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“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:17-19

Monday, December 27, 2010

I CAN'T DO THIS!

So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and glory.” Psalm 63: 2


As a struggling writer, I’ve often asked myself, “Why did I ever think I could do this? Whatever possessed me to try to write a book? What was I thinking?” No doubt the same questions most writers have asked themselves at some point in their writing journey.

Somewhere along the way I learned perseverance. Other writers came alongside my sinking hope and threw me a life line. Workshop teachers pounded the lesson home until my brain convinced my heart that I shouldn’t give up. Every time I entreated God for direction, He whispered the same thing: Keep on working. Don’t quit. Endure. Endurance drives determination. Determination fuels stamina. Stamina encourages diligence. Diligence nurtures perseverance. Perseverance builds character. That list sounds ominously similar to what we try to teach our children. >>Light bulb moment<< That’s what my heavenly Father was trying to teach me. Keep trying, keep learning, keep honing your craft, don’t quit.

With this realization, I understood where those questions were coming from. I was afraid of my own weakness. But God tells us in His word our weakness is a pedestal to display His power and glory. If we strive to stay close to God so that we recognize His voice and persevere along the path on which He directs us, we can expect to witness His hand at work in our lives.

Once I “got” the perseverance thing, God asked me to take another step. He called it surrender. This was much easier than learning perseverance. Lifting up my writing to God each day was a concept I relished. More than anything else, I want to please Him with what I write. In all I do and all I write, honoring God takes first priority. When I get stuck or my plot line lacks energy, when my characters don’t cooperate or I uncover a tidbit in research that throws me a curve, I look to the Lord and ask Him what I should do. Where does He want this story to go? How can this character demonstrate honoring God? What does He want me to communicate to a reader? What I learned was so sweet and so exciting—every time I strive to surrender my writing to Him, He never lets my questions go unanswered.

I always thought it would take a miracle to get published. Like Martha in the book of John, chapter eleven, I told the Lord, “I can’t do this.” Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” And God said to me, “All I have asked you to do is persevere, and by doing so to look for Me to show my power and glory.” So, fortified by God’s strength, I kept on.

Miracles do happen. Within the next three weeks, thousands of Heartsong Presents book club members (http://www.heartsongpresents.com) will hold my debut novel in their hands. I stand in awe of the way God has carried me—and is continuing to carry me—along this writing journey. Only He knows what direction we will take next. Steering isn’t my job. I’m a passenger on this journey, and the scenery along the way is magnificent.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Monday, December 13, 2010

GIFT GIVING

"The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones. You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail." Isaiah 58:11


Like many of you, I regard Christmas as a special, holy time. It is indeed a time of giving. God gave on that first Christmas more than two thousand years ago. Of course, with the help of television ads, retail and online merchants, and junk mail that overstuffs our mailboxes, the whole concept of “giving” at Christmas time has gotten skewed way out of proportion. We sometimes hear a report on the news how different charities are collecting toys to give to needy children or some group is calling for volunteers to help feed the homeless during this season—and those are wonderful things to do. But in the effort to roll back the clutter and cacophony of the commercialism, I try to set aside a specific block of time every day to simply be quiet before God. It was during one of these times recently that my heart was especially stricken with the desire to give Jesus a gift.
Granted, it’s not a unique idea. Christians over the centuries have proclaimed the message of giving a gift to Jesus on His birthday. Likewise, we’ve all heard it said we can’t out-give God. But I was determined to discover what I could give Jesus.

During my quiet times with Him, I asked Him to lay on my heart what He wanted from me: more dedication? More love? Greater faithfulness? Boldness in witnessing? Should I step up my service? Everything that crossed my mind seemed pitifully anemic. Don’t misunderstand me, the time spent in His presence wasn’t anemic, but what I discovered wasn’t what I asked or expected. During those times of quiet communication, He led me through some memories that evoked smiles of remembrance. It was like He was whispering, “Do you remember this?” “Remember the time you were strangling on your fear?” “Remember when you felt so alone?” “Remember when your heart was so broken, you believed it would never be whole again?” How did my prayer turn from a time of me asking Jesus what He wanted from me to a time of Him drawing from our well of memories?

And so we continued, Jesus speaking in loving tones and me wiping away sweet tears of recollection. Those times to which He gently turned my mind were difficult journeys. They were times I entered feeling I was a strong Christian, ready to tackle anything the world threw at me. But I soon discovered my glaring weakness, my pitiful neediness in the midst of the desert through which I found myself traveling. I remembered those desolate places—places in which I thought I was so isolated.

“But Lord, I want You to tell me what I can give You for Your birthday. How can I serve You better?”

I felt His warm smile in my heart and He simply kept reminding me of the many times I felt lost or afraid or tempted or hurt. In every instance, it was His closeness that carried me through the difficult time. Gradually, understanding dawned within me. I’d long grasped the concept of hard times and difficult journeys deepening my level of trust and faith. But a new enlightenment emerged. During those times when I was utterly alone or drained empty or completely helpless, I learned how to NEED Him, and I now realize that needing Him is the key to KNOWING Him. Intimate communion with Jesus is such a priceless gift. Now I understood His purpose in our time of remembrance. The gift He has given me has birthed the gift He wants from me: continuing communication, praise, gratitude, trust…and love. Never-ending love.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Changing...

Autumn is a time of change, the most obvious of which of course, is the foliage. During the years that I lived in Florida, I grievously missed watching the leaves change color in the fall. In the years since we’ve been in Georgia, I impatiently peer out my window and anxiously await the shorter days, the crisper temperatures, the pungent, spicy aroma of the woods, and the feast for the eyes as the verdant green leaves wave farewell to summer and cloak themselves in the vivid hues of autumn.

The turning of the calendar pages brings with it other seasonal changes—sweaters and jeans replace t-shirts and capris. The fireplace stands waiting for that first chilly evening, ready to cast its warm glow over the living room. I smile in anticipation of that first steaming mug of hot cider or hot chocolate.

Autumn brought another change this year. Every year, I journey to a special place in the north Georgia mountains. It’s a roadside scenic overlook that I visited five years ago with my son while he was undergoing cancer treatment. That day has become such a sweet memory for me, I return to that place every year and celebrate the life of my son, and thank God for the twenty-eight years He loaned Jonathan to us. My husband and I call the day “Sweet November”.

Last year, I was so disappointed when I pulled into that scenic overlook. The fence was broken down in several places, the weeds had taken over, the grass hadn’t seen a mower in months, there was trash strewn everywhere, and graffiti marred the lone bench. It broke my heart to see this special place so neglected. When I got home, I wrote a letter to the state agency whose responsibility it is to oversee the maintenance of the place. I included photos I’d taken, and I explained why this place is so special to me.

This year, as the time was nearing for me to make my annual Sweet November drive to the mountains, trepidation filled me. If the place looked so bad last year, how much worse would it be this year? Would it be closed down altogether? I asked God to prepare my heart in case my worst fears were realized. As I drove around the bend in the road and pulled into the parking area, tears filled my eyes—not because the place was unkempt or closed, but because it was beautiful.

The fence had been repaired and rebuilt, weeds were cut down, the grass was mowed, trash was picked up, and two new benches offered a place to sit and enjoy the mountain view. The golds, scarlets, and oranges dappled the mountainside with a patchwork of color—a tapestry background for the mercydrop God had prepared for me. How sweet to stand there and lift my hands in worship, thanking God for the change that had taken place.

When God came into my life forty-four years ago, He made a change. He cut away the weeds of self-sufficiency, repaired and adjusted the parameters in my life establishing Himself at the focal point. He cleaned away the trash and turned me around to show me the view from the mountaintop. Over the years, changes too numerous to count have come my way. Some of them have been joyous. Others have been painful. Some happened without warning. Others seemed to take forever to manifest. All have helped me grow.

When God comes in and changes a person’s heart, He isn’t finished. God will continue to orchestrate changes in His child’s life, stretching and tuning and molding that person, cutting back the weeds and renewing the beauty. It’s sweet to know that God will never leave me alone, but instead allow changes to reflect His goodness and mercy.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trace It Back To The Source

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament…and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” John 16:20



I’ve been contemplating a question lately—a question to which, as a Christian, I already know the answer. However, I’m puzzled. Why is it that I sometimes allow my focus to become distracted and before I know it, people and things of this world have usurped the position that rightfully belongs to God?

The question is: What is the source of my joy? God showers us abundantly with things that bring joy—family, our life mate, our children, friends, interests, accomplishments, beauty, serenity—all have the potential to give us a measure of joy. But where the joy itself come from?

It’s impossible to count the things that make us smile, but for a moment, narrow your focus on one or two things. For you, it might be your children, or spending time with an aging parent or grandparent. Perhaps it’s sweet memories, or a day spent with a dear friend, or maybe a goal you set for yourself that you finally reached. Whatever comes to mind, close your eyes and think about the joy that wells within you as you immerse yourself in the gladness. Listen as you recall the laughter. Invite the sweet memory of the kinship or the exquisite attraction to something so beautiful it evokes tears.

Where does that joy come from? Is it really of our own making? Does it depend on circumstances? If circumstances change, does that mean your joy dissolves? Since we are finite creatures, any joy of our own making is equally finite.

As a writer, I’m often caught up in research surrounding my setting or my characters. Digging into the past often uncovers facts or records that dictate I must change my story line. Even though I write fiction, if the story is to be accurate and realistic, I must base it on truth. Otherwise, the foundation is weak and cannot support the weight of the message I’m trying to convey to the reader. If the reader is to take something of eternal value away from the story, I cannot build it on a temporal substructure.

With this mindset, I asked myself the question: What is the SOURCE of my joy? Those things that bring joy and laughter, memories and solace, must have their origin in truth. They are God-given. Whether my joy is found in my spouse or the memories I have of my son, the laughter I share with my sisters, the pure delight I experience with my nieces and nephews, or attaining a mile marker in my life, all of them come from the same source. Without God’s hand on my life, without His blessing, His strength, His protection, His peace, His faithfulness, none of these joyful things would exist. Every one is a priceless gift, given from the One who is the ultimate source of all joy.

If one of these things is taken away, does that mean my joy is extinguished? Grief is a very real emotion. Loss can sometimes knock us breathless. But if my source of peace and joy begins with who I am in Christ, then that is a foundation that will never crumble, regardless of what or who is removed from my life.

Jesus said, “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22

The solidity and permanence of my joy depends upon its source. If that source is the unmovable, unshakable rock of my refuge (Psalm 94:22) then my joy is just as unmovable. Jesus says no earthly thing can take that joy away from me.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"What if..."

If you're reading this blog and you're not a writer, you may scratch your head and think I've gone over the edge. Rest assured, this is the way writers think. My husband repeatedly reminds me that my characters "aren't real", but he doesn't realize they are to me. When writers are putting a story together, they step into the skin of their character and try to think like the character thinks.

I love brainstorming with my critique partners. They’ll toss out a story idea and I’ll grab it and run with it and play the “what if” game. It’s such fun to take someone else’s idea and throw in some twists and turns, and think of ways to complicate the lives of the characters. For some reason, however, I’ve always had a hard time brainstorming my own ideas. So it was with a bit of consternation that I had a “conversation” yesterday with one of my own characters. I’m wrapping up the final chapter of this book, and suddenly my main character, Everett, decides to offer some “what if” suggestions.

Everett: Hey, what if you gave me a reason to leave Willow Creek?

Me: That’s not included in my chapter x chapter synopsis.

Everett: But what if there was a distinct possibility that I might leave? How do you think that would affect Tillie?

Me: I don’t know, Everett. Now get back on the page where you belong.

Everett: I know I tried to make Tillie see how she’d be better off with Ben, but it’s a lot tougher than I thought it would be, watching the two of them together.

Me: Well, you knew it wasn’t going to be easy. This was your decision.

Everett: But if I had a reason to leave, I wouldn’t have to watch them fall in love with each other.

Me: That’s not included in my chapter x chapter synopsis.

Everett: Well, how would you feel if someone you loved fell in love with someone else? Wouldn’t that make you want to run away?

Me: That’s not included in my chapter x chapter synopsis.

Everett: You know I never planned to stay in Willow Creek anyway. What if there was a way I could return to Baltimore?

Me: Everett!! You’re not listening. The chapter x chapter synopsis I sent to my editor does not include you leaving Willow Creek.

Everett: But what are you going to do about this letter?

Me: What letter?

Everett: The letter I received from Grandfather’s attorney.

Me: Huh?

Everett: This job offer in Baltimore is pretty tempting.

Me: What are you talking about? What job offer?

Everett: Great opportunity, great pay, and I could sit behind closed doors and nobody would ever stare at me again.

Me: Everett, I don’t like the sound of this. Do you realize what you’re suggesting? I’m almost finished with this story. In order to include this letter you’re talking about, I’d have to go back to earlier chapters and weave in this new thread.

Everett: So why are you just sitting there? Get busy.

Me: Let me see that letter.

Everett: You have to write the letter.

Me: You know if you were going to make this suggestion, it might have been nice if you’d done so earlier.

Everett: Hey, what do you want from me? (He tosses out his uplifted palms and shrugs) I could take the stage to Dubuque and board the eastbound train there.

Me: Now just wait a minute. I’m the author. You’re supposed to do what I say.

Everett: (tucking the letter into his vest pocket) I’m off to talk to my father about this letter. I need his advice.

Me: And there he goes, and I must hasten after him, for I am the author….I think.


Thanks for letting me share my character, and my heart.

Friday, September 10, 2010

ANTICIPATION... it's making me wait

Anticipation…can be sweet, can be nerve-wracking. In less than a week, I’ll be traveling to the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) national conference. The excitement has been building for weeks. The prospect of seeing friends we only get to see once a year tickles my innards until I’m virtually dancing with the thought of fellowshipping with hundreds of writers. >>Oh, what a delicious thought! Hundreds of writers all together in one place. People who understand that my characters really do exist, because they talk to their characters too. People who think it’s perfectly natural to cry when my character hurts or experience shortness of breath when my character is in danger. They get it!! YES!!

The ACFW online loop has been posting daily prayers for every aspect of the conference to go smoothly and be God-honoring. We’ve prayed for everything from the sound system and technicians, to the faculty members as they teach, to the staff at the hotel, and the finalists in the contests. There are two more people that I’ve added to my ACFW prayer list: the winners of the first-time contracts.

Every year, one of my favorite parts of the conference is the awarding of a first-time book contract to an unsuspecting author—a writer who has struggled to learn the craft, strived to improve, felt the sting of rejections and has persevered. I love watching the reaction as the person’s name is called. Last year, as the two editors made their way to the platform, I turned to my critique partners with whom I was sitting and said, “I just love it when they do this!”

The next thing I know, the title of my book is being announced and my critique partners are all screaming at me. The flurry of excitement and uncontained joy that followed will always remain one of the high points of my life. My husband said he really hated that he missed it, because it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been speechless.

So this year, as I’m preparing to go the conference again, I’m wondering for whom God has prepared that contract. Who will feel that jolt of exhilaration and experience the thrill of seeing their persistence and perseverance come to fruition? I’m praying for those two people. They are about to set out on an extraordinary journey, filled with peaks and valleys, fears and doubts, and over the top happiness. When the title of their book is announced and they numbly find their way to the stage in shock, I pray they will relish every heart-pounding moment, every smile, every congratulatory hug, every tear, and every step they take two feet off the ground for the remainder of the conference. I’m praying they will always cherish the moment they receive the contract in the mail and affix their signature to it.

Anticipation…it’s delicious.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

God's Art Gallery

“I will bless the Lord at all times…” Psalm 34:1
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Psalm 103:1


Mothers do it every day. Her little one comes running up to her, waving a piece of paper on which he or she has drawn a masterpiece. Who cares if the art critics in the most elite galleries consider it childish drivel? To mom, it’s the most brilliant work of art that has ever been produced. What does she do? First, she hugs her child and exclaims over his skill, tells him what an extraordinary job he did, and declares she has never seen anything so beautiful. She then posts this magnificent example of artistic talent on the refrigerator door for the entire family to admire and enjoy.

This is the concept that comes to mind every time I read the verses that exhort God’s children to BLESS the Lord. Psalm 103 is only twenty-two verses, but it instructs us seven times to bless the Lord.

I have to admit, I’ve scratched my head over this more than once. When God blesses us, He does so with omnipotent power and glory. The entire world came into existence with His simple spoken word. He has moved mountains, held back the waters for the Israelites, fed them daily in the desert, stopped the sun in its tracks, and abundantly met every need. Through His immeasurable love, He provided a way for our salvation by sacrificing His only Son. He paid our way to heaven even though we were unworthy. He surrounds us and fills us with His mighty love, protection, comfort, provision, and care.

How are we to reciprocate and bless God? When we bless God, we do so through our love, worship, and praise. But in our frail humanness, our best efforts are paltry. We want to express our gratitude from a heart filled with love and praise for Him, but even when we produce our best masterpiece of praise, I can’t help but wonder how far short it falls in the light of all God has done for us.

It’s like the child who gives mommy the best picture he ever drew. The child doesn’t keep it for himself. He gives it to the person who loves him and cares for him—the one who would do anything for him, the one who would give her life for him. The mother’s heart is blessed to overflowing over something the world considers of no value. The picture shown here was drawn by my son twenty-seven years ago. I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it. It’s priceless, because he gave it to me.

God the Father reacts in much the same way. He loves our efforts to bless Him, and He smiles when we express our love for Him. When His children bring Him their best, His heart celebrates. Instead of keeping His love to ourselves, we proclaim it back to Him in worship.

I wonder if He posts it on the refrigerator door.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Overcoming


Sometimes as Christians, we get the idea that everything our world should be well-ordered and smooth, and when circumstances arise that create turmoil, this somehow surprises us. It shouldn’t. The Bible states repeatedly that this world is not our home and the people around us are humanly flawed.

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for the time He would be taken from them, He spoke clearly of the dangers of seeking comfort and peace from things of this world. This preparation is for the purpose of creating a longing within us for heaven as much as it is a warning against putting our trust in things that are temporal.

“These things I have spoken to you that you should not be made to stumble.” John 16:1

“Most assuredly I say to you that you will weep and lament . . . you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” John 16:20

“Therefore you now have sorrow, but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22

Mark it down: people will disappoint you. People you thought you could trust will let you down. Circumstances will shift. Places you once felt at home will become strange and uncomfortable. Why? Because those people, circumstances, and places are not our source of peace.

Currently there is a situation that is grieving my heart. My spirit has groaned, my heart aches, and I’ve shed more than a few tears. I suppose that in my humanness, I want everything within my comfort zone to remain the same, and when things occur that cause upheaval, I am somehow taken by surprise. But God is never taken by surprise. He isn’t standing up there in heaven wringing His hands and agonizing over what to do. He knows the end from the beginning, which is why He gave us these scriptures. He knows about the hurtful things people will speak and the uncaring attitudes they will display. He knows about the rejection and feelings of betrayal. So He reminds us: your sorrow will be turned into joy.

Do not fool yourself into thinking people or places on this earth make up your comfort zone. Sharpen your awareness of the presence of God in you and your earthly attachments dim. Our joy and peace are in Jesus, and remembering that He is closer than our own breath washes that peace over us again.

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

God Uses The Strangest Things Sometimes...



We could learn a thing or two from cats. Wait… all you folks who don’t like cats, don’t click the X yet. God really has used my cat to teach me a few things. It’s kind of like when your third grade teacher used visual aids to get your attention so she could impart some small tidbit of wisdom to you.

Sweet Pea came into my life as a tiny kitten—still too young really to be away from her mother. We weren’t sure she’d survive, but the tenacity she demonstrated as a baby formed her personality—er, that is, her CATitude. Her feistiness has mellowed a little bit over the past few years, but she still has her own special way of getting her message across.

1) She wants my undivided attention. When Sweet Pea is sitting with me at the computer and she catches me looking at the screen instead of looking at her, she bats my face with her paw. Makes me wonder sometimes if God would like to bat my face and remind me to pay attention and listen to Him instead of doing things my way.
2) She navigates all the clutter on my desk to get to me. Impressive really, she’s like a tight-rope walker as she threads her way around my laptop, my PC, mouse pads, notebooks, research books, dictionary, external hard drive, Post-It Notes, calendar, coffee cup, picture frames, telephone, tape dispenser, stapler—you name it—to come and sit directly in front of me and stare at me with an air of expectation. She doesn’t let anything get in her way. Then she gives me her undivided attention. Don’t you suppose we should do the same with our cluttered lives and hectic schedules, and find our way through the chaos to sit at Jesus’ feet?
3) She flees from “evil” – in this case, the vacuum cleaner, Jaws. All I have to do is drag Jaws out from his lair. He’s not plugged in yet, he hasn’t roared to life, he’s not even heading in her direction. But the moment she lays eyes on Jaws, she runs for cover, usually into the bedroom closet. I wonder if God wishes we would be so diligent to flee from anything that can damage our testimony, or interfere with our Christian walk, or come between us and Him. God’s word says to abstain from the very appearance of evil.
4) She hides when she needs to be alone. Sweet Pea has several hiding places in the house, most of which I’ve found. But sometimes I’ll check all her favorite places and I can’t find her. She comes out when she’s ready, or when it’s suppertime, whichever comes first. Sometimes the din of the world—the confusion, the busy-ness, out of control emotions, the clamor, the demands, the distractions—closes in on us and we need an escape. How can we hear God’s voice above the cacophony if we don’t take time to separate ourselves from the world, and just be quiet?

5) She knows how to REST. It’s true, cats normally sleep anywhere from 14-18 hours per day. When Sweet Pea wants to nap, anywhere is a good place. She’ll sleep on my desk, on the back of my chair, under a table, buried in a blankie, just wherever and whenever she pleases. Don’t you wish you could learn to TRUST the same way a cat rests? Anywhere, everywhere, anytime, all the time, if we rest on God, we’ll discover a deeper level of trust than we ever believed possible.
6) She’s jealous. Some cats live in a multi-cat or multi-pet family. Not Sweet Pea. She is the Queen and wants no other cats before her. She’s an indoor kitty, so when the neighbor’s cats come calling, she hisses at them through the window screens and scowls at me if I dare to go out and pet them. She wants me to adore her, and only her. When God gave Moses the ten commandments, He said, You shall not have any other gods before Me. There are a multitude of things that we put before God or assign a higher level of importance than God. Whether it’s something that steals our time, attention, money, or priority, it needs to be weighed in the balance with God.
7) She clings to me for protection. When we go to the vet, Sweet Pea rides in a carrier. She usually yowls in the car all the way there. But the moment we arrive and set foot inside the door, she hears the dogs barking and goes into panic mode. Once in the exam room, she wants to climb up on my shoulders and cling to me. She believes that I will protect her from whatever she perceives as danger. God never promised us a life free of adversity, but He did provide His special comfort and sanctuary for His children. When troubles come (and they surely will), cling to God for protection and comfort. Lift us your arms to Him and ask Him to hold you.

Excuse me, I have to go now. Sweet Pea says it’s time for her Yummies.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Monday, July 19, 2010

THE ACQUITTAL

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, . . . to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3

Several months ago a friend of mine sent me a devotional book entitled, JESUS CALLING. What makes this book different from other devotionals is that it’s written from Jesus’ point of view. It reads like Jesus Himself is speaking to you in quiet, personal, intimate conversation between friends. Opening this book every morning is like sitting down across from my Best Friend and listening to Him tell me those things He wants me to know.

I know . . . the Bible tells us everything He wants us to know, and please understand, I’m not discounting God’s word in any way. Sometimes, however, when I read a blog or an article or a devotional or even the words to a hymn written with God’s word as its basis or theme, it speaks to me from a different angle, a different point of view. Using scriptures I’ve read a hundred times before, this devotional book shapes them in such a way, my heart “hears” them with fresh ears.

Thus it was on July 3. It just so happened that it was my birthday, and when I went into my office and pulled out my Bible and devotional book, I asked God to give me something I really needed. The entry for July 3 grabbed my heart and shook me. For years I’ve struggled with the issue of forgiveness—not forgiving others--forgiving myself. The old adage that says we can’t turn the clock or the calendar back and do things over has been a millstone around my neck. Life doesn’t give us do-overs, and I nurtured a guilt that I intended to carry for the rest of my life. I knew God forgave me, but that’s because He’s God and in His omnipotent love—a love we can’t wrap our mind around—He forgives completely and absolutely. But I’d told myself I'm human, and in that humanness, I can’t forgive that way. So I took on a burden God never intended for me to carry, and it weighed me down and began affecting other areas of my life as well.

As I read the words of that short devotional on July 3, a new clarity dawned. The entry said that Jesus is the only capable Judge, and He has acquitted me through His blood. I have been acquitted—declared not guilty. And since my acquittal came at the price of Jesus’ sacrifice, who am I to refuse to forgive myself when Jesus has declared me innocent? The scriptures listed in the devotional were ones I’d read a hundred times or more. I’d believed them and used them in talking to others about the Lord. I had claimed His forgiveness for my salvation and praised Him for His demonstration of love. I’ve known His forgiveness for many years. So why did I nail guilt over this one issue to my soul? How could I say I claimed his forgiveness of all my sins . . . except this one?

Most of us who have lived for any length of time have known regrets or wish we’d done something differently. But when I finally understood how offensive my refusal to forgive myself was to Jesus, I was able to let it go. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Instead of walking through the rest of this life dragging a chain of condemnation, I can now run with a freedom I’ve not allowed myself for several years. Because when Jesus gave His blood as a sacrifice for me, it was all-inclusive, and I’m forgiven.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Connections

“So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” I Thessalonians 2:8

For the past two months, I’ve been fretting about my lack of time and opportunity to post a blog. I was afraid those folks who told me they read and enjoyed my blog might think I’d abandoned them. But not so.

Since April, I’ve been occupied with creating dude ranch decorations for our church’s Vacation Bible School. While designing a herd of comical-looking horses, cardboard fences, and a stage backdrop 24 feet long and 8 feet tall is fun, it does take an enormous amount of time. In addition, I attended the BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS CHRISTIAN WRITERS CONFERENCE in May, followed by a writers retreat in Hutchinson, Kansas with my awesome critique partners. I arrived home on June 7, put up the VBS stage set on June 8th, and wrapped up a few loose ends. I took a day to do laundry and re-pack my suitcase in preparation to leave two days later for Pennsylvania where I spent two glorious weeks with my sister and her family.

When I finally arrived home last week, exhausted but contented, I reflected on that contentment and why reconnecting with dear friends and family is so satisfying. Our relationships are one of the gifts God gives us. As a writer, I’ve had the privilege of making friends with other writers all over the country, many of whom I only see once a year. Email keeps us connected in between times, but it’s not the same as a real, live, in-person hug. Spending time brainstorming, working, laughing, and a little goofing off with my incredible critique partners is such a joy (although this year we were saddened because we were incomplete—missed you, Eileen).

God gifts us with special friendships—those people with whom we can be completely transparent and not have to worry about condemnation or rejection. Just when I realize that God has blessed me way more abundantly than I deserve, He adds something extra—a sweet touch of grace. We get to worship together. That connection we have with those dear friends whom we rarely get to see is enhanced by the gathering together and connecting with God in a spirit of praise.

The family visit was even sweeter. My niece decided to plan a birthday surprise for her mother—my sister, Pam, and I enthusiastically went along with her plan. What fun to spend time watching my great-niece and great-nephew win their championships with their softball and baseball teams, and sit around the table with family members that live way too many miles away. Then my sister and I drove across the state, back to her home where more delightful times with more family members awaited. My two nephews are the handsomest guys, and their wives and kids are such fun. I’m sure my nephews grew tired of this old lady hugging them every time they turned around, but hugging those guys feels just like hugging my son. Did I mention they’re handsome?

There were several dozen times during the hugging, laughing, and “reunion-izing” that I felt a wee bit guilty about neglecting my blog (especially after the marketing classes I took at the writer’s conference in May!). But I believe God gives us connections for specific reasons. I’m not talking about the connections one makes marketing or promoting their work. That’s called networking, and it has nothing to do with the nurturing of friendships or cherishing of family members. As children of God, we have a responsibility to make sure those people who are the most important in our lives are assured of that special place they hold in our hearts. God gave me the opportunity to reconnect with great-nieces and great-nephews, all of whom are growing up way too fast, a dear niece who reminds me of my mother, and two nephews (did I mention they’re handsome?) who remind me of my son. And my sister… oh my goodness, the time we spent laughing and hugging. Who needs a therapist when you have sisters?

Let me mention here that this is only one half of the family. The other half lives in Florida, and I intend to spend time “reunion-izing” and catching up with my Florida sister, Chris, and her family just as soon as God works out the details. The most awesome thing about these connections? God is in the midst. Pick the phone or jump in the car today, and go tell someone how important they are to you.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Miracles

And in that day you will say, “Praise the Lord, call upon His name, declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things.” Isaiah 12:3-5

God still works miracles. They are all around us and many times they go unnoticed. The work of His hand can be seemingly insignificant, like a tenacious little flower pushing it’s way up between the proverbial rock and a hard place. We might consider anything that grows as a miracle. It’s almost inconceivable to take a seed—a tiny portion of a dead, withered plant—and bury it in the dirt, only to have it spring forth with new-found life. Only God can bring life from something that was dead.

My white rose bush did it again this year. Last year I was astounded to find a half dozen red blossoms on my white rose bush. This year there have already been almost two dozen red roses. How does it do that? I’m not a rose horticulturist, so I have no idea how a white rose bush can produce red blooms. I like to think it’s a sweet mercydrop from God, telling me He isn’t finished performing miracles yet.

How many times have we stared in awe into the face of a newborn baby, marveling at the intricacies of the human body and God’s creation? Is there anything sweeter than hearing your baby’s first cry, or holding that precious little one in your arms? Yes, there is something sweeter...

Five years ago this Saturday, May 15th, I got the miracle for which I’d prayed for eleven years. My son Jonathan, who had wandered far from God, returned to the Savior he once loved and fell at His feet in repentance and faith. Oh, the sweet joy of that day! Was it better than the day I held him for the first time? Looking back, I had prayed for a child for five years when Jonathan was born. But I prayed for eleven years for him to come back to the Lord, so in many ways, yes, seeing this miracle for which I’d prayed so long was even sweeter than the day he was born. The longer we pray and hope for something to come to pass, the sweeter it is when it happens. Which brings me to one more miracle…

For the past thirty-seven years, my husband and I have been praying for his mother to trust Christ. For thirty-seven years she has refused to listen, hardened her heart, and rejected every witness we tried to present. For the past few years she has been coming to church with us, but it was more for the purpose of being with her son--my husband--than to learn about Jesus. So when she expressed interest in talking about salvation with my husband last week, we were ecstatic. I can’t find the words to describe my husband’s joy at leading his own 80-year-old mother to Christ last Thursday, May 6th. Mrs. Mary Stevens is a brand new child of God. Hallelujah!!

Some miracles are tiny, like a little flower struggling to grow. Some are commonplace, like the birth of a baby. But regardless of how many babies are born every day, the one you hold in your arms is a miracle. Then some miracles are answers to prayers over which we have agonized for years.

Take the time to look for the miracles around you. Don’t overlook them. You’ll miss an incredible blessing if you do.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

If You Want To Make God Laugh...make a plan

Some years ago, I made a staggering discovery: I'm not the one in control! I have to admit, I was taken aback by this revelation, always having thought that my penchant for planning and organizing was a "spiritual gift". It wasn't until I had the rug jerked out from under me that I finally became aware of just how insignificant MY plans were in the light of God's plan. Oh, it wasn't like I was thumbing my nose at God and defiantly plowing ahead, demanding my own way. I just wasn't listening. I read articles and heard sermons and attended women's Christian workshops that spoke of "following God's leading", and I thought that's what I was doing.

When God finally placed me in the position of having to be still and listen (I had no other choice), the whisper of His voice penetrated my soul, and I saw my plans for what they were--an attempt to usurp God's authority in my life. I didn't do it on purpose. But the realization caused me to rethink some things, not the least of which was asking God to sharpen my awareness of His presence and His voice.

Don't misunderstand--I still believe the best way to accomplish things decently and in order, "Let all things be done decently and in order" 1st Corinthians 14:40 is to plan accordingly. We've all heard the admonitions: Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part and If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail. Planning is a prudent thing to do. But any prudent practice done to excess, including careful planning, is like trying to micro-manage God. So even though I still exercise my "gift" for planning, I go about a different way.

My reasons for planning have changed. Instead of making control an idol, I established new goals. If I desire God's will to guide my steps, then my steps have to lead somewhere. That place is a sanctuary in His presence. When I am aware of God's presence, I can hear His voice better and pay closer attention to His leading. With this goal in mind, I re-set the way I plan.

1) Plan prayerfully. As I am jotting things down on my calendar or my To Do list, I talk with God. I tell Him, "Father, if any of this stuff isn't what You want me to do today, change my plans. I'm listening."
2) Remain in constant communion with God while you are carrying out your plan. Ask Him continually to walk with you, and rearrange the plan as He sees fit.
3) Adjust your plan according to God's leading, even if it seems inconvenient or impossible at the time. If God is in it, He'll make it happen. If His will is to change you, He'll show you. Stay flexible and teachable.
4) Yield your will to His scrutiny. Ask God to examine your motives and reveal anything to you that goes against His will.

As any of my friends can tell you, I'm still a planner, an organizer. I like to know exactly what I'm doing and stay ahead of schedule. Planning is the best way to get things done, as long as I P-R-A-Y first, and make certain that my goal isn't to be in control, but rather to be in God's will and give Him glory.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Have They Not Known?

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is HE who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He brings the princes to nothing; He makes the judges of the earth useless.” Isaiah 40: 21-23

We’ve all heard on the news in the past day or two how the courts have decided that the National Day Of Prayer is “unconstitutional”. Now, it has never been my desire to turn this blog into a platform for making political statements, and I don’t intend to start now. Whether or not I agree with the judges or the Supreme Court or the current Administration’s assessment is not the issue. My opinion isn’t the one that is important.

It occurred to me that our founding fathers didn’t have a National Day Of Prayer, but they prayed. Godly people pray—it’s as simple as that. If we are in the habit of praying, praising, and lifting up the name of Jesus Christ, no court edict is going to stop us from doing so. But what about those who only pray sporadically? The say grace over their food, they bow their heads at church when the pastor prays, and they may or may not mumble a “thank You for this day” as they lay their head down at night. They are in the practice of waiting for a certain event that tells them it’s time to pray—an event like the National Day Of Prayer. Will those people pray regardless of what the courts say?

Those who fall into that category will be faced with a choice. They can either re-examine their own hearts and determine to become a vessel of prayer, or not. Perhaps some will find this court decision outrageous and grow a good crop of indignity over it, determining they WILL pray, not only on the first Thursday in May (May 6th) but daily. Perhaps the taking away of this national observance will motivate them to be more faithful in prayer.

The fact is nobody can stop us from praying. Whether or not we are permitted to do so in a public gathering that bears a title indicating it is sanctioned by our law-makers is in question. But if we, as children of God, determine that we are going to pray on whatever day we choose, no law or court decision can stop us.

In the book of Exodus, Moses raised up his hands to pray from the top of a hill while a battle took place in the valley below. He stood there all day and prayed, and his arms became tired. Did he stop praying? Did he give up? Did he say, “Oh well, I did my best and that’s all I can do”? No. Two men, one of them Moses’ own brother, positioned themselves on either side of him and held his arms up and helped him pray. They prayed corporately, steadfastly, until the going down of the sun, and God blessed their effort.

The above verses from the book of Isaiah, paint a picture of our nation today. It’s mind-boggling how many in our government set themselves in positions of authority that they THINK transcend God’s authority. Verse 23 of Isaiah chapter 40 declared that God will “bring the princes to nothing, and make the judges of the earth useless.” I think that pretty well sums up God’s opinion of any court decision regarding the National Day Of Prayer.

God said, “If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, THEN will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and HEAL THEIR LAND.” 2nd Chronicles 7:14

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Let Everything That Has Breath Praise Him

“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar and all its fullness; let the field be joyful and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord: for HE IS COMING…” Psalm 96: 11-13

Every year around this time, my husband and I enjoy watching the woods around our house go through a metamorphosis ~ the long sleep of winter is over, and the bare tree limbs yawn and stretch their arms toward heaven, ready for their new spring finery. As the temperatures warm and the days grow longer, we are entertained by the daily rebirth. The different species of trees offer a variegation of green as the buds burst open and the infant leaves unfurl and begin practicing for their solstice dance.

All except for one tree…


Every year my husband says the same thing: “I think that tree is dead. All the other trees are leafing out except that one.” And he starts speculating about getting out his chain saw and turning the latent tree into firewood for next winter. It’s almost like the tree is on a different timetable, a different calendar, from all the others, waiting until it knows there won’t be any more chilly nights before it’s willing to turn its leaves loose.

Sometimes God’s people are like that tree. We sit back and watch those around us working, serving, praying, praising, and lifting their hands in pure worship. There is a YouTube video of Michael W Smith in concert singing Agnus Dei. I tried to insert the link here, but it wouldn't work. If you type Agnus Dei into your search box, then click on Michael W Smith, you will hear and witness pure, unadulterated, spontaneous worship. It's an incredible video. Watch as the artist and musicians quietly stop playing and singing, and the audience lifts up their hands and hearts in worship.

I look at the tardy tree in our woods and wonder what it’s waiting for. The scripture in Psalm 96 says the heavens are rejoicing, the earth is glad, the sea is roaring, the fields and everything that grows or lives there is joyful. THEN all the trees of the woods will rejoice. Why? Because HE IS COMING!

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is coming. Why do we hold back our praise and anticipation of the glory we will behold? Others around us are awakening to the opportunities to worship—not only with word or song, but with hands and feet, with talents and skills, with energies and heart. If we stand back and neglect to utilize the time God has given us to give Him glory, it’s time we can never get back. We stand in danger of being found idle when Jesus comes.

Every spring my husband eyes that tree and threatens to firewood out of it until I point out the tiny, unopened buds way up on the highest branches. Sure enough, about two weeks after all the other trees have leafed out, this tree will finally let go and show signs of life.

If ever there was a time for us to show signs of life in our worship of God, it’s springtime. Don't wait. He's coming.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

He Showed Them His Hands

What is it about this time of year that excites you the most? Is it the shopping--going out and finding that perfect outfit, with coordinating shoes and accessories? What about purchasing all the goodies to fill the Easter baskets? Do you snitch the jelly beans or nibble the ears off the chocolate bunnies when no one is looking? Are those Cadbury eggs irresistible? Does the sight of daffodils and tulips blooming make your heart dance? No doubt most folks are ready for the warmer temperatures.

When we consider what we like the best about the different holidays, Christmas usually comes out on top with a long list of favorite songs, recipes, and family traditions. But if we didn’t have an Easter, Christmas would be nothing more than an opportunity for family get-togethers. Yes, the virgin birth is miraculous, but the Resurrection is what makes the Christian faith different from any other religion. Many religions have a leader who died a martyr’s death, but no other faith rests on a Savior who rose from the dead.

If ever there was a time for us to examine the depth of our faith, it is at Easter. So many of us deal with tribulation on a daily basis. It can tend to take over our thoughts and attention if we let it. Work-related stress, family problems, money woes, illness or physical affliction, hurtful personal relationships can all overshadow our walk with God. Sometimes God’s blessings come to us wrapped in a disguise of pain or trouble. If we are attentive to the touch of God’s hand or the whisper of His voice, we can see His finger of grace. If we cling to His hand and stay beneath the shadow of His wing, our trust deepens to a level greater than our adversity. The Resurrection proves God’s love for us to such an extent, how can we not cling to Him in full and contented trust?

Consider this: Christ’s apostles were in hiding after the crucifixion. They were confused and fearful—their circumstances seemed to overwhelm them.

“Then, the same day, at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, JESUS CAME and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” John 20:19-20

We don’t have to understand everything we are going through. In fact, God doesn’t ask us to understand. He doesn’t expect or call us to understand. He only calls us to trust. If God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, if Jesus is so powerful that the grave couldn’t hold Him, how can we not trust a Savior like that?

This year, look past the eggs and Easter baskets and chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. Set aside the new outfit and shoes. Appreciate the warmer temperatures and spring blooms, but concentrate on the Giver of life. He is the One in whom you can place your full trust and rest contentedly in His arms regardless of your circumstances.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Be Still And Know...

I was taken aback the other night when I was flipping through the TV channels and happened upon a program about hoarders—people who never throw anything away and slowly become swallowed by mountains of trash in their own homes. The obsessive organizer in me shuddered at the appalling conditions in which these people lived, and it was really difficult for me to understand how they could let their lives get so out of control. But then it occurred to me that physical and material trash isn’t the only thing that can litter my life.

Our pastor has been encouraging us recently to spend time being silent before God. While the concept of spending as much prayer time being quiet and listening as I do making my requests known isn’t new, it’s something I tend to forget when my schedule becomes cluttered with things I deem important. In the past few weeks, I’ve asked God to sharpen my awareness of His voice. I want to be certain that it’s Him I’m hearing and not my own selfish desires or my agenda.

Jesus said in John 8:43, “Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.” How can I understand when God speaks if I’m not familiar with His voice? I can pick out my husband’s voice in a crowd because I know his voice, I love his voice. But thirty-seven years ago, I had to learn every subtle tone and intensity of his voice during our personal times together—just the two of us—before I could detect his voice in the midst of a noisy world.

God invites us over and over in His word to “incline your ear, and come to Me.” Yes, he repeatedly instructs us to heed his Word and listen to Him, but to “incline your ear” means to listen for Him as well. I believe this is what our pastor had in mind when he exhorted us to be silent before God.

Isaiah 55:2 says to listen carefully to God, to eat from His table, to satisfy my thirst from His cup, to delight my soul in His abundance, to listen for Him and come to Him, to hear… and then He adds this promise: "and your soul shall live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” A promise that precious takes my breath away—to even imagine that He wants to spend time with me leaves me in awe.

But first I must clear away the clutter, the worries, the fears, the “to do” list, the self-imposed schedules and demands—all those things that heap up around us like trash in a hoarder’s house—and incline my ear to seek God’s voice. My desire is to draw close to Him, to stay within His shadow, and to become so acclimatized to the sound of His voice, that I can pick it out from the cacophony of the world. When God says, “Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore they shall know in that day that I am He who speaks; behold it is I.” (Isaiah 52:6), it is the desire of my heart to instantly recognize God’s voice.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making It Real

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” Hebrews 10:22-24

Have you ever been embarrassed to admit that you didn’t make something from scratch? We women tend to be proud of our culinary accomplishments, especially when it comes to church fellowships. We have this secret desire that people will pronounce our dish the most amazing they have ever tasted, scarf it down, and beg us for the recipe. Almost every woman alive has made something from a mix and immediately buried the empty box in the bottom of the trash can, especially when company comes for dinner.

So it wasn’t without chagrin that I had to admit that I’d used a boxed potato casserole and pre-made, frozen meatballs when some friends came for dinner recently. Our new pastor and his wife are sweet people and we were delighted to have them over. It just so happens that some of my never-fail “recipes” are very quick and easy, and include the above-mentioned items. When they complimented the dishes, I had to come clean and tell them I’d used “ingredients” that I had not prepared myself. We laughed about it, and to be honest, I wasn’t really embarrassed because of the relationship we have with this dear couple. They aren’t just our pastor and his wife, and they aren’t company anymore. They’re family.

But how many times have we tried to be artificial and pass ourselves off as something we aren’t? When scripture encourages us to draw near to God with a true heart, I have to laugh. There’s no other way to draw near to God. He knows my heart anyway, so even if I try to pull the wool over His eyes, it’s not going to work. He knows me completely. But being part of fellowship of faith means, as the verse in Hebrews says, we should consider one another to stir up love and good works. I believe God is telling us here to be real with each other, and being real means to open your heart and allow people into your life. For some of us, that’s a long step away from our comfort zone. For several years, I allowed old wounds to keep me separated from God’s people. I didn’t want to be real in their presence. I didn’t want them to know the real me because that would mean allowing myself to be vulnerable again.

Gradually, God began to loosen the bricks in the wall I’d erected around myself. He worked through a few very special friends to heal those old hurts, and He showed me I needn’t fear being real with these people. In order for me to allow these people to stir up love and good works in me, I had to let down my guard. If I expected God to use me, it had to be on His terms, not mine. Being real is scary until we realize it’s God who makes us who we are. Not only is He the One we are called upon to trust and obey, He is the One with whom we seek sanctuary. He provides the shelter and comfort. We aren’t alone. He never intended for us to sequester ourselves from others, thinking we’d be safe in our own little shells. At some point, if we desire to be used of God to minister to someone else’s hurting heart, the wall has to come down and we have to be real.

I don’t believe our pastor and his wife felt slighted when I told them I’d used frozen meatballs or Betty Crocker potatoes. God has already used this precious couple to minister to my heart, and I hope we are as dear to them as they are to us. But doggone it, next time they come, I swear I’m going to cook everything from scratch!!

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Parable Of The Lost Ring

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog entitled, Why I Write What I Write. In that post I pointed out that Jesus used parables when he taught, because sometimes a story connects more readily and people can relate to the characters or the circumstances in the story. One such parable appears in Luke chapter fifteen.

Jesus was teaching the people who had drawn near to hear Him, and He said, “What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’”

When our son died a little over four years ago, I took his Marine Corps ring to a jeweler and had it sized so my husband could honor our son by wearing it in his memory. Then, a little over a year ago, my husband lost some weight, which made the ring a little bit loose. He was always careful to take the ring off and put it on his dresser. One day about six weeks ago, the ring disappeared. Like the woman in the fifteenth chapter of Luke, we turned the house upside down looking for that ring. We moved furniture, searched corners on our hands and knees, shined a flashlight in closets—there wasn’t a square inch of this house that we didn’t search. No ring.

After several days, we could only assume that the ring had been accidentally knocked off the dresser into the waste basket, which was emptied into the garbage. By the time we realized the ring was missing, the garbage man had already picked up the trash. My husband and I were both heart-sick. That ring meant so much to us.

Sunday evening, my husband was filling visitor gift bags at church when he reached into a box to get some little cookie packages. And there was our son’s ring. Joyous tears flowed. (Our poor pastor probably thought we’d both lost our minds.)

The woman in Luke fifteen rejoiced because what was lost to her had been restored. Our son’s Marine Corps ring probably isn’t worth much to anyone else except us, but to my husband and me, it’s irreplaceable.

That’s exactly what we are to God—irreplaceable. How much more does God rejoice when a person comes to know Him in a personal way, asking Him to forgive sins? Why else would God sacrifice His own Son to provide a means for us to get to heaven? Because we are His creation and He loves us so much. Why would God go to such lengths to give us a sweet mercydrop and let my husband find the ring? For the same reason—He loves us so much.

Rejoice with us, for we have found the ring that was lost, just as God rejoices over us, his children, when we come to Him.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Need My Sister Time

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…” Romans 12: 10-12

I am supposed to be in Florida right now—at least according to MY plans. When you have two sisters that you love dearly, you go to any lengths to spend quality “sister time” together. Every year for the past four years, I’ve been going
to see my Florida sister in February, and my Pennsylvania sister in June. I praise God for allowing us this sister time. The above scripture defines the relationship the three of us have. When I read it, I sometimes substitute the word sisterly where it says brotherly, and the meaning remains intact.

But God and Jarhead had other plans this year. (Jarhead is my car.) I left on schedule, but by the time Jarhead and I had traveled about one-third of the way there, I knew the jerky hesitation and surging motion from the car indicated a real problem. So I turned around and coaxed Jarhead home, praying all the way that we’d get there. I realize if I’d kept going I might have reached my sister’s house, and yes, I know they have mechanics in Florida. But they don’t have Mr. Ken, Jarhead’s doctor, the world’s best automotive specialist. (Hensley Automotive, Hoschton, GA) He is the only one I want taking care of this car. I guess the “patient in tribulation” part of the scripture could include unexpected car repairs that interrupt my sister time.

So here I sit, waiting for Jarhead to be fixed so I can be on my way to spend time laughing, hugging, crying, giggling, praying, shopping, talking, cooking, solving all the world’s problems, and relaxing with my sister. Sisters can be a pain sometimes while you’re growing up, but in adulthood, sisters are one of the most precious relationships a woman can have. Since both of mine live far away, God has made sure I have substitute sisters here in Georgia—friends who are as close as sisters, and I am grateful for their friendship when I need a sisterly hug.

Since I have time to reflect, I’ve been thinking about the many times I’ve heard people talk about their siblings in a negative way—brothers and sisters who don’t speak to one another because of some petty disagreement. Don’t they realize what they’re squandering? God instructs us to honor each other, prefer the company of each other, and be diligent toward one another. What would I do if I didn’t have my sisters to rejoice with me, hope with me, and pray with me? How it must grieve God’s heart when His children bicker amongst themselves and nurture bitterness toward one another. What a waste of precious time they can never reclaim.

I need my sister time, and as soon as Mr. Ken fixes whatever is wrong with Jarhead, we’ll be on our way once again. Chrissie, make sure we have plenty of our favorite snacks (she makes the most amazing home-made humus) and I’ll get there as soon as I can. Have a hug ready for me.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Has God Ever Put You In Time-Out?

A while back, my friend, Susan broke her foot. She was engaged in creating an artistic backdrop for a musical program at church. So it seemed (to me, anyway) that for her to suffer this injury while expending her energies and using her talents for the Lord was a bit unfair. After all, it wasn't like she was doing something foolish or sinful.

For six weeks, she hobbled around on a cast, and when she finally got the cast off, tenderness in the area where the break occurred limited her activity, as well as her choice of shoes. Patient in her nature, she endured it without complaint. I marvelled at her quiet acceptance of the boundaries God had placed around her, however temporary. God used Susan's quiet and gentle spirit to teach me something.

I wish I could say I have always endured periods in my life when God has put in a position of having to be still with grace. Unfortunately, I've probably had to spend more time waiting for God to finish His work in me because of my chafing impatience to jump back into action. If I would regard these periods in God's waiting room as a time of learning and growth, I'd likely develop a better attitude toward them. I admit I've said on more than one occasion, "I hope I hurry up and learn whatever it is God is trying to teach me so I can see the end of this trial." I can almost see God shaking His head at my impatience.

When the lesson is finally learned and the growth complete, I can anticipate God's nod of approval, releasing me from the season of waiting. But I've learned that if I sprint away from that precious place of instruction without taking the newly acquired knowledge or wisdom with me, He will bring me back to repeat what I neglected to learn the first time.

"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3: 25-26

Scripture admonishes us repeatedly to take one step at a time and place our trust in God in every circumstance, especially when we don't understand His purpose. I don't suppose Susan was expecting to break her foot in the middle of the holidays when she had a long "to do" list. Even though we might consider a broken bone an infirmity, God views it from an entirely different point of view. Psalm 91 says He will give His angels charge over us, keeping us in all our ways. We presume that scripture means the angels will keep us safe and never allow harm to come to us. But perhaps there is a broader meaning of this Psalm. That word KEEP is an interesting word. It means to confine, contain, and control. It also means to delay and hold.

If God is keeping us with the purpose of instruction, we can be certain it's a good thing. When this happens, we have a choice. We can fret about the "inconvenience", or like my friend Susan, submit to the hand of God as He constructs something beautful in His child. We don't have the privilege of knowing the outcome beforehand, but we have the blessing of watching God's workmanship unfold. I doubt that Susan realized what God was teaching me through her.

By the way, that word KEEP? It also means to fulfill, preserve, guard, and tend, much like a Shepherd cares for the sheep. Comforting, isn't it?

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why Do I Write What I Write?


As soon as people find out that I'm a writer, one of the first questions they ask is, "What do you write?" Over the years, I've learned to be a bit cautious with my answer, depending on the person with whom I am talking. Within the Christian community, there are those who hold to the idea that a Christian should only read the Bible and those non-fiction books that aid a Christian to grow in their walk with God. Once, when I told a man in our former church that I write Christian fiction, he immediately snorted and declared that there is no such thing. His reasoning was that "Fiction is a made up story, which means it's a lie. Therefore, you cannot attach the word 'Christian' to it, because Christianity is not a lie." (Yes, he actually said that to me.)

I tried, to no avail, to explain to him that Christian writers strive to take back what the world stole and reclaim it for God. The world took romance--the pure love between a man and woman resulting in a union with God at the center--and turned it into smut. Our stories depict realistic characters who struggle with real problems and real weaknesses, but cry out to God for their strength and healing, then determine to live for God with His help. Isn't this a description of our lives? Unless we have somehow attained sinless perfection on this earth, (that's never gonna happen!!) we live the same imperfect lives as the characters we write about, and we can put ourselves in the picture, learning a biblical truth along with the fictional characters.

It might shock this man to realize that the Inventor of romantic love was God. Ever read The Song Of Solomon? Or the Book of Hosea? God created romantic love between and man and a woman, but He intended that love to be untainted. The world sullied the idea of romance into something dirty. Writers of Christian fiction create stories that show romance the way God intended it.

I think we can all agree that Jesus is the example we are to follow. Well, with that in mind, Christian fiction writers are following His example. Throughout the gospels, Jesus spoke and taught in parables: STORIES. Because most of the time He wasn't speaking to theologians, He was speaking to normal, everyday folks--farmers, fishermen, shepherds, laborers, families--people who would relate better to a story than they would to a deep, theological sermon. Jesus met the people where they were, in their everyday lives, and drew their attention to the kingdom of God by telling them a story. At least thirty-nine parables of Jesus are documented in the gospel accounts. If Jesus reached people through story-telling, shouldn't we as writers in the 21st century do the same?

How many times have we picked up a book and become so involved with a character, that we felt what they felt, and hurt when they hurt? We can identify with their predjudices and weaknesses because we struggle with the same issues, whether or not we admit it to anyone, even ourselves. How many times have we felt a twinge of conviction or wiped away a tear because we have walked in the same footsteps as the character about whom we are reading? That is the same way Jesus touched the hearts of the people to whom He ministered.

That fellow from our former church? I doubt he will ever see past his own narrow-mindedness, and that's sad. He likely doesn't realize he is discounting one of the most effective tools Jesus Himself used. I pray that as I write I will stay in lock-step with God and let Him direct my fingers on the keyboard. My goal is to paint vivid story-pictures to draw a reader into the very shoes of my characters, and in doing so, grasp a better understanding of becoming a vessel fit for the Father's use.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Monday, February 1, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things


My friend, Jalana, sent me a challenge. Seems a friend of hers had honored her with the Happy 101 Award, meaning that she had to post a list of ten of her favorite things. Now don't ask me why it's called the Happy 101 Award if I only have to post a list of ten. I'm just glad I don't have to think of 101 things. So, here we go...ten of my most favorite things:

1) Knowing Jesus

2) My wonderful husband, John

3) Knowing I'll see my son in heaven

4) My sisters

5) Friends who are as close as sisters

6) Writing

7) Books / Reading

8) Quilting

9) Teddy bears

10) My Sweet Pea kitty

Like Jalana, I found it was really difficult to stop at ten. I could go on...I love my country, my church, the United States Marine Corps, my 13-year-old car, my sunroom, my roses, ivy, dark chocolate, hot spiced cider, chai tea lattes, book stores, antiques, listening to southern gospel music, ....Hmmm, maybe it wouldn't have been so hard to list 101 things after all. How blessed we are to be able have so many favorite things.

Thanks for letting me share my heart, and my favorite things.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trusting God In The Dark


I was in a fabric store shopping for material for a special quilt. I found a print I especially liked, but when it was rolled out on the cutting counter, the clerk said there were tiny holes in it. I squinted my eyes and stared but the print camouflaged the holes. (At least that seemed like a good excuse to me. The truth is that once one passes the age of 50-something and wears bi-focals, detecting tiny flaws in fabric is best left to those with younger eyes. But I digress.)

The clerk--who was at least 30 years younger than me!--unfolded the material and held it up to the light. From that vantage point, I was able to see pinholes of light shining through, showing every flaw. Had she not shown the light on that material, I might not have noticed those holes and may well have used the fabric to make the quilt, unaware of the imperfections.

Last week I read a devotional that challenged me to ask God to reveal areas in my life that I haven't fully entrusted to Him. At first I thought, "No way. I trust God completely with every detail of my life." But did I really? So I took the challenge. I asked God to show me where I needed to trust Him more. His faithful demonstration of loving instruction was eye-opening, to say the least.

I found a verse in the fourth chapter of First Corinthians that described what I was asking God to do. "Therefore judge nothing before time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels (motives) of the heart." 1st Cor 4:5 I was asking God to unfold my life and hold it up to His light, thereby showing me the holes--my weaknesses, my failings, my shortcomings, and my vulnerability.

It's easy to trust God when everything is going my way. There's no pressure, no risk. But when the darkness of adversity closes in, those untended weaknesses that I've ignored can threaten to cripple me. The truth of God--His light--enables me to see how He fills those holes with His strength for my weakness, His forgiveness for my shortcomings, His glory for my failings, and His omnipotence for my vulnerability.

"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2nd Cor 4:6

Through this exercise, I discovered it's not hard at all to trust God in the dark, because when I yield my weakness to Him, He give me His strength and I become stronger through Him than I ever could be alone. His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2nd Cor 12:9).

When I saw the flaws in the fabric, I chose a different piece of fabric. When God shows us our flaws, He doesn't discard us. He fills the flaws with Himself and uses us for His glory.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

He Knows Me By Name


Have you ever been confronted with a task or a mission of such enormity, all you could do was quake in your shoes and gasp, "What??" What if a situation fell into your lap that you had to deal with, and you had no clue what to do?

Moses had a close relationship with God. Exodus 33:11 states that the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. If you read the preceding verses, God had quite a lot to tell Moses, and while the Lord asked a great deal of His servant, He also promised Moses He would send His angel before him to drive out their enemies. But Moses didn't know the way. God was asking him to lead the children of Israel into a land where they'd never been. What do you suppose Moses's answer was?

Moses didn't exactly beat around the bush. He told God,"See, You're telling me to bring these people up to the promised land, but You haven't told me who You're sending with me. You've said You know me by name and I've found grace in Your sight. So, now I'm asking this of You: If I have found grace in Your sight, show me Your way that I might know You." Bold? Perhaps, but also very wise. The smartest thing Moses did was ask God to show him the way, because Moses wanted to know God better. Then Moses added, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here."

21st century translation? God, if You aren't going, I don't want to go either.

God promised His Presence because He knew Moses by name (Ex 33:17). I find that exceedingly comforting. When God asks something staggering of me, He doesn't expect me to do it alone. He promises His presence because He knows me by name. It doesn't matter if I don't have a clue about where to go or how to perform the task, or even the purpose of the mission. God is going with me, so it's safe for me to go. He knows me by name, He knows who I am, He knows my weaknesses. Therefore, He will equip me with whatever I need for the journey.

When our son was diagnosed with cancer and I became his caregiver, I didn't know anything about cancer treatment. Besides being stricken in my heart with fear for my son, I was bewildered by the arduous aspects of the cancer journey. Dealing with treatment options, drugs, insurance, prescriptions, special diets, side effects, sorting out the different doctors, conflicting information...it was enough to render me breathless. But God knew my name, and He promised to accompany us on this journey.


When God knows your name, you can rest in the promise of His Presence.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Making Praise My Legacy

For the past week or two, I’ve asked God by what earmark should my life be known in 2010. What is the one thing He wants me to do so that He might fill me and use me? The recurring one-word answer I kept hearing in my heart was PRAISE. If praise is to be the theme of my life in the coming months, I need to grasp an understanding of why I need to praise Him.

We are His workmanship, and He created us to praise Him, but that isn’t the only reason my life should revolve around praise in 2010. If I praise Him only out of obedience, I'm missing half the point. God is still God whether I praise Him or not, so His existence doesn’t depend on my praise.

God doesn't need our praise, but He knows we need to praise Him. Does that sound like a contradiction? Perhaps, so let me explain. Praise is for our benefit, not His. Humanly speaking, when we praise another person, we lift them up, encourage them, validate them, reassure them, make them happy, give them reason to keep on. But that’s not why we praise God. Of course, we praise Him because we love Him, but the purpose goes beyond that. The safest and most joyful place we can be as Christians is in His presence, and Psalm 22:3 states that God inhabits the praise of His people.

Being a writer, I like to pick words apart, to analyze their meaning. That word, inhabit means to dwell, to occupy, to take up residence. It doesn’t mean to drop by for a visit, it’s not a fleeting glimpse, it’s not temporary. In biblical times, to inhabit a place meant to drive your tent stakes in deep, dig a well, and raise up the next generation in that place. So if God inhabits my praise, He intends to stay. The more I praise Him, the closer He is. It’s like throwing the door open in excitement. My praise welcomes His presence.

When I find myself walking through circumstances that are disappointing or frightening, the power of praise is my most potent weapon. I’ve learned I cannot battle fear or discouragement in my own strength. I am humanly fallible, and I have not the strength or the faith to battle through life’s strangleholds on my own. The only way to defeat these oppressions is through praise, because God inhabits, He indwells, He occupies, He takes up residence within my praise. Praise is an invitation asking God to join me where I am. And where God is, oppression has to flee.

I noticed another thing about praise. God’s word instructs us to praise Him now. Psalm 146:1-2 is not only an admonition, it is a joyous shout. “Praise the Lord, O my soul! While I live I will praise the Lord, I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” If we wait until we get to heaven to praise Him, we will miss an extraordinary blessing. In 2010, I want to fill my life with praise to God while I still walk on this earth.

My son had the opportunity to speak and give his testimony at a church about six weeks before God took him Home. He used Psalm 66 as his text and proclaimed, “Come and see the works of God. He is awesome in His doings…Come and hear…and I will declare what He has done for my soul.” Sweet praise fell from his lips, praise for the Savior he loved. His testimony is still remembered by many who heard him that night. His legacy was praise.

Throughout 2010, I’m certain God will show me new and exciting things about praise, and the anticipation of the journey fills me with a desire to know Jesus better in 2010 than I did in 2009. My prayer is that I, too, will leave a legacy of praise.

Thanks for letting me share my heart.

**In loving memory of Sgt. Jonathan Stevens USMC 6-22-77 ~ 1-10-06**