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

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Gold Stars Along the Way

Anyone who knows me well has heard me award a "gold star" to those who go above and beyond, do the hard thing, or just accomplish the ordinary in the face of difficult-to-manage circumstances. I give out gold stars to all three daughters for the work they do and the inspiration they are, two as mothers and one as a college student. I appreciate the people who serve our communities and make the world a better place every single day.

Everyone is encouraged when their hard work and efforts are recognized. We all need a pat on the back once in a while.

Over Christmas, one of my girls went through a couple of bins filled with her childhood treasures. It was fun to reminisce as she lifted out the bronzed baby shoes I had saved, her baby blanket, a doll or two, and outfits she had made in 4-H sewing class. She discovered trinkets, handmade cards, and  school papers. And she found awards . . . soccer trophies and plaques with her name, the year, and the event engraved on brass plates along with certificates, and blue ribbons . . . in a sense, all gold stars recognizing her efforts, good work, and exemplary character.

I bet you have a few medals, trophies, or awards hanging around. Specifically, what were they for? What circumstances surrounded each one? The fact that you still have them shows they meant something to you, at least for a while. Maybe it's time to gather the family around, dust these "gold stars" off, and tell the stories that often lay buried in forgotten boxes in the attic.

This week, I received an email containing an award. It read: "We are excited to announce that the book Penned Without Ink has won the Bronze/3rd Place Award in the 2017 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Best Inspirational category! Congratulations! We had a HUGE response to our annual awards program, with many excellent books vying for top places. Your title rose to the top and you should be quite proud."

Imagine! A shiny gold star in my inbox!

And then I took time to remember all the people who helped Penned get on its feet . . . my family, my writers' group, the faculty at the Montrose Christian Writers Conference, the staff from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, those who endorsed and influenced and shared and  prayed and supported and ordered and read and reviewed the book . . .  Thank YOU for your part in this project. I'm giving out gold stars by the handfuls today. 

But the brightest gold star goes to the God who flung the first stars into the sky and said, "It is good."

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Open Letter . . .

As your Heavenly Father, I've noticed that you, as one of my precious children, have been sad and anxious lately. I am the God who sees your pain and your tears. I understand your frustration and desires. I see your less-than-perfect circumstances.

Because of my everlasting love for you, I allow situations to enter your life so you will grow and mature, becoming more like my Son. You see, I am more concerned about the patterns you are establishing and the process of learning to trust me than the symbols of success assigned by others or even yourself. I am working to weave positive character qualities into your life.

Diligence will always be your friend. Continue to work hard, but leave the outcomes to me. Aim to balance your work with creativity and service to others, nurturing the gifts I have given you. Respect those I have placed over you for your protection. Grace your attitudes with humility and a teachable spirit. Learn the habit of casting your cares upon me, even the seeming "unfairness" around you. My all-knowing point of view misses nothing. Trust me to write your story. There is purpose in it all.

Learn to appreciate even the difficult days. Truly believe I am in control of all things. When challenging times come your way, you choose to become bitter or better. As you move forward in life, your surroundings may change, but you will be the same. Your mindset will follow you. What kind of person are you becoming? Do not mimic some of my children who have been discontent and ungrateful. In the formative present, you are becoming who you will be in the future.

People of depth have endured hard times. Remember my servant, Peter? From a fisherman to a disciple of Jesus, to a church leader, to a writer, he understood the benefits of trials. "But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you" (1 Peter 5:10).
Even though I have given you family and friends to help you, remember to come to me with your troubles. Tell me your fears . . . your worries. I will always hear your heart. When you take time to listen to my voice, I will give you my wisdom and strength. I will help you and never leave your side.

You are special to me. I have created you just right to serve me and bless others. I have a perfect plan for every day and every circumstance. More than anything I want us to have a close relationship. I will never let you down. I will always be faithful to you. I will always hold you in the palm of my hand.

I love you, dear child,
Your Heavenly Father

Photos from bing.com/images