Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Someone to watch over you

“Watch for me,” my then ten-year-old sister, Tammy, said as she headed out to the basement of our childhood home to retrieve some now forgotten item.

Our basement access was from the outside, and after the sun set, the walk to it seemed especially dark.

I would move to my bedroom window, tracing her trek, waiting for her to make the trip back safely inside. She would do the same for me when I had to make the journey. Just knowing someone else saw comforted us.

“Watch for me.” Those words echo in my mind. We all have a need for someone to watch over us. That need goes to the very core of who we are.
The Psalmist wrote, "He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand . . . " (Psalm 121:3-5).

Even one of the names of God, El Roi, means “The God who sees” (Genesis 16:13).

It’s so good to know God doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel, is so close we may sense his shadow upon us and that watcher is even an element of His identity—who He is.
We will light the first candle on our Advent wreath this Sunday―the candle of hope. Over 2000 years ago in a crude stable, a baby’s cry pierced the night and split history, because God wanted to provide a way for us to escape our darkness―watching over us to give us hope and life eternal.

Since our childhood days, my sister and I have watched over each other during many other kinds of dark times like losing our parents and illness.

But more importantly, we both know God watches over us.

And friends, He watches over you, too. This year, may the celebration of His coming be especially meaningful to you.

If you're looking for a Christmas gift, Grace Publishing has just released an anthology called Merry Christmas Moments. I have an article in it entitled, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." Authors receive no royalties from this collection. Instead, proceeds go to Samaritan's Purse. HERE if you'd like to order.
In my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell.  HERE to order from Beverly Varnado Art.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dog Tribute, Dog Tags, and Gratitude

During the halftime show at the University of Georgia/Kentucky game, as the Redcoat band paid tribute to our veterans and stood in a formation that spelled USA, tears began to well in my eyes.

Notice that row of military vets standing in front of them.

When extraordinary tenor Timothy Miller sang Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” the tears spilled.

As the UGA Bulldogs paid tribute to vets everywhere, I thought of my dad’s dog tags in a crystal bowl beside my bed and gave thanks for a dad who served his country. When Veterans were asked to stand while their service song played, I clapped extra loud for the Air Force vetsmy dad’s branch of service.

In a couple of days, we will come together as a family and once more experience that empty seat at the table. Perhaps, in your family gathering, you are facing a similar situation. But instead of focusing on that empty seat, we’ll try to remember and be grateful for the legacy left to us, not only by family members but so many others who sacrificed and gave.

A hymn of Dutch origin that we often sing around this time of year , “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing,” was written in an oppressive time when Protestants were forbidden to gather. So, being able to assemble to give thanks is in itself a great privilege.

So, dear readers, as you gather together to ask the Lord's blessing with your family, here’s praying your Thanksgiving is blessed. Please know I especially give thanks for all of you.

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Some more good news, and what a key, grief, and a random meeting have to do with it

It’s what many might call a coincidence. However, I know better.

One evening as I walked back to my hotel room after a meeting at the Blue Ridge Mountain Conference in May, I struck up a conversation with another writer.

“What do you write?” I asked. It was the first question usually asked at writers’ conferences.

She had just had a historical fiction novel accepted for publication by a small press in Florida.

“Tell me more.”

She seemed pleased with the process with this publisher and when I returned home from the conference, I kept thinking about that conversation. I also kept thinking about a novel I had writtenone I had felt some urgency to finish, and typed the last words of the last chapter on a June afternoon two years ago. My dad had a stroke hours later, went into a sharp decline, and died that July. In the months that followed grief at times seemed almost to overwhelm me. It felt as if I would never write another book, that creatively the well had run dry. But I could edit and rewrite, so I worked on that novel manuscript.

Then, because of inspiration from other writers, I had a new idea for a nonfiction book, so I put the novel aside.

After the Blue Ridge conference, I submitted the nonfiction manuscript for consideration and as I’ve already written HERE, was offered a contract two months ago for Faith in the Fashion District.

Because of that conversation with the historical fiction author at the conference, I also submitted the fiction manuscript to the press my fellow writer had mentioned.

After a couple of months of waiting, a week ago, they offered me a contract.

The working title for the book is called, The Key to Everything.

Now, I have two books releasing in 2018. Two contracts in sixty days. Crazy. At least for me.

I am grateful, because I know plenty of writers who have worked just as hard and who are good at what they do, but are still waiting. I am humbled by what seems this almost incomprehensible grace God has extended to me.

God has also brought to mind those verses in Psalm 126:5-6, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

That year after my dad’s death was one of weeping, but somehow, God has brought joy from it, and hopefully more joy to come.

Writing can be like running a very long race in which you cannot see the finish line. Sometimes I’ve wondered if there even was a finish line. Now, I am so thankful I didn’t give in to discouragement that often hounded me.

If God has led you to writing or something else, be encouraged. I’m here to tell you, that even out of times of sorrow, God is spinning His good plans.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Getting through the Night

I pulled Eugenia Price’s book, Getting Through the Night, from my book shelf and opened its coverpage after dog-eared page of this book is covered with ink underlines. Well loved and well used. I reflected on the timing of this book being brought to mind given current events.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, where four writers were inducted into the prestigious group, one of them posthumouslya favorite of mineEugenia Price.

On one of two shelves in my bookcase dedicated to those writers who have especially inspired me, her books occupy almost a third of a shelf.

Many in Georgia know her for her historical fiction, the St. Simons Trilogy, the Georgia Trilogy, and the Savannah Quartet.
But I have always loved her nonfiction, excited to find vintage signed copies. Yesterday, I was honored to meet her niece.

As I opened Getting Through the Night, my heart was heavy thinking about the tragedy in Texas where folks gathered in a small country church on Sunday morning to worship. As they perhaps leafed through a hymnal, read their Bible, or were in prayer, the heart of evil entered their sacred space.

Price begins her book on grief with that familiar scripture from Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

When we see these horrific images from Texas and see even veteran newscasters struggle to keep their composure, we wonder how anyone could ever get to joy. How would all these grieving people, a whole town of them, a whole state of them, and well, maybe even a whole country of them get through the nighta night that might seem to have no end?

Price writes, “God does promise that your night of weeping can end. He does not promise that you will be unscarred as though you had never loved; he does not promise that you will ever stop missing or even hurting.”

But, she challenges us with this thought, “Because of his dreams and plans for us, we can be whole again.”

Whole seems elusive in a situation like this, but we take comfort that it is God’s longing for us. He has not given up on our healing and consolation. He has not abandoned us to the evil.

Of course, the ever present why it all happened is with us.

Price, too, loved the writings of C.S. Lewis and wrote, ”We, in our agony, struggle to pull God down to where we are and force Him to explain that which cannot be explained. C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? . . . All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we askhalf our theological and metaphysical problemsare like that.’”

The why of it all probably falls into categories like these, unanswerable this side of heaven.

It is true the night may drag on, but one distant day, there will be joy because God has promised it. In the mean time, we stand with our friends in Texas. Grieving, praying, and crying with you.
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