Saturday, November 19, 2016

Getting Personal With Your Pen-Pal

Did you ever have a pen pal?



I read a blog post by Lyli Dunbar of 3-D Lessons for Life the other day about creating space to connect with our Creator (you can read it here). Carving out time to sit at His feet to renew your passion and purpose.

One of her suggestions was to "Make God your pen-pal. Write God a love letter. Pour out your heart to the One who mends the brokenhearted."

I love the idea of making God my pen-pal.

When I was in grammar school--maybe fourth grade--we were assigned pen pals. We were able to choose the gender and the country we desired our mysterious new friend to hail from. Without computers to calculate fancy algorithms, I'm not sure how this was accomplished, but I was thrilled with my choice.

I still remember her name and address. Josephine Larkin from Ireland. I thought it odd that her address didn't include a house number and street.

I was genuinely interested in her life, especially because it was vastly different from mine. She lived on a farm, where everyone in the family worked. She didn't have a lot of money. And there were so many people in her family photo! I loved that picture and I think we kept in contact for years until we just stopped.

What would it be like if I treated God like a pen pal? 

Like someone I was genuinely interested in knowing about instead of just telling him about my life and my problems. What if I remembered my manners and asked questions about Him?

For a little fun, I've put together our exchange.

Dear God,
My name is Mary. I'm well over fifty. I enjoy reading, hiking, singing, traveling, and making people laugh. Running, not so much, but I do it anyway for my health. I'm married to a wonderful man and I have two great children. Everyone says those things about their family, but mine is actually true. But enough about me. I want to know about you.

Tell me about your family.
What are your interests, hobbies and skills?
What is it like where you live? I admit, I've heard of Heaven, but I don't know much about it.

I'd seal it, send it off, and check my mailbox each day for a response.



I imagine Him chuckling, and saying to Saint Peter, "Do you have a pen on you? I've got to write a letter to this adorable child."

Petey would pat his robe, and say, "I had one, but it ran out of ink, and I haven't been able to get out to Staples yet." 

God would wave him off and say, "Never mind, I'll just use my finger."

Dear Mary,
Thank you for your letter. I am thrilled to learn all about you. It may surprise you to know that I already know everything about you. No, I haven't been stalking you. I created you, and I've watched you over the years. But I still love to receive your letters. Please don't stop writing. I'd hate to lose the connection we have.

In answer to your questions:

My family is small--just three of us, but we're so close, we're like One. On the other hand, my extended family is enormous. Many people call me Father and if you feel comfortable, I welcome you to as well.

My interests are my people--my family. I enjoy giving gifts and lavishing love. Spreading joy. Instilling wonder. 

Fashioning new life is a favorite hobby, and I must admit, I'm quite skilled in this area. I've never duplicated my efforts. Not once! Every life I create is unique. Isn't that the coolest?

Much of the time, those lives I create encounter hurt and hatred and fear and anxiety and a host of other things I am not the father of. These lives become broken and their relationships become fragmented. My passion is in healing those shattered lives and rebuilding those fractured relationships. Lots of times, I ask members of my extended family on earth to help. I might even ask you someday!

My home is Heaven, yes. Oh, how to describe it? 

The colors are like nothing you have ever seen on earth. The weather is always perfect. There is never darkness, but always light. 

And the music? Wow...there are no words to adequately describe the sounds. You know how there's always that one dear, sweet soul who stands next to you in choir or behind you in the pew at church and sings just a tad off-key, so it throws you off? Not here. Everyone has perfect pitch, and exquisite harmonies. We sing a lot up here. Because you mentioned you like to sing, you'd really enjoy it. 

I'd invite you for a visit, but no one who visits ever wants to return, and you're still needed there on earth. Someday, you'll come for good. I have a little grass hut on the clearest water you've ever seen picked out with your name on it. Since you like to travel, I think you'll love it!

Oh, you mentioned your health. You won't have to run for better health when you get here, so leave your sneakers there. In fact, leave it all. You won't need anything.

Which leads me to leave you with this one last thought:

Don't waste time trying to accumulate wealth, knowledge, or tangible goods. Those commodities are all very noble and admirable and good, but when it becomes excessive, you might be in danger of losing sight of what is really important. You can't bring any of that to where I live--which is your true Home. 

Since we just met, I won't tell you what to do, but as our relationship grows, I believe you'll look to me for guidance. At least, that is my hope. With that in mind, may I suggest that you fix your interests not on the things of your world, but on the people in it, like I do? I think you'll find great pleasure in doing so.

Thank you for taking such an interest in me. I'm looking forward to many years of communication. Write soon!

Imagine my excitement when I open my mailbox and see that letter finally sitting quietly in there. I would read it with great delight and be filled with exhilaration and joy at the idea of having not just a wonderful new pen-pal, but what I think will be a life-long friend, confidante, and advisor.

Then I'd grab a pen and another sheet of paper--no, two. 

Father,
I have so many more questions!

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tap Into Your Potential

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4


I love watching shows that showcase untapped talent. You just never know what will come out of people!

I found a few videos from these shows recently and was truly amazed. 

A fourteen year old girl who had never sung in front of a large audience was so shy that the judges (X Factor, I believe) were nervous for her! They reminded her that she would be singing in front of a lot of people and asked her if she was sure she knew what she was doing. I suppose they didn't want her to embarrass herself. She blew them away. You can view it here.



When Beau Dermott told the coaches of Britain's Got Talent she would be singing Defying Gravity, Simon rolled his eyes or gave some sort of snarky smirk, as if to say, "That's a tough one. Good luck."

It was flawless. She was rewarded with the golden button or whatever it is that takes you directly to the finals. Watch it here. She'll give you goosebumps.



One of my favorites was Panda Ross from the X Factor. She explained that her mother was in jail when she gave birth and her cell mate was white. Somehow, the name Panda came out of that. Funny? Maybe. She got a laugh. But when she opened her mouth? Wow. I searched my brain for the right word to describe her voice, and Simon nailed it--legend. She sounds like a legend. Watch the video here.




Then there's We (sorry, there doesn't seem to be a way to add an accent on the 'e'; it's pronounced "way.") McDonald from this season's The Voice. A girl from my state--New Jersey, who was bullied all her life for her looks and high, squeaky voice. I don't know how it's even possible, but she has a low, sultry singing voice. Bet those bullies are singing a different tune now. She is by far my favorite. Watch her blind audition here.



What's inside of you that might surprise people? Maybe you can't sing like these women, but each one of us has something planted by God that the world needs to hear, see, and experience. And like these women--unknown to the world but no surprise to God--we just need someone to believe in us to make it grow, flourish, and bloom. 

What is crying for release in you? What makes your heart sing? Search inside yourself to discover what needs to be heard. Delight yourself in God while you do it. Ask Him to show you if you're not sure, and trust that He will.

Then sing it. Write it. Speak it. Paint it. Play it. Teach it. Build it. Organize it. Sell it.

Go long. Go wide. Go deep. But go. Even if you start out with baby steps. GO!

Don't pay attention to the rolling eyeballs. Those who scoff, "Good luck with THAT!" People who think because you look or sound a certain way, you couldn't possibly possess what it takes. All the more reason to go--to prove them wrong! 

Don't listen to the voices--whether they be your inner critic, the enemy of your soul, or bitter people who never realized their dreams and project that failure onto you. 

Surround yourself with those who will encourage, support, and nurture your dream, your desire.

Not everyone is born with natural talent that needs no fine tuning. In fact, most aren't. We often see or hear the product of years of training and think, "I could never do that."

Yes, you can! Maybe not like they can, because you're not them. You are capable of doing it like you can, because you're you. Your dream is uniquely yours, and the world needs your voice, your story.

Start small. Take a class. Buy a book. Research. Observe others who are doing what you want to do. Ask them to help you realize your potential. After all, that's part of the cycle. We all need to invest what we've learned in others who are longing to be taught. If they're unwilling, find someone who is. But don't give up.

Will you have setbacks? Probably.
Will you fail? Maybe.
Will you doubt yourself? Most likely.
Will it be scary? Absolutely!

But if you allow that untapped talent to go to waste, you're doing a disservice to yourself, the world around you, and God.

Yes, God.

He is the one who put the desire and the talent in you. You're the one who turned it into a dream, and you're the one who decides whether to let it blossom or be squelched. 

The more you delight in God, the more those heart desires grow, and the more they grow, the more you'll delight in God, until His is the only voice you'll hear.

Don't be content to just follow your dream. 

Chase your dream if it moves too fast. 
Pull it along if it's resistant. 
Coax it if it's hidden. 

But don't let it die. Don't let it be squelched. 

And don't let ANYONE tell you it's wrong, bad, or stupid. 

If it's in you, it's yours, and it's good. Because when God made you, He said, "It's very good."

Go show the world.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare



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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Feeling Blue and Seeing Red? Me Too.

I'm usually quiet on political matters, partly because I don't debate well, but largely because of my political ignorance.

With this election, I couldn't play that card. I am neither Republican nor Democrat. So, with an open mind, I watched all the debates, listened painstakingly to each candidate, and did my research. 

They both came up short for me. So what was my reason for keeping quiet?

Voting is a deeply personal choice. Who we choose is a reflection of what we believe--our core values, our moral compass and what seems right to us based on those things. Hopefully, one of the candidates validates that.

I decided to break my silence because I'm angry. And I'm grieving too. But not for the same reasons most people are.

I went reluctantly to the polls. I would have preferred not to vote at all. I seriously considered it, then changed my mind. I live in a blue state, so it really doesn't matter anyway. 

I won't go into the reasons why I voted the way I did, but suffice it to say that I did not vote for the person running.

I voted for Trump. I am neither a White-Supremist nor a racist. But based on the angry posts I've seen on Facebook, it's been implied that I am both...and worse. Homophobic. Islamophobic. Sexist. Uneducated. 

I don't like the man. I didn't like the woman either. Making a choice wasn't easy for me.

For the record, I never liked Obama either. I thought he was a great speaker, but a bad president. But I wasn't allowed to say that, because I was labeled a racist. Except that my reasons had nothing to do with the color of his skin. 

I understand that half the country is disillusioned, scared, and deeply upset because their candidate didn't win. I get it. You asked me to try to understand your grief. But what about mine? 

I've been belittled by Trump-haters. I've been bullied into feeling ashamed or guilty for not voting for Clinton. I've sat in rooms where people just assume that I support her. And I'm tired of being quiet and taking it. I don't see a difference between the venomous anti-Trump posts and the bully you claim Trump to be. Belittling and bullying take many forms. I may not be a minority, but I can still feel belittled and bullied. And I have. I still have feelings. And mine matter as much as yours.

Let's imagine a different scenario:
Secretary Clinton has just won the race. The next day on Facebook, all her fans are rejoicing, posting comments about how great our country is, how wonderful she is, and how they knew, they just knew that the people would vote for the "right" things, the right candidate. But still, half the country is disillusioned, scared, and upset because the other candidate didn't win. 

My guess is that the Trump supporters' posts would say that the election was rigged, and Clinton's supporters would say, "Oh, get over it. She won. Accept it. Move on."

But I'm not allowed to say that to those who are grieving their loss right now. And truthfully, I wouldn't. I do care. 

But I ask you this: Would you have the same compassion for those of us who voted differently from you that you deeply desire us to have for you now? Maybe some would. But sadly, I really believe that most people would be too overjoyed to care about the rest of us. Because that despicable man didn't get in, and that alone is cause for celebration. You'd still be a Trump-hater.

As long as we still live in America, we are all entitled to vote as we choose. None of us should feel bullied or belittled because we voted a certain way. I didn't insult you for voting your conscience. Don't insult me for voting mine.

This is why I'm seeing red and feeling blue. This is why I'm grieving. This is why I'm angry. But no one sees that. They only see the misguided woman who didn't vote for a woman. They only see a traitor who voted for an idiotic bigot.

There is a story in the Bible about a man named Balaam, a man who wouldn't listen to God, so God spoke to Balaam through his donkey.

The way I look at it, God spoke through an ass once. If He did it once, He can use an ass again.




If Secretary Clinton can move on, if President Obama wishes President-Elect Donald Trump well, and promises to help him make a smooth transition, then ought we not do the same? Can we allow each other to grieve in our own way without casting stones and making assumptions and judgments?

Can we PLEASE stop the hate?

Don't wait for someone else to make it stop. 
Make it personal. 
I'll go first.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

PS: Feel free to attack me, but don't expect me to engage. Since I've shared my feelings, I really don't feel the need to defend them any further. Thank you for respecting me and my blog.




Friday, November 4, 2016

Evangelism Through Showing

Good fiction writing is all about showing and not telling. Showing readers what is unfolding in the scene through dialog and description keeps them engaged in the story. Simply informing them of the events in a timeline fashion has the feel of a newspaper article. It states the facts with no emotion. Telling runs the risk of losing the reader.

I think sharing Jesus is a lot like that.

I'm not good at evangelizing. I once volunteered as a counselor at a huge outreach concert (keyword: once). We were trained with a "formula" and told to just grab onto kids as they came forward and were herded into a back room. I ended up with four teenage girls in my group who had no idea why they left their seats. They just followed the crowd. The formula didn't work. I scared these poor girls into thinking they could die on the way home from the concert and end up in hell. And I left believing I was a disappointment to God.

It was a case of telling, not showing. But in all fairness, I was told, "This is how you lead someone to Christ," and not shown another way.

Needless to say, I lost my readers. All four of them.

Obviously, my gift is not evangelism.

What I am good at is encouraging. Loving. Validating. 

When I show the love of Christ to someone through a word of encouragement, providing a meal, or just taking the time to listen and not judge, I gain access to their lives and earn the privilege of sharing the gospel in a natural and practical way. 


Everyone has been hurt, and some wounds run deeper than others. And many hold on to that pain. They don't want to be hit over the head with the gospel, or a step-by-step formula to Jesus. Sometimes they don't even want to hear about God.

To me, that's where real evangelism begins. Will we stick around and live the gospel even if we're not invited to discuss it? 

People don't want to be told what they need. They need to be shown what they're missing.

If I can raise the hopes of a friend through an encouraging word, see a glimmer of joy in the eyes of a stranger by an act of kindness, or watch a smile spread across the face of a wounded soul after having validated their pain, then I have succeeded in showing the love of Jesus.

And maybe, just maybe, I've kept them engaged in the story.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

Ruby's Thanksgiving issue is here! So grab a "cuppa," prop your feet up and enjoy!






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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Be Your Own Tree

Part of the wonder of autumn is the spectacular changes year after year. Even poison ivy changes color! If we look closely, we can see the beauty in every plant, tree, and even grass.

It's too bad we don't view ourselves in the same manner. We're so busy comparing our tree to the ones next to us or down the street that we don't see our own unique beauty. We think we have nothing to offer, nothing to add, nothing to give. 

Comparison is rooted in insecurity. 

When we attempt to find our worth in the acceptance and approval of others, our true value becomes skewed. Because the people we seek to emulate are often dealing with similar issues, we are essentially comparing ourselves to insecure women who are comparing themselves to other insecure women. No wonder we're all a mess! No one has it all figured out. We just all pretend that we do. 

That's why I love trees.



A magnolia can't be compared to a maple, but each tree is uniquely stunning in its own season. No matter how hard a maple tries, it will never have the breathtaking blossoms of the magnolia in spring. 



Similarly, the maple's robust red leaves in autumn cause the magnolia to take a back seat. They both have charm all their own. 

So do you.

A tree does nothing to either diminish or enhance its beauty. It is content to grow and become what God designed it to be. Its roots burrow deep, seeking the nourishment of water and minerals of the soil, while its branches and leaves reach high to capture and store energy from light and oxygen. It doesn't compete with or compare itself to the other trees nearby.

With the exception of a weeping willow, have you ever heard a tree whine about not being good enough, strong enough, or smart enough? Has a tree ever suggested to a bird that its branches were not worthy of housing a nest? Other than the wicked ones in the Wizard of Oz, trees don't complain.

How would your perspective change if you accepted yourself as God designed you? If you made the radical decision to (gasp) LIKE yourself?

What if you reached deep into the soil and water of God's Word for your nourishment instead of the shallow ground of the approval of others? If you reached heavenward to capture the oxygen of the Holy Spirit and the light that emanates from God Himself?

What if you made up your mind to allow yourself to be who you want to be? 

What if you stopped trying to be who or what you think everyone expects you to be and embraced your desires, dreams, and--yes--even your quirks?



What kind of tree are you? Where do you shine? What are your redeeming qualities?

If you don't know, ask God to reveal it to you. Ask people who know and care about you, "What do you like about me?" Then watch your tree blossom, your leaves turn the most beautiful shade of yourself. Stop focusing on what the other trees are doing and turn your face toward the Son--the Tree of Life.

Ephesians 2:10


Blessings Along the Path,

Mare

PS: Congratulations to Jerri Miller who was the winner of Jennifer Rothschild's 66 WAYS GOD LOVES YOU.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Kinked Hose, 66 Ways to Fix It, and a Giveaway!

Have you ever felt like you failed?

Sure you have. Who hasn't?

Did you ever feel like you failed God? That you're not deserving of His favor because you messed up?

If you're like the majority of people, even Christians, my guess is that you may believe that you're not always worthy of God's love because of a past sin, a current struggle, or even a lost temper.

Jennifer Rothschild's latest book, 66 WAYS GOD LOVES YOU addresses that issue in a fascinating way--through the discovery of God's love in every book of the Bible. 

She expertly explores each book to find a biblical nugget of love, then gently weaves that gem into a personal way the reader can experience that love. She does this 66 times, and it never gets stale. 

In Deuteronomy, God keeps His covenant of love to me and to a thousand generations.
Jennifer Rothschild, 66 Ways God Loves You

This didn't resonate with me...until after the kinked hose incident.

After a long day at work, I was tired and cranky. I felt overwhelmed by all the things still to do at home. 

I went outside to water the flowers, but the hose was kinked. Water trickled out as I attempted to unravel it. The hose didn't cooperate, and I became more frustrated.

Then, I lost it. 

The water may have been blocked, but a torrent of words rushed from my mouth--and they weren't streams of living water.

My futile attempt to fix the hose continued as I tried to now hang it back up. In the process, the water began to flow freely--all over my head. It would have been funny if I weren't so tired and frustrated.

Instead, I felt worse. Unworthy. Unlovable.

Then I read this:

He will never reject you even when you blow it. He will find you worthy of His affection even when you fail.
Jennifer Rothschild, 66 Ways God Loves You.

Not "if" but "when" you fail. Because we all will. We all do.

Even when I don't keep my promise to God, He still keeps His. I am always worthy of his affection.

This is just one of 66 marvelous revelations I discovered in this little book. Rich illustrations and concise teachings make this a lovely book for gift-giving or keeping for yourself to use as a devotional. Or just a quiet reminder of God's love at the end of the day.

And...

I have a extra copy AND a stylish tote to give away! All you have to do is comment below, on Facebook (where this will be posted), or with an email response. I'll pick a winner at random.

If you can't wait to find out if you're a winner, you can purchase Jennifer's book at any bookstore or through amazon.com.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

And You Call Yourself a Christian?

I am of Irish descent. 

But I don't drink. Okay, I do like wine, but I don't drink in excess. And I hate beer. I'm not entirely sure what Jameson makes, but I think it's whiskey. I've been to the plant. It bored me. Does that change my DNA and make me any less Irish?

I'm also a woman. 

But I don't need a friend to accompany me to "powder my nose" in a restaurant. I'm perfectly capable of finding the rest room on my own. Lately, I have embraced a make-up free face. I prefer to play in the mud than to play house. I would never have made it in Victorian society where needlepoint, tea, and elocution were what defined a woman. I'd have preferred electrocution. Does that make me any less of a woman?

I'm sure that you'd agree that the answer to both, of course, is no.

But where do you stand on this?

I am a Christian. 

But I sometimes skip church for no reason. And I don't read my Bible every day. Worse, sometimes I swear or treat people poorly or act selfishly. Does that make me any less of a Christian?

Sadly, some will answer yes. 

If I had to count on my fingers the number of times I've heard, "And she/he calls herself/himself a Christian!" I would run out of fingers. People who don't fully comprehend the grace of Christianity have said it, believing perhaps that once a person puts their faith, hope, and life in Christ, he or she is somehow radically changed into a creature who never makes mistakes. Someone who is perfect.

Not-so-well-meaning Christians have also said it, expecting fellow Jesus-freaks to be radically changed into a creature who never makes mistakes (conveniently forgetting that they do). Someone who is perfect.



I can understand those who may not grasp the concept of grace. Once we declare ourselves to be "saved," we are instantly thrust under a microscope. Because we claim to aspire to be Christlike, we are expected to be like Him. What the "unsaved" may not be willing to acknowledge is that we, being human, are imperfect and always will be. Becoming a "Christian" doesn't change that. We are still human.

Only God is perfect. 

We aspire to that, knowing that we'll never attain it--which is why we realize that only the finished work of Jesus can make us perfect. When He said, "It is finished," He meant it.

Yes, I mess up. Just like you, my not-yet saved friend. I'm forgiven, not perfect. May I explain that to you?

The ones I have a problem with are those journeying next to me--the ones who are walking on the same path as I am with Jesus toward the glory of God--who are quick to judge and point fingers, and slow to forgive and extend mercy. These modern-day Pharisees would do well to observe the fingers pointing back at themselves.

Obviously, continuing to walk in blatant sin is not aspiring to be like Christ. But what about those of us who sincerely try--and fail, attempt to be kind--but are not, and fall short of (what we think are) the expectations of the more mature believers in our midst?



If God forgives us, then should others not forgive us?

But wait---am I not doing the same? Do I not judge and condemn? If not directly (or indirectly--as to someone else) to the person, then in my heart? You may not hear my disapproving tsk-tsk, but God does. The thought may not make it into a fully formed sentence in my brain, but God still hears my accusation:

And she calls herself a Christian?

Yes, I've been guilty of it. So have you.

It's called judgment and condemnation. And it's just as much of a sin as the one we are attempting to call out in another.

If God forgives me, and I am less than perfect, then what gives me the right to place myself above the One who is righteous and able to forgive sin? Who am I to judge another, heaping condemnation onto their perhaps already guilty heart? 

Tsk-tsk, Mary. Look at those fingers pointing back.


Oh, yeah, there's this. And the time I said that. And the ongoing struggle I have with this.

Last week, I mentioned my friend, Andrea's superpower--the ability to correct without condemnation. That's what Jesus did. We would do well to do the same.

Can we learn to overlook the sins of others and focus on our own? Can we practice the power of forgiveness and release others from the expectations we place on them? Can we do that for ourselves? 

Maybe not. Maybe that's why we need to call on the name of Jesus. Because sometimes, it's just too hard. Too hard to be perfect, and too hard to expect anything less from ourselves and from others. Too hard to open our clenched fist that points accusingly away with one finger and defensively back with three.





Yes, all of us sin. Even perfectly imperfect followers of Jesus. Even those of us who dare to call ourselves, "Christian."

But that's the wonderful thing about grace. Jesus extends it to each one of us--while we are still sinners (and while we continue to be sinners)--even though we don't deserve it. Ought we not do the same?

So, let us unclench our fists, uncurl our pointing fingers, and reserve our judgment. Instead, let us open our palms toward heaven to receive what is good:

To act justly
To love mercy
And to walk humbly with [y]our God
Micah 6:8



Bail รณ Dhia ort
(The blessing of God on you)

Mare

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