THE FOUR WINDS OF HEAVEN

Windkeeper CoverBefore writing The Windkeeper, I researched wind in the Bible. It was so fascinating that when I pondered what to write for my next blog post, I instantly wanted to share this with all of you.

Over and over in the Bible, God used the wind to accomplish His plans . . . and I’m just in awe. Absolutely overwhelmed by His glory and power. The four winds of heaven in The Windkeeper are little characters, and through my research they have come to life! First in text, and then graciously through Jennifer Savage Britton’s beautiful illustrations. I’d like to introduce them to you:

North Wind is naughty. There’s just no other way to put it. He’s a hotshot and he reacts before he thinks. You’ll see him on the cover of The Windkeeper flexing his muscles. I mean, how much more of a showoff could he be? But he is a powerful wind and through God’s patient instruction, he eventually uses his gifts for God’s glory instead of his own. Passages about the north wind in the Bible show that it drives away the rain in Proverbs 25:23. And in Ecclesiastes 1:6, the wind comes from the north, erratic and whirling. Yup, that’s my North Wind!

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11182229_10152850483047934_7105377288855299097_nSouth Wind is my shy little wind. She is quiet and so delicate. Easily distracted. As the French would say “she has her head in the clouds.” LOL You almost forget she’s in the book except that God cares for her so very sweetly, that you can’t help but fall in love with her. One particular verse in the Bible matches my South Wind perfectly. Job 37:17 says that God “quiets the earth with the south wind.” Acts 27:13 says that the “south wind blew softly.” She’s a whisper of a wind in The Windkeeper, and I love her.

11193271_10152850638527934_792786867057235118_nEast Wind leads. God commands; and she leads. She leads her brothers and her little sister. I think reading about the east wind in the Bible produced the most reverent awe for me. Never have I paid so much attention to how God uses the east wind than when researching for my characters. God sent the east wind to bring a plague of locusts upon Egypt when Pharaoh wouldn’t release the Israelites. Through the Bible, the east wind scorched, withered, and scattered. And many things are compared to the power of the east wind. If a children’s book needs a leader wind, there is none better than East Wind.

West Wind doesn’t get much attention. But he doesn’t need attention because he is so settled in his role and purpose as God’s steadfast, faithful wind. West Wind is East Wind’s twin brother. He works well with her . . . just like the west wind in the Bible worked well with the east wind. The west wind didn’t get much attention in the Bible either, but the ONE mention of the west wind was powerfully awesome. Remember above, I said that God used the east wind to bring a plague of locusts over Egypt? When God needed to drive the locusts away, He used the west wind. Yup, that twin duo worked together to bring about God’s plan. Of course they had to be twins in The Windkeeper.

Which brings me to Wendall, my windkeeper. TheWindkeeper_WendallHe’s the most patient windkeeper I know. He doesn’t understand why this batch of wind gusts is so special to God, but he’s perfectly fine not knowing because he knows God’s plans are always good.

My prayer is that The Windkeeper encourages you to open the Bible with your children and read these passages that hold so much power and awesomeness. The Windkeeper’s theme verse is Psalm 135:7: “[God] brings out the wind from his storehouses.” When I read it long ago, I thought, “Huh, I wonder who tends to the wind when they are in heaven’s storehouse?” And The Windkeeper was born.

To read their story, learn more about them, here’s a link so The Windkeeper can bless you as much as it has blessed me: http://bit.ly/1Kpb6GX

From Paris to Potholes

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The Louvre stood before us, majestic and . . . huge! We stepped across ancient cobblestones, eager to explore the treasures waiting for us inside. Humanity of every shape and size, color and nationality rubbed elbows with us. We fought the masses to capture a photo of the Mona Lisa. Our feet climbed winding stone steps and walked along echoing corridors. Souvenirs hung in bags from our arms while history hung in frames around us.

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Ysée and I wasted not one second of our day in Paris before flying back home to the Midwest. Three raindrops fell on us as we patronized shop after crowded shop along Rue du Rivoli, dined at a brasserie, and ate ice cream in front of the Eiffel Tower. A waiter served us a glass of sirop at a busy café while we filled out last-minute postcards, and a beggar played a song for us on the RER train that took us from our hotel to the center of Paris. We squeezed into subways with fashionable, wrinkle-free French mothers, children eating apricots, and businessmen on their way home from work.

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Every second of Parisian culture soaked into us as fast as we could sponge it up. For we knew the next morning promised a long flight before reentering Midwestern life.

Never are the diverse parallels between these two worlds more evident than when one goes from strolling the streets of Paris to driving over the potholes of my town. Switching gears becomes a challenge, and it takes me time to stop saying bonjour and start saying hello again. I need a moment or two of self-pity when going from fresh baguettes to factory-made sliced bread. No longer do I blend in with the crowd as “Madame,” now I’m everyone’s “sweetheart” and “honey.” Not that I mind being called sweetheart and honey by complete strangers. I love it very much! It’s the switch that causes me to hesitate and ponder.

Hesitate and ponder how it’s possible to be so completely immersed in one culture that to go back into another is a drastic shock. After only a month!

Switching gears going the other way is just as difficult. Washing machines that take an hour, no air conditioning, using public transportation, no customer service. But it doesn’t take as long for me to adjust. Nor do I mind the sacrifices. And I wonder why.

I placed my feet on American soil only two years ago after living in France for fourteen. Balance between loving both cultures so immensely will surely come, but not without some bumps and bruises to my emotions. I must breathe in grace when I struggle to adjust. Stop fretting that I’m somehow a different person there than I am here. I didn’t leave Jesus on the streets of Paris, nor did I return to find him skipping over potholes. He went with me, stayed with me, and returned with me because living in Christ isn’t a switch from one culture to another. It’s constant and steady. Actually, the only constant and steady element when one’s heart resides in two places at once.

Cake Crumbs and Sequins

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Nothing humbles a heart more than cleaning a toilet. Did you all know, that just two days after my launch party for Broken Umbrellas, I was cleaning the toilets at the Cowgill Baptist church? Someone asked me after the Facebook party if I ever came down off that party high. “Yup,” I told them, “cleaning toilets took care of that.”  HA!

I’ve been the Cowgill Baptist church’s custodian since March. Erected in 1888, this little country church is so precious to me, and so are the people who worship there. I vacuum their dust bunnies, wipe fingerprints from mirrors, straighten their hymnals, and yes, clean their toilets. I pray over the pews, for those who find safe haven in the house of God. As I wipe Kool-Aid from the kitchen counters, I imagine the children who come to quench their thirst in the house of God. I straighten coloring pages and chairs in classrooms, pick up chalk and pennies, and praise God for these teachers shepherding their young flocks. I leave that place tired with achy muscles, but also with a peace that soothes my tired and achy heart.

I leave for France the 22nd of June (6 days!), and that frazzled panicky countdown has started for me. The list of things to do grows. Cleaning the Cowgill Baptist church after VBS was one thing on that list. I’ve had the blessed honor of participating twice now in my own church’s VBS, so I know the preparations that go into pulling one off. And I know in my heart of hearts, that the same preparations would happen if only one child came.

Twenty children came last week to the Cowgill Baptist church’s VBS. I know because I vacuumed up their cake crumbs and sequins. I cleaned their sticky glue prints, and boy were they ever thirsty! I found lost items and overflowing trash cans. I arrived frazzled because of everything still pending on my to do list for France. I left at peace. And the only thing that happened between arriving and leaving was me cleaning.

Humility isn’t a taker, it’s a giver.

That’s a new concept for me because I have always believed being humble—or humbled—required a sacrifice on my end—something is taken from me. And sometimes it does, but leaving the Cowgill Baptist church after VBS showed me that in humility, I receive far more than I ever give.

Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life (Proverbs 22:4).

Bridge Between Two Camps

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The majority of the time, people will fall into one of two categories. Those who like dessert and those who don’t. Pro-life and pro-choice. Introverts and extraverts. Democrats and republicans. Ford and GMC. Christian and non-Christian. Those who like the pastor and those who don’t. Those who prefer rainy days and those who prefer sunny days. Chocolate and vanilla. Dog lovers and cat lovers.

It seems everything in life requires an “either or” mentality. Either you support something or you oppose it.

As the youth group helper last Wednesday evening, I observed 17 teens interact with one another while standing around outside.  Someone in the group tattled—loudly—on a young man who wasn’t present at that moment and how he was engaging in some inappropriate behavior.  This group of teens immediately split into two groups—those who liked and supported the young man, and those who did not.

I watched a few stragglers struggle to pick a group. They were torn between the two camps and didn’t know where to go. But one thing was sure, being in the middle made them very uncomfortable and they desperately felt the need to join a group. One young straggler questioned a couple of opposers, not voicing opposition, but just questioning the how and what of it all. An opposer took this young straggler by the shoulders and said, “If you keep defending him, we are going to judge you.”

And the straggler shut up. The fear of being a straggler was stronger than the fear of picking the wrong side. And she joined the opposing camp. Maybe she joined the opposing camp simply because they got to her before the supporting camp did. Maybe she joined the opposing camp because the threat of being judged came from an upperclassman and she did not want to be ostracized at school. Maybe society has already impacted her young mind into believing she had to pick a side. Right then and there.

If only we were so desperate when it came to choosing to walk in God’s light or . . . walk in darkness. On this battlefield, many folks struggle choosing which eternal group they want to belong in. I know some who dabble in many religions to “cover the bases” by picking every camp so they don’t pick the wrong camp. This is the one area where you don’t want to be a lukewarm straggler.

Revelation 3:16 (NLT) says, “But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I [the Lord] will spit you out of my mouth!”

I don’t want to be labeled supporter or opposer of this or that; democrat or republican; introvert or extrovert; dog lover or cat lover. I do, however, want to be known as a Christian on fire for God who refuses to straddle the lukewarm fence between holy and unholy, hoping at the last minute I’ve picked the right camp. I want to know that I know that I know all the days of my life that I chose God’s holy camp, even if those standing in solidarity with me number only a few compared to those standing in the opposing camp.

As far as being “either or” in this world, you’ll find me picking one of two groups in the things that matter. Like choosing hope over despair. Love over hate. Joy over misery.

Misery deceives you into believing you’ll find strength in numbers. The line is drawn, and you stand on that line. Misery screams for you to cross to its side. The tiny voice of joy beckons from the other side of the line. Glimpses of a table overflowing with harvest catch your eye, and Joy stands there, waiting to serve you. ~~excerpt from Broken Umbrellas

Christ is the solid bridge between two camps. The bridge in which we can cross from misery to joy, hate to love, despair to hope. He bridged the gap between Gentile and Jew. He bridged the gap between us and God. But, we are the ones who must step across the bridge.

I pray I not only cross that bridge all the days of my life, but that I walk folks across so they know joy, love, and hope. I also pray my heart is guarded against ever wanting to fit into one of two worldly camps. Don’t make me choose between rainy days and sunny days. And if my choices are chocolate or vanilla, give me a scoop of both.

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BONNE FÊTE!!

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What is it about a bouquet of colorful balloons that brings out the celebration in us?  Parents tie them to street signs so people know where the birthday party is. There are “girl colors” and “boy colors” and every color in between for adding that special touch to wedding celebrations, as well as anniversary, retirement, and holiday parties. They are blown up for games, released into the sky to bring awareness to a cause, and tied to children at carnivals. They signify celebration—imply it even—and no added thought is usually needed.

Unless you are faced with a choice to either celebrate something or succumb to the sadness that floats heavily in the air right alongside those colorful balloons. Then some added thought is needed.

The image above was taken with my camera. In this shot, I decided to capture only the joy of colors blowing in the wind. And therefore, that’s the only thing you see. But on this same day, I took another picture of this same bouquet that shows the sadness floating heavily in the air right alongside those colorful balloons. And I had a choice to make. Succumb to the sadness, or choose to celebrate.

 

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On January 24, 2013—one year after his death—I chose to celebrate my grandbaby’s birth. Celebrate that he is tucked safely within the folds of Heaven, never to know the pain of this world. Celebrate, while sadness knocked at the door of my heart that I won’t hear his laughter on this side of Heaven, or see his smile, or watch him grow.

It’s very fitting that as I prepare to celebrate the release of “Broken Umbrellas,” I circle around to my first grandbaby. For you see, it was at his funeral that “Broken Umbrellas” got its name.

http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Umbrellas-Emma-Broch-Stuart/dp/1939023475/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1428678967&sr=8-1&keywords=broken+umbrellas

 

You, honored guest, are warmly invited to my launch party for “Broken Umbrellas.”

https://www.facebook.com/events/818965358156559/

There will be nothing but celebrating for I choose to embrace the hope and joy that God brings through connections and fellowship and marveling at His wondrous bounty. There is so much hope and joy on the pages of “Broken Umbrellas” and I pray you also embrace that and come celebrate God’s goodness with me.

 

 

The Content of my Character

For a gal who likes to talk, I’m not often rendered speechless, but speechless I am when asked to talk about myself. I have sat for days looking at this empty space under “About me” wondering what you’d like to know? Maybe that French Nutella commercials make me cry? Or my favorite color is green? How about I tell you that I love books—the real kind—and the way they smell when they’re brand new?

I love people. I sing and pray and cry and worship. I dream and hope and peace fills me. I long to sit with you face-to-face and ask, “What’s your story?” And I would share mine.

This might be a good place to tell you that my favorite Bible passage is Psalm 19 where it says “the heavens declare the glory of God” and “[the skies] speak without a sound or a word.”

Without a sound or a word. That might work for the skies, but it won’t work for me. How can you know the content of my character unless I reveal to you my character—or my character reveals itself? One way my character is revealed is through my writing—through my books, this website, stories and articles, love notes in my daughter’s lunch box, emails, handwritten prayers to God, and countless other ways words reveal character in a visible way.

Maybe the reason I’m struggling to talk about myself is because alone, I’m nothing. Without God, I’m but a vapor. Without the people He has placed in my life, I’m an empty shell. Relationship makes us who we are. Relationship with Him, relationship with one another.

Here are a few memories from some of the people who’ve had a hand in making me who I am. Their stories reveal the content of my character better than I ever could. I love “doing life” with them.

I remember in Bible study thinking, this woman has great passion when she speaks about God, and at the time I didn’t even know her name. She was not afraid to speak and tell of her shortcomings, and I was the exact opposite. Things all the sudden went purple in my marriage and the one person I felt I needed to talk to was this woman in my Bible study who could speak about divorce so openly. I reached out to her and she told me her story; she was honest about what would happen next and that I could get through it. Without her guidance—her uplifting faith—the brokenness of my life’s umbrella would have become irreparable. God takes people out of your life, but can place even better people in it. Emma is one of those people for me. Only a true friend will come to your house at 1 a.m. when you call and stay until the deputy removes you both. Have a covert moving operation, she’ll bring the donuts. ~~KJH

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Truth is eloquent in its simplicity, yet in its quiet virtue, Emma’s wisdom heals and encourages growth in the most arid of hearts. Her grace abounds, fostering a joyous celebration of a life restored in Christ’s perfection and love. The umbrella may be broken, but with God’s grace it covers wholly and completely. ~~ Giuseppe S.

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To me Emma’s friendship is like a rare flower you don’t find everyday and yet treasure all the more for having found it. As I reflect on memories of Emma in my life, I remember her amazing servant heart always with a smile, but more than that was her willingness to really be there in relationship. I remember so many good times with her…going to the street [to minister] together, making beautiful things together, carting kiwis together, but it was always the together part that shines through and reminds me of our Savior, His promise to always be there in the together…. ~~MAB

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Have you ever folded a whole load of laundry only to find you had 3 socks left . . . that didn’t have a matching mate? Then you do another load, and there again, you have 2 socks left that aren’t even the same color. Well, in my family, those lonely socks usually end up in a big bag and no one ever takes the time to put them all together.
One day, my friend Emma came over and asked quite nicely, with a big sunshine smile, if there was anything she could do to help me around the house. I said, “Oh, no, nothin’ really.” She insisted. I hesitated. Finally, with an embarrassed grin, I murmured, “Well, we do have this bag of loner socks . . . .” Emma’s face just lit up as she blurted out, “I love putting socks together!” Stunned, I replied, “Really? You’re kidding?”
With love and care she took the bag(s) and methodically assorted the socks by color, size and style. There were socks strewn all over the sofas. Then with incredible patience, she found the lost pairs, rolled them up and threw them into the “reunited” bag.
With four kids, I’ve often been overwhelmed and exhausted and, to top it off, I’ve had lots of health issues. This act of love was such a blessing. So every time she would come to my house, one of the first things she would ask is, “Where are your bags of socks?”
Then she told me how she had helped another friend in the same situation. Since then she has called it her “Sock Ministry.” I’m sure she has blessed many more people in this way. Emma taught me that ministry is anything the Lord calls you to do. He gives you the heart, as well as the hands and feet, to go forth and show His love. It’s not just about doing something good for someone, it’s doing it with a servant heart.
I often have very bad backaches. One day another friend gave me a hot water bottle. It gave such warm relief and comfort. The next time someone with a backache came to visit, I in turn offered a water bottle. Observing me do this several times, Emma helped me to see that I had begun a “Water Bottle Ministry.” Yes, when God touches your heart, it becomes contagious and you just want to share that love and joy with others. Thanks, Emma, for pointing out that the Lord uses all of us in unique ways to have a special ministry for His glory. ~~L.L.

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Emma has a heart for homeless people. She is the first person I met who actually stopped, talked, sat down, and shared her lunch with the homeless. She said one man told her sometimes people leave him cans of food with expired consumption dates. This broke her heart. With her background in healthcare, she even cleaned and bandaged this man’s wounds.
I’ll never forget Monica. It was in the middle of a particularly cold winter that Monica had made a makeshift shelter in a park. Most people would have ignored her and turned away. Emma stopped to talk to her, and after several visits eventually gained her trust. With Emma’s help, others donated a tent, a sleeping bag and some food. Monica loved chocolate, jam, and anything sweet. We knew her name, a little bit of her story and the fact that she liked drawing because Emma took the time to know her.
She took me once to visit Monica. First Emma called her name while still far away to give her enough warning and not startle her. Then she gently repeated her name until Monica slowly unzipped the tent and peeked out. In order to respect her space, we stayed outside and talked for a while, then Emma gave her a bag of food and some paper and pencils to draw with. Monica smiled and was so thankful and offered to draw a picture for us. Despite the signs that she had some mental problems and seemed paranoid, she was talented and had her own charming ways.
During that winter, whenever she walked by, Emma would stop to visit Monica. However, one day, she was gone. Emma tried to track her down, but we never found out what happened to her. Monica will always have a special place in my heart. Through Emma, God has shown me that it’s possible to help homeless people, one by one, if you only open the door of your heart. ~~L.L.

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I have so many memories of Emma: like trucking through Paris with a loaded backpack—that she refused to let me carry. It held our snacks; bread, condiments, plates and silverware that we’d need for lunch; coats and umbrellas, just in case it got cold; nail polish and nail polish remover so we could paint our toes beneath the Paris skies; and our Bibles so we could have a Bible study together. She amazed me with her fortitude, not to mention strength, carrying around that huge bag. But she didn’t mind. It was her idea, and she was happy-go-lucky the entire time, even while climbing the Eiffel Tower. Where did she get the energy?
That time in Paris told me a lot about Emma. She’s not a quitter, and she will bend over backwards, upside down, and inside out to make sure someone she loves or cares about has a good time. I’ll never forget when she painted my toenails on that trip! I’d never had anything remotely similar to a pedicure in my life, but imagine getting one in the middle of Paris in an open park, right beneath the stunning, ancient church, the Sacre Cœur. It was that moment we came up with a title for our amazing trip: Toes Go to Paris.
But that wasn’t enough. She topped off the occasion with a great comedy act that I’ll never forget. When she dropped me off at the bus station, we were in a mad rush, laughing and tripping over suitcases, racing to catch the bus to take me back to Holland. We had to cart our luggage up an escalator, and imagine the laughter that ensued when she lost hold of one of her suitcases, and it went tumbling down the moving stairs. She stood there—trapped by luggage and her ginormous backpack—and watched it fall, utterly helpless to do anything. Luckily no one was at the bottom, and some kind stranger loaded it back on the escalator and sent it up to us (it was a lot of stairs, and we were exhausted), but it’s a moment that always makes me smile. ~~Sandi Flower

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