Friday, December 30, 2011

Old Christmas and Putting Baby Jesus Back in the Box

Up and down my street, wreathes, and bows are disappearing from doors and mailboxes, and former brightly lit trees are stripped of their twinkles and headed for the recycling center.

Not me. 

Being of strong English-Scotch-Irish descent, I’m hanging on to Christmas. My ancestors used to celebrate Christmas on January 6, the date we observe as Epiphany when the wise men found the baby Jesus in the manger. 

When Christmas day arrives, I’m just beginning to celebrate. I can’t bear to put all the baby Jesus figures back in the box until at least January 6. 


Just the other day, I overheard someone in a store say, “I’m so glad it’s over.” 

It’s not over. 

It’s just beginning. 

This morning I read these words from The Message in Romans 8: “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah… Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death… In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.”

That little manger baby is here to put it all straight. What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could never put back together, an infant comes to restore. 

In my life. And your life. 


Thank you, Jesus.

After Scrooge’s life altering encounters with the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Charles Dickens writes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well..”

May it be said of us that we keep Christmas well, that we allow Jesus to enter the garbage heap of our lives with his beauty and power and restoration. 

And so, old Christmas or new, no matter which day we put the clay baby Jesus back in the box, let's allow the eternal One to reign in our hearts.



Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God's Guest List


I just finished reading New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber’s book, God’s Guest List: Welcoming Those Who Influence Our Lives. Macomber spoke at the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, but I wasn’t able to attend that year. I later heard about one of the intriguing addresses she gave which I believe aligns with the theme in God’s Guest List.

She writes how years ago she made a list of thirty people she wanted to meet, which at that point seemed highly unlikely. But over time, God sent them her way. But after a disillusioning experience with one of the people on her list who turned out not to be the person she thought he was, God spoke to her about making a list with thirty blanks to allow God to send the people he wanted her to meet. She writes, “God would send people into my life? An open list. A guest list. It was as if He had issued invitations to my life and asked me to watch for the people He would be sending. What a concept!”

From that point on, she saw people with different eyes. She calls this list “God’s Guest List.” What started as thirty blank lines, she now realizes could be an infinite number.

She quotes Matthew 23:34, “Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers…” and pens. “ It’s up to us to recognize them. When we start searching, we’ll begin to look deeply into every person we meet to see if we can find God’s fingerprints on that person.”

As I reflect on the last couple of weeks, I can point to at least three people I’m sure God sent into my life.


James Shepherd receiving Honorary Doctorate
As I attended my nephew’s graduation from the University of Georgia, I had the honor of hearing the keynote address given by James Shepherd of the Shepherd Spinal Center.
Shepherd shared how his own spinal injury from a surfing accident in the seventies inspired him and his family to begin the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, which is now one of the top ten spinal care hospitals in the nation, and often treats patients regardless of their ability to pay.

He said speaking from his wheelchair, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

Later that week, I was eating at a Chick-Fil-A with my family, and noticed someone shooting a film nearby. During a break, the man being filmed turned to us and begin to share a little of his story. Michael Davenport lost both his arms as an adolescent when he accidently lassoed an electrical wire with a length of copper wire with which he was playing. He now works as an artist, painting with a brush in his mouth.

A couple of days before Christmas, I heard a knock at the door, and heard my husband welcoming Dr. Bob Bowen into our home. He attends a community Bible study my husband leads at the YMCA.


Dr. Bowen, now retired, was a former Physical Education instructor at the University of Georgia. As we talked, I also learned that from 1945 until a week before the end of the World War II, he piloted B-17s on missions deep into enemy territory. He helped the Allies by destabilizing Nazi synthetic oil production, and industrial centers. 
 
As he sat on my sofa, I realized that here was a man who made a difference in history when he was only twenty-two years old.

What a privilege to spend time with him.

At the end of each of Macomber's chapters in God’s Guest List, she adds a section called “Gifts from our Guests” on what she learned from the guest she’d just written about.

What did I learn from my three guests? From James Shepherd, I was reminded that God can turn adversity into a mighty power for lasting good. In Michael Davenport, I saw the reality of God’s words in Isaiah, “Beauty for ashes.” Everyday Michael Davenport puts beauty into the world despite his disability and scars from burns, which cover much of his body. And in Dr. Bowen, I saw again how the bravery and courage of just one person plays a significant part in the unfolding of a much larger plan.


When I was a very small child, I remember standing in my front yard, watching the planes glide overhead, and wondering whether I’d ever fly myself. Years later I’d be cruising in a plane similar to the ones I saw as a child when a former American President would emerge from first class and shake my hand as he graciously greeted each person on the aircraft.


That little small town girl could've never imagined the amazing people on God’s guest list for her. And that’s why Macomber talks about the anticipation of it all.

“Each guest that God brings into our lives leaves us with a unique gift.”


Who might be the guests on God's list for you?


Saturday, December 24, 2011



May your Christmas be a Blessed One!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bells Across the Snow for those who are sad

 For many, the Christmas season is a hard time for various reasons. For some, the loss of loved ones is more keenly felt this time of year. For others the bright wrapping and lilting carols stand in contrast to an ongoing struggle with sadness, or serious illness.

That’s why I’ve always appreciated that on Christmas Eve the devotional, Streams in the Desert, carries the poem , “Bells Across the Snow” by one of my favorite hymn writers, Frances Ridley Harvegal (Take My Life and Let it Be). It speaks to the tension between sorrow and joy, which almost everyone at some time in their life, experiences at Christmas.

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
With its joy and with its pain?
There's a minor in the carol,
And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
With the holly wreath to-night.
And the hush is never broken
By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
To the "bells across the snow."

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
'Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
With the carol and the song!
If we could but hear them singing
As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
Of the crown on each dear brow;
There would be no sigh to smother,
No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the "bells across the snow."

O Christmas, merry Christmas!
This never more can be;
We cannot bring again the days
Of our unshadowed glee.
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
Sweet herald of good-will,
With holy songs of glory
Brings holy gladness still.
For peace and hope may brighten,
And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the "bells across the snow."

The Christmas after my mother died,  I wondered whether I’d be able to celebrate that year. But as Christmas drew near, God gave me a song which carried me through the season. I posted it last December. You may read it again here, and I hope that for any who are struggling, God will use it to encourage your heart.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Ringing Bell News Update: A Ringing Bell Night Before Christmas

It you missed the first gazillion posts in this continuing series and would like to read more, click on the “Ringing Bell Update” label below this post.

With our apologies to Clement C. Moore and a whole lot of other people who might be offended, the staff at headquarters presents :


 A Ringing Bell Night Before Christmas


Twas the night before Christmas, and all through Ringing Bell
Not a creature was stirring, not even Isabelle.
The nine stockings were  hung on the stairs with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.


(animals chose their own stockings)

Animals were thought nestled snug in their beds,
While visions of tasty treats danced in their heads.
And Lucy in her kerchief, and Charlie in his cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.



Charlie decided not to wear the cap

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
We thought the Front Porch Grey was making toms scatter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

Moonlight caused something in the driveway to glow
 I squinted, tried to make out the objects down below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
A sleigh, eight tiny mice, and two figures so dear.

A cat in a tuxedo, and another clad in silver
I knew in a moment it must be Carl and Wilbur.
More rapid than eagles the rodents they came,
Wilbur whistled, and shouted, and called them by name.

"Now Fancy Feast, Ocean White Fish, Tuna and Meow Mix!
On Turkey Leg, on Cat Chow, Hot Dog and Fish Sticks.
To the top of the down spout! To the top of the pear tree!
For all cheese balls! Cheese balls! Cheese balls, you’ll see!"

As squirrels that before the wild Lucy fly,
When they meet with her bark, scurry to the sky.
So up to the house-top the rodents they flew,
With a sleigh full of treats, Carl and Wilbur, too. 

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
Scratching and clawing, then Lucy said, “Woof!”
Outside, loud meows, and crashing to the ground
And then through the dog door Carl and Wilbur came with a bound.

Wilbur in a Santa hat, Carl with antlers like a reindeer,
I thought to myself, “What are you doing here?”
A bundle of treats Wilbur had on his back,
Just a Santa imposter, opening his pack.



Whiskers were tangled. Each nose red as a berry.
Though their fur was all windblown, they seemed quite merry.
Carl’s front teeth showed bits of leaf and pine straw
Then Wilbur lifted one mitted tuxedo paw.

“We're helping out Santa!” Wilbur exclaimed with glee.
“Needed a hand with the animal’s treats, you see.”
“They couldn’t go hungry,” Carl rubbed his belly.
“We even brought some yummy tuna fish jelly.”

Our Ringing Bell kittens now Santa’s jolly elves.
We at headquarters felt mighty proud of ourselves.
With a twist of tails and a purr in their throats
I watched in amazement those two in windblown coats.

They spoke not a word, but went straight to their work,
They filled all stockings but two, then turned with a jerk,
“Giving ours to help storm sewer cats,” they said.
“Of course,” I agreed, wiped a tear, nodded my head.

Through dog door they sprang, to rodents gave a whistle
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard them exclaim, ‘ere they drove out of sight,
“From Ringing Bell, Merry Christmas, blessed good night!”






Wilbur resting beside his sleigh after a long night's work
No animals were harmed in the making of these pictures. Can’t say the same for staff members.

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine..." (Proverbs 17:22).

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Road to a Loving Heart

To use a cultural reference that’s sure to date me, the other night I thought of a line from Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” in which the lyrics talk about how so often we never understand what we have until we lose it(I’m paraphrasing so to avoid copyright infringement).

Sitting at my desk absorbed in a writing project, I heard a sound I’d never heard before emanating from another part of the house. Now having raised two children, there are two things related to noise that ought to stop any mother in her tracks. The first is silence. The second is an auditory trailblazer. 

I left my desk and went into the den. There was a reason I’d never heard anything like it before. I can’t tell you the last time I heard a seventy-pound dog stripping a cloth binding from an early twentieth century book. 




Yes, Lucy had selected a volume from my antique reader collection for her chewing enjoyment. 

I would have cried, but I’ve found it doesn’t do much good.

I sat down with the book to figure out if anything about it was salvageable. Trying to understand exactly what I’d lost now that it was gone, I flipped through the pages, scanned the stories, and the vintage lithographs. 

I almost decided to recycle it, when my eyes fell on  the words “The Road to the Loving Heart,” a story by Catherine Bryce about Robert Louis Stevenson. In it, she writes about how Stevenson moved to Samoa in the South Pacific for his health. He lived at the top of a hill for the clean air, but had an arduous journey to get there over a rough path. The often-needy Samoans were repeatedly the beneficiaries of his love and attention even though the journey to reach them took a toll on his health. After some time, the Samoans wanted to return Stevenson’s kindness and built a road to his house. Overjoyed by their present, Stevenson intended erect a road sign with words of gratitude to the Samoans.

But before he could, the Samoans put up their own sign in their language. Translated, it read:

 “The Road of the Loving Heart. Remembering the great care of his Highness Tusitala, and his loving care when we were in prison and sore distressed, we have prepared him an enduring present—this road which we have dug to last forever. It shall never be muddy, it shall endure, this road that we have dug.”

Bryce concludes by saying, “…that a kind deed is never lost; it will be found years afterward in some loving heart.”

Sometimes we grow weary, especially this time of year. Christmas brings additional demands. We feel stretched. We wonder if what we do makes a difference. Might it encourage us to know that our acts of kindness will not be erased, but carried always in other’s hearts?

“…blessed is he who is kind to the needy “(Proverbs 14:21).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Carpenter's Shop Book Signing and Bigger Vision

Catching our breath here after a busy weekend signing books and singing with the Athens Symphony Chorus.

The Carpenter’s Shop book signing for Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees was great fun, and we had the opportunity to see a lot of folks we hadn’t seen in a while including my son’s former scoutmaster, Dan Bowdoin, and Rev. Grady and Doris Wigley, our pastor and his wife when Jerry and I met. Two other very special people made a trip to buy a book after a long day in ministry. I was humbled that they braved the cold to come to my signing when I knew they could be at home getting some much-needed rest. 



Richard and Barbara Anderson have been tirelessly serving the homeless through the nonprofit Bigger Vision in our town for many years. After years of floating around the area in temporary shelters, they now have a permanent facility with 35 beds for the homeless in this community. It was such a joy to hear them share about their journey. And they’ve accomplished all this in their retirement years and while Dick has battled serious health issues. 

“I don’t want to spend my time going to bridge games, “ Barbara said. “I want to make a difference.”

So, in their late seventies, they're still actively involved in the daily operation of the shelter.

Making a difference, indeed. 

Barbara and Richard Anderson are two of my heroes. I don’t want to play bridge, either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my goal. I can only pray that I’ll ever be able to accomplish a fraction of what the Anderson’s have. 

If you have financial gifts, coats, blankets, gloves, etc. that you’d like to donate, please contact the Anderson’s at Bigger Vision. 



For more great pictures from the book signing you may go to the Carpenter’s Shop Facebook page here

Many thanks to Brian and his amazing staff for a wonderful event and an opportunity to visit with so many friends, old and new. Love the ornament the Carpenter's Shop made for me.

"...I was homeless and you gave me a room..." (Matthew 25:35, The Message) 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Signing and Feature Article

Love to see any of you who live in the Athens, Georgia area for a book signing today at the Carpenter's Shop on Chase Street. The signing is from 5:00 to 6:30, although I plan to be there a few minutes early.

Also, the Athens Banner Herald ran a nice article about the signing and Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees today at http://onlineathens.com/features .

Look forward to seeing you at the Carpenter's Shop.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Ringing Bell News Update: Wilbur...again

After our last update, we thought surely we’d be moving on to the adventures of one of the other animals here at headquarters, but we underestimated Wilbur’s power to generate newsworthy material.

This episode begins as the staff began readying for Christmas. 

“There,” one staff member said as she stood back to take in the lovely tree glowing with glistening balls and an assortment of angels collected over a number of years. “Isn’t it lovely?”

All agreed. When finished with the decorating, the staff took a much needed break and went out for a restaurant meal. 

If they’d only known what was happening back at HQ, they wouldn't have lingered so long over their food.

“Watch this,” Wilbur said to Carl as he launched into the air, grabbed a shiny green ball and crashed to the floor. Green glass shards flew everywhere. “Don't you think I'm a good jumper? And look at that pretty silver one up there, I can get that one too.” Once more he went airborne, lassoed a Christmas ornament and slammed to the floor.

“You’re not the only good jumper. I can do that, too,” Carl said and sprang up for an embellished gold ball. 

As the ball broke apart on the hardwood floor, Carl looked at Wilbur, “See.”

“Oh, yeah, well I can go higher than you.” Once more, Wilbur ascended. 

And so it went.

When the staff returned they found the floor littered with the remains of six glass Christmas balls.

Wilbur and Carl are now banished from the Christmas Tree.

“He’s a terror,” Misty complained to the staff.

“An absolute menace,” Isabelle agreed.

 “But doesn’t he have an innocent looking face?” Aunt Lucy said lovingly.

All animals and staff turned to regard Wilbur.



Wilbur playing golf , (more in a later update)
“Okay, so he looks guilty as can be. But he’s still my nephew,” Lucy said defensively.

 Lucy wasn’t so forgiving however when she got into trouble with the staff for repeatedly turning over the inside water bowl.

 “I’m telling you I didn’t do it,” she said.

 “Who else is big enough to turn over the water bowl?” a staff member asked.

 Turns out, Wilbur is.

  “I was just trying to get that cat out of the bottom of the bowl,” Wilbur said.

*sigh*

 The Ringing Bell staff has cleaned up a veritable Niagara in the days since Wilbur noticed a feline in his water bowl.

Evidently, the word “reflection” does not translate well into cat.

Everyone at Ringing Bell is standing by with mops and rags.

It looks like it’s going to be a very wet winter.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding...wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations...Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.(Psalm 148:7-13)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mercy and the Sea

It was great to meet folks in Fernandina Beach, Florida during a book signing at Books Plus. Glad to be on beautiful Amelia Island again.


Just before our departure from the island, I walked to the shore to give the sea one last goodbye. It’d be months before we returned, and I wanted to firmly log in my experience now, so that deep in January on some icy cold morning, I could remember the sound of lapping waves and the feel of warm wind against my face.






The expanse of blue spread from horizon to horizon, and words memorized long ago surfaced in my thoughts:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea…

It was the first line of a hymn I hadn’t sung in years.

Webster says that mercy is “the disposition to be forgiving and kind.” I turned right and then left and saw great arms sweep from North to South spreading compassion and kindness.

When I returned home, I had an "aha" moment when I read the last lines of the hymn. I’ve quoted them often through the years but had forgotten their origin:

If our love were but more simple, we should take him at his word;
And our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.

I know that in the months ahead, it won’t be so much the sound of the sea I’ll remember, but the breadth of those arms of mercy. Oh, to wholly believe God's promises, and live in his luminous light even on the bleakest of winter days.
"The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:11).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rose McCauley and a Christmas Anthology

If you're looking for a Christmas read, you might consider  the Southern charm of a recently released anthology, Christmas Belles of Georgia, which includes a story by fellow member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Rose McCauley.

Rose shares that she has been writing for over ten years and has been published in several non-fiction anthologies and devotionals. She is happy for this to be her first fiction anthology because Christmas books are her favorites. A retired schoolteacher who has been happily married to her college sweetheart for 43 years, she is also mother to three grown children and their spouses and grandmother to three lovely, lively kids with one more on the way! You can reach her through her website www.rosemccauley.com or blogsite at www.rosemccauley.blogspot.com  and also on Facebook as Rose McCauley.


In the anthology, Christmas Belles of Georgia: Four letters are mailed from Monticello, a small antebellum town in Georgia. Sisters once, now heirs to a historic plantation, each young woman must come to terms with the circumstances of her birth…Will the sisters receive a traditional Christmas gift…of love?

Sounds enticing, doesn't it? So, buy a copy at your favorite local bookseller or online source, make a cup of hot cocoa, and sit down by the fire to enjoy. I'm looking forward to it.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Interview about Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees

If you're looking for me today, I'm being interviewed over at Sharon Lavy's blog. Sharon was kind enough to review Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees on Friday and is posting a Q/A with me today. Once more, thank you for the gift of your time. Blessings, Bev

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Christmas Really Smells Like

Please drop by sweet Sharon Lavy's blog. She's been gracious enough to post about Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees.

We're finishing up the turkey here, and beginning to get ready for Christmas. 

The scents of Balsam and Fir trees, candy canes, and cinnamon are almost universally perceived as the fragrances of Christmas.

But another aroma sends me to Christmases past just as quickly as these: the scent of the Sears automotive department.

More specifically, tires.

For several years when I was a child, my family lived near the big rambling Sears and Roebuck store on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta.

At Christmas, we always made at least one pilgrimage to the brick-faced multi -layered establishment, in which they would transform what I remember to be one entire floor into a seasonal toy department.

The thing is, no matter how big or small the store, Sears and Roebuck always smelled like the tires in automotive. So, as I carefully perused the dolls, games, and stuffed animals, which I hoped would wind up under the tree on Christmas morn, my olfactory nerves decided Christmas smelled like rubber.

Now, at least once during the Christmas season, I have to make a trip to Sears. I usually don’t buy much. I just want to smell the tires.

And remember.

Strange, I know.

But my trip to Sears started me thinking about what the first Christmas smelled like. I had to laugh. I guess to get it; we’d have to go sit in a cattle stall. I can’t imagine anyone making manure scented potpourri.

We’ve really sanitized the birth of Jesus, haven’t we?

Very different from the scene conjured by the idyllic nativity figures I have displayed in my house; I believe in the natural, it was a gritty, smelly event.


But in the spirit, there was a transcendent sweetness about it. A sweetness the Savior has shared with us who have received his salvation.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 2:15, “Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life.”

Don’t you love that? “…an aroma redolent with life.”

What the first Christmas really smelled like was life.

Eternal Life.

That’s why the Son of God endured the grime and the stench.

For us.

I made my trip to Sears early this morning and just stood for a moment transported to my childhood by new tire smell. But one day, all those who know Him are going to be transported to their eternal home because of the fragrant life the incarnate God born in a cattle stall died to give us.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stormy Seas and Rescued Sailors

I awoke in the early morning to the explosion of waves against the shore, and I knew the storm the meteorologists predicted had moved in. Later at first light when I stepped outside, the wind blew me several steps back. The ocean that had only lapped at my feet the day before, now tossed angrily at high tide. 

“…all your waves and breakers have swept over me,” the psalmist wrote.

Sometimes, it feels as if we’re dealing with problems, as Eugene Peterson said in his translation of this verse, which threaten to “…crash and crush…” us. 

I stepped inside away from the wind, and stood for a long time studying the pitching sea. I remembered Psalm 44 that I’d been reading for several days. It ends, “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.” Not because of our good deeds, or our righteousness, or our family linage, or our place in life. And certainly not because we deserve it. These are not enough, but because of YOUR goodness and love, oh God, rescue fearful, sometimes misguided sailors from stormy seas. 

How and when God chooses to rescue is often puzzling to me, but we can accept His way because we know His love. 

Today, in a rolling flood of troubles I saw God rise up for someone, stretch out his mighty hand, and roll back the tide. 

Surprisingly. 

Powerfully.

Completely. 

Because of His unfailing love.







I have witnessed in my life many wonderful acts of God, and today, the splendor of His presence was unmistakable.

I bear witness to the fact that God is at work and he intervenes in the affairs of his children.

If your sea is troubled, if you feel adrift, call out to Him. Pray Psalm 44. And trust His love.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wild Horses

Jerry and I have been out roaming coastal Georgia and Florida the past few days to promote my book, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees. I’d never visited the charming little town of St. Mary’s, (only read about it in books and magazines), but, oh, how lovely it is.

We visited
Once Upon a Bookseller Bookstore, then set out to discover a little about the town. 

Steeped in history, it’s also notable for being the gateway to
Cumberland Island, one of the nation’s best-preserved wilderness areas. 

We visited the Cumberland Visitor’s Center, and though we missed the ferry for the day, we stood at the dock from which the boats depart and gazed out over the sparkling water.



Just a ferry ride away, wild horses flew like the wind along pristine beaches. 

Just then, I had an “I wanna be a park ranger moment.”

Have I mentioned this desire of mine? I suppose it first surfaced during our home schooling years. All the National Park visits and historical tours during our educational travel reinforced it. I love history, and nature, and the outfit’s not too bad either. 

I don’t suppose I’ll ever be a park ranger, and I’m sure the jobs not all I think it might be. But, I can write about them. There’s a park ranger in a future book out there somewhere. 

And those wild horses…

I’m reminded once more of verses from Job 39 which Randall Wallace used to start his film Secretariat. God is speaking:
Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?

Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting?

He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength,

And charges into the fray. 


I may never be a park ranger, but one day soon, I sure hope to see those wild horses.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Last Week for Operation Christmas Child

This is the last week for Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box Collections, so I'm slipping in here with a repost. If you've not packed a box, there's still time. Check online at Samaritan's Purse for a collection center near you, pack a box or two,and take it before the weekend. Many thanks, Bev

It’s the time of the year to start thinking about packing your Operation Christmas Child box for Samaritan’s Purse. Last year, Samaritan’s Purse distributed shoeboxes to eight million children around the world. Our family has prepared boxes since our kids were little. Every year, each of them would pack one for a child their age and gender. Now, that the last two are both in college, my grandchildren jumped in to help me.




I spoke with Brittany this morning at Samaritan’s Purse and asked about the three most important items they’d like to see in a shoebox. She said hygiene materials are number one. Toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap and a comb or brush are essential elements in every box. Following these would be school supplies: notebooks, pencils, erasers, etc. Third on her list was a toy: a stuffed animal, a yo-yo, etc.

I’ve been working on my boxes for a year. I got the idea from my friend Dolly, who inspired me to shop for bargains, so that I could increase my number of boxes.

Here’s how:

After holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.) retailers mark down their seasonal merchandise to clear it. I look for items at 75% off—socks, coloring books, toys. Many go for as little as a quarter. When school supplies are reduced, I pick up crayons, markers, notebooks, and pencils. Just this week, I bought balls for each box, which were reduced from summer stock.

One thing I don’t scrimp on, and that’s toothpaste and a toothbrush that won’t make gums bleed. Children in the third world may not have brushed regularly, so it’s important to buy a good soft toothbrush. Also, if it’s in your budget, a light up toy or flashlight is great. Always include extra batteries. If a child lives without electricity, these things are a wonder. Also, give thought to the toy you include. Easily broken plastic is not a good idea. Look for things with more longevity—a slinky, a toy car. Remember what Brittany said about stuffed animals. I remember hearing a story which emerged from a war-torn country about a fourteen-year-old boy drafted into the army. He took his Operation Christmas Child stuffed animal with him to war.

If you start now, you can increase your number of boxes, too. You may download “How to Pack a Shoebox” and labels for the boxes HERE. Pay special attention to the items that shouldn’t be included. A toll-free number for drop off locations is provided or you can mail your shoeboxes to Operation Christmas Child headquarters in North Carolina.

Here’s what especially motivated me. I heard a testimony this year from a missionary in Eastern Europe who spoke about how important the shoebox ministry was in bringing children to his church. He had opportunity to share the Good News with so many who’d never heard it before because of Operation Christmas Child.

That’s all I needed to hear. This year, instead of two boxes, I’m working on twelve.



I still have some items to collect, but I’m closing in on it, and have had some great help.



"Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! "(Luke 12:48 The Message)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sing On

A few days ago, having just finished an errand, I exited a store preoccupied with a persistent trouble. But loud warbles arrested me. 

I looked up and saw this creature...







 ...singing his little heart out.

A portion of my daily Bible reading today is from 2 Thessalonians 2:16, “May our lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

This morning in Streams in the Desert, “Remember it is the very time for faith to work when sight ceases. The greater the difficulties, the easier for faith; as long as there remain certain natural prospects, faith does not get on even as easily as where natural prospects fail. “ George Mueller


God reminded of my singing friend. He stopped me in my tracks and reminded me to sing on in hope even in the midst of vexing difficulties which appear to have no answer.

Again from Streams in the Desert, “…and rejoice, since the most glorious promises of God are generally fulfilled in such a wondrous manner that He steps forth to save us at a time when there is the least appearance of it.”


So, join me in singing the song of hope. Who knows who we might touch with our music?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stay


A lot of waiting here today.




What would the news be?

Wondering if this cancer in my dad was already a wildfire.

Knowing too much and knowing too little.

Waiting.

One hour, then two.

Shifting in chairs, checking watches.



How much longer?

Finally, his name called.

Walk down the hall, squeeze in the room, my sister, my dad, his wife, my husband, and me.

Standing now. Not enough chairs. Not enough air.

More waiting.  Looking out the window. Swapping stories.

Clinging to hope.

Then the click of the latch.

We inhale as the white coat of revelation enters.

And…

It’s not good, but it’s not bad either. Seems contained. One more test to make sure, then lots of medicine. Maybe radiation.

We exhale.

“Might live to be 95,” doctor says.

Sister and I exchange glances.

Tears.

95.

Yes, Dad, save for your old age.

Stay to see the great-grands.

We’ll pray.

Take the medicine.

Stay. 

“I’ve been carrying you on my back from the day you were born,

And I’ll keep on carrying you when you’re old.

I’ll be there, bearing you when you’re old and gray.

I’ve done it and will keep on doing it,

Carrying you on my back,

Saving you” (Isaiah 46:4 The Message).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cotton Fields and the Harvest

Early one morning while driving in a rural area, my husband and I came upon this scene. 


Though Jesus probably didn't have cotton in mind, these words from John 4:35 came to me, “…Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”

A few days later, I had the privilege of hearing a pastor from Bulgaria give a moving account of God’s work both behind the iron curtain and since the fall of communism. Out of the twelve pastors in our denomination imprisoned during the time of oppression, sadly, all but one died in prison. But they paved the way for the work to come.

He told of the churches destroyed during the last century, but how since that bleak time, many have been restored and once more are vital places of worship. 

The young man we heard lives sacrificially on a monthly salary the equivalent of $300 U.S. dollars. His responsibilities are many and far-reaching, not only pastor to his own church but also supervising a pastor in a neighboring village. 

His commitment and determination to see others come to Christ in this former Eastern bloc country moved me. Biblical study resources are scare, and sometimes many pastors share only a few books. Though the number of true believers are still a small percentage of the total population, the church in Bulgaria has begun to mushroom and many new churches have been planted.

A few days after I took the photo above, the cotton was harvested. As I passed the field where reapers had done their work, I longed to see the same thing happen in the spiritual realm. Both here and around the world.

I pray it would be so.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What to do with a Can of Spray Paint

Just as a screenplay deadline bore down this past week, a wild decorating urge hit me. Mostly because I had a family party coming up yesterday, and in addition, my daughter had stripped her room bare when she moved to the university this fall. The bare walls and shelves cried out for enhancement. But with two kids in college, the budget sure squeaks around here. So, what would I do?

Though I"ve never read it, I’ve always liked the title of David C. Barnette’s book, The Official Guide to Christmas in the South: or If You Can’t Fry It, Spray Paint it Gold. 

It’s not Christmas, and we don’t fry much around here, but I can’t tell you all I’ve done with two cans of silver and gold foil spray paint this week. I told my husband not to sit in one place too long or I might gilt his ears. 

My biggest inspiration was page 97 in my new Country Living Magazine. Sitting beside a Dennis and Leen wingback chair covered in Schumacher fabric was a gleaming silver occasional table perfect for Bethany’s room. The price: a mere $750.00.

Gulp. But, hmm, I already had a table similar to the one in the picture. And I had a can of silver foil spray paint. A few minutes later….Voila! Almost exactly like the one in the picture.

One thing led to another, and before long, I’d silvered picture frames, another table, and made a covered board for pictures. Her room perked up, and all I’d spent was a few dollars for fabric and $4.00 for a can of paint (Of course I used a craft store coupon).


Since my house is a frequent gathering spot for family dinners, I longed to do something different and seasonally appropriate for my table. The large acorns Jerry brought back from a coastal South Carolina swamp excursion caught my eye. After putting long hours in making final dialogue changes and tightening scenes in the screenplay, I set out to spray paint the acorns and hot glue them on to gold cord.


I cut lengths of plaid ribbon I’d plucked some time ago from the clearance bin at a fabric store, tied the ribbon on my napkins and then wrapped the acorn cords around the ribbon. 



I made the screenplay deadline, set an attractive table, and my daughter loved her room improvements so much I had to hold her back from plundering for her dorm room, again.

So, I guess Barnette is right. We do spray paint a lot in the south. 

As I looked around the table last night at the family gathered to celebrate a birthday, I gave thanks I could make things pretty for these dear ones, these sitting to eat in my home. Precious, precious memories.

And I gave thanks for the creative inspiration that comes from the author of all creativity: the one who thought us up, who gave us color, and beauty, and the intricacies of nature. “So God created man in his own image…”(Genesis 1:27). We are creative because God is creative. And whether we’re writing screenplays, or cooking dinner, or making our house a home, we do it because we are created in the image of God.

So, that was my weekend.

I still have half a can of paint left, though. I hate for it to waste. Maybe I’ll buy Barnette's book  and see what he suggests. After all, Christmas isn’t far off.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Great Conference Coming Up

For my readers who are also interested in writing pursuits, The East Metro Atlanta Christian Writers are having another of their wonderful writing conferences On November 11 and 12. This year, the speakers are historical Christian fiction author, Jennifer Hudson Taylor, prolific freelance writer, Edie Melson and I’ll be teaching four screenwriting classes.

For those of you in the Atlanta Metro area, the classes are easily accessible at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Covington, GA. For those coming from a greater distance, the location is just off Interstate 20. 

The deadline for registration is November 1, so please visit the East Metro Atlanta Christian Writers website for more information and sign up today. There’ll be lots of networking opportunities, great classes, and also an opportunity for fifteen minute appointments with faculty.

Hope to see you there!

“Write down the revelation  and make it plain on tablets  so that a herald may run with it” (Habakkuk 2:2).

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Unusual Bird and the C Word

I looked up from my computer one day last week and at the feeder just outside my window, a bird I’d never seen before munched on black oiled sunflower seeds. 


“Who are you,” I said aloud, and pulled my well-worn copy of Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies from the bookshelf. 

White bars on black wings and red chest feathers distinguished the bird from any I’d ever seen before. 






After some time of searching for the bird’s identity, I had to leave to make a short trip to a doctor’s office to learn the results of my dad’s recent prostate biopsy. 

When I met with the nurse, she didn’t even have to tell me. I could read it in her face. 

My dad, often the healthiest person in the family, now had cancer. And who would have guessed that both my husband and my father would have cancer in the same year.

I left the doctor’s office so sad, barely holding back the tears, and returned home to my computer. But unable to work, I could only sit staring at the new bird that seemed determined to empty the feeder of its contents. I picked up the bird book again and halfheartedly flipped the pages. Something caught my eye as a possibility, but seeking further confirmation, I did a Google search and yes, I'd found it.

The bird was a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Born just this year, he was shades away from his later brilliant plumage and currently resembled the female of the species, except his red chest was beginning to bloom.

I learned that having probably been born in parts north of here, he was headed to the West Indies, Central, or South America for the winter. 

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:5). 

So that’s why he seemed to be gorging at the feeder. He was on a long journey. It amazes me how God equips these small creatures to fly great distances, and sometimes over great spans of water to reach their destination.

I thought of my dad, and the long journey he faced. The next verse in Psalm 84 reads, “As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs…” Baca means weeping. “They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”

 My prayer is that as we travel through this hard place that we could find our sustenance in drinking the living water that only Jesus gives, that we will go from strength to strength.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak stayed with me for three days before he headed south. I believe God sent him to my feeder the day I found out my dad had cancer, so that I’d not just remember the bad news, but I’d also remember this touch of grace from a God who knows what brings joy and comfort to our souls.

To learn more about the Rose-breasted Grosbeak and listen to his call, which Peterson says is like a Robin who's taken voice lessons, click here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness and Dancing


In the fall of 2003, the Athens Banner Herald newspaper asked for submissions for a section they were running for Breast Cancer Awareness Month called “Stories of Inspiration.” Specifically, they wanted people to write about the best thing that came out of their breast cancer. I had written the piece below in 2001 and shared it with a few friends. Several of them encouraged me to submit it. I was humbled when it was chosen to be featured in the section among so many moving stories. The picture below from the wedding of Jeff and Mary Crane Krutoy is used by permission of Wingate Downs Photography.



Just days before my scheduled mastectomy in June of 2000, our family decided to go ahead with an already planned short vacation to an island off the coast of South Carolina. Frankly, I didn’t even know if I could enjoy it with the surgery facing me the morning after we returned.


One evening while we were there, our young children, my husband Jerry and I were walking along a boardwalk on an inland waterway. There was a nearby band playing familiar music. Jerry and I found ourselves beginning to dance along the boardwalk under the stars while our children played at our feet. It seemed we were dancing right in the face of cancer.


This has become one of the sweetest memories of our lives together.


Our anniversary fell just a week after my mastectomy. How could we make the best of this situation? In answer to that question my husband went out to a local steak restaurant and picked up take-out dinners. As our children were entertained at a local pizza restaurant courtesy of a dear friend, we ate our take-out dinners on the good china in the dining room by candlelight.


After dinner we took out a CD we had purchased of the band we heard on our pre-surgery vacation. Somehow, I secured the two drainage tubes I had, and we danced unhindered by bandages. As we danced, we remembered the stars and the water from the week before, and God’s faithfulness to us in these days. It’s strange how God enables us to re-frame the difficulties of our lives.


When I think of mastectomy, I think of being held in my precious husband’s arms, and I think of dancing.


To this day, those sweet memories of dancing more than outweigh the memories of the difficulties I faced. God taught me during that time He truly does give us “…beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:3

Edited re-post


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One Ringing Bell News Update: Up a Tree

This is the latest installment in a continuing series. For more Updates, click on the One Ringing Bell News Update or humor tab in the labels below this post.


Is it our imagination, or do our readers agree, that here at Ringing Bell Headquarters, we spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with Wilbur Varnado’s escapades?


It just so happened that one day this week, the entire Ringing Bell staff had the day off, except for one lone senior staff member. Well, of course, Wilbur picked that day to allow Aunt Lucy to chase him up one of the tall poplars at the rear of Headquarters.


“Help,” he yowled. “Somebody get me down.”





Mama Kitty, ever on alert, heard her son and scampered up the tree to his aid.


“Look, Wilbur, all you have to do is follow me.” She circled the trunk, stepping lightly, and shimmied down the tree with amazing speed.




When she reached the bottom, she looked up. “See, nothing to it.”


“I’m scared,” Wilbur cried. “I can’t do it.”


“Can’t never could,” Mama Kitty said. She stretched out on the ground and pulled on a fur tuft between her toes. After spitting it out she said, “Listen Wilbur, you have to face your fear. You’ll never get out of that tree standing up there howling.”


It’s at this point Wilbur resorted to doing what most do when caught in a tough situation. He bargained.


“If someone will get me down, I promise not to steal any more of the fish’s food. I won’t stalk Isabelle on the stairs. I won’t bite Charles Varnado’s fuzzy poodle tail…” he paused, “I won’t bite Charles Varnado’s fuzzy poodle tail very often…”


“Okay, Wilbur, I’ll help,” the lone staff member said. She proceeded to drag a painter’s ladder over to Wilbur’s tree. But even after climbing up, clinging to the tree, standing on the step clearly marked, “Do not stand on this step,” and extending her hand as far as she could, she could only reach Wilbur’s toe tips.


Wilbur howled even louder. "I'm never going to get out of this tree."


“Now, hold on,” she said. After thinking a moment, she climbed back down, grabbed a chaise lounge cushion,  ascended once more, and tied it in the tree thinking it might cushion a jump to a lower limb.


Wilbur ignored it. “I’m scared,” he cried again.


She then wrestled a long curtain rod pole out of a storage building, again scaled the ladder and used it to bridge a span from the limb Wilbur was on to a lower limb in a neighboring tree. Wilbur did somehow muster the courage to cross the span to the lower limb. But alas, still found himself gripped by fear.


There was so much stuff hanging up in the tree, Ringing Bell neighbors later commented they thought the Swiss Family Robinson had moved in next door. 





How would Wilbur ever get out of the Poplar tree?


The staff member prayed, “Lord, we need your wisdom here at Headquarters. How can I help Wilbur get down?”


Then, a thought crossed her mind. Stand on a ladder and pull the lower end of the limb down so Wilbur can see your face.


She did, and Wilbur who had previously been too scared to walk out more than a few inches on a limb, crept all the way to the end and the staff member grabbed him.


We’re all resting here at headquarters after such an ordeal…


…but meditating on the lesson we learned through Wilbur’s adventure.


“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)


“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:29)


Signing off for all at Ringing Bell Headquarters. Check with us often for more from the critters you've come to know and love.

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