Archive for April, 2012

My granddaughter, Bethany, is a beautiful, gifted young woman who amazes me with her poise and her intelligence.  She absolutely floors me with her energy level.  She is an excellent student, maintaining a 3.9 grade level which is commendable by itself.  But Beth does it while dancing five days a week with a local studio, competing on a dance team and teaching toddler dance classes.  Recently she tried out for the high school cheer squad and was successful so now she has added weekly cheer practice to her schedule.  As if that wasn’t enough, she decided to compete in the Miss Selah Pageant to represent her home town and is preparing for this week’s pageant night. 

I was visiting her on Sunday evening and was able to help her review a list of possible questions that might be asked in the competition.  She couldn’t make up her mind what her favorite color was.  She wavered on the choice of her favorite movie.  But when asked what her favorite book was she did not hesitate.  “My favorite book is the Bible because I am a strong Christian and it gives me guidance.”

Wow!  I was impressed.  She is an avid reader and among other things just completed The Hunger Games Triology.  Still, she named the Bible as her favorite.

One of the definitions of the word favorite is “preferred above all others”.  To a fifteen year old I would guess the Bible doesn’t have the surface value romance, the excitement, the fantasy factor that most young adult books possess.  In fact,  any of us could name books we’d consider more entertaining.

If asked, what would you list as your favorite?    As a Christian, is the Bible the book you can’t put down?  As a writer, is the Bible high on your resource list? 

Oh that every author would strive to write something as timeless, as packed with life lessons, as spirit filled and as soul lifting  as God did.  If we set our goals that high and let God’s Word direct our creative thoughts we could change the world one little book, one little story, even one little blog post at a time.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12

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This was truly Weird Weather week in Yakima.  Sunday and Monday we had 90 degree temperatures – in April!  On Wednesday we had genuine should-I-build-an-ark rainstorms – in Yakima (basically a desert climate).  Don’t you just love Spring with all of it’s surprises?

Actually – I do.  There’s something about spring that speaks to my heart about freshness and promise, hope and new life.

The trees have been standing barren and bleak for months but all of sudden in spring they perk up, life starts coursing through their branches and tiny buds appear impatient to unfold in lush leaves.

The hills have been snow covered and sleepy but at the first hint of spring sunshine they drink up the snow melt and start growing a green crew cut.

And the tulips – oh the tulips.  They are inspirational.  They hide inside those dried up bulbs underground until God whispers “It’s time.”  At the sound of His voice they are so excited they fight their way to the surface through earth still partially frozen.  They strain and push to break through and they don’t stop there.  It’s like they can’t get close enough to God soon enough.  Those sturdy stalks will grow inches in a day, stretching straight up until their little heads burst into glorious bloom, wide open faces smiling right at their Creator.

Can anyone look at a bed of tulips and not feel joy? 

Tulips remind me of that first love spoken about in Revelations chapter 2.  Do you remember it?  The early stages of your relationship with Jesus when you were so enraptured by Him you couldn’t stop talking about it, singing about it, rejoicing in it?  You were like the tulip shaking with impatience to get closer to Him.  You soaked up His living water until you were so filled you had to start growing.  You pushed through every bit of what was trying to hold you back, keep you underground,  and you just kept stretching upward to get closer and closer to God. 

Have you lost that newness?  Have you become complacent?     Because I can tell you this – what God has done, what God’s Word says, what God has planned – is as new and fresh today as it was on the day of creation.  God in all of His glory, the God who has existed since before time began, the God who watches over us every minute of every day – has not one time become complacent in His duties. 

The Bible tells us His mercies are new every morning,  His compassions never fail, His love is never ending,.   I invite you today to stretch as tall as you can, lift your face to God and be like a tulip – eager and anxious for more Him. 

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;    great is your faithfulness.  Lam 3:22-23 

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I am still on a major high from the SCBWI Western Washington writer’s conference I attended this past weekend.  I rubbed shoulders with authors, writers and agents, heard inspiring presentations, and attended sessions to hone my skills.  I feel like a hot fudge Sunday – drenched in rich, thick, sweet chocolate and trying to hold up under the heavy sweetness of it all. 

Most helpful for me were the first page sessions.  Writers were allowed to submit first pages of their manuscripts and a team of agents critiqued them.  Their final judgment was, if they received the submission in the mail,  would  they be inspired to read beyond the first page.  The key is grabbing the reader firmly enough in the first few lines they can’t help but want to read on.  So much has to be packed into your opening paragraphs – excitement, character development, intrigue, setting, and theme.  Not an easy task but a critical one.

I can’t help but compare those tips to my witness when I’m trying to introduce Christ to hurting people.  If I can’t hook them in the first few lines I’m probably not going to hook them at all.  Most people God gives me an opportunity to witness to are in crisis.  Their attention span is short and logic doesn’t often appeal.  I’m glad I know that though they may have a myriad of problems and some are huge, there is only one answer and He is even bigger.

The character development in my first paragraph isn’t difficult when the character is Jesus Christ.  The theme of love, forgiveness, compassion, kindness and healing has universal appeal.  The intrigue is in why He would love us so, the excitement is in what He did to prove that He does. The setting – anywhere, anytime.   

God knew how key a captivating first page needed to be so He wrote this one:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Or as the Message Bible puts it:  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

Who, especially if they are in crisis, doesn’t long for a whole and lasting life?  I’d read a book with that tag line, wouldn’t you?

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My precious granddaughter Brinkley is enthralled with her new Password Journal.  She worked to earn money after seeing this item at Toys R Us and instantly realizing she just had to have it.  For those who don’t know, a Password Journal is a small plastic box housing a secret journal, pens, hidden drawers and other fun stuff.  The only way to access what’s inside is to speak the proper password.  The built in voice recognition program can discern your voice from all others and opens only for the one who actually recorded the password.

Brinkley has had the journal for about a week and has already worn out multiple batteries, written several pages of secret thoughts, and changed the password at least six hundred times.  It has become a very familiar site – this little dark haired seven year old huddled in a corner speaking to a plastic box.

What’s the password to your stash of secret thoughts?  I hope its Jesus. 

We all harbor hidden dreams and thoughts, shames and disappointments, tears and fears.  We all have things buried deep inside that often hold us back from reaching our full potential.  Things we think no one could possibly know and still love us. Things we think define the real us that we can’t share.  But some secrets can lead to an unhealthy heart, one that becomes diseased beyond repair if we aren’t careful.   

The first step to heart health is letting the Great Physician in with his bag of treatment tools – forgiveness, compassion, empathy, encouragement, grace, and most effective – love, the miracle cure.  He’s standing ready but He won’t force entry.  You need to call out His name.  He is the creator of voice recognition programs, by the way.  He knows exactly who’s calling at any given time. 

If you’re afraid to let Him see what’s inside because you think it’s too awful to share, let me give you a tip.  He already knows.  If you’re holding it in because you can’t believe He could love you in spite of the ugliness – get over it because He already does.

Go huddle in a corner, speak His name and let the door to your heart open for the One who knows everything bad about your life so far and knows everything good about your life going forward.  There are no secrets He hasn’t already made a plan for you to move beyond. 

One caution here – don’t be changing your password!

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11

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My wonderful Bible study group had quite a laugh when my good friend Katie shared her story.  She had begun having terrible headaches a couple of weeks earlier and was quite concerned because they had come on suddenly.  The headaches would begin shortly after getting to work and would increase in intensity throughout the day.  She believed it had something to do with her eyes even though she’d recently had them checked.  She finally made another appointment with her vision care provider.  Each day prior to her appointment things worsened and she became more and more concerned as did her husband.  Something was seriously wrong. The day before her appointment she was getting ready for work and spotted a pair of glasses in an unusual place in her bathroom.  She pulled off the glasses she had on only to discover that for two weeks she had been wearing her son’s glasses instead of her own!  The frames were similar enough no one noticed the difference and her son hadn’t said a word (he had switched to contacts).  Only her eyes had figured things out!  The prescription wasn’t working, thus the severe headaches.

It was a funny story but at the same time illustrated how seeing through someone else’s eyes isn’t always the best plan.  When it comes to faith, we need our own prescription so to speak.  We can’t use our parent’s or our pastor’s or our best friend’s.  If we can’t stand on our own and defend what we truly believe deep in our own heart and soul, we are going to be susceptible to some pretty horrendous headaches.

You can’t always rely on someone else’s answers to pass a test!  The foundations of our faith are what get us through.  My ability to weather a storm comes from the experiences I’ve had surviving smaller storms and the repeated assurance that it was God who got me through.  He doesn’t apply the same prescription to my situation that He does to another person’s. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all-crisis.  Every solution and every assist He offers is unique and individualized.

Reading God’s word brings new thoughts and ideas that I’m going to need at some point.  If I only let others tell me what they read, I’m not giving myself the opportunity to allow God to speak to me personally and prepare me for the road ahead. 

When I study the Bible I get inside the characters and the stories.  If I just listen to someone else retell the stories I might miss key points that are there just for my instruction.  I’m influenced by their voice not His.

If I sit back and bask in the retelling of another person’s great Sunday morning worship experience, I miss out on the soul stirring music, the heart healing testimonies, the life lifting messages.  I only get the fringe benefit.  It won’t be enough when I have to withdraw  a big measure of strength and courage.

As a writer let’s just say I need a first person faith.  A third person point of view just doesn’t cut it.  God has prescribed for me a specific lens through which I will be able to see His hand on my life.  I need to make sure I’m wearing my own glasses.  (Of course, cute frames are an added asset!)

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Watching newscasts of the horrendous weather in the midwest makes me so thankful I live where I do.  It is just shocking to me that you could be sitting on your porch enjoying the sunset one minute and the next be staring at a pile of matchsticks that was once your home.   Storms in life are often like that – they blow in suddenly and leave you staggering, wondering what happened.  Even if you see the storm approaching it is usually impossible to outrun it or hide from it.

A storm that I am altogether too close to is the one my niece is going through with her six year old daughter.  I mentioned little Allie in a previous blog and her battle with leukemia for the second time in four years.  Allie has been very sick with some terrible side effects.    My niece commented on her facebook post this week that Allie was so depleted physically by the chemotherapy she couldn’t even get out of bed.  She doesn’t fully understand why she feels so bad.  Life is just one big storm for her.  Allie’s hiding place is when her mommy crawls into the bed with her, pulls her close and just cuddles – sometimes for hours.  Allie still feels sick but she also feels safe and warm.

Most of us have outgrown the opportunity to stay in bed all day and cuddle with a parent when our storms descend.  But – there is a hiding place every bit as warm and safe and sheltering. Deuteronomy 33:27 tells us “the eternal God is your refuge and dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  I love that picture because it tells me that when I curl up and let God wrap His wonderful arms around me I am safe.  And if I get to thrashing around in the midst of that storm and fall out of bed – underneath are His everlasting arms. He will catch my fall and gently place me back on the mattress of His love and compassion.

The psalms reinforce His promise by assuring us that He is our hiding place, He is a strong tower, He will hide me in the secret place of His tabernacle, He is my refuge and my shield.  Psalm 91 says “He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you can take refuge.”

Aren’t you thankful God has provided a hiding place for his children – a place of guaranteed safety, of intimacy, of communion with Him?  A place protected by an impenetrable shield so that even though we can’t avoid the storm we can weather it by letting Him pull us out of the wind and the rain and into the center where peace resides.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Ps 5:11

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With Easter fast approaching, I listened to Sandy Patty’s classic song, Was It a Morning Like This.  The song asks that question about resurrection morning.  Was it a morning like this?  To tell you the truth, I don ‘t think it was.  I think it was brighter, clearer, more beautiful than any morning sunrise we’ve seen since. 

The announcement of Christ’s release from the grave may have gone to Mary first, but you can’t tell me there was one single soul on earth who did not wake sensing  something was different.  I believe people felt a new hope in their hearts that morning, even if they didn’t know why.

I believe mothers kissed their children more sweetly.  I believe neighbors greeted each other more kindly.  I believe even the dogs left the cats alone!  Because after all – love had returned to the world.  The Son lived again and the Father wanted everyone to know!

A Mighty God does not do things in a minor way.  He is a God of the magnificent and of the amazing.  He is a God so powerful He could have snatched His Son off that cross, and so omniscient He chose not to.  His plan and His timing are perfect. 

Can’t you just picture that Father staring at the sealed tomb, tears streaming down his face, arms lifted in anticipation waiting for the perfect moment to give the command?  Waiting… waiting … waiting … and then at the exact instant He knew was right, the power of God pierced the sky to wrap around that massive stone and effortlessly move it aside.

The heart of God the Father and the heart of Christ the Son met at the entrance of the tomb in a sweet and beautiful reunion, witnessed by no one because it was too private, too precious, too moving, too emotional for the human heart to handle.

Oh, God, I am so thankful You do things in a mighty way.  I am so grateful You carried out your plan for mankind.  I am so humbled at the overwhelming love you showed.  Thank you for the privilege of standing here today – and every day – with the sure confidence to proclaim that I know!  I know that my Redeemer lives!

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. Job 19:25

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I have a niece whose 6 year old daughter is in the midst of her second bout with leukemia; her second long, long period of chemotherapy and all it brings.  It’s tough to watch for anyone who knows and loves this family.  But nothing we experience could possibly compare to the pain this mommy deals with every day as she watches her child suffer.  I marvel at how my niece holds up under the circumstances but I don’t doubt that there are moments when bitter tears flow from the river of hurt and horror within her mother’s heart.

A mother feels every bit of her child’s pain, be it emotional or physical.  Ridicule my child and I want to punch your lights out.  Injure my child and I want to inflict long lasting damage in retaliation.  Break my child’s heart and forever you are on my ‘scum of the earth’ list. 

There are just some things a mother’s heart should not have to bear.  The mother of Jesus would agree with me I’m sure.  When I think of all she had to cope with – from the minute she stepped out at a wedding and voiced her great pride and confidence in her son, to the times of holding her head up while the rumors, whispers and snickers came from friends and family alike, to the horror of the day she watched her Son die in the most cruel manner ever devised, I don’t know how her heart survived.  As women we grieve deeply, carry sadness in our secret places, and weep silently over the things this world throws at us and at those we love. 

Good Friday, the day Christ laid down his life for the very ones who carried out his death sentence, was not a good day for Mary.  She must have died a thousand deaths to His one.  She must have wondered how her dead feet could continue to walk; how her dead heart could continue to beat; how her dead body could continue to have blood flowing through it.

But Easter Sunday – I tell you not one person celebrating the glory of a Risen Lord comes close to experiencing the explosion of joy, the fullness of hope, the leap of new life nor the instantaneous heart healing which took place in Mary’s life that morning.

Oh yes, as mothers we injure easily and wound deeply.  We bleed through our eyes, shedding an ocean of salty tears beginning the moment our child takes his or her first breath.  Praise God that in our calling as mothers we also experience the times of ecstasy bigger and better than anyone else ever could.  It’s why we survive and thrive in our role.

Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.  Psalm 126:5 (NLV)

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I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning up my rose garden.  I pruned, raked out the dead leaves from last fall, pulled new spring weeds and tilled the packed down soil – opening it up to receive the sunshine and moisture needed to make sure I get beautiful blooms.  My hands worked the earth but my mind was on Easter week and getting ready to celebrate the resurrection.

I realize my bushes would have leafed out and bloomed without the pruning.  But to get full and abundant production it’s always better to cut out the dead wood, cut back the spindly spring growth, and let the bush pour all of its energy into new growth.  My bushes could have survived among the weeds but again, if I want all 100% of the nutrients I provide throughout the growing season to benefit the roses, I need to get rid of the things that might suck some of that away.  And while loosening the soil might not be absolutely essential, scraping away the packed earth on top just makes it so much easier for the water to reach the roots of my roses.

The parallel was obvious.  I want to stand at the foot of the cross in full bloom next Sunday.  I want my heart open to the amazing message of the resurrection.  I want everything Christ has for me to go to the very root of my being and nurture growth.  I want the dry covering of dead left by chill winds and winter storms to be cleared away.  I realize to accomplish this I have some forgiving to do, some outreach to happen, some ingesting of God’s word to take place, and some letting go of old wounds to occur.

My commitment for the next seven days:

  • Wash my soul while getting my knees dirty in a renewed emphasis on prayer. 
  • Make a serious effort to experience in a small way what Christ felt on the cross when He generously forgave those who had hurt Him.
  • Snip back the spindly growth of my last few study sessions, return to them and  dig deeper for those pockets of “Miracle Grow” found only  when you put everything you have into what you are trying to uncover. 
  • Trust God to resurrect in me that beautiful bloom of my first love just in time for Easter Sunday.

“Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.”

Psalm 45:11

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