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

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

When Sleep Evades Us . . .

I turned over and looked at the clock. Five minutes past midnight. I sighed. It had only been two hours since I turned out the light, and already I was awake.

As I lay there in the dark, I could hear the wind howling. I snuggled under the covers a little deeper, grateful for the warmth and stability of my home. I tried to pray but my thoughts, like the wind and snow outside, seemed to be swirling every which way. Oh, for the nights when sleep came easily and I didn't wake up until dawn.

What do you do when you can't sleep?

Gradually, the words to an old hymn began to slip their way into my mind:

Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild;
Still I can trust Him - I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me and I am His child.

"Though the night deepens and tempests are wild" certainly described this night - outside and in. The reassuring words of trust, redemption, and belonging began to quiet my heart.

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort and there I am blest. 

Under His wings, O what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life's trials are o're; 
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me, 
Resting in Jesus I'm safe evermore.

Sweet memories of taking the girls to the Harford Fair made me smile in the darkness. Every year, we visited the mother hen who sheltered her chicks under her wings. Witnessing the fluffy chicks hiding under their mother stamped an indelible impression on this city girl as I explained how, just like the mother hen, God shelters and protects us. 

Under His wings, Under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.*

Sleep evaded me for much of the night, but I could rest in the One who is "my God, in whom I trust." One who will cover us with his pinions, and under his wings we will find refuge . . . (Psalm 91:2, 4).



*William O. Cushing, 1823-1902

*Photos from bling.com/images/free to use

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hearing the Music . . . Behind the Scenes # 10

Google.com
I reached for yet another cough drop while a cup of ginger-lemon tea seeped on the counter. I had tried every home remedy I knew. Would I ever feel better? My mounting frustration escaped with a sigh that produced a fit of coughing. This wasn't the way I wanted to spend the days my daughter was home on college break. I don't get sick often, but when I do . . . 

God has a way of gently teaching us at times like this, times when we feel weak and far from adequate. Remember the story of the piano lesson from my last post? A child had practiced so hard to plunk out a simple tune with his little stubby fingers. And then the teacher sat down and played along with him. As the keys yielded to his touch, beautiful music echoed in the studio. As the last notes died away, the teacher smiled. "You did what you could, and I did the rest."
bing.com
I think that sometimes God takes us by the hand and leads us to the window, parts the curtain, and gives us a glimpse of what He is doing. While confined to the rocking chair, sipping tea, I began to connect the dots of God working in ways I never could have imagined.

I could almost hear the music.

In early December, my publisher mentioned in a weekly newsletter that if authors were interested in doing an audio book to let him know. I never thought of this option so with cautious curiosity emailed him. Within a week, I had four people audition as readers for Penned Without Ink. How would I know who to choose? Although I occasionally enjoy listening to books in the car, I had no experience whatsoever. With the help of a few writer friends and family members, we narrowed it down to two, then I sent in my # 1 and # 2 choices, praying all the while that I had made the best decision.

Shortly thereafter, my # 1 choice emailed me, asking about the correct pronunciation of a few names. She also shared with me that she had done her nurse's training at the same hospital I was in for the three weeks immediately after our car crash. Although the times didn't line up, she had walked those same hallways and cared for patients in that same location. What a connection! In spite of my hand-wringing over which reader to choose, God placed us together. 

During the holidays, I also received a letter from my aunt written on behalf of a distant relative who, because of macular degeneration, could not see to read. My aunt told her about my book, which her son ordered and reads to her on his occasional visits. She wanted me to know what an encouragement it has provided, and please, would I make my book available to the Association for the Blind in Albany, New York?

Google.com
I know a little about the Association for the Blind because of Barry's eye challenges. He received many large-print and audio books on loan. This was another avenue I had not yet considered. And the request came at the precisely the same time the audio book "happened" to be in process! As soon as the audio is up and running, I'll be on the phone, pursuing opportunities to encourage many with deteriorating vision.

The holidays have slipped into the past, and I'm feeling much better. Yet I hope I will always remember the blessing of sipping ginger tea in the rocking chair, reflecting on God's faithfulness. 

We do what we can and God does the rest.

Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.
Isaiah 25:1 (NIV)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Striking a Balance

Is it just me, or is January 2018 zipping by at breakneck speed?

Seems I'm just getting around to reflecting on the new year's possibilities along with a few goals and hopeful intentions. In the process I reached for one of Barry's books I finished in 2017 and found the page with the corner turned down. Sometimes when you don't have time to think about something in the moment, it's nice to go back and find it again - this time to digest it slowly, like savoring a candy bar you saved for later. 
Here's what I've been thinking about (along with making time for rest, exercise, and connecting with people):
Reading is a sober discipline, and all discipline is difficult. It requires work, diligence, concentration, practice, and maturity.
But that is the way it is with anything worthwhile. The best things in life invariably cost something. People have to sacrifice to attain them, to achieve them, to keep them, and to enjoy them. 
That is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn in life. It is the message that most parents realize that they ought to instill in their children: Patience, commitment, diligence, constancy, and discipline will ultimately pay off if their children are just willing to defer gratification long enough for the seeds they have sown to sprout and bear fruit.
A flippant, shallow, and imprecise approach to anything . . . is ultimately self-defeating.* 
Maybe sometimes in the heat of the day, we forget that "anything noble takes effort." 

I read another book, this one requested for Christmas by one of my daughters. I have a habit of reading the books I gift, both before and after they're opened! This one started out with an allegory about a student who wanted to take piano lessons. He practiced and practiced. When he plunked out his little tune during his lesson, the teacher came alongside him and began to play. Melodious music filled the room. When they finished the teacher smiled and said, "We make pretty good music together."

The boy looked up at him. "You don't mean we, do you?

"Yes. We made the music together. You did what you could, and I did the rest."**

The story includes many wonderful scenes and lessons, but this line struck a cord with me. We often are like the child . . . practicing commitment and diligence, working hard . . . as we should. Yet our efforts often seem like the awkward tune the boy struggled to play. And that's when the Master Teacher comes alongside us and whispers, "You do what you can, and I will do the rest."

Striking a balance? There will always be a tension between the hard work of taking our responsibilities seriously and watching/hearing God make our labored efforts sing. In the next post or two, I'll be sharing some examples of this very thing.
 
*Going Somewhere: A Dan and Bea Adventure by George Grant (Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999). 254.
**When Being Good Isn't Good Enough by Steve Brown (Brenham: Lucid Books, 2014), 24.

Photos from bing.com/images free to use