I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

People Watching—Stored Memories

Male Toga Adult...
Delores E. Topliff
Traveling teaches me that nations, like people, have personalities. Italy and Spain are warm and hospitable. In both if you even attempt to speak (slaughter) the language, it’s enoughthey smile appreciatively. Other countries, like France and Austria, can seem less friendly and appear to feel put upon. Even our well-meaning but fast-paced goal-oriented nation can fail to convey care and friendliness. Seeing polite manners in much of Europe gives me more understanding of (and dislike for) the word “brash.”

Most of us avoid unexpected encounters or delays. But people watching for insights and character development is lost if things go smoothly and fast. Señor Fernandez, the older owner of a small family hotel off a major square in Madrid has a face so 
old-school fine and interesting, it should be sculpted. I took his photo, though he complained he was not dressed for the occasion. But it was his noble face I wanted. He also stored my large suitcase free five days while we visited Italy with the one small bag allowed on cheap airlines. (The nearby central train station asked five euros per day.) I picture Señor Fernandez in a toga ruling ancient Rome’s Spanish province wisely when integrity, gravitas, veritas, and dignitas, meant everything.

I also see the face of the middle-aged woman we met in Bologna, Italy, whose picture I didn’t get, but her soft speech revealed she was from America’s Southwest. She was a fellow tourist waiting for a Sunday bus that didn’t come, wearing a Sherlock Holmes type hat that hid too much of her face, telling us about Santa Lucia, lovely 14th century cathedral on Bologna’s highest hill. Since we didn’t have time to go there, she promised it would be visible from our airplane. And it was. She was amazed we knew and had visited her hometown, Lubbock, Texas. I doubt Lubbock produces many native daughter specialists on 14th-century Italian cathedrals. Hers was a story I would have liked to get. Why was she there, alone? Where did she go next? I imagine answers and wish her well.

In recent years, I increasingly love these lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ullyses:
“I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades…
Forever and forever when I move.
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

What about you? What faces or scenes do you pass but still see? 
What do you glean? What do you still wonder?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Be anxious for nothing

By Jennie Atkins

As Christians we've all heard this verse (Philippians 4:6-7), listened to preaching involving this verse, and honestly tried to apply it to our lives.

Some of us succeed . . . and . . . well . . . some of us don't.  Let's face it we're human and life happens--so we worry.

Over the past year things have happened in my life and the lives of my family members that have challenged me and my faith in multiple ways.

Have I been anxious?  Absolutely! 

But through it all I have learned more about this verse than I ever thought possible. Here are some of my insights:

First, when we try to anticipate the trials ahead of us, when we worry about tomorrow, we are forgetting that God is with us now and always. We are taking away what he wants to do in our lives. Each day brings on difficulties, but by leaning on God e-v-e-r-y day, trusting in him, we are acknowledging that He is in control of our lives.

Second, by worrying about tomorrow, we are experiencing our troubles many times over. God only intends for us to face our trials one time--not rehearse them over and over and over again.  This just increases our suffering.

Lastly, on days when everything goes awry, perhaps it is then that God wants to do something more important in our life or in the life of someone else.

God has plans for all of us.  Plans for a good life, if only we trust in Him and not be anxious.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Creativity and Failure

By Teri Smith

Doesn’t really sound like those two should go together, does it? But sometimes fear of failure hinders creativity more than any other single issue. Negative thoughts pound in our heads.
No one will ever like what I write. 
I might make mistakes...even the editor might miss them.
I'm not really good at...(whatever).
No one actually thinks I can.

What if Walt Disney had given up after a newspaper editor told him he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”?

What if Albert Einstein had given up after one of his professors labeled him the laziest dog they had ever had in the university?

What if Colonel Sanders gave up after over 1,000 restaurants turned down his chicken recipe?

What if Beethoven had stopped after his music teacher told his parents he was too stupid to ever compose?

What if my student, Angela Bell, had given up after an adult told her it was too hard to get published? (She’s already had one book signing and another one is on the way.)

If we listen to all the negative voices, we’ll never try anything new or difficult. And we’ll miss the potential God has placed right in front of us.

So go ahead. Brainstorm. Draw. Write. Even allow yourself to go back to your younger days and color something beautiful! Silence the judgmental voices—especially the ones in your own head.  So what if your first idea, first painting, or first book isn’t perfect?

Allow yourself to fail. Because, yes, creativity and failure do go together. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Photo courtesy of https://www.etsy.com/shop/kraftykash
Heidi here. I'm sitting at my computer contemplating all the things I could blog about today, and I'm a little overwhelmed. First of all, there is a lot going on in our country right now. Enough, in fact, to fill several blog posts! I could write about any number of these hot button issues, but I think I will pass. In addition, there is a lot going on in my life right now. Enough, in fact, to fill several blog posts...

It's been a pretty crazy month at my house. We are experiencing a serious season of change. It kind of reminds me of that Byrds' song from the 60's based on Ecclesiastes 3. Back at the end of May, my husband and I got the news that due to decreased giving and budgetary constraints, our lead pastor and the church board members made the difficult decision to cut the children's pastor position to part-time with no benefits beginning August 1st. Since my husband Craig is the children's pastor, this means it is his position being cut. Given our own budgetary constraints (including my steep monthly out-of-pocket medical expenses) he will not be able to stay on part-time with no benefits, so he has begun putting his resume out to other churches for other positions. One church is nearby, so we wouldn't have to move right away. Another is a thousand miles away from our friends and family. We have no idea where we are going! As you might imagine, this has been very difficult for us, and over the past six weeks, we've felt every possible emotion regarding this situation.

I think the hardest thing for us to think about is leaving the church we've been part of off and on for almost 25 years. It is the church where I gave my life to Christ at age 24. It is the church where I met Craig, and where I married him less than a year later. It is the church where both of our children were dedicated as infants, gave their hearts to Jesus as children, and were baptized as preteens. It is the church that gave Craig his first opportunity at full-time children's ministry as a licensed pastor. We've not only watched our own children grow up at this church, we've been blessed by families who trusted us to help raise their children spiritually on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and a few weeks every summer. Leaving will be hard. So incredibly hard.

When Craig accepted this position in 2004, he told me he believed God was calling him to stay on for ten years. Ten years is an eternity for children's pastors; they almost never stay at one church for that long. I wasn't sure he'd heard God correctly, especially when some very tempting offers for bigger churches and more money came in. But I trusted my husband and we stayed. It's so crazy to think that this looming August 1st deadline will also mark our 11th anniversary at our church. So in that context, God gave us a bonus year with our precious church family before moving us on to whatever is next.

And that is the most important thing for me to remember: God is moving us, not man. Back in May, I was so angry. At first, I could only see that the whole situation made absolutely zero sense, and I tried to find someone to blame. But it has become increasingly clearer over the past few weeks that this is God's perfect sovereign plan--not just for our family, but for the families in our current church and the families at our future church. Ultimately, because it's His perfect plan, we need to praise Him for the opportunity to trust Him with our future and our needs, and we can't wait to see how He will bless everyone involved.

I'm not going to lie; despite my faith, I still worry what will happen come August 1st. My heart knows that God will provide for us because He always has. However, there are days when my brain struggles to trust that He will cover all of our expenses. Like somehow I think He will call us out only to leave us stranded and destitute. So I worry. Jesus was very clear in His Sermon on the Mount that we are to be anxious for nothing because He cares for us infinitely more than even the lilies of the valley or the birds of the air. Instead, I must choose to be optimistically expectant and I must praise Him for the plans He has for us...to prosper us and not to harm us...to give us a hope and a future.

Change is never easy, and I am not great at embracing it. I am also not great at rolling with the punches or going with the flow or even seizing the day. I don't want to have to trust God. Lucky for me (and any of you who are also being forced to embrace change and trust God) His Word is full of verses to encourage us that we should trust Him, but more importantly that we can trust Him. Over and over in scripture we see reminders that God is in control and that while our circumstances might change, He doesn't. (Check out a few of these verses for yourself: Proverbs 19:21, Isaiah 43:18-19, Habakkuk 3:19, Romans 8:28, I Peter 5:7, Hebrews 13:8, Philippians 1:6)

I will close with verses 11-12 of Ecclesiastes 3..."God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives."

P.S. Now you have that song stuck in your head, right? You're welcome!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The 2015 Christy Awards

One of the most distinguished award ceremonies for Christian books held their presentation ceremony last night. The Christy awards began in 1999. They were named for Catherine Marshall's best-know work, Christy, which has over 10 million copies in print.

Here's the list of this year's winners of the distinguished award. 

Book of the Year: Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

Contemporary Romance: A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert

Contemporary Series: The Amish Blacksmith by Mindy Starnes Clark & Susan Meissner

Contemporary: The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

Historical: The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

Historical Romance: Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

Suspense: the Color of Justice by Ace Collins

Visionary: Once Beyond a Time by Ann Matlock

Young Adult: Storm Siren by Mary Weber

First Novel: Feast for Thieves by Marcus Brotherton

Congratulations to all the winners! I don't know about you, but my summer reading list just expanded! 

Have you read any of these books? Please give your recommendations to our readers!

Thanks, Teri Smith

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Our dreams—God’s plans

By Jennie Atkins
As you read this, my hubby and I are putting the last of our belongings into POD storage and heading home. Four years ago, I took on a new position that moved us twenty-four hundred miles away from where we both lived since we were born. It had been our dream to move west, to experience the Wild West, and to blaze a different trail rather than slip into retirement without accomplishing some of the items on our bucket list.
Many things have happened to us this year, testing our faith, and our decision to move so far away from our kids. The last being the loss of the job I came to Nevada to take on. Although low gas prices are a boon to the consumer, they are a nightmare to businesses who provide technology to oil and gas businesses. And as result I found myself without a job and in a spot where we are relying on God’s wisdom for “the rest of our lives.”

The most logical decision, albeit hard, is to move back near family. But through it all I can see God’s hand moving. We put our house up for sale and as a fleece of sorts, we priced it higher than normal.
We half expected the process to take several months.  It didn’t—our house sold in just under two weeks with a second bid in the wings. 

We expected someone to come in and under bid our price.  But they didn’t. They came in at full value.
We then anticipated the bank to balk at the high price when they did the appraisal.  They didn’t.

People…this is NOT fiction. It is God’s hand guiding us.  I have no idea where we’ll find employment and our final destination is unknown. But, I’m okay with that. Everything has been stripped away and I am trusting God’s plans for our future.  And, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to the rest of the journey! Especially if it even comes close to what we’ve experienced so far.
Although I won’t be able to answer your comments today because more than likely I’ll be somewhere on route 70 driving east, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, nor sun without rain, but he did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.” (Author Unknown)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Quick and Dirty Grammar

Heidi here. So, I consider myself to be fairly grammar savvy. I’d say I was a card-carrying member of the Grammar Police, but recently I’ve decided it is not my job to make sure the rest of the world understands how to grammar correctly. (And yes, I did just use “grammar” as a verb.) Besides, unless I am absolutely positive I’ve not made any mistakes in my own writing, I have no business pointing fingers.

That being said, I still want to do everything in my power to be sure my own writing is as grammatically correct as humanly possible. In my effort to avoid drawing the unwanted--and often pernicious--attention of the most zealous of Grammar Police Officers, I’ve found a secret weapon that helps me to grammar with near-perfection.

I’m not sure a day goes by that I don’t make at least one visit to the Grammar Girl. Grammar Girl’s real name is Mignon Fogarty, and she is best known for her “Quick and Dirty Grammar Tips.” She calls her website, "Your friendly guide to the world of grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language." 

If you are unfamiliar with this amazing young woman, I will be your new best friend for introducing you to her, because if you are a writer, she will also be your new best friend.

Whether you get her books or you visit her website, you will find incredibly helpful tips or explanations for tricky grammatical issues such as “affect vs.effect”  or  “further vs. farther”  as well as punctuation helps (such as proper use of terminal punctuation and parenthesis). She also offers explanations on the correct use of phrases (“Deep-seeded or Deep-seated”) or when to use “i.e. or e.g.”  In addition to explaining the hows and whys of correct usage, she also includes clever little ways to remember her tips. Honestly, she's bailed me out of some pretty dicey grammar situations!

I could go on and on about how great she is. Or, I could send you her direction and let you discover her plethora of grammar information. Or, I could jumpstart your Grammar Girl education by offering you my Top 5 Favorite Grammar Girl Episodes!

                    5.) Split Infinitives 

                    4.) Ending a Sentence With a Preposition 

                    3.) Lay Versus Lie 

                    2.) Who Versus Whom (Part 1) 
                         WhoVersus Whom Advanced 

                    1.) The Top 10 Grammar Myths 

And hey, if grammar isn’t your thing, the Quick and Dirty Tips website also offers tips from The Money Girl, The Modern Manners Guy, The Get-it-done Guy, The Mighty Mommy, and The Tech Talker.

Your turn: Do you have a Grammar Pet Peeve? Do you have a Grammar Achilles Heel?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Thank you, Cora Nolan, for the world of books

by Delores E. Topliff

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” I do not know George R. R. Martin, who is credited with this quote, but he is/was a very wise man.

From my 6h birthday on, we lived across the street from a community library. I know now it was small, but it seemed vast to me. Cora Nolan, the librarian was everyone’s ideal well-read grandmother who answered questions cheerfully, tolerated my imagination, recommended books she knew I’d love, and added more to my life than she ever knew. Though she has gone to her earthly reward decades ago, she made me rich. Her impact equaled lighting a candle in a dark room with a flame that has grown steadily brighter.

Our library was open six days a week and I went daily. Through elementary school, besides homework, I read two books every day and discussed them with her. Though Lucretia Ann on the Oregon Trail, Adopted Jane, The Boxcar Children, and a biography series on presidents and famous people were Junior Reader size, not thick books, they added up. Soon I advanced to adult volumes. I read all of Sherlock Holmes by age eleven, and Pearl S. Buck and Steinbeck. When my card stock library cards frayed and tattered from use, she replaced them saying I was the library’s most frequent user. If I had one of those tattered cards now I would dip it in gold to mount on the wall to convey what her gift meant.

Books expanded my world and introduced me to other peoples, times, and places that I loved. What I found in books inspired me get involved, pursue dreams, and travel further than that elementary girl dreamed.

How many lives did Cora Nolan give me? A thousand thousand and still counting and adding more. How can I thank her? Pass on the gift.

Now, please tell how someone encouraged and influenced you. Tell us how many lives you live daily, monthly, yearly through great books--and how you pass on that blessing. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jesus Promised...

Well, He promised a lot of things. Like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Photo from Free Digital Photos

And that’s just about as amazing as it gets. As long as Jesus walks by our side, we don’t have anything to fear, and I know we can make it another day.

But He made other promises too. We read one of the best in John 14:3.  “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.”

How’s that to wow your neon-pink socks off?

But can we be honest here? Is there something you’d like to happen before Jesus comes?  Maybe you’d like to get that book contract first.  Maybe you desire the squealing joy when you tear open a package to find you own book finally there.

Perhaps your heart cries out for reconciliation with someone before you meet your Savior face to face. Or you urgently need to say, “I’m sorry” to a friend or family member.

 Could it be you want to hold your very first grandchild in your arms? (Hint, hint, somebody.)

Now that we’re being honest, how would you finish this sentence?

I’d want Jesus to come, except first, I’d like….