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“Easy On Yourself Today”

Laura Bartnick

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.

Double Checking

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?”

Silence.

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.

Distractions

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.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

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:

  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Tea Tree
  • Cedar

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.

Enjoy a unique day!

Laura Bartnick
Laura Bartnick is the author of BEING CREATIVE a creative and inspirational guide to entering into the Creator’s purposes.

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Indian woman an angel and a child
Author tools and hacks, Book Launch, Bridges, captive audiences, children's literature, Expectations, featured, heaven, ingenuity, inspirational, Jenny Fulton, Laura Bartnick, learning, National Children's Grief Awareness Day, patterns, Press Release, resurrection, ritualistic firsts, Writing

Sharing Creativity is to Grow in His Gifts

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.

Princess Lillian’s Book Launch Activities! Find them here: https://www.facebook.com/events/274521184047823/?active_tab=discussion

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?

It’s been quite a winding journey from that time to the present where my book, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is now offered in audiobook for your listening pleasure.

Faith writing

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.

  1. My desire to write wasn’t temporary.
  2. The enjoyment and ability to write had been given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory.
  3. 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.[1]” 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.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 12:7.

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Ferris Wheel Vacation

By Charmayne Hafen, a short story about marriage

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.

“Where?”

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?”

“Do what?!”

“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.”

“Good.”

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?”

“True.”

“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.

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analysis, biblical history, Bridges, captive audiences, Creativity, featured, Guides, How To, improvisation, ingenuity, Jenny Fulton, Welcome to the Shivoo

All Natural and Skilled-God’s Pleasure

By Jenny Fulton, author of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye

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 Liddell winning the race

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.

Biblical Examples

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.

Personal Examples

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.”

Kelly Ferrini
Children’s Librarian

Child therapists, parents, or ministers can use this book as a tool to explain heaven and what happens when a loved one dies.

Indian woman an angel and a child
Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye, children’s book

Find more Biblical studies and celebration of the arts by Jenny Fulton HERE.

 

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Lending to God

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.

Learn more on Goodreads about Soothing Rain.

Find also, a Goodreads review of Tonya Blessing’s Melody of the Mulberries.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2967511185