Sunday, May 29, 2011

Just Down the Road

My posting has been less frequent--and let's face it: It appears I'm winding down, closing up shop, moving onward, and heading down the road to the point that I'll soon be out of sight. And probably out of mind. Out of your mind, hopefully--not mine!

Maybe it's just a summer sabbatical I need or maybe I need a complete overhaul of my life. But in any case, I think a break from writing will be good for me. I think I need to try some new things and contemplate some new ideas and simmer them deep within me before I share them out loud or on paper or on this blog.

So you might not hear from me for a while. You can always read some of my old posts on topics that interest you. (see Topics listed on the sidebar). Or you can step out on the road, like me, and venture down the road, beyond familiar territory, and explore the unknown and wander into some unexpected blessing or an unexpected place of peace or ministry. The world is waiting for your unique touch. God has meaningful and surprising work for you to do.

You'll discover you go.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The No and the Nod of God

I haven't been posting as much, lately--I know. But I've been having a sort of mini revival--all thanks to recently discovering anew that God's No is not the same as God's frown. I suddenly feel so loved and protected, in spite of all the No's I've had.

God's No is not such a bad thing, I've been discovering. But No is not a word we normally enjoy or appreciate.

Think of it: when you were a child and you reached out for something and heard a severe "No!" it was probably not an enjoyable experience. There might have been a No to dessert, a No to getting a toy, a No to going to a party. We remember the No's. And yes, of course, your parents (hopefully) said No to protect you: No to touching hot stoves, No to walking alone at Night, No to staying past curfew, etc etc. But still, a No is not a word we heartily embrace.

The word "No" has gotten a bad rep. And lately I've been discovering that when God says No, He might just be saying "I love you too much to let you go through that least right now." Sometimes No is "Not yet" and sometimes God's No is a resounding Alarm not too unlike the clanging fire alarm that goes off because a call comes into the local fire station that some bo-bo has set their kitchen on fire because they had their dish towel too close to the stove (I have never done that, but I have set my hair on fire when I leaned too close to the candle, once. But no fire truck was needed, thank you).

When God says No it could often mean an indirect Yes to something else--something you don't YET have in mind, but God does. God always has your Best in mind when He answers you. Because He knows the plans He has for you (Jer. 29:11).

Lately I've had a renewed enthusiasm in coming to God in prayer and discovering that I really don't care whether he says No or nods Yes--I just care that He cares, that He bends down to listen to me...and that His Answer is always perfect, always in my best interest. Sometimes it takes me awhile to figure out His answer.

But one thing I know for sure: I'm begining to appreciate and love the No and the Nod of God...because I know that He loves me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Have a Blessed Celebration of Resurrection Sunday!

May you live the life of an overcomer because of the One who overcame death.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Above It All

I just launched a missile...I mean, wrote a lengthy missive to my 21 year old son, just now. It was one of those letters where you're trying to get things off your chest, so to speak, and trying to communicate love and acceptance at the same time. I felt like I was going through this hole in the rock, and didn't know how I was going to come out or come across.

I've been operating, lately, out of the dregs of my post-winter reserves. Which is to say, I've got about a quarter ounce of grace left. It's time for a big gulp of joy and some rolling-on-the-floor laughter which would rekindle my sense of humor, my sense of perspective.

I feel like there's going to be the clash of the titans, what with my son coming home for the summer. He's like a tornado of creativity and joy--but a tornado, no less. There'll be a lot of flying debris, a lot of stormy discussions, much laughter, a lot of pizza making, and probably some exclamations of exasperation on my part. The four of us are all adults (well, my daughter is 16--but 16 going on 26 as far as maturity) with well-formed opinions and personalities and preferences. Harry, our dog, is the only amenable one of the bunch. He will acclimate to every situation. He is the one with grace.

I don't know when I felt my reserves running dry. Obviously Old Man Winter took the majority of my joie-de-vivre. But it's also due to the fact that my son will be graduating from college in a little over a year, and my daughter is working a summer job and talking about college choices and ready to go off to college in two years.

And here's the thing about raising children: you never see when they become adults. Oh, technically they become adults when they turn 18 and then especially at 21. But there are so many times along the way that you have to intervene and coach them through things. And there is no clear end to when you'll feel relieved enough, or settled enough, about them and the decisions they are making and the experiences they are going through.

Safety Bill and I were sitting on the couch one morning last week and I had my feet in his lap and he had his coffee mug in hand and we both had our kids on our mind. We were talking about our daughter --who rarely makes us worry about anything major. But of course we're always concerned about her emotional state, her spiritual journey, her physical health, her academic choices. And then just when we had finished discussing one particular little issue in her life, it occurred to us that every choice in her life would then affect us. It wouldn't stop at college or marriage or career. We'd never be done parenting-- or with the concern, I should say, that parents feel.

I don't know how God does it: how does He handle the weight of the world, the numerous requests coming to him night and day, day and night? I would be so weary. I AM weary, right now, just thinking about it. I'm weary and....relieved-- that He is NOT weary.

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom."Is 40:28

Maybe contemplating that mystery alone--that God does not ever grow tired or overwhelmed-- will help renew my strength. Because my strength is in Him. My ability to go the distance, whether its in parenting or any other task or responsibility, can be tied into His ability to not grow weary-ever. He's fresh on the scene of our life, night and day. He refreshes weary parents. And weary wanderers.

I poured my heart out, in that letter to my son; telling him things I wanted him to know, reminding him of things I didn't want him to ever forget: things like I love him, like I believe in his ability to persevere and succeed, and that therefore I'm looking forward to what he's going to choose. I challenged him but I also reminded myself of some things as well. He's at a cross-roads of choices. But really, so am I, the biggest one being that every day I've got to choose to renew my strength or pay the price of running on empty.

But if I do remember to renew my strength in Him, this will refresh my perspective, which will give me a second wind. Sure, I'll also get pushed out further and further into the mainstream of life where the challenge of complex choices might tax me some. I'll get weary, often. But God never will-- and He's sustaining me. So, I know that there will also be those times where, once in a while, I'll get to soar on eagles' wings, above it all.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Happy New Day to You

I'd like to say this is a picture of an elegant birthday party that I threw for my husband this week. But the photo is from Traditional Home- not from my home, mainly because I didn't take any photos when we celebrated Safety Bill's Birthday. We forgot to do that. Or actually, I guess we just didn't plan on taking photos.

What we did have was a nice simple birthday dinner for him and there was chocolate cake for dessert. No candles. Come to think of it, we didn't even sing happy birthday to him. It was just my daughter, Safety Bill, and I celebrating his big day. Our son is still away at college. Harry was under the table hoping for scraps of steak.

So yeah, there wasn't a lot of hoopla or singing or decorating. But there was peace. And I gave him lots of kisses. And our daughter made him a little card. And Harry curled up on his lap later, like he was a fluffy cat instead of an old dog.

I love the fact that both Safety Bill and I have come a long way when it comes to Expectations. Life is simpler and more peaceful when your expectations are realistic. This was a mid-week birthday. Safety Bill was tired from the hard work on the job site. I wasn't feeling all that peppy myself. It's been a long winter. So we three centered in on the one good thing we could expect: being together, at the table, eating a meal, relishing the peace.

I may go all out for his birthday next year. It all depends on where we're at. But for now, each new day we get to be together is a celebration. I treasure the little things now, more than ever; things like peace, laughter, a good long talk in the morning as the sun rises, hot coffee, Harry at our feet, our daughter singing in her room, our son texting us that he did well on an exam, a cup of hot tea at night, a soft pillow, my husband's hand in mine. Sometimes I celebrate big and loudly and sometimes I enjoy the quiet celebration of another birthday, a small victory (like finally folding three baskets of laundry) and the possibilities of another new day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Higher Ground

I had one of those light bulb moments this morning; you know, your brain is foggy, you're dutifully eating your pasty but good-for-you oatmeal, and you're looking at a Scripture verse for minutes on end while your mind is somewhere else, and then....Blink! The light is turned on.

First, though, there was coffee and a bit of "discussion" with Safety Bill this morning. I like to say we discuss things, but anyone listening in might say "That sounds more like arguing." But that's only because when I "discuss" things, I tend to get a little vehement, a little heated, and Safety Bill gets more quiet and goes on high alert--like he's thinking that the boiler pressure relief valve might let go. His thinking is Safety first. Mine is Make Way for Truth. We try to meet in the middle.

But there's no middle ground when God is pruning you. That's what I've been thinking about lately. John 15:2 alludes to some kind of "pruning" that God does in our life--like you're an apple tree and God is going to lop off a few branches. NOT! If that were the case, you would know what was going on when God was pruning you. It's easy to see the branches come off--if that were pruning.

But the Greek word here has to do with God purging your life. It's more of a vicious cleansing than a lopping off. He takes what is mixed-up in your life and un-mixes it. He removes things. He peels things away. And I'm convinced that when God is pruning, you feel more of a panic and dismay than a non-chalant attitude of "Oh, that's just God pruning me."

I don't think we have to go around pretending that we like being pruned. When we're going through a confusing, botched up situation and things are falling apart in our life, and we feel a little uncertain about what the heck is going on, and someone asks you how you're doing, we don't need to give some spiel about how wonderful it is to walk with God and be pruned. It's better to say, "I feel like I'm in a storm. I'm a bit confused as to what God is doing in my life right now. It's all a b it murky right now."

But hold on for the light bulb moment! Because at some point down the road, it WILL come on. Matthew 5:8 says, "Blessed are the PURE in heart, for they will see God." And in this case, the word PURE has the same Greek root word meaning as PRUNED: you're PURE because God has purged you, He's made you clean in your motives, He's removed undesirable elements from your life. And if you've ever prayed to see God more clearly, He'll take you up on that prayer. He'll shake up your staid life, purge things from it, remove the impure motives, and make you look like a mess all the while it's happening. (Ask Job.)

But hang in there, friend. Because blessed are the pure (and pruned and radically purged)--they're going to see God. When God has messed up your organized life a little, and torn apart your nest, and re-arranged relationships and purged addictions from your life, get ready for some major light-bulb moments. You're about to see things in a whole new light. You're about to see God. And when you do, you'll be glad that when you were this close to giving up, you didn't. Because like Job, though He slay you and purge you, yet you trust Him... to see you through.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Between Two Worlds

I've just spent the last hour trying to clean out my email inbox. (I'm still getting these warnings that the mailbox is precariously full, though.) This is more a statement about my inability to make quick decisions about what is necessary and what is superfluous in life, than it is a question of pressing the delete button over and over. These are the things that weigh us down in life--I'm convinced of that. When your garbage cans and email inboxes are overflowing, it means things have caught up with you.

I've got more than spring cleaning on my mind, lately. It seems like it's time for me to do a little soul searching too; or maybe you would call it a re-balancing, like the way they re-balance the tires on your car so that uneven weight distribution doesn't cause noticeable vibrations.

I've spent a bit of time over the last week reviewing some news stories and videos about the Japanese people and their state of emergency after the earthquake and tsunami. They are not dealing with petty things like cleaning out email inboxes. They are dealing with issues of survival. They are trying to find someplace solid on which to stand. They're looking for lost loved ones and dealing with a death toll that some say is hovering near 22,000.

What can I learn from the Japanese? They are going through hell right now. They are learning to cope, to endure, to overcome. Everything is critical in their life right now.

I do not face these same challenges. But I'm called to the same actions of persevering, enduring, overcoming. In light of their overwhelming pain right now, the light bulb has gone on in my brain: it's called Perspective. I see things differently. I realize that I have some challenges in life, but I am not challenged to the point of death and despair. I realize that there are things I don't want to do in life, but I am not dealing with the daunting undesirable task of searching through dead bodies so that I can identify a loved one. I'm not in a season of crisis. I'm not, in any way, at the end of my rope, so to speak.

So on behalf of those who are in crisis, I contribute to the Red Cross relief efforts through my local grocery store. But more than that, I pray--for divine help, miraculous strength, a way...where there seems to be no way. And then I also set my mind about how I will deal with the challenges in my life. I want to have the right attitude, the right undercurrent of thought about every big and small problem: this is just an obstacle, a minor issue, a relational blip, a financial challenge; and I can deal with this.

It's not a feeling of guilt that teaches me this perspective. And it's not so much relief either--relief that I'm not living through the aftermath of catastrophe-- but it's the understanding that in between those two opposing worlds of guilt and relief is the healthy balance of an appreciation for Life, sweet and full, messy and frustrating, challenging and precious.

I think our Japanese friends would tell us this, that when all is said and done, a hand in yours, an embrace of comfort, an understanding look, a listening ear--these are the things we all cherish, no matter what season of life we're in. This is what Life is--the flow and the undertow, the crisis and the calm after the storm, and everything else in between that makes us look up for help and then reach out for those around us.... gratefully.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: Skipping a Beat

Speaking of timing, here's a book that explores what happens when someone suddenly wakes up to the truth of how fleeting this life's journey is. As we empathize with the Japanese people in the aftermath of catastrophe, we certainly have a higher sense of the brevity of life, the preciousness of time with loved ones, and the question of what really matters in this life.

Sarah Pekkanen explores some of these questions in her latest novel, Skipping a Beat. I eagerly began reading the book and was hooked right from the beginning. The story centers in a prosperous thirty-smething aged couple who has it all--after having had little as children-- and what happens when the main character, Julia Dunhill, finds that after a cardiac arrest, her husband, Michael has come back to life, but not exactly in the same frame of mind as before.

This is a beautiful story. I probably related more to Michael than to Julia at times, throughout the story, but there was ample backstory and exploration of character nuances to get anybody tied in to the unfolding of the story and the ultimate outcome. Some reviewers have discussed the ending as surprising, but I wasn't surprised by the resolution of the story. The only thing I couldn't relate to at all had to do with what you call the theology of Michael's experience and his viewpoint of the afterlife.

But this novel certainly explores some of the more impacting experiences of life. It's no picnic in a fairytale world, but a thoughtful look at a marriage in trouble, a man with a new outlook on life, and a woman who has never forgotten her past. Sarah Pekkanen's SKIPPING A BEAT is aptly named. More than that, it's a moving story; a treasure chest of reality and hope.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I receive books free from publishers. I am not required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Have You Got the Time?

My timing has been a bit off here at Faith Fuel--I've been writing sporadically and posting from time to time but not with any degree of regularity. Getting the timing right on something is always a bit of a challenge, isn't it?

I love how the Psalmist writes, "My times are in your hands" (Psalm 31:15). He's referring to the seasons of opportunity and the timing of certain events being directly in God's powerful hands. It's a good thing that divine timing is not left up to me, I can't even get human timing right!

The thing is, if our seasons and windows of opportunity are in God's hands, then chances are (timing, again) that we're going to be in the dark about things until they're made clear. And most people who are "in the dark" feel somewhat afraid, a bit tenuous about their sense of security.

For example, I'm in the dark as to when I'll hear from my college-aged son, what exactly he is doing down south, what he is up to. I'll get a text message from him from time to time, but I basically don't know what he is doing, if he's getting to classes, sleeping at all, or remembering that college is about getting an education and not about having an extended vacation. He's a creative, wild type, my son; prone to taking a hair-raising adventure like Mr. Toad in the Wind in the Willows. It's best if I am kept in the dark about what he's up to because my heart rate might accelerate out of control if I know all the things going on in his life.

But maybe there's a correlation with how God works as well: I don't think I could handle knowing everything that is coming my way, or what "adventure" God is lining up for me to experience next. I thought I wanted to know more about what God is doing in the dark so that I can take a more definitive stance to what I am doing in the light. But God does not play fair--mainly because He doesn't play with our lives and He has a different standard for what fair is.

If I cast my bread upon the waters, as it says in Ecclesiastes, I may have to wait days, weeks, months, years before I see what happens. A better way to understand this verse and see that it doesn't have to do with soggy bread but Timing, instead, is to read the verse in the New Living Translation: "Send your grain across the seas, and in time, profits will flow back to you." So you're really casting your ships on the water, over tumultuous seas, where they sail out until you can't see them anymore. They've disappeared into the horizon. You don't know when they'll return, and if they'll return full or empty.

My Dad didn't want me to major in English, back when I was in College, because he couldn't see that there would be a very good return for me career-wise. Where do English majors wind up? In various and sundry places, I can tell you that from experience. I completely understand, now, why he wanted to guide me into calmer waters where smooth sailing--at least career-wise--was a bit more possible.

There have been a number of ventures and adventures that I've taken over the years and when I look back, I can see where I would have taken a different turn or where I would have changed course, depending on what I saw coming my way, at that time. But all my seasons of life are woven together, working together for good; they're held in God's hands and He has promised to make sense of them all.

And after recently having a pivotal birthday, I'm obviously wondering if I've got the time, still, to make my life count, make my mistakes count even. Mistakes go hand in hand with risk. And risk is an ingredient in Faith. And without Faith, it's impossible to please God, says Hebrews; because God is looking for people who send out their ships on the waters and release them to the wind and to the chance of storms and danger. There's a chance an endeavor you've gotten involved in may start to go south. There's a chance that you can't quite reach that goal that you've set for yourself. But there's one thing I'm sure of: you've got the time, still, to reach out and go for the impossible. It's still the opportune season for taking a faith adventure because it is always God's will to press onward, press toward Him, and reach for something that would take His power, in you and on you, to do.

Don't stand too long looking at your ship sailing into the purple strirated horizon and wondering how long it will take till you see a return. It's probably a better usage of our twenty-four hour time to pour ourselves into the work at hand and leave the timing of it all, the outcome of it all, in God's hands where mysteries lay concealed... until the opportune time.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

O Happy Day

Harry's fan club is growing, mainly because as he ages, his adorableness does not seem to wane. I, on the other hand, experienced a rather traumatic event in February that has to do with the accounting of time in a chronological manner. Yes, the dreaded birthday. I really was having a hard time with this one in particular and wasn't even going to write about it. I was going to try to pretend that it hadn't occurred.

But that's cowardly. We don't "do" cowardly here at Faith Fuel. So let me share what went on in my head and heart over the last week and a half. I tried to be plucky about this new decade and age category I was entering. I tried not to be so shallow that getting a year older should upset me so.

But it really wasn't the birthday that was getting to me. It was the fact that a year had passed and I had not accomplished anything significant--at least in my mind. Which is the place where age matters, really--it's all in your mind. That's where a lot of our problems are as well, or the magnification of our problems, I should say. In our mind's eye, everything looms large and threatening when it might just be a whisper of a problem.

I was not happy on February 21st, the day of my birthday. I went to bed that night and felt listless, defeated, deflated. I woke up the next day and things were still gray: the skies, my mood, my outlook. I think God had had enough of my pity party because that afternoon as I was driving around doing errands, I felt that whisper of tender inquiry, "What's really bothering you, Lauren?"

So I told God, "It's that I don't feel like I'm 50. I feel like I'm 41 or 42. I wish I could still be in my forties. That would just feel like I have more time to, you know, 'get there.' "

I felt like God was in a forbearing mood when He countered with, "So then, do you want to turn back time and go back seven or eight years. That would mean your son is back in middle school, having that rough year, and you would be without the church family that you're connected with right now."

"Oh, no, I don't want to go back to that season of my life" I thought. "How about 45 then? I'd like to at least be in my forties."

"Well then you'd be experiencing that delightful transitional stage with your son. Remember that period of time where there was a lot of yelling and asserting of independence and storming around the house and slamming of doors- and it wasn't just him doing all that??" God reminded me.

I flushed with embarrassment. This was not going well. I saw where God was going with this. I saw that to survive somewhat-trying seasons, you had to pay the price of time. You gave up minutes, hours, days, months of your life. But you also got the reward of having gotten THROUGH that time. And once you get through a difficult time, why would you want to go through it again?

I felt a sudden wave of deep appreciation for where I was in life, at that very moment, at that very age I was. It's not really your age that defines you anyhow--though society wouldn't exactly agree with that.

I think of Abraham in the Bible. "Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people."(Genesis 25:8) This is the man we affectionately and respectfully refer to as Father Abraham. You don't get to be a father unless you pay the price of years spent. You don't get to be a grandparent unless you are "full of years."

I want to get to the point where I can view advancing age, old age, as something that is GOOD, something that is a Reward. After all, ask anyone battling a life-threatening disease if they are worried about getting a year older. They want to get to the point where the possibility of living to "a good old age" is a reality.

And so, on behalf of them, and on behalf of those who are trying to get THROUGH trying times, I embrace this new age, this birthday I just had. This was my reward. I didn't just make it through another year, I completed a level. I passed some tests. I have made it into a new season of life. I've got a brilliant son in college who will be graduating in a little over a year. I've got a teenaged daughter who has excellent judgment and such perspective for a sixteen year old. My husband and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage this August. My mind is still clear. My dreams are still alive.I've got a lot going for me, even though gravity and the passing of time might defy my body.

You know what a birthday really is? It's a Door. Each Year that Comes is an Open Door that leads to many things. I turn the doorknob and step into a new year mindful that I get the opportunity to explore and question and grow. I get to experience the grace of God, and if anything, I think I see His grace more clearly the older I get. Hopefully I am more grateful than I was last year, more thankful than ever to be alive- because this is Life, moving fast and faster. I step into the flow of wonder and awe expectant and eager to live to a good old age.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DEVOTION by Dani Shapiro

Oh, what a searingly honest memoir! This is not just one woman's story of her search for truth and for permanence in a transitory, troubled world, but it's every mother's experience with fear and protectiveness, every daughter's questioning look at her relationship with her parents. In a way, this is my story--even though it's not my faith journey.

I am a lot like author Dani Shapiro, in that I have a questioning mind--no, actually, it's almost obsessively virulent in its grasping for answers. I read her story and I'm nodding my head over and over, even though I have never tried Buddhist practises or meditative rituals. But I've searched, I've questioned. I've stood in massive cathedrals, the year I lived in Spain, and felt a stab of yearning for what the Catholics knew that I, an evangelical Christian, didn't. Things like the sense of kneeling in pews and reciting certain novenas that reduced you to smallness while God loomed majestically before you. As Dani writes, "It was a lesson I needed to learn over and over again: to stop and simply be. To recognize these moments and enter them--with reverence and an unprotected heart--as if walking into a cathedral."

And the year we lived up in the mountains of New Hampshire in a Jewish populated community-- oh, what a glorious time that was and I absorbed and questioned and made friends with the conservative, the orthodox, those of reform faith. There was Seymour and Ethel, and Mort and Adele, my Jewish neighbors who were dear friends. And of course our Catholic and slightly ballistic neighbor, Mr. Kaminski, who thought the world of my husband and me but chafed at the questionable boundary line between himself and his neighbors, Mort and Adele.

Religious discourse, or talking about what we believe, seems to bring up boundary lines--seen or unseen. Fear arises when people ask questions that a tightly compacted faith cannot answer. But Dani Shapiro, while honestly conveying the anxiety she battles, isn't afraid to go there. Neither is her son. "Jacob piped up from the back seat:'How do we know we're not dreaming right now?' The idea that we might be dreaming frightened him. He wanted to know what was real." And so do I.

And that, in a nutshell, is Shapiro's quest: it's not just for a life of devotion, but for the depth of a a true faith, a solid foundation of awe and yet security that perhaps we all long for. This is a beautifully written book for those who grapple and grasp for truth. I opened the pages of this book and heard her heart, saw her anxious questioning mind and her courage. "I've set myself on a course that doesn't allow me to be a coward" she writes; and yet she has no problem almost boldly telling you of the panic attacks and problems that plague her.

This is a memoir, not a didactic guide book for those used to going directly from A to B. This is an ongoing conversation and a journey. I explored with her--and I'm still asking my questions without pulling back.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I receive books free from publishers. I am not required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Thanks to House Beautiful, I can stare at this photo for hours, wondering why it has such a hold on me. I love the bright pink here--the punch of color that jolts you out of winter doldrums and into contemplation of the colors of Spring that are on their way.

We lived with a lot of gray this winter- gray skies, gray rooms, gray salted slush piling up on all the sidewalks.

You endure a winter--unless you're an outdoor enthusiast whizzing down the mountain or cross country skiing through the woods. (Good for you, if that's you!)

Me--I take the hole-up-and-hibernate route and venture out for long walks when the snow has melted and the sun warms my skin. I've got another month or two till that happens.

Harry is wearing a cute little collar I made out of an old cashmere sweater. Safety Bill thinks he looks ridiculous in it. But I've had scissors in my hand and old magazines and old sweaters piled in my room, and my sewing box at my feet, and this is what you get from me during the winter: candles that wear custom little sweaters and Harry wearing a little blue bow-tie collar around his neck. This is me making it through winter. You do what you gotta do.

Like the other day when I went over to stay with my mom while her two main caregivers were out. We had a song fest in the living room (which looks nothing like the picture above!) On the old out-of-tune piano, I pounded away, plinking out rusty chord patterns and trying to keep the melody.

"This is what you get, Mom, after five years of me taking lessons" I called out with a sheepish smile.

She didn't care about the out-of-tune sound or the missed notes. She just wanted to sing. We sang Christmas carols and the theme song from Love Story and a couple of those old glory hymns. My mother clapped at the end of each song like I had finished a recital for the queen. That's how we passed the morning hours that day, making a joyful noise--emphasis on the word "noise."

The living room looks nothing like the picture above. The furniture is faded, mismatched. The old oriental rug pummeled to death. The only color is the plethora of green plants placed all over the room. The piano is chipped, and several keys have the ivory missing. It's not exactly a showcase of a room. But it's where I spent my childhood and teen years. It's where I practiced the piano for hours, not exactly thinking I would become proficient but thinking that it was a good thing to do.

I'm glad my mother never said to me, "This is what I get out of all those years we paid for lessons?!" Because what she got was a terrible piano player who can barely read music. But I think she hears something different when I play. I think she hears, not the botched chords or the awkward sounds of wrong notes, but instead, the years of me practicing away with her covertly perched by the sliding door listening to the comforting sound of someone just trying to get it right.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Same Life, New Story by Jan Silvious

Same Life New Story is more than a ten-week Bible Study for Women. It's a handbook for those looking to create a powerful life that's been kept on hold, a life that involves having a new perspective, a new hope, and new patterns of behavior.

Oh, beware the fickle mood! One minute you see no value, but the next minute the proverbial light bulb goes on. Or in my case it took a week or so.

When I first got the book Same Life, New Story: Change Your Perspective to Change Your Life, I flipped through the pages and thought darkly, "Another boring devotional." (Just keeping it real here, folks). I put it aside and went on to other books.

Then a couple sleepless nights occurred. Last night especially--I woke up at 3:30am and could not go back to sleep. Harry saw me tiptoe into the office and wanted to be let out but I hissed at him, "Go back to sleep!" because one of us should have been snoring away. (I don't snore--just for the record).

I opened up Jan Silvious's book and found out that she was talking straight to me, in my language, addressing my deepest concerns. "Have you ever been stuck because you had to prove a point?" she writes. Uh, now that you mention it, Jan, yes. And I've been thinking about this very thing, lately. (You'll have to read chapter 1 to see what she means by this).

Every chapter begins with a pithy saying--straight to the point. And then it only goes deeper as she delves into subjects dealing with self-sabotage, and victim mentality and all those other topics that we really, really should be done with in our life, don't you think??

She's an excellent writer, a professional life coach, and if you take your time with this book, she'll become like a friend--the very best kind, the kind who wants the best for you even when you've forgotten what that is. She wants us to learn that "changing your perspective can truly change your life." God's been dealing with me about this: how I see things, how HE sees things.

I want to get a mountain top viewpoint. And for me, I began the climb upward when I got out of bed, sleepless and weary, but oh so ready to see things in a whole new way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I receive books free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I am not required to write a positive review. The opinions I express are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Be Still, My Beating Heart

Knight in Shining Armour Card,

I was rummaging around in a cupboard and found an old photo of my husband (otherwise known as Safety Bill). I think it's his high school graduation photo.

High School is a point of contention between us because he liked me back then and I didn't know that he did.

Years later he got his chance to make his move when I needed a ride home from college for Thanksgiving break, and he gave me one.

I've been riding with Safety Bill ever since. And from looking back at old posts here, you know that he looks like a hunky contractor but drives like a ninety-year-old man. Another point of contention-- but we won't go into that one either.

All this to say....Valentine's Day is coming. For the calendar-impaired among us, it's this Monday, February 14th.

This year I'm not doing any fancy dinner for Safety Bill but I did buy him a soft wool scarf and he bought me a beautiful hard cover book (though he doesn't know, yet, that he did.) He's not the greatest in the gift giving department but I've gotten over that, finally. I had to account for the good foot rubs he gives, the way he does the dirty pots and pans that I hide in the oven (without complaining) and the fact that after twenty-six years of marriage, I still like what I see.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Sheltered from the Storm

Last night was the first meeting of a group I've formed called Writers & Readers. Five of us gathered in my home, three Readers and two Writers. The idea for this group started after I had an "interesting" experience with an initial writers group I went to. I tried to join in there, I tried to grow, to learn and receive critique but the experience was rather like wading into the deep end of the shark-infested ocean with steak juice smeared all over you. After a couple times there, and feeling like I needed to toughen up some, I relayed my experience with this group to my best friend. Her response: DONT GO BACK THERE! Now, my friend "Mu" obviously likes me and didn't want to see me hurt or battered about, but more than that, she was concerned that I would lose all sense of accomplishment or ability if I went to a group that seemed to breed bitterness and frustration in the members and relished beating the hope out of any newcomer-writer that they could do anything right.

So Mu became my writers group: it was just us two meeting weekly over the months. Some would say that she was biased , being my best friend, and how could she offer good feedback and objective critique? But Mu always shoots pretty straight with me, and at the same time, has a way of couching all her critique in a crème brulée coating of tenderness (without the flame).

Also during this time, I picked up an interesting book about Toxic Feedback by Joni B. Cole. It's not just budding writers that have to worry about this problem because I've seen this everywhere: among sisters, among supposed best friends, at the workplace, in the Church, and even on the playground. Toxic Feedback is any kind of response to a question that sends a double message-- a sort of of yes followed by a debilitating No. It's a response that is meant to make you doubt yourself, or make you question your capabilities.

It seems like there are two kinds of people in this world with power: those who have the power to make you doubt yourself and those who have the power to encourage and build up. (There are those who don't do either, but then that's why they don't affect your life). It's not like you have to lie and fudge and gloss over reality in order to encourage someone when giving a critique. There's always something of value in any man's work; you can always find something positive or noteworthy to highlight. You don't always have to go for the jugular--unless you're the kind of person who feels stronger when you make others feel smaller.

So this new group met last night, and boy did we have fun! It helps that we had lots of chocolate and coffee and tea. And it didn't matter that one member got stuck in our snow crowded driveway. And even though the women didn't all know each other, we felt like instant friends within minutes. We were there to discover new talent, to hear the beginning of a story, to approve the good, to note the noteworthy, to concentrate on spurring one another onward. We had a great time; so much so, that we ran late.

I keep thinking about all the things my Dad did right, lately. As he becomes a man softened by age, less powerful in stature, the things of his life are evident: the five children he raised, the players he coached, the students he taught, the message he continually spoke. In our home, you weren't allowed to criticize someone without first giving two compliments. It was my Dad's way of tempering the harshness of the dagger we wanted to throw at someone first. Usually we'd toss out something like "Your hair is nice, you've got got nice teeth- but you're a jerk for taking stuff from my room!!" It kind of defeated Dad's purpose, the way we'd rush through the two compliments to get to the meat of our criticism or attack.

But I know what he was getting at--I see this now, more than ever. There's a great need in this world for safe places and safe people. We have shelters (and not enough of them) for battered women. But there are too few shelters for battered souls. Real Encouragement is needed--not the frosting of random compliments. Encouraging someone has to do with noting their heart's desire to use talents and gifts to the best of their ability. It's pointing out what they did right-- or what they wanted to achieve, even if they didn't. It's seeing beyond--and in spite of--the flubbed attempt. It's seeing behind the string of dis-attached words, the very meaning... the message they were hoping to convey.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Two Words: Jane Austen

Another quazi-blizzard is here. This is a good day to go to England--not that the weather is any better there, and even in the summer time, I hear its iffy about getting any sunny days with blue skies and no rain in sight. But its England--land of teatime and Jane Austen. What more could you ask for??

And if you open the pages of Cindy Jones' debut novel, MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER: A Season in Mansfield Park, you'll get to travel to England, participate in a literary festival's reenactment of Mansfield Park, and meet an enigmatic and intriguing potential love interest that you wouldn't expect.

The main character, Lily is no silly bird, and this story is not a lilting romp through superficial relationships. Slightly darker and deeper in nature, MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER is a thoughtful reflective look at one woman's physical journey as well as her inward progress in coming to terms with the nature of true happiness.

As it snows outside, I'll just stay curled up in a chair and read through the book again-- if I can get past just staring at the beautiful cover! I was the lucky recipient of this book because of a blog giveaway, but it'll be on sale late March.

So, any Jane Austen lovers out there?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's Coming

This is what I love to see in the dead of winter: a bit of color. Makes me think that Spring has a chance of getting here after all.

I've been a bit contrary this year--haven't been posting as regularly, didn't do any New Years Resolutions, haven't made any lists. And I have to say I've never felt happier. I feel like this room from Elle Decor- bright, a bit wild,even. The older I get, the less I want to play it safe.

Now there's being safe and there's playing safe: two different things. I'm not talking about being stupid or taking foolish risks; but taking risks will never feel good. It will never feel safe to step out into the unknown.

So yeah, I think I'll try adding a punch of color into my life today, this winter, this year. I just have to envision myself sitting here on this lime-green love seat (which I've now decided is one of my favorite colors), put my feet up on this glass coffee table , and stare up at the ceiling--which I imagine soars pretty high-- and contemplate the possibilities.

I do believe they're endless.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I'll be reading this book next, among several others. Why? One reason:
The title alone says it all.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Books, Books, and more Books

Books....from the library, in big piles. I carry them to the car with a greedy smile. No one realizes I almost, literally, feast on words--and that some words are precious to the soul, fortifying. Undergirding-- which is a word you seldom hear.

I reflected on Psalm 37 all day. Beautiful words. And more than that, you feel God upholding you as you read; telling you, "Now, see? This is the way to look at your situation. Trust in me. Don't fret. Let Me handle it." Now those are words to take you through the day.

Books... that I'm writing; a second one in the works. The first one, a novel, that I marvel at still-- it rushed out of me in four and half months. I've had one Agent offer of representation, and though we almost matched in our goals, I declined. I look crazy, I know- but I didn't have peace about the contract, you see. And without peace, I'll stumble. I'll draw back, freeze up. So I'm still searching for the right agent. Trying to stay patient.

Books....that I'm reading. Getting ready to review. Jane Austen lovers- get ready! Those looking for some devotional depth, I've got a very interesting book coming my way and it'll get reviewed here. Books of all kinds, stories, words that will evoke a spark in us. And we need a bit of fire now that we're in the dead of winter.

Make a fire. Brew some tea. Draw close...and read.