Monday, April 28, 2014

A Saint and when the shine wears off



My new book, Home to Currahee,  is available by request at your Christian bookstore or at several online retailers including:  AmazonBarnes and Noble, BooksamillionParable,  and Cokesbury.

Former NFL and New Orleans Saint football  player, Jon Stinchcomb, recently spoke at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Banquet. His tenure included playing on the Saint’s 2009 Super Bowl Team, and he continues to be a favorite in these parts because during his college career, he played for our beloved University of Georgia Bulldogs.  

Jon spoke about the influence FCA had in his life while at the University of Georgia  and about his older brother, Matt, who made sure he got up every Sunday to attend church. His transition to the pros was not an easy one, and he stressed the importance of his faith during those first years. However, his comments about his Super Bowl experience are what have stayed with me. He said people often come up to him and ask how the Super Bowl changed his life.

His response?

Of course, the Super Bowl was a huge event, which provided him opportunity to meet celebrities and political figures he might’ve never known. However, the Super Bowl did not define him, because he already knew who he was and whose he was.

He knew when the next Super Bowl rolled around again; there would be a new winner with other players getting the attention.

“The game loses its luster,” Jon said, “but your relationship with Jesus Christ doesn’t.”

When the shine wears off a mountain top experience, perhaps an event that had the power to define us for a time, we’re going to need to know who we are apart from the attention and accolades of others.

We need to know that we belong to Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are God’s masterpiece.” (Ephesians 2:9 NLT). 

We are precious to Him, and nothing can take the shine off that.

Take it from a Saint.

 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Home to Currahee and discovering a story


My friend and mentor, Georgia Hall of Fame author Terry Kay, says, “Writers don’t write to tell a story, they write to discover a story.”

I’ve found those words ringing true every time I sit at the computer. If I try to tell a story, it seems stilted--dialogue too on the nose--a hackneyed plot. However, if I approach a story as a mystery to be solved, I’m amazed at the discoveries I make.

In 2006, I attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. It was my first writer’s conference, and I entered their unpublished writer’s contest. To my surprise, I won several awards, but the award I won for a short story stunned me—the only piece of fiction I’d written since college. When my name was called, I whispered in shock, “I don’t write fiction.”

The beloved Christian author, Gayle Roper, was sitting beside me. She said, “Apparently, you do.”

Having seen myself as a nonfiction writer, this situation rocked my world, and I had to consider if God was perhaps calling me to write stories, which was one of the scariest thoughts I’d ever had. Though I’d written that one short story, writing a novel had never been on my radar screen.

A few weeks later, another event reinforced the call to write fiction.

I had a dream one night in which I saw a woman in a basement plowing through a mound of cast offs. Underneath it all, she found a surprise. It was so compelling; I thought I’d just jot a few words down.

That was the first scene I wrote for the manuscript that eventually became Home to Currahee. As I wrote, I met characters, which won my heart, and I found a story, which stirred my soul. Those few words I jotted down eight years ago have turned into more than 80,000 now in Home to Currahee, and they were the beginning of several novels and more than half a dozen screenplays. Writing stories is what I do, but I never dreamed that it would be.

Through the years, the stories I’ve discovered have seemed like gifts, because I feel myself so incapable of writing any of them. I suppose that’s why God led me this way, because He knew I’d have to depend on Him all the way. Like Peter stepping out on the water to make his way to Jesus, whenever I take my eyes off the Lord in my writing, I start to sink.

What I’ve found while writing fiction is that though the story itself may be fictional, there are truths, which emerge which are larger than the story. I hope that’s what the reader takes away.

If there’s anything good in what I do, let the glory go to Him, and for what’s left,  I have more discoveries I need to make.

What might God be asking of you that will require you to step out on the water? What discoveries might you make?


"God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us" (Ephesians 3:20-21).


Home to Currahee available at:
Amazon Barnes and Noble Booksamillion Parable 
 
With the 70th anniversary of D-day approaching this June 6th, anyone who has had a family member who served in WWII might appreciate Home to Currahee's link to that pivotal event in the world's history.Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees is still available as well, and either of these books would also make wonderful graduation or Mother's Day gifts.
 
 




Monday, April 21, 2014

My newest book, Home to Currahee, now available and the 70th D-Day anniversary



Finally, Home to Currahee is available. The paperback is ready to go at online retailers, and by request at your Christian bookstore. The eBook was taken down because of conversion problems and is still in process, so if that’s your preferred way of reading, check back later this week. I’ll post here when I'm notified that it has been uploaded.


 
Eight years ago when I began the manuscript that eventually became Home to Currahee, I had no idea it’d take so long to see it in print. However, God’s timing is perfect, and though Home to Currahee is contemporary fiction, its first chapter is set on D-Day. It seems now is just the right time for the novel with the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaching on June 6th.

Home to Currahee’s back cover copy:

All June Callaway wants is a simpler life and healing from a tragedy when she moves from Atlanta to the charming town of Toccoa near historic Currahee Mountain. However, her discovery of a mystery-laden treasure with a World War II connection makes her life even more complicated and threatens to waken a fear that would take her back down a road of heartache and grief. Colorful town characters help her along and the mountain itself bestows an unimaginable gift on her, but will she be able to push past her fear and solve the mystery in time? Can she, as the stranger suggested, “do it afraid”?

I'll be posting more about the book's background later in the week. Thank you dear readers and I’d appreciate you letting your friends know about Home to Currahee.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17).

Home to Currahee available at:

With the 70th anniversary of D-day approaching this June 6th, anyone who has had a family member who served in WWII might appreciate Home to Currahee's link to that pivotal event in the world's history.

Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees is still available as well, and either of these books would also make wonderful graduation or Mother's Day gifts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!


Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday: From the Garden of Gethsemene to the Garden Tomb


Let's take that long Good Friday walk with Jesus again in this edited repost.


Photos courtesy my husband, Jerry, from a recent trip to Israel.
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:39-42).












"...he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:41-42).

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:47-48).

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified (Matthew 27:24-26).










As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.  They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”)(Matthew 27: 32).
There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.  When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.  Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS (Matthew 27: 33-37).

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:28-30).

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-40).




The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment (Luke 23:55-56).

He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away (Matthew 28:60).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday of Holy Week: If you wonder if anyone knows


For many years, before I had children, I helped provide music for an outdoor passion play. My part was a solo piece from the vantage point of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As I sang, on the other side of a lake, the character that played Mary knelt at the foot of the cross.
A more recent performance of "His Last Days."

 The lyrics were mostly questions as Mary looked up at her son hanging on the cruel cross-timbers and pondered the reality before her. How could this have happened?
Often, emotion threatened to derail the song for me, and though I fought to control my feelings as I watched the scene unfold in the distance, I was always able to make it through the piece. Today, with children of my own, I have an even deeper understanding of what Mary might have gone through and what questions she must have had. I’m not sure that now, I’d be able to sing the song at all.

Having the experience of something helps us have greater empathy.

I’m so glad we have a Savior who has our experience. He walked around in skin that was subject to sunburn, wore sandals that rubbed blisters, knew how much it hurt to lose someone he loved, felt  betrayal, and faced the power of sin’s lure as Satan himself attempted to corrupt him.

Eugene Peterson beautifully translates Paul’s words in Hebrews 4:14-16:

 "Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

So if you wonder if anyone knows, Jesus is in “touch with our reality” no matter the circumstances. He’s faced our temptations, suffered our indignities, and known our grief. Whatever you’re facing, He knows. Been there. Done that.

 On this Thursday of Holy Week, let’s “take the mercy, accept the help” he offers us.

Because of this, maybe I would be able to sing Mary's song after all.

 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday of Holy Week: So Rich a Crown


We sang the words again this past Sunday.



These lines from “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Isaac Watts’s powerful hymn, have stayed with me all week. I thought I’d share them with you on this Wednesday of Holy Week.

As we face toward Good Friday, let us remember the Savior’s sorrow and love. Let us not forget, it wasn’t a crown encrusted with jewels he wore, but one of torturous barbs. Yet the high cost of that crude crown bought our redemption. He did this for us.
For us.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday of Holy Week: Fasting?


An edited repost today from a few years back. All of this is still true for me as fasting continues to be a challenge.


Though I’ve long practiced the discipline of fasting, especially during Lent, let me say it doesn’t get easier. “Oh,” I've heard others say, “how hard is it to miss a few meals?”

There’s a difference between not eating and fasting. Engaged in thought about some project, the clock hands can move to the afternoon hours and I never notice. But the minute I decide to fast a meal or meals, a barrage of reasons I shouldn’t start assaulting my brain.

“You might feel bad because of x health problem or y health problem.”

“You forgot to take your medicine and you need to eat to keep from getting sick.”

“You just want to draw attention to yourself.”

“Don’t do it today, do it tomorrow (of course tomorrow is so elusive).”

“Do you really think this makes a difference?”

In answer to that last question, the answer is yes, I think it makes a difference. I’ve seen God move through times of fasting and prayer in ways which were beyond my ability to imagine. But, the biggest change is what fasting does in me.

Giving up my bread reminds me of what Jesus did. He denied his rights, his pleasure, and his very life so that I can have this extraordinary gift of eternal life, which begins even now. When my stomach rumbles, I can use that as a reminder to give thanks for what Jesus did. I can in some miniscule way partake in his suffering.

And fasting also helps to drive self-discipline in other areas of my life like “…taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

If all these benefits, then why don’t I run to fasting?

Because it’s hard. Because I don’t like missing meals. And like all damaged by the fall, I’m-self centered. Fasting really works on my self-centeredness.

Jesus said, “…when you fast, and when you pray.” He didn’t seem to offer an option.

So, if for no other reason, I do it because I believe Jesus asked us to.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to turn away from you own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday of Holy Week: Melanie's apple tree, Luther, and planting hope


My neighbor’s apple tree branches over into my yard each spring allowing the people at my house to enjoy the blossoms.

 
Later in the year, the deer make nightly excursions to devour apples that hang on its low branches. The tree was planted by the family who first built the house next door— my dear friends, Margaret, Mell, and their daughter Melanie. In fact, Margaret used to call it Melanie’s apple tree as her daughter planted it when she was just a little girl. Mell died at the turn of the century, Margaret died one Good Friday a few years ago, and Melanie has long moved from the house and is now retired, but her apple tree still produces fruit.

The 16th century Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, loved trees. According to this source, “The fresh Spring green of the trees was for him a symbol for the resurrection of the dead. It is said that in the trees he beheld divine grace in earthly life.” The legends about his love for trees are profuse, and around 1944 at a time when so many were looking for hope in the midst of the devastation of the Second World War, someone may have slipped in another one. There are several variations of a quote supposedly spoken by Luther, but one is, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree today."

Only God knows if Luther actually said this. Whether he did or not, the image it conjures of kneeling in the dirt, and planting a tree during the horrors of war is the very essence of hope.

Holy Week is a time when we think of endings and beginnings. The crucifixion on Friday is a certainty. Jesus knew this. Yet, he planted hope. Because he knew that beyond Friday’s cross was Sunday’s empty tomb.

Already in a spiral of declining health, yesterday, my dad suffered a setback. So, I’m planting hope today. Digging a hole, and putting in a sapling of expectant faith, which I pray, will in time yield a harvest. I’m taking inspiration from the Apostle Paul, “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18).
No matter our circumstances, God has called us to hope. I, like Martin Luther, see God’s hand in the blossoms of spring and find mercy for my dad’s situation as well as so many others.

Though she didn’t know it at the time, the little girl Melanie planted hope for a future neighbor. On this Monday of Holy Week, let us all be inspired to do the same.

It is beyond our ability to imagine the harvest that may come from the hope we plant today.
 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

When it seems you’re backed into a corner

As your back presses against the cold hard corner walls, it may feel as if all that matters are the circumstances that pushed you there.




 

Beyond the confinement of those seemingly windowless walls, beyond prayers that feel as if they’re bouncing off the ceiling, beyond near despair, God is at work.

Don’t give up.

Don’t.

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 The Message).

Despite that small crevice of space in which you find yourself, there’s a lot happening—things more important than your temporary situation.

So if you’ve lost your job, if your finances are closing in, if a relationship is crumbling, if a child is wayward, if you’re suffering a humiliation because of your own or someone else’s actions—these things are  “ . . . here today, gone tomorrow.”

Have faith, my dear friend that what really matters, what really lasts is not the corner, but a God who is bigger than any tight spot in which you find yourself and who is at work, even now, on your behalf.

 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Of woodpeckers and wonder


Only the first glow of morning—the sun has not even glanced over the horizon.

We huddle in the back of a seat truck waiting, our eyes glued on cavities bored into long leaf pines.


 

At the gracious invitation of our hosts, we are deep in an idyllic lowland wilderness hoping to see the endangered red cockaded woodpecker otherwise known as the RCW. We’d spent the afternoon before doing the same thing, but we hadn’t had a spotting.

The woodpecker’s name seems almost a misnomer for its head is not red but black. The bird only occasionally sports a red feather or two above its eye. His preference for mature long leaf pines has left him with less and less habitat because of clear cutting.

The naturalist with us plays his recording of the RCW’s. He hopes to draw a few, but he’s not sure what his RCW is saying—maybe a warning call rather than a mating call?

In the distance, a quail issues his bobwhite. The forest begins to waken and a cardinal joins the chorus. A tree frog opens up.

The RCW is the only woodpecker who makes his home in live trees and takes between eighteen months and several years to prepare his nesting cavity. He then drills around the cavity making the sap run from the tree. This sap serves to foil snakes who would steal the eggs.

Without any announcement, a dark silhouette wings across the sky. “That’s it,” the naturalist cries. We yank our binoculars to our eyes as the silhouette lights on a branch.

I fine tune my binocs and see him with his distinctive white cheeks, eyeing us suspiciously. Another of his kind soon joins him. After a moment, they take to the air.

I am full of awe and wonder at sighting the bird as we move on to another nesting site. Jostling over bumpy dirt roads while warming rays filter through the pines, I think of a few lines from a hymn penned by Isaac Watts almost three hundred years ago:

I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.

In this world, heart-breaking realities can almost crush us with their cries. The pain and suffering could suffocate. However, the beauty of God’s hand calls to us as well. Just as any artist loves when his work is appreciated, I believe we warm the heart of the Almighty when we pause to offer praise for all He has created.

The last lines of “I Sing the Almighty Power of God” are:

While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.

I trace in my mind the flight of birds struggling for survival, and find comfort that the One who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground knows their plight. It gives me hope for the other seemingly impossible situations around me.

So, here’s to the RCW’s perching on the precipice of life itself, and here’s to a Great God who holds them . . . and us in his mighty hand.

“But it is God whose power made the earth, whose wisdom gave shape to the world, who crafted the cosmos” (Jeremiah 10:12-13 The Message).

My camera lacks a strong enough lens to capture what I’d like, so please learn more of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker at the Cornell site.
 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

On being sure


Several years ago, when a devotion I wrote about ministering in a women’s prison was going to be published in an international devotional magazine, I sensed God would have me pray for the funds so each of the 1500 women in the prison could have a copy of that issue.

I made contacts, but after several months with only a fraction of the money in, my faith wavered as I wondered if God would really provide. As the time to order the magazines neared, I decided to make one more announcement at church the Sunday before the order deadline, but I learned there was already a guest speaker that Sunday making a donation request for worldwide Bible distribution.

Thinking it inappropriate for me also to request donations that day, I surrendered the situation to God. “Lord, I believed you wanted to provide these magazines for the women in prison, but I have done all I can do. It’s in your hands.”

After the guest made his appeal, my husband Jerry, the pastor, surprised me when he mentioned that the devotional magazine I wrote for also had a worldwide ministry, as people in 100 countries would be praying for women in prison because of my devotion. Although touched by Jerry’s thoughtfulness, I had already let go of the matter.

Later after the service, the guest speaker approached me. “I’ve been in prison ministry for years as well, and want to pay half the cost of the magazines.”

I was stunned. So were others who overheard the conversation, and within minutes the rest of the money came in. The guest speaker also received a surprisingly generous contribution that day, as well.

God increased my faith as once more I experienced God’s incredible faithfulness. He provided in a way that I could never have dreamed. I’m praying I can increasingly live the truth found in Hebrews 11:1, “Now Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Below is the text of the devotion that ran in the magazine.

Record My Lament
“Record my lament; list my tears on you scroll—are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8)
I’m in a group that volunteers to work with inmates in a maximum-security prison for women. One of the rules we’re constantly reminded of is this: Don’t take anything in the prison; don’t take anything out of the prison. We are not allowed to give the women a piece of gum, a pen, or even a note. They are not permitted to send anything outside the prison with us.
Every time we visit the prison, we spend a few minutes with the women who desire our prayers. We hold their hands and pray for them individually. Many of the women cry. A couple of months ago, during the prayer time, I happened to open my eyes and look down at my shoes. The toes of my shoes were dotted with the tears of the women for whom I had prayed. When I left that evening, I did take something with me: tearstains.
God has made a record of our tears and is touched by them. In the same way, every time I wear my tearstained shoes I am reminded to pray for the women who are incarcerated, asking for healing that comes from God.
 

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