Thursday, September 21, 2017

We bought that outfit.

My grandkids live in other states, so I am usually following them on facebook and flickr. Fairly often I show my husband a picture and mention, before I go to the next, "Oh, and we bought her that outfit."  He doesn't care as much, but I love to see the little ones getting use out of something we gave them, something I chose because it was their favorite color or would be easy to play in as they scramble over the playground.  I even keep pictures of clothes I bought for them, because I realized, when they were babies, that I couldn't always remember which outfit I chose.


Sometimes I wonder if God feels a bit the same about some of the gifts he's given me. God likes to see me using them. Perhaps they've been given to me to help someone else and using them is an act of service and obedience.  But maybe they've also been given to bring me joy or comfort or validation.  In any case, employing my gifts celebrates God as giver and acknowledges my appreciation. It helps me feel closer to God.

And maybe God smiles. "I gave her that.  Glad to see she's getting use out of it."

Saturday, August 12, 2017

New School Year

Although it seems incredibly early, schools around here will be starting in a week. I'm wishing all the best for the teachers, students, and families.The photo below shows the grade card of a family member a generation or two back. I can even see his personality in the grades; he was brighter than his daily work reflected, since he tested better than his overall term grades. But maybe the tests proved something to him, since he improved as the year went on. Maybe a good teacher found a way to encourage him!


 

The average teacher spends $600 of their own money to enhance learning in the classroom.  If you go to DonorsChoose.org or AdoptAClassroom.org, you can support them by funding the purchase of supplies or equipment that the school cannot afford.  You can typically choose a project by school location, grade level, subject matter or financial need of the school population.  It's a great way to encourage teachers and students to do their very best in the coming year. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Art in Thread and Dye

I spent the afternoon at the Dairy Barn in Athens, Ohio, an arts center that is currently displaying amazing quilts as fabric art.  I've always admired the traditional patchwork quilt designs, but these artists took the techniques of sewing and quilting to amazing new levels, creating intricate, original pieces as powerful and meaningful as any modern painting or sculpture.  I loved the textures and colors but particularly valued the reflections of the artists and the ideas and experiences they conveyed. They were not afraid to address deeply personal events or strong values.

I wish I could post just one of the works, but no photography was allowed, and I doubt that a photo could do any of the works justice.

The experience reminded me of how much imagination and creative expression mean to me.  I've been consuming a lot of mass market books, TV and music lately.  Maybe it's time I challenged myself as I did when I was younger.  It may not make me much better as a writer. I don't think I'm capable of art; I'll be lucky to tell a decent story. But it does my spirit good to stretch, and that is important, whatever I may "produce" from it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Challenge Reads

I posted recently about comfort reads.  I also want to pay tribute to the "challenge reads" -- books that shaped my values and my heart for the vulnerable in this world.  One of the earliest and most lasting influences has to be Charles Dickens. His passion for social justice, his mockery of the pompous and selfish, his defense of the underprivileged and his idealism have always moved me.


That Dickens could combine his social vision with such humor and rattling good plots has always amazed me. 

Another powerful author who shaped my values is Camus. In his novel The Plague Camus studies people facing evil, making choices to act in solidarity with others or to protect themselves. He never offers easy or pat answers. Other authors I admire include John Steinbeck, Voltaire, the poets of World War I, and Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front. 

Many of these authors were not Christian, as I am. But their courageous confrontation of the evils of this world and their dedication to calling out the best in their readers resonate in my spirit. I would not want to spend my life only reading safe "Christian" books that may speak well of individual needs for faith or trust in God but refuse to address the injustice, the cruelties, and the failures of this world.  

I don't want to hide away in only books that comfort me. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Comfort Reads

I've seen a lot of references in blogs and articles to the experience of "comfort reading," and I wanted to pay tribute to some of the authors who have written books that brought me the most joy, peace, and comfort. They haven't all been escapist books by any means, although they have often taken me to another world and set me dreaming.  One of the earliest to grip my imagination and hold it through multiple readings was the classic, The Secret Garden. Its combination of mystery, nature, hope for individual positive change and restoration, strong story line and unforgettable characters hooked me for good.

Authors I always turned to include Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Agatha Christie. I devoured Jane Eyre and Catherine Marshall's Christie, different as they may be. For humor I can't get enough of Wodehouse,  Rex Stout, Douglas Adams or The Irish R.M. 

There are plenty of fine writers now, and I keep looking for comfort books that fill my imagination as well as bringing relaxation.  Not sure any can match the classics I've always loved, but it's fun to keep looking.

Monday, June 12, 2017

International Children's Day

June 12 is National Children's Day. It's also called the World Day Against Child Labor. While, as a mother and grandmother, I can celebrate the joys of childhood and its happy memories, as a Christian I also have to think about issues of justice and mercy. Every hour children bear the suffering of violence and injustice in this world, facing abuse, neglect, poverty and labor. According to the International Labour Organization, 168 million children are forced into work, often in dangerous conditions. That represents 100 million boys and 68 million girls. I invite prayers for these children and any contributions that support their protection, nourishment, health care and education.

Here's an old family picture of a protected, happy child.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Word Ladder

I've been working on a certain story off and on for twenty years, often with months or even years between looking at the latest draft. Obviously, its content means a great deal to me. Yet I keep needing to alter at least some element.  With each step, I feel I'm coming closer to its final version.

Today, as I completed the revision that makes me happy for now, I feel as if this story has become a sort of word ladder puzzle.  Do you know the mind challenge?  You've given a word -- such as foal  -- and you have to change one letter at a time until it becomes another word -- such as mare. (I just made that up, so don't strain hard to solve it.  But if you do, let me know.) Usually you have a strictly limited number of steps for the alterations.

I'm glad my writing hasn't been limited to five steps, because I'm well past that. And I'm glad there aren't limits in life, either. I've changed so much in the past years, yet I still feel like me.  Whether it's growth, redirection or even decline, I'm grateful for the push and the grace to change organically and with the time needed to absorb the transformation.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Traveling

Whenever I travel, I pray for protection and blessings over the whole experience.  For this trip, I felt that I should also pray for patience, grace and good attitudes toward any difficulties of travel. There is always something: flight delays, last minute changes of gates at the airport, long lines, misplaced luggage. I try to be patient, but this time I felt I should pray for help in keeping up a good spirit. I won't say that I was perfect, but I think I did a bit better. Certainly the long flights and connections gave me opportunities to practice a positive attitude.

And the reward was: Scotland! A wonderful country.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Seeking Refuge

Just finished a wonderful book called Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis. Published in 2016, it won an Award of Merit from Christianity Today in 2017. The work combines careful research, lots of statistics, and personal accounts.



Bill and Lynn Hybels wrote a compelling forward about their experiences oversees and work with churches in this country.  The three co-authors each provide unique perspectives on the plight of people fleeing violence and justice around the world. Stephan Bauman leads global operations for World Relief, a faith-based organization helping refugees, and he speaks of work internationally and in U.S. churches. Matthew Soerens works with local churches and explains immigration law. Dr. Issam Smeir, the son of a refugee, counsels traumatized refugees.

The book builds on a Biblical basis, citing the period when Joseph had to flee with his family to protect Jesus from Herod and detailing commands from the Old and New Testaments that require compassion and justice for foreigners and the outcast. It carefully delineates the process for someone to become officially recognized as a refugee by the international community and to be granted refugee status after clearing security and health checks for entry into the United States. The authors detail the process for settlement in the United States and the role that local churches may play in facilitating a successful adaptation.

The authors address concerns such as hesitation and fears in dealing with those of different cultures, as well as the challenges that face refugees, often coming to their new home with significant trauma after years of conflict. They point out that many refugees are displaced within their own countries or in a bordering country, often living years in a refugee or detention camp. A tiny percentage actually resettle in a third country, such as the U.S.

Seeking Refuge addresses root causes for crisis migration, delving into profound, complex and often international causes of violence and injustice. It ends with a plea for Christians to care for strangers, offering prayer, hospitality, mercy and justice.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Earth Day

Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day.  It's a wonderful occasion to celebrate the beauty of our world and remember our responsibility to care for it with reverence and gratitude.  As Psalm 24:1 reads, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."

Last year in April I was in Arizona, being overwhelmed daily by the beauty of the Grand Canyon, the red rocks of Sedona, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.  Our country is so rich in beauty, and I'm grateful for all of those who took the care to preserve these wonders and who still work to protect and maintain them. We are all stewards.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Palm Sunday


Each year my church gives out the Palm Sunday frond as shaped into a cross.  I love receiving this and sharing in the joy of Palm Sunday as Holy Week begins.  I like to hope that, if I'd lived at the time of Jesus, I would have been one of the ones welcoming and praising him. But I know I could have just as easily fallen away or doubted him from the beginning. It's so natural to cling to the beliefs in which you've been raised and not allow new truths to touch you.

I'm forever grateful for my mom who got me going to church and fed my faith as long as she lived. I owe a tremendous debt to missionaries and preachers who took the faith from its beginnings in Jerusalem throughout the world, so that a family from Austria-Hungary could bring it with them to this country in the early 1910's. I'm thankful for authors and pastors who've sustained me all my life.

Have a wonderful Palm Sunday!  Worship with all your heart!  And maybe give thanks that you've been given the privilege to know God, love Christ, and feel the Spirit in your life.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Worshiping everywhere

I'm working on travel scrapbooks, and in the French one I had to have a page of churches I've visited. Whenever I travel anywhere, I try to find a church to attend or at least visit.  Something warms my spirit when I connect with other believers. I love to read their devotional materials, bulletin for worship, or history of that particular church building and its history. It helps me remember that we serve a God who has blessed people for ages and in ways we can't begin to imagine.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Travel

I love to travel. Some of my best memories are of seeing a famous site for the first time. It doesn't matter how good the photography is; nothing compares to the physical reality of a cathedral or castle. Nothing captures the freshness of a breeze on a mountainside or that feel of hot sand under your feet. There's nothing like really being there.

I'm planning travel for the coming months, when airports aren't likely to be closed by blizzards. Planning isn't so much fun; I just have to pray that I've picked the right day to fly, the right week to be away from home. Truthfully, I cover all trips in prayer, from the planning stage to every individual choice while I'm traveling.  I pray a lot for safety beforehand, and because God has been so good to me, I pray a lot of thanks and adoration as the trip becomes an amazing reality. I've learned from travel that it pays to plan, but not to worry. The things you fear generally don't happen, and if something unexpected does occur, God gets you through.

Now, my cats don't travel.  But they forgive me for going. And they try to send a little fur with me to remember them by.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Prayer with a Click

A nearby city has a "hot meal site" that offers meals to community people, shelter residents, and the homeless several times a week. I recently discovered that they also have a prayer ministry, in person during or after the meal, and online.  Someone takes the prayer requests and posts them for readers of the refuge website.

Many of the prayers read just like ones I've seen from my church prayer chain or from a Christian book club. Others are more raw, and you can sense the emotions, the vulnerability in the requester's spirit. But the requests, like all requests for prayer, reflect hope, the need to reach out for God, and at least a little faith that someone else might care.

The oddest thing about the site, to me at least, is that there is a button under each prayer that reads, "I prayed." If you pray for the request, you click the button, and the count of the number of people who prayed moves up one on the screen. The purpose is to let the individuals who made the requests know that a number of unknown people somewhere out there prayed for them. When they come back to the refuge, a worker will tell them that 17 people prayed for their request.  Maybe 26 by the next visit.

In my church we have a prayer email that goes out to about 60 people. Prayers also go in the church bulletin, that might be read by over 120 every week. If you submit a prayer request, there's a strong feeling that other people are supporting you, having your back spiritually. This button is intended to do the same for the people who perhaps don't have a home church. The refuge is their church, their connection to a place where people pray with them and care enough to carry their prayers forward.

It's strange to pray and click, but I hope it gives someone encouragement.  Part of me wants to sit at my computer and click two dozen times, to give them even more hope.  But I'm going to be honest. I'm going to make the prayer real and the tiny automated record real and just trust in God to scoop up all our faith, hope, trust and needs and fashion them into comfort, healing or direction.

But if I go back to the site and pray for the same request, I'm clicking again.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Don't Give the Enemy Air Time

Often when someone tries to grow in faith, whether it's through service or deeper worship, it seems that negative thoughts and events come to push back.  With Lent in progress, people may find that problems, interpersonal conflicts or discouraging thoughts crop up more frequently.  I've certainly had that happen.  All I can say is, trust in God that your efforts to be more faithful are important. Listening to God, worshiping and serving others are always the right things to do.  Just don't give the enemy air time. Don't let negative thoughts linger and take root.
As John Ortberg wrote, "God is never a God of discouragement. When you have a discouraging spirit or train of thought in your mind, you can be sure it is not from God."
Do all you can to keep your focus on praise, hope, and God's loving words. Your spirit will grow stronger for the effort.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Prayer for Lent

With Lent starting tomorrow (Ash Wednesday), I want to offer the following way to pray for others. I'm also going to pray this for myself, so that during this period I can grow in understanding, wisdom, and the ability to act as God would want.  Here are the verses from Colossians 1:9-10, in The Living Bible translation, which somehow brings them to life for me:

"So ever since we first heard about you we have kept on praying and asking God to help you understand what he wants you to do; asking him to make you wise about spiritual things; and asking that the way you live will always please the Lord and honor him, so that you will always be doing good, kind things for others, while all the time you are learning to know God better and better."

Monday, February 20, 2017

Workers for the Harvest

In Matthew 9:36-38 we see Jesus teaching and healing. "And what pity he felt for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn't know what to do or where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. 'The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few,' he told his disciples. 'So pray to the one in the charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields'" (The Living Bible).

There is so much suffering and need in the world today, that obedience to this command of Jesus seems essential.  We have to ask God for more people with a heart and the abilities to help others. Each day I intend to pray as Jesus commanded, "Lord, please send workers to the harvest."
Then, whether we are the ones called or not, we need to support those out in the field.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

When God's "No" is the Right Answer

Writers hate rejection. Well, everyone does, but sometimes we writers think we feel it especially hard.

I've developed some projects I thought were fully ready for publication, only to get a polite refusal or even the dreaded black hole of non-response:  "If you don't hear back in three months..."

And yet, with both of these projects, "No" was the right answer. Recently I've been getting great ideas for revision, and I'm actually enjoying the process. I may never earn a "yes", but I'm getting the pleasure of finding new ideas and new energy.  I've become grateful for the "no's" because I wouldn't want to publish anything better than my best work.

I don't even want to admit the "no's" from God that stopped me from making mistakes much bigger than a mediocre publication. I don't want to talk about them, but I'm grateful to God.

When has "no" been the right answer for you?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentine's Day


I know that Valentine's Day can be tough if relationships are painful. But I had to put up this vintage card, found while doing family history research. The message inside reads, "My crop of hearts is extra fine, I've picked one big and true, To send to-day as a valentine, Just right, my dear, for you."
A handwritten message on the back reads, "Great Sacrifice to give This Beautiful Valentine and don't forget the onions."
Onions? I may have some odd people in my family tree. Smile.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

God is at work everywhere

When I find the violence and suffering of the world overwhelming, I remember that God is at work everywhere. Somewhere on this day, maybe in this hour, parents are welcoming their newborn baby, medicine is being delivered to a place with no permanent hospital, a homeless person is finding shelter, an adult who has never been able to read is sitting down with a tutor, and a patient is healing from a difficult surgery. In some spot on this globe a family is reconciling, someone is making a sacrificial gift to help another person, a prayer warrior is praying, and a troubled spirit is opening to faith. God's beautiful, loving power is at work throughout the world, and we can always hope in God's mercy and grace.

Monday, February 6, 2017

I remember reading that Agatha Christie found it easiest to produce her mysteries set in England when she was traveling abroad, and she wrote best about Egypt from her home in England. The settings came alive most vividly in her memory and imagination. So, since I'm working on a writing project set in the summer, maybe February in Ohio will spur my imagination. But it always helps to remember gardens. This photo is from the garden of the Bradford House in Washington, PA.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Encouragement

Whenever I am disheartened by the violence, suffering and discord of these days, I find comfort in these words from Paul in Philippians 4:8-9:  "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -- put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you."
I've often heard verse 8 quoted about maintaining a healthy and productive thought life. But I am also inspired by verse 9, that tells us to put our beliefs into action.There is affirming, loving work being done -- and waiting to be done. We must not be discouraged when God is active throughout the world to bring healing and justice to the world he loves.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sometimes I write out prayers, so that I can slow down and think about what I am praying and hear direction as to how I should pray.  Here is one that I wrote in January:

Beloved God, it is a joy to know that you exist and that your strength, wisdom and love are available to us if we can just open ourselves to receive you. It is my heart's delight to know that the power at the center of the universe is good, omniscient, and faithful. When I think of who you really are, I can't help but have hope, even for this world, because you care for it. Despite whatever I may see, I can be encouraged, because the ultimate power, the final decision-maker is merciful, gracious and kind. Thank you for calling me to you; help me always to grow closer to you.  In the name of Jesus, who did everything possible to reveal your heart to us, Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2017



Faith like a child. It's a beautiful phrase, and I grew up in faith, with a mother who deeply loved and believed in God. In my bedroom hung an embroidered picture of Jesus with little children, and I used to imagine that I was one of the children, assigning my brother and cousins to the other figures. In our kitchen hung a sampler Mom had made, with the text: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Psalm 127:1). I even remember being a young child and making a cross from sticks, then putting it in a grassy corner of the backyard, near our strawberry patch.
And yet with all that love and support for my faith, I came to a time in my life where I put my own needs and desires before my trust in God.  A lot of us are like that, I think.  Because of pain, damage, or disappointment, we get so hungry for a solution, for satisfaction in the world's terms, that we try to grab what we think we need instead of waiting for God to fulfill us. We don't trust God to give us the best.
All the time I was apart from God, I felt a deep sorrow.  The sorrow came from within me, but it also resonated through my spirit, as if God grieved, too. I know that I never stopped loving God, but obedience seemed too hard.  I thought, "if someone is starving, they have a right to steal bread." I tried to steal happiness.
Thankfully, God never gave up on me, and I eventually recognized that my only true joy could come from living as God intended. I began to build on a firmer foundation and each day grow closer to my childhood trust, joy and peace.
I pray that none of us ever leave true joy behind, in search of quick fixes, shallow satisfaction.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My greatest hope in life is based on the love and character of God as revealed through Jesus Christ. I hope for the mending of this world through Christ's sacrificial death and from his avowed mission to bring God's kingdom and its mercies to all people. Even in our broken world, we can take hope in the words of Jesus:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor: he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19).
We pray for this healing, and we work for it in every possible way, so that some day we can approach the vision of the psalmist who wrote: "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psalm 85:10).
I pray that mercy and truth, peace and righteousness will fill your spirit.
There are so many amazing individuals and groups in the world working to bring love, healing, education and hope to those struggling in terrible conditions.  I know that I could never deliver medical help to people suffering from malaria, teach in a crumbling school, help rebuild a town after a hurricane, or rescue refugees from a capsized boat.  But I do try to find ways to "hold up the arms" of those doing this.
My inspiration is the story from Exodus 17: 8-13.  The Israelites have been wandering in the desert under the leadership of Moses.  The Amalekites attack them, and Moses goes up to the top of a hill with his staff, the one used at the parting of the Red Sea.  As long as Moses holds up his staff, the Israelites are winning the battle.  But when, in fatigue, Moses lowers his arms, the tide of battle turns in favor of the Amalekites.  Two of Moses's followers, Aaron and Hur, sit him down on a rock and, one on each side, they hold up his arms. With their support, the Israelites are victorious.
There are many agencies, church groups and causes that support those in need throughout our country and the world. A simple, cost-free way to contribute to this work is to click on www.thehungersite.com. From there you can also find other "Greater Good" sites that support research and work on autism, breast cancer, veterans, diabetes, Alzheimer's, animal welfare, literacy, and the environment.
Your prayers can also lift up someone's arms.  I invite you to remember first responders, teachers or any individuals you know who are caring for others and might need prayerful support to "hold up their arms."

Welcome

Welcome to my first post.  Reading and writing have always been immensely important in my life, and there's nothing more important I could write about than my faith.  I'll be posting on my own faith journey and the stories, quotes and experiences that give me hope.  I believe that God is working in our world and calling us to work alongside in bringing the love, mercy and justice of God's kingdom to the greatest possible realization in a fallen world. I hope my posts will encourage any readers. And since I'm also writing fiction, I'll post notes about that as things move along.
I look forward to sharing this journey with you.