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

Monday, October 16, 2017

A New Thing - Part 2

Up and down, up and down the stairs again and again with boxes of ceiling tiles, cans of paint, tools, a shop vac, more tools, long strips of molding, and more.

The man who remodeled my upstairs bedroom got his exercise . . . 

I, on the other hand, held the front door open.

It took less than thirty hours for my helper to work his magic. Every day he decreased the old and increased the new. From the tidy ceiling to the freshly painted woodwork to the crisp updated look of the walls to the transformed radiator cover to the curtain rods, he changed my early 1990s bedroom into a modern inviting retreat. I took photos every evening to send to my daughters.

After the contractor left, I just sat on the bed for a while, enjoying my new nighttime surroundings and thanking God for providing another of His good gifts. I couldn't help but think of the verse in Ecclesiastes 3:11: "He has made everything beautiful in its time." Well, as "beautiful" as possible for a 1940s house with few, if any, square corners!
As I've been slowly moving my belongings back into closets and drawers, it's dawning on me that 25 years ago my husband and I felt the same satisfaction after doing this room over the first time. Back then the shabby wallpaper was bright, the chipped woodwork uniform, the carpet new, and the faded quilt vivid with color. We never thought all of our hard work would someday look dated and dingy. 

But new has a habit of aging . . . whether it's a room, a home, a car . . . a life.

Kinda puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? We try to maintain what God has given us, and at the same time, how essential to evaluate how we're investing our time and talents. "For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).

I still need to put some finishing touches on my room . . . shampoo the carpet, hang a few pictures, organize the closets. I plan to enjoy the newness and also use my remodel job as a reminder of Jesus' words: "Let not your hearts be troubled. . . . In my Father's house are many rooms. . . . I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:1, 2).

Someday, we will enjoy our new heavenly home, grander than any earthbound remodeling job could ever be!

"Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

Top photo by Julie Manwarren

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A New Thing - Part 1

"Just let me know if you want to pull the trigger."

He descended the stairs from my second story bedroom, legal pad and a tape measure in hand. I didn't need much convincing. I'd been planning and saving up for months. 

"I'm ready to begin any time," I answered. "Thanks for your good ideas. I never thought of these options."

I always liked our spacious room. We had wallpapered over dark paneling in the late '80s or early '90s, and I pieced and hand-quilted the quilt, creating a cozy B & B look.  

But after Barry passed away and I began to feel the full responsibility of caring for our home, I was advised to let the wallpaper go. It might be a deal-breaker when it came time to sell (NOT anytime soon!) . . . and I may as well enjoy the updated look in the meantime.

So how does one go about making wallpaper disappear? Steam if off the walls? Wallboard over the top? Gut the room? And what about the textured ceiling paint that was slowly giving way to gravity? I pondered the options, asked advice, and . . .  still didn't have a satisfactory plan.

Do you ever feel like there's no good answer? And you really want to get the job done and go back to the important things in life?

I finally mustered up the courage to call a recommended contractor, who came in, looked around, and right off the bat presented a plan I hadn't considered. "We can put in a new ceiling like the ones you have downstairs and paint over the wallpaper. It's on there pretty tight." He laid out a few more details, and I began to smile.

It look a while to empty out the room (although he is graciously working around the furniture). My sweet dad unscrewed all the hardware, and a few more-than-willing friends helped me remove the heavier items. 
As of today, the new ceiling is up . . . what a difference! And the old wallpaper? Well it's shabbier than I realized. It'll be painted over by the end of Monday. If the layers underneath could talk . . . wallpaper covering liner covering paneling covering the brightest 1970s orange you can imagine . . . All of this will be hiding beneath my new neutral light gray walls and white trim!
Like me, do you find yourself satisfied with the statue quo? Sometimes we don't realize how dingy our joy has become or how yellowed our outlook is . . . until we muster up the courage to try something new, to make a few changes, and to let God's Word give us a fresh perspective.

"Behold I am doing a new thing . . .
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:19, ESV

Top photo by Julie Manwarren

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Reassuring Voice . . .

It seemed the bottom fell out of my soul. 

How could I go on . . . alone?

I, the follower, the glad-I'm-not-in-the-spotlight wife and mom, the one who sought my husband's opinion on, well . . . just about everything. Barry always seemed to know how to think and what to do.

As I trudged uphill on the path called "widowhood," I began to discover God's provision in new ways. While climbing the steep learning curves of insurance, home maintenance, college decisions, and finances, I heard several voices whispering their wisdom to me, voices that, in retrospect, guided me along when I didn't know how to think and what to do.

One of those voices belonged to Shawn Stockdale. Shawn and Kay had been friends for many years. We saw them at church, at school, and at soccer games. Kay and I shared tea and prayer requests. Shawn, Barry, and another friend walked together in the mornings before work.

About twelve years ago, Shawn became our financial advisor. He and my husband met regularly. I came sometimes, more often as time when on. Little did I know then, that this relationship would be a huge gift to me, one that would lessen my stress and give me the direction I needed.

After Barry passed away, I sat in Shawn's office with Barry's words ringing in my ears. "If anything happens to me, Shawn will help you."

And he has.

With a gentle kindness, Shawn assisted me in consolidating our savings and offered a long-term plan for the future. Using the Dunkin' Donuts situated nearby as an illustration, he explained the various pieces of a healthy financial picture and the basics of good stewardship. I took notes, and with every meeting my understanding increased a little more.

I also learned to ask questions. Questions about our resources, about what to do when my Subaru gave out, and about where to buy good snow tires at a reasonable price. I brought in mail with insurance offers, statements I couldn't make heads or tails of, and health insurance options. He and his sensitive, competent staff walked me through each issue, step by step. I've thanked them over and over.

After his fourth open-heart surgery, Shawn passed away this past Wednesday. 

I'm so very sad for Kay and their children and grandchildren. I pray God gives them the strength they need day by day. I'm sad for those whose lives he touched with his smile, kindness, and practical help. I'm sad because it's a loss for me, too.

Even through my tears this week, I'm finding ways to be grateful. I'm reaching out to the One who promises to always be with us. And I've found myself thinking about Shawn and Barry . . . old friends . . . walking the streets of gold . . . without a word about money!

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