Beauty Rising From Despair–The Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge

The bridge’s end

One of the most amazing sights of our journey to the southern Oregon coast last week was the breath-taking Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge spanning Coos Bay.  The last of a string of bridges built to complete the construction of Highway 101 in 1936, this structure is the longest—5,305 feet. Rising like a rainbow arching toward the sky, the bridge reflects the genius of its engineer. 

Conde McCullough is known for the architectural designs of his bridges.  He believed these viaducts could be built not only economically and efficiently, but with beauty as well.  With money and labor coming from President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs—the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Public Works Administration (PWA)—McCullough was hired to design and complete five bridges spanning Yaquina Bay at Newport, Alsea Bay at Waldport, the Siuslaw River at Florence, the Umpqua River at Reedsport and the one we saw at Coos Bay. At a time when our nation was recovering from the stock market crash and the Great Depression, McCullough’s bridges were a marvel of engineering—towering spires and arches, long viaducts, wide roadways and sidewalks—and were finished by 1936.

 My husband drove to the base of the bridge where pedestrian plazas had been incorporated, areas designed to give people a place to view the structure. Built-in benches and winding stairs detailed in modern art motifs decorated both ends, the steps designed to lead the onlooker into a park. I stood amazed at the intricate beauty the engineer wove into what could have been just a concrete structure.  

 When I consider all the world around me, I know our heavenly Father appreciates beauty in His design as well. In an environment that could have been black and white, God brought color, art, and durability. 

Psalm 8:3-6 (NIV) reads: When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place. What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands, you put everything under their feet.”

I can’t help but wonder if Mr. McCullough got his inspiration from the Author of design.



Shore Acres–A Draw for Writer, Gardener and Tourist

While celebrating our anniversary this week with a trip along the southern Oregon coast, my  husband and I visited one of our favorite stops—Shore Acres State Park, south of Coos Bay. Whether you are an avid gardener seeking floral beauty, a writer seeking setting for a book, or a tourist out for a great hike, this park has it all.

The park is a formal English garden, complete with a caretaker’s cottage, and was once part of the estate of  pioneer lumberman and shipbuilder Louis J. Simpson.  Perched on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, the estate originally featured a summer home, a lavishly furnished three-story mansion surrounded by five acres of formal gardens.

One end invites the visitor to view a hundred-foot Japanese style lily pond bordered by an oval pathway, complete with miniature pagodas and arched footbridges. Many of the original plants were shipped in from around the world. A fire destroyed the mansion in 1921 and Simpson tried to rebuild—a hotel on an even grander scale—but the economics of the times and huge losses in the stock market crash of 1929 saw the project fall into disrepair. The State of Oregon bought the grounds for a park in 1942, razing what was left of the structure.

 Author Jane Kirkpatrick used the estate as the setting for her historical novel, A Gathering of Finches (1997). As I walked the paths weaving their way among the flowers and hedges, I could remember bits of Kirkpatrick’s book and the fates of the characters so caught up in their quest for wealth and prestige, yet not finding satisfaction for their thirsty souls.

The garden is a tribute to Simpson’s success, leaving a living legacy for those of us who have followed him. However, inside the observation building, built on the site where the house once stood overlooking the Pacific, are pictures of all Simpson lost in the Fourth of July fire, 192l, reminding the viewer how fleeting wealth can be.

Seeing the pictures of what once existed at Shore Acres, I was reminded of the verses in  Matthew 6:19,20a (NKJV):  

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Power of the Slithering Vine–in Gardens, Story, and Soul

Informal Dinnerplate Dahlia

Growing flowers is a hobby I share with my husband. Our penchant for dahlias has given us many hours in the garden together—weeding, tying, and dead-heading the plants. We cultivate everything from pompoms and spidery blooms to dinnerplate size, from the formal to the informal, and everything in between.

 But despite all our efforts a villain resides in our garden—a force that sneaks around, hides, and climbs the towering stalks of our flowers—the creeping vine known as Morning Glory. In its place Morning Glory makes a thick ground cover. The trailing plant likes to slither along the ground, wrapping itself around corners, crawling up unsuspecting plant trunks. Left to its own devices, the clinging nuisance can destroy a month’s worth of cultivation in a couple of days. Its viselike grip wraps around tender shoots, pulling the delicate bloom to the ground.

Formal standard dahlia

Writers use similar techniques to deepen a story. Unlike the gardener who seeks to eradicate the intruder, the author invites the menacing thread to weave through the main theme of a novel, wrapping deadly fingers of suspense around every scene. The reader turns the pages, anxious to uncover the mystery threatening the hero. The author leads the booklover on, careful to keep the hidden details secret until the “Aha” moment arrives. Then, like a gardener with a trowel, the author exposes the rogue by its roots, the surprise is revealed, and the character changes, ready to bloom—like my flowers.

Miniature Pompom

Sin in our spiritual walks entrap us like a slinking weed. Untended, sin tells us lies, creeping along in the background, popping up in our speech, wrapping itself around our innocence. Like a tender shoot we become entangled, caught in the web sin weaves, pulled down by its weight on our souls. Through the sacrifice of His only son, God reaches down and frees us, unwraps the claim sin makes upon us, and brings us into the light. In His care, we bloom where He plants us.

1 John 1:6-7 “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Tend the garden of your soul as carefully as you tend the flowers in your life.


Book Pick–By New Author Karen Barnett

One of the greatest benefits I’ve received as a writer is meeting creative people along the journey. Today’s new author, Karen Barnett, holds a special place in my heart because she is one of my critique partners.

She and I met at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference three years ago  and connected again at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference that same summer. What began as a dialogue about the need for an all-fiction critiquing network saw fruition in January 2012, when His Wordsmiths met for the first time in Albany, Oregon—a centralized location for our group.

 All five members of His Wordsmiths are published authors, but  Mistaken is the first full-length novel from our group. Though I had no part in this novel’s creation, I’ve read it, and have seen Karen’s work in our weekly meetings. She is a devoted and conscientious author who writes with a keen sense of story.

I asked Karen to join me for this blog and share with you some of the history of Mistaken, which released earlier this week.

Tell us a little about the story:

Since Prohibition has made criminals out of every man in her world, Laurie Burke resolves to find at least one honorable man to fill her life. Convinced that handsome newcomer Daniel Shepherd is connected with her brother’s rum-running gang, Laurie quickly scratches his name off her list. The new federal agent, Samuel Brown, might be more to her standards—or he might be her worst nightmare.

Why did you choose the 1920s?

I chose the 1920s for several reasons. It was a time of great conflict and division in our nation. People were healing from the horrors of WWI and at the same time, struggling with the laws of Prohibition. You combine that with the fun styles, music, and cool vintage cars, and it’s the perfect time for great stories. Plus, so much has been written about the 1880s in America, I thought it would be fun to take a look at another era.

Not everyone will know the setting of Port Angeles. Tell us why you chose this area.

Port Angeles is located on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The city is nestled between the Olympic Mountains and the coastline. I have family roots in that area, so I’ve been there many times. I remember standing on the beach as a kid and looking across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Canada. It’s only about 20 miles away—a rumrunner’s dream.

What do you hope readers take away from your story? 

I had no desire to write a fairy-tale, happily-ever-after type of romance novel. Though I enjoy a good love story, I think many books and movies portray a false idea about romance, suggesting we should be searching for the perfect soul mate who will never disappoint us. Scripture, on the other hand, teaches that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). I wanted to write a story about deeply flawed people who learn to love each other, despite their failings.   

So what’s ahead?

I recently signed a contract with Abingdon Press to write a three-book series set in 1906 San Francisco. The first book, Out of the Ruins, will release in May of 2014. When Abby Fischer prays for a miracle healing for her dying sister, she never expects the answer to arrive in the form of Robert King, a handsome young doctor with big ideas about X-ray technology. But when Robert’s miracle cure fails, Abby’s grief is surpassed only by the chaos of the San Francisco earthquake and fires. Will Abby finally find God—and love—in the ruins?

Is there anyone you’d like to thank?

Where do I start? For me, the obvious answer would have to be my husband. He’s been my main encourager, cheerleader, and prayer warrior. He also rarely complains—even when the house is a disaster or I ask him to pick up pizza on his way home. He often takes our kids on weekend outings so I can have writing time, and has been a huge support when I’m panicking about deadlines or questioning my own talents.

The Christian writing community also deserves much of the credit. I’ve been to several fantastic writing conferences—Mount Hermon, Oregon Christian Writers (OCW), and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). At these conferences, I’ve taken workshops on writing, found mentors, talked with editors and agents, and made countless friends.

Mistaken is available from Amazon and and your local retailer. Order it today. You won’t be disappointed.