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Using the Psalms as Prayers

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.

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!

For His all-surpassing greatness—praise Him now!

Praise Him with strings, sweet melodies—

Praise Him with drums and bells— loud jubilance!

Praise Him with dance—pipes—will you praise?

Praise Him with the cymbals’ clashing—

Praise! Praise! Praise!

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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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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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A Spouse’s Blessed Persuasion

By G.K. Johnson, author of The Zealots

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.

Getting Serious

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

Library Story Hour – The Zealots

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.

What Happened

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.

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Eating the Frog

By Kathy Joy

There it sat.

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.

My advice?

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.”

Try this.

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.

Kathy Joy writes for BooksforBondingHearts.com and  CoffeeWithKathy.cafe.

I HAVE NEWS!

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,

A delightful read for children , a great tool for parents and therapists working with children.

Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2021

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