Happy New Year!

New-year-party-favor-clipartNo, I haven’t lost my mind (although some of you might disagree). Yes, I know it’s early September. But this time of year, this day after the US holiday of Labor Day always feels like a second “new year” to me.

When I was growing up, the first day of our new school year fell on the Tuesday after Labor Day. I remember those sleepless nights, the anxiety about starting a new grade, having new teachers, classes filled with kids I didn’t know, had I picked the right outfit to wear, etc. Then, I went through it with my own kids (now grown), worked in a profession that revolved around the school calendar, and now in my older years, am involved in activities that break for the summer and resume after Labor Day. Life always feels like it gets put on hold during the summer.

I no longer experience the anxiety I did when younger, but I love the cyclical flow of the days and months that come with the fall and look forward to it. It’s a time when I re-examine the structure of my days and re-evaluate my priorities and projects. It’s a time of new beginnings even as I look toward the December holidays and end of the year. It’s a time when I feel like I have a second chance to do the things I committed to do in January, but which have fizzled out as the year progressed.

Maybe you feel like you’re in the same boat, with unfinished business and a lack of progress in areas you’d hoped would be further along by this time. It’s never too late to begin again. Every day that the sun rises is an opportunity for a fresh start. And since it comes up every 24 hours, we receive a clean slate, another chance. Whatever we accomplish is something that would not have happened if we hadn’t started over and tried. As Dory says in the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.” One inch, one action, one step at a time will do it! Come on this adventure with me. We’ll finish the year strong–together!

Oh, and by the way,

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(I’m re-committing to writing one picture book manuscript a month and editing an existing picture book manuscript. What will you do? Send me a comment or begin following this blog and I’ll email you a list of 10 actions I’ve found helpful to get myself “unstalled” and moving again.)

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The Sense of Wonder

 

traveling-companions

Traveling companions of Susan and me–Waddy, Piglet, Curious George, and Kermit

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”          —From The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

 

It’s been at least 25 years—maybe more—since I first read this book. My soul leapt with joy as I recognized this defining characteristic of myself, one I could never identify and passed off as many other things over the years. The fact that I never wanted to grow up. The fact that I write for children. The fact that my children were young, and I was relating to them. I was an adult and still had this “quirk”

There it was, confirming my way of life as a good thing, not an immaturity or a defect. It was okay, even desirable, to maintain this childlike, not childish, way of looking at life, and I wouldn’t want to live any other way. Being able to observe everything around me with the eyes of a child gives me great joy and awe at the wonders surrounding me, no matter where I am or my circumstances. Jesus himself encouraged us to maintain that childlike sense of wonder in our faith and relationship to him.

This past weekend was a perfect example. My dear friend, Susan, (one who also lives life with wonder and awe) and I took a weekend trip to Coudersport, deep in the Allegheny Mountains, where there was a meeting of fans of Margaret Suttons’s beloved children’s book series, the Judy Bolton mysteries. While Susan had gone in previous years, this was my first time. As a children’s writer and childhood reader of Judy Bolton, it was pure joy to visit the places where Margaret Sutton grew up and drew much of the inspiration for her books from the surrounding area and events that occurred there.

But in addition to that, I craindrops-on-branchesouldn’t drink in enough of the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, each tableau different from the one just passed. Rows of water droplets from the early morning rain outlined bare tree branches just above a branch of dancing, dazzling red leaves. The welcome I received at private homes where I was treated as a long-lost family member filled me with warmth. The starkness of the failed Austin Dam contrasted with the beauty of the trees and wildflowers that have grown around and even in the cracks of the crumbling cement structure. Even in the sad, derelict, abandoned church we explored, Susan discovered a Bible by the still-in-place lectern open to the passages we are currently studying in our weekly women’s Bible study. I marveled at everything.

I challenge you to re-open your eyes of childhood. Remember what it felt like to begin each day with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Expect to see wonders all around you. Discover that the ordinary is, in reality, truly extraordinary—and it is still there, just as it was when you were young. And revel in the wonder and awe of it all.

Worst. Day. Ever.

We all have them—those days when nothing seems to go right from the minute our feet hit the floor.

  • The dog throws up on the carpet when you’re already late for work
  • The lid on your travel mug isn’t screwed on tight like you thought and tea (or coffee) spills all over your __________ (fill in the blank)
  • The GPS takes you to the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere instead of your desired location
  • The waitress tells you she’s just given the last piece of peach pie to another customer

I’m sure you’re all nodding in agreement and adding your own items to this list. Some of you might remember the picture book by Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, where Alexander decides moving to Australia will solve all his problems. Recently, I saw something that made me think that the people to whom this happened would come to the same conclusion. Especially since they probably didn’t have a clue at that point how bad their day would turn out to be once they got home. Let me explain.

My son, Nathan, and I were traveling together, enjoying each other’s company and our conversation. We came around a bend, and there it was, right in the middle of the road. No, not a dead skunk or any other animal, but a dead HD TV. Obviously on the way home from the store, the end of the box had popped open in the fall, revealing the shattered contents within. My first reaction was, “OH, NO!” then I started to wonder how it had gotten there.

My ever-empathetic son snickered and commented, “Boy, are they going to be upset when they get home.” I agreed. (Actually, he used a stronger word than upset that I don’t use, but his word was probably more accurate.) What DO you do when you get home and discover the TV you’ve just spent hundreds of dollars on is MIA? Would they drive back the way they came, looking for it? What would their reaction be when they came upon it? Would they leave it on the road, take it back to the store as defective, or make a claim on their car or homeowner’s insurance to replace it?

I voted for the latter. One insurance company has been running ads, creating outlandish situations which they claim they’ve covered. One involves the family dogs who turn on the faucets, flood the house, and perform synchronized swimming in the middle of the living room, much to their owners’ surprise when they discover the mess. “Yep, we covered it”, says the fictional insurance rep.

In my imagination, I saw film of the happy family, strapping their new TV onto the roof rack of the car, driving down the road, maybe even singing on their way home when their newest prized possession decides to take a nose dive. The camera pans to a driveway as they pile out and puzzle over the missing item, then pans back to the destruction in the middle of the road. And then I hear the voice, “Yep, we covered it.”

I will probably never know the actual outcome of this event. But I am pretty sure of one thing: this will go down in their family history as a Worst. Day. Ever.

Blessings Indeed

View at dusk Indianapolis

The view from our hotel room–Indianapolis at dusk

 

 

Tom and I have just come back from the International Gideons Convention that was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. People were there from over 90 countries from around the world. One of the things I love about convention is meeting and getting to know folks from countries that are so different from my own—and hearing of the difficulties many are facing with faith, courage, and perseverance.

As I listened to how God is working, especially in countries where it is hard and even dangerous, to be a Christian, it made me uncomfortable and sometimes ashamed to be a Christian in America. I thought of Luke 12:48: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” I have been given so much and was reminded of my responsibility!

In my last blog, I shared my experience of packing food aid for Syrian refugees. The prayer of my heart is that I will be more mindful of the ways I can make a difference for the Lord and for this hurting world. I don’t ever want to take for granted how much I have been blessed. With that in mind, here are just a few of my recent blessings:

    • Hosting Jean Marc, a gentleman from France for two nights in our home and getting to know him

      Jean Marc 2 (2)

      Tom and Me with Jean Marc

    • Having more food available than I could possibly want or eat
    • The availability of fresh, clean water to drink
    • Being in air-conditioning, protected from the dangerous and excessive heat we were experiencing
    • The view from our hotel room
    • Having dinner with Glen, our new friend from Jamaica
    • Celebrating the two-year-anniversary of my miraculous healing (July 24)
    • The hospitality of Tom’s sister and her husband, Barb and Roy
    • The beauty and peacefulness of their home on a lake
    • That I was able to do these things freely and without fear of attack or fear for my safety

I could bore you by going on and on, but I think you get the picture. I am especially thankful for the blessing of refreshment this time away offered me. And now, it’s time to get back to work to change the world in whatever way I can from my humble home in Pennsylvania.

The most important thing I can do is to treat everyone I meet with love and respect, no matter who they are, no matter their circumstances, no matter their beliefs. If we all acted this way in our own corner of the world, we would make a difference. Smiles and love ARE contagious! Will you join me in doing this?

 

SO LITTLE TIME; SO MUCH FOOD

Recently I participated in a food packing event sponsored by my friend, Joey Payne of the Global Aid Network (GAiN). This organization sends humanitarian aid of every kind all over the world, including things such as clothes, food, wheelchairs, walkers, washable fabric menstrual pads, refugee bags, blankets and quilts, motorbikes, regular bikes, small stuffed animals, toys, soccer balls . . . The bottom line—if you donate it, they know someone who needs it and will get it to them.

At any rate, Joey brought her show on the road to her hometown of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. She enlisted the help of local churches to raise the money needed to buy the bulk food and supplies, and to round up the volunteers necessary to prepare the food for shipping. The aid from this event was earmarked for the refugees flooding Greece, escaping from the war in Syria. It didn’t take long for both goals to be met.

Upon arrival and registration, each of us was assigned a station and a specific job at that station. Mine was to check the inner seal of the rice-filled bags to be sure not a grain could escape. Other jobs were measuring rice, filling bags, and sealing bags. (Some stations packed lentils, and some packed rice.) Over 200 of us gathered in the large open space of the Big Run War Memorial on a hot and muggy Pennsylvania Saturday (no air conditioning!)

The event was only scheduled for two hours, and I wondered how much could really be accomplished in that short amount of time. A WHOLE lot, I discovered! The final count: 46,282 meals were packed! That translated into being able to feed over 330 refugee families for an entire MONTH.

Even more important has been the response of the people receiving the aid. When GAiN volunteers deliver the meals, they are asked by many of the mostly Muslim refugees, “Why are you Christians doing this for us when our own people are the reason we are here? Why do you care?” It has opened many opportunities for them to talk about the love that rules us as Christians and the love that compels us to action. These volunteers return with testimonies of hearts being touched because we are seeing them hungry and are giving them food (Matthew 25:35).

I started to think. If we could do that much in just two hours, how many we could feed if we did that for 8 hours or for 5 days, or for a month? While I’m not good at numbers, it is obvious, even to me, how many lives could be touched exponentially.

Each of us can do something. And when that something is added to someone else’s something, before long, we ARE making a difference. We are being “God with skin” to these folks. And as Christians, it’s what we do. 

What one thing can or are you doing to help others at home or around the world? Share your experiences in the “Comments” section.

God + Gifts = Joy and Thankfulness

Like most people, I have been encouraged at various points in my life to keep a thankfulness journal. Being the office and school supply nerd that I am, I could never start one until I’d located the perfect blank book and pen. I’d begin eagerly enough, but before long the delight with my stupendous stationary and the enthusiasm of tracking what I was thankful for at the end of each day dwindled until the entries stopped. I always wondered why I found this so difficult to do. My personality is of the glass-half-full variety, and I’ve been blessed with what Rachel Carson calls “the sense of wonder”.

One day, I picked up a book by Ann Voskamp entitled One Thousand Gifts, knowing nothing about it. Her beautiful use of language and unique way of expressing ideas drew me in immediately. What she wrote not only made the light bulb go on for me, but was life-changing. When sharing with a friend her struggle to cultivate joy, despite recognizing her many blessings and being thankful for them, this friend gave Ann a challenge: make a list of one thousand gifts God has given you.

That last phrase reverberated in my mind and heart–gifts God has given you. Gifts. God. Has. Given. You. GIFTS GOD HAS GIVEN YOU! This simple shift in semantics was transformational. Instead of thankfulness being about me, what was I thankful for, now became what God has given me. And so I started another journal.

Now that my focus was on God and the gifts that are all around me, my list grew and grew. I couldn’t wait to find the treasures God would put in front of me each day. Some items were simple, such as snuggling with my dog on the couch, the scent of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, or the finch watching me from the underside of my living room awning. And some were more complex–marveling at the wonder of my salvation, God’s grace in a moment of weakness, or a new revelation into a verse of scripture.

And what I discovered was that I became filled with joy by seeing God’s hand in every aspect of my life which then triggered a deep sense of gratitude.

I no longer struggle to record in my journal. Some days my problem becomes not being able to STOP recording gifts–indeed, a good “problem” to have! It proves once again that when we focus on God instead of ourselves, we open ourselves to being filled with God’s joy and in turn, we respond with praise and thankfulness.

“Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul; and forget not (one of) all His benefits.” Psalm 102:2 (Amplified)

“Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad” Psalm 35:27a

(Check out Ann Voskamp’s wonderful inspirational blog, A Holy Experience It also contains information about her book One Thousand Gifts.)

Revelry and Reflection

I think most of us tend to reevaluate our lives and goals at the beginning of a New Year. Because of the tremendous shift in my life over the past six months, this feels more important this year. The fall and the holidays were times of unbridled joy and excitement at the rediscovery of things I hadn’t been able to do for years. I hadn’t realized how much I had lost until it was returned to me in July. 

I reveled in taking my sweet dog for walks, ambling along trails that followed old railroad lines, now refurbished for walking, running, and bicycling. (I’m still at the walking stage. One thing at a time!) Or taking a path through the woods in many of the local parks, reveling in the awesomeness of God’s creation. 

I reveled in taking a few days to spend with my daughter in her third floor apartment, actually being able to walk up to the third floor—and not having to drag all kinds of medical equipment. During that visit I walked the length of the town in which she lives, embracing the joy of their Light-Up Night celebrations and the many activities that took place all over town. 

I reveled in becoming more involved in the women’s Bible study at church in which I’d participated for the past five years. The fact that I no longer struggle with debilitating fatigue has given me the energy to exercise my God-given gifts of teaching and singing. 

I reveled in having choices about what to do with my days. I forged ahead with little thought of planning my time and activities. I just went and did. 

I’ve had my season of fun and revelry. But now comes the time to reflect and deal with the temptation to grab EVERY opportunity that presents itself. It’s time to evaluate and prioritize and choose what my life is going to look like for the long haul.  

And the truth is I still have work to do in regards to my healing. The years of steroid treatment have left me with many unwanted and unhealthy pounds that need to be stripped from my body (would that they could in one fell swoop!). Physical inactivity has resulted in deconditioning and loss of strength. 

Most exciting is that the constant brain fog that accompanied the fatigue is gone, giving me a clearer mind to pursue my writing goals. I have two major projects I intend to work on this year as well as being more diligent in pursuing publication for numerous completed works.  

One of the ways I hope to accomplish these goals is through both focus and discipline, two things I’ve never been very accomplished at. But with God’s help and the new chapter He’s writing in my life, I know that ALL things are indeed possible. I heard this quote at a meeting I attended this past weekend. “I know that God wants what is best for me. So why don’t I want what’s best for me?” 

Let me know what your thoughts and goals are for the year. Then join me as we pursue not just the good things in my life and yours, but the BEST. WE CAN DO IT!

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