Friday, December 11, 2009

The Mystery of The Cross

I realize it's Christmas time, but I've had the chance to look through Judith Couchman's new book. Part devotional, part art history, part spiritual journey, The Mystery of the Cross, Judith's book is dedicated to the symbol that's at the heart of Christianity: the cross. One of the things I appreciated about her book is that she shows how the cross itself has been a pre-Christian era symbol throughout history, yet the image has been transformed and adopted to be a symbol of the Christian faith.

In today's times, symbols don't seem to mean much anymore, the way they're tossed about and used as fashion accessories. We don't take the time to search into their meanings. "It's just a shape." But for some people, the shape of the cross resounds within them. For those who are part of the Christian faith, this book will be a journey of exploration about the cross, and what it means.

I've had the advantage (or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it) of being Catholic once upon a time. Art and symbol were always a part of the worship experience, unlike in a Protestant church. Paging through this book brought back some of this to me in a time of pleasant remembering. If you're not familiar with much of Christian history, The Mystery of the Cross takes you on a journey that will hopefully deepen your faith and encourage you.

Here's some of Judith's own words about her book:

Ancient Cross, Contemporary Life
If you haven’t considered the cross beyond weekend worship, tapping into these images and stories can broaden and deepen, renew or strengthen, your commitment to Christ. Exploring the art, uses, history, and mystery of the cross can validate its centrality to the Christian faith. Meditating on its enduring meaning can help apply its power and principles to everyday matters.

Accordingly, The Mystery of the Cross invites you to read intriguing stories about the sign of the cross, ponder their meaning, and consider how these anecdotes speak to you. The 40 short chapters can be read for art appreciation, historical information, personal meditation, spiritual formation, small-group discussion, Lenten observation, and worship insights. Whatever the use, The Mystery of the Cross can help you understand and appreciate the cross’s spiritual work in the world and its power for everyday life.

Most of all, I hope this book witnesses mystery. The apostle Paul wrote about the gospel’s mystery, revealed through Christ and his death on the cross. Irenaeus, a second-century church father, described it when he explained, “By means of a tree, we were made debtors to God. Likewise, by means of a tree [the cross], we can obtain the remission of our debt.” Beyond glorious art, ancient history, and intriguing anecdotes, the cross stands as a symbol of salvation. For reasons beyond my comprehension, the mighty God stooped to conquer evil and forgive sin. This is his eternal commitment. This is the inexpressible value and mystery of the cross.

From the Introduction to
The Mystery of the Cross by Judith Couchman
Released by Inter-Varsity Press, Novemver 2009
Available at Local at Local Bookstores and Online

You can learn more about Judith at her web site:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Familiar Stranger. . .

My guest today is Christina Berry, author of The Familiar Stranger. Christina's debut novel is available now.

Christina, tell us about The Familiar Stranger.
The Familiar Stranger—formerly known as Undiscovered—is about a couple going through a really rough patch in their marriage. When an accident incapacitates the husband, their relationship must be redefined. Which would be a lot easier to do if BIG secrets from his past didn’t raise their ugly heads. Despite the upheaval, the choices they make involving forgiveness and trust might allow a new beginning. Or … they might not.

How did you come up with the story?
In the summer of 2006, two stories appeared in the newspaper. One was a huge, national story; the other a smaller, local-interest item. I wondered what it might look like if those two stories conceived a child. Boom! I had the entire plot for The Familiar Stranger. It will be interesting to see if readers can figure out which stories inspired the book.

Wow, I'll have to use a cliche here and say truth is definitely stranger than fiction. What an interesting way to find a story from the news. I love it when that happens.

What takeaway value do you hope readers receive after reading your novel?
If reading The Familiar Stranger makes even one man or woman be more honest with his or her spouse or delve into trust issues in a healthy way, I’ll consider it a success. Maybe there’s a hurting heart that can find a new path to forgiveness because of the story.

Writing is such hard work, especially with other priorities. What challenges do you face with your writing? What comes easy to you?
As a single mother of young children, and currently serving as a foster parent, time is my biggest challenge. I have to make sure my family knows they come first, but to balance that with treating writing as a career.

Strength-wise, while the idea of writing or editing may seem hard, I usually get quite a lot done in a short amount of time once I start. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. That applies to our writing. A little momentum can go a long way!

Since we're talking about time management, what would you be doing with your free time if you weren’t writing?
I would be reading the way I did years ago. Book after beautiful book. I’ve found budgeting time to write, blog, and market leaves very little time for pleasure reading. I also enjoy playing simple songs from musicals like Oklahoma or Sound of Music on the piano. Maybe I’d even sit down with my kids and squish Play-Doh with them now and again.

Many times our life can influence our books. What themes do you like to write about?
The recent changes in my life—a divorce, working part-time outside the home, putting my home up for sale, moving toward adoption with a foster child—have done nothing but solidify what I hope to be the theme of the book and my life: Live Transparently—Forgive Extravagantly. If reading The Familiar Stranger makes even one man or woman be more honest with his or her spouse or delve into trust issues in a healthy way, I’ll consider it a success. Maybe there’s a hurting heart that can find a new path to forgiveness because of the story.

What are you currently writing?
I’m about 1/5 of the way through my next manuscript, Unafraid, a story about a girl’s kidnapping, and how her life unfolds because of the trauma. One of my characters is a PI, so I’m having loads of fun with the research.

The humor Sherrie Ashcraft (my sometime co-author and always mother) and I display in our infrequent, humorous newsletters--sign up at garnered the attention of an editor. You just might see a funny, non-fiction cooperative work from the Ashberry Ladies at some point in time. Plus, I have a funky TV-based devotional a house is interested in … Busy, busy, busy!

Oh, Christina, I certainly can relate to a full schedule. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to seeing more of your books on the shelf.

As a single mom and foster parent, Christina Berry carves time out of her busy schedule to write about the heart and soul of life. She lives with her family in rural Oregon. The Familiar Stranger is her debut novel. Get to know her better at

And on October 31, Christina will be giving away 10 copies of The Familiar Stranger at the conclusion of her blog tour. So leave a comment to be entered in that drawing! Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When God Turned Off The Lights

What to Do When the Lights Go Out

by Cec Murphey

If you sincerely desire to follow Jesus Christ, life won't always be easy. Many times the Bible promises victory, and you may need to remind yourself that there can be no victory without struggling and overcoming obstacles.

In my book, I used the image of God turning out the lights because that was how I perceived the situation. I felt as if I walked in darkness for 18 months. We all interact differently with God, and my experience won't be the same as yours. Even so, most serious Christians have times when God seems to turn away or stops listening. And we feel alone.

Perhaps it's like the time the Israelites cried out to God for many years because of the Egyptian oppression. "God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise...and knew it was time to act" (Exodus 2:24 NLT). God hadn't forgotten, of course, but from their perspective, that's how it must have seemed. It may seem like that to you if you're going through your own form of darkness.

Here are a few suggestions to help you:

1. Ask God this simple question: "Have I knocked out the lights by my failures? Have I sinned against you? After you ask the question, listen. Give God the opportunity to speak to you.

2. Don't see this as divine punishment (unless God shows you it is), but consider the silence an act of divine love to move you forward. This is God's method to teach you and stretch you.

3. Avoid asking why. You don't need reasons and explanations--and you probably won't get them anyway. Instead, remind yourself that this temporary darkness is to prepare you for greater light.

4. Say as little as possible to your friends. Most friends will want to "fix" you or heal you and they can't. They may offer advice (often not helpful) or make you feel worse ("Are you sure everything is right between you and God?").

5. Stay with the "means of grace." That is, don't neglect worship with other believers even if you feel empty. Read your Bible even if you can't find anything meaningful.

I chose to read Lamentations and Psalms (several times, especially Lamentations) because they expressed some of the pain and despair I felt.

6. If you don't have a daily prayer time, start one. Perhaps something as short as three minutes--and do it daily. Talk honestly to God. It's all right to get angry. (Read the Psalms if you're hesitant.)

7. Remind yourself, "I am in God's hands. This is where I belong and I'll stay in the blackout until I'm ready to move forward."

8. Pray these words daily: "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults" (Psalm 19:12 TNIV). Some versions say "secret sins." These are failures and sins of which you may not yet be aware. One of the purposes of your darkness may be to bring those hidden problems to light.

9. Ask God, "What do you want me to learn from this experience?" You may not get an answer, but it's still a good question. Continue to ask--even after the lights go back on again. If you're open, you will learn more about yourself and also about God.

10. As you receive "light" about yourself while walking in darkness, remind yourself, God has always known and still loves me.

Is it possible that God would use a time of spiritual loneliness and isolation in our life as an answer to our prayer for "something more?" That's what happened with best-selling author Cecil Murphey. In When God Turned Off the Lights (Regal, September 2009), he openly shares from his journey that seemed to be stalled in darkness.

Murphey decided to write about his months of seeking God in the darkness because he suspected his situation wasn't unique. "If this happened to me, a rather ordinary believer, surely there are others out there who have wept in the isolated blackness of night and wondered if they would ever see God's smile again."

Murphey could have handled this topic as a theologian and given pages of heavy, hard-to-read advice, but he chose to write from his heart and expose it for the readers to see. He talks honestly and shares his skepticism and frustration. He asks hard questions. And he lays out the steps of healing that brought him back to the light.

When God Turned Off the Lights is a book for those of us who ask, "What's wrong with me? Why are others living in the sunlight while nothing but dark clouds and darkness envelop me?" Readers will learn:
Why God turns off the lights
Why we have to have dark nights
Why asking "why" isn't the right question
What's worse than going through the darkness
How to feel worthwhile and accepted by God


My note: Sometimes we attach so much of our spiritual experience, or relationship with God, to feelings. Feelings lie to us. We may not always "feel" married or "feel" smart name it. Feelings change with the weather and the situation. It doesn't surprise me that there are times when we don't "feel" the presence of God with us. We don't "feel" like our prayers go anywhere. I think this book is an encouragement to those who feel like the lights are off and they're fumbling blindly. We shouldn't have to, nor should we criticize those who are going through such a time. I've received no compensation for posting the above information abou Cec's book, and sharing my own thoughts on his book.

If you leave a comment, your name will be entered into a drawing on October 22 for a gift basket that Cec is giving away.

Gift Basket Includes:

A copy of When God Turned Off the Lights
1 Book Light
1 LED Nightlight
1 LED Flashlight
Select Dark Chocolate

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm a Guest...

I'm a guest over at Inkwell Inspirations, where I talk about a cool nonfiction book, The Principle Of the Path. Check it out if you have a minute or two.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Life's Little Luxuries

I got to thinking the other day about how we cut corners during lean times. That's really no fun at all, is it? But what if there were ways to enjoy some things that only cost a few dollars more? That way you don't feel completely denied anything nice, fun, comfortable, luxurious, tasty, you name it.

For me, good bed sheets are one of life's little luxuries. Really, when you think about it, we spend up to one-third of our day sleeping. I know many of us do well if we get six hours of sleep a night, which isn't good, but I'm not talking about sleep habits today.

Have you ever taken a moment to examine the quality of bed sheets? You can by cheap sheets in a discount store, and that's fine. But really now, they do feel like sandpaper and they don't last very long and start wearing thinner with multiple washings.

Trust me on this one. Watch the sale papers, or check out places like, for sheets that have a thread count of 300 or more. The number designates how many threads make up one square inch of weave in the fabric. The higher the number, the tighter the weave and the better quality of sheet. Most basic sheets are around 200 threads. Try to find cotton sheets, too, if you can. Our favorite set is a 500 thread count made of 100% cotton that we snagged during a Black Friday sale for $25--a STEAL if you've ever checked the price of sheets. The texture is luxurious and very comforting. "Like buttah."

So when you can, splurge just a little on a simple luxury for yourself. Cutting corners is admirable and sometimes necessary, but when you are able, be good to yourself. Enjoy the ride!

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Are You Afraid?

Each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear.

They're talking layoffs at work, slowdowns in the economy, flare-ups in the Middle East, turnovers at headquarters, downturns in the housing market, upswings in global warming. The plague of our day, terrorism, begins with the word terror. Fear, it seems, has taken up a hundred-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversized and rude, fear herds us into a prison of unlocked doors. Wouldn't it be great to walk out?

Imagine your life, wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats? If you could hover a fear magnet over your heart and extract every last shaving of dread, insecurity, or doubt, what would remain? Envision a day, just one day, where you could trust more and fear less.

Can you imagine your life without fear?

So reads the back cover of FEARLESS, Max Lucado's newest book.

If you've ever read a book by Max Lucado, you already know what to expect--that Fearless is a great book. If you've never read a book by Max Lucado, I really recommend you pick up this book. Especially now. In his matchless storytelling style, Max faces many of our greatest fears head-on without flinching. Fear of: not mattering, running out (not having enough), not protecting my kids, overwhelming challenges, worst-case scenarios, the coming winter, death, the future, that God is not real, global calamity, to name a few. I don't know about you, but I've found myself running smack into some of these very fears.

Fear is paralyzing. It makes us shrink back, give up. It makes us suspicious of people and makes us look for the worst to happen. In this book, Max unflinchingly uses real scenarios and reminds us of the greatest weapon that is at everyone's disposal to fight fear. We just need to use it.

The back of the book contains study questions for each chapter, questions for personal reflection. I admit that I've read this book and not studied it in-depth. But I can say already that I've been challenged to push fear back and not let it gain any more ground in my life than it already has. I mean, I'm the woman who was afraid at times for my husband to drive to another town, for fear that he'd get in a horrible car accident and not make it home. This nonsense has no place in my life. Life lived in fear is not worth living. I plan to start through this book again and read it more slowly this time, studying the ideas he presents in each chapter, and taking the time to be honest with myself and face my own fears. Fear is not faith. How can I have both? How can any of us have both?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lyn Cote: Her Inheritance Forever

Today I have author Lyn Cote as my guest. I enjoy reading books set in Texas, so when I had the chance to ask Lyn about her book, and about her writing, of course I jumped at the chance. Here's my chat with Lyn:
Lyn, thank you for being my guest today. I always enjoy hearing other authors talk about their books, where they get their inspiration and ideas, and how they write. I also like to learn about what authors do besides sit at the keyboard and craft their stories.

As an author, I’m often asked how I balance writing and life. How do you manage your writing schedule and other commitments?

This has changed over the years. When I had children at home, I think I did a better job of balancing my life. Over the past five years of the empty nest, I think I have chained myself to my laptop. I am exploring ideas about how to get out more and interact with the community. Since we also moved five years ago, I had that challenge of finding friends and activities. My dh has done a better job at this. He volunteers at the local Food Pantry several times a month, joined a weekly early morning men's bible study and has a twice monthly breakfast group. I really have to get going. I've been thinking I would volunteer at the church nursery, but I need to get going! Thanks for the nudge, Lynette.

I know what you mean, Lyn! It seems that whatever "extra" time we have can easily be taken up by something. And it's easy to get chained to the computer.

Do you have any humorous stories where your writing intruded into your “real life.”

I don't know if this counts. But once when I was in a hurry to mail off a manuscript, I backed out of my garage and managed to get the Rubbermaid garbage can stuck on one of my rear wheels like a big dark green sock. And worse, I'd managed to get into the street and then couldn't move forward or backward. I got out IN THE RAIN and discovered there was no way I could get the thing off by myself.

And while I'm doing this, cars from both directions are lining up. I'm blocking the street. A woman in the first car—a slim blonde who looked like she'd just come from the beauty salon—got out. With a spade hooked into the garbage cart, she pulled while I drove forward and we got me unhooked. I wish I could figure out a way to include this in a story, but so far no. And the editor would probably tell me it was not believable.

That's too funny, and a case where truth CAN be stranger than fiction.

Texas is a popular setting with many readers. What provided the inspiration for Her Inheritance Forever, and the Texas Star of Destiny Series?
I had never done much research into early Texas history. I read about Stephen Austin’s deal with the last Spanish governor of Texas and was intrigued by the three demands made of the Anglos entering Texas: No slaves, Convert to Roman Catholicism, and swear allegiance to Spain. I was intrigued because in my experience of Americans of that period were unlikely to follow any of those! And that means conflict and every good story thrives on conflict. Also the collision of many different tribes and nations all in one area—Spaniards, Mexicans, Tejanos, Comanche and other tribes and Americans and later new immigrants from Germany makes for an interesting cast of characters.

In 1836 Texas, Alandra Sandoval is the lady of Rancho Sandoval, determined to prove to a doubting world that a woman alone can run a ranch as well as any man. But when Comanches attack her ranch and kidnap her, Alandra must admit she needs protection. A top hand at a nearby ranch, Scully Falconer, is chosen for the task and though Alandra tries to pretend she doesn't need his help, he quietly stays by her side.

Though they believe their paths to be worlds apart, the rugged American cowboy with a troubled past and the proud lady of Mexican descent are united when Alandra's greedy relatives burst into their lives. And when General Santa Anna's army crosses the Rio Grande—marching toward a rendezvous with destiny at the Alamo—Alandra and Scully are swept up together in the tide of history...and their world will never be the same.

To learn more about Lyn Cote and her books, check here. Also, Lyn features authors on her blog Strong Women, Brave Stories. Check it out! You'll be inspired, hear about good books, and pick up a recipe or two.
Thanks for stopping by, Lyn.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Books, books, and more books!

Join me here at Meet The Christian Authors Night next Friday. We're going to have a great time for a great cause! This benefits the Single Parents Ministry of WoodsEdge Community Church. Last year's event provided assistance with items such as school supplies and other needs of single parent families.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Image Is Everything, Right?

The memory is seared into my brain. You know, those moments in your teenage life that you'd just as soon forget. Looking back now, I think it's hilarious that teenagers want to stand out and be unique, but don't anyone look at them or think they're different. Believe me, I do understand the paradox.

Back to the memory of the youth group pool party, circa 198-? I was so excited because I had a GREAT bathing suit, finally. Something more grown up, less babyish. I was 13, all legs and arms, and a body that wouldn't tan evenly. I'd tan in some places, burn in others, then molt like a lizard. But this bathing suit--oh, I just knew I'd feel like Brooke Shields wearing it. I'd stroll to the side of the pool confidently, for once.

So one of my parents dropped me off at the Marshalls' house, where they had an awesome in-ground pool. Guess what I saw as I opened the sliding glass door to their patio? She was poised at the edge of the water, laughing and talking, and wearing a bathing suit identical to mine.

Of course you know who she is. The one girl in the youth group with the perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect smile, and the perfect tan. She would laugh, and the sound was like musical notes. She was the one the boys flocked to like Scarlett O'Hara on the terrace at the barbecue in GWTW.

And of course you know, the comparisons started. I heard snickers from a few of the kids, especially the guys. I wanted to run inside and help with refreshments. Anything, but get in that pool. But I loved to swim, and I wanted to hang out with my friends. So I tried to ignore that rippling undercurrent of: Holy cow, they're wearing the same bathing suit! Well, you know ____ looks a million times better in it!

Her reaction? She smiled, laughed softly, and pretty much ignored me for the entire party. I felt as red as if I'd laid in the sun for three hours without suntan oil (we weren't really aware of the virtues of SPF lotion in those days). But my stubbornness kicked in. I was NOT going to leave that party and hide under my shorts and T-shirt. I had just as much a right to wear whatever bathing suit I chose, and if it was identical to hers, too bad!

Which leads me to thinking about images. We are so quick to pre-judge people by appearances and the physical. We spend an hour or two with someone, and we think we know them based on surface impressions. Why is it that those first surface impressions are so hard to overcome?

Which leads me now to wondering: Is the adult world that much different from those woeful high school days? I think we like to believe we don't categorize people based on our opinions of them. If our "image" of how they act and appear doesn't make us comfortable, they don't make our "A" list. Or we compare people, probably like a lot of those kids at the pool party probably compared the two of us. It's natural, and I don't blame them for that.

But sometimes we need to stop comparing. Images can lie. I don't know how she turned out, if she's still beautiful and "perfect." But I do know that I, and probably many others, had an unrealistic view of her compared to us. She probably wasn't as perfect as we thought, and I probably didn't look as bad as I imagined.

Even now, I find myself fretting over my "image," probably more than I need to. That's being SELF-conscious. Unfortunately I've spent too much time being conscious of myself, looking at a distorted image instead of that one God really sees. What about you? Any distorted images, or tales of teenage woe that make you look back and laugh?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

He's calling...are you listening?

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is the latest book I've chosen to review from Thomas Nelson Publishing. This is a lovely little encouraging devotional gift book with a short "note" from Jesus for every day of the year. It's beautifully packaged with an attached bookmark, so each day you can page through the thoughts. Worry, surrender, trust are all recurring themes among its pages. Some might call it "fluff." No, this isn't a heavy doctrinal sort of book or in-depth teaching. For that, look elsewhere.

Because there are times in our lives when spiritually we just need the reassurance of God's presence, of His neverending care. And no, this isn't a "substitute" for the Bible or an attempt to "add" words to the thoughts found in the Bible. Rather, from what I read, I see the ideas and thoughts in this book are Scripture based. Each little note also has an accompanying Scripture reference that you can look up for yourself.

I have to admit that in the past when I've heard about books that claim to "speak" words from God, I've been a bit leery because I've seen New-Agey thinking creep into books like that. But from what I read in Jesus Calling, I didn't see any of those lines of thought. God is God, and we're not Him, and we do have His reassuring presence in our lives. We just need to look for it, and according to this book, listen for it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

How in the world did I end up here????!

When was the last time you stayed up late because you couldn’t put down a nonfiction book? That’s right, I can’t think of a time either. I stayed up wayyyy too late, nearly 1 AM, finishing this book. I chose The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley ecause it sounded like something that would benefit not just me, but my family and any friends who’d like to borrow the book.

Whether it’s your health, finances, career, relationships—this book offers strategies to get you on the path you’d like to be on. Most of us have some regrets—how’d this extra 50 pounds get on my body—why do I hate my job?—how did I end up in this relationship?—where did all this debt come from?

This isn’t a self-help book with generic, warm ‘n fluffy, positive self-talk. Yes, you’ll come away encouraged. But this book is also scripture-based, referring to the lives of King David, King Solomon. It provides concrete examples from the Bible about God’s principles and how they affect the paths we take. The solutions aren’t easy. We need to pay attention to what we’re paying attention to. We’re often far better at knowing what to do than actually doing it. We don’t realize the small choices we make are but links in a long chain of events that make us end up…somewhere.

Oh, and there’s a plus, too. When I was reading chapter 3, I remarked to my husband that there ought to be a study guide with this book. A-ha! I paged to the end, and sure enough, a study guide.

This book is not a complicated read—it reads very fast for nonfiction—but the concepts will make you pause and think. And probably stay up too late reading it. At least I did.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Word Of Promise: The Gift of Psalms

As a reviewer/blogger for Thomas Nelson Publishing, I have the opportunity to read and "try" different products. I'm a big fan of the Psalms, which is why I chose The Word of Promise: The Gift of Psalms. A variety of actors read 50 psalms, and while part of me enjoyed hearing the Words, I wasn't a big fan of the dramatic reading. Sometimes, no, most of the time, I think it's best to read the Words and not put so much emphasis on trying to make them sound dramatic. Like I tell my daughter, sometimes less is more. But that's just my opinion. All that said, the whole package is beautifully put together with the CDs and devotional book, in which each devotion corresponds to a given Psalm. Our lives are so busy that often we can't read as much as we'd like. This set would be ideal to pop into your car's CD player and listen to in traffic. Nothing soothes like the Psalms!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Makeup Mirrors and Graveyards

"Every man should have a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends."
-- Henry Brooks Adams

I have no idea who Henry Brooks Adams is, but the guy made a great point.

When I was in college, I had a lighted makeup mirror. . It had a border of bright lights and the mirror could be switched to a magnifier. All I can say now is "UGH" about the thought of magnification. Every little line, pore, and blemish--I can't hide from what I see. My husband loves my eyes, but somehow blemishes and lines stand out more to me when I look in a magnifying mirror.

The same is true with friendship. The more time we spend with someone, I can say with 100% certainty that we'll see flaws and faults we didn't notice at first. Just like looking in the mirror, we can't miss those imperfections. They're magnified, unfortunately. We can't escape the reflection of truth. And sooner or later, lest we get smug and congratulate ourselves at what a wonderful friend we are, we end up showing own faults for our friends to see.

So shouldn't surprise us when our friends show us their faults, and we need to head out to the cemetery that Mr. Adams speaks of. We must shoulder our shovel, drag our friend's offending fault behind us, and start shoveling.

As we dig, we must say, "I know this is my friend's fault/flaw. Because they are my friend and I love them, I will bury this fault and won't keep it with me. I choose not to hold this against them." We are all works in progress, and our friends remind us of this without saying a word.

Sometimes small offenses can pile up over time, and before we know it, we're lugging a wheelbarrow full of them with us. One friend or another has misspoken or treated us carelessly, and we never make that trip to bury their fault. This can damage friendships over time, even small things. Recently I have learned just that. Someone had offended me, not in a large way, and I lugged the incident around for far, far longer than I should have.

On the other hand, I also recently have been reminded that my own faults can irritate, or worse, injure my friends. But this is what friends are for--not to be injured, but to remind us of where we fall short. Friends are the ones who will not hold our faults against us. Instead, our friends will simply hug us, pick up their shovel, and head for the graveyard of forgiveness where our faults are buried.

We should ask ourselves:

Am I carrying reminders of my friend's faults?
Do I need to forgive my friend's offenses or bury those irritations against me?
Do I need to think more before I speak and/or act?
Am I thinking of what I want, more than what is important to my friend?
Do I need to ask forgiveness from my friend?

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. " Colossians 3:12-14

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." Proverbs 27:6

Miss any previous posts? Check out Friendship Series, and read from the bottom up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So Long, Farewell...

Sometimes the best thing we can do for a friendship and the well-being of our hearts is just to let the friendship go. Change is part of life, and relationships change as well.

I don't know if you've ever had this happen to you, but it's hard when someone who was more than a fringe type of friend (see my post, Love That Fringe, below) cuts you out, without explanation or a clear reason in your mind. The book of Proverbs says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." I always understood this to mean that the closer we are to someone, the more they can hurt us, but if we are close to them, the hurt can be overcome by the love we have for our friend.

But what do you do when you realize a good friend has shifted to the fringe of your life, and you don't know what happened to cause the change?

I live in a military area. It's pretty safe to say that my entire circle of friends is made up of people with military ties, either currently or formerly. Dear friends who became like family often move, and that always hurts. They leave behind a hole that must be filled, where once there were smiles, laughter, good times, and even some hard times. I suppose I should be used to it by now after seventeen years.

With the advancement of the on-line world, keeping in touch has been much easier with Facebook and e-mail. I have literally dozens of friends all over the world now and every time I hear from them, I smile and I'm glad we still have that connection. In fact, my husband and I had a great time on Saturday night with one couple (Love ya, Nick & Kineta, if you guys are reading this!).

There does come a time, though, when we need to release friendships and allow them to fade into memories. This has happened to me not so long ago with two particular friendships. I can't deny it's painful, but I've seen that there are people in my life right now in front of me who have become the ones I can laugh with, cry with, and pray with.

My words are simple: don't belabor a lost friendship. I spent time and tears trying to figure out "what went wrong," and no answers came. I sent an e-mail or two, a card, left a message or two, sent a small birthday gift in one instance, and nothing. Lest I sound like a stalker--LOL!--all of this happened over the course of months, to years, in the case of one friendship. I realized I had to let them go, and stop trying.

While love never fails or gives up, in this case, I had to let my feelings go and relinquish any claim to a true friendship. Should I hear from them again--and I have in the case of one person--I've simply smiled and nodded, acknowledging what once was. And expected nothing more.

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves a few questions:
Am I hanging onto a friendship that has changed?
Am I trying too hard to keep a friend who's clearly moved on (literally or figuratively)?
Have I been blind to the idea that this particular friendship may have been just for a season in my life?
Have I not seen the new possibilities for friendships right in front of me, because I've invested so much time in a lost cause?
Have I been clinging to a friendship for my own self-worth?

I'm sure we can all think of a friendship that's changed, and we need to accept that change. And I'm sure we can all open our eyes, and see the possibility of new friends immediately surrounding us. We all want to belong. We all want to be loved.

So long, the ones I've had to let go. And if you're reading this post and know me, you're probably NOT one of them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Love that Fringe! I think?

"What is acquaintance? What a funny, hard word." ~ Aunt Beast, A Wrinkle In Time

I just love the character of Aunt Beast from that wonderful Madeleine L'Engle book. She's right about the sound of the word acquaintance, though. It sounds proper, stiff. But many of us have a ton of acquaintances. I looked the word up in the dictionary.

Acquaintance: "a person whom one knows but who is not a particularly close friend."

Think of standing around the water cooler, or hanging out at the kid's soccer game, or. . .any informal situation where we encounter others on a regular basis. We get to know the generic stuff. Family, interests, likes, dislikes, the boring activities of everyday life, and maybe an occasional quirk thrown in to make it interesting.

Many of us are really good at having acquaintances. It's sort of like owning a jacket with lots of fringe on the arms. Fringe adds a little something to the look, but it's not like a sleeve or insulation against the elements or buttons. Fringe is just...fringe. According to the dictionary, fringe is "a marginal, peripheral, or secondary part."

I suppose you could also call acquaintances casual friends. We know them by name, we know things about them, but it's mostly surface information. That's where most friendships start, as we discover the common ground we all share. Acquaintances aren't people we usually call in a jam. We might not wonder much if we haven't heard from them in a week or two.

When does an acquaintance become a true friend, when they are more than just on the fringe of our lives? Maybe it's when one person shares more than everyday life, and shares a bit of their heart. And the other responds in kind. I think it's important to tread cautiously when we do this, or we could end up having a one-sided friendship.

Speaking of friendships, here's a thought-provoking blog post from 97 Seconds With God on how we choose our true friends.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sponges and Granite

Some friends are like sponges, some like granite.

A sponge can be a very good thing to have when you're trying to wash a car. You have a constant supply of soapy water. Some friends are like sponges. They pour into your lives and the time you spend together leaves you refreshed. At least that's how it should be.

But some friends, insecure or needy ones, can be like dry sponges. They always draw from you and after very many encounters, or very few, you're the one feeling drained and exhausted.

I must admit I've been both kinds of a spongy friend. I love giving to my friends, and I like to think that they enjoy spending time with me, whether it's something as simple as shoe shopping, or an IM chat, or laughter around the dinner table. But during my own dry times is when I need the refreshment of a friend. And sadly, people don't enjoy friends who are always "draining" them.

We get out of balance when we rely solely on our friends to refresh our souls. I believe that God uses people as tangible reminders of His presence and His love. But there's no substitute for spending time with our Heavenly Father.

Other friends are like granite. I would venture to say that these people are mostly granite on the outside. Life has taught them to be tough. Receiving from those friends made of granite is difficult at best. After all, they're not sponges. Those whose hearts and souls are granite through and through probably do not have many friends at all. Granite is tough and cold. It can't hold anything or give anything. It merely exists and must be chiseled and chopped away. Granite is tough and probably lasts forever.

Granite is also pretty clueless. Stone can't refresh you, although it's good for paving and building, so it does have its uses. Friends made of granite need softening, if that's possible. But I know Someone Who specializes in impossibilities. If you have a clueless friend of granite, be patient with them and pray for that softening to happen.

Things to ask ourselves:

Am I a dry sponge of a friend?
Am I always trying to soak from others?
How much time do I spend pouring into my friends?
Do I exhaust one friendship and drain it dry, then move on to someone else?
Am I spending time being refreshed by Living Water?

Am I granite?
Am I clueless, unable to receive from anyone?
Have I allowed life to harden me to the point where I've not allowed myself to receive from anyone?
Do I need softening so I can learn to be a better friend?

Next time..."Acquaintances" and playing it safe

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Friends: Fair or Foul?

Little kids make friends so easily. It's just not fair. Life for them is simple. One afternoon at the playground on the swings can bond them to another tighter than Superglue. Not fair, as I said. No complications, just the simple joy of another soul to spend a few hours with.

We get older, and we complicate matters. We drag our insecurities and our selfishness into the mix and our prejudices, and we can end up with a mess.

So, on to fair-weather friends. What are they? I had to look this one up to make sure I had the right definition in my head. Those kind of friends are great to have around when life is good. Go to a concert, a movie, water ski, you name it. But if you're going through any a tough time or drama, don't expect their presence or input. Need a room painted? "Oh, sorry. I'm busy that day." Now, I'm not saying a friend should be at another's beck and call. That's sort of unrealistic.

But if there's a pattern developing--if someone constantly bails on you if you need them, wouldn't you wonder if your friendship had a good foundation? Maybe that would be a good time to refine your expectations. I'll get into expecting too much from a friend another time. I've been guilty of this. If you have a fair-weather friend, don't put them on your short list of people to call when you're in a jam.

The opposite type of friend is what I call a foul-weather friend. They're the ones who drain you dry. Their crisis become your crisis. But once they don't need you anymore, you can't find them. They're quick to move on. And then your heart and investment in them are left with nothing. Remember what I said before, about friendship being a time investment. When I'm a friend, I make them a priority, for the good and bad times. These type of friendships are the ones that make me look back wistfully, wondering what happened. And I end up mentally exhausted and literally drained from giving to them. My dear sweet husband and I have had this happen to us, and we've learned a hard lesson. Don't be so quick to jump at their call. Every crisis is not the end of the world, and realize that people can be fickle. Let them learn to stand on their own instead of depending on you to solve their problem.

So, time for a little self-evaluation. Ask yourself, as I ask myself these questions, and evaluate your friendships:

Do I take more than I give?
Do I disappear when times get tough?
Do I expect my friends to drop what they're doing for my latest crisis?
Do I ignore people when I don't "need" anything from them?
Do I only show up for the "fun"?

Remember: "A friend loves at all times." The highest form of love is not self-seeking, but it seeks the best for the other person.

Next: The insecure (gulp) friend and the clueless one.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

On Friends and Friendship

Lately I've been thinking about friends, how friendships start, how to keep friends, how friendships succeed and how they fail, and how/when to let them go. I don't know about you, but I'm one of those people who when I make a friend, I generally like to keep them. Time is precious, and time spent with a friend is an investment. It might be something simple, but the fact that we allow each other into our lives says a lot about our priorities.

There's fair-weather friends and stormy-weather friends; insecure friends and clueless friends; friends for a season and friends for a lifetime. I've had and probably been all of them at one time or another.

Before I get into any of my thoughts, I thought I'd share some quotes I found about friendships:

"Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant."- Socrates

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."- Helen Keller

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up." - Ecclesiastes

"Every man should have a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends." - Henry Brooks Adams

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” - C.S. Lewis

"Friends always show their love. What are brothers for if not to share troubles?"- Proverbs 17:17

"Some friendships do not last, but some friends are more loyal than brothers."- Proverbs 18:24

"An honest answer is the sign of true friendship." - Proverbs 24:26

"A friend means well, even when he hurts you. But when an enemy puts his hand round your shoulder - watch out!" - Proverbs 27:6

So what is this mystery called friendship, the secret ingredient that connects people to each other? We can say we are destined to be friends with those whom we have the most in common, but I've learned that's not necessarily the case. I'll continue that thought another time!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On The Air Today!

I will be interviewed at 10:35 PST today by KZSB AM 1290 in Santa Barbara, California, on Baron Ron Herron's radio show. The program airs in Santa Barbara , Goleta , Carpinteria, Ventura , Thousand Oaks and Los Angeles County . In addition, the show is rebroadcast on KNRY AM 1240 in Monterey , Salinas , Santa Cruz and Pebble Beach ; KNWZ-II AM 1270 in Palm Desert, Palm Springs , Indio and Rancho Mirage. The program is delayed broadcast in Australia on 99.7 FM in Queensland and to another 30+ radio stations via ComRadSat. Have no idea when the delayed broadcasts air, but thought I'd post this info.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Fruit and Fads

On Today's Menu:

Holy Mixed Fruit Medley!

There's an old song that goes: "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love..." I remember we sang it around the fire at camp, back in the Kum By Ya era. (I must note that back then I was very, very young.)

Am I showing Christ and how to live a Christian life because I say the right words and know the special secret code catch phrases? (See? I used a catch phrase there--'showing Christ,' as if I carried Him in my pocket to share with the class at show-and-tell.) In some circles, it's not enough to answer, "I'm fine," when someone asks how you're doing. It's better to say, "I'm blessed."

Do we think that because we wear only Christian clothes, read only Christian books, tune into only Christian news, listen to only Christian music, speak only Christian phrases, suck on Testa-mints instead of Tic-Tacs, consume only Christian food and drink that these things make us examples to others? "Be like me, join our club." Do we think someone wants to join in based on just those things?

What fruit do our lives bear? It doesn't matter if we look like Christ's #1 fan on the outside with a T-shirt that says "Go God!" in red festooned with pom-poms.

"The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren't being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees--Jews in general, in fact--would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they'd give jugs and pots and pans).

The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, "Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?"

Jesus answered, "Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull's-eye in fact:
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn't in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don't mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,
Ditching God's command
and taking up the latest fads."

Jesus called the crowd together again and said, "Listen now, all of you--take this to heart. It's not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it's what you vomit--that's the real pollution.

When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, "We don't get it. Put it in plain language."

Jesus said, "Are you being willfully stupid? Don't you see that what you swallow can't contaminate you? It doesn't enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed."

He went on: "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness--all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution."

Excerpts from Mark chapter 7 (the Message)

Lord, help me work on my insides most of all. I won't have to say "I'm blessed" or drive down the road with Mercy Me blaring out the windows (although I like Mercy Me), or buy the latest Holy Joe wrist band (in rainbow colors!). When You shine through, I won't have to try to look like a groupie. (

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I slithered out of bed at 5 AM, knocked on the kids' doors, and one of them got up with me to see the lunar eclipse. Wow. No, I didn't take the photo on the left. A guy by the name of Ted Phillips did, and this was how the moon appeared to us. The night before, the family and I had made a trek to Wal-Mart. The full moon lit up the sky like a silver dollar. Cliche, but it did.

Then when we got up at 5 AM, this was how the moon appeared. Dark, brooding, shadowed, mysterious, as if someone had dropped a veil in front of it to block the glow of the sun--oh wait! That was us, on Earth.

Can you imagine what seeing a lunar eclipse meant to those living centuries before us? Yes, I know that scientists finally figured out there are orbits, that the Earth moves around the sun and the moon circles around the Earth. But to the common people, to the superstitious. I wonder if they thought the world was ending, or that the shadowed moon foretold great judgment would befall them. However, they simply didn't understand what was going on in front of their eyes. Then, hours later, the shadow would pass and the silver glow would return.

How many times do we not understand what's going on in front of us? Lord, this is disastrous. Lord, what's going on? I can't see Your goodness. How can this work for Your glory? I just don't understand.

These are the questions and statements that don't surprise our Father at all. It's true. We don't understand. But if we trust Him like we say we do, we'll keep trusting and waiting. Either we believe He's all-powerful and all-knowing, or we don't. How much do we try to figure out, or handle on our own and mess up even worse? I admit there are tough questions, those vicious unanswered why's that echo back. Right now, I try to stop asking, and instead say, "I trust You. The moon is shadowed and it can't mean anything good. But I trust You."

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Sob Story

On Today's Menu:
A Pity Party, With Chips

This is from an old post in the 2005 archives, but it's still relevant today so I thought I'd share it again. Ironically, I can't recall WHO I wrote this about. So their secret's still safe with me...

A friend has a problem, and I desperately want to help her. I believe she wants help, but I wonder why she still goes back and does the same things again and again? My compassion is wearing thin by now. Bear with me for a moment as I think aloud.

As a Christian, I believe I have every answer to every problem I'll ever face. Not in me, of course. I can mess things up quicker than a kid can stuff a PB 'n J sandwich into a DVD player and push "play." I succeed when I surrender to what Jesus wants for me in spite of my feelings, in spite of circumstances and when it seems like the world is spinning out of control. I may go along kicking and screaming, but I'm going along with Him anyway.

What a relief that my faith is not based on "getting it right" so I can achieve "paradise," or whatever other religions may offer. I would be the worst Buddhist, Christian Scientist, etc., (you fill in the blank) if it totally depended on me. But in spite of my failures and occasional cases of the "uglies," there's hope for me because of Christ.

Why then, do I continually see people who live as if there is no hope for them? They profess that they follow Christ and His teachings, they say they believe in the Bible, but the way they deal with their struggles is anything but hope-filled.

So that brings me back to my friend. I wish I could help her, I really do, but until she knows for sure that Jesus is her deliverer and she can be strong in spite of what she's up against, my efforts are futile. All the self-talk and positive thoughts will provide only temporary comfort. She's left with herself and her struggles when the words die out.

Is it any wonder why some choose not to follow Christ? If those of us who do live as though we have no answers, I don't blame them. Then again, when all is said and done, we can't point the finger because so-and-so didn't act like a "Christian."Like when my kids bicker and say, "Well, they're not acting right, so--" No excuses, no sob story, no blame game.

Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.God can do anything, you know--far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Ephesians 3:19-20, The Message

Friday, January 02, 2009

For The Tough Times: By Max Lucado

I have to admit, I'm a Max Lucado fan. So when I had the chance to review For The Tough Times, of course I didn't pass up the chance.

Plus, I've had both friends and family going through some really, really tough times. Grief, loss, disappointment. Questions abound when the rug gets ripped out from under you. And when you're in pain, sometimes it's hard to remember the truths that you hear week after week in church.
This book can help remind us of what we know, or ought to know, with chapters titled:
Where is God? [nothing like starting with a biggee]
God's Great Love [something infinite, but beautifully portrayed in this section]
Eyes on the Father
Good Triumphant
The Bitter Taste of Revenge
In the Silence God Speaks
In the Storm We Pray
From God's Perspective
No emotion is left out--anger, regret, sorrow, the questions--and even though my troubles and storms are quiet during this season, I found my own eyes filling with tears as I read.
Not a long book, but enough to comfort. I'm sending my copy to a friend, and buying a few more to give to others as the need arises.
On an aside note: Max Lucado and a TON of other authors (including me) will be at the Christian Book Expo in Dallas March 20-22. What a spring break weekend! What an author line-up! And it's all because of readers. Hey, I'm a fan too, and I'm really looking forward to cruising the exhibit hall after my time at the booth is over.