Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Prayer Journey, and a Free Book

As I sorted books the other day (We sort a lot of books here, seems we swim in books sometimes. My husband gave away thirteen boxes of books when he moved his office and we still have a storage room full of book boxes.), I came upon a copy of With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray. I’d been asking the Lord what I might do during Lent to draw me closer to Him, and this thirty-one day devotional guide seemed to be a part of His answer.

An eighteenth century South African pastor, Murray was instrumental in revival movements of his day, and his writings have been influential in the lives of many over the past one hundred and fifty years.

In his preface, he writes, “If there is one thing I think the Church needs to learn it is that God means prayer to have an answer, and that it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive what God will do for his child who gives himself to believe that his prayer will be heard. God hears prayer; that is a truth universally admitted, but of which very few understand the meaning, or experience the power.”

This preface written over a hundred years ago also bears a present day reality. Today, we still talk about how God hears prayer. But many of my prayers are faithless and halfhearted. I want that to change.

So beginning tomorrow, through the heart of Lent from March 1 to 31, I’ll be reading Andrew Murray’s devotionals on prayer. And I’ll be praying.

If you’d like to join me on this journey, the book is in public domain, so I here are a couple of places where you can read it online for free or download to your reader. Click here or here.

I’d love to hear what God is speaking to your heart.

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you..." (James 4:8)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Erica Lane and her new album Transcend

My lovely and talented friend, Erica Lane, releases a new album, Transcend, on March 13. She's also just shared a video of the title track shot at Magnolia Manor in Colfax, NC.

Erica's classically trained, yet contemporary voice, resonates with passion, artistry, and grace. Her moving lyrics always speak to my heart.

Her husband, Kyle Saylors, produced the video. Nominated for "Best Cinematographer" in the World Cinema Category at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival for his film Kimjongilia, Kyle's work continually amazes me with its beauty.

Enjoy and please take a moment to pass it along to your friends. 

He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this; they enter the mystery, abandoing themselves to God (Psalm 40:3 The Message). 

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Real Swamp Adventure

My friend, Billie, writes charming stories about people who live in a fictional place called Bug Swamp.

This is not that kind of story. This is a real story, with real characters.

This account is so real, in fact, that I’m changing the names. The characters are Terry Barnalo, Baron Barnalo, and Tim Beunier.

I am married to Terry Barnalo, and Baron Barnalo is my son. Tim Beunier is a family friend.

Here’s how  it all began:

“I want to show you the swamp,” my husband, Terry, said when we arrived for a short stay at a low country hunting preserve a few days ago. He and Baron had been coming here for many years and enjoyed its unique beauty. I’d been here in the distant past, but Terry wanted to give me a tour of what it looked like today.

So, we loaded into the trailblazer, our friend Tim, Terry, Baron, and me.

As the sun slid to the west, we drove down what seemed a maze of dirt roads through cypress-kneed swamps, and around lily pad filled ponds all under the canopy of moss draped oaks, many of which had stood for generations.

Incredible views.

“Take this road,” someone said. And we did. “And this one.” We turned again. We’d been gone about forty-five minutes, and I had no idea how deep we were in the swamp or how far away from our cabin.

We rounded a corner, and the road filled with green water. Not passable. In fact, I wasn’t even sure it was a road.

“Back up here,” we told Terry, who was driving, as we spotted a clearing behind us. For some reason he didn’t. He pulled forward.

That’s when we heard the sickening thud. The front right tire had sunk into a hole. Shifting into reverse only produced spinning.

When we exited the car to investigate the problem, we found ourselves firmly stuck, unable to move in any direction.

The sun continued its descent. There was talk of removing the bumper or jacking the car up, but we wound up trying several other maneuvers. All failed.

“We’re going to have to walk,” someone said.

I grabbed my purse from the car. I didn’t want to leave it behind because it was the best buy I’d ever gotten at TJMaxx. I was thankful I’d taken off the heels I had on earlier in the day, but I was by no means dressed for the Lewis and Clarke Expedition.

We didn’t have a gun, a whistle, a compass, or even a flashlight. I had a tiny little LED light on my key chain. Useless. We had about twenty flashlights at home, all without batteries. 

“Do we need this map,” I asked picking up a laminated chart of the land.

“No, we’re fine.”

I grabbed it.

“This way,” Tim pointed, and we set out.

Let me share at this point that the property we were on measures twenty two thousand acres. I’ll write that out with the zeroes for you. 2-2-0-0-0. About one-third the size of the county I live in. And we were at least thirty miles from any cell phone reception.

I wondered if this was some cruel initiation ritual. I’d heard of things like this.

All I could hear was Jerry, oh excuse me, Terry saying a hundred times before when he told the stories of the place, “You don’t want to be in the swamp after dark.”

We were and it was. Can you say alligator?

Now, I’m a planner. I like lists, calendars, and schedules. My idea of an outing in the country is to go in the backyard and pull a chair up under the pear tree. And the only place I ever want to see alligator skin is in a pair of shoes.

We walked down a “road” to a point where it just disappeared, and looked around us.

 We then set off across a firebreak hoping it would lead us to a “real” road.

I heard a growl coming from the brush right beside me and jumped.

“What was that?” I said, sure it was one of those big wild Russian boars which populated the area. We’d just seen several a few miles back. Those boars have tusks the size of the Florida peninsula.

“Quail,” Tim said.

“Didn’t sound like quail. It sounded like a pig.”

“Nah, just quail.”

I kept on the lookout just in case.

Someone, I thankfully don’t remember who, had the idea to take off through a briar patch that any self respecting jackrabbit would have shunned.

Sun disappearing behind trees and we still hadn’t even found the road.

I can’t remember whether it was before the briar patch or after that I had a mini meltdown.  I’m embarrassed to say it was replete with tears.

That number again. 22,000.

I could see the headlines in the local paper, “SEARCH STILL ON FOR FOUR LOST IN SWAMP, Only clue found in disappearance is yellow purse.” I knew I might have to cast my yellow purse aside on this trek. It’d be just like the people on the Oregon Trail who had to throw out the family silver in order to cross the Rockies. I didn’t want them to find me dehydrated, briar scratched and alligator bit clutching a yellow bag, out of my head,  and mumbling something about final clearance at TJMaxx.

On this journey, my companions reassured me numerous times that we were in no danger and that they knew exactly where we were. I knew where I was, too. The United States of America. That didn’t help too much in the present circumstances, however.

The only person I really trusted on this expedition was my son Baron, because I knew his memory was sharp and he might remember something. The rest of us could barely remember what we had for breakfast.

The sun completely disappeared as we stepped from the briar patch onto a semblance of a road. There was some discussion as to where we were, but we kept marching.

Of course, I was trailing trying to keep everyone’s backs in my view. Only starlight now.

“Watch out for the mud,” Tim shouted back to me.

“Look out for that stump,” Baron said.

“Don’t’ stumble over the rock.” Terry stopped to help me dodge it.

I simmered about having to trudge miles back to our lodging in the pitch black. That is if we ever made it. If Terry had only listened to us when we said back up.

I started picking up some of the giant pinecones I’d been kicking aside.

“What are you doing?” Terry asked.

“I ought to have something to show for this little adventure,” I said.

I was aggravated.

Then I heard a whisper in my spirit.

“Look up,” the whisper said.

How can I look up? I’ll fall in one of these ruts.

“Look up,” the whisper came again.

I stopped a moment and stared into the night sky. Miles and miles away from city lights, stars I hadn’t seen in years became visible. Where had they been? This was not the celestial dome of my neighborhood. This was something else entirely.

Oh, Lord, did you drag me out here and let us get lost in the swamp, so I’d see the stars again?

I didn’t get an answer to that one, but I may have heard a little laugh.
Every few steps I’d pause a moment and gaze heavenward.

“How much farther?” I asked.

“Maybe a mile or two.”

I was told that on at least two different occasions.

When I finally saw a lone light in the distance, I wanted to sing the Doxology.

We stumbled into camp and told the other men staying there about the vehicle being stuck. You would have thought we’d thrown a hungry dog a bone.

One of them grabbed a chain, and six of them loaded into four-wheel drive vehicles and set out through the inky swamp.

I told Terry, “I was scared. You always said not to be in the swamp after dark.”

“We weren’t in the swamp. We were on the hill.”


Let me show you the picture again.
Does that look like a hill? I didn’t think so. As my mother used to say, that land was “flatter than a flitter.”

I was mad, but I knew I wasn’t going to stay mad. Here’s why. I can only be mad at Terry for a few minutes, because he has the best pitiful face of anybody I’ve ever known. He used to be called Ted for teddy bear in high school. All he has to do is turn those sad brown eyes to me, and I melt like Jell-O on a Fourth of July picnic.

He’s not even a good apologizer. He’ll break something of mine, and make some comment about someone shouldn’t have left it in such a precarious place. I still can’t stay mad.

I’m really pathetic in that way, and I probably need some sort of help for it. I have many friends who are psychotherapists. Are any of you reading this?

When I get home, I’m going to buy everyone in my family a compass, a whistle, put batteries in the flashlights, and string them all on my family's key chains.

I’m going to have my shoes bronzed, and then I’m writing Lands End a letter and tell them about how I stomped through a swamp with their suede moccasins on. I figure they’ll put me in a catalog or something.

I'm also thankful for the cashmere socks I had on, though I may never get all the briars out of them.

A couple of nights after we returned home, I awoke from a sound sleep calling out, “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I am.”

Terry kissed me, held me close in his arms, and whispered in my ear, “You’re home.”

And that my friends, is a perfect example of why I can never stay mad at the man.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name (Psalm 147:4).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Memorial on Ash Wednesday

The lines ran long and the sorrow ran deep as the river of mourners came to pay tribute to this beloved young man only sixteen summers old. Around images, which included a pizza faced toddler, a gridiron captain, the angler extraordinaire, the hunter, the boy with his mama and his dad and his sister, they whispered sweet memories and embraced.

They told stories of this God lover who once said to a friend “If you believe in God, you don’t have to worry about anything.” He was only eleven at the time.

Out of the mouths of babes.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full “(John 10:10). The evidence continually mounted that he lived these words of Jesus at full throttle.

In an historic church, one of the oldest places of worship in the country, we gathered to the strains of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” We celebrated his life by singing, “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

This morning, in the middle of thousands of acres of low country wilderness, his body rests in the place he loved more than any other on the earth, near the swamps, the cypress trees, the wild boar, and all the living things that made his life so rich.

I never knew him, but my husband did. My son did. They’ve spent many hours with him around the table of camaraderie, a “band of brothers.” His last words to my son as they left the hunting camp just after Christmas were, “I’ll see you next season.” I’ve grieved with my son and husband for this precious one and cried the tears that mothers shed when their family hurts. Though I cannot possibly know the breadth and depth of the terrible pain, perhaps I share a sliver of it as my heart breaks with a mother and father who have lost their only son.

After every mourner left the church yesterday, I stayed to capture the stained glass window picturing our Lord with outstretched arms, because the image brought  comfort.

“Come to me…” Jesus said. (Matthew 11:28).

On this Ash Wednesday, we come to Him. We come bowed. We come repentant. But we also come expectant, because beyond Ash Wednesday is Easter. Beyond the sorrow is the joy. Beyond the pitch black night is the brilliance of sunrise. Beyond the grave is heaven.

 We don’t know just the first chapter.

We know how this story ends.

Today, as we cope with the crushing death of a boy only beginning his life, we walk away with hope.

“I know that my Redeemer lives..., I myself will see him with my own eyes…” (Job 19:25-26), the Priest said quoting Job yesterday.

Our young one, now departed, sees Him.

I hear again the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

I know that God will do this. I believe God's word is true, and I'm thankful for His presence in the life of one who knew this rest, a person wise beyond his years who once said, “If you believe in God, you don’t have to worry about anything.”


Monday, February 20, 2012

Glass, gold, and when the world rocks

Jerry and I had the privilege yesterday of attending a lovely family wedding in a newly built sanctuary. Upon entering the building, I was immediately struck by the powerful images in a large stained glass window, a radiant red cross flanked by the Greek Alpha and Omega. Of course this image comes from Jesus’ words in Revelation 22:12, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

What a joyous time we had in the presence of the Lord as these precious young people spoke their vows and embarked on their glorious new beginning.

As we moved through a line at the reception that followed, my Uncle Lamartine, the bride’s grandfather, and I talked about the magnificent stained glass window. “Do you know,” he said, “that the window has ruby glass in it?”

I sensed the Lord would have me listen closely to what my uncle was saying.

He went on. “Ruby glass is actually crafted with real gold. When it’s made you can see the gold shimmering on its surface.”

My uncle, who is something of an antiquities expert, told me that in the late nineteenth century, vases and other items for household use were made of the glass.

Later, I went back to the sanctuary, made pictures, and we left to return home. But on the three and a half hour trip, my thoughts kept returning to the glorious window.

After we arrived, I went upstairs to unpack, and a few minutes later, I heard my husband weeping as he came up the stairs. I rushed to his side.

He’d just received a call that the sixteen-year-old son of long time family friends had died in an auto accident earlier in the day.

For a moment, our world seemed to rock.

We staggered around the house together, making phone calls, trying to catch our breaths. The father of this child used to play with Jerry’s daughter Alden before she died at eight.

I’m writing now from the car as we travel to be with this family who lives several hours away.

And I’m still thinking about that ruby glass cross. The one with the gold in it.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…
Surely he took up our infirmities, and carried our sorrows…
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5)

The red river of his blood runs gold and he calls us to immerse ourselves in it. The treasure of our peace and our healing lie in the pulsing crimson tide emanating from the man of sorrows.

Yesterday, we stood in that flow as we witnessed one of life’s sweet beginnings, and later we anchored ourselves in it as the winds blew through our home bringing the news of such a young one’s death.

I’m so thankful Jesus is present in all of our beginnings.
And all of our endings.
And all of our in betweens.
Because He is the beginning and the end.
I praise Him for the blood that runs gold.

Oh,precious is the flow…from Nothing but the Blood of Jesus

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fearful but Brave

AnnVoskamp once said, “I am fearful, but I am brave.”

I think of her words almost daily.

I’m a research invested 25,000 words into the first draft of another story. Every day that I sit down to write I fear it’s the end. I shudder that the words might stop, and I’ll be found to be an imposter, someone just posing as a writer.

I know people who plot their course before they begin, and so these writers have a sort of roadmap before the first paragraph is ever composed. For some reason, I can’t do that. The story won’t come to me that way.

Sometimes I write the screenplay first, and the screenplay provides a sort of template for the novel. But I still have to write the screenplay. Though I know it has to conform to a three-act structure, I still only daily discover every scene. When I sit down to write the novel, I’m moving from a 20,000-word screenplay to a book of 70,000 plus words. We’re talking subplots, folks.

I heard novelist Terry Kay once say, “We don’t write to tell a story. We write to discover a story.” His words bring me solace and terror. On the days when I’m moving around the words, shifting them from one side of the page to the other, peeling back the layers, and have a “Eureka” moment, I find consolation that once again the story moves forward. But on those days when I feel I’m typing the same sentence over and over again, stalled out in a quagmire of alphabet soup, I question whether I’ve lost my ability to ferret out anything that even remotely resembles a plot.

“I am fearful, but I am brave,” she says.

So, I keep going, stepping out on the water, praying I’ll see and hear. The story certainly won’t come before I sit down to write. It most often comes as I write.

Last night, in Bible study, we were in Romans 14. The last words of that chapter are, “…everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

I believe God calls us to live every aspect of life in faith. Eugene Peterson interprets Hebrews 11:1 in The Message like this, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”

I never wanted to write fiction, because it scared me too much. But, God called me to this journey—this wonder filled, scary walk of faith. Though I have little confidence in myself, I push past my feelings and trust Him to do this impossible thing.

So I can say along with Voskamp, “I am fearful, but I am brave.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lena Nelson Dooley interviews me at A Christian Writer's World

Today, I'm being interviewed about Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees by award winning author, Lena Nelson Dooley. Please join us by clicking here and spend a few minutes brousing her wonderful blog, A Christian Writer's World.

Friday, February 10, 2012

And the "Spirit of Aunt Laney Award" goes to...

Pam at Mockingbird in Valdosta received a call prior to the signing last week from a woman about thirty miles away who’d read Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees because of a review in the newspaper. She hoped to make it to the signing but had just broken her femur. 

Sure enough, Betsy Kimbrough arrived the next day moving slowly. However, her spirit was anything but slow.

“Those people are like my family,” she announced as she came in the door referring to the characters in Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees. 

They’re like my family too, so we immediately hit it off. She told me what she liked about the novel and recommended a book or two for me to read. 

Frankly, I could have talked with her all day, and maybe someday I will. Her caregiver said she had recently been in the hospital with a serious illness but no one would have known. 

If I had a “Spirit of Aunt Laney Award,” I would have given it to Betsy Kimbrough last Friday. Betsy exemplifies everything Aunt Laney is about with her encouraging words, her bright spirit, and her refusal to let the difficulties in life weigh her down. 

Aunt Laney would have loved her as much as I do.

“Therefore encourage one another, and build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Poem and Wonder in Valdosta

The night before the Valdosta book signing, our friend Nancy, in whose home we were staying, said to my husband Jerry, “Did you have Betty Googe as a teacher in high school?”

Jerry had attended high school in Valdosta. “I can’t remember if I did or not,” he said, “but the name does sound familiar.”

“I’ve heard she might be coming to the signing,” Nancy said.

Sure enough, Betty Googe arrived the next day, and almost immediately made it clear she wanted to see Jerry Varnado. So I called and told him that a command performance was expected of him.

He arrived and sat down beside Mrs. Googe. As they bantered about when he graduated, when she taught and other details, Jerry turned to me and said, “She’s the one.”

“The one…” I said.

“The one I told you the story about. You know--the poem.”

Jerry has shared many times about an experience he had as a junior in high school. His English teacher became seriously ill, and a young practice teacher came and took her place. After only a few weeks, Jerry became smitten with this young teacher, so he wrote a poem to impress her. The young teacher thought it such an excellent poem, she gave it to the school newspaper to be published.

As you can imagine, South Georgia teen boys did not exactly hold poetry writing in high esteem in the mid twentieth century, so when the paper came out, Jerry’s peers joked him about it. 

In retelling the story to me, Jerry could never remember the teacher’s name or anything about the poem, but as he sat face to face on the seat beside Mrs. Googe, he realized that she was the one he’d been so enamored with as a sixteen-year-old boy, that he’d taken up poetry. 

I watched them, the teacher and the pupil reunited after all these decades. They were once more at Valdosta High where under her influence even the tough high school football player might turn to rhyme to catch her attention.

I realized that, though Jerry and Betty Googe had been brought together by an event for a book I’d written, the scene unfolding before me had nothing to do with me. The pen of a mighty Hand had scripted it long before any of us were born. Truly a gift of wonder to all that were privliged to witness it.

In Mark 7:37, we find these words about another wonder Jesus had wrought, “People were overwhelmed with amazement, ‘He has done everything well,’ they said.”

He has, indeed, done everything well.

Now, if we could just find a copy of that poem.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Great Day in Valdosta

We had a wonderful day yesterday at Mockingbird in Valdosta, Georgia for the Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees book signing. I have several sweet stories to share later in the week, but for now, I especially want to thank Pam Akins and her gracious staff for their Southern hospitality. It was such a joy meeting the people of Valdosta.

Also, my dear friend, Nancy Hobby, worked selflessly for weeks promoting the signing. She along with Jeannie Grow sent emails, handed out postcards, and spread the word around town, which resulted in a fabulous turnout. I owe them both a debt of gratitude. Also, many thanks to Elizabeth Butler for a terrific review in The Valdosta Times. 

“For the Lord is good, and his love endures forever… “(Psalm 100:5)
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