What Would YOU Like to Read About?

This year, time will be more precious than ever, don’t you think? One of the things I’ve been working on is how to become more effective as a writer, and I’m convinced the first priority is subject matter. SO—if you read my blogs, would you be so kind as to suggest topics that would interest you? I just reviewed the stats from my blog this past year: I had 101,837 views by 73,907 different people from 203 countries (which doesn’t include blog followers) and wrote 239 posts averaging 701 words each for a grand total of 167,561 words . . . which is equivalent to two novels or 3-4 nonfiction books. I’m writing my heart out! But, am I touching the lives of the people who find my blog?

If you’ve read this far, and you would be willing to read one more article this year—and it could be on any subject of your choice—on what topic would you like me to write? If you leave a suggestion in the comment box below, or text me, or email me, or send me a message on Face Book, or give me a suggestion the next time we’re together, I promise I’ll do my best to address your topic ASAP!

Deal? It would be a huge favor to me, as I want to write posts worth reading. Also, while you’re giving feedback and input, would you prefer I write shorter posts more often, or longer posts less often? Ever think about that? I’ve been writing 4-5 posts per week this year. In previous years, I sometimes tried to write daily, but I found it almost impossible to keep up with much depth. I’ve been thinking about switching at some point from topical essays to shorter, daily devotional style posts, which I could write a bit ahead in order to come closer to a daily posting. Any thoughts or preferences there?

Thank you to any of you who have the time to search around in the back of your brain to come up with suggestions for me. Your reading is an encouragement to me, but I don’t want to waste your precious time as we journey through this wondrous life together!

That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving,
and tell of all thy wondrous works” (Psalm 26:7).

Christmas Cards

A friend from my writing group wrote this a few years ago but shared it with us recently, and she has graciously allowed me to pass it on to you:

It’s snowing on this Sunday afternoon in December as my husband and I enter the double doors of the nursing home where his mother lives. I had called ahead and reserved the “family room” for the three of us so that we would have privacy and space to spread out our project – her Christmas cards. Always one to send hand-written cards with kindly and concerned notes to her long list of friends, Mom is ninety years old and long past being able to “do her cards” on her own. So I’d purchased cards with two of her goals in mind: a Christian message and a rural theme, and one goal of mine: the cards must be pretty.

In our bag as we walk down the hallway is my purchase, a Christian-messaged card celebrating the birth of Christ into the world superimposed on a red barn in the countryside. The entire front of the card is covered in sparkling glitter. Also in the bag is her address book which is now in my care, pens, stamps, and a printed letter supposedly written by her telling her friends how she is – fine – busy with family and friends and grateful for God’s love and salvation. We are ready and we have a job to do!

As we push Mom’s wheelchair down the hall to the family room, we ask her if she’s had a good lunch. “I haven’t had any lunch.”

“No lunch? Are you hungry?”

“No, I’m not hungry.” We look at each other. The entire building is filled with the aromas of Sunday dinner.

We gather around a table in the private room, Rob and his mother side-by-side and facing me. We spread out our things. I open her address book to the first person, addressing and stamping the envelope while Rob opens the first card for her to sign. He leans in close to her, his right arm around the back of her chair, his left hand pointing to where she should sign. He watches her sign, folds her letter inside the card, and seals the envelope. We have begun. Soon we are in a pleasant rhythm. Address, stamp, sign, fold, seal. Sometimes Rob prods her along with, “Now, Mother, this is your nephew, so sign ‘Aunt Eileen,’” and she complies. Sometimes unprodded she writes Love, or I love you, before her name. Working down the list, we come to her college roommate, a “W.” “Oh, yes,” she said. “She married Edwin Wierach and they live in Grand Blanc.”

“Isn’t that the way it is?” I think to myself. “She can’t remember lunch, but she remembers her college roommate and the name of the man she married.”

It takes most of the afternoon to finish her cards. I feel victorious. It’s a precious time of walking down memory lane with our beloved ninety-year-old Mom. I’ve known her for close to 45 years and we have accomplished mountains of projects. Real projects, hard work. Recently, however, our times together usually involve a delivery of some sort or a conversation of superficial pleasantries or a trip to the doctor rather than meaningful labor. But today, this afternoon, our bag is filled with finished Christmas cards ready for the Post Office. Mom’s friends and relatives will once again receive greetings and love from her.

Sitting across from me my husband smiles, glitter flashing on his eyelashes, glitter around his mouth, glitter on his hands. Mom has the happy look of a job well done, glitter in her hair, on her blouse, winking on her cheek.

She is gone in August. This is our final project.

(I am adding this verse, not my friend, but isn’t this story an inspirational account of honoring parents? 🙂 “Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” [Ephesians 6:2-3].)

Is Jesus Calling You?

For those of you who’ve never heard of Sarah Young’s devotional book, Jesus Calling, I want to recommend it. It’s formatted as a 365-day devotional book, but I was so intrigued that I listened to the whole book on one flight. My (publishing house editor) son mentioned that it’s a New York Times’ Best Seller, has sold over ten million copies, and is so popular it can be bought at Walmart!

However, Jesus Calling has gotten a lot of criticism for being based on the supposition that we can hear from God and share what we’ve heard with others. Really? Is that strange or wrong? Sarah Young does not claim to be a prophet; her claim is that God speaks to her, and she has shared with others what He has said to her. Does God speak to you? He speaks to me! Do I share what I learn with others? Of course! Don’t you? Her writing is not as profound as the Scripture, and it is not inspired in the way that the Scripture is inspired, but her meditations are filled with Scripture, and I didn’t find the thoughts running contrary to Scripture.

Are her thoughts the very words God spoke to her? I can’t vouch for the complete purity and inspiration of anything besides the Bible, but I do know that I pray daily for God to inspire and direct my writing, and from her book, I believe that God at least inspired and directed Sarah’s thoughts and writing. I appreciated the gentle reminders of God’s love and presence and the continuous encouragements to seek Him, trust Him, and grow in our relationship with Him. As we seek God in the Bible and through prayer, and as we rest in his presence, we will find Him and experience peace: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

Is Jesus Calling a replacement for meditating on Scripture? Of course not! I meditate both morning and evening on the Scriptures alone. That is my daily spiritual bread!! But, if you—like me—enjoy reading a quick devotional at some point in the day (our family has devotional books for both breakfast and dinner readings), you might enjoy Jesus Calling. It’s addressing believers, not unbelievers, so it’s not full of the gospel or the need for us to repent from our sins (which believers understand fully already), but my heart was touched and my spirit uplifted by the gentle reminders of God and his everlasting love for us. If you’re looking for a daily devotional for this coming year, don’t be afraid to listen to (or read) Jesus Calling. Because, He does call us, and if we’ll listen, He does speak to us!

Jesus Calls Us
—Cecil F. Alexander, published 1852 (Public Domain)

  1. Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
    Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
    Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
    Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
  2. Jesus calls us from the worship
    Of the vain world’s golden store,
    From each idol that would keep us,
    Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
  3. In our joys and in our sorrows,
    Days of toil and hours of ease,
    Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
    “Christian, love Me more than these!”
  4. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
    Savior, may we hear Thy call,
    Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
    Serve and love Thee best of all.

A Look into the Life and Legacy of J.R.R.Tolkien

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

“The Father of Modern Fantasy,” John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (BBC News)

Today, nobody stumbles over the name “Tolkien” in the English-speaking world, but back in 1962, when I was in junior high, it was all news to me! The Lord of the Rings was just becoming popular in America, and one of my closest friends, Danny Green, kept me fascinated as he reported day by day what he’d read about the little Hobbit who had to leave his cozy home and go adventuring to save Middle Earth. Since those days, Tolkien’s series has ranked as one of the most popular fiction works of the twentieth century!

Fifty-five years later, I’ve still not read Tolkien’s fantasy books for myself, but I was delighted to watch the recently released movie, Tolkien, based on the youth and formative years of this brilliant and dedicated scholar!

There is so much I didn’t know about Tolkien, and almost everything I learned has made me admire him more than ever! Tolkien lived in Britain and was orphaned at a young age. He was among those who had to make his way in the world through sheer grit . . . for Tolkien—hard work, wisdom, and unending, passionate drive.

At a young age, he fell in love with another orphan, and the movie records their very sweet relationship. (Although, as in all good romances, there were many challenges, twists, and uncertainties.)

Because of his brilliance as a student and the care of the Catholic priest who was his guardian, Tolkien was eventually allowed to attend Oxford, where he succeeded in becoming fast friends with several of his classmates. (This was no easy feat, either! My father, who attended Harvard for graduate school—also in philology—as a young man during the Great Depression, found it very difficult trying to fit in with the wealthy elite without the trappings of material privilege.)

Perhaps the most difficult part of Tolkien’s journey was his military service during World War 1. The movie is PG-13, so the war scenes—though terrifying and disheartening—are not about the gore but rather to give us a feel for the intense suffering and emotional trauma that all soldiers experienced.

Did he survive the war? Did he get to marry the girl of his dreams? Did he get to finish his studies? When and how did he become so famous? All great questions, and most of them were answered in this wonderful depiction of his life!

The very best aspect of the movie (for me) was the goodness of Tolkien’s character throughout (in stark contrast to most stories you hear about the “bright young things” of his era). Sometimes people are so bright and shiny with goodness that it just makes you wonder why, so I studied more of his life from Wikipedia. There I discovered the reason: He had a “deeply religious spirit.” As Tolkien explained: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”

Sign in the Eagle and Child Restaurant, Oxford

Ah, ha! Yes, I did know of the connection between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the good spiritual influence Tolkien had been on Lewis, helping him come to faith. It was C.S. Lewis who later wrote Mere Christianity . . . the book that influenced both my mother and my dear aunt, “Lant Henna,” to believe in Christ many years hence!

Alan and I even made a bit of a “pilgrimage” to Oxford’s Eagle and Child (pub/restaurant where their literary group, The Inklings, met) with two of our sons (one of whom is now an editor and aspiring writer himself). So, we have a very personal experience of being inspired and edified by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

So, thank you Tolkien, and thank you to those of you who gifted us with this great movie! I hope many people see it and find the story uplifting and encouraging!

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

666,666 and The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

This isn’t really some horrible warning about the end times, but it is the celebration of a personal mile-marker in my blogging journey: passing the 666,666 view mark and finding inspiration in The Boys in the Boat. It all started (Summer Setting) back in 2008, and it took four years before my posts had been viewed 100,000 times. In the next two years, by the end of 2014, Summer Setting had been viewed over 250,000 times. Over the next three years, that number doubled to over 500,000 times. About then, life seemed to speed up rather than slow down, and instead of posting daily, I found it maximally challenging to prepare just five times a week. The lesser output definitely affected the number of visitors, but this past weekend, I passed the 666,666 mile mark: two-thirds of a million views of my blog!

This number does not reflect those people who are “followers” and get my posts sent directly to their email inbox address, so it may be that Summer Setting has been viewed more than a million times already, but somewhere deep in my heart I keep feeling the desire to keep posting, at least until I’ve reached a million views. (I’d like to say “reached a million people,” but I have no way of figuring out how many “discreet” [different, unique] visitors are viewing Summer Setting.) That may take me until I’m 75, or it may take until I’m 90, or I may die before I ever reach that goal, but however long it takes, I will definitely keep trying until I become incapable or I believe the Lord wants me to do something else.

Boys rowing in preparation for the 1936 Olympics

Please don’t be critical of me for being a “numbers” person. Life is not about numbers, it’s about loving God and loving others. It’s about serving God and trying to reach out to others with the love of God in whatever way we can. Dreams and goals are only worth pursuing if they are God-inspired, for his glory and our good . . . or at least, that’s what I believe. Nevertheless, I think dreams and goals can be good for us. They challenge us to keep going when we’re just tired enough to want to quit, and they help us focus when the ubiquitous attractions and distractions all around us might otherwise derail us. (Or, should I say deboat us? 🙂 )

One perfect example of this is found in a book I just finished, The Boys in the Boat, which is a fabulous non-fiction account of the young men from Washington State who set their hearts on winning a gold metal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The book is powerful and inspirational. A movie version is in production right now, with Kenneth Branaugh directing, and I can hardly wait for it to come out!

The story was especially thrilling to me, because it is a story from my parents’ generation! In fact, my mother and uncle spent their summers working to help build the Hoover Dam during the same year several of these young men were there! (Well, my mother worked as a waitress, serving food to the guys who were hanging over the side of the cliff chipping away at granite with jack hammers.) It’s also a story of gut-wrenching difficulty to overcome human limitations in order to reach a worthy goal. My mom lived on skim milk and bread at times in order to survive college during the Great Depression. Goals are good. Hard work is good. Survival is good. Success is profoundly satisfying!

Have you heard about the Olympic runner, Eric Liddell (who won a gold metal at the 1924 summer Olympics in Paris)? God infuses us with abilities and gives us purpose. He also wants us to give everything we can muster to achieve “my utmost for His highest” (as Oswald Chambers wrote).

So, whatever abilities God has given us—whether it’s writing or rowing or running or something else—let’s use those gifts and give it everything we’ve got to accomplish whatever goal God puts in our hearts! Ready to race?!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

A Peaceful Heart (by Jane Anderson)

I once bought a greeting card that asked, “Ever have a day when everything went right?” Then inside, the answer: “Yea, me either.” So you’ll recognize my story. I was thinking about how this all happened a few years ago when everything started off on a smooth path then the switch flipped and things derailed. Surely you’ve had those days when life jumps off the track and you have to will yourself into a positive attitude to reclaim your joy. Are you with me here?

One morning I jumped out of bed with my “Yay! It’s going to be a great day!” eagerness. That lasted all of one hour when I remembered that I had to drive the truck. ERGH! (grumble) I don’t like driving the truck … but then I realized, “Hey! Get over it! At least you have an alternate vehicle.” Besides, as a reward I’ll treat myself to Starbucks before my appointment. Anticipation.  I was off and running again. OK I can handle this.

I drove up to Starbucks and checked the breadth of this Semi (exaggeration) I was driving and opted to park it and walk in rather than navigate the drive-thru.  Inside I got my latte, life is good. Outside, the truck has turned cranky on me and has now forgotten its role for today – to get me safely, and without incident, to my destination.  It won’t start. In fact, it won’t even try. Turn the key … nothing! Turn the key again … nothing! We could play this game all day, but I have an appointment. ERGH! (grumble) I can feel the joy needle slipping into the depleted zone.  Then I heard this voice in my head say, “Count it all joy”. Come on, Lord. You want me to find joy in this? Are you kidding me? I have to WALK a mile now.  Then God said, “Let’s try. Make it a game.  It’ll be fun. I challenge you to find 3 good things in this bad situation”.  Well alright, but I don’t really see what difference it makes. The stupid truck is still broken and I still have to walk a mile – on the busiest road in the area, and, oh look! The sprinklers, right on my path, are running full blast.  But OK.  Game on!

  1. As I was approaching the blasting sprinklers – they shut off. Really? Wow!
  2. I looked down and realized I had decided to wear flat shoes instead of dress-up heels. Huh. That was pretty cool.
  3. Instead of the normal oversized, overstuffed, spilling-out-of-the-top bag, all I had to carry was my purse and a folder.

I got to my appointment, all intact, not wet from sprinklers, no bumps, bruises, or wear and tear on my emotions. I even pulled out all the information I needed without needing to trek back to that cranky old truck. Relief! Thankful!

I enjoyed the latte on the trip past the now silent sprinklers, in my flat shoes, carrying only my purse in one hand and Starbucks in the other.  Balance is good, right? By the time I was at my destination (on time), joy was back. Did the game fix my truck? Not really, but it fixed me. I had to get the inside right, so the outside would come out right too.

Oh – and here’s the kicker. When my husband, said owner of cranky truck, went to pick it up later? It started right away! Really, God? Seriously? And to that, He reminded me that He has me in the palm of His hand and he teaches me what is best for me, when I need to learn it. (James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy ….)

That story is insignificant to the trauma in many lives, and I don’t pretend to minimize what you may be going through. Life is tough. I decided to tell that story because we all have to decide. Will what is happening now make me bitter or make me better? No matter what knocks you off track. No matter what your circumstances today. Seek joy. In this life, we have to look for the slivers of hope and glean as many positive fragments as we can so all those thoughts plant seeds of joy. Finding something good in our mess is the best survival mechanism. It isn’t easy. It’s worth it.

On days when nothing fits and life is broken, I read Philippians 4. Be joyful! Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, with a thankful heart pray and ask God to take your burdens and your worries. The peace of God, which we humanly can’t understand, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Ask God to infuse your mind with thoughts of whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—thinking about such things will quiet your anxiety….. And the God of peace will be with you.

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).

This charming post was written by my friend Jane Anderson, who brings much joy and blessing into my life!  Jane is a Christ-follower who reads, writes, and lives encouragement as her ministry. If you’d like to read more of her writing, you can access her blog here:http://refininggrace.com

Cec Murphy on Atalanta’s Excess Baggage

Ever since I listened to Cecil (Cec) Murphy speak at a writers’ conference about five years ago, I’ve been a fan, not just of his writing (which is excellent) but of his character and long life of fruitful ministry. He began with six years on the mission field in Kenya—about sixty years ago—and has never stopped working, even though he’s authored or co-authored more than 135 books and could be resting on his laurels (which would provide a very comfy cushion for sitting)!

Cec still puts out a weekly blog called Writer to Writer as well as a monthly newsletter. He is busy leaving as large a legacy to the glory of God as possible, and he’s definitely a mentor and inspiration to me.  I was particularly touched by his last newsletter so asked if I could share it with you. As always, he was gracious! Here it is:

Excess Baggage

As I stood in line at Delta’s baggage check-in, the agent said to the woman in front of me, “You’re nineteen pounds overweight. You’ll have to pay for the excess weight or take out some of the goods.”

The woman dropped out of line to repack and stuff items into her large purse.

As I watched, I thought of the excess luggage most of us carry—hurts, slights, betrayals, and rejections. We haven’t let them go, even though they weigh us down. For example, whenever someone mentions a person we haven’t forgiven, we feel a heaviness inside. Even anger.

Those thoughts reminded me of Greek mythology and Atalanta, the fleet-footed goddess. Her father, King Schoeneus, wanted her to marry, but she refused. Finally, she agreed to marry only if her suitor could outrun her in a footrace. If the challengers lost, they would be put to death. Many young men tried, lost the race—and their lives.

Hippomenes became the next suitor and asked the goddess Aphrodite for help. She gave him three golden apples.

The race began and Atalanta was soon twenty yards ahead. Hippomenes rolled one apple in front of her, and she stooped to pick it up. A little later, he rolled out the second and she grabbed it. And the third.

By then, Atalanta was so weighted down, Hippomenes passed her and won the race.

The story teaches us that we self-sabotage by holding on to “golden apples” of anger, resentment, and unforgiveness. They hinder by weighing us down in successfully running life’s race.

We know they’re there, and we know they hold us back. Even so, it’s not easy to cast off those hurt feelings and rejection. With God’s help and opening ourselves to individuals we trust, we can dispose of the things that weigh us down.For any of you who’d enjoy reading more, here’s the link to his blog: https://t.e2ma.net/message/yb7lv/yjxfi

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).