Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Birthday Party

Imagine there was to be a huge birthday party in your honor. Invitations were sent out, and for many months people prepared for it. They bought gifts, they baked cakes and cookies, and they spent tons of money and time decorating. They sang songs about the upcoming day, even gathering outside homes to sing in the cold night. Some of the songs specifically honored you, but some were simply about…the celebration.

As the years went by, more and more people forgot who they were celebrating and instead worshipped the day. The parties and gift-giving became the focus…and you, well…you were almost completely forgotten. Here it was your birth that started the grand celebration each year, but now…not only do many of the attendees not know who you even are, but they take your name in vain. It has become all about the party, all about the gifts, and sadly, all about making money from your birth.
Imagine how you would feel, if You were the Father of the One who was being celebrated. You had given up Your only Son to die a horrible death in order to save all these people. And, by simply calling on Your Son’s name (from the heart), and seeking forgiveness for your sins, you would be saved from spending eternity in hell. His amazing Spirit would immediately take up residence in your heart, too, giving you new life in the here and now. Imagine a God who would love His creation so much as to do that for them.

Yet, once a year, on the anniversary of His Son’s birth, His Son is all but forgotten. The emphasis is on the party and not the Person. The day is all about food, family, and materialism. The Son, Jesus, is barely recognized.
Soon, very soon, that Son will return. Our amazing Creator knows each of our hearts. It is He who knows when we are sleeping, who knows when we are awake. God knows His kids, those who know Him and those who don’t. God keeps His word and He will be sending His Son back again soon, very soon.

Why not make this Christmas about the true reason for the season. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and then celebrate the amazing Christ for who He is, who He was, and who He will be.
Happy Birthday, Jesus!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Interview with guest writer Carole Brown

Would you take this time to describe your debut novel, The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman, to us? 

Here’s a brief blurb:  How far would YOU go to avenge a daughter’s cruel death?

Cara is considered rebellious and inappropriate to befriend. Dayne is the apple of Elder Simmons’ eye—until he takes a stand against their teachings. Can his prayers and love reach Cara and show her the way to redemption? Will Cara realize God’s love and forgiveness before she goes too far?
 The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman is a novel of hope shining through the darkness with strong elements of suspense and romance. This novel was a semifinalist in the Genesis contest and is receiving raving reviews! Release date was October 21, 2013 from the Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

What is the genre you write in?  Would you explain what it is?
I write suspense. My debut novel, The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman, is considered women’s fiction but filled with suspense and romance. I do believe anything I write will have suspense and/or mystery in it. Some--most--of my novels will not deal with such a strong topic as abuse, or at least will not be written as intensely as TRofCH.
I have a novel releasing this month--Hog Insane--that is the first book in a fun mystery series. 

What is the spiritual message in your latest book?  What can readers expect to get from reading it?
 Hope Shining Through the Darkness. I hope readers will see that even in dark times, in heartbreaking or hard times, when there is no light, that God can and does shine a light for us to cling to and trust in.

 I want readers to understand a little better of the horribleness of abuse and to experience more sympathy for those suffering from it. 

 Do you ever feel like giving up?  Most people don’t understand the stress, the work, and the joy of being a writer.  How tenuous becoming a writer is. Do you care to share how it feels, what discouraging/encouraging times you’ve gone through?  Who’s inspired you the most?
Of course! In 2011 and the beginning of 2012, I almost admitted I would never be a published author and that I might as well quit. Fortunately, one dear older lady made me realize that I needed to believe with all my heart. In April, 2012, I was invited to submit a full manuscript and that December I signed a contract. The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman released October 21, 2013. This year I was invited to submit another book to a different publisher and was accepted. That book will release this month.

Would you explain how you “chose” (or was chosen) a publisher?  Now, that you’re published, can you sit back and relax from the success you’ve experienced?
No, it was by invitation from the publishers, and no, I can’t relax totally. I may have a day to enjoy myself, but I have two books due next year, another one I need to finish editing soon, one I need to finish by the first of the year, and others I need to work on. There’s marketing, events to attend, normal tasks to perform, and life to be lived.

I never want to take what I have achieved for granted.

Would you give us your blog or webpage so everyone can check it out?   Anything else you’d like to share?  Promotional information?
I’d love for everyone to connect with me on one or several of these spots. Ask questions or feel free to watch for my next book.


I also am part of several other blogs:
Stitches in Time:
Barn Door Book Loft:

Thank you, Carole, for using your gifts to serve our Lord. God bless your future endeavors!



Saturday, November 16, 2013

God’s Timing is Perfect

A family member from another state called me recently. Her heart was heavy for an elderly loved one who was suffering from physical ailments. She needed a listening ear and a comforting prayer. I gladly gave both.
Before we hung up, I found myself adding:  “I know it is painful to watch a loved one suffer. It can be easy to get angry with God for allowing it. But we need to remember that their suffering can be used for good. It can actually be for the benefit of others.”
In my cousin’s case, her loved one was a very strong Christian who gave his entire adult life to serving Christ. But if you have a loved one who you aren’t sure is a born again Christian, and who appears to be uncommunicative or comatose, don’t stop praying for them. God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond all we dare to hope or think (Ephesians 3:20-21). Nothing is too hard for God. He can, and does, speak to those who can’t speak to us; give visions to those who cannot see us, all in order to reveal Himself and His love for them.
Keep praying for those who love the ill one, too, who are standing vigil and are hurting. What looks like “lingering” or the “prolonging” of death, is actually precious time that can be used by God to nudge family members/loved ones to pause and think about death and the afterlife—to seek Him. It is all part of His divine plan. And sometimes, it can be the only way to get a lost person to stop long enough in their hurried life to think about the afterlife.
When a death seems delayed (in our opinion), we need to remember God is still in control. As Christians, we will leave this earth at our appointed time—when our mansion is ready. In the meantime, keep trusting the One in control.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It’s Not Us…It’s Him

I was humbled this week. As a speaker with Set Free in Him Ministries, my two friends and I were invited to speak at a country church. After we were introduced, I spoke first. I was to share my “reluctant” heart to get involved in prison ministry. Then Nanette Friend would share her “repentant” heart and what led to her involvement in prison ministry. Finally, Connie Johnston, an assistant chaplain at our local jail, would share her “restored” heart over the decisions made by a wayward child that led to her involvement in prison ministry, too.

Prior to advancing to the podium, I glanced over my shoulder. Hmmm, a few dozen older ladies and a few middle-aged women. Yeah, I got this. I was instantly put at ease.
But something happened when I arrived at the podium and glanced out at the crowd. I’m not sure exactly what changed, but my confidence not only left me, my speech did, as well. Even with my notes before me, they looked like Greek, and I definitely don’t know how to read Greek.

 It was evening and I am a morning person. I knew I should have had a short nap or a little caffeine (or both) to stay on my toes, but… I’ve shared this message before. I’ve lived this message, for crying out loud –it’s about me and my past. This should be easy.
So, why couldn’t I recognize the relaxed facial expressions of the audience as possibly being tired (like I was)? Why couldn’t I simply tell myself that they were unwinding from a long day, or maybe trying to focus on my message?

Instead, the enemy whispered loud and clear, “They’re mad at you.”
It sounds ridiculous to type those words now, but at the time, believe me, they were convincing.

They don’t like what you have to say.”
“They don’t believe you.”

“You are boring them.”
It went on and on, one after the other. And there were lots of interruptions that night, too. Somehow, parents of a Boy Scout troop thought this church was where their meeting was being held.

It was only a twenty minute talk, but it felt like two hours. I said several emergency prayers throughout and I know my two friends were praying for me, too. God was faithful; He helped me get through it and to even make sense. It’s been a long time, however, since I have struggled so much to get a message of hope in Christ relayed.

The Holy Spirit showed up that night, in spite of my blunders and in spite of the enemy's attempts to thwart me off course. After we three shared our testimonies of how amazing our God is, we were privileged to pray with many a hurting grandma who approached us at the altar, offering them hope, and reminding them that God loves their children and grandchildren more than they do.
Once again God showed me that when we are weak, He is strong. He still uses us in spite of our fears, and in spite of our over confidence in ourselves, too. You can be sure I will not make that same mistake of thinking, “Yeah, I got this,” again. Instead it will be, “Father, You got this. I am simply Your willing servant. Use me for Your glory.”

For it is God who gives the increase: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”  (1 Cor. 3:7)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

God’s Gentle Nudges

God is constantly speaking to us; His creativity knows no limits to get our attention. Quite often I experience this as little “nudges”. Sometimes God simply wants me to pray about something or for someone. Other times He wants me to give away something and help a stranger in need. Then there are times where He just wants to speak to my heart and soften the sharp edges that need tweaking.

I shared many of my experiences from my earlier walk with the Lord in my first book titled, God’s Gentle Nudges:  Inspirational Stories of How God Lovingly Leads Us Closer to Him. The feedback from this book has told me that many readers long for a closer walk with the Lord, too. Learning how God works in the lives of others gives us hope, and encourages us to persevere in our own life. God is the One who put the longing in our heart to get nearer to Him. He loves us more than we can imagine.

On Sat. September 7, I will be sharing more about how God reveals Himself in our lives at an all-day women’s retreat in Newark, Ohio. The sweet ladies on the committee have titled it, God’s Gentle Nudges. (For more info., click on the Appearances tab on my website ).

I will also be at the Final Friday on the downtown square in Newark, Ohio on August 30 from 3-8 pm. We’ll be set up close to the old jail on South 3rd Street. I’ll have my books for sale, including the latest book, Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison. Joining me will be my husband, Chuck. He will have his beautiful hand-crafted “rock” jewelry and bookmarks. Also joining us will be my two good friends, Connie Johnston and Nanette Friend. We three women have stories in the prisoner book, and we recently formed a new ministry, Set Free in Him Ministries. I’ll post more about our new ministry next week, as we’re already getting speaking engagements.  

Hope you're being "nudged" to come to one or both engagements. I'd love to meet you!

In His Service,


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Living in the Moment

I recently spent three days and three nights attending an Emmaus Walk at a local church. I had heard about them for years, but never felt nudged to attend one until several weeks ago. It was described to me, prior to my attendance, as little blessings and surprises wrapped in love that kept building upon each other. Of course I tried hard to figure that out, but there was no way I could’ve been prepared for what transpired—especially in my own heart. I won’t share any of those major surprises with you (I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else), but I will say I was blown away. Not immediately, but well into the second day it seemed I couldn’t quit crying from the joy and overwhelming love, I continuously felt from God.

The stress of daily life had crept up on me to the point where I had been doing very little ministry, including inspirational writing. I had drifted away from the Lord, and hadn’t even realized it. I had let myself become increasingly busy trying to make up for my husband’s job loss, and to emotionally be there for him through his chronic pain. Having time set aside just to hear from God was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

Right off the bat, the most refreshing thing I heard from the leaders was, we wouldn’t see any clocks and not to wear a watch so we could “live in the moment.”  That proved to be a lot harder for some than for others. For me, not only was it refreshing, but it was humbling to realize how little I had been trusting God, and how much I had been trying to control my own life. I had been missing out on living today, because I was so worried about tomorrow.

I had forgotten to put (and keep) first things first. We are not here to make money and have nice houses. Yes, we do need some money and a decent dwelling, but the buying and caring for stuff should never mean more to us than serving God by loving and ministering to others. When we keep our priorities right, God blesses us and uses us to be a blessing.

How about you? Are you living in the moment? Are you trusting God with the small stuff?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stop and Pray

            Kathy lived in a nearby city and one evening it was announced on our local news that she was missing, along with the family’s minivan. Fortunately, she was discovered the next day, unharmed and several hundred miles from home. It seems she had driven to a nearby highway and then continued driving mindlessly for hours. 
            The reason was soon discovered:  life had become too much to deal with and she had “run away.”  The stress of being everything to everyone had taken its toll. 
            I think each one of us, at some point in our life, could relate to this woman. Sometimes life gets too complicated and painful— we’d love to purchase a one-way ticket to nowhere.  For most of us, it is a sense of hopelessness and despair that prompts us to want to flee; we are despondent about our situation and can’t see a way out. 
            Maybe it’s a bad marriage and the enemy of your soul keeps whispering, “Get a divorce and solve all your problems.” It seems it would be the easy way out; after all, your mate is never going to change….
It’s at those crucial moments that we need to stop and pray. The One who created us knows and understands our longing to escape. He knows how tough this life can be.  When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and cried out, “…nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done,” His human flesh wanted to run, but God’s power enabled him to stay and pray. (Luke 22:42)
            That same power can enable you to stay and pray, too. Keep your hand in the Father’s hand and hang on tight. He will guide you through this maze called life. He will walk beside you and never leave you, no matter how tough it gets.

            Lord, remind us that You are with us, even when we don’t feel Your presence.  Amen.

“And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Matthew 28:20

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Seeing Eye of God

I don’t know about you, but when I shop, walk inside a bank, get gas for my car, or attend a public gathering, I often forget I’m being watched on a camera. I forget that what I am doing has the potential to be viewed by many. And in this day and age, anything we do could be put on You Tube and possibly viewed by millions— without our knowledge or permission. It is a mind-boggling thought, and one that makes most of us uncomfortable. Being observed by others without our knowledge, or consent, seems just plain wrong.
The flip side to this, however, is that lots of criminals get caught thanks to all these cameras. It’s hard to deny in a court of law that you did something when your face and actions are plastered on a screen. And who would argue the worth of film records when a terrorist or a horrible babysitter gets caught because of a hidden camera?
I’m not a You Tube junkie, but a while back there was a short video circulating of people getting caught in the act of kindness. It was wonderfully refreshing. We forget there are lots of good people in this world whose daily acts of kindness quite often go unnoticed. There are many dedicated caregivers who go the extra mile caring for people and keeping order in their home. They offer words of encouragement and hugs when they don’t have to. There are shoppers who pick up clothes on the floor left by others and hang them up. There are patient people in line who let strangers behind them go ahead. Many of these actions are filmed on camera, but seldom do they show up on the 6:00 news or get praised on a large scale…by man anyway.
Yet, our all-knowing, all-seeing God doesn’t miss a one. He doesn’t miss anything we say, do, or think. Our heavenly Father knows the good about us and the bad; yet loves us anyway. He seeks only our time, our attention, and especially our love.
Maybe we should be less worried about humans watching us and more concerned about our Holy God, the One whom we will stand before on Judgment Day. How do we live in front of Him?
God cares about the small stuff, and sees it. What if we lived like we truly believe He knows everything we say, do, or think? What difference would that make in our life?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Perfect Peace of God

With hubby home now I’ve gone back to being a part-time caregiver for seniors. Not only is the extra income nice, but I had forgotten how rewarding it was to spend time with the elderly. I assist them with simple household chores and run errands for them. I also have the honor of listening to their stories from days gone by. The elderly among us are a treasure-trove of wisdom, and have some very interesting perspectives on life. They have witnessed amazing technological advances in their many decades on this earth, and they have weathered many personal storms.

Each time I meet a new client I am a little nervous. In the past month I’ve been with four different clients, all women, and all with distinct temperaments. I often wonder if our personalities will match and if we will have much in common to talk about. Some are independent and want their own space, but many are lonesome and long for conversation. Some are frustrated that their bodies are wearing out, and others have gracefully accepted it, acknowledging that they’ve been given a precious gift of time. For those who are not struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they often reflect on their past. Their own outlook on life can make the job both interesting and challenging.

As you can imagine, I pray a lot for insight and wisdom. A client’s family members are often in the picture, too. They are understandably concerned, yet they struggle with the challenges of dealing with their loved one. We try to relieve their burden and bring peace back into their lives.

In my own personal life, though, on top of going back to work, I also had writing deadlines to meet and two speeches to give. One week in particular was exhausting. The stress had mounted, making it tough to sleep. I was astonished at how God sent constant reminders to me to stay focused on Him, beginning immediately upon awakening. Every morning, and several times throughout the day, I heard (and still hear) the following verse from Isaiah 26:3: “I will keep in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in thee.”  I had never memorized that verse, but I was familiar with it. Yet, each time God brought it to the forefront of my mind it gave such relief. Throughout the day it would give me a surge of energy if I was helping a dementia client get her legs back on the couch for the tenth time that hour. In the afternoon when my creativity is not at its best, that verse would bring clarity of thought while trying to write an article. And, immediately before giving those two speeches, I heard it again. I put my trust completely in the One who can do all things through His willing servant, and He amazingly came through, every time.

God longs to do the same for you, too, but you need to do your part. Read His word daily and become familiar with His voice, and then, put your faith and trust in Him…for He alone is worthy.
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Easter’s Over…Now What?

I know Easter is long gone, but this year I feel a need to linger over it a bit longer. I usually have no problem putting the Easter decorations away the very next day and turning my mind to gardening and vacations. Summer, with its sunshine and warmth, is always a welcome thought on the heels of this Christian holiday. But this year I feel stalled.
   Maybe it has something to do with watching the television series, The Bible, on the History Channel every Sunday evening. The series culminated on Easter, and yes, I miss it. Millions of viewers sat glued to their televisions as the Bible was brought to life in a fresh and different way. Each week the show left an impact on my heart. While some agree that not every aspect of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s rendition of the greatest story ever told was biblically correct, the main parts, in my opinion, were realistic. The character of Paul, especially, while he was still known as Saul, really got me thinking. I knew Saul persecuted people, sometimes murdering them, just because they were Christ followers. He assumed he was doing a good thing (Acts 9:1-2). Saul was blinded to the truth until he was visited by Jesus while on the road to Damascus. After that, he was literally blind for three days. God got his attention, changed his heart, filled him with the Holy Spirit and Saul was a new man. Later, God changed his name to Paul.
   Like many viewers, I knew that biblical story. God chose to use someone who was highly educated, who knew the scriptures well, and who was bent on destroying Christianity, to be one of the greatest preachers and followers of Christ of all time.  And maybe it’s because my head has been saturated with prison ministry the past few years, but while watching the episode of Saul committing his crimes, I realized that God had every right to be angry with him. The Lord could have had him locked up for life, or even killed for his mistreatment of Christians. If God was irate with Saul for his behavior, no one would have blamed Him. But God chose to have compassion on Saul and performed spiritual heart surgery on him instead.
   When I think of those who have committed crimes and who are locked up in prison, the story of Saul inspires me to have a heart of compassion for them, like God had for Saul. They, too, have been blinded to the truth.
   The day after Easter I bought some marked down candy. It was a quality name brand and even at half-off it was rather pricey—I assumed it would be solid chocolate. Instead, it was hollow…empty inside. I couldn’t help but see the analogy of what Easter is to those who are “blinded”; who do not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus.  Life is hollow and empty, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
   Even though Easter is over (according to our calendars), its message is still clear—Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is willing to forgive any sins you have committed, but you must turn to Him and trust Him to help you.

Be good to your servant while I live, that I may obey your word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (Psalm 119:17-18).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Learning to Trust

How many times have we put our trust in another person only to be disappointed? As kids, maybe we trusted a parent to be on time to pick us up and they were repeatedly late. As we got older and made friends, we might have had a friend who we shared private secrets with only to regret that decision later when we discovered they had shared our confidences with another. Or, maybe it’s our mate who we learned wasn’t as committed to their vows as we were. And what parent of a teenager hasn’t struggled with issues of trust as their child tested the waters.  

If you’ve been repeatedly disappointed by others, you can easily become bitter. Possibly you’ve been hurt so much you’ve hardened your heart to allowing others inside, careful not to let yourself get entangled again with another who just might hurt you.
Sometimes, we forget that we, too, have disappointed others. For some reason we can easily explain or brush off our own failures, expecting others to be understanding and okay when we don’t come through. Yet, we aren’t always so quick to accept the explanations given to us by others.

But here’s the thing:  No one keeps their word one hundred percent of the time, including you. We might plan on it and truly mean to, but unforeseen things happen in life that can thwart the best laid plans. For instance, we can’t control the weather, illness, or job loss, all of which can cause us to not be able to keep our word.

How can we avoid becoming bitter and hard-hearted when others let us down? It’s really very simple, if we are a child of God—we put our faith and trust in Jesus. If we are a born again Christian we have direct access to the Lord—a covenant relationship where, out of our love for God and through our relationship with His Son, He guides our steps. When others disappoint us (and they will), if we immediately turn to God and share it with Him, He promises to be there for us.

It is a habit that becomes easier over time, putting our trust in God, but when we do we are immediately blessed with His peace that passes understanding. Just as in Bible times, when Jesus came through, time and time again, He will do so for us, too, in His way and in His timing. Never will He leave us or forsake us. Jesus is a true friend, who sticks closer than a brother. We can trust Him…no matter what.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Love Others Unconditionally

It was almost ten years ago when our nest became officially empty. It was a depressing time in our marriage. As the weeks passed, my husband and I both became more sad and moody.

I knew I needed help out of this slump, so I made an appointment to see a pastor. Unsure of what he would recommend, I was shocked when I heard him say, “You need to love your husband unconditionally.”

But, what about me?

The pastor continued, “Love him the way YOU want to be loved—with no strings attached.”

That was it, three simple words that changed the course of our marriage: “Love him unconditionally.”

Not long after that visit with a pastor, I listened to a radio program about marriage. The advice given to the wife seared my soul: “If you want to be treated like a queen, you need to treat your man like a king.”

I had been treating my man like a pauper. I’d been pouting over not being needed as a mother on a daily basis anymore (something, at times, I would have loved to have resigned from just a few short years ago). I was feeling stuck in time, focusing on the past, instead of embracing how we finally had our lives back.

What can I do to make this next chapter of our lives anything but boring? How can I help to get us out of this rut?

The more I sought the Lord, the more amazed I was at the answers. First, I began my mornings reading about God’s love for us, and how He wants us to love others. I saturated my mind and heart with scripture verses pertaining to the theme of love. Then, I purposely began hugging my husband more. Judging by his shocked reaction, I painfully realized just how far apart we had grown. I began listening to him more intently, and amazingly he reciprocated, asking me sincerely about my day. The more things I did to please him, such as preparing his favorite foods and renting his favorite movies, the more he voluntarily helped with housework and asked me what he could do for me. I even watched some of his favorite shows with him instead of staying on the computer in the evenings, and he began handing me the remote, willing to watch shows I was interested in, too.

Gradually, our marriage became better than ever—a spark had been rekindled. We excitedly talked about the future, planning local day trips and anniversary vacations. We had a blast doing what we wanted, when we wanted.

That old principle once again held true: when we show love to another, especially when we don’t want to, our feelings will catch up. When we love those that seem hard to love, we are actually teaching them to love us back. It’s a mystery, how God works behind the scenes and changes hearts, but I’m grateful He does.

The bottom line is: God doesn’t give up on us when we’re unlovable, and He doesn’t want us giving up on others, either.

Our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father loves us. Through His loving-favor He gives us comfort and hope that lasts forever. May He give your hearts comfort and strength to say and do every good thing (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Retreats and Restoration

(My dear friend, Connie Johnston and I, at a book signing for Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison. Connie contributed several stories and is an Assistant Chaplain at the jail.)  

A few weeks ago I lamented to my friend, Connie, that I felt the need for a little “get away”. It had been too long since I had been on a vacation, and after the intense two years of focusing on the prisoner devotional book my soul longed for a period of restoration.

“Let me see what I can do about that,” Connie responded.

I really didn’t expect anything to transpire outside of maybe getting a few of us together for lunch and laughter. So when I received her email detailing a local overnight getaway at a retreat center for two days and a night, I let out a giggle! It sounded perfect.

Connie had stayed at this place several times and loved it. The accommodations were inexpensive and the chef was highly bragged upon. She suggested packing our Bibles, journals, old magazines and comfy clothes.

There were five of us and we introduced ourselves and shared why we felt the need to get away. After praying for each other Connie distributed a handout to aid in grasping a vision for the New Year. We were encouraged to ponder what God was asking us to do for Him and how He might want to grow us in 2013.

Each of us sought a private area for an hour or so and then came back together and shared. I wish I could say I was enlightened, but quite honestly I was still in a spiritual slump. After lunch, Connie got out the old magazines, scissors, glue, and poster boards.

Hmmm, we’re gonna cut and paste?

I wasn’t sure where she was going with this, or if I even wanted to participate. But, when Connie shared the personal insights she gained from making an annual poster/collage, it piqued my interest. Every year for several years, after seeking the Lord for the upcoming New Year, Connie prayerfully assembles God’s answer by creating a poster of what she senses He has laid on her heart. (She and her husband also make a poster together, encompassing their vision as a couple.) Connie then passed around her posters from previous years and I was enthralled; each year had a different theme.

“So many of these dreams and visions have come to pass,” Connie said. “Many items had been on my ‘Bucket List’, too.” My dear friend’s excitement as she invited us to participate was contagious.

While flipping through magazines for several hours, chatting and laughing at the same time with the girls, I became amazed at how certain words and pictures jumped out at me. A twinge of excitement for the future began stirring inside of my dormant spirit; it was as if I was coming back to life after a long period of hibernation. Adventures, hidden in my heart such as taking a hot air balloon ride, were tacked to my poster. And simple phrases, such as: “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore,” by Christopher Columbus, were added, too.

Way too soon our little retreat was over. We hugged each other, made our goodbyes, and promised to do this again.

It’s been a few weeks now and I still feel refreshed. My poster hangs invitingly in my office and I smile every time I look at it. I’m excited about the future, and… I’ve already put the retreat on my calendar for next January.

Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come (Colossians 1:27 NLV).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Focus on the Good

I am glad the new year begins during winter. Living in the Midwest with our cold, frigid temperatures can make it challenging to stay upbeat and positive; it can be a struggle not to get in a depression and get stuck there. But there is something about the simple act of taking down an expired calendar and replacing it with a fresh new one, that is akin to wiping the slate clean. Just pondering the possibilities of what lies ahead can be exciting. Only God knows what’s around the bend for each of us, and His word tells us it can be full of good things:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Is 43:18-19 NIV)

I love how these verses start with a command to “forget”. God doesn’t want us to dwell on the past. While He expects us to learn from our mistakes, He doesn’t want us stuck in them. (That includes dwelling on the mistakes made by others.) By the time we get to the end of a year we can feel bogged down by all the negative stuff that has accumulated. However, a New Year can give us a much needed lift, a new outlook with creative fresh ideas.

Actually, if we were to resolve to make just one small change in our thinking this year, it could make a world of difference in our life. For instance, what if we were to focus on the good, asking God for His perspective every time life doesn’t go our way? Instead of getting angry that someone cuts us off in traffic, for example, what if we asked God for His perspective instead? We just might hear God whisper something to us like: maybe they recently found out they have cancer; or, maybe their spouse just informed them they want a divorce; or, maybe their child was just convicted of a crime. These life-changing tragedies happen to people every day, rocking their world and causing them to have a tough time with simple acts like driving.

So, what if for this upcoming year we resolved to simply be more patient and understanding with “the other guy”? How might that one small habit change our life? Personally, I’m choosing that theme for my focus this year. Every year God gives me a theme tucked inside a verse. This year, I’m sensing it should be from Ephesians, Chapter 1, “that the eyes of my heart might be enlightened”, so that I can focus on the good.

That’s not to say I will ignore those things that need dealt with, but that I want to choose to see situations through the eyes of my heart. I want to simply pause and ask myself what the other guy might be going through.

What peace might be ours if we were to allow our hearts to be governed by the “Prince of peace” this year?

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Learning to Laugh at the Days to Come

Every winter I feel it coming on. As soon as the first threats of a winter storm are announced by the media, I tense up. My heart starts beating a little faster and I can feel the blood coursing thru my veins. Momentarily paralyzed, I catch myself holding my breath as a slight twinge of fear attempts to overtake me.

Ugh… winter. It’s definitely for kids.

(Pic is of my son, Chase, and daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, when they were dating in 2003. Our 160 year old farmhouse is in the background.)

I know the weathermen need to prepare us, but the sense of urgency in their voice and the constant repetition of each impending snowstorm doesn’t help calm me down, rather it gets me down. While I do appreciate their informative reminders of how to drive in the snow (along with the importance of having a full tank of gas in the winter), their warnings sometimes make me not want to leave my house at all—for days.

Also, in the winter we hear more doom and gloom about the previous year’s statistics and the poor economy. This includes everything from the rise and fall of gas prices, to the cost of bacon going down and the price of milk going up. And our taxes need computed in the winter, too, which can be depressing. The bottom line is—there is always something to get in a tizzy over. There is always something to fuss and worry about. You would think, however, the older we get the more we’d realize: Most of what we dread never happens.

How much time and energy do we waste worrying about things that never transpire? How often do we let the enemy steal our peace and joy, over…what?

So for this year I want to set some different goals. Besides my ongoing aspirations of getting healthier and more organized, I want to learn to fear less and laugh more. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, who “is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come,” I want to aspire to be more like that. This means I need to be prepared physically and mentally. When we are properly equipped it makes us stronger and more able to face adversity. Part of being physically fit is so that we can perform the duties God has assigned to us. And dignity means knowing who we are in Christ—living our life on purpose, with intent and integrity to glorify our King.

Yes, it is wise to be prepared. Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest (Proverbs 6:6-8). However, don’t let yourself get bogged down by the threat of possible doom. Instead, keep first and foremost in the front of your mind whose you are. Then you will know…The joy of the Lord is our strength, (Nehemiah 8:10).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What Do I Know to be True?

A few weeks ago, I wanted to take a quick break from writing and decided to turn on the television while cleaning up the kitchen. Seldom do I sit down to watch TV during the day, but sometimes I’ll turn it on to listen to my favorite uplifting programs. As I went to change the channel from the news station that my husband had been watching before leaving for work, I noticed the “Breaking News” headline.

Oh, no, another shooting—this time involving several young children.

I had to sit down.

Numb with sadness over the evil in this world, I struggled to process this latest senseless tragedy. In an attempt to come full circle, I asked aloud the same question I had asked myself following every tragedy since the death of my teenage stepson in 1994:

What do I know to be true?

Asking myself that simple question in relationship to God and His truth, has always gotten me through. Eighteen years earlier, while attending grief counseling with Joe, the Christian counselor who helped me cope after the sudden death of my stepson, Conan, Joe had challenged me to memorize Philippians 4: 6-7. It was then that I developed the habit of asking myself that question about God: What do I know to be true about You in the midst of this tragedy? When tragedies occur (which, sadly, they always have and they always will this side of heaven), what truth can we cling to about the Lord and His promises?

For starters, we know that God is not the author of evil; rather, He is the author of love. Some might argue that it was evil of God to allow His Son to be mistreated and to die a horrible death on the cross, but the truth is, it was out of God’s great love for mankind that He allowed His Son to carry the full weight of our sin so that we might have eternal life in Him. That’s costly, extravagant, mind-blowing love.

I know, too, that God promises to work evil out for good, for those who are His children—those who are the “called” and who know His voice and long to do His will. Even the painful death of a loved one can bring forth goodness. During times of bitterness grudges can drop by the wayside as people come together and unite in their shared grief. Many hardened hearts have cried out to the Lord in their anguish and found Him to be true to His word.

I also know that God gives us free will; we make our own choices. We cannot control the heart of another, we can only choose, with God’s help, to keep our own heart pure. Almost two decades ago I realized it was up to me to choose to begin each day in prayer and in God’s Word. Reading the Bible helps to protect our mind and guard our thoughts. There is power in God’s word.

Finally, I know to be true that God will never leave me or forsake me. Even during heart-wrenching grief, He is my comforter—my ever present help in time of need. He has proven Himself, over and over again. He is trustworthy.

God wants to be your “truth”, too. He longs to comfort you during your painful times and be the mender of your broken heart. But first, you must give Him all the pieces.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psalm 46:1-2).

In His Truth,

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