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

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 owners 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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Taking Time to Remember . . .

For the first time in twelve and a half years, I went back.

I had written about this place, straining to see the words on the screen, blurry because of the tears in my eyes. It holds a hallowed place in my heart. My husband, Barry, arrived at Mountain View Care Center on May 8, 2003, in the process of slowly emerging from a six-week coma due to a car crash. On June 12, 2003, he transferred to another facility, a different man--still with a long, long way to go, but he could finally eat, converse, and walk with help. He even joked with the nurses early in the morning, asking for ice cream.

And so last week I drove to visit a friend there, wondering what I would find.  Would it be as I recalled? Would anyone remember Barry? Would my emotions hold together?

It was wonderful to visit with my friend, June, and see her receiving the care she needed. What I didn't know was that she had taken my book, Penned Without Ink, with her and told many of the staff about it. She also informed them I would be coming that afternoon, so several of Barry's nurses and therapists made it a point to drop by her room . . . the very people who brought my husband back to us.

And they remembered

In the Chapel at Mountain View Care Center, May 2003
One joked, "I didn't recognize you without your halo!" They spoke of Barry as "a gentle soul." They talked about our story, the progress he made, the victories. They asked about our daughters and could hardly believe the little girl who sat on her daddy's lap in the wheelchair now attended college. All these years later, their hugs brought another layer of healing to my heart. I could again say THANK YOU for all they did for Barry . . . and for us.

I wheeled June down to the Chapel for the 2:00 New Year's program. When I entered the large room, tears slipped down my cheeks as memories flooded my mind . . . pictures of Sharon playing the organ and Barry sitting beside her singing in his monotone voice, the place where we ate lunch and prayed together as a family for the first time since the accident, the spot where Barry first understood what had happened to us and wept as he held my hand.
Elisabeth, age 5, on Barry's lap at Mountain View

Taking time to remember now and then brings us back to the basics of gratefulness, wouldn't you agree? Seeing God's goodness over many years lends a perspective we may miss in the thick of our circumstances. Looking back gives us the courage to look forward with a determination to trust God with our stories . . . all the way to the end.

"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:13, 14).

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Week Between . . .

"Mom, you don't have to go through all this trouble," one of my daughters remarked as I set the table using my good dishes and goblets. 

I flashed her a smile as I placed the silverware and napkins just so. "I eat by myself every night. Do you know what it means to me to have you all here? To be able to set a proper table? To enjoy the hubbub? 

This week, I've been savoring the memories of them all being here . . . the rompings of two little boys, the hush as we sat together at the Christmas Eve service, the birthday cake for Jesus, the traditional reading of the Christmas story, the adult gift exchange, the excitement of the children, the singing of carols as the fireplace blazed, the never-ending chit chat . . . 

The week between Christmas and New Year's also offers a unique opportunity to look back and remember events of the past year. Many changes have taken place in our family in 2016. The first year anniversary of Barry's passing, Elisabeth's graduation from high school and enrollment in college, the release of Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, the quietness of living alone for the first time . . .

The week between Christmas and the new year naturally turns our attention to the future. What will 2017 bring? Only God knows. One of my most precious memories of last weekend was when we went around the table and each one shared their hopes and plans for the new year: an online class, a road trip to the mid-west, a possible summer internship, a new place to live, a quilt to complete, a desire to maintain the status quo, an effective marketing plan, a determination to down-size . . . all areas we can be praying for each other about . . .

A wise king once wrote, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. . . . Many are the plans in a  man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 16:9; 19:21). There's a bit of comfort in these words. 

In this week between Christmas and New Year's, take the opportunity to meditate on God's goodness in our past and the promise of His presence in our future. 

Immanuel . . . God with us!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Ultimate Transaction

Sleigh bells jingled in the background, and lights twinkled as I waited at the end of a long line of strangers to exchange my cash for my daughter’s Christmas gift. In a limited sense, I became poorer so she could become richer. When we give a gift, we sacrifice money—and ultimately time. Yet my transaction didn’t make me truly “poor” or make her truly “rich.”

But what if our family left our suburban home with only the clothes on our backs? What if we left our cars in the garage, our furniture, our technology, our clothes, our freezer full of food, our education, our jobs, our children’s school, and all that we have and do. And what if a refugee family from a third-world country moved in and suddenly acquired all we left behind . . . while we took up their life of hand-to-mouth poverty? We, who had been rich, for their sakes would become poor that they might gain our riches.

What if a billionaire traded places with the poorest of peasants? 

What if the Son of God became poor for earthlings like us?

Jesus willingly embraced the ultimate poverty. He left His Father and all that encompasses the celestial sphere to become a helpless infant. He took on human limitations. The hands that formed the heavens with the moon and the stars, wrapped themselves around a teenage girl’s finger as she lovingly swaddled Him in homespun strips of cloth. He became utterly dependent on the people He created—for milk, for shelter, for protection. Although He was the Word from the beginning, He had to learn to talk. Taking on humanity demonstrated no small sacrifice. He traded all of heaven’s glory for our sakes so that we could acquire all He left behind.

We celebrate Christmas because a Savior came to provide eternal life. We sing carols about joy, celebrate with candlelight services, and re-enact the Nativity. We rejoice in the benefits of His grace.

But Jesus experienced unfathomable loss. Loss for a sinful people who often take the incarnation for granted. And if becoming a baby wasn’t humbling enough, He gave up His life as the ultimate sacrifice. For our sakes—all because He loves us.

This Christmas, l hope we will remember God’s unspeakable gift. It’s through His poverty we become truly rich.

Joy to the world!

 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9, NKJV).
Photos from bing.com