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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Behind the Mask



"Trick or treat!" Ready or not, Halloween has arrived, the holiday where kids and adults alike dress up to pretend to be someone or something else for an evening. There's a certain delight that comes from becoming another character and sometimes hiding one's identity altogether.

Being an introvert from childhood, I never much cared for Halloween. My younger sister, more outgoing than I, took the lead. I felt a wave of relief wash over me when we finally got home, and I could be myself again.

I can't help but wonder how many of us, as adults, hide behind a mask when the calendar does NOT say October 31st. When we pretend to be someone or something we're not. When we're afraid to show who we really are . . .    
                     

So, why do we hide behind this different-than-I-truly-am persona? Is it because we worry others won't like us? Or feel we can't measure up or aren't "perfect" enough? Or want to portray our idea of a shining picture of success?
 

Can we be at peace with who we are . . . with who God created us to be: "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14)? Yes, we make choices to improve our character and habits. We pray for grace to help us overcome our flaws and weaknesses. We ask for forgiveness. Yet at our core, we are made in the image of a loving God who gives us a variety of talents and gifts to bless those within our influence. We don't have to hide behind a mask. What a relief.


I can't be who my husband was. Or my mom. Or any of my writer friends. Or anyone else. I'm learning to be comfortable in my own skin. It's freeing to know that I can just be me. And aim to faithfully live out what God has given me to do today.

So this Halloween, dress up with the kids! Pretend! Wear that mask from the dusty Halloween box you haul out of the attic! But then let's be willing to lay all that aside and resolve to be our best selves . . . for the glory of God.

Photos from bing.com/images free to use


This post is from my fall newsletter since it reflects the theme of Halloween. If you are not receiving the quarterly Penned Without Ink Newsletter and would be interested, click HERE. I plan to send the next issue out after Christmas.



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Asking the Right Questions . . .

How are you at asking questions?

I grew up in the "telling" generation. We were told what to think more than how to think. Not all bad. What child or teen doesn't need instruction and guidance? I'm grateful for the many "tellings" I received during my growing-up years. They have shaped me in positive ways.

Over time, however, I have also come to appreciate the wisdom of asking questions. 

My late husband, Barry, was a master at question-asking. In going through his papers after his passing, I discovered his secret.

He worked at it. 

I found lists of questions in his office, questions such as:

  • What do you mean by ___________?
  • How does __________ relate to ___________?
  • Why do you say that?
  • Can you give an example?
  • Let me see if I understand. Do you mean __________ or ___________?
He often quoted Stephen Covey: "Seek first to understand then to be understood."


At the Montrose Christian Writers Conference this past July, I picked up Paul Angone's book, 101 Questions You Need to Ask in Your Twenties (and let's be honest, your thirties too) [Moody Press]. It's a book for Millennials, and since my youngest turns 21 in a few weeks, I thought it might be a good read for her.

Before sending it off, I took a look inside. Long story short, I read the whole thing and took nearly eight pages of notes. The premise of the book is this: to be successful, learn to ask good questions. Every question in the book is thought-provoking and helpful. Here are a few that gave me pause:



  • Do your friendships help you fly or pull you down?
  • When is enough, enough?
  • Do your actions back up your ambitions?
  • Do I create more or complain more?
  • Am I going through my day mindful or mindless?
  • What am I going to regret not doing?
  • Who inspires me most?
  • Everyone leaves behind a legacy. What will mine be?
Today would have been Barry's 62nd birthday. Somehow, on this day, it seems fitting to write about the value of asking good, even great questions. I have a hunch, if he were still with us, he'd take a few notes on Angone's book himself before writing Elisabeth a fatherly note on the title page and sending it to her with love and his best wishes.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Happy Birthday to Penned Without Ink!


Today marks the second anniversary of the release of Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, an inspirational memoir highlighting the story of our family's near-fatal car crash in 2003. It also shares quiet miracles layered between pain and loss and captures the essence of hope and trust in a faithful God. 

What a journey . . . both the living of it and the writing of it.

So much has happened in these two years . . . 
  • A book signing at a local coffee shop, where friends and family came to pick up a copy of the book and offer support. 
  • Learning the nuts and bolts of marketing and producing a book trailer
  • Accepting opportunities to share our story at both local and non-local events. 
  • Feeling grateful for story after story of how God, through our story, infused courage into others going through difficulties and trauma. 
  • The thrill of three book awards
  • The process of making Penned an audio book, thanks to LPC and narrator Robin Wasser.
  • The development of a leader's guide with reproducible study sheets to assist facilitators to lead group members deeper into the timeless themes of Penned
I want to thank you for your wonderful support and thank God for His grace every step of the way.

Some have asked what my next writing project will be. Maybe a devotional? We'll see. In the meantime, I'd like to increase my article-writing. I enjoy the challenge of writing an 1100-1200 word piece with one main theme. 

If you've appreciated Penned Without Ink and/or have found the leader's guide and study valuable, would you consider writing an Amazon or Goodreads review? It's a great way to invite others to read the story, and more importantly, to offer encouragement with the timeless truths of the Word of God. Thank you!

What's happened over the past two years for you?

*Photos by Julie Manwarren


Friday, September 21, 2018

When Mothers Pray . . .

September was just around the corner when a flyer tucked in the church bulletin caught my eye. 

A local chapter of Moms in Prayer International was holding a weekly prayer meeting during the school year. Their mission? "To impact children and schools worldwide for Christ by gathering mothers to pray." Their vision? "That every school in the world would be covered with prayer."

I read the entire flyer several times, thinking about our youngest daughter who had just graduated from a small classical K - 8 Christian school that spring and was heading to the public high school in just a few days. I didn't know how the prayer time was set up or who was coming, but I decided she needed the extra prayer support - and, truth be told, so did I.

Seven Septembers later, I am still meeting to pray Moms-in-Prayer style!


From Moms in Prayer Website
The ancient patriarch, Job, prayed for his children (Job 1:4-5). And often I have prayed that, above all else, my children would walk in truth (3 John 4). Moms in Prayer has been a way to intercede for my children and grandchildren, linking arms with others with the same desire. 

Here's a look at our hour-long prayer times:

Each week the leader prints out a prayer sheet. We take turns reading Scripture verses that share an attribute of God. Right away our minds are focused on who God is. Then we pray sentence prayers in this order:

PRAISE: praising God for who He is, His attributes, His name or His character.
CONFESSION: silently confessing our sins to the God who forgives.
THANKSGIVING: thanking God for what He has done.
INTERCESSION: coming to God on behalf of others. 
     Each mom chooses one child for that day. We each place our child's name in a selected Scripture verse and pray that verse for our student, then go on to pray for specific needs. Each mom around the table prays for this child. Then another mom prays for her child in the same way, and others pray for this child, etc.
     We then pray for teachers/staff for our specific school(s).
     We remember specific school concerns.
     We end our time praying for the ministry of Moms in Prayer.

From Moms in Prayer Websit

Our times of prayer have been sweet. There's something strengthening about knowing that throughout the week others are praying for my child while I'm praying for theirs. We've seen God answer over and over again. His faithfulness has been overwhelming! And it's a wonderful way to make new friends around a common passion.

If you're looking for a unique way to pray for your children, I invite you to consider Moms in Prayer. God invites us to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). He hears our prayers . . . and our hearts.
     



Friday, August 31, 2018

Pursuing Perspective

Five states covering over 2100 miles . . . 

A vacation? Mostly - and a college run for the third year in a row!

Photo from PA Grand Canyon Website
There's something about getting away that gives us perspective. We break out of our normal routines and travel to various cities and towns with different geography, different ways of speaking, and different attractions. We often visit with people we don't see very often and hear ourselves summarizing the highlights of the past year. We're introduced to new ideas, recipes, and even health tips. In the quieter moments, we turn the future over in our minds, purposing to make changes to "do" less and "be" more. 

This year, to begin our trip, my youngest daughter and I took a winding detour to visit the PA Grand Canyon. As we stood at one of the lookout points, vultures circled below us. Down, down at the bottom of the gorge a lazy river wound its way around the huge canyon walls. Photos can't begin to capture its essence and grandeur. We felt small, indeed.

Photo of me by Rayan Anaster -
 www.rayananastorphotography.com 
From there we headed to Michigan, Barry's home state, and spent time with his family. Sandy beaches, boat rides, and the dunes at sunset - all interspersed with great conversations - made for a restful time (even if I did need Bonine to push back "that feeling" caused by the waves when the boat was anchored). Sitting here on the beach with the waves lapping at my feet, I again felt small and far away from home, praying for wisdom for yet another season.

Indiana's flat-lands welcomed us as Elisabeth began classes once more. After a tearful good-bye (always!), my dad (who had taken the train to my sister's the week before) and I headed south to visit The Ark Encounter. A wonderful experience. Talk about perspective! Here, too, I felt small - not only because of the tremendous size of the Ark but also in comparison to history and all that has happened. Our visit truly marked a day to remember.
So now, we are all in our respective places . . . back to normal, I guess. But I don't want to just shuffle through my days. I want to live with purpose, remembering my smallness compared to a great big God who has a master plan for this world and yet . . . and yet . . . who cares for our smallest needs with love and compassion here and now. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Three Ways to Thrive in Less-Than-Ideal Conditions

At first, I thought it was just another weed sprouting up between the bricks. "I need to get out here and do some weeding," I mused, looking around the patio with a sigh. "All that rain . . . " 

Days later, after several more downpours, I passed my "weed" again, only to discover a tomato plant, several inches high. It looked healthy and even had a couple of blossoms here and there. I decided to leave it undisturbed and see what would happen.

Every day it grew a little more. When I compared it to another tomato plant in a nearby pot, I had to smile. It looked to be thriving. The plant in the pot? Not so much. 

This week, my surprise growing from a crack in the bricks reaches half-way across the path leading to the back door. Not only does it display many blossoms but also little cherry tomatoes, some with a rosy hue. I can't wait to taste their sweetness.

I've done some thinking about this unexpected bit of garden, springing up in such an unlikely place . . . crowded in with little soil, behind the gate, with its stems spread in the direct path of passing feet and hurried exits. There is nothing ideal about this small space yet my tomato plant thrives day after day, about to yield fruit. 

Life is seldom ideal. How many times do we find ourselves in a place we never intended? A place that doesn't seem suited for us? A place that feels crowded between immovable obstacles? We long for space to grow and an environment in which to thrive.

We're not alone. 


Yet, have you noticed that the heroes we respect are seldom those people with perfect circumstances? Like my tomato plant, these role models are the ones who somehow live and grow in less-than-ideal circumstances. Time and time again, they overcome various obstacles. Theirs are the stories that inspire us and offer us courage.

Perhaps they have mastered the art of choosing to be positive and making it a practice to search for the bright side of life. It's likely they have learned to be content in whatever state they find themselves. Most importantly, they've honed the habit of thankfulness in every situation. 


While our humanness and the reality of a fallen world get in the way of our ideals, one little tomato plant can serve as a wonderful reminder of what it means to thrive. 


Monday, July 9, 2018

Summer Tidying

"Why are you reading a book about how to do something you're good at?" my home-from-college-for-the-summer daughter asked me.
I shrugged. "I guess I enjoy reading practical books like this one - and it gives me ideas. Besides," I insisted, glancing at her sideways, "when I'm reading up on a topic, I tend to follow-through more readily. It helps me keep my focus."

At least for a while. 

This past week, I finally rummaged through the closet under the stairs and tossed out a carpet scrap from a carpet which had been ripped up and disposed of eight years ago! If you follow my blog, you know how much I've sorted, thrown out, given away, and donated in the last few years. And I'm still at it. My latest venture? Give away our old sofa in the guest room, put my office futon in its place, re-upholster a cozy chair, and move it into my office (and tidy my desk while I'm at it). One less piece of furniture and more space. I'm getting there . . . I hope!

Life's a little like my quest for tidying. It gets messy and we feel bogged down until we take the time to clean it up. It might be a clogged-up schedule. Or a relationship that's gotten stale and cold. Or the path-of-least-resistance choice to pursue the urgent over the important. Or old familiar rhythms that have little benefit to us now. We feel the need to tidy up yet often feel stuck. Where do we begin? And how to we keep on top of it all? 


Just as I checked out a tidying manual for my home from the library, so we have a life manual available to help us know where to start, what to prioritize, and how to ask for help to tidy up our lives. God's Word helps us keep our focus. We begin at the foot of the cross as Christ exchanges our sin for His righteousness. Then He gives us the tools of forgiveness, prayer, relational grace, and the freshness of His presence.

The key is to consistently read the manual. Much like my house-tidying book, it keeps us focused on  the goal: "We make it our aim to please Him"      (2 Corinthians 5:9).




Photos from bing.com/images

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Brushstrokes of a Father

My mother would be proud of him. 

Five years ago, ill with cancer and waning in strength, she surprised my dad by asking me to take her to his art show at the Abington Senior Center. His smile showed how much her coming meant to him. He introduced her to his art-colleagues as they walked hand in hand around the room to view the paintings. We still talk about it. She passed away two short months later.


Photo by Ben Freda
Last Sunday, my sister and I made it point to attend this year's art show at the Senior Center. Barb arranged her visit from Indiana so she could attend, and my daughter and her friend also popped in to support "Grandpa." Live music, refreshments, and handshakes all around made it a memorable occasion. Ben Freda from the Abington Journal took Dad's photo and summarized the event HERE.  

Dad uses water colors to create his paintings . . . usually a still life or a scene from nature. At 82 years old, he attends class every Thursday after he has had lunch at my kitchen table and has helped me take my garbage and recycling to the curb. Our Thursday lunches have become a ritual for us, one I look forward to. 

As another Father's Day rolls around, I've been reflecting on Dad's brushstrokes in my life. He's modeled the steady colors of consistency, godliness, and loyalty. His dry sense of humor and funny comments add light to our conversations. His having lived many decades brings perspective to my thinking, and His love for God's Word challenges me to remember what's truly important when "the cares of this world" seem to be calling my name. We've both lost our spouses and understand loneliness and loss, yet we help each other move forward with God's strength and with grateful hearts.

I love you, Dad. Along with Mom, I'm proud of you, too. Thanks for the brushstrokes of character you've painted for me and Barb and for your wonderful example of quiet strength and hope. Happy Father's Day!



Here are a few samples of Dad's paintings, most watercolor:







This scene is done in colored pencil.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Summer: A Season to Enjoy . . . A Season to Reflect . . .

SUMMER!

How we've longed for warm breezes . . . fragrant flowers . . . longer days . . . burgers on the grill. What plans do you have to take advantage of this new season? Will you take a trip to the beach or even to a national park or zoo? Are your kids begging to ride their bikes or go to the playground? There's something healing about soaking up the sun, planting petunias, and catching up with neighbors over the back fence.
During those chilly, damp days of late winter and early spring, I looked forward to summer. I enjoy my gardens (both flower and vegetable), my patio with pots of flowers, and the evening sounds as I rock back and forth in the backyard swing. The best part is that my youngest daughter is home from college for a couple of months. She'll be busy with online classes and a part-time job, but it's wonderful to have her here. I'm savoring our time together.


The past ten months have been busy for me . . . namely, writing and publishing my Leader's Guide based on Penned Without Ink. Thanks to Robin Wasser, my book is also now an audio book through Audible. I spoke at four different venues this past spring. I loved rubbing shoulders with women and hearing their stories of how God is giving them the grace to "run with perseverance the race marked out" for them. It has been a time of blessing.

Little by little I'm getting on my feet again but not without some time for prayerful reflection. Where have I been since my husband passed away three years ago? What has God been doing in my life? Looking forward, what would God have me to be and to do next?

I'm seeing the importance of evaluation and assessment - as I go along - so I don't find myself drifting to a place I never intended. Do you agree?

In my quest, I have come across two resources. The first is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. He maintains that "essentialism isn't about getting more done in less time. It's about getting only the right things done." I checked out the audio book from the library. So far, it's been eye-opening. Some of what I'm reading will supplement my toolbox as I move into the future.

The second resource is Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson. This book "reveals how cultivating humility-not scheduling or increased productivity-leads to true peace." My sister and daughter recommended this Christian book to me, thinking it would be especially helpful as I try to sort out my next steps.

So, enjoy this new season of warmth, growth, and a little less structure. Yet, let's not allow the season to slip by without also setting aside a little time for reflection. Who or what guides our thinking? Where are we going? And what will we do with the gifts God has given us?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Three Years

Armed with a pocket full of Kleenex, I walked up the hill to the Clarks Green Cemetery for the first time this spring. A delightful walk despite the traffic in the late afternoon. The stimulating fragrances of flowering trees, bushes, and lilacs surrounded me as I made my way up and down the hills between the markers, and as always, found myself stooping to read a few of the names and dates of those who have passed on.
I always save Barry's section until last. As the stone came into view, tears stung my eyes. There's something about that first look in the spring that floods my heart with the reality and finality of his death. I settled myself on the ground and cleaned the pine needles and grass clippings off the base. So much has happened in three years. As I wiped my eyes, I realized that I miss him in a different way than when crushing grief nearly swallowed me up and I wondered how I would go on without him. 

Back then I wished he could've helped Elisabeth with her college decisions. I wished he could've dialogued with all the girls and answered their questions. I wished he could've played his role as "Grandpa" to our grandsons, one of whom he never met. I wished he could've weighed in on so many decisions I had to make without him, decisions about the house, a car, our finances. He always seemed to know what to do.

Looking back, I see God's grace standing out bold on the calendar pages of the past 36 months. We made it . . . all this time. But that doesn't mean we didn't feel the ache in our hearts. And now I grieve for him in additional ways. I long for his comfortable companionship and the balance he brought to my life. I miss making his favorite dinner, hearing about his many ventures, and planning this year's garden together.  How often have I wanted to ask his thoughts about my writing and speaking? "Does this make sense? Is this topic relevant? Do these ideas sound okay? What's missing?" 

I feel for our girls . . . as each of them is in a different place now. They would benefit from his knowledge and wisdom - on education, relationships, gardening, parenting, and on and on. We often find ourselves saying, "What would Dad say?" It helps . . . a little.

Before I rose to walk home, I traced my finger over the words under his name: "Life-long Learner; Loved God and Others." Always for the other guy, that's just the kind of man he was! And somehow I gather up the courage to move ahead and "run with perseverance the race marked out for me," grateful for God's new measure of grace every single day.

I love you, Barry. We miss you.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mother's Day Reflections

Mother's Day brings back the memory of a story, a story that turned apprehension into hope.


bing.com
"Pregnant! The word jolted me as I listened to the nurse's voice on the other end of the line. I was thirty-eight with an eleven and fourteen-year-old, and God wanted me to raise another child?

I decided to keep the news quiet as long as possible. I felt embarrassment mixed with panic and needed time to get used to the idea. At the same time, I felt guilty when I thought of the many who longed for a child and found themselves grieving with empty arms.


bing.com

A few weeks later we visited my parents' church. I felt as green as the dress I wore. God must have smiled as the service began. He had a special message just for me, one I would carry with me for a long time. It came in the from of a song, one written by Bill and Gloria Gaither when they, too, were expecting a child.

This child can face uncertain days because He lives!
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow . . . I know He holds the future . . .*


Tears sprang to my eyes as my husband squeezed my hand. The resurrection of Jesus . . . Of course! Because He lives, I could trust Him with our future and the future of our tiny secret, fearfully and wonderfully growing deep inside me.

November 1997


We named our baby Elisabeth Grace in remembrance of God's promise in 2 Corinthians 12:9. "My grace is sufficient for you . . ." Now a junior in college, Elisabeth brings her humor, conversation, and thoughtfulness to our family. How could I have ever doubted God's wisdom? That Easter morning holds a hallowed place in my heart. God's faithfulness during that time has given me courage to face other challenges, far more daunting.



I'll always remember the day when Elisabeth, then in elementary school, said to me, "I'm glad my middle name is Grace."

I couldn't trust my voice to answer, but gave her a wobbly smile. Me, too, Elisabeth. Me, too.


*Copyright by William J. Gaither, 1971.