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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Savoring our Blessings Just a Little Bit More . . .

I wonder how many times we don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone. Said another way, we often realize how much we value people, abilities, and even things after we lose them. And sometimes the seeming littlest losses bring a grief that surprises us.

So, how can we be more intentional about gratefulness. . . ahead of time? 

As a child, I could run—fast. I loved to hike in the woods, climb up and down ravines, and hop from stone to stone in the creek. In my forties, I took brisk early morning walks with my husband and jogged with our daughter, Sharon. I enjoyed those times, but now my hips complain. I never thought about the blessing of being able to climb and run until I couldn’t do it anymore. Yet, every time I put on my sneakers and head to the park or even around the block, I find myself thanking God. I can walk! (If you've read my book, you know that after a car accident, I had to learn to walk again. I don't take it for granted.)

After that same crash, our family no longer enjoyed the security of health, routine, and predictability. We lost the normality of traditional roles, family suppers, and even the ability to ambulate unaided, drive, and independently care for ourselves. When some of these things returned, I felt blessed beyond measure—and still do.

Several years ago, watching my sweet mom go through chemo treatments helped me appreciate the blessings of an appetite, a bad-hair day, feeling half-way decent, and the ability to do my work. 

The quiet of my home echoes with memories of the man I loved for nearly 36 years. I miss his sacrificial love, his advice, his strong arms around me. When I'm not sure what to do about a matter, I often think, "Now, what would Barry say?" Sometimes I ask God to whisper my thanks to him for all he did for our family, what he taught us, and for his faithfulness. That's a lot to give thanks for. 
  
Perhaps we don’t fully appreciate what we have until something happens. We take running water and electricity for granted until a pipe leaks or the lights go out. We underestimate the efficiency of working with two hands until one is injured. We may not fully realize the comfort of a friend or family member until circumstances take him or her away from us. When we find our lives altered, in big matters and small, we see things from a different perspective.

Today, I want to be intentional about savoring the blessings in my story just a little bit more.

How about you?


Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Secret of Greatness . . .

We've seen and heard it over and over the past couple of years . . . in speeches and newscasts, on TV talk shows and radio interviews, on T-shirts, ball-caps, and banners, and on Facebook and Twitter.

"Make America great again." 

There's no question who coined the phrase in this generation, but Mr. Trump is not the first to talk about America's greatness.

Nearly two centuries ago, in 1831, two gentlemen visited the then-fledgling United States, sent on a mission by the French government to check out the criminal justice system. Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont spent nine months here, visiting both urban cities and rural villages. Mr. de Tocqueville chronicled the trip in Democracy in America.
I discovered a copy among my husband's course notes, still lined up straight and tall on a shelf in the basement. And I also found a "commentary on modern America" in the stack I saved from his side of the bed. I'm reading through the latter . . . and that's where I came across these words  penned by de Tocqueville: 
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.* 
I think he had a point, don't you? 

What makes anything or anyone great? Isn't greatness linked to moral excellence, virtue, kindness, honor, and benevolence?

Jesus dialogued about the essence of greatness with his followers. "Whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:43). Service to others makes up the foundation of goodness. On this true greatness is built.

America can only be great when its citizens individually choose to take up the cause for goodness . . . in the ordinary-ness of every day with our families and neighbors, in the workplace, and in the marketplace. You and I can make a difference.


*Going Somewhere by George Grant (Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999), page 185.

**This post is not intended to be a political statement.

***First and last photo from bing.com/images.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A New Thing - Part 3

Dirt . . . Grime . . . Stains . . .

Have you ever considered how much time you spend cleaning? We wash dishes, scrub floors, power-wash siding, scour sinks, tubs, and toilets, dust furniture, sweep garages, vacuum floors and hard-to-reach corners, steam-clean and shampoo carpets . . .

And what a difference it makes . . . for a while, anyway!

This past week my bedroom carpet underwent a transformation. Some dear friends came to help me do a "few things" in the house. The top priority on the list? Shampoo my 25+ year old carpet. They worked their magic with a rented machine from a local grocer, and in a matter of hours the rug looked bright and clean. I could hardly believe the difference.

In contrast, the water turned black! To be honest, I felt a little embarrassed. How could my upstairs carpet accumulate so much dirt.? I vacuumed it regularly. I kept it picked up. But the honest truth showed up in the water.

I'm so very grateful for my friends--not just because they accomplished what my limitations won't allow me to do but also for the sweet fellowship we enjoyed. We chatted about many topics, not the least of which centered around God's goodness as we looked back over many years. 

They headed home Friday morning, leaving me with wonderful memories of our time together along with a now-finished bedroom (See Part 1 and 2.), a new medicine cabinet and light in the bathroom, a few new hinges in the kitchen, steam-cleaned kitchen and basement floors, and a number of surprise repairs that weren't on my original list. Saying "thank you" seems like such a meager way to express my appreciation.



Over the past few days I've been thinking . . . My limitations kept me from deep-cleaning my carpet. My methods, noble as they appeared, could not do what my friends did to get rid of the dirt. The same is true in a higher realm. No matter how much I try to clean up my life, I cannot do it on my own. Just as I relied on my friends to deep-clean my rug, so we are dependent on Jesus to deep-clean our hearts (1 John 1:9).

And in the process, He does much more than forgive us. He brings new life to our routines. He surprises us with His goodness and ever-present grace and guides us through those problem areas that surface along the way.

bing.com/images
So the next time your cleaning efforts yield a bucket or two of dirty water, remember that we have a God who not only offers His cleaning services but desires a loving relationship with us . . . now and forever.



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.