Presents or Presence (The Difference in Listening Well)

Dec

24

Posted by on Dec 24, 2016 in (in)courage, Advice, Christmas, Faith, Family, Friends, Service to others |

Presents or Presence (The Difference in Listening Well)

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16)   You can’t fool her, you know. Two pudgy hands cup your cheeks to turn your face, demanding your eyes look deep into her own. “Mama, you’re not listening!” You can almost feel her heart stomping its tiny imaginary foot to accentuate the point. Of course, you’re right when you insist, “Yes I am, honey, I can just do two things at once.” You did hear her, after all. But she’s right (more right?) because you weren’t listening. Hearing requires only ears. Listening demands ears, eyes, mind, and maybe most important, heart. The difference matters. A lot. Here’s why: Your children don’t just notice the difference between hearing and listening, they understand the difference: Something else is more important than them in that moment. O u c h! This isn’t confined to children; don’t we all hate it when we know someone is only half engaged in conversation? Present in body but absent in thought? I grow weary from all the admonitions to focus on Christ during the Christmas season, to resist holiday busyness. Please don’t get me wrong — I agree — but then I see a believing people tangled and lifeless in sticky-webs of shopping, baking, parties, and school or church programs. We are distracted. Everyone is working extra hard to pay for All The Things. And though our homes have never looked more lovely or smelled more delicious . . . Our actions are speaking loudly, and they don’t always match up to our words. Can I get an “Amen!”?   Please click to continue reading Presents/Presence for incourage. Promise: if you’ll follow this friendly advice this Christmas season, you’ll be  giving and receiving something precious. Share...

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Craving Connection Book {Order before December 15th & get a second free!}

Dec

09

Posted by on Dec 9, 2016 in (in)courage, Book Review, Books, Encouragement, Personal, Uncategorized, Writing |

Craving Connection Book {Order before December 15th & get a second free!}

  A year or so ago an opportunity was presented to me that sounded intriguing: submit a chapter for a collaborative work published by incourage in partnership with Lifeway. This first book project by incourage was to be all about community, its tagline, 30 challenges for real life engagement. Other than that, I knew my chapter was to be based on John 15:12-17 and needed to be between 2,000-2,500 words. It was an easy “yes” and sounded like fun. When I sat down to write I wasn’t sure what to share, but once I put pen to paper, 20 years of my life poured out. Amazing how you can squeeze over 7,000 days into 2,500 words.   A few weeks ago I received an early copy and joined a small group of people who agreed to read the daily chapters and take part in one (or all) of the challenges associated with each piece. Well. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but friends, I’m here to tell you, it exceeded whatever expectation I had! Day after day I was encouraged. Just about every chapter was something I could personally relate to. The material was accessible and inspiring, and I was so glad and grateful to be a part of such a solid, God-glorifying collaboration. It was a blessing to be with two dear friends when my copy arrived. God love ’em, they let me read my chapter out loud to them. Because it had been so long since I submitted my piece, and I had never read it aloud – essentially “hearing” it for the first time – I was surprised that it moved me to tears. I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t familiar with the material. In any event, Craving Connections releases in hardback on January 10, 2017. It’s available for pre-order now, and if you order by December 15th, you get a second copy free along with a few other fun incentives.    Of course, I hope you’ll support this work (because I KNOW you’ll come away encouraged!), and if you do, please DO share your thoughts with me! I reallyreallyreally want to hear! Share...

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#GivingTuesday – When it’s personal (a must-read no matter when you see this)

Nov

29

Posted by on Nov 29, 2016 in Family, Gratitude, Mom stuff, Mothers and daughters, Personal, Uncategorized | 2 comments

#GivingTuesday – When it’s personal (a must-read no matter when you see this)

She had no idea what her words were doing to me that night. My heart was growing like the Grinch’s when he finally understood the mystery and beauty of Christmas.   Which I realize, as I tell this tale,  is essentially about the same thing: Giving. Because isn’t Christmas rooted in giving? It’s about how a great, great God extended lavish grace to an undeserving world and gave love in human form, a way back to him.  The Way back to him. Love incarnate. Jesus. And in our car that night illuminated by freeway lights, she was the most luminous thing of all, her countenance aglow. I didn’t even have to look at her. You could feel her light. His light in her. We had three hours on our drive home and she filled time and space with stories of her work. They poured out, water from a hydrant, quenching our desire to know more, to better understand. She was the one on fire. What my heart doing- growing – was greater joy, John tells me so. I believe him. She wasn’t talking about what you should do to change the world around you, she was telling us about all she’s done. We know what she likely doesn’t:  She’s changing the world. All of them are, these co-laborers for a cause. There are many on either side of her, arms linked, stepping into hard places and leaving footprints. Sometimes literally. She’s a college graduate who accepted a two-year fellowship working with poverty elimination. She’s a college graduate who accepted a two-year fellowship where she has to raise her own salary, which happens to be as it were, below the poverty level. I did the math and it broke my heart. But not hers. She hasn’t even noticed. She doesn’t understand how little she makes because as she looks around, she’s just like everyone else in her world. The one she’s changing. And of course she has parents who can stand in the gap for anything she needs, and she knows better than me, the people she serves don’t have that luxury. So, if you’re thinking about year-end giving or inspired by this day known as Giving Tuesday, and you haven’t already promised your hard-earned dollars to your own personal cause, I’m asking you to give to Cross Purpose, and I’m bold enough to add, as much as you can.   (If you’d like to give specifically to Rachel, be sure to add “To the ministry of Rachel Dance” in the notes section, but however you choose to give WILL make a difference in the lives of those earnestly taking the steps to walk out of poverty.) Cross Purpose is a non-profit and seeks: “to abolish relational, economic, and spiritual poverty through the power of redemptive relationships. CrossPurpose is a nonprofit ministry dedicated to the idea of neighborhoods without poverty.” The world my daughter is helping to change specifically focuses on nine poor neighborhoods in Denver, CO. The way Cross Purpose is going about poverty elimination is revolutionary, and other organizations around the country are studying their model to learn more. Cross Purpose esteems and empowers the people they’re hoping to help; they do not consider them human projects to pity. Rachel has just begun the second year of her fellowship and she still needs partners interested in investing in this special ministry. If...

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Love at the Table {a tribute for Grace Table}

Nov

20

Posted by on Nov 20, 2016 in Family, Family Traditions, Grace Table, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Love at the Table {a tribute for Grace Table}

I still remember the first time I met her, emerging from the shadow of her garage to meet us at the car. Her eyes were the same piercing blue as his; or rather, I suppose, his, hers. I think I told her so right then. I don’t know if he and I were in love yet but we were headed in that direction. He brought me home to meet his parents, after all; obviously, something was simmering. Three decades are sandwiched between then and now but I can still recall two things about that weekend: initial introductions and Sunday lunch. A college sophomore subsisting on starchy dining hall fare, I had come to deeply appreciate home cooking. It was a thing a kid takes for granted if they’re fortunate enough to have a family that gathers for dinner more often than not (I was one of the lucky ones). Sarah’s table was beautiful, set with Haviland china, sterling, and crystal. Platters and bowls full of comfort covered every square inch. Everything looked – and smelled – delicious. It wouldn’t take long to find out every dish delivered what it promised. I wasn’t shy about helping myself to seconds, and Sarah declared how glad she was for her son to bring home a girl who would eat. I was a little embarrassed at her observation, but I took it as the sincere compliment she intended. That was the first of dozens (hundreds?) of  meals I’d enjoy around my in-law’s table. Sarah’s recipes account for a substantial portion of my own culinary arsenal. Her fried chicken is magical, her sour cream pound cake might well be the best in the world, and Thanksgiving isn’t the same without her dressing. Her hand-pressed butter mints are magical. Sarah’s life has preached hospitality without her ever needing to say a word; she’s a There you are! person from the moment you step through her door. Around her table, there’s always room for one more. Her whole life has been an offering poured out in service to others, most often through her oven. She has always understood that something special happens when family and friends gather ’round a table. Frequently using her china taught me not to wait to use my own. Sarah recognized that extraordinary moments are found within our ordinary days. But with Thanksgiving next week and Christmas just around the corner, I’m acutely aware how life has changed…. * * *  I hope you’ll click to complete reading Love at The Table over at Grace Table. Grab tissues…. Share...

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If / Then

Nov

13

Posted by on Nov 13, 2016 in Faith, Scripture Link | 1 comment

If / Then

If believers will: humble ourselves pray seek God repent then God will: hear forgive our sin heal our land 2 Chronicles 7:14, a promise with condition, seeds hope for the faithful.   Share...

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The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp’s newest releases Tuesday. Order TODAY & you’ll get extras!

Oct

24

Posted by on Oct 24, 2016 in Uncategorized |

The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp’s newest releases Tuesday. Order TODAY & you’ll get extras!

  Friends, if you loved 1000 Gifts or/and you’re a fan of Ann Voskamp’s writing, she’s giving away a pile of freebies if you pre-order her new release, The Broken Way, by TONIGHT. Buy three (or more) copies, and you’ll be entered to travel with Ann to Africa “in a life-changing, empty-bucket list kind of trip.” I bought three :). Although the book releases tomorrow, I received an advanced copy. It’s digital, though, and I’m a slow reader if I can’t flip paper pages. If you’ve read any of Ann’s lyrical prose, you might understand how some people would have a hard time not being able to underline, star, highlight, heart, exclamation point, and smiley face a lot of those paper pages. It’s not only beautiful (so far), it’s affecting – soul and heart – and I can’t wait to get a hard copy for a proper read. Anyways, tout de suite! Grab your copies today; then let Ann know so you can take advantage of those bonuses. Share...

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God-winks

Oct

21

Posted by on Oct 21, 2016 in (in)courage, Faith, Friends, Uncategorized |

God-winks

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,  with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV) Have you ever found yourself wishing, “If God would just SHOW ME A SIGN…” you would know what to do or whether or not you’re headed in the right direction? Haven’t we all? Just once, wouldn’t it be nice to look up and see writing in the sky? Though answers rarely come as a flashing neon sign – call me crazy – sometimes I sense God’s favor in what others may dismiss as coincidence. Maybe nothing as dramatic as a thunder clap or lightning strike or a rainbow sent right to your front yard, but a kind of mini-miracle that speaks right to the heart of whatever is going on in your life right…now…. Hold tight to what we’re promised in scripture: God has gifted us with not some, but every, spiritual blessing. In the passage from 1st Ephesians, we learn that in Christ, we are chosen, holy, blameless, family, receivers of grace, redeemed, forgiven, and sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. God’s generosity knows no bound.  He is a giver of good and perfect gifts, and what He gave because He loved us (Who He gave)? Should compel us to boundless gratitude. Lord, may I never cease to be thankful, humbled by, and astonished at the wonder, beauty, and cost of the cross. Last week I was sitting at my kitchen table with two friends. I had invited them over to begin putting flesh on the bones of an idea birthed in my heart a while back. They weren’t the first people I had approached about joining me in this new thing; but after arm-twisting another friend without success for over two years, it finally occurred to me that maybe she wasn’t the one to help. Sometimes earnestly seeking the Lord means letting go of preconceived plans and ideals.  This is a lesson on repeat for me, something I’ve been slow to learn. We began to sense God’s presence in our gathering, oddly enough, in a color scheme. It started with Hannah and Tracey noticing my journal, pen, and espresso cup perfectly coordinating. (How much do I love that friends picked up on such a tiny detail? It’s exactly the kind of thing I’m prone to notice.)   Intent in our conversation, all three of us jumped when Hannah noticed the shadow of a man at my front door, followed quickly by a sharp knock. I knew what they didn’t–it was simply a package delivery. Our front door is within arm’s reach of our kitchen table, and they aren’t accustomed to that proximity. I opened the door to pick up my package, and immediately realized what it was: an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Craving Connection: 30 Challenges for Real Life Engagement. Since you’re obviously an (in)courage reader (smile), you might have seen recent images and teasers about Craving Connections. What makes this book extra special is that it is a first from (in)courage and features 30 authors from both the (in)courage team and community at large. Through scripture exploration, personal testimony, and prayer, the 30-day devotional asks the question, “How could your life be different after prayerfully and intentionally connecting with God, friends, and your community?” (If you’re interested, subscribe to my very occasional blogposts, I’ll let you know when Craving...

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Extras in the Ordinary

Sep

17

Posted by on Sep 17, 2016 in (in)courage, Faith, Uncategorized |

Extras in the Ordinary

“…Speak to the earth and it will teach you.” Job 12:8 (NIV) Between my garage and back door runs a long narrow porch, brown-painted decking less than six feet wide.   It’s less the kind of space where you’re inclined to sit a spell — though that didn’t stop us from parking our weathered garden bench right in the middle — and more a covered breezeway to shield you from the elements. In Macon, slap in the middle of Georgia, that means blistering sun or torrential downpour, the kind sliced by thunder and lighting. Snow is a novelty if we’re lucky enough to get any at all. We’ve been in this home just over two years, and there’s no telling how many times I’ve made that trek from my house to our garage or our garage to the house. We inherited wrought iron window boxes from our home’s previous owners, two for the back porch and a pair for the front; they hang on the railing that runs adjacent to the porch. Every spring I’ve filled them with annuals that can tolerate direct sun for most of the day. That eastern exposure sure is imposing; Miss Sunshine long outlasts a friendly welcome. This is about the extent of my gardening; my thumbs are the opposite of green. These annuals are demanding little creatures, begging for water every day (imagine that). If I’m away, or say, more likely, forget, they get pouty and play dead. They remind me of little drama queens, wilty and depressed when they don’t get their watery way. Except that one plant I didn’t even plant, the tenacious stalk that shoots up through two slats of decking. No matter how many times we clip her back, cut her down, or (try to) yank her through the deck, she returns healthier than ever. If plants could talk, this one would be getting the last word, and I’m pretty sure she’d be laughing all the while.   And here’s the thing: What once was an ugly nuisance to me has become an object of affection. How could this possibly be?   I hope you’ll click through to continue reading Extras in the Ordinary at incourage. I guess if God can speak through a donkey, he can speak through an overachieving weed….         Share...

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10 Reasons I LOVE America’s Got Talent

Sep

13

Posted by on Sep 13, 2016 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

10 Reasons I LOVE America’s Got Talent

Six years ago – before we moved to middle Georgia, before we lived in Germany – our youngest son introduced me to America’s Got Talent. Initially, I watched it as a mama-courtesy, to humor my boy but mostly just to spend time with him doing something he enjoyed. It didn’t take long for the show to hook me; AGT brings together the most diverse talent on the planet. My favorite act of 2010/AGT’s 5th season was Fighting Gravity who came up short in 3rd place. Singer/musician Michael Grimm won. AGT has no language or nudity (though judge Mel B pushes the envelope with her cleavage-hefting, second-skin outfits) and it’s heartening and inspiring to watch contestants ranging from six-year-old comedian Nathan Bockstahler to 90-year-old burlesque dancer Dorothy Williams share the same stage.  Tonight marks the Finale for Season 11 and I already have my guesses as to who will win it all. It has been an incredible, fantastical season. Last year my boy went off to college, but my husband and I are still watching. Funny, but it almost feels like he’s still with us. I mean, how many shows can a family watch together anymore? All 12 finalists have good reason to be competing for the top spot, but a few of the acts eliminated were tough to see leave. In descending order, my thoughts on the finalists: 10. Tape Face Boy. Amazingly, this guy has yet to utter a word the entire season, and yet here he is in the Finals. He’s mime comedy on crack, and his timing, delivery, and originality is what got him here. His talent is definitely unique. 9. Linkin’ Bridge. Oh, man…their story. It slays me. Their talent? Also slays me. They’re not a book’s cover to be judged. These guys from Kentucky have a sweet sound and when they shed a tear? You might just find yourself joining in. I hate putting them at number nine but the competition is that tough…. 8. Sal Valentinetti. Imagine Frank Sinatra’s voice and stylings and you’re just beginning to get a picture of Sal. He’s a charmer, a crooner, and one heckuva go-getter–he’s made it clear from the beginning he’s in it to win it. You can’t help but love this guy and his sidekick  cousin, Tommy, characters straight outta Long Island. Also? Today is his 21st birthday…he’s a much older soul, though. 7.  Laura Cretan. It’s really not fair for me to place Laura at #7; she’s possibly the most talented kid on the block. But AGT is also about personal taste, and while I love me some popopera, there are several other acts I happen to like better. She’s fantastic and I cannot imagine her not having a recording and/or stage career. She’s only 13, btw. Crazyville. 6. Jon Dorenbos. A professional football player or magician?  How about both? He has shocked me with his performances. The one I’m linking to is my favorite (so far). Jon is a likable guy, and though I was skeptical in the beginning, he has won me over week after week with consistent amazingness. 5. The Clairvoyants. Phenomenal. Incredible. Mind-blowing. I cannot figure out how they do what they do. Every week they’ve stepped up their game; every week they surprise me with something new. I would pay to see them in their own show, and it’s not so hard to imagine them...

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Books: Some I’m Reading & More I Can’t Wait To

Aug

31

Posted by on Aug 31, 2016 in Books, Uncategorized | 8 comments

Books: Some I’m Reading & More I Can’t Wait To

Book Recommendations     Long ago and far away I read fast. I tried to savor the book I was reading, but more often than not, I’d speed through the chapters the same way I eat M&M’s: swearing to let them melt slowly on my tongue until the colorful candy coating was gone, and then smushing the chocolate between tongue and roof of mouth to extract all the possible goodness from the candy. That usually lasted for the first M&M. Nancy Drew is to blame; she made mysteries magical to young minds. Until I started blogging, I read more fiction than non; I don’t know if that was cause and effect or merely coincidental. Blogging came into my life at the same time I was asking a lot of questions (primarily related to faith), and reading for the pure pleasure of it slowly dwindled. I seemed to think C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Piper, Richard Foster, Jim Cymbala, A.W. Tozer, Brian McLaren, St. Augustine, Brennan Manning, Shane Claiborne, countless others, might have answers*. Clearly, this was before the tsunami of contemporary books written by Christian women of the bloggerly ilk (many of which I’ve read, too; thankfully, not with the same amount of angst attached)**. It was during that time that my reading pace began to decelerate. I couldn’t read without a pen in hand, and if you didn’t know better you’d think I anticipated a quiz upon completion. I’d mark up my books with scribbled fury, and read and re-read That Thing I Needed To Remember, which I rarely actually did. I’d get lost in words, tangled in thought. Anyway, if you’re a reader, you’re likely to always have a stack of books on the ready. If you’re a reader like me, that stack never shrinks, the titles just keep changing. Here’s a few book recommendations I’d like to share (and why), and I DO hope you’ll chime in in comments with your own titles.   Word Writers: Philippians, Denise J. Hughes. Denise sent me an early copy of her Philippians study, and what she couldn’t have possibly known was that it is EXACTLY what I needed right now. It’s dynamite in a small package, the type study that gives you time TO THINK without telling you All of The Things, without trying to impress you; it doesn’t feel the least bit self-indulgent. It sticks to the Word, and what I most appreciate is how she’s woven four ways into its format to experience God’s Word–reading, writing, speaking, and praying over the Scriptures for that day. I can start and finish this study in one sitting, and there’s margin to consider application beyond its pages. If any of this sounds appealing, it releases September first, and I whole-heartedly recommend purchasing a copy for yourself.   Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance. I haven’t been able to grasp how in the world Donald Trump is where he is today, and then I caught an interview in The American Conservative that helped to explain his political success (at least in part). Rod Dreher spoke with J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, and in it Vance shares a perspective I’ve never considered. Says Dreher, “You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for...

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