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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

PENNED WITHOUT INK Celebrates its First Anniversary!

What were you doing a year ago today?

For most, September 26, 2016 seemed like a typical fall day - complete with falling leaves, pumpkins or mums arranged on front porch steps, and early morning school buses rolling by. For me, I awoke to a day long anticipated . . . the release date for Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story. 

I flew down the stairs first thing that morning and checked in with Amazon.  Sure enough, there it was . . . a newborn book, ready to share with the world! 

Then, on November 5th, many of you joined me at Duffy's Coffee House in Northeast PA for my book signing. All these months later, I am still overcome with gratefulness for your prayers and support . . . and by the fact that you wanted to read our story. THANK YOU. Many have come back to thank me for writing  about our journey and to express how much it has encouraged them. 

So, what's been happening since then?
  • I shared my book at several churches, a college class, a ladies' luncheon, a book club, and even went to an elementary school as an "author."
  • I taught a workshop at the Women's LYFE Conference.
  • My quarterly newsletter is up and running. (If you'd like to receive it, click HERE!)
  • Penned Without Ink won two awards: 
    • Bronze/3rd Place Award in the 2017 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Best Inspirational category
    • 2017 Bookvana Awards Finalist in the "Religion: Christian Inspirational" Category
One of the most rewarding experiences took place last fall when a group of women gathered to study God's Word, using Penned as the text. What a privilege for me to lead a small group using my own book! Together, we all learned more about what it means to truly trust God with our life stories.
As I prayed about what to write next, a professor asked if she could use Penned with a reading group on her college campus in NC this semester. Her request gave me the direction I needed to organize and add to my notes from last fall to create a Penned Without Ink Guide for Small Group Leaders, which I completed in time to send to her last month.

On this first anniversary of Penned Without Ink, I want to share my hope and prayer that this Guide for Small Group Leaders will be available in the near future. My goal is to equip facilitators with practical resources to help lead individuals/groups to increase their trust and hope in a faithful God who writes perfect stories. Presently, an editor is reviewing it. I'll keep you posted.

Again, thank you for your support for me and for Penned Without Ink. If our story has blessed  and encouraged you, I hope you'll share it. You can still find it on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats here.

In all our endeavors, it's the people who make all the difference . . . people who have a story that's unique and important . . .

People just like you.  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Things We Keep

September . . . my favorite month of the year, a new beginning in many ways . . . a new season, a new school year, new routines, new start-up activities in the community, and maybe even a new project or two . . .

I'm ready to settle in. How about you?

This fall my Bible study and writer friends are meeting around my table. Having the accountability is nice for all of us. Then there's a few monthly commitments that will pick up again. All good.

Every month (when I'm focused), in my journal, I write out what I need to do and what I'd like to do and even who I'd like to connect with for that month. For the past couple of years, cleaning things out and simplifying has topped the list. In honor of my late husband, Barry, I touched almost every one of his papers, files, and books. I've found treasures--thoughts covering all kinds of topics--that I've filed so I and the girls can easily access them. I've also given away an odd assortment of things that were important to him . . . but to me? Not so much.

The things we keep or get rid of tell a story.

I recently cleaned out my desk and found something my dad had passed down to me a while ago: the hospital bill from my birth fifty-some years ago! I carefully removed it from the envelope . . . $119.75. To think my parents kept this bill over all these years. From what they've told me, my coming was not exactly in their plan just yet, but I always felt wanted and cherished. A wonderful gift, I know.

Another treasure I came across is the budget Barry and I kept from our first year of marriage in 1979. Barry graduated from college with $40 in his pocket. He drove home and worked for several area farmers until our wedding in July, saving enough to last until his first paycheck as a Social Studies teacher in a Christian school. Our weekly income after taxes and giving turned out to be $133.55. We began a meager savings account at that time and even gave ourselves an "allowance" of  $2 a week! At ages 21 and 23, we enjoyed one of the happiest (and simplest) years of our lives.

Over the past months, I've found quite a few things I want to hang on to. Suffice it to say, the things we keep tell a story . . . a story of God's faithfulness over many years, of His watch-care over a chubby baby girl from Buffalo, and of His provision for a couple of young kids who wanted to serve God together more than anything else in the world.

What have you saved? And, more importantly, what stories do they tell?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On Saying Farewell . . .

Remember the farewell song from The Sound of Music? The irony of the lyrics leaves me with mixed emotions every time I hear it. 

In real life, I feel the same way about saying good-bye. How about you?

I think it all began when, as a college freshman, I watched my parents drive away to return home some 800 miles away. Determined, I smiled and waved, but my tears gave me away. Truth be told, I felt half sick. What had I been thinking? Christmas vacation seemed to be light years into the future.

In the late '90s my sister and her family left for missionary work in Africa--before the age of cell-phone towers in the African bush. In 2001 our first-born decided to attend college in Arizona. As the city of Phoenix grew smaller from the plane window, my heart literally ached. And now, I'm on the verge of that final hug as I leave my youngest at her college campus, only to return home to an empty house. 

Life has its comings and goings.

Love has a price tag, but really, what's the alternative? Even though I sometimes find my cheeks wet with tears, I'm grateful for these relationships, I pray for each one, confident in God's continued work in all our lives.

This past week, my small group said farewell to our leader and mentor, who is moving to another state. It wasn't easy to say good-bye to the one who had encouraged us in God's Word, met with us individually outside of our weekly meeting time, and spoke truth into our lives, all with grace and good humor. Together, we had walked through heartache and joy, defeat and victory, disappointment and blessing.

In my living room, over lemon cake and coffee, our group shared stories and counted answers to prayer. We read Acts 20, the account of the apostle Paul's farewell to the people of Ephesus. I was struck with the similarities of this ancient story and Kim's ministry: "You yourselves know how I lived among you . . . serving the Lord with all humility . . . how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable and teaching you in public and from house to house . . . And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

"And when [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful. And they accompanied him to the ship."

Can you picture it?

Similarly, our little group prayed around Kim, committing her to God's keeping. Sorrowful? Oh, yes. Yet, we celebrated God's direction, His promises, and His good work in all of us.

I don't think farewells will become easier in this life. I'll still shed tears when I give my sweet girl that last hug tomorrow. But we can both be confident of this: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ready for Anything? When Life Re-defines You # 5

"It's easy," the man behind the counter insisted. 

We walked around to the model garage door in the showroom. I craned my neck to see where he was pointing, trying my best to memorize his instructions.

"See this button. Push it once. If the light here turns yellow, press the remote once. If it's purple, press one button on the remote, then the other."

"Okay. Thanks for your help." I gave him an uncertain smile as I turned to leave. 

"You'll get it," he said. 

Later that afternoon, I gingerly climbed the ladder and reached for the button, muttering his directions step by step. Soon one, then the other garage door opened and closed with the push of a button on the remote! Another victory in learning yet one more new thing. "Thank you, Lord." 

Like me, have you found that household maintenance has a way of piling up? First, the hot water heater needs to be replaced, then the garage door openers don't work, then the phone acts up, then . . . well, you get the picture. That's just the nature of the way things are in this world.

This is the last in our blog series about being prepared for the unexpected, a summation of the workshop I taught at the Women's LYFE Conference in June. So far, we've looked at the following:

Strategy # 1: Examine your relationship with God.
Strategy # 2: Check your relationships with others.
Strategy # 3: Keep complete and accurate records in one place.
Strategy # 4: Have adequate insurance.
Strategy # 5: Be intentional about how you manage your finances.
Strategy # 6: Simplify.
Strategy # 7: Update your legal documents.

Here are the last three big ideas:

Strategy # 8: Keep up-to-date with home and car repairs.
Postponing repairs and letting routine maintenance fall behind will cause double the headache if you are thrown into a time of trial. I'm learning to jot down a list, ask for advice (or do some research), and make a plan. And maybe you can even trade services with others who also need some help.

Strategy # 9: Access your health. Take care of yourself.
The stronger and healthier you are before a crisis, the better off you'll be as you move through it. It's easy to keep putting off that visit to the doctor or dentist, your exercise routine, or taking those supplements. Let's remember that we are responsible to care for our health. 

Strategy # 10: Have a network in place. 
When your car battery runs low, you need a jump. In real life, sometimes our "batteries" grow weak and we need someone to infuse energy into us to help us in physical and spiritual ways. Interdependence, mutual loving care, and networking not only provide for those in need, they also create opportunities for ministry and service. 

Now is the time to connect with others. When you face some trouble, you already know and trust them--and in the meantime, you have occasions to serve and help them out.
  • Be active in your local church.
  • Be part of a group in your community.
  • Establish a relationship with a financial advisor and tax accountant.
  • Find a plumber, handyman, computer expert, etc.
  • Be involved with people!
All in all, we cannot completely prepare ourselves for the unforeseeable future, but we can completely trust the God Who holds the world in His hand. And even as we trust God, we can take the necessary steps to act wisely with what He has given.

Let's give our what ifs to the One who says, "Fear not, I am always with you"--BEFORE a crisis, DURING a crisis, and BEYOND. Whatever re-definitions come your way, God lovingly invites you to trust Him with your story.

Photos from bing.com/images

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ready for Anything? When Life Re-defines You # 4

Barry with Jana and Sharon
The tears in my eyes surprised me as I mentioned to my daughter that July 31st would mark the anniversary of our move to Northeast Pennsylvania. Memories flooded my mind in living color as I thought back to that day so long ago . . . How could thirty years have slipped by? How could our little girls, then four and eighteen months, have grown to be young women with children of their own?

I remember that weekend well. We arrived with not much more than a suitcase, a vacuum cleaner, some cleaning supplies, and a couple of lawn chairs. My husband sanded down the worn hardwood floors and coated them with polyurethane by the time the moving truck arrived a few days later. Over the years we've toned down the flowered '70s wallpaper, replaced windows, remodeled the kitchen and bathroom, painted multiple times, and added a double garage and guest room. If our walls could talk, they would tell lots of stories . . . some humorous and some sad but mostly ordinary stories about an ordinary family, trying to hang on to the  extraordinary grace of God as we went along.

Perhaps the reason my emotions got the best of me is because I realized those years made up the peak season of our lives . . . and suddenly, they're gone . . . like "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14).

November 1, 1997: Jana, Sharon, Baby Elisabeth, "Mom"
In 1987, we never could have imagined the blessings that lay ahead . . . the girls' school days, the birth of another baby, our family vacations, Daddy's garden, the secret swing in the woods, trips to the library and reading the Little House series under the old apple tree, singing around the fireplace on Saturday nights, our church family . . .

We never anticipated the many challenges that lay ahead either . . . a life-altering car crash resulting in lifelong limitations (told in Penned Without Ink), the death of three of our parents, job transitions, disappointment with life events--and even with ourselves . . .  

Which brings us back to our series on how to prepare for a crisis of any kind. So far we've highlighted several strategies:

Strategy # 1: Examine your relationship with God.
Strategy # 2: Check your relationships with others.
Strategy # 3: Keep complete and accurate records in one place.
Strategy # 4: Have adequate insurance.
Strategy # 5: Be intentional about how you manage your finances.
Strategy # 6: Simplify.

Today we'll look at Strategy # 7: Update your legal documents.

Keep your HIPAA current. Your privacy is protected. In order for anyone besides you to access your medical information, you need to authorize them to do so in writing. It's just a one or two page document. Usually you would list your spouse, an adult child, or a close friend. On the back of your health insurance card is a 1-800 number you can call to make sure this in order.

Have a will in place. Having an up-to-date will lets you decide what happens to your assets at the time of your passing. It allows you to determine who will be the guardian of your minor children. And it allows you to choose the executor of your estate, a trustworthy person who carries out the terms of your will. Remember a document can always be changed or updated as needed.

Have a financial or durable power of attorney in place, who is the person named in a notarized document who will care for your finances should you become unable to do so. For example of you were in a coma, this person would manage your finances, pay your bills, etc.

Have a medical power of attorney in place, who is the person named in a notarized document who will care for your medical decisions should you become unable to do so.

If you're married, your power of attorney is often your spouse. Your ideal choice is a trusted person who will make good decisions on your behalf, knowing the circumstances along with your wishes.

I've collected more "Ready-for-Anything" articles and information on my Pinterest Page.

Whether you're still at the "moving in" stage of life or you're looking back on thirty years, wondering where the time went, there's value in doing all you can to be prepared, especially in light of life's re-definitions that seem to  crop up unexpectedly. At the same time, let's not forget that we have a God who has proven His faithfulness over and over and is worthy of our trust for the past, present, and future . . . no matter what happens.

I took this photo at Nay Aug Park, July 2017.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ready for Anything? When Life Re-defines You # 3

Crash! Boom! Cracks of thunder, lightning, wind, and torrents of rain held us captive inside the lobby of the Montrose Bible Conference on Thursday afternoon. It had been a profitable week, full of instruction for writers, workshops, and one-on-one meetings with editors, not to mention networking opportunities. I and a couple others commuted each day. The storm delayed our drive home, but we eventually made it . . . fallen trees and some minor flash flooding notwithstanding.

My sigh of relief as we pulled into the driveway quickly gave way to an adrenalin rush as I entered the house and realized I had no power. My first thought? The pumps! Visions of water in my basement and crawlspace sent me flying to find a battery-operated lantern and head downstairs. My houseguest graciously helped me lift my box fan onto the chest freezer, roll the dehumidifiers to the "safer" end of the room, and move the bottom shelf of movies to higher ground. It didn't take long. We were ready.

Two years ago, a flooded basement would have meant a major clean-up project.

This post is the third in a series about how to prepare for the unexpected based on my workshop at the Women's LYFE Conference. So far we've talked about our relationships with God and others as well as how to keep records and important documents together and organized, using the "red file."

Today's post will briefly suggest a few more ideas of how to prepare for a crisis of any kind.

Strategy # 4: Have adequate insurance. The purpose of insurance is to cover risk we can't afford to take. It's a good idea to periodically evaluate what you need or don't need for car, homeowner's or renter's insurance, health insurance, life insurance, and disability insurance. 

Strategy # 5: Be intentional about how you manage your finances. Have a plan. Use a budget. Be intentional about reducing debt and putting an emergency savings plan in place. And if possible, be sure both spouses have a general idea of how to pay the bills and what the overall financial picture looks like. Howard Dayton has written a helpful resource titled Your Money Counts.

Strategy # 6: Simplify. Try to imagine how another person would feel if faced with the task of cleaning out your house! Here's where my basement story comes in. My sweet, wonderful husband (and he truly was) had interests from A to Z. The basement was crammed full of . . . stuff. I couldn't fault him. He had resources at his fingertips to help educators, students, and colleagues. He had built shelves for the books, and the rest took up space on the floor in boxes, bins, and piles. It took months for me to sort through it all after he passed away . . . to find and file the treasures, toss the dated catalogs and papers, and give away materials others could use.

My motivation? Either I clean up the basement or my kids would have to do it. Little by little, the space began to take on an "emptier" appearance. So that by the time the power went out this past week, it took just a few minutes to get ready for the "flood," which never happened by the way! Ruth Soukup has written a practical book on the topic of simplifying titled Unstuffed. Great title. Great resource.

Just like our experience with the storm on Thursday, we never know when a crisis will delay our plans and bring about a flood of changes, from minor inconveniences to major losses. Yet God has written all the days ordained for us in a book (Psalm 139:16). And while it's important to be prepared, the bottom line always begins and ends with trust in a faithful God who promises, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).
bing.com images/free to use

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ready for Anything? When Life Redefines You - # 2

When's the last time you tore the house apart because you couldn't find an important document? And you had to have it that day? The more you searched, the more panicky you felt . . .  You found yourself muttering, "I know it's gotta be here somewhere . . ." Keep reading. I found the perfect solution!

This is the second post in a series designed to explore how to be prepared for the unexpected . . . how to be "ready" in advance for a crisis of any kind. So far we've looked at

Strategy # 1 - Examine your relationship with God.
Strategy # 2 - Check your relationships with others.
You can check out my last blog post HERE.

Today, we'll take a look at Strategy # 3 - Keep complete and accurate records with important information in one place. In one place . . . Ah-h-h wouldn't that be nice!

Barry and I began to gather our information and records in a more organized way after our car crash in 2003. It took a little time, but then we just had to update it once or twice a year. After he passed away in 2015, I could find much of the information I needed quickly.

Create a RED FILE

Find a notebook and fill it with clear heavyweight sheet protectors in which to place the following:

Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, adoption papers, passports, visas, citizenship papers, military papers, insurance policies, leases, deeds, cemetery deeds, titles, US Savings Bonds, income tax returns (the last seven years), wills, power of attorney (POA) documents.

Then type up the following information:
Personal: Full names of all family members, social security numbers, birthdates, driver’s license numbers, location of user names and passwords

Legal: Names and phone numbers of attorney(s), location of HIPAA forms, wills, power of attorney documents

Insurance: List each insurance company, policy numbers, and phone numbers/contact information for car insurance (VIN and license plate numbers), homeowners/renters insurance, life insurance, disability insurance

Medical: Health insurance company, ID numbers of each family member, monthly premium, location of contracts and insurance information, contact information, copies of insurance cards, HIPAA, names and phone numbers of primary care physicians, dentists, eye care specialists, etc., immunization records, blood types, allergy information, list of medications

Financial: Name and contact information of financial advisor
Assets – home, property, car(s), jewelry, coins, trusts

Credit/debit cards – type, account numbers, expiration dates, PINs, passwords, 1-800   numbers, line of credit; Paypal account – user name, password, PIN, accounts linked to

Mortgage company/bank - contact information, contract, monthly payment amount, amortization schedule, etc.

Bank accounts: savings, checking, money markets – name, address, and phone number of each bank, account numbers, what each account is used for

CDs – name, address, and phone number of each bank, account numbers, due dates, rate
Retirement funds – 401K, IRA accounts, pension information
Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities

Personal loans to others - location of contracts, pertinent information

Business accounts, location of business/partnership agreements

List of debts with all pertinent information/account numbers, contact information: credit card debts, car loans, home mortgage, home equity loans, personal debts, business loans, educational loans

Account information for:  EZ Pass, AAA, cell phones, utilities: gas, electric, water, sewer, garbage, landline, internet, newspaper delivery, snow removal, lawn services, name/phone number of tax accountant
Home History/Maintenance: roof, siding, windows, furnace, driveway, hot water heater

Store all this information in a safe place: a safe, a fireproof box, a safe deposit box . . .

Make your system work for you . . . and be sure your spouse knows where the red file is located. No more panicky moments when you're tearing your hair out! For more on the red file: http://theredfile.com/financial.html.

I'd love to read about your ideas on this topic. Here are a few suggestions from the ladies who attended the Women's LYFE Conference this past June: 

"Get a three-ring binder with plastic pages to keep in the car. Every time your car is serviced, place the receipt in the binder."

"Here is a system for storing user names and passwords: Use a 3 x 5 card ABC file. Use one card per organization, and list the information that goes with that organization. Easy to use at your desk."

"One thing the military suggests is to keep a magnet on the fridge with emergency information printed on it in case someone is incapacitated and emergency workers need to come to their aid. They are trained to look for information on or around the fridge. In our case this also includes clear instructions on how to reach a deployed spouse."

I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Images from bing.com