Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!


As you look back at the year 2008 and ahead to 2009, may your heart be filled with thankfulness, lessons learned, and hope for your future in the Lord. No matter what is going on, God has good plans for you.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Looking forward to sharing the coming year together!

Happy New Year 2009!!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Family is What Matters

Tonight, we gathered around the piano at my mother- and father-in-law's home and sang hymns together.


My father-in-law even called his parents so they could hear us on the speaker phone. They joined us using their own hymn books from two states away, and we sang some beautiful songs to Jesus. It was a precious time together. They cheered as we finished this song or that. And hearing my daughters sing beside me, so blessed me. My husband's voice blending with his parents' sounded heavenly. It's great to belong to a musical family!

It's great to belong to a family. As I looked around the room tonight, I thought how thankful I am for this family, that God blessed me with a dear husband and in-laws, with three beautiful children and a committed marriage. I even acquired grandparents when I married. They are the best! And it was a joy singing for them on the phone tonight.

Enjoy your family. Thank God for them. And tell 'em you love 'em. Often.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Fun

Thanks to writing bud Betsy St. Amant for this Christmas questionnaire! Check out her blog at Betsy-Ann.blogspot.com.


1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
both, whatever’s handy!

2. Real tree or Artificial? Artificialno timeline that way, no dropped needles (mostly) and best of all, no sneeeeezing.

3. When do you put up the tree? When our whole family is together (the closer to Thanksgiving the better)

4. When do you take the tree down? Sometime in early January.

5. Do you like eggnog? Bleh!!!

6. Favorite gift received as a child? At Christmas? A doll which crawled. At a birthday? A table top school desk/chalk board with sliding doors and compartments holding chalk, magnetic letters and numbers and cards with words for learning to read and write.

7. Hardest person to buy for? teen and pre-teen nephews :-)

Hey, where's #8??? Great question. I have no idea! But I added 22.5 below.

9. Do you have a nativity scene? Two. We lost one during a move and couldn’t find it, so I gave up and found a 75% off sale and bought a second one. This year, they’re both up! One in the dining room China cabinet and one in the living room on the stereo cabinet.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Snail mail—call me old fashioned.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? … drawing a blank on this one. I remember my uncle and dad would recycle an ancient dust broom and wrap it up in several boxes for the person to open. It looked like the best present of all! But when my dad got to the center, it was that stupid dust broom. Best part about that? Laughter! “You got me again!”

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Hmm… Love “While You were Sleeping” and Hallmark’s “A Season for Miracles.” This year it was “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on Hallmark. Also enjoyed “Moonlight and Mistletoe.”

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Usually after Thanksgiving, though never on “get-out-of-the-red” Friday. (that’s my term for the shopping Friday after Thanksgiving)

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Ummm… I’ll never tell. ;-}

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Sugar cookies in Christmasy shapes and colorful frosting!

16. Lights on the tree? Clear/pale yellow, not colorful since we got this new artificial tree. Never planned to go in that direction, but actually, it’s gorgeous!

17. Favorite Christmas song? O Holy Night

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Oh boy, great year to ask this question. Generally, we travel (thanks to dh’s Mom and Dad!) but this year, after spending a night stranded at the airport, we’re back home. For now.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. And of course Rudolph.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Star!

21. Open the presents Christmas eve or Christmas day? Both. One for the kids on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? When people have cranky attitudes while out shopping.

22.5 Favorite part of this time of year? The almost magical feeling of expectation and joy in the air; general good will everywhere.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color? Red and gold, esp. but also blue with white

24. Favorite part of Christmas dinner. Turkey, potatoes/gravy and dill pickles!

25. What do you want for Christmas this year? To be with our family, safe and warm.

26. Who is most likely to respond to this? Folks who have time between all their other obligations. ;-)

Who else wants to play? Copy and paste onto your blog and let me know if you did!!!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Weary Travelers

There we were, stranded at the airport, weary, tired and disappointed. Our destination was two states away, and due to the blizzard outside, we couldn't go anywhere. The only available lodging was impossible to get to with 1 1/2 hour taxi wait lines in 20-degree weather and wind with small children.

As I stood there, considering our options and, feeling the exhaustion and weariness of a tired mother, I wondered if Mary felt anything similar as they traveled while she was pregnant to Bethlehem. They had traveled for days, riding donkeys, being exposed to the elements. Compelled to a journey demanded of their ruler.

We experienced thirty-six hours of activity and stress, moving from one line to the next. Learning of flight delays and cancelations, waiting at gates, running for food and bathroom visits. Lugging baggage in a rush here and there. My husband and I were there, watching over three children, sometimes carrying our 40-pound toddler, or soothing emotionally tired kiddos and hoping then learning plans had changed. I was one weary mother, traveling at Christmas time. This reminded me of Mary. Unable to see straight due to fatigue, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

But here's what stood out to me:

From the beginning of Luke's account of the Bible story of Jesus' upcoming birth, when Luke first mentions the angel's visit to Mary, we read she said to the angel: "Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me as you have said." (see Luke 1:38). She trusted God. What a frightening experience, being told she would become pregnant out of wedlock and be asked to face the ridicule of her culture, and being told she would bear the Son of God. Wondering what all that could mean. Amazing prospect, this calling on her life. But she said, "let it happen (to me) according to your word." Such reliance on the mercy of God.

We are always at God's mercy. But, unlike Mary, we often don't know what God is going to allow in our lives, or what He may call us to walk through. Mary knew (to some degree) and still said yes. That's courage. That's trust.

I imagine she had intimacy with God at a level that graced her to know she could trust Him. That knowledge of God brought His favor, His attention, His affection and His calling. He trusted her and she trusted Him.

Just something I'm pondering this Christmas season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pondering Jesus


Elmer Towns wrote a fantastic book called "Biblical Meditation for Spiritual Breakthrough." Meditation was God's idea, as evidenced by David in the Psalms:

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)

and

"Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my meditation." (Psalm 5:1)

We're going to meditate (sometimes ruminate) on something. Might as well be God's ways and His Word. Think about how often you find your mind idly scrolling through things to chew on them... sometimes those "things" are good and helpful, making you feel built up and energized. But, if we were honest, a lot of times those "things" we ruminate on aren't good (like negative memories or arguments or the way we were treated in the past). These thoughts drain our energy, deplete our joy and leave us feeling angry, sad, bitter, resentful. Biblical meditation gives us a focus for our thoughts. We discipline our minds and train ourselves to think on good things. (see Phil. 4) That first verse I mentioned above (Psalm 19:14) is talking about exactly this.

Elmer breaks his book into chunks by following the example of certain key Biblical figures, like David, Mary, John the Beloved, Paul, etc. Then, using Scripture, he shows us how that person meditated. David was a man after God's own heart (God's testimony about him). He chased after God's heart by trying to understand God. John beheld (saw and studied) the love of God. (see 1 John 3:1)

It's fitting this time of year to be like Mary and ponder Jesus in our hearts. The Bible says Mary pondered these sayings in her heart, that she "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." (see Luke 2:19, 51) It doesn't say that she analyzed them and cut them apart for examination. It says she pondered them--considered the things which had happened and were happening through a lens of loving meditation.

According to Elmer Towns, to meditate like Mary did, you

~meditate on the Bible's account of the life of Jesus
~consider Jesus' life and resurrection
~recall your own conversion experience and
~ponder what it means that Jesus saved (rescued, died for, delivered, etc.) you.

When a sweetheart receives a letter from her beloved, she reads the note with a loving heart. She already trusts the one who sent it, so she doesn't question or accuse, but rather uses the opportunity to see deeper into his heart, to learn about him, to hear his secret thoughts and grow in intimacy with him. That's a wonderful perspective (thanks to Elmer's chapter on Mary) for us to read the Bible through, like a lens. If it's not your standard way of reading the Word, give it a try, even on the hard to understand portions or the chapters that seem harsh. Dig deeper. What's in the heart of God in those places waiting to be discovered?

This season, let's ponder our Beloved in our hearts, reading the Word through a lens of love.

Merry Christmas season!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Free Christmas Presents


~ Snow falling all around us, arms raised, head back, tongue catching the clusters.

~ The wonder on my child's face as she watched the snow fall.

~ Singing carols with fellow believers.

~ Piano music playing softly "O Come all Ye Faithful."

~ Lights twinkling on the Christmas tree.

~ Crisp, quiet evenings in December.

~ The crunch of ice under my boots.

~ December evenings spent with friends, sipping cocoa and chatting while candles flicker in every direction and a fire crackles in the fireplace.

~ Singing along to Christmas CDs in the car

~ Seeking Jesus in the midst of the busy-ness of this season. Feasting on His Word.

~ Decorating the house with Christmas lights.

~ Baking Christmas treats with the kids.

~ The palpable excitement in the air, especially around children.

Celebrating every free Christmas blessing this season!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Butterfly Award

This is fun! A couple of my blogging friends have named this place as one of their favorite blogs. Wahoo!

Here are the rules:

1. Put the logo on your blog.

2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.

3. Nominate 10 other blogs.

4. Add links to those blogs on yours.

5. Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

Here are my ten favorite blogs (in no particular order):

~Rachel Hauck: http://www.rachelhauck.com/blog.htm
~Lena Nelson Dooley: http://lenanelsondooley.blogspot.com
~Dawn Kinzer: http://www.dawnkinzer.blogspot.com
~Betsy St. Amant: http://www.betsy-ann.blogspot.com
~Cynthia Ruchti: http://splashinginthedeepend.blogspot.com
~Love Finds You authors' blog: http://lovefindsyou.wordpress.com
~Julie Carobini: http://www.juliecarobini.blogspot.com
~MaryLu Tyndall: http://www.crossandcutlass.blogspot.com
~Susan May Warren: http://susanmaywarren.typepad.com/scribbles
~Sharon Hinck: http://sharonswriting.blogspot.com

Thanks to my friends Dawn and Cynthia (named above) for nominating me. :-)

Check out some of these great blogs!!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dollar Store Christmas

Are things tough for you this season?

Recently I heard a mom say it was going to be a dollar store Christmas. She explained her small child wouldn't know the difference between a $20 gift and a $1 gift. And that she would be so disappointed if there were no gifts on Christmas morning because of the family's financial struggle.

Can you relate to that? More than one person lately has told me how they're feeling the financial strain this season. As difficult as that is, this season is about going back to the true meaning. We believers have said that, preached that, but I'm seeing a true diversion from materialism this year.

I want this Christmas season to be about family, friends, and most of all celebrating Jesus. Every year we try to focus our family on the fact that this is the season we celebrate Jesus' birth.

My daughter recently shared how just being together as family is a gift at Christmas. She's right.

This year, no matter how much or how little we have, there's always something to be thankful for. God's love for starters. He sent Jesus, the best gift, so we could know Him.

That's reason to celebrate.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Unknown

Do you know what's ahead for you, for your family? Me neither. Do you wonder if you're prepared? Like earthquake preparedness for those of us on the west coast. Or the assurance of a cellar or basement if you're in Tornado Alley in April with storm clouds over head.

Where do you go when you're looking for security?

Below is my assurance. Join me, if you agree:

~ My God reigns.

~ I know Whom I've believed for the future.

~ He's made promises to me about the future, and about caring for my family and me en route.

~ My security is found in my Good Shepherd who knows my needs before I even ask. He's even well-acquainted with the ones I may be in denial about.

~ My kind heavenly Father cares for me. He will perfect that which concerns me.

~ My God can see the future; He's training me today for what I'll face tomorrow. It's a process and that never frustrates Him.

~ My God has the entire universe in His hand; nothing is impossible for Him, or too difficult or vast.

~ My God is sovereign and loving.

So, though the future is foggy, I know where to turn for security and assurance.

Here's what I've noticed. Simply voicing my concerns to God isn't always enough to calm all my anxieties (am I the only one??). But reading His Word brings power into the situation; praying His Word brings more power, and believing His Word strengthens me. My heart is literally uplifted as I delve in and seek His face.

One final thought, no matter how many times we've heard it:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

You can have assurance. You just have to know where to turn when facing the unknown.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Devotionals

Do you read devotionals? Some people read "The Upper Room" or "Daily Bread." "The Secret Place" is a quarterly devotional I've written for. "Penned from the Heart" just came out with their annual devotional for 2009: volume XV. I'm excited to be included once again this year. It's a four year tradition so far, and I feel privileged to be involved. (For more information, click over to my website and there's a link from there: www.annetteirby.com.)

Do you have a daily devotional time? It's a time of getting alone with God ("go into your room and shut the door"---Jesus meant to find privacy) and listen. Pray. Read His Word. Worship. Sure we spend every moment of the day with Him, but devotional time is specifically set aside and vital for our relationship with Him. Not only our relationship, but also our own sense of well-being and peace. For seeking guidance and answers. It's a time for refreshing, for allowing God to convict us about what needs changing. But don't let conviction keep you from enjoying Him. It wasn't meant to shut you down, only direct you to live better, to dive into deeper intimacy with Him, to be used as clean vessel by God.

Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the refiner. (Proverbs 25:4)

This morning, I came to the Lord, excited about a new day and the opportunity to meet with Him. I opened the Word and began reading. Then I stopped to pray over what I'd read and some teaching notes caught my eye. So I began reading them and I was convicted. But rather than let that feeling of "this area isn't pleasing to Me; let's change it" stifle my joy, I pressed in harder. We were bought with a price, God has the right to tell us we need to change. And in humility, we can say "Okay, I'm here. Change me."

I also like to get back into the Word throughout the day whenever I can. I have a journal and Bible specifically in my writing office; and a set for upstairs in our living room.

This afternoon, I prayed through Psalm 1. And tonight, as the sun sets outside window, I'm reminded of the psalmist when he says:

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

I want to meditate on God's Word day and night as I pursue Him.

If you do not have a daily devotional routine, make a choice to institute one. Get alone with God. Enjoy Him. Delight in Him. More than once daily, if you can. Wake up to His Word, to prayer and communing with Him, and at night, go to bed with His Word in your mind and heart. You're headed into the heart of God. The place of deeper intimacy with almighty God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

His Heart in the Waiting


I’m waiting on God. He has spoken promises to me, to my family, and now we wait.

Can you relate with this—do you ever try to figure out what God is thinking, feeling or doing while you wait on Him to help? Do you ever doubt His heart (intentions/motivations) as His answer is delayed?

The enemy of our souls comes to accuse in three ways:
--us to ourselves (“What were you thinking?” “What a stupid thing to do/say!” “You’re never going to get that right.” etc.)
--other people to us (“You know what he’s thinking don’t you? That you’ll never have what it takes to make it here. Your time is limited.” “You know what everybody thinks about you, don’t you?” “They’re talking about you behind your back.” etc.)
--God to us (remember Eden—“Has God said?” or “Do you really think God cares about the mundane details in your life, when He has a world to think about?” “He’s not gonna help you. Are you kidding me? Where is He? If He loved you, He’d have answered this by now…” etc.)

Sound familiar??

And we fall for it. We believe him (the enemy), rather than fighting those untruths.

One of the reasons for delay is motivation for us to quiet ourselves before God and seek His heart. Pride says, “I know God’s thoughts/heart/feelings/position.” Humility says, “Show me Your heart, God. No matter what I don’t understand, I want You. I’m learning to trust You.” Love seeks Him, seeks His heart, even when we don’t understand.

He’s been showing me His heart while I wait, silencing the accuser, and changing my understanding. God’s delay isn’t about Him not caring, or not having compassion in our circumstances. It is about Him revealing Himself, which shines light on our misunderstanding and corrects wrong thinking.

Here’s the thing—if He answered our requests by pouring out blessing after blessing when we misunderstand His heart, there’s a risk of reinforcing the untruth. What loving parent would do that?

But so that you may know He loves you
~wait
He’s in the circumstances with you
~trust
His heart is full of loving compassion for you
~seek
He will meet your needs
~ask
He does care, more than you know
~rest
He is sovereign
~believe
He is faithful
~rejoice
He will keep His promises
~hope
His blessings already surround you
~give thanks
And when you’ve done all you know to do,
as you keep seeking Him and remaining thankful
~stand.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thankfulness

Why is it easier to complain than to be thankful? Thankfulness requires something of us. Humility. Gratitude. By its definition it is something we give, not take. Complaining is looking for others to give—“Oh, you poor thing” or “I know just what you mean. I’d be offended, too.” But thankfulness stands on the opposite side. Thankfulness requires openness, vulnerability, selflessness for a moment of recognizing someone else’s generosity.


~ Thankfulness will cheer us up when we’re discontent.

~ Thankfulness takes our focus off of what we don’t have and puts it on the One who gave us what we do have.

~ Thankfulness is a discipline. It’s much easier to complain. Try to not complain for an entire week. Instead, every time you feel the urge to complain, choose to be thankful for three things instead.

Picture our heavenly Father in His wisdom. He’s waiting for thankfulness. If you, as a parent, were to give your child one thing after another, noting the child’s lack of gratitude, wouldn’t you recognize that child as spoiled? God is far wiser than we are. Why should He continue to bless a thankless person?

This Thanksgiving, offer thanks for every blessing you can name. Watch how the act of thankfulness softens your heart and increases your joy. Be blessed and count your blessings. You are loved.

"Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits." (Psalm 103:2)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Perspective

It’s all about perspective. From down here, these Redwood trees are gargantuan. From a helicopter, they wouldn’t be as impressive.


This shot of Mars is magnificent. From earth, we can’t even see this with the naked eye; we’re blind to this view without the help of the Hubble telescope. Our planet isn’t even in the frame. Our tiny homes and trees aren’t even visible here. Our wars don’t exist inside this frame.

It’s all about perspective.

And God measures the entire universe in the span of His hand (see Isaiah 40:12). He’s greater than we think, and yet He desires to reveal His goodness to us and teach us about truth. It’s amazing.

God has not left His universe without a witness, from the gargantuan (the center of the Whirlpool galaxy)

to the minute-- millions of tiny cells in your body that hold everything together (laminin). Amazing.

“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Col. 1:16-17 NKJV)

“who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb 1:3 NKJV)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Redemption Period

I just received a notice from my website host saying it was almost time to renew my domain name for my website. Part of the notice explained what happens when a domain name is cancelled. It states: "For any cancelled domain name, the Registry will hold the name in a Redemption Period for 30 days." In other words, you can get that name back any time within that month, if you change your mind.

After those 30 days, the domain name is open to anyone who wants to purchase it. Readers who used to come to your site will now go there, expecting to find a familiar atmosphere, and potentially find something offensive or at the very least unexpected. They won't be able to find what they were looking for, and until the domain expires again (if it ever does), you won't be able to redeem it again. Time's up.

A redemption period?? What a great phrase. The time range given for the opportunity of redemption--or buying something back, or being bought back.

You have a redemption period--your life is the time span for you to recognize your need for a Savior and accept Jesus as your Redeemer. After your last breath, time's up. You'll face God (whether you believe in Him or not) and the question will be whether you knew Him, whether you accepted Him (He doesn't force Himself on anyone) as Savior, Redeemer, Lord.

We are not guaranteed tomorrow. For some, the redemption period is a lot shorter than for others. Car accidents, house fires, illnesses, violence, war, old age. We don't know how long our lives will be; there are no guarantees.

Everybody needs a redeemer. And Jesus is the only one qualified. Say "Yes" to Him. Talk to Him, invite Him into every area of your life. Read His Word and humbly ask Him to teach you the Truth.

While you have breath, while you can choose, choose Jesus. Let Him redeem you. Before it's too late.

For He says: "In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 2:6, NKJV)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Waiting for Salvation to Click


When I was a little girl, a pastor from a local church offered our public school the opportunity for children to hear the gospel message. Every now and then, he would come round up the kids whose parents gave permission and bus us to his church where he would teach us about Jesus. At the end of his sermon, he would ask if anyone wanted to receive Jesus as their Savior. And just about every visit, I would pray with him, as he led the entire group in the prayer for salvation.

Jesus, I know I am a sinner. Please forgive me for all of my sins. I believe You died for me and I want you to come and live inside my heart. Help me live for you every day. Thank You. Amen.

After prayer, this pastor would ask if any of us prayed with him. I know I raised my hand more than once. But I never felt changed. I never felt different. I had said the words, and understood the concept, but in all those years, I didn’t feel like salvation ever clicked.

Then, I went to summer camp. We had morning devotionals with our Bibles and study journals—woodsy setting, find a spot alone to pray, dewy grass, crisp lake. It was my first experience with morning devotionals and I loved it. Somehow my time with God made me feel important. Like, I’m special and here’s how I’ll prove it: it’s just me alone with God and that’s enough.

Every evening, after a full day of activities, meals with silly songs and play, we would have our campfire. Sitting inside the large dining hall near the huge, stone fireplace, we’d listen to the teacher speak of Jesus. He explained something that in all my years of hearing the gospel message I had never heard. No one at the church we attended had gotten this across, and neither had the pastor who ministered to school children.

"When you accept Jesus as your Savior, you’ll have amazing joy. That’s how you’ll know it’s real."

For some reason, in everything else he said, that really stuck with me. I don’t remember praying that night for salvation. But, when the week was over, part of our trek home included a bus ride.

There I was, sitting on a long bench seat alone and pondering the week. That camp director’s words came back to me, along with the other messages I’d heard about Jesus’ awesome gift of salvation, and there, alone on the seat, bouncing down the freeway, I prayed that Jesus would save me. He had shown me my value; he’d been meeting me and sustaining me all week. I chose Him.

Salvation clicked.

Then, the camp director’s words became a reality. Suddenly I had so much joy flooding me, and joy was a new status. I’d been happy at times, and even overjoyed (like, say, on Christmas), but this was different. This started deep inside and made its way out, like a fountain. That’s when I knew it had finally clicked.

I’m not sure what the difference was. I have often wondered, through the years, if reciting a repeated prayer is too impersonal to have much impact. But I think it has more to do with the person’s heart. If you believe the words you’re praying, the impact will be genuine. I'm also not saying it's the only way to know salvation or that everyone's experience will match. It's all a matter of God's grace.

If salvation has never “clicked” for you, ask Jesus to show you what you need to see or understand. Then, pursue Him with all your heart by reading the Bible daily, listening to worship/Christian music, and attending a Bible-teaching church. Seek out a seasoned Christian who lives in joy (i.e. holds no grudges) and ask about salvation. But don’t dominate the conversation. Listen.

If you seek God with all your heart, you will find Him. He promises that over and over in the Bible. (see Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:11-13, even Hebrews 11:6—He rewards those who diligently seek Him and Genesis 15:1—God Himself is our exceedingly great reward)

My prayer for you is that if it hasn’t already, salvation would click for you, and you would know Him and His joy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Something Heroic

Sitting here at my desk, I glance down and see a note from a critique partner. She wrote: "something heroic" over my first chapter. Writing coaches recommend authors put their characters' heroic side into the first scene/chapter. I'll have to go back and attempt that. First I'll have to consider my character and what would be fitting.

What's heroism to you?
Do you ever act heroically?

I've known some heroes. Firefighters. Policemen. Advocates for the less fortunate or for the helpless.

The greatest heroes, in my opinion, are those who are humble in their heroism. An act of heroism is itself noble, but paired with humility, the level of honor raises to wonder. We stand in awe of such acts.

I love fiction covers which portray heroism or newspaper photos. Heroism draws readers and viewers.

I've been studying Jesus' humility this week. It's staggering the depths of His humility. That makes Him even more heroic to me. He didn't come for recognition. He didn't strive for our approval or even that people would bow before Him. He simply walked out His calling knowing who He was and how His Father viewed Him. He sacrificed Himself and rescued people.

Pride is often a cover for feeling insecure or wanting to prove one's value. Or pride can be an unfounded sense of accomplishment which wasn't that person's sole work. (taking credit for something s/he couldn't have accomplished without the grace of God in the situation). Jesus never resorted to that. He was heroic without needing to prove anything or needing anyone's applause afterward.

But I will applaud Him. I do. He's the ultimate humble Hero.

What I want to do in my writing is portray heroism as honorable, and humility adds just the right ingredient. Of course, my characters will have to grow into it. Humility doesn't come naturally. But then, neither does heroism a lot of the time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

If MY People

God is full of wisdom. He knows what it takes for a nation to thrive. He has a strategy for a country facing:

~ children cutting themselves due to hopelessness
~ unbelievable stats regarding the mutilation and murder of unborn babies
~ rampant hopelessness in the youth
~ rampant drug abuse
~ high teen suicide rates
~ high divorce rates
~ high teen pregnancy rates
~ deadly attacks from other nations
~ violence, crime and abuse

Want to know what His prescription is? PRAYER.

"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NKJV)

God doesn't demand that nonbelievers pray, but rather believers. He doesn't demand everyone change their ways, just His people. That's what it will take to bring hope back to this nation. Jehovah God----JESUS----is the God of hope (see Romans 15:13).

Many ministries have been calling for prayer. Personally, God has been wooing me to pray more than before. We need to pray for our nation, yes, but personal repentance, humility, intimacy with God and holy living will make the difference for our country. It starts in the heart of every believer.

Pray.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Keep Him Close

Ever noticed this pattern:

Crisis happens.
Seek God.
Crisis calms down.
Drift from God.
Complacency until
Crisis happens...

Not a good pattern. With that cycle in place, we're going from crisis to crisis instead of from strength to strength. (see Psalm 84:7) I'd rather go from glory to glory in God (see 2 Corinthians 3:18) than from crisis to crisis. I'd rather worship through everything than only when I'm happy. Why? Because that sets up a new pattern--one that leads to growing closer to Jesus, rather than only knowing Him as the One who helps when I'm desperate. Yes. He helps when I'm in terrible need. But He's also there everyday. Close.

Keep Him close.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Changing Seasons

I sat here at my writing desk a couple of days ago and watched leaves falling from our huge maple tree in the backyard. Sunshine bathed the yard as the leaves drifted down in the breeze. I put off thoughts of raking and just enjoyed the view. It got me thinking about seasons changing.

Change can be hard for people. Unfamiliar territory feels uncharted. What's waiting there in that new place? Sometimes we'd rather not experience the potential simply because the possibilities of a new season is accompanied by change.

Here are some things to remember about new seasons, especially if change is difficult for you:

~~ When one season ends, another is beginning.

~~ There's always something good in every season. Try making a list of what you like about the upcoming season, and use your senses. So, for autumn, you might include sights (colorful leaves), smells (hot apple cider, cinnamon candles, etc.), tastes (hot cocoa on a blustery night), touch (curling up with a warm blanket in front of the fire) and sounds (friends and family gathering for Thanksgiving holiday, Christmas carolers, etc.). There's always something to be grateful for. Focus on those things.

~~ God has good plans (Jeremiah 29:11). God is with you.

~~ Seasons are symbolic of changes in our lives and represent opportunities to go in new and better directions. Make changes in your life that are positive as the seasons change--like starting a new and good habit, setting goals and meeting them, etc. That practice will instill hope into the new season.

~~ An opportunity to change your environment. I know a woman who changes her entire living space every season, dressing it up (to the hilt) with seasonal decorations. She has tons of accessories for every season, and visiting her home is like being immersed into the season, whichever one it is. Get creative! Seasons are inspiring. God redecorates every season; that was His idea at creation.

Seasons don't (read: change doesn't) have to be frightening. When you were small, did you ever jump into a pile of freshly raked leaves? Oblivious to whatever might be in there, you tossed yourself in and flung yourself around, laughing with glee, the scents of decaying leaves filling your senses along with the smoke from someone's burn pile. I did that, several times. Then, I started thinking about the spiders, like the one I'd discovered skittering over the leaves one afternoon. And I stopped jumping in.

Here's today's invitation---don't stop jumping in!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Familiar Shadow


Do you ever choose the unhealthy thing (act, item) just because it’s familiar?


Familiarity is comfortable because we know what to expect. It feels safe, even if it’s actually far from safe. And when we feel safe and comfortable, oftentimes we feel secure. Again, even if the choice is indeed sabotaging us.


I was listening to a song the other day whose lyrics keep coming back to me.

Give up the comfort
of the familiar shadow


Do you give in to negative thoughts just because they’re what you’ve always done? Like an internal default mode? Maybe you grew up with negative voices around you. Complaining. Criticizing. Things start going well and you can’t cope because you’re anxious about the “bad thing that’s coming.” So you revert. Just because being negative is familiar.


In the case of pessimism, changing your tune to optimism might seem frightening because 1) people closest to you might not accept the change (they might mock your attempt or question you motives, drawing unwanted attention); 2) you might not feel genuine, (but the more you do it the more genuine your words will become); or 3) you might feel like a target for the enemy to come and wreak havoc in your life. Like a bulls eye goes up when you say "thank You, God, for what's happening in my life." Or, in the case of a trial: "I believe this is going to work out well. I can’t see it now, but I know God works things together for my good. So, I’m just going to push forward and watch what God does."


Remember, change brings freedom.


Choose the wholesome, beneficial option (emotionally, physically, even financially) one decision at a time. Step into something new for the sake of positive change in your life and watch how things turn around. I heard once that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Well, it’s probably not psychologically sound, but that definition certainly is logical. If you want to see positive changes in your life, make more positive choices.


Ask God for grace to live according to His Word. Just like anything in the Christian life, we can’t do it without God’s help. Sure, people can live “positively,” but in order to have a lasting, deep transformation, God’s Holy Spirit must be involved. If you’ve been comforted by a familiar shadow, turn it over to God, let His light shine on your life, both exposing those shadows (tendencies) and then showing you how to change. Then, the only step left is leaving that shadow behind in favor of His light.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Well-Earned Rest

Last night, after church, I spent some time tidying up our kitchen. We had had to leave without cleaning up everything from dinner in order to make church on time. So, before I could relax, it was time to finish up.

Afterwards, to the tune of the humming dishwasher, I settled in to read a good novel—Julie Lessman’s “A Passion Redeemed.” Ahhhhh . . . such wonderful relaxation.


Relaxation is best when it’s earned, don’t you think? If we sit around all day and not go to work, or meet our commitments, our lives become dull. Laziness leads to so many negatives—like not feeling useful, or seeing results, stagnating. But purposefulness results from working hard. Same’s true after a day of hard work outside or office work, meeting deadlines. A change of pace. A change of atmosphere. And whether it’s a movie or a book, or a chat with a friend or family member, relaxation is a gift we enjoy more after we’ve earned it.

Here’s to hard work followed by a great reward.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Devotions

It’s raining and gusty outside. As I sit at my writing desk this morning, little birds make their way to the bird feeder outside my window. I used to think birds hid during the rain, preferring their warm nests to fluttering about searching for food.

These songbirds weren’t letting rain and wind keep them from getting what they needed.


Sometimes I let my schedule keep me from getting what I need from God. When you have small children at home, your time is not your own. And there are plenty of things pulling on me: family stuff, church commitments, house stuff, writing stuff, reviews waiting, etc.


The other challenge is that circumstances can keep us from going to the Lord. The enemy is really clever at lying to us. If you believe his lies you might avoid running to God. Satan convinced Eve in the garden that she couldn’t trust God’s heart.


Are there areas in your life where you don’t trust God’s heart?


We need to seek the Lord (daily devotions) no mater what the circumstances (weather). Good days (when we’re feeling good emotionally, strong physically, mentally and spiritually) as well as bad days (when our emotions are uprooted by trials). Think of your devotional time as “your necessary food” and don’t let anything get in the way of meeting with Jesus daily.


I have not departed from the commandment of His lips;

I have treasured the words of His mouth

More than my necessary food. (Job 23:12, ModernKJV)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What If?

A conversation recently got me thinking about Jesus' sacrifice, His death on the cross. I think we have often misunderstood God's heart. As humans, we have projected our own heart states onto Him. We have misjudged Him at times. Take the crucifixion, for example.

What if, by choosing such a horrific sacrifice, God meant to show the amazing extent of His love, not His brutality? By sending His only begotten Son, He was sending part of His very heart, His love. And for Jesus, the Son of God to commit to coming and agree to the sacrificial death required by the Law, He, too was showing His amazing love--a love that gives all for the sake of those who cannot successfully rescue themselves.

Somewhere in God's heart, He desired beings to love and who would voluntarily love Him back. He created humankind to become His family, a people who could choose to believe in Him and His goodness, believers who would become His Son's bride. You were created as a gift from God to His Son. But because we've sinned (everyone has), and because God is holy and pure, a penalty for sin is required. The Bible explains that the life of any living being is in its blood. And blood (or a life) is required to atone for sins. In the Old Testament, animals were offered in place of human lives or every human would have had to die. In the New Testament, a Human was offered once and for all.

This Human was perfect. He never sinned, so his sacrifice was pure enough to pay the full price. And because He was human, His sacrifice was a perfect match for us--a Human dying on behalf of others, rather than a bull or a lamb dying for people. Animals don't have a conscience as humans do. Jesus, as a human was the perfect match. Jesus as God was the perfect expression of God's love. He knew what He was agreeing to--a bloody death because that's what sin required, that's what the Law required. That's God's perfect way.

Personally, I cannot watch portrayals of the crucifixion of Christ. They are too much for me. I agree Jesus' death was horrific. But in His death and resurrection, I see a Hero.

This Hero agreed to die for me.
This Hero rose again so I can could have life without fear of death.
This Hero demonstrated His love so I could know God.
This Hero offered His life in my place, He did something for me I couldn't do for myself.
This Hero offers me a relationship which changes my heart and renews my mind, setting me free.
This Hero walks beside me everyday, guiding me.
This Hero offers the same to whosoever will come.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, NKJV)


This Hero loved you and I so much He died a bloody, sacrificial death so you could be His, so you could be free, so you could go to heaven when you die. All you have to do is understand you've sinned, you're lost without Him and you need His gift of salvation. Talk to Him. Tell Him "I've blown it. I'm lost. Please save me. Forgive me for sinning against you. Live inside me. Be my Hero, my Savior. I surrender my own ideas about what truth is and ask You to show me what's true. Help me understand Your Word, the Bible. Give me real life. Let me be born again. I need you."

In answer to why Jesus did what He did, at the Father's request, it was all for love. All for you. What an amazing demonstration of unconditional, accepting, sacrificial love.

"Greater love has no one than this,

than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 (MKJV)



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Guest Author: Siri Mitchell

I'm excited to welcome Siri Mitchell today. Siri and I recently met at the ACFW writer’s conference in MN. Read on to learn more about our exchange. Here's our interview celebrating the release of her book "A Constant Heart." We're also running a CONTEST for a chance to win a free copy. See below for more information.

Thank you, Siri, for visiting. Welcome!

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit. I’m excited to be here!

Tell us a little more about your writing life. How long have you been writing? Was “Kissing Adrien” your first book? (I love that book.)

Thanks for your kind words! I began writing in 1994; 4 manuscripts, 10 years, and 153 rejections later, my first book went under contract in 2004. But it wasn’t actually my ‘first’ book that got contracted; it was a fifth book that I wrote just for the publisher. They had read my non-fiction manuscript (Christians Should be More Parisian) and a fiction manuscript (which would later be published as Chateau of Echoes) and they asked if I could turn the non-fiction manuscript into a novel. After having written for 10 years without any publisher or agent interest, it actually took me a month or two to decide whether I really wanted to write a fifth manuscript without a firm commitment to publish. Eventually, I decided that I would try and, after having read some sample chapters, Harvest House contracted Kissing Adrien as well as the second manuscript I had written, Something Beyond the Sky.

Please tell us more about A Constant Heart. What is the plot of the story?

A Constant Heart represents a new path in publishing for me. It’s my first historical and is set in Elizabethan England where beauty is a curse, friendship is bought and sold, and true love is the unpardonable sin. Written from two POVs (his and hers) it follows a knight’s daughter upon her introduction to Court after her arranged marriage to an earl. When her introduction to the Queen goes awry she has to figure out how to navigate the courtier’s lifestyle and how to place her husband back into the Queen’s good graces. And along the way (horror of horrors!), the earl and his wife manage to fall in love.

What inspired this novel?

I knew I wanted to write a historical and I wanted to investigate what it would have been like to be a woman in a different era. I’ve always been interested in fashion, so that’s where I started my research. The more I read about the history of fashion, the more I realized I wanted to write about women in past eras and how (and why) they subjected themselves to dangerous beauty practices. The fashion element in this book was the use of lead-based cosmetics at the Elizabethan Court (and the resulting lead poisoning). The idea that a woman would destroy her body while trying to become beautiful was haunting. And I found the thought of love not being the answer (to any question at the Elizabethan Court) to be fascinating.

Will there be a sequel to A Constant Heart?

There’s not one currently planned. There will, however, be two historicals that follow it. The next, Love’s Pursuit, will be released in June. A classic love story set in Puritan New England, it features the fashion element of Puritan dress codes and it examines the great lengths to which God will go in order to pursue us. The third will be set in 1890s NYC during the debut into society of the main character. The fashion element is tight corseting. It will be a story of romance in unexpected places and of competition for the most eligible bachelor in the city. When marriage is an obligation and the social season is only a few months long, what’s a little rivalry among friends?

A Constant Heart is a very well-written historical. Is this your first historical? Why the change from contemporary? Which is your favorite to write (contemporary or historical)? Can we expect more historicals from you?

Thanks so much for the compliment! A Constant Heart is my first true historical. Chateau of Echoes had a medieval component to it, but it’s classified as contemporary fiction. I like writing in both genres and derive the same satisfaction from both. I have to admit though that writing historicals takes a bit longer for me simply because there’s more research to be done. Had I been smart, I would have proposed three historicals in the same time period. As it is, by the end of this year, I’ll be widely read in Elizabethan England, Puritan New England, and Victorian America!

What is the primary take-away you wish for readers to hold and ponder when they’ve finished reading A Constant Heart?

I want them to think. I want them to ask questions like: At what price, beauty? At what price, love? What is true beauty? Who owns beauty? And who gets to decide what is beautiful?

What’s next for you in writing?

Love’s Pursuit, the Puritan love story, will release in summer 2009. The third book, the Victorian romance, will release in spring or summer 2010…it will depend upon how quickly I can write it. I would love for readers to have access to it sooner rather than later, so I’m typing just as fast as I can!

How can readers learn more or contact you if they wish?

I love to hear from readers at siri@sirimitchell.com Fun links for my books can be found at http://sirimitchell.com and readers can also sign up for my e-newsletter at that site. All readers are automatically entered every month in a drawing for a free book.

Thanks again for visiting! It’s been a pleasure. And it was great meeting you at ACFW’s conference 2008. We wish you all the best.

And now for my review:

When I caught up to her at the Mall of America Booksigning (where we made history with 127 Christian authors all in one place signing books!) she signed a book plate (a sticker) for me to take home with me for later placement in the book. Here’s what she wrote:


To Annette—

May your beauty

Always be

Your own

Siri


Wow, huh? I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. I'd never seen a comment like that when other authors had signed books. Then I read her novel. Amazing.


In the name of beauty, the characters in Siri’s book used lead paint on their faces in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. They also dyed their hair with potions that made them woozy and made their eyes burn. (oooh, that sounds a little familiar to our culture) In their wig-crazy upper society, the thinking was that the “hairs” would eventually fall out from all the mistreatment of the hot iron used to twist it which caused breakage as well as the dyes, and then you could order a periwig made. Problem solved! Oh, boy….


The female courtiers who wore the lead-based paint suffered lead poisoning without understanding their regimens in the name of fashion were killing them, affecting their mental capacity, their physical health and leading to the deaths of their babies (in utero as well as still births). Very sobering. Siri had a wonderful knack for immersing us in her story world. I loved that the book was written entirely first person POV. She took us into both the hero’s and the heroine’s heads. I highly recommend this well-researched book. Ladies will rethink their beauty regimens. This book is entertaining as well as insightful.


Other recommendations: Kissing Adrien, Siri Mitchell’s first published book.


CONTEST INFO: Hey readers, leave a comment for a chance to win Siri's book. We'll hold the drawing first thing Tuesday, October 14th.