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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing . . .

Cold and rainy. All day long.

Although we officially welcomed spring in March, it seems to have taken a long time to arrive here in NE PA. We've had a few nice days, but chilly rain makes us long for the warmth of the sun. Yet the grass is green, and the early blooms have come and gone, so it's coming. Only a little longer . . .

One of my spring goals was to send out a quarterly e-newsletter to those who signed up for updates about Penned Without Ink at my book signing in November or other events in the past. On April 26, I pressed the send button. Did you receive it? If you have Gmail, it shows up in your promotions inbox. My objective is to offer a few uplifting thoughts and quotes and share a couple of resources relevant to the current season.

In case you missed it, I invite you to sign up to receive future newsletters HERE

Here's part of what I shared in the spring issue:

Urgent or Important?

For a while now I’ve been eyeing a CD series I found in Barry’s office and finally popped the first disc into the player on a recent road trip to see my daughters. Steve Jones facilitated the discussion on Focus: Achieving Your Highest Priorities. Listening not only helped the miles pass more quickly but reminded me that focus is vital if we are to spend our lives on what is truly worthwhile.

Mr. Jones divided what we do into four categories:
1.      Urgent
2.      Important
3.      Both urgent and important
4.      Neither urgent nor important  

Under which category do we find ourselves spending the most time? Does the urgent rule our schedules? Do we waste time on that which is neither important nor urgent?  Do we find that the important gets pushed aside, time gets away from us, or we feel frustrated when we’ve frittered the day away on some urgency that, in the long run, didn’t really matter? I’ve sure been there.

The recommendation is to
DETERMINE OUR VALUES, which define what’s important to us. Then, to SET GOALS with a view toward spending most of our time in the important category, leaving enough margin for urgent matters, interruptions, and—for me—that coveted phone call from one of my girls! I’ve been challenged to prioritize with intention rather than just react to the loudest voice calling my name. To take time to PLAN at the beginning of the week and then a few minutes at the start of each day.

Although I’d heard some of these ideas before, I found the CD presentation thought-provoking . . . and freeing. For doesn’t the “important” revolve around our relationships with God and others? A good work ethic? Healthy self-care habits and . . . actually, we each determine our own values and definitions for our individual life stories. I still have some work to do in thinking through mine.
Perhaps, as the seasons change, we can focus on the “important” just a little bit more.

But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His Kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides."
Matthew 6:33, The Amplified Bible 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Look at the Birds . . .

I've been watching them since last fall when, for the first time, I planted a shepherd's crook outside my front window and hung a bird feeder. There's a quiet joy watching these little creatures up close, flitting and swooping and eating. Every week I fill up the tube, and every day I see how much they've eaten.

Now my late husband was a real birder. Even after giving multiple bird books away, we still have enough to fill a library shelf along with several pairs of binoculars. He joined the Audubon Society and took regular bird walks. He practiced learning the calls and songs of the local birds. Sometimes he took the girls with him on his birding trips, where they not only learned about various birds but also plants and flowers. One day he and I got a close-up look at an eagle flying over our heads.

Birding was always his "thing," so for me to venture into his territory made me feel a little intimidated. At the same time, perhaps in a very miniscule way, I felt I was carrying on his legacy. As the months have passed, enjoying the birds has become increasingly more than that for me. Watching the black-eyed chickadees and sparrows brings peace and reassurance to my heart. I gather courage from them when I feel afraid, when I face yet another decision, and when my faith falters. Each time I pause at the window, I remember the words of Jesus when He said,
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . Therefore do not be anxious . . .
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 6:26, 31; 10:29-31 

Jesus, the ultimate story teller, knew how to take the common everyday things of life and draw spiritual truth from them. These constant reminders have a wonderful way of giving us perspective and inviting us to trust Him.

So, whether you're a real birder or just a novice like me, there's hope to be found in nature's object lessons all around us. 

Just look at the birds!

*Photos from Bing.com/images

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Out With the Old - In With the New


After digging out of the blizzard of the century, the soft breezes of spring come as a welcome reprieve. Robins' songs greet us with each morning sunrise. Geese honk their way across brighter skies. Peepers sing their joyous refrain as gilded shadows give way to twilight. Brave perennials of all kinds push last year's dead debris out of the way as promising buds burst into bloom. And the grass . . . it just keeps looking greener.

This is the first year for me to do the spring clean-up in the yard by myself. To be honest, I felt overwhelmed when I first took a look around. So, on every nice day, I decided to bundle up (when it's cool), find my garden gloves, and rake for an hour. What a job! For days, I've been raking up matted dead leaves and sticks that have covered up my flower beds. I've picked piles of stones out of the lawn, thrown from the snow plows. I've trimmed bushes and uncovered delicate blossoms that make me smile. And, you know, I'm starting to see a difference, a transformation. I have more to do, but little by little, I'm clearing the way for . . . all things summer.

I bet you've been doing the same thing! There's something about the smell of earth and the promise of warmer days that bring life to our routines. We open our windows to savor the fresh air. We're drawn to the outdoors like a magnet.

I like to think of spring as a reflection of new life . . . of laying aside the cold grip of the old and embracing the warmth of the new. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on a theme scrawled on parchment to the ancient believers in Colosse:

Since you have been risen with Christ . . . Put off "anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk . . . seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self . . .

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and . . . forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you . . . And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony . . ."

So as we go about our springtime chores, let's also remember to ask God to clean up the dead sticks and leaves in our hearts. He "rakes" out the old and plants the new . . . fruits of righteousness . . . transforming us from the inside out.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lessons from a Broken Doorknob

One day it works just fine, the next day it doesn't. Does this happen at your house, too?!

This time it was the back door. We've always called it the "back" door, but in reality it faces the street just like the front door. Maybe we should say "patio" door!

I knew I was in trouble when turning the doorknob didn't bring the latch in all the way and therefore I couldn't close the door. Hmmm . . . So I gave the door a good push. Success! I got the door closed but then the stubborn doorknob would not budge. There would be no coming and going out the "back" door until . . .

But wait! I could use the front door. The deadbolt worked fine as usual, but on closer examination I discovered the doorknob we seldom used had issues, too. That's all I needed . . . to have this one go completely and then I'd be stuck . . . either in or out. I've figured out a lot of things in the past 22 months but this job . . . well, I needed help.

Why is it so hard to ask for help? To communicate what we need?

Maybe it's because we don't want to bother people or inconvenience them (my default). Or we don't want to be indebted. Or it goes against our American ideal of independence. Or we don't want the added attention.

I've done a little thinking about this the last few days and even talked it over with my girls. There's something about community or interdependence that we miss when think we should be able to do life by ourselves. Perhaps we make assumptions about what's good for others, thereby seeking to manage their experiences. Letting them decide (yes or no) lessens our anxiety and frees us up to ask for what we need, invite friends over, or offer our gifts and abilities.

The night of the door jam, I found myself pacing the floor with the phone in my hand. A voice echoed in my mind: "If you ever need anything, please call me." So, taking a deep breath, I called.

"I'd be glad to help you, Sarah. How about my wife and I stop over tomorrow evening?" My eyes welled up with tears as I stuttered my thanks. The next day, I ran to Home Depot to pick up new doorknobs - and not the $9.97 variety either. In ten minutes flat our friend had the old locks out and the new ones in. Amazing!

And then they stayed. Unhurried, we chatted about our families, churches, and health concerns. About travel plans, my leaky gas meter, the house they would soon be selling. I will always remember their kindness in valuing our relationship enough to visit for a while. They blessed me beyond measure. I will think of them every time I open and close my "back" door.

Later, I thought of the joy I received from bringing a meal to a new mom, cleaning a friend's house before her son's graduation party, and visiting a lonely senior. I recalled the university students who shoveled two feet of snow off my driveway and had fun doing it. My friend with the green thumb who helped me with my garden and shared how coming over lifted her spirits. The brothers who cheerfully put in my air conditioners and left with a few of Barry's Greek books. The rich fellowship with old friends who came for the weekend to replace my bathroom floor. We all need the give and take of community. 

I'm learning . . . God meant it to be that way.

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
Hebrews 13:16 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Double-Letter Memory . . .

Recognizing the familiar handwriting, I pulled the envelope out the stack of newly retrieved mail. I didn't need to see the return address to know one of my college roommates had sent it. Saving it until last, I carefully opened the card and settled into my favorite chair to savor the rare occasion of a handwritten note. 

"I have been strolling down Memory Lane lately," she wrote. "We are moving next month so have been decluttering! Lately my focus has been on the things accumulated in the attic. In going through files from college, I came across this."

I thumbed through the extra sheets in the card and found, much to my surprise, three pages she had hand-copied from a letter to me from my mom dated February 5, 1976. In it were Scriptural truths about God's provision of forgiveness and salvation and how to deal with doubts and introspection.

"I appreciated your mom's words again as I read them. So thankful the Lord allowed us to meet and become friends . . ."

Almost forty-one years to the day, my mom's words still rang true. All of a sudden, I missed her. In the days before easy FB communication, she had taken the time to faithfully write to me, to reassure my doubting heart, and to give me rock-solid truth to give me perspective and renew my confidence in His Word . . . which I had, in turn, shared with my roommate all those years ago.

This past week my own college-age daughter came home for spring break. So much catching up to do . . . so much to talk about. It didn't take long for her to share her desire to do a Bible study with a friend. Did I have anything that could help?

I combed through my office and not only found some good resources to help her but discovered, quite by accident, the original letter my roommate had copied all those years ago! To think that we BOTH kept these words of wisdom . . . she, with her college memorabilia (now scanned onto her computer) and me, in my ABC file.

Here's an excerpt from Mom's letter: "There is a real danger in becoming too introspective. God wants us to search our hearts but not to dwell on our failures and inadequacies. Confess and forsake [Proverbs 28:13] and then keep our eyes on Him. To keep looking in is to be defeated for sure. We are to keep looking up to the "author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). He always finishes what He begins."

It's good to sort through years of accumulation and separate out what we don't need anymore. But there are a few memories that speak a timeless treasure. Worth keeping, wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Deep, Hidden Spaces


The annoying sounds coming from my stove would not be ignored. I had just slipped Sunday night dinner into the oven for my dad and me when the incessant beeps began. I eyed the ERROR message staring back at me from the digital panel and instinctively hit the STOP/CLEAR button. Nothing happened. I frantically pressed every button on the panel. The oven didn't turn off and seemed to be getting hotter and hotter. The beeps continued. Loud. Unrelenting. Do-something-now insistent. 

I grabbed the owner's manual and flipped through the trouble-shooting pages. No answers, just an 800 number to call, which I did, thinking the help line could answer my dilemma. But the lady who answered only scheduled appointments for a repairman to come. Would Wednesday be okay? Wednesday? Three whole days away? Hardly a solution.

I finally found the sense to do what I should have done in the first place. Unplug the stove. Maybe large appliances are like cell phones. Just unplug them and plug them back in and hopefully they reset themselves. Fortunately for me, my dad arrived and between the two of us we pulled out the stove. Ah-ha! The plug had worked itself halfway out of the receptacle. I climbed down into the small space and pushed it in all the way. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. It was only after I unplugged it and then plugged it back in that the beeping stopped. Whew!

But as I began to back out of the hole, I couldn't believe what I saw. Gunk had dripped down between the sides of the stove and the cupboards. Glass shards, crumbs, and a dried spill dirtied the floor. Ugh. Dad and I set to work, scrubbing and cleaning it all up. How long had it been since the stove was pulled out?

How many times have you been shocked by your own messes, especially if you're a pretty good housekeeper? Do we pay more attention to the things we and others can see? Maybe that's why it's necessary to take the time to do some deep cleaning now and then.

Later that week I ran across this quote by Oswald Chambers: "We can only be used by God after we allow Him to show us the deep, hidden areas of our own character."

Deep, hidden areas . . . like my stove space . . .

Deep hidden areas . . . like my heart . . .

How many times have you been shocked by your own messes, especially if you're a pretty good Christian? Do we pay more attention to what we and others can see? Maybe that's why it's necessary to take the time on a daily basis to pray, "Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23, 24 AMPC).

And just like my dad, our heavenly Father is always ready and able to clean us all up.

*Photos from bing.com/images


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Fun With Poetry

Today I went back to school! 
Photo by Jenny Brock

There's nothing like sitting with preschool and elementary school students, reading poetry to them, and chatting about writing. Many thanks to Abington Christian Academy in Northeast Pennsylvania for inviting me to their 100th Day Event. Several others from our community also came and shared their expertise.

Today I read a few poems I've written along the way. If you're young at heart, you might enjoy them, too.

Morning Tangles

Morning tangles
Mazes in my hair
Secret Snarls
Undercover nightmare

Brush it! Comb it!
Tug of war - OW!
"Could I please do it later
Instead of just now?"

Morning Tangles
Aggravating spots
Bottle of detangler
Sprayed on all my spots

Brush it! Comb it!
Snarls start of move
Tug of war's over
Finally smooth!

I brought my hiccups with me.
They never left  my side.
As Mom and I went shopping,
They tried to hurt my pride.

I hiccuped by the broccoli
And near the peanut butter.
No matter how I tried to stop,
Those hiccups made me stutter.

I visited the drinking fountain,
Held my breath, and counted.
Those hiccups stayed - determined
And very much undaunted.

And so I brought my hiccups home.
My insides felt so shaken.
I promise you - This was no joke.
I really wasn't fakin'!

So if the hiccups find you
When you go into the store,
I'll meet you by the broccoli.
Let's keep score.

Coming Home
Gather up towels, swim suit, and sneaks.
Zip up my sleeping bag. Roll it up neat.

Laundry bag, camera, flashlight, and jacket -
Scramble to pack it - Ricochet racket! 

Voices echo, "See you next year.
Please write soon. Don't forget your gear."

Chattering car ride - So much to say:
Hiking, campfires . . . Wish I could stay . . . 

Home for Mom's supper. Yum. What a treat.
Finally, the favorites I love to eat.

A bath tonight? Okay. Feels warm and good.
Bedtime already? I'll go when I should.

Snuggled 'neath my covers like a bird in its       nest . . .
Camp was fun, but home's the best!

Treacherous Ride

old bike
red paint
black seat
wide tires
down the street

no hands
no feet
too fast
flip over
land hard
wind gone

next time
hang on!

*Photos from bing.com/images