Category Archives: Inside Out

Levis and Hijabs

30698037_10155553271969077_4312443565172064256_nImagine walking into the 9/11 memorial next to a vibrant, first-generation New Yorker who is dressed head to toe in traditional Muslim attire. Her hair is completely hidden beneath her hijab, and layers of loose-fitting clothes cover her wrists and ankles. She is twenty-one, bright and articulate. Her conversation, despite a slight accent, sounds much like that of any American college student as she complains about how hard Calculus Four is. We know Sushmita will make a fine secondary math teacher.

I want to know how she feels, as a Muslim woman, as she steps into this place, but I don’t want to pry. Finally I ask, “Were you old enough to remember 9/11?”

Sushmita explains that she was too young to understand what happened, but that she experienced the aftermath when she came to school in her traditional attire. The other children ostracized and bullied her. They called her “Osama’s daughter.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay.” My new friend smiled. “They carried much pain. They needed to release it.”

20180411_141302As this vivacious young woman walked through the memorial, it was obvious she carried much pain as well, not for how she was treated, but for tragic deaths of so many of her fellow New Yorkers. She stood for nearly thirty minutes listening to name after name, story after story, of New Yorkers who died that day. Long after I couldn’t take it anymore, she and my daughter lingered there, grieving. Honoring the ordinary people who suffered that day. Standing in solidarity with their friends and families.

I walked also with another new friend, Mina. Mina is a beautiful Afghan woman who has lived in the states for five years and recently applied for citizenship. Her grief was palpable, as was her concern for ours. I soon realized she didn’t experience the memorial as one who’d seen the devastation on TV like I had. She saw it through the lens of her life in Afghanistan, where such tragedy occurs on a regular basis.*

Often we asked each other, “Are you okay?”

“Yes. Are you?”

The time came when the grief flowed out in my new friend’s tears. For the people of 9/11, for the people in her homeland who daily face the fear of attack. She told me that every morning the first thing she does is check Facebook to see if her family in Afghanistan is alive. She is glad to be here with her husband and children. Safe from the daily fear of bombs. But her brother, her sisters, her loved ones in Afghanistan live daily with the very real possibility of tragedy.

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Mina pointed at two young women standing nearby, Sushmita and my daughter, Sarah.  In broken English she explained that at any moment a bomb could explode between them, taking half of each of their bodies. She pointed to her hand and talked of a friend who no longer had a finger. Another who no longer had an arm.

We were women together that day. An American team with their new friends from another culture. Grief and love bound us together, weaving through the varied experiences that brought us to this place and the shared experience of the moment. Before and after this time we would laugh together. But in this space we wept as one.

Please pray for Mina and Shusmita. That love will bind their wounds. Pray for their struggle as they press forward in their desire to live as free Americans who come to this land to love and be loved.  Please pray for the safety of their families in their countries of origin, the loved ones who face great uncertainty every day.

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Blessings,

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*Today’s heart-breaking story from Kabul, Afghanistan.  As I work on this blog, I text with my friend Mina. She sends me pictures of this tragedy, and once again we cry together, her from her home in NYC, me from mine in Denver. Two women. Hearts forever joined.

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How Do I Show Up?

Successful career. Successful relationship.

Finances. Respect.

The list could go on, couldn’t it? The one of things that get in the way of true living. (Notice I didn’t say the list of things wrong to desire.)

But don’t they get in the way?

Of the good moments.

We miss too many of life’s beautiful moments because our focus is in on worrying about something on the list.

They get in the way.

Of productivity.

It slows when fear of financial problems, a need to succeed, or managing relationship replaces creative energy.

Of delight.

There’s nothing like fear and striving and worry to zap life’s joy.

Of healthy relationship.

Relationships are harder when we worry about success or think they can be managed.

Of success itself.

How far could we go if life wasn’t driven by the need to succeed? Is it success if we’re constantly grasping and fearing its loss?

What if we lived from passion instead?

Passion to bless.

God and others. In daily interaction. In work, even work that doesn’t feel like calling offers opportunity to bless. In relationships, even when they aren’t fun.

Passion to receive love and share it.

Humans know how to love because they were first loved by their Creator. (We love because He first loved us.) So we take a stand and shout to the world (and mostly that negative, nagging voice in our head), “I am loved!” Then we pause and reflect the love back to its origin. “I love you, too, God!” Then we step into our families, our friendships, our work place, our Facebook groups, our schools, our blogs . . .  our life. We step into life and love others with the love we are given.

Passion to move forward as our true selves.

To let the real us, the strong, true, gifted person who wants to bless and love, show up in the world. (Which means we constantly tell the fearful, striving, success-craving, down-on-herself/himself, selfish voices to shut up.) We acknowledge our strengths. Enjoy them, even. Believe that we were designed with a uniqueness this world needs.

What if we stopped chasing success and instead stepped boldly into life from our passion?

Wouldn’t this be the ultimate act of glorifying the One who made us?

Until Next time,

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PS These thoughts rolled out this morning as I deal with real life. I write as a sojourner, longing desperately to put aside my self-absorption, worries, and fears to live out my destiny.  To be all-in with God and to be put out with fear. To let my neediness fall aside as I focus on my passion. As I seek to trust God with my life instead of grasping for things that cannot fill me up. To be about passionate work with eternal significance, not chasing a paycheck or significance or career advancement. To believe God will supply all my needs and that I am free to go about my Father’s business without letting lesser things slow my productivity and advancement.

Pondering Billy Graham

I’m rarely captivated by the news, but I’ve watched video after video and read press release after press release about Billy Graham. Here’s the thing. They make me weep because I long to speak with such boldness, kindness, and wisdom about the wonder of being loved and invited into a relationship with the King of All. I long to not only have Billy Graham’s courage, but to also have his ability to serve for God’s glory without worry about what people think. He staunchly refused to look to the approval (or disapproval) of humanity and stood firm in his conviction that all glory he received would be returned to his Father.

I watched a video that paid tribute to Billy Graham and kept using the word “he” (referring to Billy) every time it talked about the success of his ministry. “He” built. “He” drew. “He made.” As I watched, I knew that Billy would be upset by the video. He would tell the writer that everything that happened was because God moved, not because Billy built it.

Billy once said, “So many people think that somehow I carry a revival around in a suitcase, and they just announce me and something happens—but that’s not true. This is the work of God, and the Bible warns that God will not share His glory with another. All the publicity that we receive sometimes frightens me because I feel that therein lies a great danger. If God should take His hand off me, I would have no more spiritual power. The whole secret of the success of our meetings is spiritual—it’s God answering prayer. I cannot take credit for any of it.”

Another thing that I admire about Billy Graham was that he was able to reject the doctrinal lines that were so prevalent in the 1950s. He chose to ignore religion and its barriers and to simply preach about the Jesus who gave everything to change lives. I read in one of the articles that conservatives criticized him for not being conservative enough and liberals criticized him for not being liberal enough, and my heart sang. He didn’t engage in the division. He stood for Jesus. There are pictures of him in liturgical attire even though as a young man, he was known for his loud suits and southern baptist style.

I have a personal story about this ability he had to encourage. My father-in-law, Ray, served many years in a small denomination with a lot of doctrinal distinctives. He told me that he and Billy Graham had conversation about these beliefs. He saw Billy again years later and Billy remembered Ray and the conversation. Billy asked Ray if he still believed all that. Ray said yes. Billy shook his hand and told him to keep preaching it. Ray’s eyes shone as he told me the story. It had obviously deeply encouraged this man, who served God with all his strength for over 50 years in that little denomination for little pay or accolade.

I’ve often wondered about this story. Here is what I believe. Billy wanted to see the gospel of Jesus preached, and he saw in Ray, not the ways they were different, but the way they stood together, in the passion for sharing Jesus with the world.

I wish people who loved Jesus could be more like that. I wish I could. I wish as believers we could let go our fears and boxes and focus on what really matters. The truth that Jesus gave His all to save us–to take us from the darkness and confusion of the world and our own soul and free us to live in the hope and light of an eternity that we are already a part of.

As I scroll Facebook and the Internet today, I love learning little tidbits about how Billy lived. From those of you whose lives intersected with his. From the media. Every story shows a focus on the person, a value for the human heart. From my friend Joy, who once served him when he bought a blood pressure machine where she worked, to stories of presidents who said things like, “He helped me choose to stop drinking” and “when he prayed you felt like he was praying for you, not the president.” (Not direct quotes, just writing from memory here.)

I want to be like that too. To value each human soul. To see the cashier at the grocery store instead of just plodding through. To also see the person behind the fame or position as a person not a position.

And a person is all Billy was.

I stared at his picture this morning, stunned that he had preached Jesus to over 200 million people, not including the countless others, like my friend Robbie who watched him on TV and then had a personal encounter with her God at eight years old. I stared at his picture, and I heard, “He was just a man.” And that doesn’t put Billy down. It does what Billy did. It exalts that God who took a humble man and moved through him for the sake of the world HE loves.

One news writer said something like, “We don’t expect another to ever have this kind of impact on the world again.”

I think Billy would balk at that statement. I do. Because it wasn’t about Billy, though his courage and devotion were required for all God accomplished through him. It was about God moving at just the right time in history through just the right man for the job. Billy is no longer in this world. But God is here. With us. He looks at each of us, just people. Like Billy. And he has a plan for our lives, as He told my friend Robbie after she saw Billy on TV. Our God is still alive. He has has not stopped caring about the malignancy of the human soul, the evil that steals our joy and confuses our life. He is working now, every minute, to draw His beloved children into His heart. He never stops doing that. He never stops moving with intention and passion to love and call us to Himself. He longs for us. He longs to enjoy relationship with us. He longs to reveal Himself and His love to every single person He created. And He created us all.

I don’t know if there will be another man who gets to preach Jesus to that many people. But I do know that God will keep moving to reach his people. He will keep calling people to pray for this nation and for the world and for their children and next door neighbors. He will continue to pour His miracles through humble and surrendered hearts–and He will continue to humble proud hearts and give them the ability to surrender to His love.

God’s plan for Billy Graham was breath-taking. Glorious. And Billy always looked right back to God to steady Him. He knew every good gift came from the Father.

God’s plan for you and me is glorious too. Maybe that’s why we’re so captivated by the news of this man who every year for 60 years was named as one of the most influential men in the world. Maybe we’re caught because Billy is simply a man. A man who dared to let God do whatever God wanted through him. Maybe we’re amazed because our heart longs to be that too. Men and women who make a God-sized difference in our human-sized experience. Most of us won’t preach to millions of people. But all of us impact our world. All of us were chosen before the foundation of the world to do the good works God planned in advance for us to do (Hebrews). All of us, like Queen Esther, are chosen for “such a time as this” for whatever God has planned for our ordinary, extraordinary lives.

I believe when we’re with our Savior face-to-face, we’ll discover that Billy learned from Him that every single soul is valuable. That there is no greater love for Billy Graham than for you and me. That our God loves no matter our status. That He will look us right in the eye, and we will know our worth to Him.

I watched a bunch of videos and read a lot of press releases, but I love this page in particular. It’s simply quotes from Billy.

Remembering the life and legacy of Billy Graham (1918-2018).
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FLAW = Free to Live As Worthy

If you’re like me, flaws can really bug you. The Lord is graciously teaching me to step out of self-judgement and offer myself the same grace as He offers me.

The gals in my prayer group and I were talking with the Lord about this awhile back. One of the women was given this acronym as we prayed. FLAW = Free to Live As Worthy.

This concept is the focus of my first installment of Flourishing Moments. Flourishing Moments is something that grew out of some questions I’ve been asking myself and the Lord: How can I bless people who follow my blog, newsletter, or author page? What can I offer that is of value? What truly makes a difference?

I’m not sure of all the answers yet, but I do have a starting place.

Flourishing Moments begins this week on my author/speaker page on Facebook.

Each week day I’ll post words I believe will encourage us as we seek to love Jesus and be loved by Him. The thoughts are designed to help us lay down our struggles and self-judgement and receive His boundless grace.

Here’s the post I shared there today so you can get a taste of what you can expect from Flourishing Moments. I hope you’ll join me on my author page! Maybe even mark my author page to pin to the top of your daily FB news feed so you can see these posts each morning. God-given truth refreshes the soul, yes?

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Photo by Tonya Vander

Do you ever feel flawed?

Most of us do at some point. Heck, most of us feel flawed daily. The thing is, how we see our flaws determines how we weather this journey we’re on.

It’s important as we heal that we understand God’s perspective on our faults and failures and those faults and failures of people who hurt us.

Our flaws. Their flaws.

We humans are hard on ourselves and others, holding people to high, unattainable standards. We experience tremendous judgment and pain when we (or they) don’t “live up.” Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed with our flaws that we go to the other extreme and pretend they don’t exist. Or we acknowledge our flaws but blame others for our faults and failures. Sometimes we do that with people who’ve hurt us too. We make excuses for the people who’ve behaved badly or pretend the incidents never happened.

All of this is, of course, a lie.

The great news is that Jesus came so all of us could be Free to Live As Worthy. His blood cleansed us. He believed we were worthy of His gift. He knows us inside and out, and our flaws don’t worry Him. He set us free from the dark stuff. He daily works within us to finish the good work He started.

Next time you’re hung up on a flaw, why not remember the cross and look at it this way. FLAWs don’t have to take us out, they can be reminders that we are:
Free to
Live
As
Worthy

~ Thoughts adapted from Soul Scents: Flourish.

Blessings,

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PS I’d love feedback from those of you who hang out here at my blog. I’ve been thinking about how to continue to share about the books–I’m loving these posts by fellow authors–but also to share the kind of thing I shared today. Another idea is some series. A friend suggested I do a blog series on starting a spiritual journal. And I’m aching to write a series about the things Jerry and I are learning as he recovers from his recent heart attack. What would bless you. Any thoughts?

Ok . . . Just a Note About that Last Author

Maybe I’ll share just one thing about the author in A Bouquet of Brides who I chose not to introduce this week: me. You know plenty about me already, right? And my writing journey has been so entwined with several of the authors in this collection, that you got bits of my story as I talked about them. But I want to share one more thing. This:

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Why that picture?

Because God sent these angels to hold me together on my writing journey, to walk with me into greater personal freedom, and to cheer me on in my calling.

It’s my prayer group, and we’re beginning our 7th year of meeting regularly. We call ourselves the Council of Kings. We believe that God has a destiny and a kingdom for each of us. (Not just in this group. For you too.)

I love you Deb, Kathy, Margie, and Jill. As I move forward in the writing and speaking the Lord is calling me to do, I’m grateful for the support God has given me by His Spirit and through loved ones.

Which means I need to add one more picture. It’s not easy having a writer for a wife or mom. She can get really distracted and disappear for hours. Her income is sporadic. Her tears come often. But these special people fill my heart with joy even on the hard days.

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Until Next time,

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A Story Grows Up

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Did you really begin writing A Packaged Deal when you were high school, you ask. Yup. True story. I have roughly fifty pages of cursive on lined notebook paper to prove it.

Yesterday I said that the stories that don’t go away are the ones you eventually have to write. This story stayed with me. Even though I didn’t complete it in that nine week creative writing class, I lived it in my mind, and it lurked there for many years. When it shouted for attention, I had my own seventeen year-old. Now that it is ready for the public, my children are grown and (usually) out of the house.

The call to finish the story which became A Packaged Deal grew louder when my middle son, Stephen, and my nephew Caleb competed with the Nederland Middle School ski team. Life was busy for the writing of the great American novel, but I thought I might be able to handle penning a romance amidst the hustle and bustle of four teenager’s activities. As I wound through mountain curves to drive Stephen and Caleb to Eldora Mountain, the little story I started as a seventeen year-old began once again to take shape, only this time the setting was a quaint ski town full of quirky and caring supporting characters. Now the heroine became a downhill racer, and the hero waltzed in as the handsome GM of a small-town resort.

Here’s the back cover copy of the NOW story:
Snuggle next to a fireplace in Towering Pines, the Colorado ski town where friendship is served up in hearty helpings and love is as true as the cobalt blue sky.

When Olympic hopeful Aspen Carlisle gave up her ski-racing dreams to raise her orphaned siblings, she found out the hard way that men aren’t interested in a “packaged deal.” Thrust into a stiff learning curve on motherhood, Aspen discovers the love and support of her friends in Towering Pines, but when the handsome new resort manager Stephen Wallace shows kindness to her little family, can she drop her guard long enough to allow him into that trusted circle—and her heart?

As Aspen struggles to believe in him, Stephen battles ghosts of his own. Time with Aspen and her family causes old issues to bubble to the surface. Does he have what it takes to push through the fear and regret, or will he stay stuck in the pain of the past? If he can believe in himself enough to become the husband and father they need, he’ll discover how wonderful a packaged deal can be.

The heart of the  book dreamed up in Robert Wyly’s English class stayed true. A young woman’s life was interrupted when her parents passed suddenly, and she chose to raise her siblings.  That was in the original story line. It’s precious to me, maybe because I love my brother, Curtis, so much. Sibling relationships are so important!

Originally in the seventeen-year-old version there were two men vying for the heroine’s attention, but the more grown-up me didn’t want to do that, so a man named Chad became the ex-boyfriend, and Stephen was the only one pursuing Aspen. (I actually don’t remember what the guys names were originally. I need to find that old manuscript and see!)

While today’s book is definitely the romance genre as was the work of that dreamy seventeen-year-old, this grown-up book works through faith, loss, and the struggle to hope in ways the high school version never could. I pray it blesses you! I absolutely love  what the Free to Flourish publishing team did to make the book beautiful. Thank you to Lisa Joy Samson for the interior artwork and the Towering Pines series logo, to Bryan Butler for the gorgeous cover, and to Carmen Barber for her vision for a lovely interior design and layout.

It’s great fun to see a book dreamed up in my youth become something I can hold in my hands.

Blessings,

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PS A Packaged Deal, which is the first book in the series about Towering Pines and its people, ends with a lovely Christmas Eve surprise, so it is perfect reading for this season and would make a great gift for the readers in your family. Consider purchasing it along with the Tinseled Tidings Collection. Both are available in paperback and on Kindle. Did you know you can gift books on Kindle to your electronic reading friends? In the case of these books, gifting electronically is a wonderful way to stretch the budget.

PPS It’s not too late to download your free Advent devotion from my website. I’m also posting a daily Advent thought on my author page on Facebook. Follow me there to share the Advent journey.

A Shout Out to English Teachers

Ever have an English teacher change your life? Maybe it was a discussion about that story you read in class. Or maybe, like me, you had teachers who flamed your passion for writing.

Today is the official release of my new book, A Packaged Deal, the first story in the Amazon_Front_Cover_1600x2560 JPGTowering Pines series. I dedicated it to three English teachers. My friend Maria Clinton, who teaches high school English a few blocks from my home, my high school English teacher, Mr. Wyly, and my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan. Other names and faces flit through my mind. I’ve had many excellent English teachers, but there’s a reason I singled out these three.

Years ago as I drove up a windy road toward Nederland, Colorado, a story called for my attention. It was a tale from years before, my first attempt at writing a book. I started it my senior year in high school, and I still have the handwritten cursive manuscript on lined notebook paper to prove it.

That story matured with me over many years, but it never went away. It’s the stories that don’t leave you alone that must be written. A Packaged Deal is one of those, and that story I began at seventeen grew into the book releasing today. I remain forever grateful to Robert Wyly for this and more. Why? Because in that nine-week creative writing class I requested permission to write a novel instead of doing the daily assignments, and he cheered me on.

It was one of those touch points that established my dream to become an author. The experience helped keep my dream alive and sustained it during my busy years as a teacher and young mom, when I thought I would write books and didn’t accomplish much more than short poetry and family letters.

I chose my third grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan, for this dedication because her class is the first place I remember knowing I would someday write books. It started when she assigned us a creative writing exercise using personification. I wrote about a pencil and an eraser who always fought but eventually discovered they needed each other when they had to work together to save the third grade classroom. As I wrote that little story, I was hooked. My first “real” job out of college was as a third grade teacher. I can only hope there are a few students out there whose lives were impacted by me as I was by Mrs. Duncan. I read that pencil and eraser story to my students every year, and they always loved it–and loved writing their own personification tale.

Mrs. Duncan also gave me another gift I’m forever grateful for. She discovered that I loved to read and that I finished my work quickly. Instead of allowing me to sit idle, she and the librarian set me up on a speed reading device that helped me read and comprehend more and more quickly. This valuable skill allows me to consume books even now, and I’m very grateful.

I chose to include my friend Maria in the dedication because of her dedication to her students. I am consistently amazed by her passion for them. She cares about their academics and works hard to prepare them for college. She is also passionate about them as individuals. I believe the literature, writing, and class discussion in Mrs. Clinton’s classes open the world beyond that classroom as well as helping her students explore the world within. No doubt the experience grows their understanding and provides forward momentum in their lives. What a difference a passionate teacher makes! (Mrs. Clinton and I share another joy beyond our mutual love of literature, learning, and people. My son, Sam, just proposed to her daughter, Ariel! Wahooo!!)

I’m forever grateful to these three teachers–and to all the English teachers (and librarians!) who called forth my passions. As I reflect, story after story, teacher after teacher, comes to mind who fostered my love of books and writing. The story that made me laugh that our fourth grade teacher read to the class? I read it to my own class of third graders years later. We laughed so hard my co-worker came over and asked what was going on because her class was getting jealous. That serious book about concentration camps in fifth grade? Still part of the shaping within me for justice and compassion. The sixth graders teachers who allowed me to express creativity in numerous ways. Anne Frank’s Dairy, Great Expectations. The immersion into fantasy thanks to a teacher who loved Brigadoon and pookas. The elementary librarian who constantly worked to find me the next books series and keep me engaged in reading. The junior high librarian who became a friend as she shared her favorite authors with me, again finding ways to keep my love of books growing. The list continues into college.

So here’s to English teachers (and librarians) everywhere! Thank you for pouring out on our behalf!

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Blessings,

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PS A Packaged Deal is available in paperback and on Kindle. Tomorrow I’ll share a little more about how this story matured from its beginnings in Mr. Wyly’s class to become the novel of today.