Something shifted on the global axis. and personally, in my world. Our national sense of security was forever shaken.
InOctober 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
From the charred and broken tree, signs of life and hope emerged. Under the watch–care of thecrew, the Callery Pear Tree began to thrive. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the irrepressible tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010.
New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible distinctionbetween the tree’s past and present. Today, the Survivor Treestands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth.
A few years ago, on the cusp of becoming an author, I visited the New York Memorial for 9/11 with my editor. We walked by the tree and celebrated its survival; two stunned strangers in a strange landscape igniting a friendship beside the signs of unnatural life. When did your towers fall? What signs of life are emerging from the debris? Make a list, and inventory of the new branches, new leaves? So many upheavalslately. And yet. And still. That hushed and tranquil tree stands in Manhattan. In the spring, it’s the first to bud and the last to lose its leaves in the fall. Your root system is stronger than you think. The network of support all aroundyou is a social mazeof amazingness. Arich tapestry of connection.A matrix of life. We, like that tree, are a living narrative of joyous entanglement.
By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
Chris and I live in the bush. To get to our home a four-wheel drive vehicle is required. The road is rough, rutted, and extremely sandy. The other day as Chris and I were traveling, Chris muttered just as he hit a large rock, “Hold onto your bosom.”
Several days after Chris’ comment, I was visiting with a woman in one of the local townships who speaks Sotho. Conversing was limited. The woman was sitting under a tree washing dishes, and I was sitting on a log next to her.
The elderly lady touched her partially exposed breasts and then pointed toward mine. It’s not uncommon to see mammaries in South Africa, even at church.
I’m not sure what my friend was saying. She might have been asking if I have children, telling me that she needs a bra, asking my size, or even indicating that she needed food for her orphaned grandchildren. When I didn’t respond, she talked louder and, like my car ride, held onto her bosom.
Sometimes we just need to hold on. Life can get bumpy, and the ride can get tiresome. Sometimes the rockier the road, the more thrilling the destination, thrilling so that we shake our bodies with laughter and need to hold onto “the girls.”
In Colorado, the road home would sometimes be rough and rutted also. We never know what we will see because of a rut, or from the top of the hill, or what lies just beyond the bend.
I was teaching a class of second and third grade gifted readers a number of years ago when during group reading time one of the students read aloud the word “bosom.” He then proceeded to explain to the others what the word meant. It was very titillating for the children and caused me to laugh out loud.
Over and over again in Scripture, we see rocky and rough life paths producing miraculous and thrilling adventures.
We serve a great God. He is with us on the rough roads and the thrilling rides, so get ready to hold onto your bosoms.
Questions for this devotional/conversation starter by Sue Summers.
Life can indeed “get bumpy.” Summarize a time in your life that was especially “bumpy.”
Some of the women mentioned in the Bible are Ruth, Esther, the widow at Zarephath, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Select one of these women, locate and read the story about her situation in Scripture, and then summarize her need to “hold onto her bosom.”
Read the story of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, in Genesis 17:1-19. Explain how this story fits with the comment: “Over and over again in Scripture, we see rocky and rough life paths producing miraculous and thrilling adventures.”
Why do you think God chooses “rocky and rough life paths” for us? Explain your thinking.
During worship, our church sang, BE THOU MY VISION by the 8th Century lyricist, Dallan Forgail. The subject of the message was worshipping God in our daily work.
The words hit me like they never had before. Goading me from the perspective of a fairly unknown author and editor in today’s market, struggling to find the needed footholds, the lyrics of this ancient hymn reminded me of my priorities and of the substantial rewards offered by the Lord.
To show you how almost every phrase or thought in the song became animated for my soul, I’ll highlight the phrases for you.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight; Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower: Raise Thou me heavenward, O Pow’r of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine Inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
So, I’ll ask you, writer, or new author without a “platform,” how do you see your writing?
Is writing your passion, like a spiritual enigma?
Is writing a hobby?
Or, is writing your life’s work, your career?
Frank Viola advises that a writer who is not willing to invest in marketing and publicity to boost their products to the intended audience is only a hobbiest. But, even a hobbiest seeks out models and YouTube how-to videos for patterns and best practices.
People do invest in hobbies. They buy tools, a table, the supplies, and sometimes we invest to see where the market lies for their products. But, a hobbiest doesn’t really expect to see a profit from doing something that passes the time in interesting and enjoyable ways. A hobbiest, though, can also leave a legacy of the things made for others.
Some people also invest in a career if they are entrepreneurs or just good and loyal servants of a company. College diplomas are earned so that a person can prepare for the prerequisites of work and learn the elements of a career.
But, sometimes a passion is a thing we give ourselves to without any expectation of reward. We call this attitude altruistic or philanthropic.
Insert Foot In the Comedy Door
I have a friend who needs to pay for her property and way of life, suddenly, after divorce. She doesn’t have office skills or a college degree. She has some acting and comedy skills, and she had been writing and practicing her schtick.
She invited me to listen to a staged comedy routine she was required to perform as a final assignment for her comedy class and provide feedback. She was preceded by six people whose routines were so vulgar that I wondered whether I could continue to watch and wait for her turn. The atmosphere caused me to pray for her strength and buoyancy.
When it was her turn, she spoke from her own life and perspective without bitterness. She displayed a flowy hand movement and there was an elegance about her. She did not cuss or use sex, genitalia, or potty jokes like the others had. She was dignified in her storytelling. Her jokes were original. I called her on her way home to congratulate her and give her my perspective. Her courage. Her persona offered something unique to build on.
She was crying behind the wheel. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said. “I had fun, I felt like I was funny and people laughed, but when it was over, I was alone. The rest of the performers were eating and drinking together, and I was alone, so I came home. But, you know what? I want to be righteous. And, I think the Lord was honored.”
My heart lept for her. I am confident that God will make a way in or outside of this wilderness called comedy clubs.
Drinking from an Empty Well?
I want my writing and my business of publishing to be a big part of my legacy. Sometimes, I’m willing to sacrifice income by putting my books down to .99 cents while investing in a promotion. But I don’t like to devalue my books by leaving them at that price or by giving them away for free. Others are willing to hand out their books or booklets for free. They post their writings freely on social media hoping to minister to someone that day.
Sometimes I struggle with the idea of regular writing for business or even part-time income when the present costs and sacrifices are more than I want to give. Oftentimes, the costs are far more than I have to give. If I try to drink from an empty well, the hope is futile. In that case, there is no decision to be made.
Sometimes I struggle with the idea of writing for spirituality because my own spiritual practices are non-quantifiable. They may be very different than others’ ideas and practices.
Then, when my work is ignored or rejected or marginalized, I wonder if I have the spine to withstand these disappointments. They return my goodwill and investment like a bucket of dust from an empty well.
From Whom Do We Seek a Reward?
There are earthly rewards promised in Scripture to those who do certain things.
We can read about the rewards of faithfulness, and the rewards of self-denial, and the rewards of integrity.
Some rewards are miraculous like when God comes through for a King who is faithful and obeys the Lord beyond reason or by denying other’s ungodly counsel.
I read about Ezra’s situation today in the book named for him. Ezra was leading back the remnant of God’s people to Jerusalem to build the city and the temple. King Darius had ordered that he be given everything he needed to finish the work. In the course of their correspondence, Ezra proclaimed, “The hand of the Lord will protect us.”
The journey for Ezra and his people was monumental. They hadto travel about 900 miles, a trip that would last three orfour months. The journey wasextremely perilous. Travelers in Bible times would often meet withrobbers, and Ezra’s group carried with them large amounts of gold, silver, and valuable vessels (Ezra 8:25-30). Ezra realized how helpful it would be to have aroyal escort of soldiersand horsemen to protect his vulnerable people on their arduous journey. No doubt, the kind King wouldhave granted such arequest, even as Nehemiah later enjoyed the benefits of a royal escortfrom this very samemonarch (Neh. 2:9). And yet, Ezra was too ashamed and embarrassed to make such a request (Ezra 8:22). Why thehesitancy? It wasbecause God’s Name was at stake. Ezra had already told the King that the hand of God was upon them andthat God would take care of them (Ezra 8:22). To ask for help at thispoint might send a message to the King thatthey didnot really believe that God could protect them. So instead of asking the King, Ezra proclaimed a fast and asked the King ofkings to protect them (Ezra 8:21,23). God wonderfully answered: “The handof our God wasupon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy andof suchas lay in waitby theway” (Ezra 8:31). They safely arrived in Jerusalem (Ezra 8:32).
The Blessing of Keeping a Holy Vision
Christian authors and writers write to present themselves and their material in such a way that the name of the Lord is not dishonored. Sometimes, they are unsure of how to go about this and make mistakes, but as God did for Ezra, who ran to Him with a petition for provision and protection, the Lord will continue to be faithful to His children today.
He will provide.
He will see us through.
Though the journey may be perilous, God’s hand covers us.
Whether we appeal to a king or appeal to an audience, when we appeal to the Lord, He is faithful.
Honoring our Maker and our Redemer is always the priority and over-arching goal. Even when we write about perilous times and situations.
Moses authored Psalm 90. His prayer is “May Your work be shown to Your servants and Your splendor to their children.” It is when our intentions make it into our handiwork and products produced that things begin to happen. When writers are writing to display God’s handiwork, Moses’ continues:
New International Version
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.”
New Living Translation
“And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!”
The Lord does see you thinking, processing, writing, editing, publishing, and He sees you closing that circle by pursuing the need of others to see, read, or hear what you have written. He is actively ordering your steps and delighting in your journey. Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a man are ordered by the LORD Who takes delight in his journey.”
May the blessing of Moses give you a great heart for the journey.
May the prayer of Ezra remind you to dedicate your embarrassments to the Lord for His redemption and honor.
May the lyric of Dallan Forgail, create a deep stream from which you will dip your refreshment. No matter what, may the Lord be your inheritance, now and always. May He be your dignity and your delight. May He be your shelter, your high tower, and your undergirding power. May He be your wisdom and your true word.
Even in the moment of utmost magnificence, the realities of life cast a cloud over it all. Have you noticed?
This is truth, the here–and–now is what we hold in our hand this moment. We savor the taste, the scent, the love, the sight, the feel.
The Japanese term “mono no aware” is often applied to flowers.
It means “they. . .won’t last forever.” For English speakers, it’s tough to translate, but it’s a relatable idea. ‘Mono no aware’ describes beautiful but perishable things. Mono no aware becomes a human anthem, our song of recognition: Every moment counts.
I choose to live in this moment, right here.
The exquisite beauty of the Japanese language describes “an empathy toward things”, evoking both a transient gentle sadness, a wistfulness at their passing, as well as an underlying poignancy about this state being, the reality of life’s ending in decline and death.
We’ve traveled a lot of road together, and this is so real, so true, it’s difficult to find the language to describe it.
Even as gardens, yours and mine, are carefully tended and watched over, the beauty of nature is fleeting. All nature. We, too, come with expiration dates. We are colorful and thriving and being woven into glorious patterns of symmetry and contrast.
We are carefully tended and watched over, many of us blooming far into the future.
Embellishing options, we keep planting new life, new blossoms in new seasons. When we face the ending of one season, we water new seeds, and graft or adopt or improvise in the faith of growing new sprouts for another season.
In drought, we include the defense of closing ranks with friends and allies. We help each other. We punt for each other. We dress each other in the coverings of costumes and smile at the future. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness are the friendship fertilizers. Doing good, being faithful, being gentle, and having self-control in the face of temptation. These are the ribbons of bouquets.
It’s an aspect of being created in the image of the Creator, that we thrive best in community, rubbing shoulders. Out of one garden, another is already blooming. That bloom of friendship. Bridges through passages become the colorful things that matter. Relationships can trump protocol, can trump rules, can trump law. Friendships can trump financial resources and other competition. Grow the garden of love, and you’ve grown the blossoms of a heavenly kingdom.
I choose to travel this road with other transients. It’s a bumpy road, filled with detours – but its ours and we’re on it together. The scenery right now is breathtaking.
A number of weeks ago, Salome, the young woman who helps in our home in South Africa, found a snake in the bottom of the master bedroom closet. Chris and I had just returned from
Tanzania, so the house had set vacant for a couple of weeks. In our absence, a cobra had come indoors and made himself comfortable. Two of our landlord’s workers quickly arrived and sent Mr. Cobra to heaven. If snakes go to heaven. I’m not sure. I know the saying, “All dogs go to heaven,” but I’ve never heard the same said of snakes. Elvis and Johann, the snake-killing heroes, put the cobra in a bucket. Even in death, the body of the snake kept moving. It was a sight to behold!
Chris had returned from Tanzania very ill. He was running an extremely high temperature and taking a number of strong medications. Several hours later, when I carried the snake bucket into the guest room, where Chris was resting, he responded in his delirium, “Into every life a little snake must crawl.”
Into every life a little snake must crawl.”
Later that day, I googled snakes and learned that a cobra can kill an elephant with one bite. The cobra in our home was approximately five feet long. I was able to measure it because as a souvenir Elvis and Johann returned the hide to me.
I’m not sure where to place the snakeskin in our home. It doesn’t seem to fit with my usual decorating style, but then again nothing has been “usual” about my life since moving to Africa. I do know, however, that Chris and I have agreed to put “our cobra” on display as a testimony to God’s fame. His love and protection are truly great!
Psalm 102:12 (NLT) says, “But you, O LORD, will sit on your throne forever. Your fame will endure to every generation.” Verse 18 of the same psalm says that the famous deeds of God should be a record for future generations so that people not yet born will praise Him.
Into every life a little snake must crawl.”
Please be encouraged this week that God is preparing to rescue and help you in your time of breath-taking fear. When troubles come, remember that God is the Famous One.
How do you feel about snakes? What would your reaction have been to find a cobra in your bedroom closet?
Read through Psalm 102. What insights did you gain about God?
“…the famous deeds of God should be a record for future generations, so that people not yet born will praise Him.” Why is this important?
God is famous! Jesus lived 2,000 years ago, and yet this one-word name is recognized throughout the world. Translators are busy translating God’s Word into languages and tongues in every nation. Soon all will be able to read God’s Word and know of His
Righteousness. Why do you think just the mention of the name of “Jesus” either draws or repels people?
Tonya Jewel Blessing has written the Big Creek Appalachian series: The Whispering of the Willows and The Melody of the Mulberries as well the Bible study guide, Soothing Rain. Each of these books ask in their own way, “What makes females different to males?”
Sue Summer wrote the questions for application throughout the Soothing Rain study. She is the expert at mediasavvykids.org/.
Washing my hair this morning, enjoying the soft, hot water rushing over my body, a message came into my thoughts, “Be easy on yourself today.”
Okay, I thought. I’ll go easy on myself and enjoy each moment. I’ll not let the tyranny of lists defeat me. I’ll make the easier decisions today and take all-the-things-I-desperately-need-to-find-out a tad more casually.
Stepping out of the shower, then, I realized that I didn’t know what this “easy on yourself” message meant. What was I to do – not do? Was it an ominous warning to prepare for something unkind seeping through the cracks of my family or work?
Was it a message to not blame myself if someone were to fall ill or die? I felt a rising doubt, anxiety.
I decided to think it over by doing a rote task. Towels from their hooks were lifted and pitched. I took the laundry basket downstairs, though carefully. Doing something that I would regret, like tripping over a trailing shirt sleeve, say, and falling down the stairs this morning, could be the reason for such a message. It could be a warning. I pulled out the shirts and pants. Spraying on stain remover, counting to sixty as it soaked in, I then began to push dirty clothes into the dryer.
This is not the washing machine, dear. The little message was showing its potential to make me neurotic! I tugged out the towels and clothing and tossed them together into the washing cylinder. Then, I switched the program to one notch lower in heat than usual.
Next, I opened and tied back the curtains on either side of our front door. That sweet light coming through those sheer panels, the green grass, longish and wet with last night’s rain, and the boughs of blue spruce edging around the corners of the sky brought a sigh. My shoulders rolled back for the gift of a new day.
Going into the kitchen, I decided to make a banana smoothy. Just a half cup, with one small ripening banana and vanilla and nutmeg. I also started the coffee. The feelings of curiosity and wonder continued to follow me. Then, I began to feel sadness at the thought that I’ve started days like this before, only to end up “doing something real quick that needed some desperate attention” and falling into extreme anxiety for all that I was unable to accomplish at the end of the day.
Looking into my dining room, I spied my Bible and decided to read the next chapter in 2 Chronicles. It was about a very bad king of Judah, who had enjoyed a murderous reign until, as prophesied, his intestines spilled out and he died, unmourned. His wicked son, Ahaziah, molded by his embittered mother, Athaliah, only reigned one year. This was because he was slain by someone named Jehu who was anointed by God to execute judgment on that evil household. No-one mourned this king’s passing either, except his mother who went into a murderous frenzy. I prayed, “What am I supposed to learn from this?”
Bill called. I told him about the message-in-the-shower to give myself a break today, so I’m trying to do that. He laughed, put in a dinner request for crockpot roast, then went back to work.
I turned my eyes to the following chapter, how Athaliah, the enraged widow of King Jehoram, mother of the assassinated Ahaziah, set about killing the entire royal family of Judah upon learning of her son’s demise. But, the lesser daughter of the murderous father, King Jehoram, also being the half-sister of the bad king, Ahaziah, set her stealthy wit to act against her bitter sister-in-law, Athaliah. Raised and surrounded by a conniving, murderous family, Jehosheba had married a temple priest, who became a man of God.
Yes, somehow, she escaped the family character. Yet, she had access to the palace.
When she saw that her sister-in-law was going to kill all of the royal princes, she stole away the youngest prince and hid him in a room with his nurse and then brought him to her husband, the priest.
They raised the boy for six years while the evil sister-in-law reigned her terrors.
Then the text says, “In the seventh year Jehoiada showed his strength.” Wow. I liked that phrase. It goes on to describe how the man of God had been thinking about all of King David’s swords from his mighty men stored for posterity in the temple. He’d been thinking about God’s covenant with David’s household. Wound up, he sprang into action.
He called up all of the Levites and heads of Israelite families from all the towns. The priestly musicians came with their musical instruments used for worship and praise and other fanfare. He led all of these priests and heads of households into making a covenant together to put the rightful young prince onto David’s throne and to swear allegiance to him.
Jehoiada, the priest, warned those who were not consecrated priests and therefore prohibited from entering the temple of the Lord, not to enter because they would be put to death. Their objective was to guard the rightful king and stay close to him or sing and play a fanfare. He told them to hold up the ancient swords, focus on their jobs, and not get too curious about what was going on in the temple. He separated the whole assembly into thirds.
One third of the assembly was to guard the doors of the temple, one-third was to guard the royal palace and one-third was to guard the Foundation Gate. All other family members were to hang out in the courtyards of the temple and shout “Long Live the King!” when the young Joash was crowned.
This is what they did. When the wicked Athaliah heard the trumpets blowing, the people rejoicing, the musicians leading praises from all these areas, she tore her robes and shouted, “Treason! Treason!”
But Johoiada the priest instructed the commanders of the troops to bring out the woman, Athaliah, and kill her and all who followed her to the gate before she could get near the temple. No talking, no reasoning, no arguing. After that, the people went down to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of his altars.
Johoiada appointed the priests to their assignments as King David had outlined and ordered, and all of the people rejoiced because Athaliah had been slain with the sword.
What a classic drama, epic proportions!
What a fun read!
The laundry calls ding-ding-ding-ding-ding, finished! Oh, dear. I’ve been distracted.
So, the basket is filled with cleaned fabrics, and I carry it upstairs.
I see the stack of mailing boxes I’ll be needing to pick through today in order to post a set of books to a retail chain store buyer. I compare them all and pull out the largest one from my stash in the closet. Then, I find a pretty mailing label, but the labels are outdated. I’ll have to edit or recreate them and get more printed. Where did I hide those suckers? If I can find where I’ve hidden the file on my computer or perhaps a thumb drive, I need to do that soon. Sigh.
Dismissing the incident, I go easy on myself.
I open up my laptop, and instead of getting right to work. I jump up. Maybe I should take a walk first? Opening the door, I feel the chill, check the thermostat, and appraise the watery street. It’s too cold and wet to walk. I shut the door and go easy on myself.
Two projects for my books eat through an hour of time, so I hire someone to help me finish each of them. I go easy on myself.
I rip out two pages from a book I wrote that has now been edited to pieces. If I give this book out as a freebie, I don’t want those pages in there. After the pages go into the kindling pile beside the fireplace, I begin to regret the mess that I’ve made of this book. Then, I stop.
I go easy on myself.
Shaky with hunger, I pour half a bag of cheese onto an almond flour fake tortilla shell, cap it with another fake tortilla shell, and shove the plate into the microwave. When it’s melted, I slice up the quesadilla, add salsa and sour cream and down the whole thing in a moment.
What have I done? Is that the kind of eating tradition that will kill me?
Going easy on myself, I turn back to work.
I begin to collect all of the tip sheets for books on a thumb drive. The documents will be printed out today.
When I get into the car, and round the corner, it dawns on me that I have no idea where I put the thumb drive with the cover letter to the retailer and tip sheets inside. I say a few words about myself and round the block winding up in my driveway again. As I get out of the car, I put my hand in my pocket and realize the thumb drive’s there. Oh well, there’s a thermos of water I need from the kitchen anyway. I go easy on myself and bring the water back to the car.
At the printers, waiting for the letter and tip sheets to print, I copy the address onto the mailing label with a Sharpie, then, I tape the whole mailer together, all ten books, tip sheets, note cards, and cover letter with a packing list.
Off to the bank, then to the post office to stand in line with my retail box proposal.
Driving home, a driver of the car behind me becomes irritated. I’m probably driving too slowly. He honks, swerves around me. and when he fires by my car, he slows way down. I laugh.
I go easy on myself and on him.
My husband finds me sitting in the parked car in the garage listening to a human interest story.
He taps on the roof of the vehicle, then he flips the lights off and on and closes the garage door.
“I just wanted a minute, please!” I shout.
Fine. Shrugged off, I finish listening to the story then steal another moment to read a Facebook post.
It tells what it means for the shepherd to anoint the head of His sheep with oil.
Apparently, the oil protects the sheep from being tormented by flies that like to lay their eggs in the sheep’s wool around their nose. The hovering flies can cause sheep to panic and run wildly. This sort of activity can ruin their meat and milk and may result in injury or death.
According to the reporter, Nicky Ellis, if the fly is successful, in a few days, larvae will hatch and burrow into the soft flesh of the sheep’s nasal passages. Wounds cause irritation, inflammation, and infection. The pain will cause the sheep to rub its head on the ground, thrash through the underbrush, and bang its head on tree trunks attempting to get rid of the intruders.
In severe cases, a sheep may kill itself trying to get away from the pain. If the sheep manages to survive, the infection caused by the larvae can cause it to go blind.
A good shepherd will mix cooking oil with four parts of each of these essential oils:
Astounded, and resonating with the baaing sheep, I collect my thermos, the receipts, my phone, and purse, and go inside. “Sorry, hon.” He shrugs and begins telling me about his hours at work. I listen to his stories half-heartedly, and we give each other a break.
With the story of the anointing of sheep running along in the back of my mind, I tell him that my mom called earlier to ask for a ride to her hairstylist, but that I had my afternoon squashed with this package proposal thingy I had to mail out, so I actually told my mom I couldn’t do it today. She accepted this, and I gave myself a break from the guilt trip.
He smiles and calls me beautiful. He can be very kind.
Since I started the roast at three, it should have been ready by six.
He helps clean off the papers and notepads lying on the table in the way of our plates and water glasses. “You’re a mess,” he says. I smile.
We eat instead in front of the T.V. and watch a recorded show together. This kind of dinner and show event is something I’m unused to doing, but it feels good. We chat about the contents of the mailbox and make plans for next month.
A less-than-average meal, my husband is happy to be fed meat with green chili and hominy. “Did you notice this meat was a teriyaki marinade?” He pops a bite of it covered with green chili into his mouth. “I bought this.”
“Ugh! No, I didn’t notice! No wonder the dish turned out somewhat less than intended.” We gag at each other and laugh.
I go easy on myself.
He gets my inhaler when I start coughing, probably from the strange combination of spices. Recovered, we watch the mystery together enjoying a cheap date.
Like anointing oil pouring over my head, I soak up the good fortune of this man, this husband, my great gift in life.
Then, taking a gander at the published blog post I’d prepped for one of my authors, I realize I hadn’t fully edited it and it is in the public eye! I’ve misrepresented her style and quality of work. Anxiety begins to rise as I immediately begin to doctor and update the blog. There is no taking back what is published, even if it is retracted and edited, and updated. Some people have read the original.
The inner critic cries out my shortcomings, flogs my awful failures. I wonder if our relationship will survive. Then, it occurs to me that giving myself a break simply means that I forgive myself. Hopefully, she will, too.
Forgiving myself is simply agreeing with God.
Forgiving myself is simply agreeing that I mess up pretty regularly, that I don’t have enough time in the day, that my hands are too full of responsibilities, that I don’t care enough for those I should care for. And, yet, He forgave me, puts protective oils on my head, and the sovereign Lord forgives me daily!
“Going easy on myself” means allowing myself to experience that moment-by-moment feeling of not being rushed to fix one thing and then another. After all, I can’t save the world, so my urgent efforts to do so robs me of resting in my own forgiveness.
I’m always struggling to improve myself or improve others. It’s a gift and a curse. Two sides of a coin.
“Going easy on myself” means living slowly and enjoyably in certain forgiveness and grace. I allow myself to agree with God that I’m actually forgiven for all of my failures and shortcomings, and I will rest in a grace I’m giving myself because He’s given it to me already. That’s all.
How about it?
Go easy on yourself.
If you are an author looking for solid ideas to promote your new book, I’m going to make it a little easier on you today, too, by giving you this list of help.
Elisha was a man of God who returned to Gilgal during a time of famine in that region.
He was not intimidated about traveling to a place where there was a lack of food. In fact, he may have viewed the dire circumstances of this region as an opportunity to see the hand of God move in a miraculous way.
I believe that he returned to Gilgal knowing there was a famine in the land.
While the Guild of Prophets were having a meal with him, he instructed his attendant, ‘Put a large pot on the fire and boil some stew for the Guild of Prophets.’ Somebody went out into the fields to grab some herbs, found a wild vine, and gathered a lap full of wild gourds, which he came and sliced up into the stew pot, but nobody else knew. When they served the men, they began to eat the stew. But they cried out, ‘That pot of stew is deadly, you man of God!’ So they couldn’t eat the stew. But he replied, ‘Bring me some flour.’ He tossed it into the pot and said, ‘Serve the people so they can eat.’ Then there was nothing harmful in the pot.”
-2 Kings 4:38-41 (ISV)
The name “Gilgal” means rolling or moving. God wanted to move or do something amazing in a desolating place.
When people are desperate, they do desperate things. The servant, who was given the task of feeding the prophets, knowingly gathered gourds from a wild vine. The original Hebrew text indicates that this vine was prolific. It produced seemingly great bounty. I have read reports of people, because of extreme hunger, eating dirt, straw or grass.
My husband and I watched a documentary a couple of years ago about a young man struggling to survive through the winter in a remote part of Alaska. When spring arrived, due to extreme hunger and desperation, he ate poisonous berries. Judgment is often impaired when people are destitute.
Food was scarce in Gilgal. It is interesting that the company of prophets instantly recognized their plight and looked to Elisha for help. Divinely inspired, he added flour to the stew, making it fit for consumption.
I believe we shouldn’t be afraid to visit places where there is famine and where people may lack good judgment because of it. We need to remember that desperate people may not have good judgment. We need to sense when there is trouble or “death in the pot.” When called upon for help, we need to rely on God for wisdom and direction, and what other people see as “waste” might be in our hands of ministry a means of provision. We should view the lack as an opportunity for God to do something amazing because of His sovereignty over everything, and because of His love.
This story in 2 Kings is an unusual one. Reread it and write a summary of what happened in your own life.
“When people are desperate, they do desperate things” Think of a time when you were desperate, or someone you know or have heard of was desperate. What irrational or unusual thing did you – or that person – do?
God wants us to call on Him for provision. “When called upon for help, we need to rely on God for wisdom and direction.” This isn’t always our first thought in times of trouble. Consider a time when you were in need and called upon God for What happened?
How can this story in 2 Kings be applied to our daily life? Write a “proverb” to help you remember the main point of this story.fe
Tonya Jewel Blessing has written the Big Creek Appalachian series: The Whispering of the Willows and The Melody of the Mulberries as well the Bible study guide, Soothing Rain. Each of these books ask in their own way, “What makes females different to males?”
Sue Summer wrote the questions for application throughout the Soothing Rain study. She is the expert at mediasavvykids.org/.
I’m engaged in a move from one house to another, and I realize that I am also attempting to embrace the silence of springtime.
Twittering birds and peeping peepers are the loudest consistent noises I hear as I am carrying boxes to my car. My mind goes to the quietness of my friends and family during this season. I walk my new puppy at my new house and I continue in the silence of springtime.
Good and bad things happen during quiet moments.
Everyday things happen in contemplative silences.
That being said, some of the most persuasive people I know are the quiet ones. Laura, one of my best friends in Pennsylvania, is not only a good listener – I’ll say this, she asks brief questions, and listens for the long, drawn-out, weepy responses – but she also uses her persuasion of love to help me through some of the most difficult moments of my life. She exerts her time, her muscle, her car, her ideas.
Quiet people are often a stabilizing influence in a world jangling with noise.
A Spanish proverb says it like this:
abre la boca solo si lo que vas a decir es más hermoso que el silencio
(“Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than the silence.”)
Silence helps us understand ourselves. We can be fully present and connect with others. When we are stuck or confused, silence brings us little epiphanies. Silence can be a life–long friend. But we need to pay attention to it. For some of us, solitude is water to a parched soul; we must have it. For others, solitude is too deep, too sad, too isolating. But it can be a shared place for hunkering down and listening.
Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence.”
– RACHEL NAOMI REMEN, AUTHOR
Silence is a patient friend. Waiting always, watching over your comings and your goings, hoping you will join the hush and wonder.
Here’s what happens during just one minute while you remain quiet:
255 babies will be born
Your Heart will pump 83 Gallons Of Blood
A hummingbird will flap its wings 4,000 times
A single woman will move all her earthly belongings heavy, precious, difficult to look through, to another home, alone
31,600 tons of water will flow over Niagara Falls
1,800 stars will explode
A widow will be laying in a clinic, will be waiting for a doctor’s report and advice, will be looking at her bare toes and a pile of clothes
When Chris and I first arrived in South Africa we stayed with some dear friends in the town of Rustenburg. Our friends were extremely hospitable. They opened their home to us like we were family, and were instrumental in helping us acquire a car, opening new bank accounts, purchasing cell phones, obtaining insurance, and accomplishing numerous other requirements needed to help us navigate our ministry transition to Africa.
A few days after we arrived, we went shopping in the center of their small town. A piece of luggage had been lost in our travels, and we were on a quest to purchase pants for Chris. The area we were in was nothing like anything I had ever seen in America, and I was curious about everything. Chris had to keep telling me to pay attention and to keep up with our friends who were guiding us.
I noticed signage on almost every street post that said, “Womb Cleansing.” I couldn’t help but stop and read what the posts were about. It didn’t take long for me to understand, even with somewhat of a language barrier, that the signs were advertisements for abortion clinics.
I understand that abortion is common in most parts of the world, but I had never heard of the procedure being called “womb cleansing.” The loss of life is heartbreaking to me, and if possible, my heart broke a little more when I realized the deceptiveness of the terminology being used. “As you know not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so you know not the works of God who makes all.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 (KJV2000) Life is sacred. Only God understands how a baby grows in the womb of a mother.
I am always careful when I address the issue of abortion. Babies are harmed and so are the women who have made this difficult decision. I want to speak the truth about the taking of life, and I also want to be sensitive to women who are struggling with the aftermath of abortion.
As Christian women, individually and corporately, may we always stand for life: physical life and spiritual life, because God is an amazing God, who forms all things.
Ecclesiastes 11:5 is a powerful Scripture. Rewrite this in your own words.
This is a sensitive subject, but God Himself creates life. He alone maintains the right to life-giving and What was your reaction to the “womb cleansing” signs in South Africa?
Focus on “the deceptiveness of the terminology” for the abortion Why does the wording matter?
Abortion is a difficult topic to discuss with women. Think about how you would respond if someone mentions she has had an abortion, and write it here:
Tonya Jewel Blessing has written the Big Creek Appalachian series: The Whispering of the Willows and The Melody of the Mulberries as well the Bible study guide, Soothing Rain. Each of these books ask in their own way, “What makes females different to males?”
Sue Summer wrote the questions for application throughout the Soothing Rain study. She is the expert at mediasavvykids.org/.
This is Capture Books’ best-selling American-gothic novel by a Golden Writer.A sequel is coming soon!
Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Emie Ashby has been raised by an angry and repressed father since the end of WWI. Her mother cannot take the risk of defending her children. Instead, she turns a blind eye. In this way, she becomes part and parcel of the abuse of her daughters.
Emie enters into trouble times as Aunt Grace provides a way to possibly survive it. How does Emie navigate the road that lies before her with so many threats nipping at her heels?
Jenny Fulton, author of PRINCESS LILLIAN AND GRANDPA’S GOODBYE
But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20, NASB)
Have you ever come across those people who seem to be great at everything?
What about the individual who is working a full-time job, doing ministry after work, and can still find time to work on some DIY project? Of course, the house always smells like freshly baked goods.
How about a married woman with kids who stays at home, homeschools, runs a successful business and keeps her house in immaculate shape?
And then, there is this married man with kids who works all day, does chores and spends time with his family after work, fixes everything in the house himself, and studies late into the night?
Yes, these people appear to do it all; they seem to have it all together.
I am definitely not one of these people.
My floors are littered with toys and goldfish, my walls covered in crayon. I struggle to get through a full day’s schoolwork with my second grader and write in the mornings or whenever I can squeeze it in.
I can’t do everything well, and according to scripture, that’s okay.
According to 1 Corinthians, God actually created members of a community to complete and complement each other’s efforts. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter three, he describes the different roles he and another preacher, Apollos, played.
So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s bfield, God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:7-9, NASB)
The big picture cannot be completed alone.
While the Christians in Corinth argued over which human leader they show follow, Paul redirected their attention to the bigger picture. Neither he nor Apollos were meant to be or provide everything the church needed. They’d each been given a role, a single task in the big picture of God’s work. Paul had been used to plant the seeds of the faith; Apollos had been brought to water and nourish it to the next step. Both had been used by God for a specific purpose. Neither was meant to do it all.
Later in the book, in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, Paul describes a group of believers as connected digits and limbs of a physical body. Each part has been given a unique ability to be used in a specific role. These limitations in our individual abilities force us to need each other, inspire us to come together, appreciate one another, depend on one another. Our strengths enable us to help others while our weaknesses encourage us to receive help in return.
I’ve seen these principles of collaboration play out in my writing journey.
While some writers successfully go the self-publishing route and learn how to do every step of the process on their own, I soon realized I wasn’t able, and didn’t desire, to follow that path. I don’t have time to learn how to do everything and to get good at it. This means I must seek out others in the industry to do what I can’t.
After I wrote my picture books, I found other writers to help me develop the ideas and identify any errors my familiarity with the text may have skipped over.
I joined online writing groups to learn and connect with others in the industry.
The bulk of the work, and the most challenging part of the collaboration, came when my first picture book, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye, was accepted for publication by Capture Books. In some ways, this was the perfect partnership, for it would fill so many of the gaps I had in my knowledge and experience. They would take care of the illustrations, formatting, and uploading, help me with marketing.
However, collaborating also means giving up control. It means recognizing when the piece God gave you has ended and trusting the input and vision God gave others to carry the book forward.
At first, I was hesitant when my development editor, Laura Bartnick, first presented her vision for the illustrations, for I couldn’t envision the final result. Since God hadn’t given me that piece, it was like staring into a void while someone else described a vivid and scenic view on the other side. Saying yes to her ideas and agreeing to work with the illustrator she recommended was like stepping out into complete darkness with no guarantee that my foot would touch solid ground.
Every uncertain step brought light to the words I’d written. As the process went on, as the illustrations came in, my eyes opened to an incredible panorama filled with yellows, blues, reds, and greens. The end product was so much more beautiful than I could have imagined. Trusting is rarely easy, but the eventual destination is worth it.
God didn’t create us to live and do everything on our own.
I am now in the position to celebrate the strengths of collaboration on my book.
He made us to live in community, to need one another.
Part of living and working together means acknowledging that we can’t do it all, and that’s okay. And the truth is, even though some people appear to be the exception to this, they also have weaknesses and struggles. They have props and crutches and a support system that looks different to mine. Even the most put-together looking person needs others to come alongside to help and encourage them in their weaknesses.
Alone, we can’t do it all. Together with God and each other, anything is possible.
Book Blurb for Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye
Can two worlds exist at the same time?
Little Princess Lillian learns the spiritual world can interact with the physical. Imaginary is used to explain a reality, how heaven reaches down to earth as a young girl observes her grandpa awaiting his entrance into his eternal home.
How do you explain death and heaven to a child?
Led through a long hall in a hospital, Princess Lillian holds her mom’s hand as an angel whispers comforting words.
Incorporating bits of Native American and Christian tradition, an intimate celebration of a loved one’s passing occurs as a family says good-bye to a man eager to meet his best friend, the King Above All Nations.
Jenny Fulton is a wife, mother, children’s book author, YA fantasy author, blogger, and freelance writer with a B.S. in Bible, a B.S. in elementary education, and an endorsement in K-12 ESL. After graduating from Grace University in 2007, Jenny worked as a teacher in a variety of cultural and educational settings, both abroad and in the United States. She is a storyteller, a follower of Christ, and a seeker of truth.
An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Jenny grew up hearing stories from her dad about the supernatural workings on the Navajo Reservation. Her days are now mostly spent raising her three young daughters (homeschooling two of them) and writing as much as time and opportunity allows.
Jenny is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Faithwriters.com, and is an author with Capture Books.
You’re likely familiar with “Breaking Bad”, the TV series about a chemistry teacher desperate to secure his family’s financial future, after his devastating cancer diagnosis. Facing the reality of death does funny things to people.
Even if you’ve never watched Breaking Bad, apparently most of America has. The series quickly became a national sensation and rendered a new buzzword, “breaking bad” for when someone good suddenly changed character.
If “breaking bad” is slang for “defying expectations” then “breaking bud” is a crisp turn–of–phrase for “just kidding, the weather has a mind of its own”. Out of the brown and crinkled tan shades of left-over winter, buds are due. The milk of flowers is already rising through pale green rose stems.
Fine, with this springtime tease, we’ll don a warm jacket today, a light sweater tomorrow, carry a pair of boots in the car for just–in–case.
Spring waltzes in sideways, full of bluster and drizzle, followed by little sunny intervals of calm. Throw in a late snow squall for good measure, and you have springtime in Northwest Pennsylvania: Unpredictable, moody, playful, and perplexing. But we always tolerate the irregularities of spring because it holds promises: Birds returning, leaves unfurling, windows are thrown open to let in the breeze.
We’re starting to hear the spring peepers, those tiny chorus frogs that give usloud concerts every night for a fortnight. The early flowers are already pushing through soil, declaring forgiveness for winter’s icy grip. Something shifts in the air. There’s a mix of earthy smells, a giddy kick of anticipation.In spite of all the challenges we’ve endured, there is this one thing: Spring is “breaking bud”.
I had the honor of proofreading the book, BEING CREATIVE, by Laura Bartnick this spring. Her thoughts on creativity simply jibe with my feelings about springtime’s empowerment. I’m declaring new explorations this year. Did you know. . .
God calls all of His creation His servants, because He has a purpose for our existence. He is the Re-namer, and Redeemer, and Re-purposer. When we walk with the LORD, the possibilities are endless. We can search for Him—though He is not far from any of us. Coming closer to our Creator, we can accept His call to be cunning and skillful. We can even become His friend.
“Anything can become the next exploration. Even those creatives who want nothing to do with being a child of God often find their best material in Scripture and in the church. God can use the imagination of anyone to teach us.
“Your own skill is a learned thing. Wisdom takes time. You may not yet understand this when you begin to write about a tragedy causing a family to become displaced, all their treasures to be lost. What you are really going to discover and write about is the greater gift of creativity from loss, the value of new relationships, and community—finding other treasures in hidden places. This story may require much prayer, wrestling with God for the blessing, and many edits to test and strengthen the wings.”
Spring is going forward and gathering steam, hurtling headlong into backyard picnics, flip-flops, beach time and road trips.
There are ten little rules of creativity listed at the end of each chapter in BEING CREATIVE. There is also the suggestion to keep a journal nearby. I have practiced this invitation of capturing the wonder of my days, of God’s creative invitations to life in my own way. This is where the gift book series, BREATH OF JOY, was budded and flounced. SINGING SPRING announces this season of life burgeoning from death. It celebrates wonder with yellow daffodils, with purple lilacs, and with perfuming pink hyacinths.
Crops are going in this spring, and before we know it there will be rows and rows of sweet corn. That’s what I love about seasons. They simply show up. Regular as a heartbeat, as welcome as the friend you haven’t seen in quite a long time. Springtime is roguish, breaking bud and being mischievous in all the best ways.
I found one of my favorite quotes in chapter four of BEING CREATIVE:
Experience allows us to follow the dots into the unknown. We learn from intersecting paths along the way. We learn to improvise.”
I just love this! I want to lift it out, highlight it, then repeat it for emphasis!
Unconcerned about vaccines, politics or March Madness, the season is a joyful riot of mud puddles and sudden bursts of color, chasing away the landscape’s last edges of grays and browns.
By L. L. Larkins, author of the Psalm Hymns series
I’m one of those pray-without-thinking-too-much-about-it sort of people.
I pray about parking spaces. I walk around the lake near our home and just talk to God about the birds and turtles, the sunrise and sunset, about family struggles and many, many things. Often, the welling up of joy and surprises in nature and certain wonders of those who pass by me or walk near me make me cry in praises and gratitude.
I thank God for this and that. I wrestle with God in tears about people and issues, and my wants and needs. Sometimes beautiful poetry will come to me in that space. I wonder if walking with the Lord is simply talking to Him about everything and listening closely enough to follow as He talks back to us.
It’s the week of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
When I was struggling in a really dark spot in my life, the Psalms became deep wells of teaching for me. Once, when I was apologizing to the Lord for dragging Him through the mud and cow patties with me, sorry for bringing down His holy name to such a low level, I saw an image of him sitting next to me in a mud puddle, cross-legged, and grinning at me with a missing tooth. Half naked, and smeared with something disgusting, he said so very gently, “I’ve been dragged through much worse. You think I’m afraid of sitting with you in this mess? There’s nothing you can do to me that hasn’t been done before.”
In meditation and prayer in the Psalms, I began to understand what people had prayed for years ago when they were betrayed or when they had experienced insufferable losses, or when they suffered in post-trauma over their sins or others sins against them. That was when I began setting the five books of biblical Psalms to music that I could sing and remember.
Many of the Psalm Hymns are praises as we know and understand them to be, with the power to lift our minds out of our circumstances and place them on the Lord. But, in addition to these types of Psalms, there are those that offer experiences of grief, pleas to God as to a doctor or a priest or a king, someone who has the power and credentials to save us.
Psalms also include some moments of pedantic teaching to engage our minds even more than our emotions. Each of these Psalms also offers some striking spiritual landmarks for life. A way to get up and go forward in trust and faith.
Psalm 78 starts out this way, sung to the tune: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (Bound for the Promised Land)
My people, hear my words of teaching;
Listen to my words.
I begin with a parable of old
And will speak to the hidden yore, —
These are things our people have heard and known,
They are things ancestors told.
Should we try to hide them from our own
Descendants, who need to know?
Psalms can be specified as prayers to God.
But, because praying is also a communal form of conversation, the Psalms are definitely bright bits of meditation and self-talk. They were given to God’s people for the purpose of spiritual reasoning with one’s self, self-counsel. So, in that way, it is a means of God praying back to our hearts and minds and will. The Psalms are truly a two-way conversation with the Lord.
The words of this Psalm 78 informs me that there are hidden treasures and parables in the Psalms and in the stories of our spiritual ancestors that we need to know and we need to pass along to our littles and our teens asking those deep questions.
Moses wrote Psalm 91, which for all the seriousness of Moses’ reflection, I have aligned with the Doxology. Most of the Psalms were written by King David, or by someone, a scribe in his court maybe, so it was interesting to me to get a King’s take on God’s law when people where saying law makes no difference to a walk of faith. I really struggled, you know, with what I believed about law and whether following the ten commandments was legalism. Through the Psalm Hymns, an understanding about God’s heart for how the commandments offer healthy limits, and a healthy community was forged.
The law wasn’t a mode to salvation, but it was a mode to loving one’s neighbor, a mode to justice and mercy and self-restraint, a mode to honoring our Maker.
A verse of Psalm 119 about the value of the law sung to the tune: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine
O, that I sought You in Your commands!
Shame would release its hold of my hand.
I would have praised Your judgments in all;
I would have seen You, righteous for all.
You rule uprightly; this I discern!
Now I observe Your statutes and learn;
Oh, do not leave me, LORD, take my hand!
Do not forsake me! LORD, help me stand.
There are Psalms that recount how the waters were separated from parts of the earth and put into boundaries, like in Psalm 24, or Psalm 104. Here is a verse of Psalm 24 sung to the hymn, At Calvary (It starts out, “Years I spent in vanity and pride. . .” did you ever sing that one in church?)
All the fullness of the earth begun,
Land and spaciousness for everyone,
All of it including what may come:
It is the Lord’s!
For He founded it upon the seas, drawing limits,
Drawing floods and springs.
Who shall come to Him, ascend His hill?
It is the Lord’s!
A verse of Psalm 104 talks about this, too, sung to the great hymn by Isaac Watts, I Sing The Mighty Power of God.
You covered earth with waters deep
As with a garment drenched;
Above the mountain heights they stayed.
Rebuked, the seas retrench;
As voices of Your thunder played,
They hastened to their place!
Now, far away they rest in pools
And valleys where they stay.
These Psalms are wonderful teaching tools for a Bible study or a music ensemble because when the words of scripture are combined with music, our spirits soar to the heights in mysterious ways, and with the soaring of a spirit comes questions and mysteries to talk about and pray about.
One music group used the Caroling Through the Psalms book during Advent season.
They spent the summer arranging and building parts and solos, and in the season before Christmas, they sang on the mall, at retirement homes, and in churches in their community. It was a life-changing experience to anchor their modern holiday experiences in the past prayers and testimonies of others.
God as my judge, and our judge — so often prayed to in this capacity in the Psalms, reminds me to expect justice and mercy from Him, but there is more! Did you know there is a Psalm written specifically to judges who do not judge righteously? Here is the first verse of Psalm 82 sung to The Battle Hymn of the Republic (and it only gets better).
Standing in the great assembly,
God presides and takes His place;
He is rendering His judgment
To the gods of earth’s dismay.
His decree begins by reasoning:
“How long have you displaced
The weak and fatherless?”
God presides to judge the jurists;
Earth is trembling in her footsteps;
God inherits all the nations.
Our God is over all!
To bolster confidence in depression, Psalm 27 centers me every time I sing it and amazingly, I can sing it to several tunes! Immortal, Invisible works brilliantly. Any version of Away in a Manger works wonderfully, and I will reserve the best tune in a minor key as listed in Caroling Through the Psalms.
The Lord is my Light and my constant Estate!
Then whom shall I fear when His Stronghold is safe?
Though evil advances against me for ill
To slander, devour me all will be well.
My rivals and enemies stumble and fall.
Though armies besiege me, I fear none at all;
Though warriors may shake down a valiant defense,
Then yes, God alone is my sheer confidence.
This one thing I seek and I ask from the Lord,
To hold my insurance for life at the Source
To gaze on His beauty to seek His embrace
For here in my trouble He will keep me safe.
Another Psalm to reach into the core of my heart and pull out the dark secrets of worry and doubt is Psalm 139. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I praise God every time I sing Psalm 139, and I can sing it now to the tune Open My Eyes that I May See this way.
What if I ride the wings of dawn?
What if I move to seas beyond?
Yet, even there your power abides—
and there your hand will be my guide.
What if I isolate in gloom?
begging the night to be my womb—
Yet, even there Your Presence shines!
Where shall I hide?
You made the inward parts of me—
You know my body’s mysteries.
Knitted my limbs in my mother’s womb—
Wonders performed, there’s none like You!
Your workmanship is marvelous—
Deep in my soul, I know it is!
No-one knows how You wove my frame—
Physics of God!
I can also sing this Psalm to the rollicking favorite of old town Christians, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, which Psalm 139 is also arranged for in Book Five of the Psalm Hymns.
When you worry about the power and legacy of evil people who seem to cheat death, Psalm 49 explains the path of these financial estates and those who follow the words of evil counsel, there is a Psalm for that. Sing it to the tune, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.
Hear this, all nations of the world;
You great and small in heart,
You rich and poor together hear
My wisdom on the harp!
My meditation shall be clear as understanding prose:
The proverb and the riddle sing
As I explain them both:
Why should I fear when danger comes
Confounded enemies, — The ones who put their trust in wealth
And boast iniquities? For no one’s assets can redeem
The price of human life;
Each costly soul is ransomed by
Our God who sets its price.
What could we pay that God would trade
To let us out-live time?
Immortal like, enjoying life
In rich estates sublime? For one can see that wise ones die, And fools, they all pass away. They leave their wealth to other hands. Their homes become their graves.
Estates are named to flatter pride
Of pompous heirs below
But generations pass on by
Those silent wealthy bones.
Despite one’s wealth, the flesh won’t last; For humans die like herds;
There goes the path of the arrogant, And those who follow their words.
In Book Five, you will find the Pilgrim Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent for tours to the Holy Land. But in each and every book, you will find Psalms that are simple prayers and pleas to the Lord for help and rescue. Like Psalm 88. It can be sung to Lord, Plant My Feet On Higher Ground (I’m Pressing on the Upward Way.)
You are my Lord, the God Who saves;
You rescue when I cry in faith.
Oh, hear another prayer to You;
Oh, turn toward my anguished soul.
I’m overwhelmed with troubles, Lord;
See how my breath in whispers pours.
They’ve counted me among the dead;
And lacking strength, my friends have fled.
One of my favorite praise Psalms in Psalm 147, sung to the tune, Wonderful Love of Jesus! (When We All Get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!). If you have difficulties remembering these old hymn tunes, you can look them up on YouTube or in Hymnary.org. Here is a link for this song. https://hymnary.org/text/sing_the_wondrous_love_of_jesus_sing_his
Praise the LORD! O Praise the LORD from heaven!
Praise Him from the bluing atmosphere!
All His angels—hosts of armies—praise him!
Praise Him far and near!
Praise the LORD—sun and moon and all you
Twinkling starry crowns!
Praise the LORD! Every vapor—
Every particle, resound!
Let His creatures everywhere give praise—
For their bodies and their very lives.
His command is their existence—placing
Each where it survives!
His decrees are forever; they will never
Overturn or end.
Praise the LORD from the earth, and
From the ocean depths ascend!
Finally, I will leave you with one of our most beloved songs of victory and praise, Psalm 150.
It is sung to the old hymn, Love Lifted Me (I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore).
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
Celebrate God in might!
Praise Him for celestial power—
Praise Him for heaven’s gates!
In His sanctuary—praise—sounding the trumpet loud!
By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
Some of us are preserved from the experience of dealing with death or the question of heaven when we are young. Other’s lives are forever affected by the tragic death of a parent still needed for a child’s safety and comfort.
While doing some research recently on the internet, I came across this very moving poem:
“Mommy went to Heaven, but I need her here today. My tummy hurts and I fell
down; I need her right away.
Operator, can you tell me how to find her in this
book? Is heaven in the yellow part? I don’t know where to look. Maybe if I call
her, she will hurry home to me. Is heaven very far away; is it across the sea? Help
me find the number please; is it listed under ‘Heaven’?
I can’t read these big, big
words. I am only seven. I’m sorry, operator. I didn’t mean to make you cry. Is your
tummy hurting too, or is there something in your eye? If I call my church, maybe
they will know. Mommy said when we need help, that’s where we should go.”
I know some of the poem’s phrases are outdated. Most people don’t use the Yellow Pages these days, and, with computerized services, operators are a rare commodity. Yet the yearning of a young child for his or her mother moves my heart. All kinds of thoughts and images of the child came to mind.
How long has his or her mother been gone?
Who is taking care of the child?
What does he or she look like? Who is reading this seven-year-old bedtime stories and rubbing noses for Eskimo kisses?
When I read the last stanza, I am brought to tears, “If I call my church, maybe they will know. Mommy said when we need help, that’s where we should go.”
There are churches all over our cities that are resourceful and safe places for grieving families to go. But the church is more than a name, a building, or even the pastor. According to Scripture, believers in Jesus are the Church.
As women who know Jesus, we’re the mothers to those who have no moms. We’re the ones who tend to tummy aches and bandage scraped knees. We read stories and place gentle kisses on the tear-stained cheeks of the hurting.
We give voice to the struggling, abused, and bruised.
We dig wells, feed the malnourished, and find jobs and homes for struggling young adults.
We know the secrets of heaven, and hold keys that help others who are caught in grief and uncertainty find a place of rest and peace.
Most of us have never worked as a telephone operator. But we have worked and will continue to work in sharing our time, resources, and the truths of eternity with those struggling in our communities and around the world.
If you know of a child who could use some comforting wisdom, I’d like to introduce you to a debut author in our publishing group. Jenny Fulton’s story, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is precious, a valuable book in the library of any teacher, parent, or grief counselor.
Watch a scene from Tonya Blessing’ Appalachian novel, The Melody of the Mulberries set during the early American Spanish Flu epidemic.
By Jenny Fulton, author of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye
Has God ever asked you to make a personal gifting or a private hobby public?
In many ways, this is a terrifying transition for a creative person. Before, creating something provided an inner joy; the only critic was yourself or the Gift Giver.
I have numerous journals, each of which are personal and private. How could I bridge the gap between my writing for private process and writing for what others wanted?
To share a talent with others is to expose yourself – to open your vulnerability to another’s criticism, to discover how much you still need to learn and grow in your abilities.
It’s far easier to hoard such giftings in isolation. Yet, more often than not, God won’t allow us to keep them shut away indefinitely.
I was teaching in China when God asked, urged, and encouraged me to start writing for more than myself. His first prodding came through a friend.
She speaks softly and listens loudly
Lara was another American teacher at the school. She possesses a quiet and gentle spirit, a trustworthy one, a daydreaming one. We formed an instant connection; I somehow knew she was a creative before she verified it with words. Our time together included playing our guitars, engaging in deep conversations, and talking about writing.
She was one of the first people with whom I shared the fulness of my passion for this art.
One day, we were sitting in her apartment, talking about our secret hobbies. “You know,” she said, “I was just reading this book, The Soul Tells a Story, by Vinita Hampton Wright. She talks about writing and creativity going hand-in-hand with spirituality and encourages people to say, ‘yes’ to their God-given gifts. You can read it when I’m finished.”
I did. As I read, a long-held dream crept from its world of silence and impossibility into the realm of light and reality.
What if my desire to write wasn’t temporary?
What if it wasn’t meant to remain a side-hobby or a means by which to communicate newsletters, but was given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory?
What if my dreams to write and be published didn’t just belong to me, but were a reflection of His dreams for me?
Soon after this conversation, Lara introduced me to Faithwriters.com, an online writing site for Christians. For the first time, I put my heart and stories on display to be read and critiqued by strangers who had no knowledge or context for the person behind the words. I didn’t know where it would lead or how God would use it; I only knew I must obey – I could no longer ignore the desperate call within me.
In 2008, I submitted my first fictional story, Chang Chang’s Hope, to the lowest level of the Faithwriters weekly writing challenge. Then I waited in terrified expectation for people to post their comments.
People really liked it! The judges liked it and gave it a 2nd place ranking in its level.
My next entry, More Than a Yearly Journey, was an autobiographical one. It caught the attention of the site managers who featured it on the Front-Page Showcase.
While I certainly seemed to be off to a good start, I knew my skills needed to develop. But maybe, with time, instruction, and practice, I could really do this writing thing.
These initial successes persuaded me to be more intentional about learning the craft. To this end, I read the highest-ranked stories and tried to pinpoint what made them so good. I studied writing lessons on the site and tried to incorporate those skills into my entries.
Sometimes my pieces connected well with the readers. Other times they didn’t
Regardless of whether my writing connected well with others, I was learning, improving, and gaining insight into where my strengths and weaknesses lay.
After several months of sharing online, I gathered my courage and tentatively offered to write the devotionals for an upcoming youth retreat. Offering, writing, and sharing God’s gifting to me in this form was far scarier than posting online. Exposing my heart to strangers was one thing; revealing it to those I knew was another.
Although the devotionals were presented as anonymous, I was able to gain some encouraging feedback.
These occasions to share made a few things very clear.
My desire to write wasn’t temporary.
The enjoyment and ability to write had been given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory.
My dreams to write and be published were a reflection of God’s dreams for me.
“Lord,” I prayed. “I entrust this writing, this interest and ability, to You as something You want me to continue to develop and use for Your glory. I’m not sure to what extent, but I do know that I will follow Your lead in this and seek any opportunities You may have for me. For whatever reason, and to whatever extent, You have, among other things, made me a writer. To You belong the details.”
Life Happens in The Details
I continued posting short stories online for the next five years. Life changed drastically in that time, but the commitment to write held steady. In 2010, I moved back to the U. S. Two years later, I was married, and a year after that, I gave birth to my first daughter.
In 2014, when my daughter was a year old, I left teaching to become a stay-at-home mom.
The dream and dedication to writing continued. With my husband’s encouragement, I pursued a few freelance writing jobs. One of them landed me a contact as a ghostwriter for a young adult fantasy novel. That book was published in 2016.
This past year, in July 2020, I came across Laura Bartnick with Capture Books. After a few months of communicating back and forth about a couple of writing projects, she offered me a contract to publish my first picture book. Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye was released on March 10, 2021, with paperback and hardback versions as well as ebook versions.
Timing for this release thrills me because the book is now available for comfort and hope around the Easter holiday because the theme of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is eternal life after death.
Encouragement from the Word
In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks much about the giftings of the Holy Spirit. Although writing or other artistic endeavors aren’t specifically mentioned, the manifestation of the Spirit is. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The expression of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is meant for the common good.
Many times, God’s gifts aren’t given for the benefit of the receiver alone and aren’t meant solely for personal use and gratification. Instead, He often grants us skills and abilities so that we may use them to help others.
Matthew 5:16 (NASB) says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” God’s light is expressed through how we live our lives, in our physical work, in what we say and do. This includes artistic endeavors.
May the dreams, skill, and abilities God has given us shine before others in such a way that they might glorify our Father who is in heaven.
Although it’s scary to publicly share our gifts, I’ve discovered the value of opening my heart in creative writing. It’s definitely worth it.
“Well, I wanted to catch you on your morning walk. I woke up wondering whether the chorus of spring peepers was singing around the lake yet.”
“It’s not quite warm enough. It’s only supposed to be 63 degrees in Erie today. Maybe next week.”
“Really? We’re supposed to have another blizzard this weekend.”
“Well, that’s a Rocky Mountain springtime for ya. Once we hear them, we will have three more freezes – then, it’s truly spring!”
“The coming of the peepers foretells three more freezes?”
“Oh yes. There’s the onion leek melt, the sweet pea melt, and one more – I’m having a memory melt right now.”
“Ah, ‘Singing Spring’ comes in notes and melts, like your book.”
“None too soon.” I’m huffing and need to hang up on this conversation in order to accomplish this morning’s walk.
“Hey, I woke up in one of those post-dream phases, the phase where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either.” But, my friend also has to go. We say our ‘goodbyes,’ and my thoughts turn inward, dredging up memories, I mean, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago. Mostly good ones. These memories came from this morning’s dream.
A recent National Geographic study polled people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they experienced a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.
Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to well-being while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.
The study concludes,
The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.”—Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University
I agree with Deirdre. The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into affecting our dream state.
I keep hearing about the virus. I have lost friends to it. But, we never really see it, do we? Most of us are prevented from seeing the worst of it, even with our loved ones.
This next season of social isolation comes with a promise of a new vaccine. It’s a trade-up.
So as I was saying, I was dreaming of my childhood lunchtime trade-ups. I was in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.
I remained as still as possible to capture the details.
We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.
No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.
So as dreams go –
We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.
We were trading lunches.
Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
Bologna for a PBJ.
An apple for a Hershey Bar … (is that a fair trade, really?)
A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day. Maybe his mom had told him how the iron in it would make him grow up to be a muscle man, but Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.
I mean, liverwurst.
It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.
Maybe you, too, shared lunchtime negotiations back in the day.
You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.
We are almost always alert to something better out there. Trading.
Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020 and continuing through the springtime of 2021 with the promise of a trade-up. Is there a better vaccine to conquer our isolating fear of the real thing?
Trading lunch is metaphor-speak for what many of us are actually doing these days.
Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.
What if we traded sorrows for singing with a chorus of peeps?
Worry for watching the patterns. What is God doing?
Anxiety for trust in the available flavors and coming flowers.
News grazing for cloud gazing.
Swollen ankles for walking the dog.
Despair for Curiosity.
Trading trauma for a sweet pet whose fur accepts our tears.
These are good swaps, life-giving, even.
Switching out the bologna for iron-rich blood, if not liverwurst, then ribeye; trading the mundane for the moment you will savor and return to for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.
There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:
The clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.”
What a glorious swap!
A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices rise in natural praises every day.
Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and making sense of the sighs.
I know the swampy spring peepers will lay bitsy eggs, attaching them to vegetation in shallow waters. They may hatch in four short days. Their dream state will end in an energetic wetland chorus.
I rouse myself from my sleepy knowledge-memories to walk amongst the happy spring peepers, now camouflaged, who are not beleaguered by any virus. Their chorus will come melodiously and noisy overnight, regardless.
Crisp late-winter Lake Erie air has done its job. My lungs are woke. My stomach rumbles.
Do you know that 24 hours before the Spring Peepers are singing under the tell-tale ‘X’ marking on their backs, they are wee black tadpoles swimming underwater? Full metamorphosis takes an uncanny 24 hours!
Oh, Get ready!
We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal. We will add our voices to the chorus frogs.
Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.
Kathy Joy is the author of Singing Spring, one book in the Breath of Joy seasonal coffee-table series. This month, her children’s picture book released to the public, Will You Hold My Story? This Shell Silverstein-esque story features the adult idea of listening to a child’s tales in a Mister Rogers-esque neighborhood.
By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
I married into a family having the last name, Blessing. As Christians, we are commanded by God to share our faith and to be a blessing.
I believe we share the love of God both with our service and with our speech.
As a child, I remember singing, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus.” The lyrics still ring true today,
Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.
Fances J. Crosby
My husband and I recently met a man. He appeared to be a Zimbabwean refugee, but we’re not sure. We had some communication issues.
He didn’t speak English or Afrikaans (except to say “dankie” which means “thank you”). He was extremely thin and not very tall. He was perhaps 14 or 15 years of age. A number of his teeth were missing. His eyes and cheeks were sunken in, and his skin had a grayish tint from malnourishment. His clothes were ragged and torn, and he desperately needed a bath.
Here’s what happened
Chris and I were visiting a crafters mart in the town of Bela Bela, which is located about an hour and a half from our home. I use the words “crafters mart” loosely. The artisans display wares in a long tin-roofed shack with mostly open sides. The stalls are separated by faded cloths of varying colors.
Our new friend was working there as a “car watcher” of sorts. He didn’t seem to have the energy to solicit his services but made an attempt at directing us from our parking space. Chris held up his index finger motioning for the young man to stay put while we went and purchased some food for him. The love of Christ was shared through the nourishment we gave him, and our hand gestures: Chris pointed toward heaven and I placed my right hand over my heart.
The first several verses of Proverbs 30 describe the author’s search for God.
“Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in His hands?
Who has bound up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is the name of His Son—if you know?”
Proverbs 30:4 (HCSB)
The author of this proverb understands that God is very powerful. He talks about the LORD holding the wind and wrapping the ocean in His cloak, but the writer wants to know God’s name and the name of His Son.
The name “Bela Bela” means “beautiful”.
Who have you shared His beautiful name with today?
Are you willing to share His name each and every day?
Today, I’d like to recommend a fellow author’s book for the Easter season.
I found this Goodread’s review of The Zealots by G.K. Johnson and thought, I’d post it here.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Best Read for Spring Break! Two teen boys, seemingly innocuous, ramble around the hillsides of Judea until tragedy strikes. The incident begins to work on them, like a wedge inserted between them.
We are wooed into the kind of social pressures that turn young men into thugs. And, into these pressures, come temptations to right a wrong.
What I love about this book: Vivid scenes, accurately portrayed passion, the power of atoning actions to drain fierce guilt and replace it solidly with purpose. Not Sunday school.<br />This book is meant for teen boys, but I loved it. As much as I recall reading The Robe and The Silver Chalice in highschool.
Magic is a popular descriptor these days. Even Christians use the descriptors “magical” or “alchemy” playing on the idea of transformation or illumination apart from God’s creativity. Creatives can try to employ magic in a spiritual, holistic sense as though it were only a metaphor or allegory, but the practice of magic is not even close to the biblical ideas of imagination, wonder, miracles, transformation, and illumination. Magic removes the Wonderful One from the equation of creation by mimicking the wonder with a sleight of hand. It attempts to transform something or someone by blind equations of lesser powers and chemical substances. Cutting these cords between the wonder and the Giver may feel fanciful and creative, but the end is separation from God. Please know that an Illusion can be a purposeful sleight of hand, but magic is the use of deception to transform, confuse, snare, and kill. Alchemy removes the primary ingredient of God’s own purpose or design.
It was only when Adam and Eve broke confidence with their Creator that the wonder of God’s Spirit separated from them because God is Holy and cannot mingle with sin. The result was dying and death.
In love and goodness, the Lord devised another means of expression through connective blood and tissue in His covenant with us.
Imagine that God’s covenant was depicted in the performance of theatrical rituals and purposeful sacrifices. Did God mean to command that His people were to engage in the theater for purposes of illumination?
Imagine, also, that community laws and festivals allowed those practicing to gain a better understanding of His goodness and love. Imagine that they did not believe these edicts were legalism. How did it work?
Reenacting the Lord’s dramatic events kept His purposes in mind. They helped people look honestly at processing life His way. The codes and laws provided a means to treat others respectfully and compassionately.[i]
And, many of these feasts and played-out dramas were great experiences for the community. For individuals. Yet, because sin began to mar God’s creation, God would implement new theatrics, mighty works and wonders, to rescue people as He’d promised. Things like Moses and Aaron’s feats before Pharaoh, lifting up the walls of the Red Sea, providing enough oil to get His people through an assault, bringing birds and manna to eat, later, feeding the thousands with a loaf of bread and a few fish. Preserving His own. Time and time again. The drama of Queen Esther and Mordecai saving the Jews, Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph’s technicolor coat, and the dramas of David and Goliath are still favorites in Christian theater.
In God’s creation, He contemplated rescue for any who were deaf, blind, lost, or paralyzed. He even contemplated resuscitating the dead.[ii] Passover and Resurrection are the primary and unique colors of God’s creativity. He saves souls and transforms them.
If you have been taught that winning souls is a fruit of the Spirit, check again.
The nine fruits of the spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22–23 as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law. Benedictine monks would call these spiritual practices “the conversation of life.”[iii]
So while God is primarily creating, rescuing, resuscitating the dead, we are co-creating, co-rescuing, co-resuscitating the dead. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover as we are working out our own salvation, that these spiritual fruits will appear in artistic endeavors. Yes, they will appear in writing, and in the stressors of life’s interactions with others, but these characteristics will also win souls.
If you are a creative individual, then practice drawing from the tree of life. Bear good fruit, fruit connected to the Giver, the Source, not disconnected magical fruit.
HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES
RITUAL FIRSTS. What does it mean in priority, to have a first child? We know that in biblical history the first child obtained the first and best, most complete blessing. The first male was dedicated to God because God claimed him.[iv] He was destined to assume the role of family leader, given authority, double inheritance, and special rights.
THE PATTERN: The Law forbade the disinheriting of the firstborn in a family.[v] The first animal to breach the womb was to be sacrificed to God or redeemed by an offering.[vi] When God reached over the first to bless the second child, He was making quite a statement, which made news several times in scripture. Jacob and Esau experienced it.[vii] Jacob later reenacted the experience with Ephraim and Manasseh.[viii] Reuben’s right as the firstborn of Jacob was taken away because of sin.[ix] When God made the earth, giving creative-mimicking powers to the first man and woman, He signified a right, rule, and inheritance over the animals and plants and other created things. Yet, in Colossians 1, Paul uses the word, “preeminent” to express the position of Christ in relationship to all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus, the Second Adam, has all rights to everything. These instances are recorded because of the anomaly: the rule of firsts was broken.
BREAKING THE PATTERN: “The Word,” personally refers to Emmanuel, God with Us. The Son of God came as the incarnation of the Father, taking on baby flesh comprised of honor and glory as beings beheld Him full of grace and truth. Our most specific right, rule, and inheritance is found in Emmanuel. Not only is He LORD, but He is also our dramatic pattern, God’s ideal Son and men are foreordained to be conformed to His image.[x] This Word of flesh creatively clothed Himself in humility, even washing the dirty feet of His followers (see the character arc?).
Christ obeyed His unique purpose to redeem us through a torturous death. He imagined, ordained, and accepted His own destination on the cross for the joy that was set before Him. Separated from God the Father in death, He was raised again in triumph. Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection from the dead in this drama of life,[xi] and many will follow Him in a twinkling of an eye.[xii]
Which do you think is more important to God?
a) any artistic ingenuity that births a curiosity of mind and pulls at spiritual heartstrings, or
b) the creative ingenuity that designs and manufactures a new tool to use, or
c) clear preaching or teaching to others.
Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright offers us the idea that if a set of actors faithfully follow a director, a script, and the stage direction to act out four scenes of a written play, they could be trusted to faithfully improvise a fifth act.[xiii]The details and director of this story are critical.
What does it mean to have the first fruit crop and to actually give it back to God, to give God the first fruits of your labor?
Imagine a seed germinating underground in the winter and then springing to life with the first buds of summer becoming fruit. Giving our first fruits creates an image of personal absolute reliance in the goodness of the Creator, that He will supply all you need. Additionally, this reliance is a form of giving honor. It is a model of weaving life together with His community of faith. He indicates this tithe is for sharing with the community depending upon His care, and for charity.
If you are a creative person, you require a lot of time to yourself nurturing creative processes: exploring, thinking, drafting, experimenting, journaling, producing, and working through many technicalities to produce something original or special, to improve on someone else’s prototype.
In all this excitement and stress, be sure to take time to just be with the LORD. Enjoy His gifts. His gifts are more than benefits. Enjoy His rewards. His rewards are more than benefits. They are reflections of the Giver’s heart.
Take note. These are personal embraces of God to you. And, through you, these gifts are to be primary nutrition for the community of faith and then also your gifts are for charity to strangers and foreigners to the faith.
The details of God’s law, the written word, and fleshing out the Christ, came much later in His own story and revelation. God must create before any of His other plans take hold, according to His own ordinances.
The first thing we understand as creatives and makers is that we are utterly dependent on something or Someone higher in power and creativity than we are. Someone Who is organizing a bigger picture of which we are a part. If we breathe in and breathe out with intention and cognizance, we can suddenly experience this human dependence on a Giver of Life and breath and health.
Adam received the first body with fingers to wield tools to put inspiration into existence, to create things. Without a physical body, how would all this godlike inspiration find a use, an expression, or an outlet? Think about how you express yourself in an abundance of physical acts of your will and of your unconscious behaviors e.g., facial expressions that escape the body with or without words.
There is a myriad of expressions in the Logos to draw from. Winemakers understand that they are completely interactive and dependent upon the weather and soil, and Who creates the nutrients in the soil and orders the rain and wind?
Much of your own creative success lies beneath the surface until it begins to resonate with others. When you are spurred by a catalyst, something new spontaneously combusts from your soul. Comedians find their talent because they discover that others find them funny. It is a gift. So, in the beginning, God’s gifts in and around you provide your raw material. What you pull together and release into the world will make for your tribute to God.
Your creativity, at first, is not often the finest expression. It shows spirit, but may lack gloss, detail, proofreading or testing. The hook, the skill, the expert choice of the right material may be missing. The performance style may need direction, and sometimes your work even lacks the proper context. Some things are invented before their time, and because they are out of pocket, people don’t recognize the significance of what has been created. This is a gift, too.
Leonardo da Vinci created many mechanical tools and systems because people needed them. On the sly, Leonardo’s God-given creativity caused him to experiment with human medicine and cadavers. He was looking into things banned as unorthodox at the time, but which later were proven to be important medical breakthroughs.[xiv]
In her book, Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, Sue Bender wrote, “I never thought to stop and ask myself, ‘What really matters?’ Instead, I gave everything equal weight. I had no way to select what was important and what was not. Things that were important didn’t get done, and others, quite unimportant, were completed and crossed off the list.”[xv]
Sue was referring to her habits of keeping her house clean, grading papers, and visiting friends, and to her desire to produce art that was special so that she would be thought of as special. “Accumulating choices was a way of not having to make a choice, but I didn’t know it at the time. To eliminate anything was a foreign concept. I felt deprived if I let go of any choices.”[xvi]
As a creative, do you ever find yourself confused about how to prioritize your interests and activities? Do you feel like a jar of river water all shaken up, unable to be still long enough to let the sediment settle into its layers? Deciphering layers of each character and layers of the story itself takes time. Meaning takes time. Time, work, rest, and reflection are cyclical gifts.
Notice, part of the communication cycle is meditation or rest, not of words, but of simply being human and enjoying relationships in spiritual reflection offered as “Sabbath.” Don’t neglect your God-ordained quiet interludes, but rather to think, receive dreams, and rethink. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for human benefit.
Creating in a personal void is really creating with the raw materials given by the Heavenly Father, both the acid and the sweetness in a life, and the opportunities given by the Great Designer. Like a child is utterly dependent upon his or her parent for the raw materials of life, and for some directives and guidance, so a Creative is dependent on the Creator’s supply and purposes. If He stops everything. That’s it. If He opens an avenue, a journey, and favor in a direction, that is the direction we will most assuredly take and find purpose.
Yahweh commanded his prophet, Hosea, to marry a “wife of whoredom”.[xvii] This Hebrew term indicates illicit sexual behavior. Moses used the word in Genesis 38:24 to refer to Tamar’s posing as a shrine prostitute in order to entice Judah to do his duty under the law by her since he had refused to give her his son in marriage, as was her God-ordained right of survival. In both cases, these theatrical acts were ordained by God for purposes that took time to unfold and to be understood. Sometimes, images given to creatives to use in our work are means
the Lord uses to teach us as we are mulling them over, implementing them, and offering them to our audience. These images and tools are gifts entrusted to and for us for our good, and then as we hone and share them, they become gifts to others.
Jesus went to the desert to be alone with His Father God for 40 days.[xviii] Moses ran from Pharaoh into the desert where he stayed for the rest of his life as a nomad.[xix] Not all who wander are lost. Jesus became so full of His experience with His Father that when Satan came to tempt Him, Jesus’ retorted, “I have food you know nothing of.”[xx] When Moses left all of the riches, authority, and the attachments of his stepmother and her royal household behind, he found his exquisite wife and became the leader whom God intended for him to become.[xxi] All this came to being through communion with God. To find meekness through self-examination as Moses did, or strength to face all the temptations of life as Jesus did, consider the solace of the Father’s company alone when you need direction.
BEING CUNNING WITH RAW MATERIALS
Creativity is, in essence, being “cunning.” This word has taken on a sour connotation, as has the word “creative,” but biblically, cunning is only defined in the positive sense. It means being ingenious, gifted with finesse, wise.[xxii] Yet, if you set something newly created before an audience, it might not appear all that good. You might get a stunned look, a jail sentence, or nervous laughter for reward. Being a creative person requires that you continue to focus on the standards of the craft to improve. Standards belong to the Lord. Ideas, lyrics, melodies, and fairy tales are improved with practice and honing, with measures of accountability and with renewed teamwork. New renderings and settings often improve upon the original. Yet, none of this improvement or public applause will exist without embarking, creatively formatting, plotting the vision.
Understand, the Godhead always creates first in the Spirit with His Word. He creates for His own circle of joy! His creation formed and decorated a setting for us to experience belonging.
All good ideas, all good results from hard research, all good inspiration are directly given from the Creator’s hand. Often, He even gives His inspiration and anointing to those who do not recognize Him. Everybody serves God’s purposes. We are all servants. This is why incredible art and the classics in literature exist apart from having been created by a believer in the Triune God. His boundaries and purposes are not ours.
Still, I would rather be a friend of God, a beloved of the Creator, than a mere servant. Wouldn’t you?
I hope you understand that you, personally, your good, and your work in conjunction with His image are of high priority. He invests a lot of Himself into you on a daily basis. You’re always welcome to the Shivoo! He’s said so many times, in many ways.
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”[xxiii]
Rule 1: DEPENDENCE. Breathe in. Consider your own dependence on the Creator. Let your body become a living sacrifice to God. Imagine offering each part of your body to Him. BREATHE out with His authority.
My legs are sticking to the seat again. I squeeze my eyes shut and peel my thighs off the black vinyl. They make a sucking sound and I think of the algae eater on the side of our fish tank at home. I see its large, fleshy mouth cover a round portion of the glass. It moves along from one side to the other, cleaning and polishing its distorted picture window.
Michael stares out the windshield, miles away from here, miles away from me. His mouth is clamped shut, locked against anything conversational or intimate. The algae eater is more intimate. Does the world look as perverse to him as it does to me? How is it the sun can burst through thick white clouds? How can it color the day with that brilliance dripping over every tree, oozing over every car, and shining the casement of every building we pass?
This time together in our vehicle is dark, dreary, and foreboding. We’re on a weekend trip to save our marriage. The sky should be in silent mourning, holding back its cool breeze, waiting for the end to come.
I release the pent up air in my lungs and glance sideways.
Michael has a piece of Juicy Fruit between his teeth. His mouth moves up and down as he chews. The movement is comforting. It looks similar to the motion a mouth makes while talking. Perhaps he will speak to me and feed me a few morsels of his soul. My soul continues to starve.
My stomach rumbles and tells me the Cheerios I fed it two hours ago have dissolved and made their journey through my bloodstream.
“Let’s get something to eat,” I suggest, suddenly buoyant with the sound of my own voice. Silence can become so thick and heavy. Michael continues to stare at the highway ahead. I follow the direction of his eyes and squint to see if there’s something out there I’m missing. Sun, trees, shiny, expensive cars, a hint of smog against the blue sky….a typical weekend day in Southern California.
The question comes unexpectedly. My dazed gaze slams against it. My eyes refocus on Michael. “Where what?”
Deep furrows stack up across his forehead. “You said you wanted to get something to eat. Where do you want to go?”
I shrug. “I don’t know.” I can tell without looking that Michael is rolling his eyes. Michael doesn’t know our marriage is coming to an end. He doesn’t realize how important this trip is. His annoying little wife is going to leave him if something doesn’t change. “Sushi.”
The furrows dig deeper into Michael’s forehead. “Sushi what?”
“I want sushi for lunch.”
“Oh yes. Of course, you would want sushi; especially since I hate it. Why do you always do this?”
“Oh, now comes the puzzled look. That’s all part of it, isn’t it?”
I enunciate each word. “A part of what, Michael?”
“This game you play. You announce you’re hungry. I ask where you would like to go and you pick something that you know I hate.”
I prop my bared foot up on the dashboard and wiggle back into my seat. I’ve assumed the battle position and I’m going in for the kill. “No,” I shake my head. “I don’t know, because you don’t talk to me. You don’t tell me anything; not even what you like to eat for lunch.”
“I’m not participating in this discussion.” Michael’s knuckles turn white as he grips the steering wheel. “I already know the outcome and I refuse to make excuses for who I am, Sam. You knew I wasn’t much of a talker before you married me.”
My eyes are rolling. I wiggle my head back and forth. “That’s such a lie. You did talk to me when we were dating. The first year we were married you told me what you were thinking and how you were feeling a lot.”
“It’s easy to talk when life is sweet.”
Michael continues to stare straight ahead. I wish he would look at me. “What are you saying, Michael?” I almost hope he’ll ignore my question. He does sort of.
“You see that man on the side of the highway?”
I turn my head and look out the window in the direction Michael is pointing. A guy who looks like he could be Michael’s age carries a large, orange trash bag. He walks and stoops down, picking up pieces of trash that lay scattered along the highway. I shrug. “What about him?”
“I’m just like him.”
Now I’m wondering why I ever wanted him to speak. He’s not making sense and I’m starting to feel depressed. I let out another sigh. “The air is getting stale in here,” I reason while rolling down my window.
Michael slams the air conditioner switch off. There’s another mark against my name today. First sushi, now rolling the window down while the air is on. “You’re not like that man at all.” I’m hoping to divert his attention from my most recent offense. “That man is doing community service for some crime he’s committed. He’s probably on his way to jail.”
“I’m already there.”
I can’t read him.
The side of Michael’s face is a blank. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I prop both feet on the dash, hoping to appear unshaken. I feel a quiver start at the center of my stomach and ripple against my ribs. I really need to eat.
“My life is a prison, Samantha. I may not have committed any crime but I’m still in jail just the same. ”
He pauses. Nothing more is said. That’s it?! That’s all he’s going to say?!
“You see why I don’t talk, Sam?” This time he looks at me with a smug little grin scribbled on his face. I wish the algae eater were here to suck it off.
“Forget lunch,” I say, turning my head towards the window. “I’m not hungry.”
“Are you kidding me?!!” Michael starts to yell. The car is slowing down and he pulls over on the side of the highway. The tank is sitting on empty. “We’re out of gas! I thought you got some this morning!”
Gas. The one thing I forgot. Great! “I’m sorry, Michael. I forgot.”
“Well, this is just wonderful!”
He won’t talk to me after he calls the Uber ride. He tells the driver he has to get a container of gas from the nearest gas station which he’s already located on his cellphone. It’s only a few miles away. I wander around the embankment on the side of the road for awhile and then sit in the car with the passenger door open, waiting.
He is silent after he returns with enough gas to get us to the station. I notice his jaw clenching for miles.
Our gas tank isn’t the only thing on empty.
By the time we reached our hotel on the beach, our relationship is dry as a southern wind.
The world looks so small from the fifteenth floor of this Holiday Inn. I am right now, standing carefully on the balcony of our hotel room. This must be how the world looks to God. We’re a bunch of ants fighting over the crumbs of life. Maybe if I threw all my problems off this balcony, they would become as small as the dotted people and cars below me. Maybe they would just disintegrate from the force of the fall.
Michael is in the shower. He’s trying to cool off. Things got pretty heated after we passed the man with the orange trash bag. Then, of course, the car ran out of gas.
That was my fault. At least in Michael’s eyes. I think he sees one version of me all the time-a screwed up. I was supposed to get gas yesterday. I didn’t. Lisa called, and I got distracted from my errands. Michael could care less that Lisa was in a crisis. All he knows is that we have now missed our cruise to Catalina Island.
I still say it’s partly his fault. He didn’t check the gas gauge when we got in the car this morning. I know he was tired and grumpy. I know we were running late and that I should have gotten out of bed sooner. Still, I wasn’t the one who kept him from checking.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway.
I’ve decided I’m going to leave Michael. I don’t really have any other choice. If I don’t leave, I’ll go crazy. Life is just hell when we’re together. He works at the bank all day. I talk for eight hours to cranky people who won’t pay their bills. We come home, eat dinner and stare at the T.V. until it’s time to go to bed. Then we get up and do it all over again. Nothing is fun anymore. See what I mean . . . hell?
We used to like each other. We even loved each other, I suppose. It’s hard to believe with the way things are now. We’ve joined the rest of the world and we’re fighting each other for the crumbs.
Michael used to write “I want you” on the bathroom mirror with toothpaste. We took some long showers then. Some mornings he would sit straight up in bed and grab my arm. “You!” he would say. “It’s really you. I thought you were just a dream!” I would laugh and smile at how good those words felt.
I can see the ocean from where I’m standing. It’s so grand. So is the sunset. It makes me sick to think of how this beauty is being wasted. How can I watch the sky burst into flames and feel cool, ocean air on my skin when my marriage is ending? I won’t look at the ocean. I’ll just watch cars and people from this isolated perch.
My eyes follow a stream of cars into a large parking lot.
To the right of the parking lot, the red and yellow neon lights of a Tilt-O-Whirl blink on. Then I notice the flashing white lights of a roller coaster and the bright green and purple sign for The Zipper. A carnival!
I don’t think about what I’m doing. I grab my purse just as Michael shuts the water off. “I’m going to a carnival,” I yell at the bathroom door.
“What!? What carnival?”
I don’t answer. I slam the hotel door shut and keep walking down the carpeted hallway. I smile. It feels good to leave him hanging. He deserves it after saying that nonsense about being in jail and then claming up for the rest of the trip.
I’m breathing heavily, partly because I’m walking so fast and partly because I feel so free. Exhilaration claims me like I’ve just been let out of a dark, musty closet. Maybe Michael and I are both in prison.
The air is cool and salty. My skin tingles and I walk even faster. I’m smiling at everyone I pass. Little girls, little boys hopping and skipping. Teen flocks. Young lovers. Older couples hand-in-hand. I’m still a few blocks from the carnival, but I can already smell the salty-sweet mixture of hot dogs and cotton candy. My stomach cramps and growls. We never did eat lunch today.
There crowd grows-the little kids now with sticky, cotton candy mouths and wild eyes, tired parents clutching balloons and stuffed animals, couples with hands locked together or arms around shoulders and waists.
I stop at a hot dog stand and take my place in line.
Plump, juicy links rotate slowly on a wheel at the left side of the metallic counter. Ten people wait in front of me. I feel impatient so I look around, trying to take my mind off my hunger. My eye catches a glimpse of a giant Ferris wheel off to my right. Bright red, blue, and yellow lights wink on and off, outlining the spokes of the wheel. I step out of the line and walk towards it. The hot dog can wait. I love Ferris wheels. They’ve always been my favorite ride at carnivals. When I’m at the very top, for an instant, I feel like I’m flying unleashed.
There’s another line, not as long as the hot dog truck’s, for the Ferris wheel. Dinner time is the perfect time to catch a ride. I step up.
“Can I ride with you?”
Michael is standing beside me. His hair is still wet from the shower and his face is flushed. He must have run all the way from the hotel. His light blue eyes seem even paler against his red skin. I smell the spicy musk of his aftershave. Surprisingly, every inch of me is glad he’s here. He remembered to check my favorite ride to find me.
“Yeah, I think that would work.”
We don’t look at each other. It’s like we just met and we’re both feeling shy and awkward. It’s kind of exciting. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him looking at his hands or his shoes-anywhere but at me. I feel a chuckle rising in my throat. “So what made you come? I didn’t think you liked carnival’s anymore.”
Michael clears his throat. “Well, I don’t but I couldn’t see any point in sitting alone in that stuffy hotel room all night. I mean, we drove all this way. It would be stupid and a waste of time.”
Why can’t he say he wanted to be with me? Why does it have to be about wasting time or not wasting time?
The Ferris wheel stops. We climb into a bright blue carriage with a little umbrella swinging overhead. I slide to the middle of the seat and wish I could slide over a little further. I don’t want to be next to him but I don’t want to look like a child. Michael slides in next to me and rests his hands on his lap. At least he isn’t putting his arm around me. Somehow, this makes me even angrier. “Don’t forget, Sam,” I coach myself, “he’s only here so he can avoid wasting time.” The carriage lurches forward and we’re off the ground.
The cool, evening breeze is stronger and colder above the beach, the waves of the Pacific. I try to focus on the bright lights of the carnival below, on the moonlight bobbing in ripples on the waves of the ocean. I can’t distract my mind from the fact that I’m a bundle of nerves, and freezing. Goosebumps give texture to my arms and legs. I should have put something warmer on before I left. These shorts and tank top aren’t made for an evening out by the ocean, what was I thinking? Michael notices my bumps and asks if I’m cold.
No, your presence just thrills me so. Another unspoken thought. “Maybe a little. I’m all right though.” Michael’s tan arm slides across my shoulders. I’m tempted to wiggle a little closer. The warmth of his body feels uncomfortably good but my anger still feels too right to let go of just yet.
“I’m not in prison because of you, Sam.”
This catches me off guard. I lose focus of my anger. “You’re not? I thought that’s what you meant, that our marriage is like a prison.”
“No. It’s just life. There’s so much pressure.”
Our carriage is moving backward, descending to the ground. The pull of gravity, along with Michael’s words, makes me heady. My anger evaporates with the sea spray. I see myself tossing a few problems off the balcony at the hotel though I remain silent, almost holding my breath. Maybe he’ll keep talking. He does.
“I don’t like who I am anymore, Sam. All I do is work and complain about how awful everything is. And, I hate what’s happening to us. All we do is fight.” I slide closer to him and press against his side. His hand squeezes my shoulder.
“I swore things would never be this way when we first got married. I made a promise to myself that I would not live a mediocre life like my family and friends. So far, this weekend places us square in their camp.”
“We’re just living like a couple of algae eaters,” I say looking up at him.
Michael smiles. I’m wishing I had my camera so I could take a picture of his face. His smile is so beautiful and so rare anymore. “What do you mean by that?”
“We’re viewing life through our four algae-covered windows, like our fish tank. And it’s always distorted.”
He nods his head. “So how do we change the view?”
We’re at the top of the wheel again.
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Michael smiles, remembering the self-help book we read together months ago.
“We are products of our past but we don’t have to be prisoners of it tomorrow.”
I nod in agreement. “We change tomorrow’s view by what we’re doing right now,” I answer. “Wow. The world looks a lot different from up here, doesn’t it?”
“If we threw our problems off the side of this carriage at the top, they would seem a lot smaller.”
“You’re a strange one, Sam.” Michael is smiling again. I love his smile even more than Ferris wheels.
“I know. That’s why you’re so madly in love with me.”
Michael scratches his forehead. “Yeah, I’ll buy that.”
We ride the bumper cars and eat greasy hot dogs. Michael kisses me in the funhouse in front of a mirror that made our heads look like bloated ticks.
It’s after midnight before we make it back to the hotel room. Michael is wide awake. Hanging the tiny stuffed bear he won for me from his ear, he dances a strange male dance and manages to peel his clothes off, somewhat awkwardly, at the same time.
The only thing I can say for the rest of our little trip is that we didn’t quite make it to Catalina. Missing our cruise turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.
We’re on our way back to the real world today.
I’m driving. I’ve decided not to leave Michael. Tomorrow is Monday but I don’t think it will be the same as every other Monday. In fact, I don’t think our life will be the same. We’ve made a new vow to change our view at least once a week.
I’ve got a strong craving for sushi and Michael has agreed to try it again. He’s talking about the things pressuring him. I’m listening. Together, we’ll break down the pressures of life with a new perspective from a higher viewpoint. Things have definitely changed. We’re entering a new age, a fresh season and this time, our gas tank is full.
Charmayne Hafen is a contemporary issues author with Capture Books. Typically writing on faith issues for teens, her youth books and children’s books are clean reads, full of adventures, compassion, and mystery. Hafen’s writing displays empathy and redirection for marital health and the welfare of children. She holds an MA in group counseling and obtained her B.A. in Journalism from John Brown University. She is currently working on her first adult novel.
We moms know a little about the action of listening. I am a mom, but I still need my mom to listen over the dining room table.
When you really think about it, listening takes a certain skill set. It involves intentionally hitting the “Pause Button” of your day and entering into another person’s story. And their story matters. Your choice to listen to it is an action of love toward them.
There’s a cute story I heard once, about a little boy who wanted desperately for his Mommy to know everything about his day. The lad burst into the kitchen where she was prepping the evening meal. As he told his fabulous story, she continued dicing, slicing and sauteing. I’m sure she heard every word; we moms are professional multi-taskers.
Still, that wasn’t enough for the boy. He became exasperated. “Mom!” he cried out. “You’re not listening!
“Oh, yes, honey. I’m listening,” she replied.
“No! I need you to listen with your eyes.”
Wow. The kid has a point. Listening, if it’s truly an action word, involves putting down the spatula and locking eyes with the storyteller.
Listening is something we think we are doing, when in fact we are pushing the storyteller to the margins; hearing him on the periphery. We think we’ve heard the story, but oh! How much we miss.
I am guilty as charged. Countless times, I have “listened” to the ones I love while checking my phone, scanning the menu, watching the weather channel and searching for my car keys. Is this listening? Really?! No, actually, not.
I’m practicing hitting the “Pause Button”
I’m practicing hitting the “pause button” but I’m not as successful as I’d like to be.
This happened recently when my daughter tried to convey something to me in the car.
Distracted listening is not intentionally loving. It’s minimizing. The storyteller can’t be sure your mind, much less, your heart was open to retaining the information. We are telling that precious soul we are taking in words, but not absorbing the weight and importance of the words.
How likely will this lovely daughter, this marvelous human being, come back to me with new stories to tell? The odds are getting slimmer.
I need to hit the Pause Button, silence the phone, pull the car to the curb, and just listen.
Now, before you think you are already well-versed in the art of listening, I have a simple challenge: try listening with no agenda. Go ahead. Try. It’s really hard. Honestly — I sat with a friend recently. As she shared her story, pouring out her heart, I could hardly wait to find an opening and tell my own story.
This is really not okay. Because, in that place where my brain was buzzing with the answers, the opinions, the questions and my own stories, I was missing her words. And they weren’t just words; they were pieces of her heart, laid out there on the table — bare and trembling and aching to be heard.
To march in with my pat answers is a lot like pushing her stuff to the edges because my stuff is far more interesting.
That’s kind of rude.
Listening is love
Listening is love. It’s an act of the will, an intentional nod in another person’s direction. When you love the storyteller, you need to be willing to listen without formulating your answers. That person really doesn’t need your opinion; she needs your humility and grace. She needs your ear and your uncluttered mind. She needs you to lock eyes with her, so she knows without a doubt you care.
This is exhausting. No wonder listening is a verb — the action of truly listening is a workout. Your listening-muscles will ache later, but keep at it. You just never know when a storyteller needs you to be ready.
Listening is love. Just ask my mom – she’s really good at it. I’m quite sure that’s why I carry all my most precious stories to her kitchen table. She pours tea. She sits across from me and gives me the gift of her undivided attention.
Thanks, Mom! Thanks for listening with your eyes.
Kathy Joy is the author of the children’s book, Will You Hold My Story? When her husband died suddenly, she had no one to listen to her grief and so she hired a counselor. Sally, the grief counselor, wisely advised Kathy to find someone else to hold her story alongside her. But sometimes people can be so distracted by their activities and their own families, that God decided to create pets. Dogs are especially suited for cuddling, and walking beside you, and listening to your story. Listening moms and friends are absolute treasures.
I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.
– Eric Liddell
I’m a great admirer of Eric Liddell. I grew up repeatedly watching Chariots of Fire, a movie that follows Eric’s strenuous journey to the Olympics and a tough, God-honoring decision he made when he arrived there. The movie fed my interest in this man and I devoured any books about him that I could find. The above quote quickly became a favorite.
Why? Because it takes something physical, something of this world, and attaches spiritual significance and eternal joy to it.
Eric knew God had called him to be a missionary–something anyone religious would consider to be a holy, spiritual calling. But God had also given Eric a great physical ability to run fast. Because both had been given by God, Eric considered them both to be holy. He knew that when he exercised his talent, it brought spiritual pleasure to the Giver of it.
The idea that a physical ability possesses a spiritual significance, pleasure, and outcome could be applied any number of gifts and abilities. This truth can be seen from the story of creation, where God created physical bodies, mind, and nature and called it “good” to stories and instructions about physical prowess.
In the Bible, when the young King Solomon humbled himself and asked for righteous attributes, God granted him amazing natural gifts of administration, art, architecture, poetry, favor of other kings and queens, love, and wisdom. His father, King David, was a musician long before anyone else heard him play. There in the fields outside of Bethlehem, he played his harp for the sheep and sang for the lambs. Never could he have suspected in those early days that God would call upon him to use this gift to calm a distressed and angry king.
The artisans in Exodus were gifted and practicing their crafts long before God called upon them to create the priestly garments and form the elaborate embellishments of the temple. Did they have any idea, in their early days, that God would one day use their skills as a visual representation to draw people to himself?
What Does the Bible Mean When it Says, “Whatever”?
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Colossians 3:17 (NASB)
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”
Colossians 3:23-24 (NASB)
“Whatever you do” offers a wide and non-judgmental appeal to what pleases you to do. Your personal choice and desires are honored by God because of the unique way He fashioned you. You have space to experiment and try what is on your heart and mind.
People often ask, “What is God’s will for me?” Yet, God’s will often lies within the intimate designs of our bodies and minds, in our relationships, current commitments, and interests. He says, “whatever you do in word or deed, go in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
In context, “whatever you do” also means “whatever is not in opposition to God’s principles and statutes.” It would be nefarious to say I’m committing adultery or slandering someone because Colossians 3 says, “whatever”. Yet, scripture called Tamar righteous and not Judah, when she deceived him in order to gain her legal rights and benefits.
We don’t have to contort our personal essence into something else.
We can trust in His goodness. Inside nature’s limits is how He created us to be.
He lays out our paths forward, some say naturally. Some say spiritually.
The Lord chooses to anoint our work for a special purpose like He did with David’s music, Solomon’s wisdom and skills, and the other artisans who built the temple and later rebuilt Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day.
Our physical gifts and abilities begin within. They are given by God, create another connection with him, and bring him joy. God is our first and primary audience, long before anyone else is aware of the passion that burns within.
When I first began learning to play the guitar, I did so only when nobody else was around. I lifted up my voice and played and sang for myself and God alone. Once I could reasonably play a few songs, I occasionally invited my family to join me. After a while, I began seeking out others who enjoyed playing for the purpose of learning from them and enjoying the fellowship that came from a shared interest. In spite of my busy high school schedule, setting aside time to sing and play was a soul necessity.
My love for writing began with childhood stories and developed upon the pages of secret journals that not even my parents were allowed to see. By the time high school came around, my enjoyment of it, my need to engage it, were so great that I sought out any opportunities to do so. This included writing for our school/county newspaper and even taking an independent study course with news writing during my senior year. Although the articles were of a less personal nature, the fact that I was able to write brought me great joy and a greater sense of connection with God.
When God gives us a gift, and a passion to exercise that gift, we can’t help but to engage with it and God. There is no shame in this. In fact, it may even be a necessity for our souls to do so. It may be done without an audience or shared only with a small group of like-minded individuals as we slowly and quietly develop and improve in that which we’ve been given. Like David and the artisans in the Bible, God may one day call upon us to display our gifts in a more public forum. But until that day comes, if it comes, we quietly and steadily work at it for God, delighting in the pleasure it brings to both him and us.
Jenny Fulton is a wife, mother, children’s book author with Capture Books, YA fantasy author, blogger, and freelance writer with a B.S. in Bible, a B.S. in elementary education, and an endorsement in K-12 ESL.
Her debut children’s story, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is released 2021, in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.
ENDORSEMENT: “A poignant child’s perspective of the last moments of a beloved grandfather’s journey on earth. Lillian’s guardian angel accompanies her and guides her as her mother and father share with her the glorious truth that his story is not over, but only just beginning. Death itself is treated as just a stepping stone to a perfect forever home with the “Great King,” and the trappings of death, illness, and pain are mentioned but not dwelt upon. Ideal for children dealing with or learning about the death of a family member.”
Child therapists, parents, or ministers can use this book as a tool to explain heaven and what happens when a loved one dies.
Find more Biblical studies and celebration of the arts by Jenny Fulton HERE.
By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
My husband and I used to live on a rutted, dirt road east of Denver. Our home rested on the south side of the road. During springtime, the black and white cattle with their yearlings grazed on the north side.
One morning late in May, a woman from the city decided to go for a ride in the peaceful, quiet country. When a semi-truck hauling grain passed her compact car on the narrow road, she panicked, oversteered, and rolled her vehicle into the grassy field across the street from our home.
The heifers and calves gathered round to stare at their mutual predicament.
We decided to become a little more welcoming than the heifers and calves. A glass of water, a gentle embrace, and kind words provided the environment for her to share her struggles with divorce, depression, loneliness, finances, and health concerns.
The Bible says in Proverbs 19:17 (NIV) that when we show kindness to the poor we are lending to God.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
We weren’t lending to our friend. We were lending to the Lord.
Our new friend wasn’t “poor” in the physical sense, but she was certainly poor in spirit. God has a heart for those living in poverty – whether they are struggling for physical or spiritual nutrition. The Bible defines the poor as people who are weak, deprived, needy, empty, and withered. In the original text of this verse showing kindness meant bending down, or stooping over; sitting face to face with someone in need; looking them in the eyes with the love of Christ; offering friendship; uniting our lives with their lives for the purpose of easing
their burden. In fact, the word “lending” means to weave together.
When we “lend” our kindness to others, the LORD becomes involved in our efforts. He aids us in our service to those in need. The Bible says that He even rewards us. He brings restoration, peace, and safety to our lives. He gives us strength to finish our spiritual race.
May the LORD continue to use us both as individuals and collectively, to lend to those in need both physically and spiritually.
Suddenly I was out of excuses. I stood at the starting line of a race I’d always wanted to run. When a major life change came our way, my husband and I decided that “now” was the time to give my writing dream a shot. Or at least, my wise husband did. God bless him. I started getting excited.
For years, I knew the story God had put on my heart. I knew who I wanted my main character to be and I knew the general gist of the storyline, random points of climax, the fuzzy details between.
Whenever I was asked about a dream I hoped to achieve in my lifetime, I often said, “I want to write a book!” But for years I never put pen to paper. The thought of doing so wore the luster off the idea of being an author. How would I begin? If I didn’t start the ‘right’ way, all would be lost!
Fear of Being a ‘Said Failure’
Looking back on it now, I know the reason I kept putting off my dream. I was afraid of failure.
Perhaps more than being afraid of failure, I was afraid of the ensuing consequences of being a ‘said failure’. What would it mean about me if I wrote something I thought was good, only to find out nobody else liked it? Telling people I had the intention to write a book one day sounded great and impressive but. . . hollow because I never actually sat down to do it.
My husband has a keen sense of discernment. He knew the real reason I was holding back the writing before I did. He urged me to take this opportunity to fulfill my dream. To treat writing like a job and get serious about it.
I began to imagine my life as a writer. I pictured myself holding a beautifully covered novel, signing books, speaking at events. With these visions in mind, I sat down at my Mac one morning and hit ‘go’ on my stopwatch, the closest thing I had to ‘clocking in.’
I began to write no matter how I felt. I began treating writing like a job. My intention was to write for eight hours. If I was treating this like a job and giving it my utmost effort, that was the thing to do, right? I had no outline, I literally just started writing.
Two Hours In, Mentally Exhausted
I know some people can write in coffee shops or listen to music in the background and be incredibly productive but that’s not me. When I write I need silence. This is a bummer because I love the romantic idea of writing a bestseller in a coffee shop while drinking a mocha. It just doesn’t work for me. Anyway. I had typed for two hours and I felt pretty good about what I had on paper, but my brain was worn out.
I stared out the window and wondered how I was going to fill six more hours with productive writing when I felt creatively wrung out. It felt as though my fear of being a failure was already becoming a reality.
Halfway through I realized I really needed an outline and wrote one.
After that day of trying to write for eight hours, I realized that was an impossible goal. For me at least. My sweet spot used to be two to four hours of writing a day. Any more than that, and I noticed that the quality of my writing went downhill.
Ultimately I finished that novel several months later.
This time period included several teary breakdowns in which I insisted ‘I can’t do this’ and my husband reminded me I could.
My writing career got even more complicated when our baby came home. Now, I needed to consult with my editor, make changes, rereads, and begin to blog. I squeezed in writing between my infant son’s nap times.
I’m learning that the practice of writing is a fluid thing-ebbing and flowing with seasons of life. I brew myself a cup of coffee for that romantic ‘close-as-I-can-get to a coffee shop’ feeling, but my brew usually gets cold before I drink it. Why? Because my goal is to write and I’m doing that.
My finished manuscript was accepted by a publisher, edited, and finally, my book was published by Capture Books, complete with the important aspects that make a professionally published book sell (hooray!).
In the first month after its release, I didn’t do any book signing events unless you count the ones I signed at my dining room table and sent out. And no one has asked me to speak at their event. Of course, there is a pandemic needing to be quieted for the population to feel comfy in group settings.
In the Midst of the Process
I sent my book to some friends for their feedback and while most of them said nice things, some didn’t like every part of the book.
Yikes, that must have triggered my fear of failure, right?
Well yes and no. Yes, I would be happy if everyone who picked up my book loved it! And yes, it stings a little when someone tells me they don’t like a certain part. But it’s impossible that every person would connect with my genre and writing style. Concerning the story critique, if I’m being honest, I appreciate their input! It’s cliche, but without constructive criticism, it would be impossible for me to grow as a writer. So I’m doing my best to take all the feedback and sort through it. This is the life of a writer.
This week, I was awarded a stunning editorial review from BookLife, an arm of Publishers Weekly. You may want to read it here.
Here’s the Thing. . . I-Wrote-A-Book.
God told me to write a story and I wrote it. Perhaps this has been the biggest takeaway for me from this entire process. At the end of the day, regardless of whether everyone likes it, I followed through. So when God puts something on your heart believe that He will give you the resources to do it. The support of my husband was crucial throughout the process of writing The Zealots. He is God’s blessing to me.
That first step is scary, but I promise that you will learn so much in following through and accepting the resources the Lord offers. Let someone special in to your writing life to hold you accountable and to help persuade you when you are not “feeling it.” The Lord will be with you every step of the way. When you’re listening to His voice you can’t fail.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
Nothing exists without this Word.”
Just imagine, in the beginning, God announced the news, “Hey, watch the beginning of EVERYTHING!”
SUNRISES! SUNRISES AND SUNSETS COMING! SUMMERTIME SWIMMING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER! WHEELS ON THE DUSTY ROAD AHEAD! FRESH PEACHES IN THE NEWS TODAY! CHERRIES, LAUGHTER! PLUMS, KISSES! TUNES, HARMONY, AND RHYTHMS! DEBATES ABOUT ENGINEERED SEEDS! STEEL AND IRON HIDDEN FOR SKYSCRAPERS! GREEN LIMES! GRASS FOR THATCH! EYES TO READ, FLIRT! EARS TO WHISPER INTO! POMEGRANATES! ROMAN NOSES! CHEDDAR AND CARAWAY!”
God announced everything with the Word of life.
Did you know that Christ was already in the beginning, not created by God, but being fully God, this God? Jesus, the Christ, is not only the Savior, but was this Logos Who summoned it all into existence. Colossians 1:16-18 explains that in Christ all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. Christ is before all things, and in Christ, all things hold together. He is also the Head of the Church, the first to rise from the dead so that in everything, He has the preeminence in and for Life!
His most clearly executed point of argument for Himself and His message to Earth was made in the flesh, the personification of Himself, the person of—
JESUS—WHO WAS, AND IS THE LOGOS!
WATCH FOR HIM.
I can see it now: God the Father and God the Word breathed, in the beginning, which light appeared on the waft of the Holy Spirit. Three Persons, One Front, so unified that They could only be separated for one sacred purpose. And, even on that painful separation, They were agreed.
His Word didn’t fall with gravity from lips as we understand lips. But lifted by the experience of creating our planetary spheres including Earth’s own boundaries, He planted objects. The Word began to fill up the void with the sound and the activity of an announcement breeding results. God’s own language began to shine. To find life, ongoing life in a myriad of defining ways.
Notes on the page began to sing their tones, their lengths, their harmonies, and together they scattered upward into the heavens, a choir.
The waters of the heavens were layered for God’s purposes by another word and they began to flow. The sea was then separated from the dry land. Animals were created––each after their kind––on another breath, another heavenly word. The seeds and leafy vegetation began to spring from the earth and curl into patterned whorls on another spiritual exhale, another word of inspiration. Then, God formed flesh. In God’s image, both male and female.
I’m curious, though. How did God breathe His full expressive Self into the flesh of Christ thousands of years later? And, how did God insert the Logos into a living, written Word that lies published on a coffee table, bookshelf or on a desk seemingly inert, or in the pockets of so many? Was God’s language only a verbal expression, “The Word?” Or, did it include physical energy flung like stones into a pool, some physiological forms of communication as well?
Referring to “The Word” in a biblical sense is a mystery to Earthlings. We search our alphabet for symbols and references of connotations to the “Logos” because it is so difficult to understand the term, the God-breathed WORD.
I just love word definitions and following their connotations through. So, when I looked up the term, “word,” the meaning of this verse invited me in for a deeper look.
The Word, translated, does not mean an English language noun. It does not mean that the Word existed only after Gutenberg’s first publishing of the Bible. It does not mean that God generated His impressions only to the left side of the human brain, which tends to control aspects of language and logic, or to the right side of the brain, which tends to handle spatial and visual comprehension.
The LOGOS, in its essential definition, means the Essential Point of Expression or Argument.[i] In this case, the biblical author, John, uses the Logos creatively by applying it to the greatest argument for the living God, as the incarnation of God, begotten Son, best human, fully lit up for all to see.
“Word” is actually an incredibly bad translation of logos.
The specific term, logos, in Greek philosophy, means “the central, defining principle or idea of an argument or philosophy.” In fact, it is the hub upon which all else within the system turns![ii] Logos is a term that would have been commonly known among the people to whom John, the disciple of Jesus, was writing.
So, “in the beginning,” as the beginning relates to Earth, our Father God and God the Son expressed what the Godhead wanted the world to know by:
1) personally mingling, walking, and talking with those created in His image,
2) lavishing on them a perfectly-created universe and the human form with perfectly working systems, expressions, and a will to act bodily, and
3) offering a unified form of necessary imagination and communication to people: the elegant and sword-like word of God full of history, math, law, natural science, prophecy, injunction, psychology, mercy, testimony, and justice. “Word” was the argument passed from generation to generation tucked inside image, song, drawing, story, human example, nature, and writings.
The Word then, in every other sense of creative expression, is everything else—all the bits and pieces—that God wants us to know about Himself. From the gifts of music which evoke rooted emotions without lyrics, to ever-changing projections of His hand-eye coordination in nature. From the heavens and the Earth, to the comical animals and the fierce, to the fragrant and shady foliage, in diverse human abilities made in His image and imagination, and in the continuing recreation of this world’s cycle of each day and night. The heavens declare the glory of God. His harvests provide food for hungry mouths, showing the Father’s care. In the expression of God’s law, ordinances, statutes, poetry, drama, and peace in a variety of testimonies, stories, and letters of love contained in the Bible that the oil flows. All of this is God’s intentional Word to us.
How safe are we as co-creators, as copycats of Christ, since He is the Head of the Church[iii], since He goes before us in every creative aspect and since He also sits as the preeminent Judge of all?[iv] When I discovered this truth, my insecurities about my desires to create, the process of creating and researching whatever I was creating, the editing of what I’d created and the length of time it took to express myself properly, the space taken up in my room, the messes, I stopped apologizing. Instead, I focused on how to make everything I do, write, eat, drink, sing, love, or serve is to glorify God.[v] Artists are not necessarily lazy. We live amidst the tensions of the unknown, distractions of creating, sin, and glory.
I often interrupt a creative process to answer the phone or doorbell, to do something more pragmatic, more pressing, more fun, or more financially necessary. I have turned off my music when a friend or family member joins me in my own car. I am a conflicted soul. Aren’t most maker types this way? Some are more defiant in protecting their creative interests. But if someone asks me, “Whatcha doin’?” I’ve been known to say, “Oh, nothing. What are you doing?” as a means of deflecting attention away from me having to explain my art, my source of reflection, my songwriting, or my poetic process. What about the priority that God Himself puts on making things and creativity in the beginning?
FIRST ISN’T EVERYTHING, BUT FIRST IS PARAMOUNT
In the beginning, God revealed Himself by creating. Apparently, this was His heart’s desire. To create things, to be creative! The Father and Holy Spirit did this with the best form of persuasion.
I see that pattern of firsts because the phrase, “In the beginning”[i] is combined with, “God created” meaning His first entrepreneurial acts.[ii] These phrases are found in the first book of the Bible. First, first, first. The first book of the Holy Bible. First in our time (beginning), and first in God’s activity on our behalf (He is First). God’s Word was effectively creating (wording, speaking, breathing, expressing) light into the cosmos, going forth from the corporate office of the Godhead. God’s creativity skillfully set the stage for your personal salvation.
You could argue that creating was first more of a necessity than a priority. But an author sets the rules of His created world, and in the case of Earth, God’s rationale was to create first, and the finest creativity was set into a pocket of belonging to Him. He is our Creative Hub. Knowing Him is the beginning of learning His secrets.
The Father and Holy Spirit did this with the best form of persuasion. By offering His creative subjects a place and a time, growth and purpose, and a genetic footprint and bloodline, God gave every living thing a place to belong. God’s creative joy mingled with the first humans, almost as though a writer had entered into his own plot becoming a character in his story.
In the beginning, there was, and is, The Being. There was, and still is, The Being’s energetic self-expression. Creating. Persuading. Through His artistic activity in nature, through many varied forms of communication, the revealed Logos welcomed human beings. He expressed Himself as their place of belonging. He offered this belonging to anyone in the world, for God so loved the world.[iii]
SO WHERE DO WE FIT? ARE WE IMPORTANT?
In one extraordinary move, God said, “Let’s make someone like us.”[iv]
He differentiated this living human being from his high ministering angels, from the low minerals of Earth, from all the flora and fauna, from breathing-yapping emotional animals procreating after their own kind, and from the asexual sun, moon, singing stars, and orbiting planets, by anointing the first man and woman with a measure of His own creativity. “I want family!” God declared.
Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus calls us brothers and children. He is the One Who set us apart, and the ones set apart are of the same family. With a breath of His inspiration, humanity received layers of First Adam gifts: inspiration, imagination, the ability to love, to learn in complexity. “Belonging” was defined as an ability to know Him personally, to be with the One who knows all things, to walk, work, and play in His gifts. Then, Christ died to redeem us from sin’s domain.
Creativity came prior to salvation, to evangelism, to preaching, and teaching.
The Son, Jesus, was God’s creative power expressing His heart for a story and a place of belonging for all life. If you study it, the gift of creation, sin, and plan of salvation makes little sense to us. When this plan is fulfilled, it proves God’s creative excellence.
In the beginning, the incomprehensible Being expressed His attributes and benefits to us via the incredible architecture of His ongoing universe. With particularly, He measured and engineered systems so that this world became a place of belonging for us.
Without God’s wisdom in creation, nothing exists. Yet, creativity is ongoing.
When we work along with God’s inspiration, He offers us authority for this world and into the next. We’ve inherited enough of His legacy, enough purposeful cunning, and His Holy Spirit to help us understand and implement aspects of the Logos together.
When we express our own innovation with God’s blessing, we can differentiate a new species, discover a new form of things. New combinations of ideas and skills rise to divine inuendoes under His guidance. We join with Him for contemporary or future purposes.
Focused, thinking analytically, we can understand and implement science and physics well, write new books, design new designs, find new markets. We express more joy, broader peace, deeper concern, a purity, a true meekness, and wondrous self-confidence by accepting God’s mysteries. Let’s look for His ironical purposes, shall we?
Here’s one. Seek to become a more righteous character from day-to-day.
Here’s another. Exemplify sheer delight by writing around the secrets as you explore them yourself.
Here’s yet another! Write until intrigue infuses itself, beckoning you to spin off from the worn path, exploring the mysteries.
The Logos created the human mind to capture and direct paths of electricity, velocity, biological genes and viruses; to make engines, imagine wheels, design homes, plumbing, a space shuttle. In other words, God gave us each a measure of His own creative intelligence.
Throughout the day, can you imagine bits of the Creator’s glory breaking off like bread crumbs, dropping a trail of joy in our processes, leading us on to the big Shivoo? Joy is the present assurance of the glory to come.
However, The Lord’s own particular glory is reserved for Himself. We can only sense hints of this glory in the feats of God’s miracles.
God often communicates through natural wonders to which adults become accustomed. It is the child who asks, “Why, how, who, and what?” Adults try to analyze wonders away scientifically as if these explanations substitute for the deeper truth that God designed physics. At some point, many a child will cease to wonder and accept others’ limited explanations about nature’s wonders. Yet, some adults continue to experience these wonders in human awe.
When the father of the prophet, Sampson, was first visited by the Angel of the Lord, the father asked, “What is your name?” The angel said His name was beyond understanding, secret and wonderful. Then, while the parents were offering a sacrifice, the angel ascended in the smoke of the fire (Judges 13:17-20). Recognizing that only the Angel of the Lord could rise into the air with the smoke and disappear, the parents fell on their faces, freaked out. Wouldn’t you be? The Lord’s mysterious events on Earth are wonders to us because they come from the Wonderful One and from a different heaven, say, a different dimension.
Magic removes the Wonderful One from the equation by mimicking the wonder with a sleight of hand. Cutting these cords between the wonder and the Giver may feel fanciful, but the illusion is empty, leading to dead ends.
It was only when Adam and Eve broke confidence with their Creator[v] that the wonder of God’s Spirit separated from them. This is because God is Holy and cannot mingle with sin.[vi]
In love and goodness, the Lord devised another means of expression through connective blood and tissue in His covenant with us.
What is your next “Must Read?” Click here to take a fun quiz!
By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
I’ve been wearing the same perfume for over 30 years.
Every once in a while, I briefly try something new, but so far I’ve always reverted back to the familiar. The scent seems to fit me. It leaves its mark, but yet isn’t overpowering. It’s a soft blend of earthly tones that I think compliments me.
Influence is like a fragrance. It lingers. The scent is a reminder of something spoken or shared.
I’m not an “I am woman, hear me roar…” kind of gal. I prefer to live my life with grace and beauty – gently walking and touching the lives of others with more of a purr than a roar.
The Bible encourages women in 1 Peter 3:4 to cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. In living for Christ, I want to leave my mark, footprints that show me walking beside someone else in his or her journey. I don’t want to go a single day without influencing someone for Jesus.
I pray this prayer, “I will follow You with a pure heart. Show me the people you want me to impact with biblical principles, a listening ear, and encouragement for the journey of life.”
Every woman’s fragrance is different – even if the perfume is the same, once mixed with an individual’s body chemistry the scent changes.
Some fragrances are subtle, others a little more pronounced. The same is true of the inner beauty referred to in 1 Peter 3:4. Gentleness and graciousness look different on different women.
May our fragrance linger and be a reminder of God’s amazing love and grace – as a “quiet influence”.
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Large. Impossible. Taunting me with its arrogant presence—that thing I had to overcome. A project I’d been putting off, putting off, trying so hard to avoid.
The beastly thing had a large tag attached that hollered, “DEADLINE”.
My project had become an ugly frog.
I had to eat it right away.
It has been said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing it’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you all day.
Eating the frog: this is a metaphor for tackling the most challenging task of the day — the one you are most likely to put off, but usually the one that might have the greatest positive impact on your progress.
Eat the ugly frog first. Down the hatch. Be a brave soldier, staring down that deadline, that cleaning project, whatever it is—and go for it. Just pinch your nose, grab that wiggly critter, and swallow it whole. After this, you can move on to the other frogs, the smaller ones that aren’t quite so daunting.
I know you think I’m talking about actual frogs here, but really, I’m talking about time management and doing the hard thing first; it’s just more playful to use the frog analogy.
Do I ever remember meals as a child! Remember yours? Many of them had frogs on the plate. I had to learn to eat the frogs first before the rest of my meal could be enjoyed.
Eating the frog means to ‘just do it, otherwise, the frog will eat you,’ meaning that you’ll end up procrastinating the whole day. Once that one task is done, the rest of the day feels like a freebie. Besides, you will feel proud of your accomplishment.
As Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
At the end of each day, whether you’re at the office or at home, make a list of all the things you need to do the next day. Then, select your most important task (the ugliest frog). Clear the workspace around it so you have this one thing, sort of a big warty frog, sitting on your desk.
It will be waiting for you in the morning.
Staring you in the face, you realize Twain was correct. Either it eats you or you eat it.
Do this every day until it becomes a habit. In due time you will find you are more productive through the entire day, having spent the early surge of your energy eating the wartiest frog.
If absolutely necessary, make Frog Jell-O. This is the art of mixing in enough humor, coffee, and perspective to make the frog taste better.
When a co-worker or family member offers you a donut or a sweet roll, tell them you’ve already had the breakfast of champions. Haven’t you, though? Then politely excuse yourself and go on to the next item, um—frog, on your list.
The book launch is this week for the children’s picture book,
Will You Hold My Story?
Tired of carrying her heavy story all by herself, Meggie Beth finds a step upon which to sit.
As she rests, the street carries a variety of people to her, all of them lost in their own thoughts. Everyone seems too laden with his or her own stories to stop and hear hers.
When a lovely, lonely dog becomes friendly with little Meggie Beth, we are reminded that youngsters need pets, and that pets are excellent listening buddies.
After the work is accepted, then edited and published, any author can tell you that it is a great reward for a new book to be accompanied by early endorsements and reviews.
The first is by a second grade teacher who says, “Richly celebrating the trait of perseverance in finding the support of other people, or a gentle dog, as the case may be.”–T. Palmer, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
The second was a genuine surprise to me, coming from one of Christendom’s best widow bloggers who pitched it to her fans on social media and alerted me that she believes the story is “Wonderful and meaningful for all ages.”Laura Warfel, More Than a Widow blogger
The third is from a fellow author, Charmayne Hafen, a writer of children’s books (middle age) who wrote one of my first Amazon reviews. She said,
“This is a wonderful story about what it means to ‘hold another person’s story.’ As a group counselor and former play therapist with an M.A. in Counseling, I would highly recommend this book to parents and child therapists, especially in working with grief and loss. What a wonderful way to encourage a child to share their difficult story.”
If you have to eat a few frogs, I hope you have a few wonders waiting in the wings for doing your best and doing well.
There is a whisper, an idea; it stems from the spiritual depth of a being.
It is a voice yearning to be expressed.
For as long as I can remember, storytelling has been a part of me. When I was no more than four-years-old, I would draw pictures that had very detailed storylines.
“Come hewoo, Mommy,” I’d say. “Look at my pictoow. Look at what’s happening!”
Mommy would come, pencil in hand, ready to patiently dictate the story she knew I was about to tell her.
“The smoke is puffing up. The lightening is flashing. A tornado came up and make the smoke even higher. A flash of lightening filled the sky. The little girl was in her playhouse. She was frightened. Then she benembold [remembered] that Jesus was taking care of her. She knew that Jesus was by her even though she could not see Him. Then the storm went away because Jesus, said, ‘Quiet down storm, the little girl is frightened.’ So the storm quieted down and so the little girl smiled. The little girl’s name was Jenny.”
My head was full of words and stories that couldn’t seem to be contained, whether that release came by means of paper and pencil, or through playing pretend.
I certainly wasn’t the only creative in our house.
Some form of cross-stitch would usually be lying within reach of my mom’s hand. Sometimes she’d get out her autoharp and sing. She taught us to sing and harmonize with her.
My dad would often be working on some craft or other. Sometimes it was a piece of wood or leather that he chiseled and worked designs into. Sometimes it was beadwork or jewelry that took shape under his artisan hands. My favorite times were when he’d get out his banjo or guitar and play away in answer to some melody that danced through his heart and flowed out through his spirit by means of the notes played upon strings.
I loved those times of singing or listening to the music, loved how my soul seemed to soar and connect in joy with God.
As I grew older, my love for both music and writing grew. I learned how to play the guitar so I could sing and enjoy its sound anytime I wanted.
I wrote because, I couldn’t keep from doing so.
A universe waiting to be explored but lacking a vehicle to take me there
Until my fingers picked up the pen and unlocked my unspoken soul
I was known, throughout my school days, as the quiet one. Parent-teacher conferences would generally include some version of, “Jenny is a great student, but I just wish she would speak up more in class.”
At some point, I realized that I didn’t want to speak up unless I knew exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. Socially, I was the same way. My mind would play out a million options for the conversation and analyze each possibility, along with the potential outcomes. By the time it settled on one it deemed “safe,” the real conversation had already moved on.
Everything was different when I was alone and could pick up a beautiful, blank sheet of paper. My fingers would reach down, pick up the pen, and say for me on paper what I could never seem to say in person. Thoughts that were too numerous and too complicated to understand suddenly came pouring out through my fingers. Things that didn’t make sense in my brain suddenly made sense on paper. My spirit was given full, unhindered access as it raced through the pen and revealed itself in visible words.
In these moments, I was free.
My thoughts were known.
My spirit was given a voice.
I have believed in and followed God since I was very young – at least 5-years-old, if not younger, if my early stories are any indication. As I grew, I did the things good Christians are told to do: I prayed and read my Bible regularly. While those practices are good and they helped me grow in my relationship with and knowledge of God, it was those moments of immersing myself in music or writing that made me feel the most connected to Him.
As Laura Bartnick writes in her book, Welcome to the Shivoo,
In the beginning, God revealed Himself by creating. Apparently, this was His heart’s desire.
When I create, when we create from a Heart that loved us, we connect to this Heart in a strong, almost tangible way, as two beings whose camaraderie is strengthened by partaking in the joy of creation. We call this creativity, this similar activity. And, God’s Word says He created humanity in His own image. We are creatives because He is the Creative.
Like all other creatives, this is where my journey as a creative began. In the beginning, created in the image of God.
Little did I know where or how God would use my gifts in the future.
Have you been the recipient of grace lately? It’s a swoosh of comfort; a balm of healing; an ointment of relief.
Have you been the giver of grace lately? It’s a nod of affirmation that needs no words; a squeeze of the arm, a spark of warmth in the eyes.
Some of my work includes greeting the public. We are Human Services, so there’s a steady of stream of humans in need of services including family help, parenting classes, addiction referrals, mental health providers and housing.
As a Christian, I am called to serve others with the love of Christ.
As a Christian in a government-run organization, I am restricted in the earthbound realm. Even so, I am wholly free to share His grace in surprisingly easy ways: by showing kindness on the phone, by listening carefully to the client who is confused and distraught, by spilling a bit of laughter into a tense moment.
Grace is tangible; you can feel it rush to the place of pain.
Maybe you’ve heard the story of the small boy who learned that his neighbor was grieving the loss of his wife. The boy asked his mom if he could go next-door and see the man.
When he returned home, the boy’s mom asked what he said to comfort the sad neighbor.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I just sat in his lap and helped him cry.”
Grace is light and airy, but oh! It is profoundly powerful, rippling into a needy world.
Infusing it with hope.
Last year, in preparation to lead a women’s conference, I wrote a poetic essay about the activity of grace. I hope you like it; I hope you recognize the winsome contrast of grace to the stuff we often experience in the day-to-day.
The world is a fist. Grace is an open hand.
The world loves a snappy comeback. Grace loves a kind word.
The world runs from pain. Grace runs toward the hurt.
The world thunders, “Me first!” Grace whispers, “You first.
The world upends. Grace mends.
The world abandons. Grace abides.
The world quits. Grace perseveres.
The world shrugs. Grace hugs.
The world mocks. Grace grieves. Grace re-frames everything.
If you like the idea of grace, giving and accepting it, you might like this children’s book, Will You Hold My Story?
Today, a writer I greatly respect—who is herself a widow—recommended and endorsed Will You Hold My Story for widows. It was such an encouraging surprise for Laura Warfel to publicize this little story. Her act is an act of grace towards me and also towards her followers who seek steps ladders.
In the workplace, in church, at home — wherever your day takes you, Grace is a currency we can all exchange with goodwill and generosity. We can trust the quiet, capable, dynamic activity of grace to heal and heighten and bolster up.
About the Author:
Kathy Joy enjoyed being a popular Christian radio DJ in Colorado for many years. When her husband wanted to move to Pennsylvania to live on a 65-acre farm, Kathy accompanied him with their two young daughters. Four years later, Kathy Joy found herself a widow raising two teenagers. To stave off despair, she began writing three everyday celebrations in a journal. Friends on Facebook began prompting her to write a book, and so the beginning of the Breath of Joy series began. Kathy now works in human services, speaking wonder on the weekends to grief therapy groups, motivational corporate meetings, and women’s retreats. Some of her topics include Vision Board workshops, Being a Harbor Pilot, Mirroring the Savior, The Fifth Season, and Bless Your Socks Off..
He felt himself falling, the golden ground beneath his feet becoming as quicksand, swallowing him.
Vitality draining, he imagined fainting would do such a thing. Darkness enveloping, his form growing long and thin and weightless. He gulped.
The strain of taking a single breath, to breathe, crushed his chest, his magnificent breastbone.
His screech, like spewed salt, swept from him involuntarily and swathed the prisms of light with sputum. To some watching, the scream appeared as a passing fog of crystals, a sound taking shape as glints of broken glass propelled, lifting, and disbursed to the outer atmosphere.
Robes flew above him; they were gone with the star in his crown wrapped in their glorious folds. He lashed wildly, out to the darkness for help. He grabbed at the star, brushing at the tail of the robe, to no avail and kept falling.
One boast, voiced?
He felt the arms slip around his body, breaking his fall. Flashes of glittering diamonds, swirling beryl, erupted from the onyx atmosphere to applaud this feat. Fires from the hearth of his heavenly station comforted the writhing spirit in arms, but fire is not a living being in that way. The hearth of belonging could not know.
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn!”
One voice murmured the epitaph, yet voices, angelic in their choral waves echoed a harmonic reprise, “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn!” Wings swept over him. Softly, they touched him, brushed over him, and whooshed away without so much as a bow or an embrace. “Hurled! – Hurled!” They chanted. “Fallen – Fallen!”
His heart pounded. “I’m not dead! – Not extinguished!”
Jasper wings stretched across the expanse glowed like a sunset, the great sea of lapis lazuli and turquoise waves swirled and fluttered. Emerald and gold always blooming about him took flight as twines unraveled the bound gift, the seal of his prominence. He was dropping through these lights, these winged friends and servants. He had no thrust to keep up with the races of color evacuating his presence. Had he broken the seal? Was it possible?
A safe weight of powerful command, a throne of turquoise, a scepter of lapis gave him up as the ignoble traitor is dethroned, and toppled him over as he imagined a demolition of empires might feel. His royal placement, denoted by emerald and gold sparkles of his hands and feet, strident ribbons circling his steps and footprints, dissipated as the arms held him in projection, on course.
“Where are we going?” he murmured as the swirling rainbows lifted from around his presence like a ring lifts from a finger. “Am I still falling?”
“You are. This is the third heaven we are leaving now.” The arm held him close to a thunder of pulse.
A droplet, then another droplet, and more wet his face. He was too angry to weep, rage was all he felt, but the tears kept covering his face as he cried out his angst in rage.
What he had said in his heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High,” was not voiced! It was a mere passing thought! His lips had never formed the words! Yes, but their memory was seared now, a branded thought, even a dark scar as old as a healed wound, the memory of which lifted itself as a new seal, a new reward. And, the words gutted him instantly for his feet had no springboard to ascend above the clouds at all. How far-flung was his own energy with the dissipation of color and ribbons of light?
In a seize of panic, a thought crossed his consciousness, has my authority fled me? And, how can I escape these arms?
Into a velvet robe of sea, the duo fell through darkness, wailing wings screamed eerily and choirs filled their senses with tragedy. “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were the anointed cherub who covered us in delight and warmth, and I placed you there.” The accusation cracked and broke like a hurricane’s wave against a rocky cliff.
They emerged the black sea into prickles of light, each constellation a field, a layer of lights swimming by in silence and strange introduction to yet a new unknown heaven.
But didn’t I know these names in a previous life? The angel quizzed himself. A vague memory occurred to him. Didn’t I oversee the making of records and maps for these constellations and the paths of these planets? An speck, a growing orb of blue and white appeared in the sea of lights. Earth. They were approaching earth.
“You coveted authority and freedom, more than you were designed for. You were not pleased with your appointed rule over our home and our servants. ‘I will make myself like the Most High,’ you said.” The fallen angel felt his face splashing with tears again and turned his head to view the approaching planet. “So, we have decided. You shall practice all that is in your glorious heart in one place of your own. Let’s see what you can do here, Lucifer.” Hints of wrath mixed all through the tearing lament like a soliloquy of fact and judgment, but was it so bad?
After all, they had given him the beautiful one. The arms carried him through the atmosphere of fissured clouds in the dawn, like a fissured tongue, the new atmosphere lapped at his body, tasting him. Where would they rest?
They were no longer falling but searching.
A sun rose over flat landscapes of sandy pink where a small finger lake with glints of turquoise and swaths of lapis came into view.
Swooping over red outcroppings, the arms carried him quickly between canyon walls. Turning into a narrow arm of a cavern, the arms gently deposited him onto a small soft beach of yellow earth and peach streaks. Hovering over the nearby waterway, the spirit rested and glowered over his sore gift to the earth, watching for signs of the angel’s survival. Never before had an angel fallen so quickly or such a distance.
A rising sun was not yet visible overhead, but a certain light from it blued the sky and emanated into space.
A deep joy welled up in the soul of Lucifer. His own jurisdiction to rule? Earth, of all places?
He closed his eyes with relief and happiness. When he opened them, a study of his surroundings filled his heart with the long-forgotten awe and gratitude he’d felt in his youth. At first glance into the calm liquid, his vision cast through the elements so clear that he could see the bottom of the deep ravine at the other side.
The spirit touched the liquid and poured a palmful of it over Lucifer’s bare body, letting the experience of earth’s liquid seep into his skin. A fine, feint lap-lapping sound spirit fingers flipped and flickered through the liquid. Over the palm of his hand, the spirit felt the temperate chill, and he squeezed its deliciousness into his fist, and splashed again in the liquid for another fistful, spraying it on the face of the naked angel lying nearby.
Up, his eyelids fluttered, the angel’s gaze searched the cavern walls. A precipice on either side leaning this way and opening gracefully that way, coming together at the back end of the cavern, like a cradle, like a nesting place for angels and birds. Then down to the water’s edge, the angel looked. His guts clutched breathless inside him with the wonder of the mirrored image. A gasp of earth’s air filled his lungs, and he began singing an intelligible sound at the ephemeral mirror.
Leaning face forward, he searched. Where did the orange and purple shadows in these depths meet the true walls rising above the watery horizon? Was he seeing the image correctly? Was it possible, being able to view through the clarity of hydrogen atoms and oxygen to the acres of feet below, cavern baileys covered by the incredibly sweet liquid? But he must be inside the castle.
He moved to kneel, intending to rise and walk, explore all that was in his heart. Momentarily, and more, called his superior imagination, but his thighs would not obey the instructions being sent below by his mind.
He tried again, then again, contracting ligaments, tendons, muscles. He noticed a ripple under his skin, yet not enough to move his numb leg. A heavy arm and bicep attempted to move towards his leg to wake it from its slumber, to move his ankle, massage out the numbness. These efforts caused him to sweat with heat of his heavenly made now forced energy on earth. Though, the morning cavern remained crisp, chilled.
“What have you done to me?!” Lucifer roared, heaving and grunting to move any limb toward the water. He turned his attention to the spirit being whose presence was slipping away even as Lucifer’s rage attempted a grasping reach onto the ghostly arms.
“You have what you wanted in your heart of hearts,” said the ghost. “You have a complete rule over of yourself on earth. We have given you a whole world to rule. Ruling your own body will come first, of course. You will need to learn how an angel’s body works here to manage it, to control it, to master it, and to allow it to take you wherever you want to go. But, yes, there are miles of continents to explore here, seas, rivers. And, did I mention time? Lucifer, our gifted, most beautiful angel, you will have so much time on your hands to do whatever you long for.”
“What is time?”
The voice of the spirit, at first enunciating, began to dim in expression and volume. “You will discover time shortly. It will be a blessing and a curse. Things will become sequential, so that what you do at first will influence all that comes after. Be careful, then to choose, wisely, Lucifer.” The spirit looked with such lament into the heart of his old chief, that it should have shaken the angel to the core.
“What did you say?” Lucifer’s heart began to pound. Blood began to pump from his core into his limbs, and the pain he felt there astounded him so that he toppled onto his side shuddering.
“There will come an end to time, by the way,” announced the spirit as he was drifting far above the cavern. “At the end, when your test is finished, by then, we will all know the length, depth, the breath of your spirit’s yearnings. At the end of this test, your reward will come, Lucifer, so be brave and be smart about everything that has been given you before time and also in this new realm which we have lent to you.”
Lucifer, feeling a point like a spear jutting into his spine, rolled forward away from the pain, and managed to roll over his face and onto his other side where he could clearly view the rounded sandstone that had brought the discomfort.
Then, a pain as he had never experienced painted his being in tongues of fire. He was a cord of electric current leaping in dagger stabs. If only he could get to the water’s edge, he thought as he passed out.
Lucifer awakened in the lapping chill of the beach. The destitution of his situation kept him in agony. He hadn’t realized that the loss of the spirit’s presence would matter much. Hadn’t he hoped to reach over the spirit, to push him away – far beneath himself? It had only been a moment, but yes, this desire is exactly what he had imaged the gulf between himself and the Most High might become.
Here was the irony of his punishment.
Now that the arms had released him, the presence of the Most High evaporated from the canyon, from the clouds, from the earth, and all that mattered was from Lucifer himself, with a pain of a thousand pins stabbing his skin, pricking his worldly body.
He looked down at his form and noticed that it was his own scaly skin that had developed sharp nodes of protection from the frigged water pooling over his body, a waterway still and long forgotten inside the brilliantly colored sandstone close, yet he must consider the sharp rays of sun settling against the crevice between the crested heights of canyon walls which threatened to fry him in the same hour.
How could he do anything with the sharp nodes piercing his body? He must learn to flatten out his shields of protection into a manageable skin, one that would not poke him conversely on the inside. Lucifer screamed and rolled in the berth of the soft beach until all of the pricking nodes of angel heat lay down flat as glass against his body. A defense, yes, but the last thing needed in this lonesome age was his own skin piercing him forever. Now, that new glass scales were formed, he began to feel a hope of protection against the loss of the presence. The presence of the spirit had always protected him, as though he needed protection in the sixth heaven, but he hadn’t experience the definition of protection until he found himself alive in an unknown bay of shadows and liquid.
Comfort, all comfort lost, and only beauty remaining, Lucifer finally allowed himself to cry. Tears dropped, a shaking began, and then a wail. “Where are you? Where, where have you gone? Why? Why did you leave me? Wh-wh-why am I here?”
Lucifer shuddered uncontrollably with the pain of his reward.
With each wail, each demand, the profane screeches of his voice echoed back over his head into Lucifer’s ears. A pair of owls, wingspan of six feet each, hooed in a crevice above for their confusion and his. The violence of his situation rolled over an acid spirit, acid from the alienation, burning with humiliating isolation from the one spirit who had carefully created and shaped him, given him his starry life and bestowed over him all that he had found relationally merry and good, he wailed. Angelic tears flowed into the cold bay of Lucifer’s strange new home.
Exhausted, Lucifer noticed a silver crown only a short reach away. “How kind of the Most High.” After he said this, his lower lip jutted out, his thoughts moved quickly thinking it over. Why leave it?
A scaly claw reached out and clutched a stone to pull himself out of the cold bay toward the shapely symbol of his old appointment and new. The crown was his. When he reached it, he turned it over and around. The star had fallen out. It would take some trained strength to place it back upon his head, star or no star, but it was an aim so tangible, so earned, that the prince hardened his heart to the discipline of capturing his headpiece again, no matter what the price.
Two years ago I walked the streets of Oxford with my wife. We were in London for a few days during the final throes of Spring and took the train to the famously literary town to visit, among other things, the former home of C.S. Lewis.
It’s a two-story brick house called the Kilns, in what used to be the outskirts of Oxford and is now buffeted by subdivisions. Fifty or sixty years ago Lewis sat upstairs at the Kilns and wrote, or he strolled around the pond behind the house smoking his pipe; now college students live in the house and the pond is littered with old tires and oil bottles.
Not far from his house is a picturesque Anglican church building made of hewn stone and tucked in a quiet hollow of Oxford. We walked through the old empty building where Lewis and his brother used to sit through the homily until five minutes before the end of the service, at which time they would sneak out the back door to beat the lunch rush at the pub down the street.
Behind the church is the cemetery where Lewis is buried. My wife and I stood at his grave feeling the peace of the place: the long-haired cows tearing grass from the hill visible through leafy bowers, the sun pushing through gray English skies as soft and easy as a yawn, the green of new grass well-kept. As hokey as it sounds, I felt like we were in the Shire, and I suppose that in a way that’s exactly where we were.
The tour ended at the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings often met for beer, friendship, and the sharing of their latest writings. I dragged my wife inside and promptly ordered fish and chips at the table where Tolkien, Lewis, his brother Warren, Charles Williams, and others once enjoyed one another’s company. I felt bashful and self-conscious about going so far out of my way (with my patient wife in tow) to visit these places. What did I expect to find there? I’m not sure what’s so fascinating to me about these men and their works, their approach to creativity and their understanding of the source of it all. Their brilliance was remarkable; they were Christians, intellectuals, and yet childlike enough to love stories and seek fellowship in their making.
London itself was a wellspring of inspiration for me. We strolled through Kensington Gardens where Peter Pan was born, ate still more fish and chips in pubs that had welcomed travelers for four hundred years, I thought about Robin Hood, George MacDonald, Harry Potter, King Arthur, and Shakespeare. And of course, I thought about the gospel. History breathes in London, seeps through the cobbles and like mist it rises from the Thames. It’s easy to see why so many beloved stories have sprung from England’s imagination.
History swept me up when I walked beneath the portcullis of the Tower of London, when I took communion in Westminster Abbey among the tombs of long-dead kings. The blood and body of Christ, shed for you, peasants and kings, pagans and priests. The feast at the table is good and gives life, and is your only hope for meaning and peace and rest from the baying of the hounds at your heels, because Death and Sin and Hatred pursue you and would swallow you up if not for the strong voice of Jesus saying “Peace. Be still.” And at his word the dogs snap back into the darkness with a yelp as if reaching the limit of their chains. History belittles us. Its story is one of conquest and murder and vast darkness, and the noblest of men ends up as dead as the thief. I realized as I walked through the hall of kings in the Abbey that my time here is brief and my earthly crowns are worthless as chaff; the words of my epitaph will ring hollow lest they point to the fullness of Christ.
Which brings me back to Oxford. Ron, our tour guide, told us that he once asked a hundred people on the streets of Oxford who C.S. Lewis was and none could tell him. None. A few wrinkled their eyebrows and asked if he was “that Alice in Wonderland” guy. He told us that when he started giving the tours of Lewis’s time at Oxford, his tomb was overgrown and covered with mildew, its words barely legible. But for a relative handful of people (most of them Americans) who know about Aslan and the Deep Magic and the High Countries, the world knows little about Lewis and lauds him not. But the marks this man’s stories left on my soul–the gospel in his stories–are deep and lasting and I believe I’ll one day show them to him.
I believe strongly in the value of the artists in this world. I believe that when someone who was made to strive to create beauty in the world is, as Brennan Manning said, “ambushed by Jesus,” the art that results bears a God-given power that draws men to Christ. I have encountered that power in the sub-creations of Christ-followers countless times. (I’ve also encountered it in the works of those who haven’t yet succumbed to the source of their gifting.) Those works of art have helped me to better understand the Bible and its author, they have given me the tools with which to worship, to serve, to revel in the greatness of the Maker.
Those works of art are the fruit of obedience to the artist’s calling. The burden God places on each of us is to become who we are meant to be. We are most fully ourselves when Christ most fully lives in us and through us; the mother shines brightest with her child in her arms, the father when he forgives his wandering son, and the artist when he or she is drawing attention to grace by showing the pinprick of light overcoming the darkness in the painting or the story or the song.
The world knows darkness. Christ came into the world to show us light. I have seen it, have been blinded by it, invaded by it, and I will tell its story. I cannot help but see that story everywhere I look. I see it when I am full of joy and weightless as a cloud, and I see it when grief and self-loathing root me to the cold earth; it is remembering the story, Christ whispering it in my ear, that kills the despair, sets me gently on the donkey, and takes me to an inn to recover from the wounds. How can I keep myself from singing?
The Rabbit Room is a place for stories. For artists who believe in the power of old tales, tales as old as the earth itself, who find hope in them and beauty in the shadows and in the light and in the source of the light.
After my fish and chips in the back room of the Eagle and Child, I noticed a paper sign attached to the gable. On it was written the name of the little room where the Inklings met: the Rabbit Room. I don’t know why it was called that. There was no explanation to be found. But the name struck me, stuck with me, and grew into this website. Here you’ll find writings and reviews by artists and appreciators of art, conversations about creation, storytelling, songwriting, and the long journey of becoming who we’re meant to be.
I also wanted to provide a place where you could support some of these artists and writers by purchasing from the Rabbit Room store (as opposed to some gargantuan bookseller). Sure, you may find the book or CD cheaper elsewhere, but here you’ll help sustain the ministry of some of these artists and writers, and you’ll be supporting this place where I hope you’ll come for support and sustenance of your own. The books and CDs for sale in the store each tell the old, old story in their way, and I believe that they have the potential to be a balm for you in your long journey.
So pull up a chair and join us. The fish and chips are fattening, but so, so good. You can find the Rabbit Room community blog on Facebook here. Join us if you are of like mind and heart.
The Warren, Nashville
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.
” Just like numbers have significance in Scripture, so do colors.”
Primary Colors and Biblical Meanings
In nature, there are three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue. These cannot be formed by mixing any other colors. These colors come from Earth itself.
In the Bible, the Hebrew word for red actually means red clay. It is the root word for mankind. The second primary color is yellow. Yellow is associated with fire and the purification process. Blue is the third primary color. It spiritually signifies the healing power of God.
Secondary Colors and Biblical Meanings
Green is obtained by mixing yellow (trials) with blue (Word of God). Therefore, the biblical meaning of the color green is growth. The idea of immortality even through the heat of the sun and the fire of trials is embodied because of the root of the word (The leaf shall not wither – Psalm 1:3). Green is also symbolic of resurrection, though we are dead, yet we shall live.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” – John 11:25
Purple is obtained by mixing red (flesh) and blue (word of God). The resultant color is purple meaning in the Bible royalty or priesthood. Orange is obtained by mixing red (flesh) and yellow (trials) and means deliverance. Learn more about the meaning of colors in Jacob Olesen’s article, https://www.color-meanings.com/biblical-meaning
My great-nephew, who is in first grade, recently gave me a lesson on the differences between primary and secondary colors. While he was sharing his teacher’s thoughts, I began to think about the words primary and secondary and how they relate to my spiritual life.
When I first arrived in South Africa, I was a primary color. I was in the forefront blazing trails with others following behind. It came with the job of pioneering a ministry. As Strong Cross Ministries developed, I became a secondary color. Others came alongside and unique colors and hues were created.
Both primary and secondary colors are beautiful in their own right. God created these colors and in the colors of a rainbow, we see them blended in splendor and excellence by Him. I prefer the obscure and divinely different colors that appear when God works with nature and people and when people work together combining their efforts for the Kingdom of God.
Every author at Capture Books has a unique voice. God has called each of us to write with uniquely colorful purposes. Together, I think we make a fabulous publishing group, leading in primary ways, and helping each other succeed.
An experienced blogger and writer is about to have her first children’s title published by Capture Books. In an instant, she will graduate from being a fine blogger to being an amazing author! She will be holding her dream in her hands. I understand the emotion when the rainbow of promise becomes reality. Her picture book is full of the colors of the Navajo Nation, skillfully depicted by a watercolor artist, Indra Grace Hunter. The story itself shines in my mind as ethereal and green for the resurrection. You shouldn’t miss this wonderful story. Be on the lookout for the picture book, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Good-bye by Jenny Fulton.
We are living in unusual times. Whether our writing in this season is depicted in the nature of a primary color, secondary color, or a unique indescribable shade, use your colors for strength and joy in our Creative God. You know what? Colors may feel blurred. We need to remind ourselves that the God who created color has purpose and clarity.
Tonya is the co-founder/director of Strong Cross Ministries (SCM).
She and her husband currently reside in South Africa, where they assist local leaders in helping their communities. She is also an author of two novels and the co-author of a resource book for women in Christian leadership. Tonya is a national and international speaker. She is especially passionate about helping women grow in Christ.
Our mailing address is: Tonya Jewel Blessing 2270 Jolly Oak Rd, Suite 2 Okemos, MI 48864
Celebrating Release day today for The Zealots by G.K. Johson!
Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time
Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time he had awakened without the heavy weight pressing down on him. He carried it like a bag of stones, dragging the weight through the streets, onto his fishing vessel, to the market, and back home every day.
The afternoon and evening hours, free of distractions and when he most needed sleep, were the worst. He could feel the pressure on his chest, crushing the life out of him, and bruising his heart and ribs. If it were a real sack of rocks, the bag would have been torn open by now and the stones inside strewn in his wake. But it wasn’t real and tangible, it only felt so, and he couldn’t shake the burden as much as he wished he could.
Shim’on lay in bed wishing he didn’t have to get up and go to the lake. In fact, he wished he hadn’t woken up at all. Yes, that’s exactly how he felt. He glanced over at his immah, who made the evening meal quietly attuned to her sons’ much-needed sleep. Shim’on watched immah’s movements. Maybe she wanted to keep her thoughts to herself.
He could never tell her his thoughts
The vision haunted him. Watching the Romans kill his abba happened over and over.
He knew the darkness inside him would scare her, and she was already scared enough. He knew abba’s Miriam needed him now, but she seemed to be grieving alone. Grief absorbed her not only because of the loss of her husband but also because of the depression and silence of her eldest son.
Shim’on sighed, the weight heavier than ever on his chest.
Looking back on that night, he cursed his cowardice. With his dagger, he could have at least tried to save his abba. Now Yitzchak was gone, and Shim’on felt crippled by the guilt and anger he carried. He was letting his immah down. He was letting Hanoch down. Even Yitzchak must be disappointed if he could see him now.
When Shim’on returned to their home that first night without Yitzchak, Hanoch had pushed him furiously. Deep in grief, Shim’on realized his brother couldn’t understand why he’d gone to Bin-yamin and Yeshua rather than to his own brother. Shim’on tried to explain, but Hanoch refused to accept his answer. His brother remained angry and hurt since that day, an invisible wall rising between them. Shim’on couldn’t blame him.
Reluctantly now, Shim’on pushed himself up from his mat and put on his leather sandals. His day as a fisherman was just beginning.
He performed netilat yadayim, pouring the water over his hands using a clay basin and cup. He nudged Hanoch awake from where he slept on an adjacent mat and waited as his brother readied himself. The young men ate a hasty meal before leaving.
Closing the door behind them, they began their short walk to the shore. Months ago, Yitzchak, Shim’on, and Hanoch had chattered loudly and happily as they made their way to the sea. Back then, Miriam laughingly teased that they were like the Shabbat shofar, letting the neighborhood know that night was falling.
Since Yitzchak’s death, the walk between brothers was made in silence
Reaching the shore, Shim’on strode down to the water’s edge and knelt. He scooped handfuls of the cold water to wash his face and wake himself up. Meanwhile, Hanoch commenced unfurling the sails.
Shim’on climbed back up the shore and into the boat, smoothing his hand over the boat’s cedar planking. The vessel was twenty-three-feet long and seven-feet wide and required a crew of five men to operate. It contained room for twelve to thirteen passengers, though they seldom had any though, after Yitzchak’s death, Shim’on had hired another man for their crew.
With a flat bottom allowing it to be pulled ashore, the crew was able to unload a catch quickly and efficiently. He joined his brother and their hired men, Demas, Tertius, and Gaius, as they deftly prepared the nets and hoisted the sails to take them to the middle and deepest part of the lake.
“Ready?” Hanoch glanced towards Shim’on. He nodded.
Hanoch and Tertius jumped from the boat and pushed it back into the water, then pulled themselves over the railing.
The warm wind filled the sails and they moved from shore. Shim’on took a deep breath of fresh air and exhaled. This was truly the one place where the weight lay lightest on his shoulders. He still felt it of course, but the physical demands of fishing distracted him from the constant thoughts battling in his mind. Gusts caused the boat to dip while skipping over the choppy water kicked spray against his face. Light from the full moon above them glanced off the waves, surprisingly bright. His abba had loved it out here too, and Yitzchak always had a knack for knowing where the fish would be from day to day.
“Adonai told me to fish at the north end today boys,” he would say, or “Adonai is good, He sent me a dream that we will fill a net just off the shore.” His sons and the other fishermen had often teased Yitzchak about his heavenly directives but more often than not, Yitzchak was right, and they would bring in a good night’s catch.
Eight hours into the wet smell of the sea, wet ropes, and the dripping sweat of labor, Demas appeared right. They pulled in yet another net filled with musht, enough fish to finally necessitate returning to shore to sort and unload.
The anchor rope glistened as Hanoch and Shim’on pulled it hand over hand into the boat. The sky began to brighten with dawn’s soft hues. One of the men raised the sail to catch the wind at their backs.
Shim’on manned the tiller as he pointed the vessel back to shore. Twenty feet from the shoreline, Hanoch jumped over the side of the boat. The water came to his waist as he guided the boat in with a rope and secured it onshore. Other fishermen were unloading their catches as well, and Shim’on felt pleased to see that their own was one of the largest. A proud smell of his full net was the scent of dinner and a roof over their heads.
Wives, daughters, and young boys not yet old enough to be learning a trade awaited their men on the shore.
The men would sort the day’s catch onto carts, and donkeys would then pull their loads into town to be sold by the women at the market. Since they had been forced to give their donkey to the soldiers before Yitzchak’s death, a neighboring family shared the use of their donkey until Yitzchak, now Shim’on, could afford to buy one.
Miriam stepped forward from where she waited with the neighbor women and walked toward her sons as they jumped off the boat into the sandy gravel.
“Looks like a good catch last night?” She looked questioningly at Hanoch and Shim’on.
“A very good catch, Immah!” Hanoch grinned at her, “Perhaps good enough to have lamb tonight?” Shim’on could see the joy her youngest son’s teasing brought Miriam. “That could be possible,” she grinned, and sobered as she looked at her eldest.
She looked from one brother’s face to the other, “Yitzchak would be so proud of you both.” Her eyes became misty, “He always said you two were going to be better fishermen one day than he ever was.”
Shim’on felt her words briefly puncture the hard shell that surrounded his heart and he could see his abba’s smiling eyes and hear his deep voice. The memories flooded him with grief, and he felt tears spring to his eyes. Abba had no reason to be proud of him now. Ashamed, he ducked his head and gathered up a handful of nets.
“Come, Hanoch.” he said more harshly than he knew was fair, “There’s no time to talk. Your work’s not finished.”
Glancing at Immah’s face, he saw the pain that his dismissal of her kind words had caused, and he felt a wash of guilt.
Hanoch stood awkwardly on the shore between them. Shim’on knew his words cut him as well, a sharp departure from the laughter they had shared a short time before. The other fishermen onshore continued their work, though Shim’on could see that some of them noticed the scene escalate.
Despair gutted him. Angry and bitter, the hungry wolves encircled his soul. Dark thoughts returning, chest constricted, he could hardly breathe. Distracted, he paused in his work. Arching his back, he released his anguish to the dawn.
Despite the beautiful pink and purple streaked sky shouting to make way for the day, darkness hung over Shim’on. Thoughts threaded their way deeper and deeper into the fabric of his being, leading the way to a dark pit. If only I had done more, he would not have died, he thought. But I didn’t, and he is dead. What kind of son am I? I’m worthless. Surely Adonai has turned His back on me. I haven’t even avenged Abba’s death. I should have been the one to die. It would have been better that way for everyone.
No longer able to keep the gall inside, he felt words bubbling to the surface.
“We won’t get to keep the money this catch earns us, Hanoch.” Spitting, he smacked his hand on the side of their boat, “So stop thinking of your stomach. Have you already forgotten the reason Abba died? Have you forgotten the money the soldiers demanded from him and that their gift for his death was demanding even more from us?” He was shouting now, and despite the visible hurt on Immah and Hanoch’s faces, he continued.
“I’m doing the best I can, but your laziness is not helping.” His directed words at Hanoch slapped his brother’s face. He knew it wasn’t true but felt trapped by his pain to continue shouting.
“And, I’m sorry I’m not ‘myself,’ Immah,” he aimed these words at Miriam, sarcastically mimicking her comment to Yeshua a few nights before. She flinched. “How do you expect me to be myself? With Abba dead.” The anger was at its peak, “Or don’t you remember?”
With this last comment, Miriam sobbed aloud, and Hanoch stepped forward, hands balled into fists.
“That’s enough, Shim’on.” He heard a slight tremor in his younger brother’s voice. Though two years younger, Hanoch was slightly taller, yet not as muscular. This was the first time Hanoch had dared to oppose him apart from playful roughhousing. Shim’on knew he would beat his brother if it came to it, but he had no real desire to grouse a fight with him.
“It’s enough to disrespect me,” Hanoch said in a low voice, “it’s another thing to speak against our immah.”
Indifference and disdain his pretense, Shim’on scooped up an armful of nets and dragged them toward an inlet further up the shore. Hanoch and Demas were left to tend to the fish and load the cart Miriam would take to the market.
As he made his way down the sandy shoreline, he tried to avoid the curious looks of the other fishermen. But one face caught his eye.
Lydia stood a short distance away, her eyes netted his pride with empathy. Another wave of shame rolled over him. Lydia’s face fell as his eyes hardened. Looking away from her, he continued down the shore. Tears pricked Shim’on’s eyes, but he refused to let them fall. That would be foolish and weak. No, it was better to cover his anguish and guilt.
He swung the nets over to where the Jordan River made its way into the sea, sat heavily, and threw the nets off to his side.
GK Johnson’s debut novel, The Zealots, has arrived. Will Shim’on’s guilt find acquittal or will it drive him to wrong? Will Hanoch accept Shim’on’s excuses and explanations regarding the night of his father’s death, or will he seek revenge?
How important is taking a moment to listen? Can listening help you reinvent yourself?
One story about these subjects, for me, is told about a worker who lost his tax collecting job. Everything was gone: his income, his years of education, his sense of purpose. He’d been a well-known businessman. Some would say formidable.
The one thing he took away from that career was his pen.
That pen? This guy repurposed it for writing stories that he learned by listening and watching. His work would be published and passed down to generations of readers.
By all accounts, this author did not make money from his stories.
Something of greater value emerged: his legacy.
The stories became powerful influencers for good: affirmations, encouragement, purpose-filled texts to uplift, to sustain.
I’ve always liked this story. It is timeless. Relatable. Unique yet universal. We are all repurposing our gifts, just like this writer dude from ancient times.
It’s amazing, really, this human capacity to listen, adapt, and redirect our energy;
To release what we’d planned on and embrace what is, a busy person will lean down to a little person.
To be grateful we have paychecks and share a bit while others are still waiting for help.
To shift our perspective from Planning as normal to Adapting to what is needed now.
To walk away from everything familiar and step into the Unknown.
Perhaps, in a way, we are plying our pens – writing our own stories for our children to read and re-read. Like the apostle Matthew did.
My next book is also my first children’s story. It’s a picture book about listening. It is also about the sweet lingering ability of dogs and their humans. It has been released on Kindle, and will soon be accompanied by a paperback version and hopefully, the entire hardcover series because I’m reinventing myself.
Some childhood stories stick with you like bright, bobbing buoys in uncharted seas. They serve as vivid markers as we navigate our days. If you would like to know more about how to share your stories with others, or how to listen closely, please contact me or read my new book.
At age twenty, gypsy winds came calling on whiffs of Figgy Pudding and cloves. Christmas was over and done with on my side of the ocean. I was excited to get on with it. I was turning the crank on jack-in-the-box for whatever would pop up and unfold in the new year. In that spirit, I climbed on a plane the morning after Christmas and headed over the waters that separated America from England.
The plan was to stop mid-way to visit Georgina Noakes, who was spending traditional holidays with her family in Yorkshire, England before we both continued on to South Africa where I would sing in a radical multi-racial band and she would teach dance to youth between their high school and college years through story lines and music.
It never occurred to me that I might be running a needle straight through the holidays of my friend. I’d never heard of Boxing Day.
Georgina dutifully gathered me and my bags from the airport, put us into her car and car’s boot, and took me round to her friend’s flat where we shared Christmas pudding with whistles and pointy party hats and a hidden coin. After tea and cake, she carried on to an older couple’s country home where she introduced me and I listened to more stories. When it grew dark, we stopped again at a flat where her best friends gathered to light a live tree with live flames on small wax candles perched on fairy discs tied to the evergreen tines.
Laughter filled the air. Plans were discussed for going out to dance and meet up with other friends at a pub, but before all these after-dinner events occurred, gifts were exchanged in the name of Boxing Day.
“What’s Boxing Day?” I ventured.
That’s when my person was dressed down. I was taught the beguiling concept of regifting your unwanted blessings to friends who may need them more.
At first, it made no sense. Have none of you met together before Christmas and exchanged gifts already?
Oh, no. No, not at all! I was missing the whole point. Besides, Christmas is to be spent with family. There are traditions to adhere to like church or mass and Christmas dinner. Even those at the party who celebrated Hanukkah celebrated Boxing Day. Family members exchange gifts and after they leave, then comes the re-wrapping. Regifting. What a perfect idea. All the baubles began going wonky inside my admittedly exhausted brain. It had been a day and a half already, but I was having a landmark natural high for having learned about Boxing Day.
You see, and here comes my confession, I tend to have a lot of good intentions about shopping for others for Christmas, but when it comes to finally getting my rear end out of the car and paddling through the isles of a retail maze, my own wants are triggered and personal desires gradually climb to the summit of need.
I have to keep looking at my list to remember why I’m there and for whom.
If I am to get a kitchen gadget for my niece at Bed, Bath and Beyond, well, I accidentally also find an excellent waffle maker for our own kitchen. It loads itself into my cart.
If I am getting a flashlight for my nephew, I may find on the same row the socks I’ve been longing for. So, they walk their way into my basket.
If I’ve found a beautiful sweater for my mama or my best friend, it’s only because remembering my list, the guilt, after piling arms high with my delights, makes me throw on an item in the correct size for them.
All of this selfishness is the real reason that the Grinch comes slithering out of the cave at Christmas when all the lights are twinkling, and people’s hearts seem open to possibilities. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to me. See, I hate to shop. Not only does my back hurt after an hour of meandering down the isles, but I always get buyer’s remorse when I buy what I can’t afford and hide it for a day or two inside the car pulling it out of the back seat when no-one’s looking so that I can gaze on it and discover a place for it in my house or in my closet.
That’s when some of these items wind up in a regifting bag.
Yes, yes, I’ve bought it for myself, but I’m going to give it to you because I don’t need it after all, or I can’t afford to go shopping again to get the gift I had in mind for you, so you’re getting mine now.
Boxing Day! The cleverness of getting away with, completely legitimately, the act of giving used gifts to friends made me stand taller alongside my habit of shopping for treasures and antiques at shops like Goodwill that also practice recycling.
I shop in these musty places because my money stretches like Pinocchio’s nose if I can find what I need there, and all the better, if the items happen to have their price tags still attached. Some do, you know. My own mother is gifted at finding the items with the tags on.
Both of our mothers, my husband’s and mine, taught us that it can be better to pay once for something of the best quality, than paying for lesser quality items several times over whenever they wear out.
Despite our mamas’ mantras honoring quality over quantity, another creed held certain longings at bay. “It isn’t what you earn, it’s what you save that counts.” Sometimes we absorb conflicting maxims and remain unsure of which to follow when.
On this pre-Christmas shopping event 20 years ago, my husband and I were at the local Goodwill for a “that’ll do coat”, I, because of my guilt and cleverness to “make do” in an expensive season. He, because of his penny-pinching, calculating parents who taught him to be narrow in the budget whenever possible.
I can’t remember what my husband was really there for. Maybe we were browsing for different reasons, but I was really there to get a “new” coat.
It was he who found the northern red wool. He lifted it off the rack and straight out of One Morning In Maine by Robert McCloskey. “Look at this one!” he called. I glanced his way and we both grinned.
Quilted Christmas green on the inside with a navy-blue trim, the duffle coat had a hood, several deep pockets, a zipper and crafted nautical buttons. I loved it immediately. It covered my rear end, and I expected it to have a luxurious L. L. Bean anorak label.
“Context,” it read inside. Nothing more.
I tried it on. It was satiny inside and roomy enough to grow into. He helped me slip into the red wool, and I zipped up the middle all the way to the mockneck. Buttoning the loose buttons, I dropped my hands into the large warm pockets and saw the dangling drawstrings from the hood. Details created curiosity about this winter chore parka. “But how much is it?”
“Twenty dollars? Are you kidding? Look how new and beautiful it it!” I tried to imagine the kind of person who would let such a treasure escape their winter coat rack. Had he or she lost it?
My husband delighted in my delight and we carried the northern red wool blanket coat to the cashier where he paid for my Christmas present with cash.
Dubbed my blanket coat, I once abused it with building adhesive while wearing it to finish our house in mid-winter. At my dismay, my husband took it to the cleaners and had them make it like new. Another year, when the moths were plaguing us, my anorak served up meals and got holey for the sacrifice. I took it to a tailor who expertly sewed up the holes to non-existence.
My big red has been a safe bright place to belong every winter of my life since.
Twenty dollars and twenty years later remind me that love can come from the best of relationships and the shallowest of pockets.
Why give an non-memorable gift? Why buy anything that isn’t a landmark for practicality and spreading good humor? Over the years, I’ve had other winter coats, more elegant ones, and others I don’t remember. I’ve given coats to charity, and perhaps a recipient feels the way I did at the sight of her “new” coat.
My red blanket coat was pulled over my shoulders again at the beginning of this winter’s frigid temperatures. I smiled at the perfect weight of it. I always do when it occurs to me how rich I am.
Great gifts and holiday celebrations are not measured by easy commodities. Sometimes they are recycled gifts. Sometimes they are surprises. And, sometimes, they are a day late of Christmas.
“She will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 12:21
Hope to the world began in Bethlehem in a small cave that served as a stable. The Cave is under the oldest church in the world, the Church of the Nativity. Many come to see the cave and the star which marks the birthplace.
A few years ago I was given the opportunity to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. As I descended in the dark narrow stairs which led us into the small stable, I felt a glorious hope from God! As I knelt to touch the star I became overwhelmed with the emotions because the birth of Jesus was the divine will of God to save his people from their sins! To save me from my sins! That first Christmas night, Jesus became personal in Bethlehem! “The word became flesh, and and dwelt among us” ( John 1:14). In Jesus’ birth, God declares the hope of His presence. His presence became flesh, with us. What a divine moment.
The last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem reads, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray! Cast out our sins and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!”
May that holy night of our dear Savior’s birth call you into a personal relationship with him, in living a Holy life before God, seeking quietness and silent nights, intimate moments, and may your soul feel His worth.
Hope is here!
What a wonderful and glorious hope we have because God offers us the gift of living hope to all who seek it!
This advent season has ended now. So, I ask, is Christ real to you?
Has He taken residence in your life?
Let Him be born in your heart today.
Diane Andrews lives in northern Montana near the Canadian border in a reservation town called Wolf Point. She was saved and discipled by mentors in Young Life, a ministry to high school students across America. She became a pastor’s wife and is a down-to-earth speaker on the topics of the women of the Bible and how to find Jesus in your real life. Diane is the founder and director of R&R Retreats. Though Diane is severely dyslexic, she is the author of My Step Journal published by Captured Books.
The last time I remember baking a dessert from scratch was three years into marriage, now 26 years ago.
I’d invited the whole family over for Thanksgiving. The sun was pouring through the windows, the feast was complete with smiling expectant faces for the promising desserts, when I brought out the traditional pies plus one. The South African milk tart had become my favorite having lived and worked in that country a few years earlier, and I was eager to share it with everyone I loved back home.
In the midst of preparing everything needed for our Thanksgiving party, I’d singed the milk needed for the tart. “Oh, well,” I thought, “it won’t hurt much.” Quickly pouring it out of the over-heated pan, into the crust, I finished the milk tart.
But, it did matter. Quite a lot. Sampling the tart, the nervous hostess, who was me, was forced to alert everyone else to avoid it.
For some reason, this bitter fail colored all of my future baking interests. Oh, I’ve made meal after meal over my thirty years of marriage, but I never brought out the sugar and softened butter, the vanilla, or any of my other favorite ingredients. Besides, I was always on the plump side, and I hoped the discipline of avoiding home-cooked yummies would help the situation.
About two years ago, I found an interesting cookie cutter rolling pin at a Goodwill store and it inspired me to try to bake the sugar cookies that just can’t be imitated by store purchases. Maybe it was for candy cutting. Either way, it would be fun, I decided. When we cleaned out the house last year, my husband tried to toss these kinds of things he’d never seen me use, but he’d never seen my yearning for home-baked cookies either.
I salvaged the cookie cutter
Inside, stood my defiant self sticking out my tongue at the multi-billion weight-loss industry. I was going to bake something yummy.
Still, it wasn’t until two weeks before Christmas, when looking through the cupboards, that I rediscovered the quirky cookie cutter. It was the day before my husband’s birthday. I wanted to spoil him because his special day often gets swallowed up in the holidays.
Google came in handy as I looked up my favorite cookie recipes. I started with peanut butter kisses and substituted the chocolate kisses for miniature healthy peanut butter cups pressed into the middle.
Then, I went on to soft, traditional oatmeal raisin cookies. The writer of this recipe assumed I knew how much sugar and butter to whip together, how many eggs to add, how much cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda to use. Reaching deep into memories of girlish baking, I put the basics back together and decided to trust my intuition.
Thankfully, I still had some hard chunks of brown sugar in a bag at the top of the cupboard. I also found an inch of molasses left in a bottle.
The recipe that I invented included a few new essentials
A magnifying glass to read the ingredients and the recipe
An ice-cream scoop to pound the brown sugar lumps to smithereens
No fancy Kitchenaid mixer gets any credit
My hand-me-down, hand-held beaters worked fine after I softened our frozen butter in the microwave. Mixing my made-up portions of oats, eggs, vanilla, flour, butter and sugar together, butter and sugar first, of course, I threw in some old raisins. Raisins keep forever – just about. No harm done there.
Dipping into the oven, I traded the pan of hot peanut butter kiss cookies for a sheet of the oatmeal raisin drops.
Then, I went to look up the recipe for the highlight of the season, sugar cookies!
In the meantime, I found a recipe for Oatmeal raisin cookies with the proper amounts listed for the ingredients, so I added a little more flour and butter and sugar and oatmeal, and I decided to add a banana and walnuts to the last half of the dough. I lowered the oven temperature on those already baking.
Back to the sugar cookie recipe, it soon became clear that I needed to roll out the dough, let it sit in the refrigerator, then use the cookie cutter and finally, decorate the little images with icing or colored sugar.
My heart sank at the traditional rolling pin that would be needed. The last time I recalled seeing a rolling pin, I put it somewhere the-sun-don’t-shine that would insure I’d never happen upon it again.
The ingredients called for a bit of almond flavoring. My favorite. But, nope, I had removed the temptation of almond paste and almond flavoring from my kitchen long ago.
Sugar cookies were going to need a real baker. I mixed up the sugar and butter, measured out the flour and set it all aside.
The oatmeal raisin cookies were smelling a bit pungent. I swung open the oven and removed the pan of cookies now black around the edges. Quickly, I used the old-fashioned metal spatula to swoop up the cookies from the heated sheet and deposit them onto the cooling sheet.
A familiar bitterness taunted
Just then, my dog started barking alerting me to the fact that my husband was home from work. I opened the door to greet the birthday boy and I gave him a kiss wondering how long it would take for him to notice the air-filled sweetness. Would he ask about today’s kitchen episodes?
“Umm, what smells so good?”
“You made cookies?!”
“Yep. For you.”
“For your birthday.”
His hand started moving toward the cooling sheet. I steered it to the peanut butter kiss cookie adaption that I’d enjoyed tasting earlier. “You’ll probably like these better, Hon.”
He munched and smiled and said a few crazy nuthins as he pulled me close.
He gathered up a couple and began munching again as he reported on the occurrences in his day. Then, to my pleasure he was too distracted to continue. “Umm, these are great, Honey!”
“I love ‘em.”
“But, they’re a little burnt.” My admission colors the air.
“You know how you loved burnt toast when you were a kid?”
“Well, my favorite was having a bit of a burn on my oatmeal raisin cookies. That’s why I’m not fond of the regular kind. These are wonderful!”
Oh, gosh, his pre-birthday surprise is an unexpected win!
“You know what I want to do tomorrow on my birthday? I want to grab a stack of these with a cup of coffee and have them for breakfast. That’s all I really want. Well—and I want a little time to cuddle with you. That’d be my perfect birthday.”
I’ve never lost my cuddly appearance, even with the years of home baked abstinence. The older I get, the rounder I have become, but that just doesn’t seem to matter to the one who loves me.
It will be a fun experiment to try to make sugar cookies for Christmas since Santa himself is a jolly ol’ elf.
It will also be a great to try out the Goodwill roller cutter on something else, whether it be little pastries, or mini Swiss chocolates, or maybe some mint cream cheese sweets. That’s my sweet New Year’s resolution.
Lynn Byk is a memoir author with Capture Books. She is available to speak at book clubs or women’s events about practical ways to care for the elderly in one’s life.
Reprinted by permission from her December 19, 2019 blog, Coffee with Kathy.
This message is bathed in hope for the parent who has not heard from her kids, who might not see them at Christmas.
I want you to know it won’t always be this way.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
My late husband, Roger, was fond of saying, “Let’s make the kind of memories that keep the kids coming back home – even when they’re grown.”
Oh! How I loved Roger’s enthusiasm for special calendar dates – particularly Christmastime and All Things Winter.
To commemorate the First Snow, he and I wrapped a “snow gift” for each of the girls. For gift-wrapping, he used the funny papers.
He was thrilled at the arrival of egg nog in the dairy section – he went nuts with the stuff, pouring it into his morning coffee and grabbing enough cartons to store in the freezer “to get through the winter months”, he would say.
For years, we bundled the girls and searched tree farms for just the right tree to grace our Colorado home.
Every Christmas Eve, he read from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ; when our daughters became readers, they read it out loud to the family.
We had an advent calendar.
He sang the carols, often adding verses he made up on the fly.
He insisted on driving us around the neighborhood to look at the festive light displays.
He was big on memories and minimal on material things.
So many rich traditions, steeped in the wonder of raising our girls; the sweet simplicity of being a family together.
Four months shy of Christmas 2008, Roger died.
The girls were 18 and 15.
A black shadow passed over our little snow globe of a family.
What if they don’t come home?
For three years of emotional drought, they didn’t.
It was dreadful for me, the surviving parent.
A mom who is unsure of her child’s safety and well-being is a pile of misery, and that’s what I was during those lean years.
I won’t go into the whys and the pain of those whys. Grief is weird. A sudden loss can unravel a lifetime and reorder it into something scary, chaotic, unknown.
We all respond in different ways. My daughters turned from me, not in open rejection or hostility, but in the throes of sudden, unexpected loss.
What if they don’t come home?
Christmas during those years was the stark reality of an empty chair, a huge hole he once filled with his larger-than-life-laughter. The emptiness was intensified by my fractured family.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star was shrouded in a fog of grief and worry; I couldn’t see it through the haze and maze of guilt, fear, anger.
All I could feel was the dull ache of my heart, thumping along in spite of wanting to disappear, to fold up inside my pain.
I’d become an exile to my husband’s family, through a sad myriad of misunderstandings.
Being an outsider to in-laws, that’s pretty hard to deal with. Being an outsider to your own kids – that’s impossible to endure.
Then, we had a series of fun celebrations together. Endearment was restored like a chain of Christmas lights getting the dud bulbs replaced so that the whole string twinkles, unbroken.
Covid 19 has crimped the style of families everywhere. For our safety, holiday celebrations are limited, shops, even grocery stores, and home celebrations closed down. We are given tips on how to keep children safe and parents informed during 2021.
During Thanksgiving, people posted humble but joyful pictures of their small feasts for two, three, and even singular plates on social media. They called it the war of light and loveliness on the darkness of this holiday season. Still, when I called my own mother to tell her that I had been exposed to the disease at work and could not risk her health, she wept. She and I both sat alone with our thoughts this Thanksgiving, like many others.
My adult girls remember their dad’s corny jokes. They ask about his favorite movies, then they watch them. But, there are many episodes of tragic family attitudes and events in our history, and probably in yours, that haunt our current decisions and lives. Parents are blamed for decisions they didn’t have the wherewithal to tackle; they should have been wiser. Children are not excused because they were trained up better than that.
Helplessly, we grapple for promises of better days from the only One who can provide these to us.
The Lord has promised to restore what the locust has eaten.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Does this promise mean today, tomorrow, or next year? I believe He does restore our souls in mysterious ways, and we can depend on that, but it doesn’t always look the way we want it to look. And, this is why our faith is often called a “walk of faith” “traveling in darkness” “running the race” because we don’t bear our weights in vain. They make us stronger.
We honor Roger’s memory in small, sweet ways. We laugh a lot, we cry some, we laugh some more.
His name is a regular part of our conversation.
Before, we avoided saying it for fear our brittle voices would break and scatter on the floor.
We can now dream of the future and we know the strength of forgiveness, the binding up of wounds.
My daughters call regularly to check in on me; my oldest planned a June wedding and made it happen even in the pandemic, and it was a landmark memory I will always cherish.
It’s not a Hallmark movie; there are still some things quietly coming to the light to be dealt with as we continue forward.
Cars break down, we have health scares, there are often misunderstandings to be ironed out. The point is, we’re doing life together again – as an extended family finds ways to do so.
This year, I celebrate the many times the kids and I have been together. It has been a hard year once again, but I am stronger and more creative than I once was. They will come home for Christmas another time.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star is a glowing reminder of God’s presence, His longing to be in a relationship with us. He traveled from His heavenly home and spiritual body to become human and to wander in a strange, unwelcoming place. It meant everything for Him to do that.
It seems, in this murky year of unknowns, that we have all become bridge builders. By this, I mean we are learning to construct organic passageways between problems and solutions; we are building new platforms to help each other succeed.
A co-worker said it this way: “We are discovering new ways to do old things.”
She’s not wrong. If the word “innovative” carries any weight on a resume, then we need to add that to our portfolios.
Influencers are bridges between ideas and implementation. Let the intangible beget the tangible.
Friends are bridges between opportunity and reality.
Co-workers are bridges between dull days and brighter ones.
Connections are bridges between prayers and answers.
Recently, I was a recipient of one of these bridges between opportunity and reality and between prayers and answers. My publisher announced a connection to make my children’s book sing. “Will You Hold My Story?” is the recipient of some 32 illustrations of Brianna Osaseri, an winning artist who has agreed to produce poignant and imaginative works for the 32- page picture book.
I happened to be going through a particularly difficult time, and I can’t tell you how seeing these fascinating images elevated my sense of wonder about the story and added even more purpose.
When there’s a problem, there is a wonderful collaboration available to each of us with just an earnest request. Unseen reinforcements rush in like healthy blood to a wound. Bridges are built for walking into the future.
Virtual meetings, emails, phone calls, whatever it takes – the work is getting done and readers, or our customers, or clients are being helped.
More than a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done attitude, it’s a large-scale scaffolding that materializes right under our feet, wherever we need reinforcements. Some people call this scaffolding “answers to prayer.” Others call it “favor,” “blessing,” “feeling the love.” No matter what you call it, we each know when we are in desperate need of it. And, we each know when we receive it.
It’s a coming-together of talent, experience, and care.
It’s the filling of a cup.
It’s the measures taken to keep us safe.
These are the bridges to each other’s stories, and to hope.
I, for one, am looking more closely at life for any random blessings that can provide walkways to better days for me and maybe for you:
an encouraging message on your voice mail, “Don’t think that for one moment, you are forgotten, Deary!”
that cup of coffee on a cold morning, and reading the review someone left on your last book.
a holiday card, whether it’s full of giggles or full of pathos,
help from a co-worker on a difficult issue
passing along someone’s story explaining a surprising twist of events when their own need was answered, miraculously
savoring the unique texture of a loved-one’s voice;
all of these, and more, are carrying us and moving us forward.
One of my favorite ways to help someone else along is to congratulate them with words or cards for an accomplishment.
It would be so easy for me to ignore their big win and to think, “Why isn’t it my day to reach the summit?”
My guess is, we will emerge from this wilderness seasoned hikers.
Do you recall doing something like this? As a child, I’d grin showing an adult my palms up, the inside of my cathedral made of my interwoven fingers, and I’d sing, “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open it up and here’s all the people!” Then, hiding all my fingers, I’d ask the patient adult, “Where are all the people?”
We adults still need other patient adults to make us some two-way bridges, don’t we? I need to show up for you on the bridge. You need to show up for yourself and also for someone else on your bridge. Let’s look for one new way to receive a good step forward. Let’s offer a bridge to someone else today in kindness or compassion.
At the summit, we will look down to see we have built networks, catwalks and swinging bridges we’d never before imagined. Intricate networks.
When you’ve built a bridge, you’ve constructed a cathedral of strength and beauty.
Even if it is intangible.
Kathy Joy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Messiah College (Grantham, Pennsylvania) having majored in Journalism and Communication. Her care