few at the University of Oregon, I’d not heard of anyone like Duniway, who was one of the first women to ever form her own newspaper. So for any history buffs out there looking to expand your knowledge of historical Oregonians, be sure to pick up this volume and give it a read. —  Sienna Riley

This book is not available on my website, but here’s  the link to order it.  Enjoy!


Please continue to check my website’s News and Events page for upcoming events. Several are being planned for May and June in the Northwest. Details are forthcoming.

In Closing

We are especially grateful this Christmas with Jerry’s cancer in remission and our granddaughter Mariah’s cancer on hold as well. A new great-grandchild (Mariah’s) has arrived (Ayvra), and Madison’s son is almost nine (Grayson). Son-in-law Joe recovered from cancer and a grandson-in-law (Richard) made it through Covid-19. Our Burundi friends expanded their family with a newborn born on their wedding anniversary. We had special days with a Florida nephew & niece (Shawn and Michelle) and a dinner with his brother’s family too. I officiated a wedding in Minnesota (where the bride has forgiven me for mispronouncing her name!) and where my brother’s clan congregated. (Too many to list!) Jerry got to go deer hunting with nephew Ken and we gathered to say good-bye to Jerry’s oldest friend, Jack and support our friend dear Carol.

Family has expanded and enriched us. You too, as readers of Story Sparks continue to bless us. We have learned to be more grateful for the treasures that sprinkle our lives like snowflakes only they don’t melt away.

This Christmas, may you seek more than the crumbs of joy and find the greatest gift of all: Love, in the form of the Christ child, love enough to spread around.  Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Jane & Jerry & Caesar too.