Faithful: 61 and Counting

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments. ~Deuteronomy 7:9

From the moment of conception until first glimpse of eternity, can God’s faithfulness be counted in a person’s life?  I’m smack dab in the middle of my life, with half of it behind me, the other half in front of me. God’s faithfulness is timeless and countless. I try to count, and fail. Through the lens of my humanness, God’s faithfulness doesn’t always appear as faithful. It is often disguised as a trial, wisdom lesson, or difficult test. I fail because I often count just the feel good blessings. The obvious signs of God’s faithfulness.

A slip of paper taped to the prayer room wall at my church reads:

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Barn Doors is a result of God’s faithfulness—revealing not only His faithfulness in my life, but reflecting my faith in Him: My deep faith, my doubting faith, my fruitful faith, my weeping faith, my limited faith, my transparent faith. A journey of faith stages wrapped up in 59—no, 61—chapters.

Right up to final edit, God was still adding chapters. Even after finishing Barn Doors, God continues with chapter after chapter. He caught me counting faith moments in my life and showed me that even after the last page reads: “The End,” there is no end. I feel God saying, “If you are going to count, then let’s count!” And He wants me to count every moment, not just the feel good moments.

As Barn Doors prepares to go on tour—a blog tour, that is—I encourage you to pause and reflect on the word faithful and how it is displayed in your life—both your faithfulness and God’s faithfulness, because it’s all about relationship. What have been your stages of faith? Where do you find your faith today? Are you counting all faith moments, the joyful along with the difficult? Every single one is significant to your faith journey.

Counting God’s faithfulness brings to mind the song “So Will I (100 Billion X)” by Hillsong United. I’ll never reach 100 billion, but I won’t stop counting the countless faith moments of a faithful God.

So Will I (100 Billion X)

Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

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On the eve of Barn Doors’ launch party, many preparations remain undone. I’d rather sit and talk to you than do the dishes!

Days have turned into weeks have turned into months since I last wrote a blog post. I found that my subject matters were best saved for chapters in Barn Doors. Now that Barn Doors is complete, I have no excuse. I pray I remain excuse-less from this moment forward and actually write for you on a regular basis. But alas, I am human and will probably be begging for grace by year’s end.

So, today! New leaf, new resolution, new book to celebrate in 15 short hours. And my thoughts zip along in sporadic idiom form. Science tells us that humans have an average of 50 thoughts a minute. (I have no idea where I heard that, but it has to be true. If y’all want to research this fact and leave a comment, that would be great!)

But seriously, fifty thoughts a minute? That’s hundreds within an hour! How many of those do I waste on worthless, uncontrollable things? Shamefully, many. However, I want to spend this blog post talking about the others, the ones NOT wasted, rather thoughts that edify, are fruitful, teach, and are even used to ponder life and eternity.

Even sporadic thoughts in idiom form can be worthy and fruitful. That’s where I am today, on the eve of launching Barn Doors, in the middle of a busy season of life. When many things fight for their place among the 50, sometimes you just want three of them to be “lather, rinse, repeat.” Take a breath, you got this! While the other million thoughts arm wrestle for the remaining 47 slots, I can be proactive in the idiom: Lather, Rinse, Repeat. The alternative is to sit and do nothing while thoughts battle thoughts.

Keep fighting while I: Pray, Seek, Repeat. And another worthless thought loses the war to a worthy thought. Keep trying to drag me down while I: Give, Receive, Repeat. And fear becomes comfort. Keep arm wrestling while I: Love, Bless, Repeat. And bitterness turns to forgiveness.

Tomorrow will bring new thoughts, new battles. Which is why every fruitful idiom needs the word “repeat.” One breath will not sustain you an entire lifetime. Only repeated breaths will. Same with prayer and seeking God’s will. Only repeating love will we be victorious over the enemy’s attempt to gain ground with our thoughts.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

P.S. I hope to see y’all at the party tomorrow! Please share a link (below) to Barn Doors with your friends. You could receive my ULTIMATE party favor worth $168!

AMAZON LINK FOR BARN DOORS

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.