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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Back to Bethlehem

Just like a preprogrammed clock, the question came every day.
"Is it Christmas yet?"
Written by Lillian Ewert, my wonderful mom, who did Christmas so well.

Our granddaughter, Elisabeth, age 3, anticipated something she could not remember experiencing. The Christmas tree, the pretty lights, and the wooden manger scene caused her excitement to mount with each passing day. 

Christmas finally dawned. The family gathering at our house always included a Christmas play presented by all the grandchildren, which I enjoyed directing. The adults provided the appreciative audience. However, changes had occurred over the years. Some of the grandchildren could not be there, and the adult audience had dwindled considerably. Elisabeth's teenage sisters no longer looked forward to wearing bathrobes and angel wings.

I wrestled with the idea of giving up the Christmas play but struggled to find a substitute to help us focus on the Savior's birth. As I watched Elisabeth at play, an idea began to stir in my thoughts.

"Elisabeth, would you like to be Mary and put Baby Jesus in the manger?" I asked.

Elisabeth's eyes lit up as she took my hand and we went into the bedroom to get ready. "Grammy, you be Joseph," she said.

I pinned a blanket around Elisabeth's shoulders and tied a scarf around her head. I placed the baby Jesus, wrapped in strips of cloth, into her arms, and together we stepped into the living room and slowly walked to the manger. Carefully she placed Baby Jesus in the bed of artificial straw. Mary and Joseph knelt beside the manger to admire the baby.

The family began to sing familiar Christmas carols previously taught by Elisabeth's mother. Sometimes the baby was picked up and gently rocked and placed back in the manger.

Elisabeth's eyes shone as she lived out the story that had become so familiar to her in recent days. It became obvious that she loved her role as Mary when she kept her costume on the rest of the day. 

As the day drew to a close, the adults remained at the table after dinner to talk while Elisabeth, who had been excused, played with her toys in the living room. Before long, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a little voice said, "Joseph, will you come back to Bethlehem with me?"

Back to Bethlehem. "A little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6). 
So how do we come back to Bethlehem?

We find our way back to Kohl's, back to the grocery story, back to Amazon, and even back to church. But what about Bethlehem? How would you say we can be intentional about finding Bethlehem in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season?

O come, all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.   

Thursday, December 8, 2016

It's Good to Go and Good to Come Home

Three college girls, Elisabeth among them, drove all night to spend a few days with their families back east. Since the driver lived near my two older daughters, Dad and I drove down to spend Thanksgiving there. I couldn't wait to see them all. When Elisabeth arrived I ran down the front steps to give her a big hug, tears in my eyes. I hadn't seen her since August 23rd when I left her standing by her dorm eleven hours away.

We all had a wonderful few days . . . catching up, laughing, sharing ideas and recipes, eating, and playing with two little grandboys, ages five and thirteen months. I savored the days. Yet I knew our stay would be temporary. And as our time drew to a close, I found my mind wandering back to the place I've called home for nearly thirty years. 

What is it that draws us back? We can almost feel the pull of home after an all-day shopping trip, a white-knuckle drive on slippery roads, or even a much-needed week at the beach. Perhaps it's the familiar, the predictable routines, and the memories that nurture our souls. Or maybe it's the sigh of relief that comes when we climb our own creaky stairs, snuggle into our own bed, and listen for the chime of the old clock on the mantel, the click of the furnace, the hum of the refrigerator.
My mother used to say, "It's good to go. And it's good to come home." 

Would you agree?

On our way back, as rolling hills gradually rose into rugged terrain, I began to reflect. In this life, we savor the days. Each one is a precious gift. We spend time together, exchange ideas, serve, and pray. We play and work, eat and sleep. Yet we're "strangers and pilgrims" in this world. Here for a little while. And "any day now," as the old song goes, "we"ll be going home."

Can you almost feel the pull? Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there you may be also." 

In Barry's words, "That's home" (Penned, page 41).

Photos by Julie Manwarren

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Lessons From the Let-Down

I sank into my favorite chair and took a deep breath. 

Photo by Julie Manwarren
What a week it had been! My sister flew in from Indiana. Two of my daughters and their little sons came in for the weekend. My book signing turned out to be a wonderful time of greeting friends from the community and area churches, some closely associated with my late husband, Barry. They came and they stayed, coffee in hand, seizing the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. Afterward, the family gathered around my dining room table to sip soup and recount God's blessings as many took our story home with them that day

Photo by Julie Manwarren
On Monday evening, my sister, and I enjoyed our dad's famous chili, and together, watched old slides, once again hearing his navy stories and enjoying poses of us as little girls with very young parents. The next couple days we shared meals, raked up leaves (Dad's and mine), and enjoyed just being together until Wednesday evening, when Barb boarded a plane heading west and I led a Bible study on Chapters 11-14 of my book. 

On Thursday, I fulfilled my time in the dentist chair, ran to the Ronald McDonald House to present them with a check (proceeds from the book signing) and a copy of Penned Without Ink for their library . . .  then finally found my chair.


But I don't do let-downs well. 

By Sunday evening, my eyes were "gunky" (as my mother used to say), bloodshot, watery, swollen, and irritated with bags underneath. An uninvited case of conjunctivitis brought my go-go-go pace to a screeching halt. The side effects from the drops reduced me to sitting alone in my living room with the shades drawn, wearing sunglasses, and squinting to try to read blurry texts from my girls. 
Google Images

A let-down, indeed!

But in spite of all this, I wanted to listen . . . to listen to the still, small voice that often whispers truth at times like this. Here's what I hope to take away from this experience:
  • An even greater appreciation for Barry, whose eye issues never left him after the car crash. Again I remembered 2 Corinthians 4:18: "The things that are visible are temporal (brief and fleeting), but the things that are invisible are deathless and everlasting" (AMPC).
  • An increased sensitivity to those who suffer illness alone, who can't drive themselves to pick up what they need, who don't have someone present to talk things through.
  • An awareness that perhaps my life should include a little more down time. It's been a hectic eighteen months since Barry passed away. Maybe I need to make time to finish a quilt, read more, and have friends in more often.
  • A renewed realization of the fragility of life. James 4:13-16 came to mind, especially verse 15: "If the Lord is willing, we shall live and do this or that." All it takes is pink eye or some other where-did-this-come-from ailment. Or rolling fog. Or any number of "unexpecteds," and we again realize God's sovereign control and our human frailty.
  • A sense of comfort, knowing that God regards me with compassion, and nothing - not even my contagious eyes - could separate me from His love and grace (Romans 8:38, 39).
The meds are doing their jobs well. I am much better and oh-so-grateful to be on the other end of this week. 

So, when you're on the downside of a let-down, remember to listen for the whispers from the God who cares about all that happens to us.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Way to Remember

So, what's the best way for you to remember? 

What do you do to remember to make that call, bring the chairs to your in-laws, or take the library books back? I'm a great one for making a list or placing a card with the task written in bold on the kitchen window sill or setting the timer. When I forget I find myself inconvenienced, annoyed, or just plain frustrated. You, too?!

To remember important events or places and to honor the people we love, we celebrate holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. We visit cemeteries with carefully chosen epitaphs. We sponsor 5K runs in honor of a cause or in memory of a loved one. Even in biblical times, a pile of stones or any number of sacred objects reminded the ancients of certain lessons, lest they forget their heritage. When Jesus observed the Passover with His disciples, He instructed, "Do this to remember me."  

Last week, a small group gathered on a hillside behind a local church to plant a tree in memory of Barry. They wanted a tangible way to remember him . . . the humble, quiet man who contributed to their Bible study and nurtured in them an even deeper love for the Word of God.

We gathered at the assigned place as the tree expert from Corky's Greenhouse began to dig the hole, shoveling out rock and sod together. Once the Tulip Poplar was placed, we each poured a shovel full of dirt around it, then watched as the finishing touches brought stability to the ten foot tall sapling. 

We circled closer and each, in turn, thanked God for Barry and for all he had taught them and for this token that would remind them of the lessons learned around their study table. Tears slipped down my cheeks as I listened. After the last "Amen," the sun burst out from behind a cloud, warming faces and hearts together. 

I'll never forget this day . . . and all it represents. And I have a hunch that I'll be driving home this way more often . . . just to get another glimpse of Barry's tree . . . 

A wonderful way to remember, don't you think?!

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 
but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 

He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
In all he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3
Tulip Poplar Blossoms

Friday, October 21, 2016

How Strong Are You?

In an hour and a half, we crossed everything off my list!

CSU's Community Appreciation Day comes every October. Tuesday, eight college girls descended on my place, and for the better part of the morning helped me do things I can't do, things like flip a queen-size mattress and vacuum under the bed, clean out and organize the paint closet, load snow tires into my car, move boxes, prepare my vegetable garden for winter, and ready a section behind my garage for grass seed--which  meant picking out buckets full of Pennsylvania rocks and stones. What a great group of girls!

Most of these chores have one thing in common. They require lifting.

I never realized how valuable physical strength is until left-over limitations from a car accident prevented me from lugging the vacuum cleaner upstairs, moving anything of substance, or even taking a turkey out of the oven. When those with strength give me a hand, I'm amazed at all they can do. Their help means so much to me.

In this life I'll never be strong physically, yet I am thankful for what I can do. It's all in how you look at it. 

There are other ways to be strong. We say a person is strong when they demonstrate courage in the face of adversity or rise above unfortunate circumstances. They model hope when we find ourselves in a weakened position. 

The theme of God's strength permeates the Bible. He is all-powerful and at the same time shares His strength with earthbound weaklings like us. "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (Ephesians 6:10). And the verse that got me out of bed on many mornings after the crash: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10).

So, how strong are you? 


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trust in the Daily Grind

By the time I hung up the phone, tears wet my cheeks. My doctor just finished telling me that, by looking at the x-ray, he was pretty sure the specialist (whom I, myself, had chosen to do the procedure) had, well . . . botched it. I would have complications sooner or later, which would require another, more invasive, solution.

I thought I had done the wise thing by asking for another opinion. The second professional had not only demonstrated a kind thoroughness but was also highly recommended the specialist. The path I chose seemed so right at the time. It made sense. Now, regret and fear filled my being. This had been a difficult decision for me. I had sought counsel. I had prayed. And now this?

Added to the frustration of it all, questions peppered my thinking. Did I not discern God's will? Was I too conscientious? Should outcomes alone determine the quality of our decisions? If my doctor had done the work and made a human error, wouldn't I have thought, "Maybe I should've seen a specialist"?

Have you been here?

Although this was not a huge crisis, I felt disappointed . . . even vulnerable. Do you find, along with me, that it's in the little things, in the daily grind, where trust shrivels or thrives? Can we choose to trust . . . in spite of poor outcomes, in spite of questionable decisions, in spite of our own self-doubt?

God, in His gracious timing, reassured me as I prepared for our small group study, using the the second chapter of Penned Without Ink titled "God Writes Perfect Stories." Once again, I came away with a broader perspective and a fresh confidence in the One who is much bigger than me and my circumstances.

"The Lord will perfect (complete) that which concerns me" (NKJV).
"The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me" (NIV).
Psalm 138:8 

"And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, 
that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ . . . developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you."
Philippians 1:6, The Amplified Bible

I don't know which doctor is right. I don't know what the outcome will be. Yet, in it all, God is committed to accomplish His good work in me . . . AND IN YOU.

That's pretty perfect!

Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story is available here (On Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.)

A picture is worth a thousand words. View photos of our story under the PHOTOS TAB above.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Secret - Behind the Scenes # 9

I didn't deliberate long. No wringing my hands over this decision. I'd surprise him when the book came in the mail. 

After all we'd been through together, I would dedicate Penned Without Ink to my husband, my college sweetheart, the man who protected me, my best friend who would do just about anything for me.

As Barry struggled to recover from a traumatic brain injury back in 2003, his condition progressed from the dark of a coma to gradually becoming more active and more aware of his surroundings. Pretty soon he recognized me and our daughters when we came to visit him in the nursing home. We saw him progress from preschool level activities in therapy to more advanced exercises. He had a habit of getting stuck on a word or phrase but kept marching forward with each new day. As time went on, he called me on the phone from the nurses' station. And one day he wrote me a love note on a scrap of paper, now one of my most prized possessions.
I kept my secret quiet as I wrote each chapter and then the final draft. I word-smithed those few lines over and over. They had to sound just right. They had to express my heart. They had to somehow show him how much I loved and appreciated him.

  To Barry
My kind and gentle husband who loves God and his neighbor . . .
My wonderful friend.
I love you.

But he passed away before the book came in the mail. Before the manuscript was edited or even submitted to the publisher. I never got to tell him.

All I could do was change the verbs to past tense.

The bitter-sweet day Penned Without Ink found its way to my mailbox, I could only imagine what it would have been like had he still been here. Would I have pointed the dedication page out to him or let him find it on his own? Either way, I can see his smile . . . feel his hug as he reached for me. "Good job, hon." he would have said.

Instead, I opened the package alone.

The yawning divide between the living and the dead is so permanent. Does he know? I took my secret to the cemetery and had a good cry. I realize Barry isn't there, but it satisfied something deep inside me. Someday we'll walk the golden streets and I'll tell him my secret. Perhaps he'll smile, reach for me with a hug, and say, "Good job, hon."

And I'll lay my head on his shoulder and whisper, "I couldn't have done it without you, Babe."  

Two broken and restored people with a story . . . for the glory of God.

Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story is available on Amazon.com.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My Story, God's Story, Your Story

On April 5, 2003, sudden dense fog dropped out of the sky as our family headed east on the PA Turnpike. Within a matter of minutes, twenty-three cars piled up in a fiery crash that claimed the lives of four people, two of them little children. In that brief moment of time, our lives were forever changed.

Today, over 13 years later, I want to invite YOU to read our story – a personal, realistic story of trauma, uncertainty, and life-long limitations, but also of quiet miracles and celebrations. This is a story of hope . . . We all need hope don’t we? Especially when we feel the crushing blow of overwhelming events out of our control . . . when we experience pain, loss, and disappointment. Our circumstances may differ, yet deep beneath the surface of the particulars lie universal emotions that can plague us all. Even then, we have hope because of God's faithfulness. Penned Without Ink showcases God's faithfulness when my husband sustained a traumatic brain injury and my neck was broken.

This is more than just our family’s story, however. Interwoven within its pages is God’s story – biblical principles, stories, and promises from God’s Word – which encouraged us then and give us perspective now. We’ll kneel beside Job’s wife as she wailed with grief over losing her ten precious children all in one day. We’ll hold our breath with Mary, Martha, and the mourners as Jesus cried, “Lazarus, Come forth.” We’ll stand in the upper room with Thomas as he grappled with Jesus’ words, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” And we’ll lean over the old apostle John’s shoulder as he writes his epic work about heaven. 

The book has three elements: my story, God’s story – And then scattered throughout the book are opportunities for you to pause and reflect on YOUR life story . . . penned without ink (2 Corinthians 3:2, 3). This is where the promises of God become personal and the foundation of trust is built, trust in a faithful God who writes our stories with purpose. This is where we choose to remain the victim or become the victor. This is where we pair our emotions with truth. It’s a place of gentle challenge to finish strong and run the race marked out for us with perseverance.

If I had to summarize the theme of the book, it would be found in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace AS YOU TRUST IN HIM, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Many of you played a significant role in our story. We will always remember your prayers, cards, meals, rides to therapy, and how you encouraged us and our families as we struggled to recover. THANK YOU! My prayer is that our story will be a blessing to you and bring you hope as you trust in God – no matter what happens.

Don't Miss It:

View the book trailer here (1:06).

A picture is worth a thousand words. I've posted photos that correlate with the Penned Without Ink story. Look under the PHOTOS tab on this site. They'll deepen your understanding of the story. 

Saturday, November 5th: Signing and launch at Duffy's Coffee House, 306 South State Street, Clarks Summit, PA 18411. On this day, a percentage of the book sale proceeds and any extra donations will go to the Ronald McDonald House in Scranton, PA. We'll have a good time, have some giveaways on hand, and you'll have the opportunity to meet some of the "characters" in the book. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

When a Dream is Worth Pursuing . . . Behind the Scenes #8

I felt like a child on Christmas morning when the first copy of Penned Without Ink arrived in my mailbox on Friday! I carefully opened the package and just held the book for a minute, then gingerly flipped through the pages. What a moment! 

My job this weekend? To look it over from cover to cover, to make one final check for any lingering errors in typing, layout, and graphics. I find myself a little nervous, knowing the buck stops with me. Glad my editor is doing the same thing.

From a wobbly dream to a reality. It took six years.

I wonder how the writers of the New Testament gospels felt as they painstakingly pieced together the stories of Jesus, each with a different slant, each with a select audience in mind. How could they best represent the very Son of God? A daunting task even with the Holy Spirit's direction (2 Peter 1:20, 21). But how satisfying to see the finished product, scrawled out on papyrus. How could they have known their work would become part of the Canon, translated into hundreds of languages, and read by millions over the centuries? I'm glad they stuck with the task, aren't you?

What dream do you have that you haven't yet held in your hand? Does it sometimes seem elusive? Like it may never happen? I suppose sometimes a dream is just that - a dream. At other times, a dream is worth pursuing . . . all the way to the end. It takes time, tenacity, and dogged determination all bathed in prayer to finally see it come to fruition. King Solomon acknowledged this in his proverbs: "A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul . . ." (13:19).

So, let's press on. We may find ourselves having to start over, taking tiny steps forward, or being delayed . . . all for good reasons. Life has its seasons. Relationships are important. Sometimes God sends us on a detour. It's all okay.

At the same time, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).

Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story will be released Monday, September 26th and is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Goodreads giveaway September 17 - 25: Enter here to be win one free print copy (autographed).