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ReLaunch

This weekend I had the honor and privilege of speaking at a women’s retreat. I shared a couple of my short stories and received a great deal of positive feedback. As I pondered the gracious words of so many women and the encouragement to “write a book” it occurred to me that somewhere along the line I stopped writing. This blog has been neglected far too long. It’s time to jump back in the pool of words.

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Favored Ones

            Jameson’s car shuddered under his grip. “Oh man!” he groaned. “What now?” He pulled to the curb, shut the engine down, and stepped out to inspect the damage. “Lord, I don’t need this right now. I’m supposed to meet Alfonso at church.” He popped the trunk and dug out the spare tire, keeping it free from his khaki Dockers. The last thing he needed was to show up at church decorated with tire smudge. He unfolded the tarp he kept in the trunk and set to work on the tire.

            He thought of Alfonso. They met at the rescue mission during the Thursday morning Bible study that Jameson led. Alfonso always came in late, filled his Styrofoam cup with coffee and sat at the back table feigning disinterest. Jameson meant to talk to him, but he seemed to disappear before the end of the closing prayer. It was just a few weeks ago that Jameson finally got the chance to introduce himself. The director told him he had a phone call. Normally he wouldn’t take a call in the middle of the weekly study, but this one involved a job placement for one of the shelter’s residents. He gave the guys a question to talk about and excused himself for a moment. When he returned, Alfonso was planted at the back table, sipping his usual cup of coffee from the dingy Styrofoam cup.

            “Hi, I’m Jameson,” he said holding out his hand.

             Alfonso looked at him. “Alllfotho,” he slurred, ignoring the offered handshake.

            Jameson patted him on the back, “Welcome Alfonso.”

            The next week Alfonso staggered into the room, filled his Styrofoam cup, and shuffled to the front table, yet remaining outside the circle of men at the study. Jameson respected Alfonso’s distance. He knew from experience that pushing too hard too fast might drive him away. Finally, one day Alfonso stayed through the closing prayer and was still sitting there after the others had left. Jameson visited with him. After a few weeks a tenuous friendship developed and Thursday Jameson invited him to Sunday services at church. They had a special speaker coming and a BBQ planned for after the service. Alfonso agreed to come, but wouldn’t allow Jameson to pick him up. He said he would take the bus. Now here was Jameson, looking at the underside of his car wondering if he’d make it in time to meet Alfonso when he arrived.

            Meanwhile things were bustling at the church. The parking lot was quickly filling up when one of the deacons saw a flashy BMW pull into a visitor’s space. He watched from a distance, curiosity getting the best of him. His eyebrows raised as Walter Connick stepped out from behind the wheel, dressed in a swarthy Armani suit. He walked around and opened the door for his wife. She emerged sporting a slinky black dress complete with a large diamond pennant and matching tennis bracelet. He rushed into the foyer to find the pastor. The church was struggling to get the needed financing for a new sanctuary. Surely the pastor would want to know that the Walter Connick was here.

            A few ladies were peering out the foyer window. “Is that a Gucci bag she’s carrying?”

            “Oh my!” replied one. “What I wouldn’t give for a pair of Prada shoes like those. There’s some serious money coming out of that car.”

            “Of course there is girls,” said Mrs. Simmons. “Don’t you know who that is? That’s Walter Connick, of Connick Savings and Loan.”

            “Are you serious?”

            “Very. And quick Amy dear, fix that slip. It’s peeking from your hem line.”

            A red-faced Amy quickly tugged on her skirt, making sure the offending slip was fully covered. “Put on your best smiles ladies.”

            Mrs. Simmons approached the visitors, “Welcome, welcome Mr. Connick. We’re so glad to have you.” She wrapped both hands around his and gave them a polite shake. “And Mrs. Connick, you look so lovely dear. It’s such a pleasure to meet you.” She grabbed Mrs. Connick by the shoulders and did a quick cheek-to-cheek kiss, lips not quite touching the picture perfect makeup. “I’m Mable Simmons. This is Amy Johnson and Ellen Whitestone.” Amy did a quick check of her hemline before reaching out to shake the Connick’s hands.

            “Oh and here comes our pastor now.” Mrs. Simmons waved to Pastor Richards.

            The pastor approached. “Welcome,” he said, firmly shaking Mr. Connick’s hand. “I’m Pastor Richards. We’re so glad to have you today. Can I help you find a seat?” he asked.

            “Certainly Pastor. I’m Walter Connick and this is my wife Darla.” He placed one hand on his wife’s back. “After you Pastor.”

            Pastor Richards led the Connicks to the front row. “We’re awfully full today. Our guest speaker seems to be drawing quite a crowd. I hope you’ll be comfortable here.”

            “Thank you Pastor. These seats will be just fine,” said Mr. Connick.

            “The best in the house,” said Pastor Richards. “If you’ll excuse me, it’s almost time for service to start.”

            “Certainly.”

            Mrs. Simmons appeared. “I brought you a couple of bulletins,” she said. “I always sit here in the second row. Let me know if you need anything.”

            “Thank you Mrs. Simmons. I appreciate your kindness,” said Mr. Connick.

            “It’s my pleasure.” She smiled and sat down behind the Connicks.

            The worship band took the stage just as Mr. Simmons joined his wife. “Busy morning today dear?” she whispered.

            He nodded. “Important dignitaries,” he said nodding toward the Connicks.

            “Yes, I know,” she whispered back. “Isn’t it something? Imagine, Walter Connick, here!”

            “Welcome church,” the worship leader’s voice rang out. “Isn’t it great to be in the house of the Lord this morning?” Several amens echoed throughout the sanctuary. “Please stand with me as we start off our worship today with that glorious hymn of God’s grace to us, Blessed Be the Name.”

            The church rose and began singing. They were halfway through the second verse when Mr. Simmons felt a tap on his shoulder. It was the head usher. “Come on,” he whispered. “We have a situation.” He pointed to the back of the church. Mr. and Mrs. Simmons both turned to look. Mrs. Simmons took in the sight and shuddered.

            “Good Lord!” she whispered. “George, you’ve got to do something. We can’t have that, that, that thing in here. The Connicks are here for goodness sake! What will they think?”

            “Don’t worry dear. We’re on it.”

            George quietly slipped out of his seat and followed the usher down the aisle, careful to not attract undue attention. The last thing they needed was a crowd of eyes on them. He kept his eyes trained on the man staggering toward the seats. He was hunched over and swaggered back and forth his shabby jeans sagging at the waist. As George neared the man who was obviously inebriated, he shuddered. Drool was oozing out of the side of his mouth. His clothes were tattered and dirty. “This guy is three sheets to the wind,” whispered George. “We’ve got to get him out of here.”

            “Follow my lead,” said the usher. “Sir,” he whispered. “You need to come with us.”

            “I, I, I—- loooooooshing f,f,f,foooor, Jaaaamshun,” he slurred.

            “Sir, you can’t come in here,” said George. “You’ve got to come with us.” He reached out to grab the man’s arm.

            “Nooo,” he slurred. “I neesh Jaaaamshshun.” George quickly scanned the congregation. Thankfully no one was watching so he quickly turned his attention to the homeless drunk before him as the congregation sang.

            “He breaks the power of canceled sin, Blessed be the name of the Lord! His blood can make the foulest clean. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

            George paid no attention to the hymn behind him. He grabbed one arm and the usher grabbed the other. They drug the man out the sanctuary doors, through the foyer, and out the front door of the church. They sat him on a bench. The man was clearly irritated and tried to get up, “Sir, you need to stay here,” said the usher. George flipped open his phone. “This is George Simmons from Cornerstone Church. We have an inebriated man here, obviously a street person. We need some assistance.”

            The man struggled to get up, but the usher held firm. “How soon can an officer be here? Please no lights or sirens. We don’t want to draw any undue attention.”

            Several minutes passed and the man finally settled down, refusing to speak to anyone. Drool continued to slip past his chin. A police officer arrived and was cuffing the man just as Jameson pulled into the lot.

            He saw Alfonso in handcuffs. “Oh no! Lord Jesus, help us! I should have been here.”

He approached the gentlemen. “What seems to be the problem?” he asked.

            “We’re just taking care of a little situation here,” answered the officer. “If you’ll go on inside, we’ll wrap things up.”

            “But I know this man. I invited him to church today,” explained Jameson. “Alfonso, what happened?”

            “I, I, I, dinnnn dooo anyshshing,” slurred Alfonso.

            “Sir, this man is obviously intoxicated. We need to take him in to detox. Please step aside,” said the officer.

            “Officer, Cunningham is it? This man is not intoxicated. He’s a stroke victim.” Jameson pointed at the officer, straining to control his anger.  “For your information he used to work at Costco shelving products and helping customers with their purchases. Unfortunately 8 months ago he had a stroke. He has no family and is now homeless. I work with Alfonso at the rescue mission and I invited him here this morning. Now if you will kindly remove those cuffs, Alfonso and I will be on our way.”

            “Can he produce some proof of these claims,” asked Officer Cunningham.

            “Where’s your paperwork Alfonso?” asked Jameson.

            “Innnn my pppoooock ck et,” said Alfonso.

            Jameson reached in and pulled out a tattered, coffee stained envelope. The officer could see Sanford Memorial Hospital printed in the corner. Jameson removed the document and handed it to the officer. After a brief moment, he handed it back to him. “I’m sorry for the error sir,” he said to Alfonso unlocking the cuffs. “You’re free to go.”

            Jameson looked at Mr. Simmons and the usher saying nothing. “Come on Alfonso,” he said. “Let’s go to church.” He grabbed Alfonso’s hand and led him to his car. “I know a place where all God’s sheep are welcome.”

James 2:1-6  My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Carving With the Master

In August of this year, I finally saw one of my dreams come to fruition. An article I wrote was published in P31 Woman magazine. I’ve waited until now to share it because I had to make sure I wasn’t violating any contractual agreements that I have with Proverbs 31 Ministries. You can read the article by clicking on the links below.  If you enjoy this article, you can read more at www.Proverbs31.org. Just click on P31 Woman Magazine link.

Carving with the Master pg. 1          Carving with the Master pg. 2

Dream Fulfilled!

My dream of being published has come to fruition. Over the weekend I received my August issue of P31 Woman magazine.  It was surreal to see my article and my name printed as the author. As I gazed at a dream fulfilled, I wept. If you’d like to read my article, you can contact P31 Ministries and ask to purchase the August issue. I’ve enjoyed my subscription to the magazine and find that it’s not that costly. You can find P31 Ministries here.

A Tempered Hope

The afternoon sun bears down on me as I lay here wounded and alone. My clothes are tattered and dirty, and I am at the end of myself.

I fight my screaming muscles to sit up and survey the landscape around me. The rocky hillside gives way to a pebbled path. I follow its lead to an abrupt end overlooking a deep chasm. The path picks up on the opposite side. A rotted post and dangling rope give evidence to the bridge that once suspended there.

Something sparkles in the sunlight. I shield my eyes and squint to focus on the twinkling object on the other side. It slowly comes into view. I gasp, “My dreams!” Tears stream down my face as I ponder the impossibility of grasping them. The canyon is too wide to jump, its edges too steep to climb, and I have no wings to fly.

“I give up!” I scream. “Pain, you win! Take me! Devour me until I am no more. I’m done living this existence. Let me die.” My forehead rests on my arms as my tears dot the dust. The me that was once alive and vibrant is gone. I feel myself slipping away until I am just a shell waiting to breathe my last breath.

A small breeze brushes against me. I shiver, but make no effort to look up. It comes again stirring dust into the air.  Coughing and sputtering, I remain frozen in place giving no care to what is happening around me. I remain there waiting to die. A third time the breeze brushes against me and I hear my name whispered in my ear. I lift my head and look around pushing aside the hair that blows across my tear-streaked face. It is then that I notice the tufts of grass around me. They stand still and straight.

I crinkle my eyebrows together, trying to make sense of things. I hear my name again and turn my head in search of the speaker. There stands a man dressed in shimmering white. His face is full of strength and his eyes radiate compassion. He smiles at me and beckons me. “Come,” he says.

I stand and rub my eyes, unsure of what is happening. He is still there, hand outstretched. My wobbly legs take one tentative step after another following his lead. As we curve around the hillside, I catch my breath. A beautiful wooded forest is before us. The sound of rushing water is ahead, and I strain my eyes in search of its source. We walk through the trees to the sweet sounds of songbirds. Color surrounds us on all sides; greens in every shade imaginable. A butterfly in iridescent blue floats by, and a young fawn crosses our path. I am overcome by the beauty of this place and suddenly feel very unworthy to be here. I look down at my tattered, dusty clothes and wonder if I should go on.

The man turns and looks at me, his eyes speaking volumes. The greenery has thickened and I see glimpses of a stone wall behind creeping vines. We encounter a great metal door that opens with just one touch of his hand. Behind the door is an enormous room full of large shelves which seem to go on forever. The shelves are full of glass bottles, each containing a clear liquid in varying amounts. Questions race through my mind, but I leave them unspoken.

He leads me to a shelf and takes down a large bottle. I see my name written across the lid. He speaks, “These are your tears my child. I’ve kept a record of each one.”

I stare in awe, unable to speak. “I see your pain,” he says. New tears spring to my eyes and I watch in amazement as a drop appears in the middle of the bottle followed by ever-expanding rings like those of a rock thrown into a pond. Another drop follows the first, and then another as tears stream in uncontrollable rivers down my cheeks.

He reaches out his hand and wipes them from my eyes. It is then that I notice the scar. “It is for these tears, I died,” he said. He pulls me into his embrace filling me with an overwhelming love, and I know that all will be well.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 (New Living Translation)

Many of us have dreams. One of mine is to attend the She Speaks conference this July. She Speaks is a conference about connecting women’s hearts to the heart of God. That is also a passion I have, to connect women’s hearts to the heart of God through writing. If this is a passion of your heart as well, check out the She Speaks conference blog by clicking here. If you are as excited about the possibility of attending as I am, check out Ann Voskamp’s scholarship opportunity by clicking here.

She Speaks, She Writes, She Dreams

My laptop keeps calling me, beckoning me to sit and write. My heart follows with small nuggets of ideas pumping through my veins, and sadly I’ve had to walk away as more urgent fires have demanded my attention. Last Friday I had to cart my 11-year-old to urgent care and breath a prayer of thanks that it was only a sprain. Crutches were needed for several days. This meant me fetching this, fetching that, carting a backpack and instrument to school, waiting for hop-a-long to catch up, and assisting with bathing and dressing a child who was too scared to put weight on her ankle. I think today we’re finally crutch-free! Yeah!

With a chronically ill spouse, running kids here, there, and everywhere often falls on good old Mom. I’ve attended Awana Jamboree quizzing, dance performances, and a birthday party within the past two weeks. In the midst of this my teaching job required that grading be done, lesson plans be written, staff meetings attended, and report cards completed.

To top it off, I spent yesterday afternoon and evening by my husband’s side in the emergency room. We’ve been at this kind of thing for 15 ½ years. He looked at me with tears running down his face, “I’m really weary of this stuff.” His words pierced my heart as I looked at him through blurred vision, wishing I could wave a magic wand and make it all stop. Some day I’m going to write a book about this journey we call life. Mine has been interesting to say the least.

What will today bring? I don’t know. Another doctor’s appointment and hopefully some answers to the latest unexplained symptoms of something gone awry. Since my husband is experiencing dizziness, I stayed home with him today while my students slaved away under the hands of a very watchful substitute. My thoughts traveled back to my laptop and that burning desire to write something that might inspire someone somewhere. “Use me Lord,” I prayed. Then up popped an email from my friend Kim. It was a notice about the latest post on her blog. I quickly zipped over to her blog and read about the She Speaks conference July 22-24 in Concord, North Carolina.

“What is She Speaks?” I asked. I read on. It’s a conference for women who are in women’s ministry, speakers, or writers. My heart skipped a beat. I’m a writer! It’s a long time dream of mine to write things that change lives. “Wow! I’d really like to attend something like that,” I thought. “But really, with the struggle to support a family of four, one of which has numerous health challenges, there’s no way I can scrape that much cash together by April 15th. I’m just hoping this month’s grocery money stretches far enough.”

As I continued on, my heart beat faster. There is a slim chance that I might be able to go after all. Two Cecil Murphy Scholarships are going to be given away this week! They include conference registration, materials, and two nights at the conference hotel and meals while you’re there. I would have to come up with a plane ticket, but if this is the direction God wants to take me, a plane ticket will be no obstacle. After all, He owns the skies!

I am putting in for this scholarship and here’s hoping that I might be blessed enough to be chosen. It has been the prayer of my heart for several years that God would open doors for me to write. He’s already done that in so many ways through FaithWriters, my blog, and opportunities at church. One day last winter I was walking down the hallway at church, and I prayed, “God, I really want to write for you. You’ve given me this ability. Please use me in this area.”

His response, “I already have.” It’s true, He has used me, but I long for more. Perhaps this She Speaks conference will become another open door for me. If you’re like-minded and would like to check out the conference, you may do so at She Speaks. If you want to join me and apply for a scholarship, you can do that at She Speaks Scholarship Contest. But hurry! You have to apply by March 11th.

Anointed at Bethany

This story is based on John 12:1-8, Matthew 26:6-13; and Mark 14:3-9.

Anointed at Bethany

Our weary band of thirteen made our way into Bethany. “Why couldn’t we invest in a few carts and some donkeys?” I thought. “I get weary of all this walking.”

“Where will we go now, Master?” asked Thomas.

“To the home of Simon. There we will partake of a meal. Lazarus and his sisters will be there,” Jesus replied.

A smile worked its way to my lips. “Hmm,” I thought. “Lazarus and his sisters have always been generous.” I imagined the weight of extra coins in my bag and a new pair of sandals on my feet, or perhaps a new tunic. This one was showing obvious signs of wear.

We approached the home and Mary greeted us at the door, throwing her hands around Jesus’ neck as if he were a close relative. I don’t know why he doesn’t reprimand her. What would the church leaders say if they saw this? I remember when we caught him speaking with that Samaritan woman. If this ministry is going to get anywhere, he’s going to have to stop that kind of thing. The leaders won’t stand for it.

“Come,” said Mary. “The servants have already prepared water to wash your weary feet.” I sat on a bench in the antechamber waiting my turn for foot washing. The aroma of roasted chicken and warm bread caused my mouth to water.

I always enjoyed a visit here. Beautiful tapestries hung on the wall and the room was filled with the finest furnishings. Pillows covered in fine linen carefully lined the table making reclining more comfortable. Lazarus was there with us, and Martha scurried back and forth keeping the platters full.   

I leaned toward Matthew. “Martha would make a great wife for some lucky man, you know.”

“And I suppose you’re hoping to be so lucky?” teased Matthew.

“Perhaps,” I said.

“Not to mention wealthy,” he chuckled. “I can see your mind ticking.” He punched me playfully in the shoulder. I just rolled my eyes and punched him back when the room grew silent. I looked at the Rabbi and there was Mary, kneeling at his feet. She carried a beautiful alabaster jar. She opened it and poured its contents on his feet. My mouth dropped open as its fragrance filled the room. That was nard! Then she reached up, unbound her hair, and began to wipe his feet! I looked at the men around me. Somebody had to say something! This was absolutely preposterous! Surely, Jesus would put a stop to this! But he just sat there. I couldn’t take it anymore. Mary needed to be held to account for such waste!

“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” I challenged. “It would take a year’s worth of wages to buy that much nard!”

The Rabbi looked at me, his eyes piercing to my very core. “Leave her alone,” he reprimanded. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. She did this to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” 

I sat there seething. This time the Rabbi had gone too far. I decided then and there that something had to be done. I’d visit the chief priests soon, very soon.