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

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.

"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.


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.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

When God Opens the Door . . .

"I'm sure you could borrow my mom's notes," my youngest daughter offered.

When Elisabeth told me of her conversation with a fellow intern last summer, I hesitated. "That would be fine, but . . . I'd have to re-work them, you know, so someone else can make sense of them."

"Oh, she won't mind. Whatever you have will be fine."

Fine? While I doubted it, my mind began to race with possibilities which led me to a ten-month journey of faith. This week, I finally crossed the finish line!

Here's the backstory: After Penned Without Ink was released in September of 2016, I had the privilege of leading a small group through the study of my book chapter by chapter. We dug deeper into many relevant themes presented in Penned and linked them with biblical narratives and principles. The discussion was rich as we connected the promises of God with our own personal lives. I loved preparing for our group meetings each week, drawing truths from God's Word and learning even more about trusting God to write your story. I typed up my notes as I went along, never dreaming they would someday form the basis of something more. 
After Elisabeth offered my notes to her colleague, I began to organize and add to them, finding even more pertinent material to augment my original thoughts. One thing led to another, and soon I designed a consistent layout for each lesson. (At this point I sent what I had to Elisabeth's friend.) Yet the final presentation still remained fuzzy to me . . . Study guide? Leader's guide? Both? I talked it over with my writers group, attempted several different formats, and prayed. 

In early January, my son-in-law suggested I include two sections: a leader's guide and one-page study sheets for group participants. BINGO! That was it! I went right to work, asked my writer friends to critique each page, and ironed out the bumps.

Each lesson/chapter for leaders includes:
  • A REVEIW from the last lesson 
  • DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (and answers with supplemental material) and GROUP ACTIVITIES based on the text and additional Scriptures 
  • A TAKEAWAY summary statement
  • A suggested MEMORY VERSE. 
The REPRODUCIBLE STUDY SHEETS encourage group members to prepare for each session's discussion at home. There are 13 lessons or chapters yet the material is flexible so a group may combine chapters if desired. The book measures 8.5 x 11 and is 60 pages in length.

When I contacted my publishing company, they were excited about the project and suggested I publish my work through Create Space. I knew nothing about gutter margins, bleed, ISBN numbers, or formatting the interior much less an attractive cover. Yet again, God provided a wonderful team of people to help - including a group to pilot the material. After several of us proof-read the book (over and over and over!), I finally clicked the button last Tuesday that made the finished product available for purchase on Amazon.com! 

If your group is looking for material to study this summer or fall, I invite you to consider this study.

Only the group leader will require the Leader's Guide. Each group member will need a copy of Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, a Bible, a notebook or journal, and the study sheets (distributed in your group). To learn more, click the Amazon link HERE. And feel free to email me with any questions (sarahlylnnphillips3@gmail.com). 

When has God surprised you or opened the door to an unforeseen opportunity?