Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One Word Says It All

One of my fave places to praise Jesus
A short time ago I visited a multi-ethnic Christian women's event where several languages (besides English) were spoken.

Because multiple interpreters were often speaking at once, it was occasionally chaotic, sometimes cacophonous, always interesting, and never more fun.

Forbearance was abundant. Everyone there wore their patience and kindness like a beautiful faith necklace ("Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder" Proverbs 3:3, NLT).

And one thing stood out to me as we expressed our own Jesus-joy in worship. We were all praising Papa God in different languages, sometimes singing words we didn't understand, or listening to the Bible read in a foreign tongue.

Yet we had one thing in common. It was a word that we all began to say in unison while smiling from ear-to-ear when it became apparent that regardless of our nationality, each of us shared this one common bond of worship: Hallelujah.

Go figure. Hallelujah is the same in every language.

By definition, hallelujah is the term used to express praise, joy, and gratitude. And by dingies, we expressed all those things, all wrapped tightly up in one says-it-all word. Hallelujah.

Until that day, I believe I've always taken hallelujah for granted. It was just another faith-speak term like "Thank Heavens" or "Praise the Lord" or "Have Mercy!"  But no longer. That word is special to me now, because I know that whenever I say it, thousands of my soul sisters and brothers across the globe are saying it too, and our hearts are bound together in one timeless, bottomless, boundary-less expression of praise to our Papa.

Hallelujah!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fabulous New Contest!

Summer 2014: Baby Blessings Shower

The Babies Are Arriving!

As you may have heard, my book Too Blessed to be Stressed has been busy birthing offspring; I call them my Baby Blessings. So far, the bouncing bundles of joy include:

Too Blessed to be Stressed 2014 Planner
TooBlessedPlanner

Too Blessed to be Stressed Perpetual Calendar Too Blessed to Be Stressed Perpetual Calendar

Muy Bendecida Para Estar Estresada (Spanish translation) Too Blessed to be Stressed (Spanish)
The Bible Promise Book: Too Blessed to be Stressed Edition
Too Blessed to Be Stressed - Promise Book

Due next in July is the Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planner and in September, the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal, which is a hard cover version of the original paperback with additional space for Too Blessed to be Stressed 2015 Planneranswering “Let’s Decom-Stress” reflection questions and journaling. I’m planning cool contests to give away copies of each one to celebrate their birthdays, so be sure to subscribe to my blog to find out about all the freebies as the news breaks!
In the meantime, I’m throwing a baby shower in reverse! That means I give YOU gifts to celebrate! Keep reading …

A Baby Shower Like No Other

In celebration of my Baby Blessings, I want to see yours! Just shoot me an e-photo of your cherished baby (human, 4-legged or even 4-wheeled) on my CONTACT page by August 8th and you’ll be entered in the drawing to win the Baby Blessing (listed above) of your choice. Winning photos will be posted on my blog in mid-August.

So start snapping those baby photos and send a few my way! Can't wait to see 'em! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Hero is a Snail

A monstrous handful of snail
I was hiking a mountain trail last week when something stopped me in my tracks. It was a sight I truly didn't expect to see.

There, at more than 4,000 feet above sea level, a snail was painstakingly making its way across the gravel road (thankfully it was only a fraction the size of the whopper in the picture).

What in the world was a sea creature doing way up here?

Fascinated, I stopped to watch the little guy's tedious journey as he encountered obstacle after obstacle. (It was, after all, a gravel road.) His little neck stretched out as far as possible, his two antlers (or maybe they're called feelers) probed the gravel rocks - the side of a boulder from his perspective - blocking his way.

After careful analysis, he decided on his best route and gradually, by the teensy-tiniest increments, detoured to the left or to the right around the roadblock. He'd stick his long neck out, then constrict it, which effectively dragged his gigantic safe house after him.

If something spooked him (like a giant named Deb poking around), he immediately retreated into his safe house. At least he thought it was. Safe. I cringed when I thought of what a passing car would do to his place of refuge. Pulverize is putting it mildly. Probably a good thing he didn't know about cars; he might never venture from the bushes.

And then I thought about myself and how so many things scare me enough that I don't want to venture from the bushes either. I'd rather curl up in my (perceived) safe place surrounded by my comfortable shell.

But Papa God didn't create us to cower. We were made to journey. To cross dangerous roads. To stick our necks out, probe with our feelers, and reroute around the boulder blocking our path. Stretching ... probing ... adjusting ... moving forward. And to sometimes do it in places w-a-y out of our comfort zone; places we feel like we don't belong, places 4,000 feet above our natural habitat.

That's pretty much how my writing journey feels most days. Like I'm w-a-y out of my habitat. My feelers get a real workout trying to figure out a route around obstacles I've never encountered before, some I never knew existed.

And my safe house doesn't drag as well as it used to. Or maybe my neck's getting tired.

With all these thoughts swirling in my head, I drew inspiration from my little snail friend. He just kept on. Stretching ... probing ... adjusting ... moving forward.

Two hours later when I backtracked to check his progress, he was still doing it. Only now he was almost across the road. And that's where I want to be too.

So what's your goal? What motivates you to keep stretching ... probing ... adjusting ... moving forward?

 

     


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Worthless Versus Priceless

I mop the sweat from my forehead with the already soggy sweatband on my wrist. Summer tennis has it's downs.

But it has its ups too - like fresh air, sunshine, much needed exercise, and that dear little buttercup over there by the net post one court over. Yep, growing in the middle of a sea of pavement on these hard courts, that little sweetie has overcome the odds to sprout in a crack the size of a thimble to bring cheer to my day.

Every time I switch sides of the court, I make it a point to pass by the happy yellow plant and draw inspiration from its tenacity.

Finally, during the third set, I comment on the buttercup's uplifting presence to the three guys sharing my court. I don't know them, really. We just met on the court this morning and recognized that we were similar skill levels and decided to play together. Their ages range from thirtysomething to near sixty.

Their responses completely flabbergast me.

Man #1: "How did that thing get there? I'll pull it up next time we switch sides."
Man #2: "I have some weed killer in my trunk."
Man #3: "Now why did you have to point that out? It's going to drive me crazy until we rip it out."

What??? Are you kidding me? Every single one of them see that beacon of beauty and courage as an aberration to be uprooted and discarded.

Of course I understand that their experience colors their view - these are all men who have been trained for years by society and their wives to seek and destroy any extraneous entities defacing their immaculate lawns. And I realize that buttercups are, by most standards, considered weeds.

But of that I do NOT agree. My childhood memories are rich with buttercups dotting the field by my house, abundantly present in their magnificent amber glory on dewy summer mornings for me to tenderly caress, hold under my sister's chin to confirm her affinity for butter, and gather in a lovely bouquet to express my everlasting love to my momma.

If that's not the definition of a "real" flower, I don't know what is.

So when these guys can't see anything but nuisance in this clearly delightful creation right from Papa God's own hand, I see that it's my mission to enlighten them.

But alas, they will not be swayed. Especially because there's three of them and one of me.

So we must agree to disagree. It's all a matter of perspective: vexation versus inspiration. Pesky weed versus purveyor of pleasure. Worthless versus priceless. Something that should be eliminated or valued. 

Like so many other times in life, our perspective makes all the difference.

What about you, my friend? How do you see a buttercup?    

   

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Walking in the Rain

Walking in the rain. Running in the rain. Crying in the rain.

Sounds romantic, right?

Ha.

I'm sitting here dripping all over my computer chair in the aftermath of doing those very things and I can tell you it wasn't fun at all.

Yeah, I saw the clouds when I started out on my morning prayer walk, but here in central Florida you can never tell when they're gonna just lie around all day threatening but never produce. Sometimes I feel like I live in a bubble and it rains everywhere but my neighborhood. You continuously alter your plans for rain that never comes. You want to yell at the overcast skies Poop or get off the pot!

Oops. If you have delicate sensibilities, please overlook that last statement. Sometimes crude says it best.

Anyhow, I was about 30 minutes away from home when the first fat drops came. Within seconds they crescendoed into a deluge. I looked hopefully down the road for Spouse's rescue vehicle; he's usually on the ball scouting rain-outs on my regular walks or bike outings and like my own personal Daniel Boone, sends out the cavalry immediately.

Then I remembered. He was sick in bed and wouldn't even know if a typhoon hit.

So I trudged down the road like a drowned rat. I had to stick my cell phone in my underwear to try to keep it dry. A drowned rat with a rectangular rump.

No human life was visible anywhere, although the ducks at the pond appeared to be having quite a frolic in the downpour. A dog ran across the road and took shelter beneath a house. I briefly considered joining him.

Then I turned a corner and came upon a silver car, engine running, sitting at the curb in front of a house. Hooray! The driver was in there! Double hooray! It was a woman! (I wouldn't have considered getting in a car with a strange man, but this scenario certainly held promise.)

I began to think the chances of my getting offered a ride home were looking pretty good when I saw her eyeing me as I approached. But then the worst thing happened. She turned away. She began looking everywhere but at me. Like I didn't even exist.

Body language was clear: Go away. You'll find no help here.

Even when I walked within one foot of her car window and paused, pulling the dripping hair from my face and staring imploringly in at her, she kept looking straight ahead at the rain pounding on her windshield and refused to acknowledge my presence or my plight.

Hope drained away like water in a bathtub.

And then I thought about the homeless woman that I drove past yesterday. Her sign said, "Need food for family. Anything will help."

Did I stop? No. Did I help? I didn't.

She's walking through the rain in her life every day. Drowning in the downpour. Yet I keep sitting in my nice dry car staring straight ahead, my body language clear: Go away. You'll find no help here.

But I can change that. I can. Papa's message to me through the raindrops hit home. I can acknowledge the presence and plight of her and others like her. I can. And I will. Because I know all too well how awful it feels to be soaked to the bone and without hope - even temporarily.

How about you? Have you walked in any rain lately that opened your eyes - and maybe even your heart - to others splashing through the puddles beside you?









Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Radical Makeover

My new book covers! 
So what do you think? 
Woo Hoo!

Soooo exciting!

These are the new covers for my two historical novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails. 

My publisher felt it was time for an update and I think they give Emma-Lee, the main character of both books, a fresh new look.

I actually resisted at first - accepting change has never been my forte. But I'm glad I relented now that I've seen what a very talented cover artist can do ... not really altering my perception of who Emma-Lee is, but enhancing the possibilities and engaging the imagination in all that she could be.

It was my desire to keep the distant storm clouds and dark edges on the horizon of The Distant Shore to symbolize the tragedy and mystery that Emma-Lee was thrust into on the island through no fault of her own. Not unlike many of the problems we face every day - problems not of our own making, but problems we must wade through nonetheless.

And the cover artist (whom I've never met or even spoken to) came up with the beautiful brightness and glorious sunbeams (if you read my books, you know how much I absolutely ADORE those symbolic fingers of our Creator reaching down to us in the form of sunbeams!) portraying Emma-Lee's emerging faith and hope in Papa God for Billowing Sails

The use of sunbeams is just another marvelously cool coincidence that isn't.

It's a grace note. An amazing grace note that proves to me yet again that Papa God is involved in every single detail of our lives. Even book cover radical makeovers!

P.S. If you've never read these delightful novels inspired by a true story, good news! They're on sale for $1.99 each for a limited time in e-reader version for both Kindle and Nook. And of course they're also available in print from www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesandNoble.com as well as anywhere books are sold.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Becoming a Godly Goader

The first goaders
The memory makes me smile now, but at the time I wanted to screech like a riled bobcat.

When I was nine, my sister was two years older and light years girlier. She wore wrap-around skirts, red hair bows and shiny pink nail polish.

I lived and breathed barefoot, wore ratty cut off jeans, baseball caps, and spent my time riding bikes, climbing trees or playing baseball.

Hence my big problem.

Since there were only the two of us kids under our roof, during long summer days when I wanted to go outside and jump on the pogo stick or snag a few grounders, there was no one but Cindy to play with. And she never wanted to face the heat, dirt, and bugs of a scorching Florida afternoon.

When begging and pleading didn't work, I resorted to goading her with the big ammo: "Fatty, fatty, two by four, can't get through the bathroom door ..."  

The fact that Cindy was about as big around as a licorice stick never seemed to matter, for she was at the age that every girl thinks she's fat. And I quickly learned that the surefire way to get something I wanted was to goad her into it.

A goad, by definition, is a pointed rod used to urge animals forward. To prod. To prompt. To guide an entity from one place to another.

In Ecclesiastes 12:11, Solomon, a man gifted with wisdom directly from God, said this: "The words of the wise are like goads" (NIV).

In other words, wise words can serve to prod, prompt, or guide an entity from one place to another. As in moving people from non-belief to belief; from agnosticism to theism; from an egocentric world view to a Christ-centered perspective.

This concept has weighed heavily on me this week as I prepare a eulogy for a dear Christian friend who passed away last weekend. The heaviness is not about my friend - although I miss her dreadfully, I have no doubt of her eternal security and that at this moment she's joyfully dancing an Irish jig in heaven's dance hall.

The heaviness is about my friend's brother, an intellectual Mensa know-it-all sort who views Christianity with disdain and spent the last evening of his sister's life on earth denouncing the "blatant weaknesses" and "contradictions" of the Bible to me right there in front of her as she lay on her deathbed. Painfully taking it all in.

I know his lostness distressed her, so it doubly distressed me, although I confess that I've often dismissed such arrogant, closed-minded, argumentative types as hopeless and shook off their dust from my sandals as I turned away.

But my friend had confided in me many times that she wanted more than anything to find a way to break through her brother's darkness with the light of Jesus.

And now she's gone. And I feel the weight of her unfulfilled burden. And I know that somehow, some day, there will be a way to reach him. Papa God is, after all, in the mind-changing business.

I ask myself: Do my words goad people in a Jesus-ward direction? Does my life prompt others to want to know the source of my inner joy? Do I actively seek to move people from one spiritual place to another?

Am I a godly goader?

As author Jill Briscoe so succinctly puts it, "Do our words ... prick their consciences? Move them from meaninglessness to meaningfulness? From nothingness to something-ness? From nonsense to God-sense?"

So I ask for your prayers this week, my friend. Please pray for Papa God to give me wise words to speak in this eulogy, meant expressly for someone who will never, ever darken the doors of a church. Not necessarily academically impressive, intellectually gifted words - for I have none. But words brimming with Jesus-joy that will break through this man's intellectual defenses to prepare the way for the Holy Spirit to penetrate the darkness in his heart with a shaft of blinding light.

Not unlike what happened to another know-it-all guy named Saul on a road to Damascus.

Yep. A personal visit from Papa God is the best goad of all.






Monday, May 19, 2014

No Short Cuts

A happy little cantaloupe before its journey 
I think it's human nature to try to find a faster, easier way to do things, don't you? Progress. Efficiency. Increased production.

But some things simply defy short cuts.

Take cantaloupes for example. I love a ripe, juicy melon as much as the next Floridian, maybe even more. But I must admit that until today I never gave much thought about how they get from the field to my table.

This morning I detoured my prayer walk to a wooded area adjacent to what is usually a large strawberry field. Apparently I haven't been observant enough to notice that the green plants aren't dotted with red berries as they've always been in the past. Nope, this time white globes peppered the fields.

And as evidenced by the workers swarming the place, today was harvest day!

I expected to see the field hands gather the cantaloupes much the same way they do strawberries - filling a flat or container of some sort that they drag along behind them along the row. But not so. The harvesting process was actually quite mesmerizing in its beauty and simplicity, and I found myself standing there watching for quite a while.

A truck straddled a newly picked row, moving forward at a snail's pace; three men stood atop the truck bed on either side of the truck catching the cantaloupes tossed up to them by three men moving parallel in the field on both sides of the truck.

The tossers were pretty incredible. In one graceful swoop, the man leaned down, picked a cantaloupe and hoisted the 5-lb fruit up and over his head. Like an NFL quarterback. He threw the thing in a perfect arc to the receiver on the truck and immediately bent back down for another. Down, up. Down, up. Down, up.

I'm not talking a single play here. He must've thrown a hundred passes on one row alone and these guys weren't all that close to the truck either.

My arms ached just watching them.

Over and over and over the heavy white balls arced through the air like fat birds in flight. The receiver who caught it then turned and rolled the melon into a crate which I presume would soon be on its way to the market. Catch, turn. Catch, turn. Catch, turn.

Everyone moved in perfect timing like a graceful, choreographed dance. It was truly inspiring to watch. Unexpected grace in an unexpected place.

I marveled that in this day of automation and machinery, cantaloupes are still harvested this way. Evidently there is no quicker, easier way. No short cuts. At least in one farmer's way of thinking.

And then I started thinking of other things in life for which there are no short cuts. Developing relationships. Healing, both emotionally and physically. Learning to do anything well. Trusting Papa God.

Sometimes we just have to go through the motions and endure the long, tedious journey. Down, up. Down, up. Down, up. Catch, turn. Catch, turn. Catch, turn. Because the repetition, the details, the hardness of it are essential to the process. The process that produces change in us. The process that makes the journey our actual destination.

So the next time you take a big ole bite of a luscious, ripe cantaloupe and the juice trickles down your chin, won't you join me in a moment of gratitude for doing some things the good old fashioned hard way?







Thursday, May 15, 2014

One of Those Weenie Days

Ever have one of those days when everything possible went wrong? Sure you have. We all have. It's how we respond that separates the weenies from the warriors.

Take my friend Lana for example. Her story will make your eyebrows stand at attention.

Lana's daybreak flight from Denver to Philly was late. By the time she reached Philly, air traffic control had too many planes in the air so circling the airport repeatedly created even more of delay.

Upon deboarding, she found that she had exactly ten minutes to make her connecting flight at a terminal completely at the other end of the airport. Can you say Usain Bolt in heels?

But alas, she arrived panting and sweating only to find that her flight had been cancelled. The only other connecting flight to her speaking engagement in Baltimore would arrive too late for the event.

Lana called the event planner for advice and was talked into renting a car and driving the nearly three hour trek. So she went to baggage claim to retrieve her luggage and was told no problem - the bags would arrive within 30 minutes.

Three hours later her bags arrived and by then the Philly car rental services were fresh out of cars. Every one. How could that happen???

So she spent the next two hours on hold with the airlines trying to get a flight - any flight - including a return flight because hers was automatically canceled along with her original flight.

Finally something went right, or at least it seemed that way at the moment. She was able to get a new boarding pass and needed to recheck the behemoth bags she'd been lugging around into the Philly TSA. But as she stepped into an elevator to head back to security, the elevator got stuck between floors. After much panic and not a little screaming, the elevator gasped for life and chugged slowly to the nearest floor, where Lana rapidly exited. She reported to a TSA agent what had happened. Despite Lana's reluctance, the agent insisted that Lana get back on the elevator to ride along with her to prove it was a fluke and would never happen again.

It happened again.

When the agent tried to pry the elevator door open, she only succeeded in jamming it, which prevented the door from closing, which prevented them from going anywhere.

Before Lana could follow through with her frustration by kickboxing the elevator door, the ultra-professional, petite agent surprised her by punching the door with her fist. Would you believe it - the punch did the trick and the door closed just enough to get them up to the next floor.

There's something to be said for watching Rocky I- XV. (Incidentally, by Rocky XV I believe he was duking it out in the ring with Hilary Clinton.)

When Lana finally got to the appropriate gate, she found that high winds had prevented the plane she was supposed to take from coming into Philly from Pittsburgh. The next flight didn't leave until the following morning, which means Lana would entirely miss her speech scheduled for that night.

That was when she texted every friend she knew to start praying. Now. She was NOT going to cave and let Satan win this one. She'd had enough. Time to fight fire with fire.

Within twenty minutes, the wind died down. The plane came in. Lana was able to board on time (although they changed the gate and she didn't realize it until the last minute) and she arrived in Baltimore late that night. Her speech was rescheduled to the next day.

Like most of us facing terrible, rotten, ridiculous circumstances, Lana first panicked and nearly fell to pieces. But she didn't stay that way. Her faith kicked in (better faith than an elevator door, right?). She might have started out as a weenie but she ended strong. As a warrior.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1, NASB)

Yep. There's power in prayer. Weenies morph into warriors. The underdog can become a champion. Even against Hilary's left upper cut.






 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Don't Miss the Music

Where I go to hear the music
My frantic life has screeched to a halt this past week.

It began with a hurried, worried, late night drive to the ER with Spouse in severe abdominal pain and ended ... Well, it hasn't ended yet.

But it hasn't been all bad.

During countless tests, then surgery, then waiting for the MD to arrive, a gigantic railroad track scar, and now recovery, I've been forced to set aside busy life as I know it and sit. Just sit.

Sit and read. Sit and listen. Sit and reflect.

And that's been good for me. Because I can hear the music again.

"What music?" you must be wondering.

It's the same music I heard up on a trail just a few weeks ago above our Smoky Mt. cabin. I was walking along the secluded woodsy path (I love it in the spring on our mountain because none of the other Florida transients are up there yet so it's just us, the birds, and the bears) when I felt the need to stop and rest a bit. So I parked my tush on a boulder to catch my breath.

That's when I heard the music.

It was gentle and humble and unpretentious - pretty hard to tune into at first. But the longer I sat there, the melody grew and filled my insides with its glory. The buzz of bees, the trickle of a hidden waterfall, the rumble of distant thunder, tree branches rustling in the breeze, the epitome of sweetness in life all combined to create music for my soul.

It was truly beautiful and so very satisfying. Peace. It sounded like peace.

And then it occurred to me. If you walk by too fast, you'll miss the music.

So I vowed to not walk so fast all the time. To slow down and listen. But as soon as we returned home, I hit the road running and it took an emergency room run to put on the breaks. To stop. And hear the beautiful music of Papa God playing in my soul.

So I urge you, friend, to do what I didn't on my own initiative. Take a few moments this week to stop, sit down, and catch your breath. And listen for Papa's gentle melody in your heart.