We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Three Years

Armed with a pocket full of Kleenex, I walked up the hill to the Clarks Green Cemetery for the first time this spring. A delightful walk despite the traffic in the late afternoon. The stimulating fragrances of flowering trees, bushes, and lilacs surrounded me as I made my way up and down the hills between the markers, and as always, found myself stooping to read a few of the names and dates of those who have passed on.
I always save Barry's section until last. As the stone came into view, tears stung my eyes. There's something about that first look in the spring that floods my heart with the reality and finality of his death. I settled myself on the ground and cleaned the pine needles and grass clippings off the base. So much has happened in three years. As I wiped my eyes, I realized that I miss him in a different way than when crushing grief nearly swallowed me up and I wondered how I would go on without him. 

Back then I wished he could've helped Elisabeth with her college decisions. I wished he could've dialogued with all the girls and answered their questions. I wished he could've played his role as "Grandpa" to our grandsons, one of whom he never met. I wished he could've weighed in on so many decisions I had to make without him, decisions about the house, a car, our finances. He always seemed to know what to do.

Looking back, I see God's grace standing out bold on the calendar pages of the past 36 months. We made it . . . all this time. But that doesn't mean we didn't feel the ache in our hearts. And now I grieve for him in additional ways. I long for his comfortable companionship and the balance he brought to my life. I miss making his favorite dinner, hearing about his many ventures, and planning this year's garden together.  How often have I wanted to ask his thoughts about my writing and speaking? "Does this make sense? Is this topic relevant? Do these ideas sound okay? What's missing?" 

I feel for our girls . . . as each of them is in a different place now. They would benefit from his knowledge and wisdom - on education, relationships, gardening, parenting, and on and on. We often find ourselves saying, "What would Dad say?" It helps . . . a little.

Before I rose to walk home, I traced my finger over the words under his name: "Life-long Learner; Loved God and Others." Always for the other guy, that's just the kind of man he was! And somehow I gather up the courage to move ahead and "run with perseverance the race marked out for me," grateful for God's new measure of grace every single day.

I love you, Barry. We miss you.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mother's Day Reflections

Mother's Day brings back the memory of a story, a story that turned apprehension into hope.


bing.com
"Pregnant! The word jolted me as I listened to the nurse's voice on the other end of the line. I was thirty-eight with an eleven and fourteen-year-old, and God wanted me to raise another child?

I decided to keep the news quiet as long as possible. I felt embarrassment mixed with panic and needed time to get used to the idea. At the same time, I felt guilty when I thought of the many who longed for a child and found themselves grieving with empty arms.


bing.com

A few weeks later we visited my parents' church. I felt as green as the dress I wore. God must have smiled as the service began. He had a special message just for me, one I would carry with me for a long time. It came in the from of a song, one written by Bill and Gloria Gaither when they, too, were expecting a child.

This child can face uncertain days because He lives!
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow . . . I know He holds the future . . .*


Tears sprang to my eyes as my husband squeezed my hand. The resurrection of Jesus . . . Of course! Because He lives, I could trust Him with our future and the future of our tiny secret, fearfully and wonderfully growing deep inside me.

November 1997


We named our baby Elisabeth Grace in remembrance of God's promise in 2 Corinthians 12:9. "My grace is sufficient for you . . ." Now a junior in college, Elisabeth brings her humor, conversation, and thoughtfulness to our family. How could I have ever doubted God's wisdom? That Easter morning holds a hallowed place in my heart. God's faithfulness during that time has given me courage to face other challenges, far more daunting.



I'll always remember the day when Elisabeth, then in elementary school, said to me, "I'm glad my middle name is Grace."

I couldn't trust my voice to answer, but gave her a wobbly smile. Me, too, Elisabeth. Me, too.


*Copyright by William J. Gaither, 1971.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

When God Opens the Door . . .

"I'm sure you could borrow my mom's notes," my youngest daughter offered.

When Elisabeth told me of her conversation with a fellow intern last summer, I hesitated. "That would be fine, but . . . I'd have to re-work them, you know, so someone else can make sense of them."

"Oh, she won't mind. Whatever you have will be fine."

Fine? While I doubted it, my mind began to race with possibilities which led me to a ten-month journey of faith. This week, I finally crossed the finish line!

Here's the backstory: After Penned Without Ink was released in September of 2016, I had the privilege of leading a small group through the study of my book chapter by chapter. We dug deeper into many relevant themes presented in Penned and linked them with biblical narratives and principles. The discussion was rich as we connected the promises of God with our own personal lives. I loved preparing for our group meetings each week, drawing truths from God's Word and learning even more about trusting God to write your story. I typed up my notes as I went along, never dreaming they would someday form the basis of something more. 
After Elisabeth offered my notes to her colleague, I began to organize and add to them, finding even more pertinent material to augment my original thoughts. One thing led to another, and soon I designed a consistent layout for each lesson. (At this point I sent what I had to Elisabeth's friend.) Yet the final presentation still remained fuzzy to me . . . Study guide? Leader's guide? Both? I talked it over with my writers group, attempted several different formats, and prayed. 


In early January, my son-in-law suggested I include two sections: a leader's guide and one-page study sheets for group participants. BINGO! That was it! I went right to work, asked my writer friends to critique each page, and ironed out the bumps.

Each lesson/chapter for leaders includes:
  • A REVEIW from the last lesson 
  • DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (and answers with supplemental material) and GROUP ACTIVITIES based on the text and additional Scriptures 
  • A TAKEAWAY summary statement
  • A suggested MEMORY VERSE. 
The REPRODUCIBLE STUDY SHEETS encourage group members to prepare for each session's discussion at home. There are 13 lessons or chapters yet the material is flexible so a group may combine chapters if desired. The book measures 8.5 x 11 and is 60 pages in length.

When I contacted my publishing company, they were excited about the project and suggested I publish my work through Create Space. I knew nothing about gutter margins, bleed, ISBN numbers, or formatting the interior much less an attractive cover. Yet again, God provided a wonderful team of people to help - including a group to pilot the material. After several of us proof-read the book (over and over and over!), I finally clicked the button last Tuesday that made the finished product available for purchase on Amazon.com! 

If your group is looking for material to study this summer or fall, I invite you to consider this study.

Only the group leader will require the Leader's Guide. Each group member will need a copy of Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, a Bible, a notebook or journal, and the study sheets (distributed in your group). To learn more, click the Amazon link HERE. And feel free to email me with any questions (sarahlylnnphillips3@gmail.com). 

When has God surprised you or opened the door to an unforeseen opportunity? 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

When Someone's Watching You . . .

Have you ever had a strange feeling that you're being watched? It feels almost creepy and you hesitate to look around, for fear of who you'll find with their eyes fixed in your direction. Or maybe you worry that someone's stalking you, following your every move.

At other times, you and I may think there's not a soul in the world who has a clue where we are, what we're doing, or what we're thinking. We feel lonely and vulnerable. Often we've worked so hard, yet feel like we're running in place instead of making headway. We wish someone--anyone--would look our way to lend us a hand or to give us even a smile.

I found myself reading Mark 6 this week. After Jesus fed 5000 families with a little boy's lunch (verses 30-44), Jesus encouraged his disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake. Easy enough . . . until an antagonizing wind came up, pushing against their efforts to reach their destination. 

And [Jesus] saw that they were making headway painfully ("straining at the oars" NIV), for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. . . . He spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded . . ." (verses, 48-51, emphases added).
I read the story over and over as the words washed over my weary mind. Jesus watches us when we are "making headway painfully." He understands the obstacles that impede our progress in our service. He offers us courage by His presence. He gets into the boat with us in the middle of our tough situations. He offers us an inner stillness despite the raging winds around us. And sometimes He calms our circumstances.

So, if you feel like you're being watched, you are! The Lord Himself has His eyes on us. He understands our struggles and our frustrations. He comes to us, right where we live. He speaks truth to us and gets into the boat with us, all the while reassuring us with the words, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."

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This weekend, I had the privilege of sharing our story at Williamson Bible Baptist Church in New York State. Despite the chilly temperatures, we had a warm time together as we talked about THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE. Special thanks for your wonderful hospitality. I loved connecting with old friends and making new friends as well.

I promised you a link that summarizes our identity in Christ. This is just one of many online.

Blessings to you all as you "run with endurance the race marked out for you, looking to Jesus. Consider Him . . . so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted."

First two photos from bing.com

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Remembering Grace

Fifteen years. One hundred eighty months. Seven hundred eighty weeks. A long time, and yet in some ways, it seems like our family's car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike happened yesterday.

Today, fifteen years from April 5, 2003, I want to take time to remember.
Our Toyota Camry
"Remembering the crash site reminds me of an old Sunday school lesson. An angry king sent a great army by night to surround a prophet's residence. At dawn's light, overwhelming panic seized the prophet's servant when he saw the innumerable number of enemy troops, horses, and chariots surrounding them. But the prophet stayed calm and unafraid. When God opened the servant's eyes, he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around--the army of the Lord. They had been surrounded by God's protection the whole time [2 Kings 6].

"Words cannot fully describe the frenzied scene of the pile-up on the turnpike. Like Elisha's servant, we found ourselves surrounded. Surrounded by an army of charred and twisted vehicles, shattered glass, and broken bodies. Overwhelming distress and fear seized both victims and responders alike. 

"Looking back, I have to believe we were also surrounded by God's army--an army of grace.* The fading fog. A young woman named Bethan who called us back to the scene. The lady who sat with us. The offer of a cell phone. The rugby team. The medical personnel. Grace-givers every step of the way. And the promise of God's presence in the midst of it all" (Penned Without Ink,** pages 10-11).

Sarah and Elisabeth, age 5
God's grace continued with us . . . through uncertain hospital stays, through months of grueling recovery and rehab, through the uncomfortable adjustments once we again lived under the same roof, through the job and financial challenges, and through the lingering limitations that followed us. God's ever-present guidance, even when we couldn't see Him, has brought us to a wider place, a place where we can look back with gratefulness to Him for taking care of us every step of the way.

Today is also a day to express our thanks to all who stood by with loving hearts and helping hands. Thank you for praying, for supplying meals, for giving us rides to therapy, for offering the proceeds of your garage sales, for helping with yard work and minor repairs, for sending cards and notes, and for your smiles and hugs of support. 

Through all these years, our family has been blessed beyond measure. Every day is a gift. Every challenge, still an opportunity to trust in a God who will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Life isn't perfect for any of us. But today, we can choose to remember grace. God's grace.

It's always enough (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

*Grace: the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life; benefit, favor, gift (from Strong's Concordance)
**Read our story HERE.
Barry and Sarah, finally home

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Light at the End of the Tunnel - Part 2

When reading, do you have a habit of skipping ahead to the end of the book to find out what happens? I often caught my youngest daughter with her finger holding her place in the story, reading the last chapter!



This is a good weekend to hold our place in our life stories and peek into the last chapter, the epilogue . . . to look ahead to the light at the end of the tunnel. 



Since I wrote last time, I again made my way through the Lehigh Tunnel. And again, I gripped the wheel a little tighter and found myself looking past the car in front of me to the light at the end. In the darkness, I couldn't help but link the beckoning light to Jesus and to heaven.

Many of us know about heaven, but how easy to become so near-sighted that we tend to have a tunnel-bound perspective. The events of our lives and of our broken world loom large, and in the daily-ness of it all, we may forget we have a bright, glorious hope ahead of us. The best is yet to come! All because Jesus died in our place on the cross. All because of His resurrection.
So, let’s remind ourselves of Jesus' words: “Let not your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. I go to prepare a place for you . . . I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Peter reminded us of our “inheritance that is imperishable – beyond the reach of change and decay, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

John described our eternal destiny this way: “God will dwell with them and they shall be His people. God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (21:3, 4). And He (Christ) shall reign forever and ever” (11:15).

You don’t have to be like a driver lost in a long dark tunnel. Look up! Look ahead! This is our hope! We already have a bright, happily-ever-after ending to our story!

But the path of the righteous is like the shining light
that shines more and more unto the perfect day.
Proverbs 4:18


Photos from bing.com/images/free to use

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Light at the End of the Tunnel - Part 1

Remove sunglasses. Turn lights on. Stay in lane.
As the tunnel entrance swallowed our car, I could hear our daughters in the back seat inhaling huge gulps of air, then becoming quiet as they held their breath until we exited into the bright sunshine at the other end, 4,380 feet later. Ah-h-h. Their relief and laughter all mixed together always made me smile. I still think of their antics every time I travel on the northeast extension of the PA Turnpike. 

In 1957, a single two-lane tunnel under Blue Mountain opened. In 1991 a parallel tunnel was constructed to allow two lanes of traffic in each direction. I marvel at the engineering of it all.

And yet, I'm not too fond of the tunnel experience. Are you? I feel closed in and find myself gripping the wheel a little tighter, allowing plenty of space between my front end and the tail lights of the car in front of me. And always, my eyes search for the light at the end of the tunnel.

The expression, "light at the end of the tunnel," dates back to the 1800s but became more widespread in the mid-1900s. By now a cliché, it still captures the idea that a difficult situation or task might be coming to an end.* There's hope. We're moving toward a place that will give relief and allow us to breath a little freer.

Some tunnel experiences seem short and others drag on for much longer. At times we think we're close to finishing our journey in the dark only to find that the light seems to keep moving ahead, beyond our ability to exit in the time we expected. We may feel hemmed in by the darkness as we watch others whizzing past us in the other lane. Whether we're facing an illness, a financial crisis, or a season of stress, in each case, we find relief and joy when we see the end in sight. "The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul" (Proverbs 13:19).

However, not all of our tunnel experiences are negative.
What projects have you taken on, knowing they would be challenging and demanding, yet the anticipated reward kept you motivated to stay in your lane and keep going? I felt that way when I began to write Penned Without Ink.    

Most recently, I teamed up with my publisher and a narrator to produce an audiobook of our story. The rule of thumb suggests that narrators or readers set aside ten hours  of time for each hour of actual reading. My book takes 4 hours and 18 minutes. Think of all the time it took for the narrator, Robin Wasser, to read and produce our story. And she captured it beautifully. On my end, I listened and proofread each chapter twice, pointing to every word in the book. As I checked off each section, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel grow brighter.

On February 16,  the audiobook of Penned Without Ink made its appearance on Amazon and is now available through Audible! Ah-h-h. Project complete and well worth every foot of tunnel time along the way. I hope you'll check it out HERE.

No matter where we find ourselves in our life stories, let's keep our eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel. We don't have to hold our breath. God promises His precious presence all the way to the end.


Next time: Part 2

Tunnel photos from bing.com/images/free to use
*https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/light+at+the+end+of+the+tunnel