Monday, December 19, 2011

Courage Like Mary's

Courage comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes in small packages. A young Jewish girl Mary was engaged to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter, when an angel appeared to her. The New Testament gives few details regarding Mary’s life, but the in the book of Luke, the angel greets her with the phrase, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Wow! That phrase may be small, but it packs a mighty message.

The rest of the message is enough to make even the toughest woman quake. Mary would be the mother of the Son of God.

Mary’s reply? “I am the LORD’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary tells us much about herself in her reply. In her soul, she had to know Joseph would divorce her, as was the custom even with betrothal in those days. She’d be a single mother. Worse, she could be stoned to death for her “sin.”

Mary was not only obedient in the face of potential persecution—she was courageous.

The book of Luke records Mary’s song:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remember to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Luke 1:46a-55.

Well, we know the rest of the story. Joseph was also a faithful servant of God and chose to remain with Mary and become Jesus’ earthly father.

Mary’s decision filled her with joy, but it also led her down a path of heartache. The angel never promised Mary that her or Jesus’ life would be easy. Over thirty years later, she watched her son die on a cross. With obedience often comes pain. But God promises to be with us through that pain.

Being courageous facing the unknown, or what your life experiences tell you might happen, is tough. God’s supernatural power which lives in Christians is even tougher. God promises His strength.

When Joshua became the new leader of Israel after Moses’ death, he had the challenge of bringing the culmination of a 40-year journey to an end with a march into the promised land. However, the promised land was fortified by an army prepared to defend it.

Several times, God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Again, we know the rest of the story. Joshua and his men succeeded.

What obstacles are you facing that seem insurmountable? If you are living in God’s will, He will give you the tools and strength to get the job done.

All you need is courage.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The True Light of Christmas

I'm excited to welcome guest blogger and award winning writer Jenny L. Cote today, who shares her thoughts on the true light of Christmas. Welcome, Jenny!

What is it about lights and Christmas? Usually we decorate our tree first on Thanksgiving weekend, then finish the rest of the house. This year, we did it backwards. The decorations were up a week before the tree. We got the tree in the house, but it sat undecorated for two days. Until the tree was adorned with lights blazing forth in glory from the fir branches, neither it nor the other decorations had any "power" on their own. Without lights, the house just didn't feel like Christmas. With lights, the house is the epitome of Christmas.

Our love for light is integral to who we are as humans, and it’s where everything began. Light comprised the first day of creation:  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. (Gen 1:2-3) Light enables us to function and to get things accomplished. It gives life to plants which in turn fuels life on earth with life-giving oxygen and food. It provides the world a 24-hour clock by which to turn from day to day and season to season.

Light reveals things hidden in the dark. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. (Psalm 19:8b) It removes fear, and guides us along the right path. The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105) Fear thrives on the unknown, and it can no longer thrive when it is exposed by light.

Darkness cannot exist when light is around. Light conquers darkness.

I think the true question is, what is it about THE Light and Christmas? Isaiah penned a beautiful prophecy about Jesus' coming: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2) When I wrote the scene of Jesus’ birth in my novel, The Prophet, the Shepherd, and the Star, I took the liberty of having God’s voice mightily exclaim, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” For that’s exactly what happened. Jesus even said it himself: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12) But John tells us that, In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:4-5)

So many people have powerless Christmases because they don’t have the real Light in the home of their hearts. They don’t understand it. Oh, they may have the tree up and lights in the windows, but that gnawing emptiness of going through the motions leaves them, well, in the dark. If that’s you, let me give you the greatest gift I could ever share with you this Christmas: LET THERE BE LIGHT in you. Let Jesus in and you’ll be lit up like a Christmas tree all year long. When you let baby Jesus grow up and do what he came to do for you at Easter, there will be no more fear of the unknown, because light conquers darkness.

This picture is the best depiction of Christmas that I’ve ever seen, because the reason for the light on the tree is revealed. I hope your Christmas is merry and BRIGHT.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Coping With Loss and the Holidays - Part III

Today, I'm thrilled to have guest blogger Kristin Johnson share the story of her father and son. Welcome Kristin!

With God all things are possible. He will never put anything in front of us we cannot endure. It was August 2008, and my dad was having an outpatient procedure done to remove a tumor in his jaw. My husband Chris, myself, and our three children were heading to North Carolina for one last summer vacation before school started. We decided to stop by the Charlotte Medical Center to check on my dad on the way. Mom had expressed some concerns because dad had to be taken back into the operating room due to some complications and he wasn't waking up.

To make a very long story short, my dad did not make it through this and died on August 2nd, 2008. We were all in shock, but my dad had come to visit me the weekend before he died. He told me he was a little scared but knew God would take care of Him. I felt peace and knew I needed to be strong for my family.

We were just getting through with the shock of my dad's death, when our 3-year-old son Samuel had a tricycle accident at my mom's house. We had been staying with her since my dad died so she wouldn’t be alone. Samuel had trouble walking for about two weeks, which seemed odd since the accident wasn't that bad. He began bruising for no reason and spiking high fevers. We took him to the doctor, and they ran some tests which determined Samuel had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Samuel was diagnosed of September 4th, 2008, only one month after my dad died.

Okay, God, you promised to never put anything in front of us we cannot handle, right?

This felt like more than we could handle. We prayed God would guide the doctors involved with Samuel's care and that he would sustain us through this trial. I prayed to God, begging it could be me and not Samuel. He was so young and had so much life! God did sustain us, and yes, at times it seemed life could never be the same. The challenge was overwhelming, but God helped us see His mercy and kindness through Samuel's walk with cancer.

We were so blessed with excellent doctors, family, and friends who helped us through Samuel's journey. Katelyn and Paul, Samuel's older sister and brother were a huge support for Samuel and continue to be there for their little brother. Also my mom helped me take care of Samuel, which helped her get through the loss of my dad. She was helping us and that made her feel good. God is good all the time:)

Samuel has completed his leukemia treatment and is all better. He gets his port out this Christmas break 2011!

Not all stories like this end as well as ours has, but I know God never left our side through my dad's death or Samuel's cancer, and for that I am eternally grateful. I pray for those who suffer during the holidays and hope they will feel God's power and strength. May God bless each of you.

~Kristin B. Johnson
 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Coping With Loss and the Holidays - Part II

Today, I'm happy to introduce my second guest blogger, my dear friend Betty McCarty, who will share about her son Brian. Welcome Betty!

“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” Psalm 127:3

I’m a mother of three—my firstborn, Brian, and two daughters, Shanna & Sarah.

June 10, 2007, was a beautiful Lord’s Day. We had been home about two hours from church services, when one or both of the girls said something about state troopers pulling up on the road next to our house. I went outside to see why they were there. There were three Florida Highway Patrol cars and one unmarked car. I knew something wasn’t right.

One of the officers called out as he walked toward our home, “Are you Brian Gillen’s mother?”

I said, “Yes. Is he ok?”

The officer shook his head no. I then learned that my 24-year-old son had been killed in a motorcycle/car accident. He was on the motorcycle. A car had pulled out in front of him. They tried to make it sound as if it were his fault because he was going too fast. Some of our family and friends were angry at the girl who’d pulled out in front of him. I have learned you don’t have to “blame” anyone. Sometimes things just happen.

Soon afterwards, I made a call to a member of the church I attended. I also called friends from the two previous churches where I’d been a member before. I asked them all to pray for us. In the midst of the grief and turmoil, I knew we would need God’s help to get through this. I will never understand people turning their back on God when they need him the most. God answered the prayers! I can’t tell you that getting through the grief process has been easy, but I can tell you that God has helped make it more bearable.

Brian was a brother my two daughters looked up to, even more after their father died 4½ years earlier of a massive heart attack. Brian was a father, as well, to my beautiful little granddaughter Elizabeth. She is a gift from God. She is Brian with us. We all miss Brian.

One day I thought – what is wrong with me? I haven’t cried that much. I am doing too well. Please understand it is not because I have not grieved my son’s death. I have cried and missed him so much. It’s because my God carried us all through!

Sometimes, we tend to miss those we’ve lost more around the holidays. Their loss makes us sad.  My suggestion is this – pray. Prayer is what got me through the endless hours of grief. Also, find someone whom you can comfort. Helping someone else in need tends to get our minds off our own problems. Seeing Elizabeth at Christmas eases my holiday grief, as well, and my girls help me stay strong.

Remember, tell those you love that you love them every single chance you get. I’m thankful that just two days prior to Brian’s death, I told him I loved him. It brings me much comfort.

Have you ever wondered how Mary must have felt when she saw Jesus upon the cross? As a mother who has loved a son and lost him, I can assure you the pain was enormous but so was God’s grace and mercy in comforting her.

 ~Betty McCarty

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Coping With Loss and the Holidays - Part I

Today, I'm happy to introduce a guest blogger, my sister Teresa Shewey. This is the first of a three-part blog on coping with loss of a loved one and the holidays. Welcome Teresa and thank you for sharing from your heart!

Christmas came four months after my husband Sal died. I believe I was so thankful he was no longer in pain that I did not begin to process his death until then. Christmas was his favorite time of year and those who knew him, knew he was very sentimental, emotional, and had a big heart. He was often referred to as a “Big Teddy Bear.” Sal loved surprises and was like a child on Christmas morning anxious to open the presents.

This is why the grief was so overwhelming that first Christmas. I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t escape from the pain that had a grip on my heart. I decided one night during the week before Christmas that I would get in my car and just drive away. Then, rational thinking stepped in, and I amended the plan to drive 40 minutes away to O’leno State Park and visit the place that Sal and I had enjoyed so many times in the past. When I arrived I sat in my car for a long time, fearful to go by myself into the woods, but more fearful of what would happen to my state of mind if I did not. I wrestled with the fear and then set off to hike. I savored happy memories on this first of many trips to the woods. My brain stopped racing with the sadness, and I felt rejuvenated when I was through. The pain did not go away, but I began to work through it. I became angry any time I saw an elderly couple holding hands and the realization would come to me again—I would never grow old with this “Big Teddy Bear” of a man. All the dreams we had shared had been wiped away when he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a strong faith, knowing that God was with me. There were times I would sit by the water in the woods having serious conversations with Him, asking the same questions over and over. “Why?” “Why does a loving God allow any human to suffer the pain that Sal did?” I had very profound thoughts during that time that scared me; thoughts about the life after. I believe it was part of the healing process and growing in my faith.

Music was another part my healing and I became familiar with YouTube and the availability of Christian Contemporary music. Casting Crowns “Praise You In This Storm” became my daily mantra.

Where was my family during this time? They were right there trying to console me. I appreciated their love and concern. But the pain was too great to share with them. I needed my God, the God who is so good to me, to walk me through it, sometimes holding my hand, sometimes carrying me in His arms.

Now, several years later, the pain has become less; perhaps more tolerable. When the Christmas season arrives with all its sights, sounds, and smells, I may always have those feelings of loss. But now they do not consume me. My faith continues to grow stronger. I know God is in the air I breathe, not just available during loss or crisis, but walking with me, daily.

My advice to others who are grieving during this Christmas season is to find some sort of activity you enjoy and take God with you on your journey. Take it from someone who has been there—He helped me walk through the pain!

~Teresa Lynn Shewey

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Michelle

My sister Michelle would have been 49 years old today. No doubt, I would’ve teased her a little about the big 5-0 looming ahead. Instead, I lost her when she was 42, and I cherish the memories of our time together.

In Hebrew, Michelle means “Who is like God?”  It also means warrior and defender and represents the archangel Michael, considered the most powerful angel according to Bible references, and who will play an important role in future world events.

Warrior and defender aptly describe Michelle. As children, she could beat me up, but no one else could. LOL. Most of the time, we got along well, though. I’ve said before, she took me to the brink of trouble more than once with her curfew violations, bending of rules, and her incessant need to try to “set me up” with one guy or another. But let someone so much as threaten to harm one hair on my head, and she was fierce.

We loved to play cowboys and Indians when we were kids (when it was still politically correct). One day, I was on my horse (bike) and shot her. To my horror, she dropped in front of me and I ran over her. I begged her not to tell Dad when he got home. I was convinced I’d get a spanking. Another time, I clunked her in the head with a croquet mallet after I lost the game. I’m pretty sure I received a much-deserved spanking for that.

Michelle was passionate about others battling mental illness. We had many conversations about the state of health care, psychotropic meds, and inpatient health care, none of which were ideal. At times, she suffered with severe depression, and her heart broke for others in the same situation. In one of our last conversations, she said, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Michelle had a happy, mischievous side. During spells of wellness, I’d be surprised with a letter from her. The paper was usually dotted with her familiar “smile” notations accompanied with a smiley face. Though she often didn’t feel like smiling, she wanted others to smile.

Michelle had a wicked sense of humor. Like the time she accidentally ran over her future husband’s leg as she backed her car. He was leaning in the car window, it was late, she was tired, and she had already said good-bye—more than once. Or the time when she put red pepper flakes on my pizza when I wasn’t looking, which spurred the coughing fit of the century.

Most of all, I remember the quiet conversations we shared. These became more rare as physical distance separated us and her schizophrenia interfered with her rational thoughts. But during the quiet moments, Michelle spoke from her heart. She modeled what I feel Christian behavior should be in its truest form—caring for others more than self and uplifting others to make them feel better about their life situations.

In our conversations, Michelle never once displayed anger toward God for her situation. Instead, she embraced the idea of a better place and life in eternity. She understood what so few grasp—life on earth is temporary. Her temporary life was a minefield. I pray she found peace in eternity.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Great News!

I just received a phone call that my manuscript, "Hope's Gentle Touch," has made it to the finals of the RWA Emily contest. I'm so excited! Final judging will be decided in February 2012.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

This is Thanksgiving week. Here in the US, that means gorging on food and then going to the stores and gorging on consumer items the following day. The stores aren’t waiting this year. The gorging will begin in most places before Thanksgiving Day is officially over.
That’s not to say we Americans are without our problems. The economy continues to trudge along poorly. Many people are without jobs and are on the brink of losing homes. The reality is stretching the paycheck becomes more of a challenge each day. Yet despite this, we are still the most blessed nation in the world. No matter the difficulties, we enjoy the most basic commodity others lack worldwide. Consider these facts:
Today’s water crisis is not an issue of scarcity, but of access. More people in the world own cell phones than have access to a toilet. And as cities and slums grow at increasing rates, the situation worsens. Every day, lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills thousands, leaving others with reduced quality of life.

The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.

In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women’s time is consumed for the most basic of human needs — collecting water for domestic use. This lost productivity is greater than the combined number of hours worked in a week by employees at Wal-Mart, United Parcel Service, McDonald’s, IBM, Target, and Kroger, according to Gary White, co-founder of Water.org.
To go one step farther, how many in the world have running hot water Americans are blessed with?

It’s easy to focus on what we lack during tough times—nationally and individually. But on Thursday, take a moment to count your blessings, no matter how small they may seem.
(Ital. facts from Water.Org)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are You On God's Facebook Page?

Since joining Facebook, my community of family and friends has expanded. It’s fun being a part of a group of people who respond when I comment, care about what I have to say, sympathize and pray when I need it, and rejoice over my accomplishments. The invention of Facebook has given us the ability to connect daily in a way we didn’t have before.

God created us for similar reasons. He wanted our companionship but didn’t want us to be puppets or robots. His nature is not so different from ours, huh? He wanted us to choose Him. Thus, He gave humans a free will. That’s the only way to ensure a genuine relationship. When we screwed up and corrupted the relationship, in his Holy way, God provided a way to mend that--the sacrifice of His son.

For those of us who claim that relationship, do we enthusiastically log onto God's page each day and comment about the wonderful things going on in our lives? Do we go to Him to share our sorrows? Or thank Him for our blessings? Ask Him for counsel instead of trying to fix something ourselves?

It’s easy for our prayers to become rote or to imagine God as a grandfatherly type who resides in the heavens. Worse yet, we often treat him like a drive-thru that we can hand over our debit card full of deeds and expect to pick up our solution at the window. In reality, God is our best friend. He’s the one we can tell anything to and receive comfort in return. I’d like to think He eagerly awaits my contact with Him each day.

Have you “confirmed” God's friend request? If so, do you leave comments (pray) each day to build your relationship? Maybe something like:

“Wow, neat sunset this evening,” or “Thanks for the hot water this morning in my shower,” or “Thank you for the rain after the drought,” or “Lord, I’m having this problem I need help with.”

The blessings you receive will enrich your life in unfathomable ways.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brother John

My brother John is chronically ill with emphysema brought on by his working environment and our family predisposition to lung disease. He is 53. On several occasions, he and I have discussed his prognosis and his belief that he won’t live long. This gives him a sense of urgency to reach those who are lost in the world. In the past year, he started a church and began preaching for the first time. Meanwhile, he attends his regular church on Sunday evenings.

He has been incredibly sick this week, struggling just to breathe. I was shocked to hear how bad off he was when he called me en route to the doctor. He’s had a rough week. However, I received the following e-mail from him on Sunday night, which shows what can happen at a good old fashioned Baptist singing service when God is allowed to work.

Tonight a miracle happened. Distraught and believing I might not make it through the week, I came to church tonight. Coughing and choking, struggling at times to breathe I attempted to sing with song service and was able to sing very little. Struggling with the thought of what I must look like to others as the steroid psychosis interfered with my ability to see or think straight, I staggered down the aisle to where my pastor stood. I reached out my arms to him and said between sobs as he held me, "I need everyone to lay hands on me and pray. I need everyone to pray." They immediately gathered around me and began to lay hands on me as I knelt at the altar. Immediately a calmness rushed through my body as they prayed. I'd never felt prayers working like that in my behalf before. My lungs were relieved and I was able to breathe again. As they finished and two men helped me to my feet I shouted, "thank you, thank you." I have been a part of healing services like that before but never as the recipient. God was working in our church tonight. I had to share this with you, Love, John

It goes without saying that because my brother is part of my daily life, my life will have a tremendous hole when he’s gone. The only thing that will soothe the pain is the knowledge that he’s with my Savior and I will join him one day. My prayer for John is that God will heal him of his lung disease, but God in His infinite wisdom will do what is best. Our wisdom is incredibly inferior to God’s (1 Corinthian 1:25). John is completely at peace with God being in charge. He is ready to see Jesus. I hear the longing in his voice and in his writings.

Sometimes the closer you get to death, the closer you become to God. For the first time you truly understand life and see the precious time that gets wasted. I also pray that when John’s time comes, that God will be merciful in taking him. Although John and I don’t always see eye to eye on approach, I’m so proud of my brother’s tireless work to reach the lost. He is truly an example of Christ’s love. 

(Originally appeared as a Facebook note February 15, 2010. I'm happy to report John is still preaching God's word and will do so as long as God ordains it. His health is still very tenuous.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thanks to the Veterans!

It's said that 1% of our country defends the freedoms of the other 99%. And what a price the 1% pay! Not only do they put their lives in jeopardy, they put their lives on hold when deployed, missing birthdays, anniversaries, soccer games, dance recitals, deaths of loved ones, and the list goes on. Special events that can't be replayed.

Many soldiers return from deployment with psychological and physical wounds, some of which heal, while others don't.

My grandfather, father, uncles, cousins, and husband all served in the armed services at some point in their lives.

I want to personally say thank you to those who serve or who have ever served this great country! Happy Veterans' Day, and may God Bless you!

Monday, November 7, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Is there a better season than autumn? Pumpkin pie, apple dumplings, steaming hot turkey fresh from the oven. Piles of crispy, auburn leaves, bonfires, and s’mores. Cuddling up in front of the fireplace sipping hot chocolate or cider…These are a few of my favorite things…
What is your favorite fall pastime? Favorite food? Best holiday memory? Leave a comment. I'd love to hear what it is!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Goals

Well, I'm still at it. "It" being my goal to add approximately 20,000 words to a fiction manuscript I've written. Seems life wants to interfere with this goal most of the time. To center myself, I often turn to the Old Testament and some of my favorite verses:

"Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain."
Psalm 127:1a

AND

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

The completion and publication of the manuscript is my heart's desire. As long as I allow God to direct my steps and work toward His glory in all that I do, I will enjoy success. Only He knows if this includes the manuscript.

What goal are you struggling to achieve? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Happy?

…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…Philippians 4:11b

I’m going to be happy when—I find the perfect soulmate, buy my first home, graduate college, and the list goes on and on. We’ve all felt this, even if we haven’t voiced it aloud.
Happiness is like a butterfly. The more one chases it, the more it eludes. Happiness is a by-product of the way you live your life, not the end game. However, contentment is not only possible, the more it’s pursued, the more it’s attained.

The Apostle Paul said he learned to be content in all circumstances. Does that mean you have to be thankful you can’t scrape together your mortgage payment? Or grocery money? No. But we can be thankful for the things that are going right in our lives in the midst of the hardships. Look around and see what blessings you can count, no matter how small they are.
Paul’s contentment came from living his life through the lenses of Christianity.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength…Philippians 4:12-13.

We can try to be thankful for the trial—for what God wants us to learn as we pass through it. I say try, because that’s a hard concept to wrap your brain around—one I haven’t quite mastered myself.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…James 1:2-4.

God cares that you are struggling. He cares that we live in a fallen world with all its hardships. This wasn’t His first choice for us, but in order to make our relationship with Him sincere, He had to allow an alternative choice. Sadly, many have opted for the alternative, and our world reflects this.
Take comfort in the fact that life won’t always be a struggle. Eternity will be perfect.

Meanwhile, you might not be doing the Snoopy happy dance about your life, but you can rejoice that your Father knows your needs and has your back. I care and want to hear from you. What trial do you want me to pray about with you? What praise report do you want to share? Feel free to comment or send me an email.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tiptoe Through The Tulips

Do you remember Tiny Tim singing this song while strumming his ukulele? I don’t know about you, but there was something a little disturbing about watching him sing. His demeanor seemed to belie his words. Tiny Tim didn’t seem genuinely happy.
I try to encourage others. This is based on Romans 12:8, and my belief that God has gifted me in this area. I don’t believe in false hope or saccharin sayings, but rather extending my hand to a person who is hurting. Hope in despair—hope for the future.

Some of my approach is borne from raising children, experiencing extended family illnesses and deaths, and my medical transcription career over the past few decades. Nothing humbles or puts one’s life into perspective more than sitting in a pediatric cardiology clinic (which I’ve done with both of my children), pediatric neurology clinic, speech/language pathology, occupational therapy, genetics clinic, cardio-thoracic surgery clinic, ER visits, or watching my husband perform CPR on my child, then riding in the back of an ambulance holding my child’s hand and praying he will live. Have I left anything out? Most certainly. I could tell you much about the anguish and heartache I’ve experienced over the years. I could tell you how in a three-year period, we lost eight people in our immediate family. Cancer, old age, suicide.
But the bottom line is—so what?

Erase my problems and fill in the blanks with yours. I’ve typed hundreds of medical reports with far more ghastly, heart-breaking scenarios. I’ve sat in countless waiting rooms with my children in clinics and witnessed other kids with abnormalities they weren’t going to outgrow. Some eventually died, no doubt. I’ve listened to people share heartbreaking family situations. Then I’ve prayed for their problems. While I was at it, I prayed for strength to deal with my own.
Despite what curve balls life throws me, what right do I have to do anything but encourage others from my experiences? God gave me an incredible gift when He chose compassion. I’m not going to fall apart on you, even if my heart is breaking. I’m not going to sugar-coat your problems or my response. In fact, I may give you some tough love. But when you read the verse following the one on encouragement, Romans 12:9, says, “Love must be sincere.”

I hope when you visit my blog or share your problems through e-mail that you will find sincerity. Regardless of how upbeat I try to be, problems visit me regularly. But that doesn’t mean my heart isn’t big enough for yours, too.
As for Tiny Tim, apparently he had his own heart problems. He died doing what he’ll be remembered for most—singing and playing his ukulele in front of an audience...tiptoe through the tulips with me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Decisions

“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.”  Psalm 139:1-4
Every day, we face decisions, some so small they’re made on an intuitive level without much conscious thought. Other decisions require careful thought and prayer. The few times in life I’ve acted in haste and followed my own judgment, often not my best judgment, poor choices followed. I’ve learned the hard way to carefully weigh the consequences and pray for wisdom.

I often feel overcommitted because of my inability to say no, along with my belief that one should squeeze every ounce there is out of life. Time wasted can never be regained. But as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, “Chasing Dreams,” the quality of life can suffer in the process. At some point, a line has to be drawn and the word “no” spoken.
No is a tough word for writers. Most of us have so many irons in the fire we don’t know which one to grab first. This comes from years of trying to break into the business—much like any other artist.

Saying yes for the right reasons is as important as being able to say no. Which begs the question—When we take on projects, are we over committing or becoming more fully committed to God’s purpose for our lives?
According to the verse above, no one knows us as intimately as God. He has the answers.

As I weigh my choices, I flip through the Bible, reading passages as God leads me, and then I spend time in prayer. When I reach a point of peace, my decision is made.
God has gifted me with the talent of writing, and I never seem to lack for opportunities in that realm. But in recent weeks, I’ve asked God to expand my ministry of encouragement and redirect my steps, if need be, in doing His work.

Last month, I joined a fantastic critique group (as all writers need-Psalm 27:17) through ACFW, which led to another opportunity to join a smaller, more concentrated group of published writers. Two groups—twice the work. An editor called this week and offered me an opportunity to assist with her devotions website.
One thing you can bank on—if you pray to do more for God, He will provide.

Not by coincidence, God led me to another step in my decision-making process. I flipped open the Bible and the passage that jumped out was Psalm 139. I read it over a few times and then prayed. Each time I do this, my decisions become clearer. God’s peace washes over me, and I know He will guide me to accomplish those commitments.
Do I have time to take on another project? Those who know my current commitments would say no. However, my time is God’s time, ultimately. Those who God calls, He equips. I prayed for expansion and direction, and the doors are opening.

Am I chasing dreams or fulfilling God’s purpose? Perhaps both.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Winner of Free Book Giveaway

Congratulations, Crystal Barnes! You're the winner of the free book, Laurie's Story: Discovering Joy in Adversity. Thanks to all of my followers!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chasing Dreams

Isaiah 6:8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”

Many times I’ve felt the Lord’s presence in my life, guiding me, and speaking to my heart about my decisions. Specific prayers have received specific answers. Usually, when I pray, wrestle with a problem, and then come to the end of myself and say, “What now, Lord?” He answers me the mightiest.

A friend commented this week, she believed it was the devil’s tool to crowd our mind. I couldn’t agree more. Recently I’ve begun to see the craziness in busyness. I’ve never been one to while away my time without guilt. The more productive I am, the better.  The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say my father wrote the verse that appears in Proverbs 6:10-11 and 24:33-34, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” When my father enjoys leisure time, he’s still doing something. He rests after he has exhausted himself with work or fun. He’s the only person I know who can accidentally take a 20-mile bike ride. But that’s a story for another day.

Each day is a gift—not to be wasted in worry, regrets, grudges, past grievances, or score-settling. You can do nothing to change the past and tomorrow isn’t promised. The time you’re in right now—the present—is the only thing truly tangible.
Apple founder, Steve Jobs, died yesterday. He will go down in history as a giant in the technological  age of the 20th and 21st century. Among his many quotes was one from a speech he gave six years ago during his battle with pancreatic cancer. That death would come sooner rather than later was an understatement. He lasted longer than most with this diagnosis.

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Jobs’ statement strips away the pretenses we all live under. While the proverb above cautions against laziness, there is also the extreme of overwork while chasing dreams, fulfilling goals, and trying to please everyone around you. Somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, you’ll find yourself—the one God envisioned when He created you.

And in the quest to find the point of balance, take inventory. When was the last time you listened for a response from God when you prayed? Or sought God’s plan for your life? Or willingly laid your own plans aside for His?
“Here am I, send me,” Isaiah boldly proclaimed.
Prayer: God of the universe, grant me grace when I stumble, contentment when I desire more, clarity amidst chaos, hope during despair, and wisdom to seek the path You have designed for me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Discovering Joy in Adversity

Four years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing a Christian singer/songwriter, Laurie Thompson, for a newspaper article. As I listened to her sing in church one Sunday, the Holy Spirit impressed on me that she would be my next newspaper feature. However, I couldn’t pitch the article based on the Holy Spirit’s prompting. I had to move heaven and earth (or so it seemed) to convince my editor to allow me to profile Laurie. The editor was less than thrilled at the idea. I had no “hook,” which is everything in the publishing world. She very bluntly told me a singer with a disability is not a hook. Many people struggle with disabilities every day.

Since I felt I couldn’t go to Laurie directly as a freelancer with no promise of an article, I prayed and poked around amongst locals to find out more about her and her family. I uncovered nothing. One day, I said, “Lord, what do you want me to do? I’ve hit a dead end.”
The answer was swift. “Google her.”
I ran to the computer, and within 60 seconds, I had my hook.

Unbeknownst to me, Laurie was also praying for guidance in how to proceed with writing her story in book form. After the article was published, Laurie and I developed a friendship, and she asked me to help her write her book.
Some of you know one of the writing jobs I enjoy is ghostwriting. Often people have an emotional attachment to their story, making it difficult to write themselves. That’s where a ghostwriter comes in. Laurie and I worked fervently on her story. We withstood a few attacks from Satan along the way, but with God’s help, came out victorious. Her book, Laurie’s Story: Discovering Joy in Adversity, has now been published.

Laurie’s ministry reflects her joy, despite what life has handed her. As I described in the article, listening to her sing is like being in the presence of angels.
I’d love to share her story with you. Between now and Friday, October 7, 2011, at 10:00 p.m., all you have to do is become a follower of this blog, and you will automatically be entered to win a free copy of Laurie's book through a random drawing. All followers as of that date will be eligible. Just click on the icon on the top left and follow the prompts. It’s very simple.

Happy clicking! Good luck to everyone.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Enjoying God's Greatness


I've spent my weekend on the beach, soaking in the sun and surf, and having some much needed down time with my family. But the enjoyment goes beyond jumping waves with the kids and looking for shells. I'm reminded of God's greatness, mercy, and grace as I walk along the shore. Humbling might be an accurate word to describe the magnitude of my feelings.

I was overwhelmed standing on the edge of our continent facing the Atlantic Ocean. Think about it. We're suspended on a planet in the universe and the only thing keeping us here is a little thing called gravity.

So many things we take for granted--the air we breathe, waking up every morning, the ocean, yes, even gravity, that are here because one day God chose to give us this amazing gift called life.

What are you thankful for today?

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Spelling Doesn't Count

"You can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count.” --Winnie The Pooh

Life is too short to take very seriously. I spent an hour with a friend this afternoon after dropping off some work at the doctor's office I provide transcription service. After such a busy morning, it was a welcome reprieve. We had a nice chat and she gave me a boxed set of Little House books before I left her house.

With our busy lives of work, school, and family responsibilities, when's the last time you just sat and chatted with a friend?

Pooh's right. There are some days when certain formalities don't count. Some days are meant for diversions, friendly chats, and wandering off the trail for a bit.

How did you spend your Tuesday?

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Ant Knows

“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. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:6-11

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gnat Stick, Anyone?

I recently joined a group on Facebook: You gotta be from Newberry if…(Newberry, FL, that is). I’ve laughed at the memories other people have shared. Among the reminiscence of local hangouts and mischief were posts about school. Teachers kept paddles in their desks and used them. One compared my second grade teacher’s swing to Jose Canseco’s. LOL. One teacher had a reputation for shaking you until your teeth rattled, if you were bad.
A couple of teachers whacked with their hands, if they had a mind to. I only had to be whacked once. I was in first grade, leaning on my seat with one knee, the other foot resting on the floor. Bent over my work, I was intent on the lesson and started whistling. That’s when the whack came. I sat down, never to whistle and work at the same time again.
Newberry is a small, rural town in North Central Florida. It was even smaller back in the day. Our school was divided into two campuses, elementary and high school. At the end of sixth grade, you moved up to high school, which was kind of daunting.
We had three elementary school buildings, which had been built over the decades as Newberry’s population grew. Kindergarten and first grade were in a quadruplex. Grades two through four were in the green schoolhouse, a two-story imposing building. I got dizzy sometimes when I craned my little neck to look up at it. Fifth and sixth grades were in the oldest building, the red brick schoolhouse, which originally housed the entire elementary school. Last summer, I took Josh back to visit the red brick schoolhouse, now an historic site. The memories that visit brought back…
While we were blessed with furnace heating in winter, the school buildings didn’t have air conditioning. Instead, large windows were raised to allow in the hot, humid Florida air. Not necessarily cooler, at least the air was fresh, unlike the sweaty kids after they’d played on the playground at recess.
Along with the luxury of outside air came annoying gnats. I don’t know if they exist anymore, but we had gnat sticks. They were like oversized Chapsticks you rolled over your necks and cheeks to keep the gnats out of your face. It was a grimy, but effective, substance.
All of my school supplies fit neatly in a cigar box my father picked up for free at a gas station in town. Back then, at least in our community, we didn’t shop for school supplies. In elementary school, we had a lined tablet, a sharpened wooden pencil, and crayons. I can’t remember what else we filled the cigar box with—except our gnat stick. As we got older, some kids had pencil pouches. Funny how we managed compared to modern kids.
In fifth grade, we were blessed with the building of a modern schoolhouse. When it was finished, the whole elementary school grabbed their books and cigar boxes and marched down the street to the new air conditioned, carpeted schoolhouse. We were proud of our new school. The only downside was no windows in the classrooms. But we were cool and didn’t need the gnat sticks anymore—at least not inside.
Nothing like fond memories to make one realize contentment and materialism are worlds apart. Maybe that explains why we have a nation of discontented people.
Something to ponder.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Memories of 9/11

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I saw my children off to school before settling down in front of the television a little before 9:00 to eat breakfast. The news showed that a plane had slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center a few minutes earlier. I listened to the network anchors speculate on what had transpired.

To my surprise, another plane appeared on the TV screen. The next few seconds were surreal. Time seemed to slow down as many thoughts ran through my mind. Why was the plane flying so close to the towers? Wasn’t the pilot aware another plane had hit one already? And then I braced myself.

When the plane slammed into the South Tower and partially exited the other side, a sick feeling came over me. This was no accident. The United States was under attack. Soon afterward, a plane crashed into the Pentagon and another in Pennsylvania. As the events unfolded the rest of the day, the sick feeling in my soul grew. When would the next attack happen? Would we ever feel safe again?

As many Americans did, I clung to my faith. No matter what, God was with us. Bad things happen in this world. Americans shouldn’t buy into the false belief we are exempt.

On 9/11, and in the days and weeks to follow, political party lines were erased. President Bush reassured us from the top of the Twin Towers rubble with a bullhorn in his hand and again, days later, when he bravely walked to the center of a major league baseball field and threw out the first pitch. Congress stood arm-in-arm on the steps of the Capitol and sang God Bless America. We were one people with one voice joined in determination to protect what America stood for—freedom.

But there was another angle to 9/11 for my family. My son Josh turned seven years old that day. We had serendipitously celebrated with a party the Saturday before. Many years passed before he enjoyed another birthday. The na├»ve belief in our nation’s security that the party-goers appreciated three days before the attacks had been shattered much like Pearl Harbor had done almost sixty years before.

My son’s generation has grown up in the shadow of the war on terror. Some of his earliest memories are of his country going to war—a war brought to our shores as it had been sixty years earlier. I had a difficult time making sense out of the attack, and an even more difficult time explaining it to him.

Born out of this tragedy was renewed patriotism for many Americans, young and old alike. The scenes of firefighters running into towers that eventually collapsed on them had a profound effect on Josh. Their sacrifice instilled in him a sense of duty toward his country and fellow man.

When Josh turned 16, he joined the Hopewell Fire Department teen explorer program. He completed the rigorous Fundamentals of Fire Fighting class this spring and will be eligible to be voted in as a full firefighter on September 11, 2012.

Ten years after this horrible terrorist attack on our nation killed thousands of Americans, I still get chills thinking about it. We’ve managed to capture or kill many of the masterminds involved in the plot. Many servicemen have been killed, injured, or psychologically changed from our war on terror. Americans have changed. We’re all battle weary from the evil perpetrated on us that clear September morning and its aftermath. We learned on 9/11 that the bubble of security we’d foolishly wrapped ourselves in did not exist.

But we also reaffirmed something Americans knew before the attacks. Americans pull together for the good of all. Americans overcome. As we pause to honor the victims of 9/11 today, let us do so with the spirit of hope their lives represented.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rest for the Weary

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29

I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ soothing words are the balm I need for my soul many days. When I’m scurrying around, trying to meet deadlines or deal with a family issue, I feel “heavy laden.” Often at the end of the day, I reflect on how stressful the day has been. I welcome the moment when the light is turned off, and I put my head on my pillow. The older I get, though, the less sleep is immediate.
On those nights, I think of Jesus’ words, and I wonder: Why do I allow myself to stray from His gentle rest?
As I’m typing this, friends come to mind who are laden down with overwhelming health issues, financial worries, job losses or underemployment, dysfunctional family situations, and the list goes on and on. My prayer for you this morning is that in the midst of the chaos swirling around you, you’ll find peace for your weary and burdened souls in the gentle rest of our Savior.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Whale of a Tale

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittal: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:1-2a)

Jonah is one of my favorite Bible characters. Not because he got swallowed by a whale and lived to talk about it. Rather, because Jonah’s humanity gets him into trouble at every turn. We all can relate to that.

But when God comes calling, you best not try to run and hide. Jonah’s excursion into the belly of the whale brought remorse into this stubborn man. Out of fear and respect, Jonah finally obeyed God’s command to preach to Nineveh. Remarkably, they heeded Jonah’s warning and repented.

Was Jonah pleased? No, their repentance made him angry. And that’s where Jonah’s true colors shine through. When we look closer, we discover that Jonah had a beef with God that ran deeper than his disobedience. He felt the people of Nineveh didn’t deserve grace. They were a very evil and wicked people. Not only was Jonah angry with the people, he was angry with God for forgiving them. He wanted Nineveh to be punished.

And he said so!

“That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassion God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Then the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”(Jonah 4:2a-4)

Like a child having a temper tantrum, Jonah didn’t answer. Instead, he sat down at the edge of the city to die.

Wow! I’m not sure I’ve ever been that angry. But there Jonah sat…waiting…

This is where God’s humor and grace come into play in Jonah’s life, as it often does ours. In his Fatherly way, God probably shook his head and said, “Time to teach him another lesson.” He made a vine grow to shade Jonah and, sure enough, Jonah was happy.

Talk about a person with mood swings.

Then God made a worm chew through the vine so it would die and sent a scorching wind to blow on Jonah. You guessed it. Jonah was angry again.

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”(Jonah 4:9)

God then chastised Jonah about his concern for a vine when Jonah had nothing to do with its existence, yet expected God not to be concerned for His people whom He had created.

What are you angry with God about today? Do you feel He has let you down in some way because His solution and yours don’t mesh? Search your heart and ask God to help you get through it. If you’d like me to pray for you, please email me using the link under my profile.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Who Needs Friends Like This?

I know what you’re thinking. Laura’s gonna dish some dirt on someone. Nope. But the answer lies in what I’m about to share.
Meanwhile, I have another question. What do an alpaca farmer and an author have in common?
Periodically, I step back and assess the people who’ve come in and out of my life. Some exited and then returned many years later. I’ve found their friendship even more enriching the second time around. One such person is Beth.
I received a heart-breaking email from Beth a couple of years ago. We’d not communicated since high school in Florida. Twenty-five years later, she popped into my inbox. To my surprise, I discovered she lives two hours from me, and her brother lives five minutes down the road from me. Small world, huh? She persuaded me to join Facebook, and we scheduled a lunch date to catch up.
Just as I was walking out the door that morning, the phone rang. More bad news. Then Beth said something like, “You don’t want to have lunch with me. I’ll cry the whole time.” I said something like, “I can handle tears.”
So we had lunch at Sonny’s Barbecue in Commerce, GA, the halfway point between our homes. We ate, I listened, and surprisingly, Beth did not cry. We had a good time. The twenty-five years between us melted away. And the diversion was good for her.
We discovered common ground with our sons. My son was farther down the path in life, having conquered most of his early developmental problems. Her autistic son wasn’t faring as well, and Beth was going through a divorce.
A teacher-turned-flight attendant, Beth was in a transition phase of her life. She eventually returned to teaching. Describing her as a special needs teacher doesn’t do her justice. She handles some of the toughest kids in her school. Kids who, due to their special needs, have crumpled other teachers. Beth returns to the classroom in a few days for her second year with her “spirited” students, as she likes to call them.
God brings people in and out of our life. I like to think they are exactly the people we need at the exact time they appear. Beth returned to my life a couple of years after I lost my older sister Michelle. Beth had been good friends with Michelle in high school. Outside of my family, Beth is one of the few people I can chat with about Michelle and know she’s listening with her heart. Beth has also generously shared mementos of her relationship with Michelle from high school.
Encouragement at its best is a two-way street. While many people tell me I encourage them, Beth has enriched my life with her wit, her example, and generosity. None of this surprised me. What did surprise me was learning this upscale lady runs an alpaca farm.
So to answer the question—What do an author and alpaca farmer have in common?
Friendship.