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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Challenges Make Us Stronger

I woke up with a start. 

What was that noise? I couldn't place it, but it sounded like it was coming from the other side of my bedroom wall. With heart pounding, I glanced at the clock. Just after 1:00 a.m. The strange movement seemed loud in the dark of the night. A mouse? A rat? Or . . . I shuddered, willing logic to rein in my imagination. 

Turns out a couple of mice had been chewing on the air conditioner I have stored in the attic. Armed with traps from ACE Hardware, I was rewarded with two gray mice with long tails . . . just like the pictures. How could rodents so small make so much racket? One more chore I can add to my ever-lengthening list of "things-I've-learned-to-do-since-Barry-passed-away." He always took care of the mice.

What have you learned to do because you had to?

I've had to educate myself on home and appliance repairs, insurance, car maintenance, gardening, college matters, finances, simplifying, etc. How often have I prayed, begging God to help me figure out one more thing. I don't always get it right, but God has been faithful, often bringing helpers across my path to give me a hand. I am blessed.

Thanksgiving has a way of turning our focus to the past year to reflect on our blessings. We remember how God has seen us through the losses we never anticipated and the victories we never dreamed possible. He walks with us in the darkness and the light . . . in the dailyness of our lives.

This Thanksgiving, I want to thank God for . . .

So, what are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?
"Giving thanks always and for everything . . ." Ephesians 5:20

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Behind the Mask



"Trick or treat!" Ready or not, Halloween has arrived, the holiday where kids and adults alike dress up to pretend to be someone or something else for an evening. There's a certain delight that comes from becoming another character and sometimes hiding one's identity altogether.

Being an introvert from childhood, I never much cared for Halloween. My younger sister, more outgoing than I, took the lead. I felt a wave of relief wash over me when we finally got home, and I could be myself again.

I can't help but wonder how many of us, as adults, hide behind a mask when the calendar does NOT say October 31st. When we pretend to be someone or something we're not. When we're afraid to show who we really are . . .    
                     

So, why do we hide behind this different-than-I-truly-am persona? Is it because we worry others won't like us? Or feel we can't measure up or aren't "perfect" enough? Or want to portray our idea of a shining picture of success?
 

Can we be at peace with who we are . . . with who God created us to be: "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14)? Yes, we make choices to improve our character and habits. We pray for grace to help us overcome our flaws and weaknesses. We ask for forgiveness. Yet at our core, we are made in the image of a loving God who gives us a variety of talents and gifts to bless those within our influence. We don't have to hide behind a mask. What a relief.


I can't be who my husband was. Or my mom. Or any of my writer friends. Or anyone else. I'm learning to be comfortable in my own skin. It's freeing to know that I can just be me. And aim to faithfully live out what God has given me to do today.

So this Halloween, dress up with the kids! Pretend! Wear that mask from the dusty Halloween box you haul out of the attic! But then let's be willing to lay all that aside and resolve to be our best selves . . . for the glory of God.

Photos from bing.com/images free to use


This post is from my fall newsletter since it reflects the theme of Halloween. If you are not receiving the quarterly Penned Without Ink Newsletter and would be interested, click HERE. I plan to send the next issue out after Christmas.



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Asking the Right Questions . . .

How are you at asking questions?

I grew up in the "telling" generation. We were told what to think more than how to think. Not all bad. What child or teen doesn't need instruction and guidance? I'm grateful for the many "tellings" I received during my growing-up years. They have shaped me in positive ways.

Over time, however, I have also come to appreciate the wisdom of asking questions. 

My late husband, Barry, was a master at question-asking. In going through his papers after his passing, I discovered his secret.

He worked at it. 

I found lists of questions in his office, questions such as:

  • What do you mean by ___________?
  • How does __________ relate to ___________?
  • Why do you say that?
  • Can you give an example?
  • Let me see if I understand. Do you mean __________ or ___________?
He often quoted Stephen Covey: "Seek first to understand then to be understood."


At the Montrose Christian Writers Conference this past July, I picked up Paul Angone's book, 101 Questions You Need to Ask in Your Twenties (and let's be honest, your thirties too) [Moody Press]. It's a book for Millennials, and since my youngest turns 21 in a few weeks, I thought it might be a good read for her.

Before sending it off, I took a look inside. Long story short, I read the whole thing and took nearly eight pages of notes. The premise of the book is this: to be successful, learn to ask good questions. Every question in the book is thought-provoking and helpful. Here are a few that gave me pause:



  • Do your friendships help you fly or pull you down?
  • When is enough, enough?
  • Do your actions back up your ambitions?
  • Do I create more or complain more?
  • Am I going through my day mindful or mindless?
  • What am I going to regret not doing?
  • Who inspires me most?
  • Everyone leaves behind a legacy. What will mine be?
Today would have been Barry's 62nd birthday. Somehow, on this day, it seems fitting to write about the value of asking good, even great questions. I have a hunch, if he were still with us, he'd take a few notes on Angone's book himself before writing Elisabeth a fatherly note on the title page and sending it to her with love and his best wishes.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Happy Birthday to Penned Without Ink!


Today marks the second anniversary of the release of Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, an inspirational memoir highlighting the story of our family's near-fatal car crash in 2003. It also shares quiet miracles layered between pain and loss and captures the essence of hope and trust in a faithful God. 

What a journey . . . both the living of it and the writing of it.

So much has happened in these two years . . . 
  • A book signing at a local coffee shop, where friends and family came to pick up a copy of the book and offer support. 
  • Learning the nuts and bolts of marketing and producing a book trailer
  • Accepting opportunities to share our story at both local and non-local events. 
  • Feeling grateful for story after story of how God, through our story, infused courage into others going through difficulties and trauma. 
  • The thrill of three book awards
  • The process of making Penned an audio book, thanks to LPC and narrator Robin Wasser.
  • The development of a leader's guide with reproducible study sheets to assist facilitators to lead group members deeper into the timeless themes of Penned
I want to thank you for your wonderful support and thank God for His grace every step of the way.

Some have asked what my next writing project will be. Maybe a devotional? We'll see. In the meantime, I'd like to increase my article-writing. I enjoy the challenge of writing an 1100-1200 word piece with one main theme. 

If you've appreciated Penned Without Ink and/or have found the leader's guide and study valuable, would you consider writing an Amazon or Goodreads review? It's a great way to invite others to read the story, and more importantly, to offer encouragement with the timeless truths of the Word of God. Thank you!

What's happened over the past two years for you?

*Photos by Julie Manwarren


Friday, September 21, 2018

When Mothers Pray . . .

September was just around the corner when a flyer tucked in the church bulletin caught my eye. 

A local chapter of Moms in Prayer International was holding a weekly prayer meeting during the school year. Their mission? "To impact children and schools worldwide for Christ by gathering mothers to pray." Their vision? "That every school in the world would be covered with prayer."

I read the entire flyer several times, thinking about our youngest daughter who had just graduated from a small classical K - 8 Christian school that spring and was heading to the public high school in just a few days. I didn't know how the prayer time was set up or who was coming, but I decided she needed the extra prayer support - and, truth be told, so did I.

Seven Septembers later, I am still meeting to pray Moms-in-Prayer style!


From Moms in Prayer Website
The ancient patriarch, Job, prayed for his children (Job 1:4-5). And often I have prayed that, above all else, my children would walk in truth (3 John 4). Moms in Prayer has been a way to intercede for my children and grandchildren, linking arms with others with the same desire. 

Here's a look at our hour-long prayer times:

Each week the leader prints out a prayer sheet. We take turns reading Scripture verses that share an attribute of God. Right away our minds are focused on who God is. Then we pray sentence prayers in this order:

PRAISE: praising God for who He is, His attributes, His name or His character.
CONFESSION: silently confessing our sins to the God who forgives.
THANKSGIVING: thanking God for what He has done.
INTERCESSION: coming to God on behalf of others. 
     Each mom chooses one child for that day. We each place our child's name in a selected Scripture verse and pray that verse for our student, then go on to pray for specific needs. Each mom around the table prays for this child. Then another mom prays for her child in the same way, and others pray for this child, etc.
     We then pray for teachers/staff for our specific school(s).
     We remember specific school concerns.
     We end our time praying for the ministry of Moms in Prayer.

From Moms in Prayer Websit

Our times of prayer have been sweet. There's something strengthening about knowing that throughout the week others are praying for my child while I'm praying for theirs. We've seen God answer over and over again. His faithfulness has been overwhelming! And it's a wonderful way to make new friends around a common passion.

If you're looking for a unique way to pray for your children, I invite you to consider Moms in Prayer. God invites us to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). He hears our prayers . . . and our hearts.
     



Friday, August 31, 2018

Pursuing Perspective

Five states covering over 2100 miles . . . 

A vacation? Mostly - and a college run for the third year in a row!

Photo from PA Grand Canyon Website
There's something about getting away that gives us perspective. We break out of our normal routines and travel to various cities and towns with different geography, different ways of speaking, and different attractions. We often visit with people we don't see very often and hear ourselves summarizing the highlights of the past year. We're introduced to new ideas, recipes, and even health tips. In the quieter moments, we turn the future over in our minds, purposing to make changes to "do" less and "be" more. 

This year, to begin our trip, my youngest daughter and I took a winding detour to visit the PA Grand Canyon. As we stood at one of the lookout points, vultures circled below us. Down, down at the bottom of the gorge a lazy river wound its way around the huge canyon walls. Photos can't begin to capture its essence and grandeur. We felt small, indeed.

Photo of me by Rayan Anaster -
 www.rayananastorphotography.com 
From there we headed to Michigan, Barry's home state, and spent time with his family. Sandy beaches, boat rides, and the dunes at sunset - all interspersed with great conversations - made for a restful time (even if I did need Bonine to push back "that feeling" caused by the waves when the boat was anchored). Sitting here on the beach with the waves lapping at my feet, I again felt small and far away from home, praying for wisdom for yet another season.

Indiana's flat-lands welcomed us as Elisabeth began classes once more. After a tearful good-bye (always!), my dad (who had taken the train to my sister's the week before) and I headed south to visit The Ark Encounter. A wonderful experience. Talk about perspective! Here, too, I felt small - not only because of the tremendous size of the Ark but also in comparison to history and all that has happened. Our visit truly marked a day to remember.
So now, we are all in our respective places . . . back to normal, I guess. But I don't want to just shuffle through my days. I want to live with purpose, remembering my smallness compared to a great big God who has a master plan for this world and yet . . . and yet . . . who cares for our smallest needs with love and compassion here and now. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Three Ways to Thrive in Less-Than-Ideal Conditions

At first, I thought it was just another weed sprouting up between the bricks. "I need to get out here and do some weeding," I mused, looking around the patio with a sigh. "All that rain . . . " 

Days later, after several more downpours, I passed my "weed" again, only to discover a tomato plant, several inches high. It looked healthy and even had a couple of blossoms here and there. I decided to leave it undisturbed and see what would happen.

Every day it grew a little more. When I compared it to another tomato plant in a nearby pot, I had to smile. It looked to be thriving. The plant in the pot? Not so much. 

This week, my surprise growing from a crack in the bricks reaches half-way across the path leading to the back door. Not only does it display many blossoms but also little cherry tomatoes, some with a rosy hue. I can't wait to taste their sweetness.

I've done some thinking about this unexpected bit of garden, springing up in such an unlikely place . . . crowded in with little soil, behind the gate, with its stems spread in the direct path of passing feet and hurried exits. There is nothing ideal about this small space yet my tomato plant thrives day after day, about to yield fruit. 

Life is seldom ideal. How many times do we find ourselves in a place we never intended? A place that doesn't seem suited for us? A place that feels crowded between immovable obstacles? We long for space to grow and an environment in which to thrive.

We're not alone. 


Yet, have you noticed that the heroes we respect are seldom those people with perfect circumstances? Like my tomato plant, these role models are the ones who somehow live and grow in less-than-ideal circumstances. Time and time again, they overcome various obstacles. Theirs are the stories that inspire us and offer us courage.

Perhaps they have mastered the art of choosing to be positive and making it a practice to search for the bright side of life. It's likely they have learned to be content in whatever state they find themselves. Most importantly, they've honed the habit of thankfulness in every situation. 


While our humanness and the reality of a fallen world get in the way of our ideals, one little tomato plant can serve as a wonderful reminder of what it means to thrive.