Hunkering into the couch’s old blue-jean fabric, I tuck my knees in to me and turn toward the lamp’s soft glow. My vision clears, while my mind muddles between the present and past. Holding the treasured novel, A Poppy in Remembrance, in my hand and in my heart, I ponder Claire Meacham. She’s a fictional character, created by author Michelle Ule, who’ve both won my heart and changed it forever.
Throughout WWI, Claire’s life has been shaken by loss of family and friends to bloodied trenches, spraying bullets, plane crashes, and what seems like never-ending destruction. Will the pain ever end?
I pause and hold the pages to my chest. Michelle’s words tug my soul to years past, causing me to hover over my own battlefields–test after test, the loss of a child, grief as I’d never known. As though only yesterday, I see my doctor hovering above my hospital bed. “You’ve got about a 50% chance of conception.”
What if you never receive your childhood dream, Shelli?
In the midst of disaster and disappointment, Claire presses forward, following her journalist father on the job, stepping right into the trenches, taking notes during his interviews, helping with his stories, and holding on to her one remaining dream: becoming a foreign correspondent, attaining her own byline. Would she ever be given a chance to be a journalist, like the men surrounding her?
Taking the book, I advance to the rocking chair, moving to the real light. My heart knows what it’s like to yearn for something unreachable, to feel a dream slipping through my fingers. When babies filled the arms and growing tummies of all my surrounding friends so many years ago, my heart ached for a family.
All I ever truly yearned to be was a wife and a mother.
As I proceed page by page of that novel, Claire meets Oswald (OC) and Biddy Chambers and a young man named Jim, all showing her how to clear up the confusion and find the answers by pointing her to Jesus, to Scripture.
Jim waved the wisk. “Your father asked the same question. When you’re under fire and people around you die, you have to decide, ‘Do I believe what I say I believe, or is it a lie?'”
“What did you decide?”
“I believe God.”
“You sound like Biddy.” Claire laughed.
Claire’s faith blossoms, like the poppies spreading over the trenches of death, the battlefields, over the broken land and broken hearts.
In the midst of giving up, Claire never gives up.
The hardest times of my life have been where my faith flourished, moving me closer and closer to God. But like Claire, I had to remember whom I was living for. Facing my first surgery so long ago, I trembled at the possibility of never waking. And I had to ask myself those same hard questions: What do you believe, Shelli? Do you believe God is in control? Do you trust Him? Is this faith really yours?
I had to see through eternal eyes. God, I want what you want. In living or dying, Your will matching mine or not, I want this journey to be about You.
With both feet fully grounded, I sway back and forth in that rocking chair, remembering. How many Bible studies did I tuck under my belt, like I couldn’t get enough? How many verses came out of my heart and mouth in that quiet place where only God could hear? How many times did I run to the bathroom to get alone with my maker? In my grief, I accepted an invitation to lead a Bible study for those experiencing and grieving infertility. How many people did God bring into my life, who knew my hurt, who walked with me in my darkest hours, who directed me to Jesus, who gave me scripture? I gave my feeble and unqualified self to service, and I was served. Doors to adoption opened.
Because when we keep searching for God in our disappointment and in that painful trench, He meets us there, guiding and blessing the way.
Stopping once again, I make notes in my phone, jotting down lines from the novel I never want to forget. Because like Claire, in my desperation so long ago, I remembered.
When readers opened a newspaper, they wanted information. They weren’t reading to flatter a writer’s ego. A line from the book of Romans flitted through her mind, warning her not to think of herself more highly than she ought. If her goal was to flatter and call attention to herself, why should she be published? How could God use her ability if she sought to feed her pride? Claire’s stomach clenched. She’d been going about her career all the wrong way. No wonder she felt so unsatisfied.
Claire opened her Bible; the Psalms always helped: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? … Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him.”
Her sin, pride, affected God. She remembered that of OC’s first lecture. Claire rubbed her face. Here was sin worth confessing. No wonder her spirit felt cast down.
What could happen that day to make her want to praise God?
Knowing she was forgiven once she confessed, Claire stood at the window, confessing and thinking until the door opened and she heard her mother’s voice.
In the trenches, I remembered the songs in the night. “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.” I’m on my knees in gratitude that the pain pointed me to God, the only one who could prevent me from nose-diving into the ground of loss, the only one who knows the way that I take.
The battlefield is where I remembered my real childhood dream–knowing God.
Taking in the last line of the novel, I feel the impact of Oswald Chambers, from so many years ago, in my life through Michelle’s years of research and writing. Closing the cover and clutching the book, I am shaken, feeling closer to God, knowing that I want to walk ever closer to Him, and certain that I want Jesus to bloom on my life’s many battlefields.
Michelle Ule is an essayist, the author of two novels, five best-selling novellas, and the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman Behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional.
A UCLA graduate where she wrote for the paper, she’s taught Bible study for 35 years and loves to travel the world. Michelle lives in Northern California with her family, where she reads a physical newspaper every day.
Michelle is giving away one paperback copy of A Poppy in Remembrance, which released November 1, 2018. Leave a comment below for a chance to win! (Winner randomly selected November 26, 2018 and must have Continental U. S. mailing address.) The novel can also be found at Amazon.
Spanning three countries and the four years of World War I, A Poppy in Remembrance is the epic story of an American woman struggling to become a journalist in a man’s world.
As she searches for where she belongs—spiritually, professionally and emotionally—Claire Meacham discovers God and love through her relationships with Oswald and Biddy Chambers, an earnest YMCA worker, and a dashing New Zealand soldier, all the while seeking that elusive byline.
What has been your toughest battlefield? What did God teach you? Are you thanking someone special this Veterans Day? And if you’ve served … thank you. Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to receive a copy of this beautiful novel.
**Our winner is Stacy Simmons. Yay, Stacy!