Summer Vacation? by Tara Randel

Since this year has been far from normal, it seems like many folks are planning to stay close to home, if they even take a summer vacation this year. School has either started in some places, or will start soon in others. I don’t know about you, but the few little getaways we’ve been able to take have really been good for our spirits.

Last weekend we went camping. It rained…a lot, but we still had fun. Being outdoors and breathing the fresh air was quite invigorating after spending so much time indoors. We went kayaking, the first time for me. Am I a fan? No. LOL. We renting the kayaks at the campground located on a river. The family we were camping with have four kids and there were four adults, so we teamed up on tandem boats. Let me just say, when you have a nine year old kayak-mate explaining how to paddle correctly, it’s a humbling experience. I’m pleased to report we survived, no mishaps. Well, if you don’t include me falling into the water once we made it back to the dock…

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My daughter and I are Disney Passholders and couldn’t wait for the parks to open. We went to Hollywood Studios and let me just say, the precautions they’ve taken were to be commended. The attendance in the parks is limited, there is social distancing to get on the rides and once on a ride, your group is the only one sitting together. I was never concerned for my health and that fact made the day all the more enjoyable.

The big draw for us was to get on the new Star Wars ride, Rise of the Resistance. One word…amazing! If you are a Star Wars fan, you won’t be disappointed if you get to visit the park. The technology was impressive and the experience was not over hyped. We got into one of the early boarding groups so we didn’t have to worry about not making it on the ride that day. My only complaint? There was so much to see I wanted to go on again, but the groups had been filled for the day. I’m sure we’ll be back again to take a second spin on the ride.

It was hot, after all this is August in Florida, but even with masks on, we survived. And yes, we’ll be going back again next month to check out Epcot.

Hopefully you’ve had a wonderful summer. Maybe even got in a short getaway or two. I’d love to hear about your vacation this year.

So now, back to work. I’m in deep writing mode and won’t submerge for a while, but I am thankful for the time away with my family and friends. God is good!

Tara Book

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her latest Harlequin Heartwarming romance, ALWAYS THE ONE, available now. For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter and receive a link to download a free digital book.

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Favorite Divine Moments by Yvonne Lehman

Yvonne Lehman, Christians Read

I have a friend who called me her favorite. I accepted that, knowing that due to life circumstances, we had a special connection. Later, I discovered she told others they were her favorite. My ego was deflated, although knowing we each had other friends. I decided to examine the word, “favorite.”

I thought of the song, “My Favorite Things.” The words say the dog bites and the bee stings. But when sad, the singer doesn’t feel so bad when thinking of favorite things. Not thing – singular, but things – plural. More than one favorite. We’re often asked questions such as: what’s your favorite color, book, author, season, food, kind of…etc. etc. Well… it depends… or  maybe changes.

My mind began to focus on favorite Bible verses. I cannot name only one. My favorite has been the one most meaningful at a particular time in my life. John 3:16 is likely the most meaningful in all of scripture. That is the basis for abundant and eternal life. After that acceptance, other scripture becomes personally meaningful.

Looking back, I think of verses that I began to apply in my life specifically. When I was in a young married women’s class, the teacher asked if I would teach one Sunday when she needed to be away. Perhaps my faithfulness in attendance, response in class, asking questions, showing a desire to learn prompted her to ask me. Or… maybe everyone else had said, “No.” Anyway, I stood before the class with my notes on the right side of the lectern and the verse in large letters, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13 NKJV),” on the left side. Looking at the verse as often as looking at the notes got me through it. That was my first time to teach a class. But I knew if I didn’t try, I wouldn’t know if I could do it, or be effective. After that, I taught several times.

A few years later we moved to another city and church. I was asked to work with 2-3 year-olds. Ouch! The dog bit. That was not my preference. But I wanted to prove my willingness to serve. I thought of the scripture, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:1-5). I was married but had no children at that time, no experience, but again I thought of the verse, “I can do all things…” In studying stories and lessons and presenting them to children, I was inadvertently learning to be a parent, discovering what appeals to and makes a difference in toddlers’ lives. I’m sure I learned more that year than the toddlers did.

After that year with children, I thought I could continue to be effective in that department, but my preference was teaching adults and I made that known. The nominating committee asked if I would teach young women, ages 17-married. Sure, I was apprehensive, but my confidence had grown. The group was young and fun, dating, falling in love and out, getting engaged, getting married, being active in church or work or college life. Then… my confidence grew to the point that I felt if I could teach toddlers, young teenage women, and a husband (ahem!), it was time to go further. After all, Jesus said, “Go…into all the world… and start in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). I felt convicted about teaching brotherly love every Sunday being confined to a Sunday school class. I presented my plan to invite some young Black girls to our class and that was enthusiastically accepted. I happened to mention it to a deacon. What followed was a deacon’s meeting. The pastor and all deacons but one said, “No.” Rejection! Ouch! The bee stung.

My faith in Christians and God’s leading plummeted. I considered giving up that class, quitting the church. Seeing that my class members weren’t as adversely affected as I was, I continued teaching. But I felt disappointed, defeated, and sad. I read the verse, “Worship the Lord with gladness, come before him…acknowledge that the Lord is God!” (Psalm 100:4). So… the Lord is not there to do my bidding. I am to do His! Thus, I walked down the aisle of the church to re-dedicate my life, having no idea what that meant, other than be content, and let Him lead. If his plan for me was to stay in “Jerusalem,” that was needed and a worthy calling.

However, soon after that, I noticed a small ad about the Billy Graham School of Christian Writing in Decision Magazine. Something new and different stirred inside me. I had not thought of being a writer, but I had re-written all the lessons I’d taught, had written about good times and bad times and special thoughts or insights, then tossed them into a box in a closet. So, I applied to attend the school. Long story short… that led to a whole new world of writing opening up to me. After more education, learning about the profession, practicing my creativity, my written words were reaching out to “the world” with a faith message. That certainly demands an important verse to become a favorite each time I write, “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).  

In taking advantage of opportunities and having a willingness to serve, God had been preparing me for the writing profession through many experiences. Eventually I did get to teach classes of adults, one a class olden than I, where I learned even more. I’ve spent a few decades writing novels, and although I’d dabbled in nonfiction, that wasn’t my interest. Again… I was led in that direction. After being asked to write “one” Divine Moments book, things happened, again without my pursuing it, and now there are 16 Moments books. These give opportunities for anyone with a story to share with others. And, since all royalties go to Samaritan’s Purse, I and the other authors are reaching the world, if not with the written word, with the money donated to that organization which meets the physical and spiritual needs of “the world.”

In thinking about favorite verses, I see that they became favorite because of how I can look back on them, see promises or encouragement and how to live by God’s Word. They’ve become favorites because of my personal need for God’s leadership or presence. Maybe that’s why I became a favorite of my friend because I was here for her not only for fun and companionship, but in times of need. She is a favorite of mine.

So, I took it further. Maybe… I am a favorite of God’s. John 3:16 tells me he wants that. Ephesians 1:5-7 (HCSB) says,“He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”  

Yes, (I) we are God’s favorite. So, when the dog bites and the bee stings, I can think of a few of my favorite things and my heart sings.

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I’m a Good Person (or Trying to Be) by Kathy Carmichael

I’m a good person. Or I like to think I am.

I think it’s important to be as good of a person as I possibly can be. I don’t always make it. I can’t always live up to my standards. Without even thinking, sometimes I’m tempted to act (and do act, again without thinking) in a way that doesn’t pass my “good person” ideals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been about to say or do something, impulsively, and had to stop mid action or mid speech. Or the times when I didn’t check myself in time. With any luck, most of those times no one overheard me.

One of my biggest flaws is that I’ll do almost anything for a laugh. It’s an annoying flaw, even to me. But it’s an even bigger flaw to those who live with me. (Sorry gang!) This gets me into lots of trouble — saying things I don’t really mean, or don’t think out ahead of time, simply for a (hoped for) laugh. Believe me when I say I have said some of the most stupid and, at least one time, hurtful things that I regret to the bottom of my heart.

But, back to being good, what defines a “good person?” How do you know if your actions are good?

What happens if you, a good person, does something not as good?

I think it’s all about your intent. Are you wanting to get away with something? Have you done it intentionally or unintentionally? Did you do it not realizing what the reaction would be? Have you taken advantage of another person or people? Did you hurt anyone, intentionally or not?

Personally, as soon as I recognize it I apologize, then I spend a lot of time berating myself. That may not be the same for everyone. I do have a huge guilt ethic. After I’m done fussing at myself, I pray and ask for forgiveness. Then I try to do better–until the next time. As much as I want to live up to Jesus’ example, I’m merely human and mess up time and again.

In this current political environment (See? I can say things diplomatically if I put my mind to it.), it’s difficult to pursue my usual method of keeping my trap shut. When I see others saying one thing yet doing another, it’s hard to hold back my angry words. I have even been noticed using choice words directed at my TV set (according to my family) and those choice words were spoken in anger rather than humor.

So can I still say I’m a good person?

I don’t think I’m a bad person, but there’s a whole lot of room for improvement. Daily prayer is helping me deal with all the turmoil going on. I remind myself that Jesus said to love and forgive one another. I’m working and praying hard at this!

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Mysteries by James R. Coggins

Having read hundreds of murder mysteries, good, mediocre, and terrible, (and even having scribbled a few myself), I’ve come to a startling conclusion: People read murder mysteries for the mystery.

It’s the mental puzzle that attracts. Readers want to see if they can figure out “whodunit” before the writer solves the mystery and reveals the murderer. In a good mystery, therefore, the writer must lay out all the clues, to give the reader a fair shot at guessing the solution.

I have also noticed an unfortunate trend. After a writing two or three moderately successful murder mysteries, many mystery writers develop the delusion that they are real novelists. They decide that readers read their books, not because of the mystery, but because they are fascinated with the characters, especially the lead character—who is usually modelled on the writer. Librarians write about librarians, accountants about accountants, editors about editors, dog trainers about dog trainers. The problem is that these writers’ lives are not really as interesting as the writers think they are.

It is a common human failing. We all have a tendency to think it is all about us, to focus on ourselves instead of the great mysteries of life.

James R. Coggins is the author of the John Smyth mysteries. The hero of these mysteries is John Smyth who, modeled on Coggins himself, is the short, bald, and bearded editor of a Christian magazine who never seems to garner the respect and widespread admiration he deserves.

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Under Suspicion (by Hannah Alexander)

We recently republished this title with considerable rewrites, and thanks to the editing of Kristin Billerbeck and Jill Eileen Smith, I think the book has all its ducks in a row:

Shona Tremaine, daughter of and assistant to State Senator Kemper MacDonald, decides to resign after a heated public argument with her father about his shady politics. Before she can give notice, however, she finds him murdered in their home, and she becomes a prime suspect. Worse, her life could be in danger.

Rising local television news anchor Geoffrey Tremaine thought he’d left the world of politics forever when he resigned from his position with Senator MacDonald last year. What he hadn’t expected was that his wife, Shona, would stay with her father. Their bitter separation has been fodder for public rumors and innuendoes for nearly a year. But when Geoff receives news of his father-in-law’s murder, he cannot turn his back on Shona, despite his new employer’s demands that he reveal all about the skeletons in the MacDonald family closet—or he will lose his job.

Shona confides to Geoff that she’d been planning to leave her father and politics behind, but then announces in their television interview that she would be willing to take her father’s place if her name is cleared. What is Geoff to believe? Will they be able to find a way through the rubble of their past? Will a determined murderer succeed in ending the MacDonald family legacy?

https://amzn.to/3jcfWvX

 

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Foxtails and Foxes by Nancy J. Farrier

Do you have foxtail weeds where you live? They are one of the worst weed pests ever. They cling to pants, dig into sock and shoes, burrow deep in a pet’s fur, and become a general nuisance. If you aren’t careful to get every last one from your socks before they go in the wash, the pokey little beasts can end up anywhere in your clothing. 

Every year, we mow and cut the weeds down before they have the chance to put on the heads, but what happens then? They grow closer to the ground, so low the mower won’t touch them, and still put out the pointy seeds that travel everywhere.

These invasive weeds remind me of the foxes in the Bible. 

“…Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines….” Song of Songs 2:15 (NKJV) 

What do foxes have to do with vines or grapes? It turns out that the foxes mentioned here are small and sneak into vineyards. Sometimes, they eat the grapes, but they also destroy the vines and branches, wreaking havoc on the plants. The foxes hide in holes and are hard to find. Yet, for the health of the vineyard, they must be destroyed.

What do foxes and foxtails have in common then? They both sneak in where they aren’t wanted. They are both small and cause damage or harm. They are both difficult to find and eradicate. 

In our lives, those foxes can come in many forms. A bit of gossip. Seems harmless, but it isn’t. Gossip is rampant in the world and in the Christian community. Even in the guise of prayer, people spread gossip. When that happens, all who hear that prayer request carry away a little fox that can spread damage to them and to others they come in contact with. Be careful what you say even in prayer or asking for prayer.


“You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people…” Leviticus 19:16 (NKJV)

Photo by Scott Walsh on Unsplash

Another fox that comes to mind: Doubts. About ourselves, others, or even God’s love. Doubt creeps in unwanted and burrows deep inside us. We question if we are loved. We question if we are worthy. We question whether others even care about us. These foxes are always there hiding and popping up when we least expect. Yet, there is hope to be rid of them. Hope that comes from praising and trusting God.


Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him Forthe help of His countenance.” Psalm 42:5 (NKJV)

There are so many little foxes that invade our lives. Pride. Anger. Jealousy. Materialism. The love of money. And the list goes on.

I’m sure you recognize those foxes and can think of more than I can list here. They slip into our lives and try to destroy our connection to Christ. They steal our fruit. They burrow deep and sometimes are hard to root out. Sometimes, they feel as if they’ve always been there and we deserve those negative thoughts. Not true. Pray about them and pluck those foxes or foxtails from your life—or allow God to do so.

Both foxes and foxtails can be annoying to deal with, but we must remember to keep our connection to the true vine, Jesus Christ. When we are rid of the foxes, we have that strong connection to the vine and are able to do what He has called us to do.


“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 (NKJV)

Photo by David Köhler on Unsplash
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NORA’S REVIEW OF: The Baggage Handler by David Rawlings

 

The Baggage Handler, Nora St. Laurent, Christians Read, Review, Book Review, Vicki Hinze

 

The Baggage Handler

By David Rawlings

Publisher Thomas Nelson

ISBN# 978-0785224939

240 Pages

Amazon

 

NORA’S REVIEW: As I read this fun, moving story I imagined the adventure was like the Twilight Zone meets the Matrix as a baggage handler gives each of his customers a choice. One, they can keep their baggage – let’s call it the blue pill choice. The bag will stay just as heavy as it’s always been. Like taking the blue pill in the Matrix, “the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” (quote from Wikipedia) – You are secure and comforted and live in a blissful ignorance.

OR choice number two, you can deal with your baggage and walk in a new light. Just like if you were to take the red pill, “Neo learns everything that he has believed isn’t real and in order for him to know the truth about his world, he has to make a choice. Same as these characters.

Three people have gotten their baggage mixed up at the airport. They go to an off-site baggage claim center that kind of looks like the white room in Matrix, it’s an unusual building where I think they enter the Twilight Zone, Wikipedia describes it “Is an unusual situation or mental state between reality and fantasy…”It’s the middle ground between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” Readers and customers enter this magical zone.

Each character is under a deadline and needs what’s in their luggage to go on with the next important stage of their lives. They didn’t have time to mess with any more delays. They needed their luggage; and it had to be now.

Gillian Short is first up to bat. Her sister Becky’s daughter is getting married. Gillian can’t help but be envious of her sister’s life.

Then there’s David Hawke a man on a mission at his company’s headquarters to discuss how well his branch was doing. He hoped the news would be better than the drama in his marriage. It wasn’t pretty. Especially after the ultimatum he gave his wife when he left.

Next up is Michael Downer a high school grad on his way to Clarendon University trying to secure a football scholarship. Michael was there to please his dad and make him proud, but his heart wasn’t into football. His passion was art. He made an appointment to see the head of the art dept hoping he might get in that program and obtain the football scholarship too.

Each one of these characters confront the baggage handler when they go to collect their bags. Each find items in there they didn’t pack. They discover some surprising revelations that unnerve them too. The baggage handler knows each customer intimately. Like the woman Jesus meets at the well. They were just as stunned by his revelations and what he offers them.

Each of these people try to figure out what is happening to them in this crazy place where they are asked to deal with more than their luggage. They can go as deep as they want OR not go anywhere at all. They have a choice. Quote, “What weights us down is not our baggage but the decision to keep carrying it.”

This is a powerful story that will touch your heart in unexpected ways. You will keep thinking about these characters and the message of this book long after you read the last word. This is the first book I’ve read by this author it won’t be the last. This would make a great book for your book club group. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Nora St. Laurent

TBCN Where Book Fun Begins! www.bookfun.org

The Book Club Network blog www.psalm516.blogspot.com

Book Fun Catalogue on front page www.bookfun.org

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A Gentle Whisper by Bridget A. Thomas

There is a Bible story that I love which you might be familiar with. In 1 Kings 19 the prophet Elijah had fled and hid in a cave due to a death threat from Queen Jezebel.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

gentle whisper. That is so beautiful to me, to think of the Lord speaking to us in a gentle whisper. But I believe it also reveals a lot as well. Many Christians say that God does not speak to them. God does speak to His children. But could it be that either we are not listening or we have too much noise that drowns God out?

In today’s society we have a lot of “noise” all around us. Noise can be literal noise, such as talking, the radio, television, etc. Many people cannot stand silence and always have to have noise of this kind. I am sure we all know someone who has to turn on the radio when they are driving. But noise can also be figurative noise. Many of us tend to stay very busy, running from one thing to the next. We might be in a quiet room, but we do not slow down long enough to notice it. I have learned that if we want to hear from God, we need to turn down the noise in our lives.

When my husband and I travel to the mountains, we often stay in a cabin. I remember one particular cabin had a sign hanging up that I loved. On the sign were these words: “Let us be silent so that we may hear the voice of God.” So simple and beautiful, yet so profound.

How exactly do we turn down the noise and hear from God?

1 – Spend quiet time with Him daily. This includes reading your Bible and praying, but we need time to sit quietly as well. Too often our “quiet” time with God is filled with our petitions. It is also essential that we sit quietly and allow the Lord to speak to us.

2 – Ask the Lord to speak to you. I do this a lot, especially when I am trying to make a particular decision. God wants to be a part of our lives, but He might be waiting for us to take that step towards Him.

3 – Get outdoors. There is something special about being outside in nature. I always feel closer to God when I have only the sky above. You can take a prayer walk and listen for His gentle whisper.

4 – Remove noise. In your daily routines, try to lay aside things that are “noisy.” This could mean taking some activities off of your plate if you know you are doing too much. And it could also mean spending less time on social media, so you have more time with God. We have so many things coming at us, our heads become filled with the world. We need to make space in our hearts for the Lord’s gentle whisper.

Let’s make it our goal to consistently seek God and His gentle whisper!

achievement confident free freedom

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

© 2020 Bridget A. Thomas

 

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Not Dead Yet by Julie Arduini

Am I the only one glad not to be God? I’ve pronounced situations and people finished long before He has. I’m ready to walk away long before Him. This year has definitely grown my patience. I thought the virus would be miraculously gone by Pentecost. True story.

Yet, here we are.

Add division, unemployment, and an election year and all I can picture is Jesus, white robe and sandals, postured to sprint. Because He’s waiting on Dad to call it. Time to fulfill Revelation.

Yet, here we are.

Recently I had coffee with a dear friend and lamented my frustrations. There are some prayers in my journal that are 25 years old and unanswered. At least from my vantage point. I have promises I’ve received in my heart and believed. Yet some situations almost seem worse.

I told her everything I’m praying for looks dead and I’m tired. I want to give up already.

She has one of those beautiful, glowing faces that not only reveal the joy of the Lord, but exactly what’s on her mind. She had a twinkle in her eye as I said “dead.”

“What you just said gave me a picture. Did I tell you about my annuals?”

Nope, that wasn’t familiar. Where was this going?

She smiled. “On our deck I have a pot that I learned was full of dead annuals. They thrived last year but never came back. I was told they weren’t supposed to. I took the pot and got rid of the dead flowers and roots. All that was left was dirt.”

She then told me she had to send me the picture so I’d believe her. Because two weeks later, the same pot had blooming flowers. Although annuals don’t typically return, God decided to wow her by doing just that.

What she proclaimed dead was not.

That marriage that’s barely hanging on? God’s got the paddles ready to bring new life.

That addiction that owns you or someone you love? Don’t call that death just yet.

Her testimony really encouraged me. Although I accidentally deleted the picture, I saw it. That planter had flowers. There was LIFE in that pot.

I believe by the power of Jesus that we’re in a season now where we’re going to see these prayers unfold. They are answered in heaven, and now the fruit’s going to show up on earth. I wouldn’t be surprised if the most impossible situation transforms in the blink of an eye. If you think Jesus is limited to bringing flowers to life, find a Bible and start reading John. Mind blowing.

Heavenly Father, I lift up my brothers and sisters in Christ who are tired. Their prayers are decades old and everything looks dead. I ask in the name of Jesus that You show them Your care, power, and sovereignty. Take what looks dead and bring it to life. Marriages. Jobs. Relationships. Loved ones. Let families be transformed. Cities. Stations Nations. Equip us Lord to be healthy and helpful for those around us. May You get all the praise, glory, and honor in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen and Amen!

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The Writer’s Mind

Today, I got together with three fellow writers for a brainstorming session. We have known each other for over 20+ years, but I still think of them as my “new” friends because I grew up in one house with friends I’ve had since I was four. However, what’s special about these friends is we share the writer mind. We think creativity and are constantly asking ‘what if?’ — What if this happened? What if? Having other people to ask and answer these questions creates and energy all its own and there is nothing better than bringing together writerly minds. Creativity breeds creativity. I think that’s why there are great eras of music, of art and of literature.

The wonderful thing about writers who have known each other a long time is that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The brainstorming is based on what that author can and will create, but I think it kicks it up to the next level when you have that trusted input. I think it’s the perfect picture of iron sharpens iron. We make each other better when we recognize the different parts of the body and the best way to use those skills. That’s why I certainly hope that all this “working from home” business comes to an end soon.

Writers are used to working alone. It’s in our job description, but even we need that human connection to strive for the next level in literature. The human spirit will prevail through this time of quarantine, but I am grateful for the daily human interaction that writing sprints over Zoom provide, but nothing is like meeting face-to-face and allowing the writerly mind to soar.

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A Gift Before Departing by Vicki Hinze

A Gift Before Departing by Vicki Hinze, Christians Read

By reader request, I am sharing this article I wrote some time ago.  Know my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.  To the article itself, I would add this Scripture that often brings me calm and strength and peace in the hope it will do the same for all of you:

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10

A few years ago I thought I had a life-threatening illness. It turned out to be a paperwork mistake, but there were about six weeks when I didn’t yet know that.

I thought my time here was nearly done, and I did what I imagine most do on learning that kind of news. Prayed a lot, thought a lot, and looked back at what I’d done in this life. I made peace with what wouldn’t be done, unfinished business, and my bottom line ended up . . . well, we’ll get there. I should start at the beginning.

I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. Brothers first. The day my brother Kenny died, my dad had had heart surgery. My poor mother was in shock. I had to step up and handle the funeral, Kenny’s burial. I was thirteen. There’s nothing to be said about that except the lesson in it: No matter who you are (or what age you are), when you have to do what you have to do, you do it.

 

That was the first of many deaths that would touch my life over the next years. Friends from school, extended family members, and distant relatives, then much closer ones. My father and mother, my in-laws, and dear lifelong friends. More and more people I love. Because, as we age, our circle narrows. That’s just a fact of life and it must be accepted.

The point is that early on, I became acutely aware of those departing and their concerns and regrets. What I discovered was this:

If the person who passes is a person of faith, it’s easier on them and on those who love them. Both know who they are and whose they are. They aren’t leaving home, they’re going home. Those left behind will miss them in daily life, but know they will see them again. There is immeasurable solace in that. Comfort and reassurance, too. When grieving, we welcome all solace, comfort and reassurance.

If the person who passes is not a person of faith and we are, it’s harder. They too will be missed and the sadness in them and for them is also immeasurable.

I discovered in the faithful passing, each one of them (there have been no exceptions), their common concern was that they weren’t as good as they should have been in life. They worried that they hadn’t been “good enough” to get into to Heaven.

We’re taught that we enter Heaven by grace, and they knew that, yet they still expressed doubt and concern that they wouldn’t measure up. I guess from this that when we know our every flaw, we’re more prone to fault and less prone to forgive ourselves.

In earlier years, I was at a loss as to what to say to them. But as I grew and learned, I began reminding them that nothing about them surprised God. He created them, made them unique as He saw fit, and He loved them unconditionally. Eventually, they recalled it’s not about works but about grace.

They speak of loving and being loved. Of gratitude to those who were good to them. Of people and pets who brought them joy. Of people they loved who had passed before them. Of making a difference in the lives of others. Of what being loved meant to them.

Not one. Not a single one talked about the things being left behind. Not homes or jewels, not possessions or things. Not one of them.

The lesson in that is enormous. The wisdom in that is enormous, and I am learning from it.

I’m learning to live life deliberately. To let others know I love and appreciate them. To accept what I can’t change anyone else and to stop beating my head against brick walls (those who do not appreciate, those who deliberately and repeatedly steal joy, tear others down to build themselves up).

I’m learning to openly express my gratitude and joy and to reach out to others in compassion not in judgment. When someone makes a difference in my life, I tell them. When I feel loved, I express what it means to me. I appreciate. I am grateful. I am blessed.

We all are, and each day—every single one of them, no matter how strife or stress-filled for whatever reason—is a gift to be cherished.

Those are valuable lessons to learn at any time. But truly it is wisdom that the departing have shared. It is offered and we choose whether or not to embrace, retain and pass it on. If we do, then that wisdom shared is not lost. Ever.

It’s humbling really, to realize that when we set out to comfort, we receive a parting gift from them that is a treasure. When we step into someone’s life to give, we discover we have stepped into their circle of wisdom, and because we have, before departing, they expand our circle of wisdom. And their wisdom lives on…*

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Planted by the Waters by Nancy J. Farrier

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

At sixteen, I knew everything. The typical teenager who didn’t need to rely on her parent’s thinking or their values. The saddest part was my rejection of their Christian values. If someone asked what I believed in, I would tell them I believed in people and the goodness of people.

I hear those gasps of horror. I feel my gasp of horror as I look back on that time in my life. The next few years were not a good time for me. Although I had never made a commitment to become a Christian, I still knew some of God’s word, and deep down knew what I was doing was wrong.

My choice, and I believe the choice many make, was based on growing up in a community of people who were willing to reach out to others in need. If your family suffered a tragedy, be prepared for the onslaught of food and help with what you need. My family, especially my parents, was quick to jump in and help out other people. 

Appreciating giving people is a good thing. Learning from their sacrifice can also be beneficial. However, believing in the goodness of mankind can start a downward spiral, when that belief replaces trust and faith in God. 

“Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD.”  Jeremiah 17:5

What happens when a person trusts in mankind instead of trusting in God? When they rely on the strength of the flesh? “For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited.” Jeremiah 17:6

Having been a desert dweller for years—and I love the desert—I can attest to the difficult conditions. It’s hard to grow when water is scarce. You are so focused on survival it’s hard to see the small blessings that come your way. You feel isolated and alone. Sapped of energy and spirit.

I remember the day I came across this scripture and realized how true the passage was for the way my life had been. By that time, my focus had changed, and I’d become a Christian, trusting in God and growing in my faith. 

Then I read on and realized God had more in store for those who trust Him. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the LORD.” Jeremiah 17:7 Oh, how wonderful it is to be truly blessed by the Lord.

And, what happens to this person who trust in the Lord? “For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. Jeremiah 17:8

Doesn’t that sound refreshing? Think of the green growth by a river, the lush plants, the tall trees. They are plugged in to the source of life, the water they need to survive in tough times.

Likewise, those who choose to trust in the Lord, who don’t “make flesh their strength” will be plugged in to the source of life too. We will have access to the living water. During times of drought or disease or hardship, we have the life-giving support we need. 

I am so glad I realized the error of my thinking and placed my trust and faith in God. Yes, I still face hardship in my life, but now I have a support that doesn’t waver. There is no need to fear what is coming. The fruit that springs forth when the focus in on God and His word is beautiful.

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Taking Love for Granted

My husband and I have been together for forty-five years (and yes, I’ve been trying to convince anyone who’ll listen that I was only five when we began dating, but to no avail. But I was a child bride. Really. Well, I was at the very least childish. 😉 )

Once both of our sons left the nest, we found ourselves alone for the first time in over twenty years. I felt unsure during that first month. What if we were no longer deeply connected to each other? What if we were no longer compatible? Did we still even like each other?

There was no doubt that we continued to love each other, but over twenty years of talking about kids and basically taking each other for granted very likely had taken a toll.

BookBrushImage-2020-6-13-16-4840

I recall going out for dinner one empty-nest evening. Amazingly, it was as if we had time-traveled back to our early marriage years. We were just as invested in each other as we had been back then, but perhaps even more so. What a relief!

But this got me to thinking about taking loved ones for granted. How many times, after the loss of a loved one, has a family member or friend said, “If only I’d known?”

Families on beach at sunset

All too often we go on with our usually very-busy lives, not letting people know the impact they make in our lives.

And how true is it also that we take God for granted?

Do you only pray when you need something or in times of trouble? Do you mumble out a quick, pat prayer without giving it much, if any, thought? Do you mean to say a prayer at bedtime, but fall asleep too soon? I’ve been guilty of all of these things and, try as I might, I sometimes don’t succeed in changing my behavior.

Do you take time to let our Heavenly Father know how much He means to you? How much He has affected your life? How much his intervention has improved your circumstances? I’ve been making an effort to do each of these things because I want to be more present in my day to day life, and not so busy living it that I forget to hold close God and the most important people in my world.

I now try to show my appreciation on a daily basis.

I’m not perfect at this, but I try to let the people around me know how much I care about them by doing little things and saying a quick thank you. And I do this by giving a prayer of thanks to our Heavenly Father!

A few words can go a very long way!

***

Speaking of which, to the Christian’s Read readers, thank you for spending time with us, reading our blog posts. We couldn’t do it without you guys! I’m praying for blessings for each of you!

 

Posted in Kathy Carmichael, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weeds

A Conversation

Hello, pastor. Thanks for stopping by. Pastors don’t seem to visit much anymore. Guess they’re off doing something more important.

I hope you don’t mind if I keep on weeding while we talk. I find if I don’t get a good start early, the work just gets harder later on.

See, when the plants are just sprouting, it is very easy for them to get crowded out by weeds. Later on, they’re stronger and can handle more competition.

Even with weeding, plants seem to take a long time to get going. The first sprout comes up, and then nothing seems to happen for a long time—no fruit, and very few leaves. The reason is that plants first need to develop strong roots and they only show visible growth later on. If a plant tried to grow leaves and fruit first, it wouldn’t get enough nourishment and would soon wither and die even though it looked very healthy at first. You have to be patient.

Of course, I don’t expect you to understand all that, your work being so different.

That new compost bin I got, the instructions say I can put into it any plant matter except pernicious weeds. That’s a joke. I’ve never seen a weed that wasn’t pernicious.

Yes, gardening takes some experience. At least, it helps. Know how you can tell the difference between a plant and a weed? If you pull it up, break it apart, throw it down, and it regrows, it’s a weed. On the other hand, if you fertilize it, water it, and aerate the soil around it and it dies anyway, it was a plant.

You know, pastor, it seems year after year, generation after generation, I’m fighting the same weeds. It’s crabgrass here in this corner, pigweed over there. Yes, pastor, I expect you’re right there. The problem is that I don’t get all the roots out and so the same weeds just keep growing back.

Of course, it’s also true that every weed scatters seeds in all directions, and you can never control that or tell where they will wind up. Sometimes I think that I pay the price when my neighbor doesn’t get all of his weeds pulled.

Yes, pastor, I expect it’s also true that he pays the price when I don’t do a good job of weeding my garden.

Thank you, pastor. I enjoyed our talk too. Well, I don’t know about any sermon illustrations. That’s your business, not mine.

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It Was Dark (by Hannah Alexander)

I’m not typically afraid of the dark, which is a good thing, since Mel works an occasional night, leaving me home alone. I mean, living in Wyoming, if I scream, neighbors from probably three houses around us will come running with their guns drawn, and as my old high school librarian would tell you, I have a good set of lungs.

However, there has been recent talk about the old prison being haunted (thanks a lot Kristin. LOL) I knew they did ghost tours on Halloween, and I’ve been in the old prison for a tour. Never doing that again. This town is proud of its scary heritage, but since we only live a few blocks from the place, I’m not enchanted.

So last night after dark, Mel was gone and I had trash to take out and mail to pick up. I don’t like people seeing me in my nighties, so I didn’t turn the light on when I went outside. Never mind that we have rattlesnakes in these parts, and that they like to crawl onto warm concrete after the sun goes down–I didn’t think of that until later. Never mind that sometimes bears and mountain lions have been known to come through town. I just wanted to get this done and get to bed.

So I took out the trash and grabbed the mail and turned back toward the house when I thought I heard something. At this point, I would ordinarily ignore the sound and keep walking until I got inside, but then I SAW movement from the corner of my eye.

After a short and silent intake of breath, I turned. Something was definitely in the shadows. Not coming toward me, but not going away from me. And it was tall. This time the intake of breath was a gasp. I backed toward the door. But then I focused and got real. What hangs around our house at all hours of the day and night?

No, it wasn’t him. He was at work.

Not him, either, but it was four-legged, so we’re getting closer.

Here we go. This guy. Mel finally found an earlier photo of the intruder. He was standing on our front lawn, shaking his antlers at me. I would have stayed and chatted, but it was time for bed and sometimes these guys can get a bit aggressive if they think you might feed them. I did not.

There are a lot of scary things going on in our world today, and we don’t always know what to expect. We can, however, always trust an unknown future to a known God.

 

 

Posted in Hannah Alexander | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments