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God Is Speaking

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I was sitting at my desk, surrounded by books and notepads with my laptop nearby and my cup half full of that oh-so-delicious afternoon coffee.

There’s something truly wonderful about preparing to write a new book, something so deeply intimate about spending time with God in the stillness of a room as He guides and teaches you about things you know very little about but are excited to learn.

Before I go on and on, leaving you to feel as if you’re in a vague fog, I promise there’s a point to all of this for you.

I can’t tell you exactly what I’m researching for my next book. (For those of you who know me, it’s the “purple elephant” all over again.) You see, if I were to tell you I’m writing a book about a purple elephant, you might look at me like I’m crazy and question why I wouldn’t make it pink or polka-dotted. Then I would start to doubt my purple elephant and question all of my work. Not only that, I don’t want to stick my purple elephant in a padlocked trunk (no pun intended) in case he needs to be rewritten in the middle of the story as a flying potato with antlers and chicken wings. (Can you tell my heart is yearning to write fiction?)

So I have to be all hush-hush about this book I’m writing, but I can tell you one thing about it – there won’t be any flying potatoes as far as “eye” can see. 🙂

But I can share something about this process that might help you if you’re working on something close to your heart or embarking on a new journey (could this be mine?!) – when you ask God to help you tackle something that is so far beyond your own knowledge, capabilities, or confidence, He will tiptoe into the room with you, pull up a chair, and gently whisper to you. He will teach you through His Holy Spirit.

All you have to do is ask, be still and listen, and takes notes the best you can.

And should God choose to speak through something visual like a rainbow landing right in your backyard on an unusually warm day in January and teach you how it connects to the very question you asked Him earlier, grab your camera and do your best to stop giggling so you can get the shot. Just remember, the lesson doesn’t end when you capture the image; God can reveal the hidden layers, the depth of His lesson even while you’re brushing your teeth the next morning.

God is speaking, my friend. And the Holy Spirit is teaching. Can you hear Him?

“And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:12 NLT.)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 ESV.)

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10 NIV.)

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26 ESV.)

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A New Chapter

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When I was a little girl, I loved Christmas so much I’d sulk when it was over as I headed back to school. There was a vacant spot in our family room where the Christmas tree had been with a few abandoned pine needles stuck to the carpet and mere crumbs staring up at me from the bottom of the cookie jar. My young life seemed bare and gray without all the decorations and sugary goodness.

But now I’m a little more grown-up (a little!) and there is such excitement with a new year stretching out before me because I know the Author who is going to write the next chapter in my life, giving me the tiniest glimpse in the form of a single word to ponder and pray about. (And if I know anything about God, it’s that I will never know all there is to know about Him; that alone leaves me biting my bottom lip in anticipation and wide-eyed with wonder.)

I’ve learned that when I ask God to give me a clue about the upcoming year, I’m like a little girl again only I’m not wearing pigtails and I’m not waiting to shred wrapping paper to get to a new toy. Instead, I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to pounce on the “new” and follow God on some grand and amazing adventure.

Funny, the word “adventure” leads me right into this year’s word, but it’s important to look back because the words are connected just like the chapters in a book.

Previous words: obey, new, wisdom, hope, and perseverance. And last year’s word: bold.

I smile when I think about some of the things God called me to do last year and how I needed to be bold and rely on Him for His strength – start a women’s group, speak to two groups of ladies on the same day (yikes, I was nervous!), submit my novel to an amazing agent, preach, let go of the past, ask for more of God, loosen my overprotective-momma-bear grip on our daughter knowing God’s gentle touch is always going to be better, and start speaking up about things I don’t like and things I know God doesn’t want me doing. (I’m really not supposed to have a garden or a bakery; the little pig-tailed dreamer in me has her pouty lip out.)

As I began praying and asking God weeks ago in the middle of December for the next word, the chapter title for 2019, God whispered it so profoundly to my heart:

Journey.

Oh my, what a big word! It could mean anything, really. A spiritual journey, a physical journey, a journey of healing… The list could go on and on.

Thankfully, I don’t have to have it all figured out, but I know I’ll need to be bold (see how the words are connected!). And I know God will walk with me, step by step, into this new year as He and I set out on this journey together.

And really, my friends, there is no toy or cookie that could ever be as sweet as the excitement and anticipation of drawing close to God as we begin the new chapter He has for us, revealing the abundant life He’s planned all along.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV.)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB.)

 

 

Overwhelmed at Christmas

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With so much to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed at Christmas. There are parties to attend and host, baking and more baking, gifts to buy, wrap, and exchange, cards to deliver, and perhaps a little something God whispered to your heart like volunteering or helping someone who’s really struggling this time of year.

It can be a bit overwhelming.

Since visiting Walmart and our local mall yesterday, I know I’m not the only one. The overall feeling was “hurry” and the basic maneuvering of pushing a grocery cart was at breakneck speed, dodging others who were doing the same.

But let me tell you what God has done to help me slow down:

I sprayed myself in the face (with God’s help, I believe 🙂 ) with the sink sprayer while hurrying to clean up, the water also hitting my arm and landing in a puddle on the floor. I found the puddle after laughing, thanking God for the wake-up call, and turning to leave the moment behind; I left with an even bigger smile and a wet sock.

I watched deer playing in the backyard, chasing each other and circling around; their white tails wagging and waving at me as if to remind me to find joy in the moments all around me.

I “found” a bright and beautiful dandelion (my favorite!) on my walk…in December?! Of course I picked it and put in a glass on the windowsill.

Laughter, so much laughter and joy. Laughing at a silly reindeer hat and broken glasses with close friends, cracking up over eating bread (long story!) with some wonderful friends from church, and laughing with God as I remembered Him spraying me in the face (see above).

Our dear Pastor stopped what she was doing to hug me and breathe with me. It was as if God used her to wrap His arms around me to tell me to calm down and breathe.

I can’t tell you the number of times I looked into the eyes of children (those riding in grocery carts, walking through stores, and talking with me at McDonald’s) and saw the peace and love of God Himself.

And something God did to not only slow me down, but to remind me Who Christmas is about and to fix my eyes on Him:

He reminded me why Jesus came, and He led me back to the cross. (To go there with me, click here.)

God taught me being overwhelmed at Christmas is a very good thing, not when we’re overwhelmed by the world and its demands, but when we’re overwhelmed by Jesus Christ Himself.

I pray you and I are overwhelmed by Jesus Christ this Christmas.

Merry Christmas and blessings to you all!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Writing Christmas stories is something I’ve enjoyed doing for years. To read more on this, click here. Merry Christmas and God bless!

Christmas 2018 globe story

I hid in my pickup truck in the garage. I didn’t want to fall apart in front of Maddie. It was bad enough my daughter lost her mom so close to Christmas. I didn’t want her to think she was losing her dad to loud sobbing fits. I was supposed to be the strong one, the tough guy. But somehow I felt smaller than my five-year-old who played with baby dolls.

Leslie, my wife, always knew how to talk to Maddie. But since three o’clock in the afternoon two Wednesdays ago, after a horrible accident involving my wife’s minivan and a big rig, I was on my own to raise our daughter.

The truth: I was lost without Leslie. I was lucky I could get myself out of bed every morning and make coffee. And somehow I managed to wash our clothes and boil water for hot dogs. Other than that, I dragged myself through the dark nightmare my life had become. The only thing that brought me any light was when Maddie held my hand when we walked to her ballet class.

I wasn’t much of a praying man, but I found myself bent over the steering wheel and crying as my heart split open and the words spilled out.

Please help me, God. I don’t know how to go on from here.

More tears fell until I finally pulled myself together, blowing my nose on some napkins I found tucked in the glovebox under a church bulletin. I hadn’t been much of a church goer since I was a kid, since accepting Jesus. I’d gone a few times to make my wife happy, but my dad always said, “Men that go to church are weak” and I had my “tough” reputation to uphold.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. Both of my eyes were swollen like someone had sucker punched me. Oh sure. I’m a tough guy all right. I felt like a big fake.

I got out of my truck, slammed the door, and grabbed a screwdriver from my toolbox; my excuse for coming to the garage. I went into the house and found Maddie sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor with Sylvia, her favorite baby doll, resting in her arms. Maddie’s strawberry-blonde hair was the same as her mom’s, and I wondered if I would ever be able to braid it like my wife had done.

She stopped rocking Sylvia when she saw me. “Want to hold her, Daddy?”

I smiled. “Maybe later. Are you getting hungry?”

“I don’t want a hot dog.”

I chuckled, the sound startling me. “Me neither. Why don’t we go to town and get a pizza?”

Maddie smiled, revealing the tiny window where a front tooth had fallen out last week.

When we got back with a large cheese pizza, the house was completely dark. Quickly I turned on some lights and those on the Christmas tree. I couldn’t stand the darkness; there was enough of that inside of me already.

“Can we watch a Christmas movie, Daddy?”

She was the spitting image of my wife; those hazel eyes pleading to watch Christmas movies. I could hear my wife’s soft response in my ear, and I repeated it to Maddie:

“Only if you put on your PJs.”

She squealed, ran to her bedroom, and moments later, emerged wearing snowman footy PJs with Sylvia wearing the same.

“You have to wear yours, too, Daddy.”

“Maybe later. Why don’t you pick out the movie, and I’ll get us some milk to drink.”

After we finished eating a few slices of pizza and somewhere in the middle of Frosty the Snowman, Maddie fell asleep beside me on the couch; her head rested against my arm. Carefully, I scooped her up and carried her to her bed; it was one of a thousand moments that made my heart ache for my wife who loved tucking Maddie in at bedtime.

I pulled her covers up, turned on the nightlight, and quietly closed the door. I didn’t want to go back to the living room yet, so I went to our bedroom closet where Leslie had stashed some Christmas presents in a large garbage bag, those she’d already wrapped. I liked holding them, knowing her hands had been the last ones to touch whatever was underneath the red and green paper. I was sure there was a flannel shirt for me and an ornament for Maddie.

Every year, Leslie and I would pick out an ornament for Maddie, something she’d done or enjoyed that year. Last Christmas was the year she fell in love with eating ice cream from the cone, so of course we got her an ice cream cone ornament. This year, Leslie and I decided it should have something to do with dancing, although I hadn’t seen the ornament yet.

I returned the garbage bag to the back of the closet and opened my bottom dresser drawer where I hid Leslie’s gift.  I bought her a soft, red blanket because she was always cold and wanted nothing more than to cuddle on the couch and watch Christmas movies. It was folded and had a cardboard sleeve around it and snowflakes in all different sizes. Leslie would have loved it. I held it to my chest and lost it again, the blanket holding my tears and muffling my cries.

Christmas Eve, I sat beside Maddie in her velvety green dress and shiny black shoes, her feet dangling above the church floor. She’d begged me to take her, and I was glad I did. I found myself feeling closer to Leslie and when the choir sang “O Holy Night,” I found myself feeling closer to God, too. It had been years since I’d felt that way.

When we got home, Maddie kicked off her shoes and ran to her bedroom.

“I need to get Mommy’s present,” she yelled.

My heart hurt so much I thought I was having a heart attack. I took a few deep breaths and the pain went away. I braced myself for our little family tradition of opening one present each on Christmas Eve; the first tradition of many without my wife.

Maddie returned with two packages she’d wrapped with a little help from the Christmas Store helper at school. She handed me something skinny with a silver ribbon.

“I got this for you, Daddy.”

I knew better than to hesitate. When Maddie handed you a present and stared at you like she was holding her breath, it meant you needed to open it before she busted a lung.

I ripped off the ribbon and the paper. “It’s a tire pressure gauge,” I said. “Thank you.”

She jumped into my arms and kissed my cheek.

“Can I open Mommy’s for her?”

I didn’t know how she was handling it all so well. A lump had lodged in my throat so I nodded. She slid to the floor and shredded the Christmas tree paper.

I cleared my throat. “That’s a really nice candle you got for her.”

“It smells like coffee,” she said, sniffing it and smiling like this was the most natural thing in the world.

“Your mom would have loved…”

She jumped up. “Can I open mine?”

I was glad she interrupted me. The words seemed to stick in my throat like someone squeezed and held them there.

I nodded, went to the bag in the closet, and returned with a small package I was pretty sure was her ornament. Maddie stopped fiddling with my tire pressure gauge and clasped her hands together in front of her mouth like she could hardly contain her excitement; something her mom always did.

The gift barely left my hands before Maddie ripped off the paper.

“Wow,” she whispered.

Maddie held a snow globe ornament in her hands, staring into the tiny world like she could will herself to step into it. A girl wearing a long, silver dress and rosy cheeks stood in a field of snow with her head titled back and arms outstretched as if she were dancing.

Carefully, Maddie tipped it upside down, then right side up, and watched as the little flecks of white floated down, landing on the girl’s face.

Kisses from Heaven.

The thought startled me. I remembered the night I took Leslie to dinner while we were dating, and she stopped right in the middle of a crowd of people on the sidewalk when it started to snow. She stood there, looked up, and smiled. And when I asked her what she was doing, she’d said, “Someone is sending me kisses from Heaven, and I want to take them all in.” Funny, I’d forgotten about that until now.

“Daddy, don’t be sad,” Maddie said, noticing the tears I couldn’t stop. “People in snow globes aren’t stuck forever.”

I wiped my eyes. “What?”

“I used to be sad for the people stuck in snow globes, too. But Mommy said it’s like all of us on the earth. We’re sort of stuck here until Jesus says it’s our turn to go home. And Heaven is our real home. This is just where we have to stay for now.”

I nodded.

“Mommy said the earth can be pretty like a snow globe. But Heaven is going to be really, really pretty.”

It sounded like something my wife would have said.

“Daddy,” Maddie said, picking up Sylvia from the couch, “can Sylvia have some hot chocolate?”

“And watch a Christmas movie?” I asked.

She grinned and squeezed Sylvia.

While Maddie changed into her PJs, I retrieved the red blanket I’d gotten for Leslie. My heart began to ache again, knowing I would have given it to her tonight to cuddle with while we watched a Christmas movie. I decided to give it to Maddie to use, knowing Leslie would have loved the idea.

A Charlie Brown Christmas and two mugs of steaming hot chocolate were ready when Maddie flopped beside me in her PJs. I pulled the cardboard sleeve off the blanket and unfolded it, gasping when I realized there were words I hadn’t seen hidden in the folds.

“What does that say, Daddy?”

“I’ll be home for Christmas.”

Maddie smiled. “Mommy is home for Christmas. It was her turn to go home.”

I stared at my five-year-old. “How did you get to be so smart?”

“God. I talk to Him all the time.”

I smiled because I knew it had to be true.

“And He said you can talk to Him too, Daddy. He said He misses you more than you miss Mommy. He said He will help you not to be sad anymore. And He said you don’t have to be afraid of the dark. He’s going to bring you lots of light.”

I fought the tears, but they came anyway. “Did He say anything else?”

She nodded. “He said you should learn to cook something other than hot dogs.”

I laughed a real, honest-to-goodness laugh and it felt so freeing. And somehow, someway, I felt like my wife was with us, kissing my cheek and laughing too.

The Story Behind the Christmas Stories

Christmas 2018 story

I started writing Christmas stories in 1996 just because I LOVED to write them.  And over time as I grew closer to God, the stories grew too, evolving from a fun tradition into something that deeply touches my heart and draws me even closer to Him.

The stories began as printed and stapled copies I’d share with family and friends. A few years later, I was hauling a bag of them around and recruiting my hubby and a few friends to help me pass them out in order to raise money for charity or families in need.

And by the grace of God, I’m humbled and so deeply honored to have seen them printed in The Outreacher for the past three years. (Thank you to one amazing and lovely Editor/Publisher, Julie Schultz!) I’m truly in awe of God and how He takes these short stories to places beyond my own reach here at home and to various countries through this blog. (Thank YOU for reading!!)

I’d like to continue helping those in need through these stories, but I need your help.  If you are blessed by this year’s story (or any of the Christmas stories I’ve written),  please reach out to the charity, family, or individual God places on your heart.  He will direct your steps and let you know what He wants you to do. 😉

And if you’d like to support The Outreacher as it takes the Good News of Jesus Christ into Tuscarawas County and beyond, you can email Julie Schultz at:  theoutreacher@hotmail.com.

Thank you!

I pray you enjoy this year’s story, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

And I pray you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas as you remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Forgotten and Ignored

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Have you ever felt forgotten or ignored? Maybe you’ve been passed over or pushed off to the back burner like you’re an old pan and your contents, well, they’re not that important so it won’t matter if they grow cold.

Other things come first. That is, until you’re needed. Then you’re called upon and pulled to the front of the stove with a strong tug. You’re given attention and great care. All of a sudden you matter. All of a sudden you’re not invisible anymore.

But you hold your breath because you know it’s going to happen again. It’s a cycle you’ve come to expect.

You’re called upon when you’re needed but not when you’re in need.

When you’re in need, you suffer quietly. Alone. You pray someone will reach out, that someone will answer your call. You hope someone will send you a word of encouragement because you’re fresh out and you’re struggling just to get through the day. So you push through and keep going.

Your schedule keeps you busy, sometimes too busy. No one knows all you try to accomplish in a single day, all the demands you try to meet, and all those you try to help because God has tucked their pictures gently into the folds of your heart. And you want to help, you want to be there. You really do.

But today, you’re empty. You’re like a lone bench abandoned in the snow. Waiting and hoping for God to rescue you because you know He will. He always does. Thank you, Lord.

But why is this awful feeling of dejection lingering so long this time? Where is God and why is He taking so long? While you’re waiting, you ask Him to teach you through it; to bring something good from all of this.

He reminds you of your daily prayer: More of You, Lord. I want more of You.

You find yourself getting mad. What sort of answer is buried in all this pain?

You begin to realize having more of God means being more like Jesus and walking in His footsteps, including some of those that bring pain.

Jesus felt every bit of what you’re feeling right now and so much more.

He was abandoned by those closest to Him, ignored, pushed aside, and forgotten. (Isn’t this happening a lot today?) But when there was a need, people flocked to Him.

Experiencing loneliness and abandonment softens your heart. Not right away, of course. At first you strike out in anger (or pull back in tears) and you try to stop giving and you try to stop caring. You try to harden your heart. But God won’t hear of it.

Why?

He wants your heart to be malleable to His touch (and His alone) so He can use you and your pain to reach out in a very real way. You see, when your heart has been beaten, it becomes so tender that you not only sympathize with those who feel invisible and those who are ignored, but you empathize. You feel their pain and you understand their suffering because you’ve been there.

And when you reach out to them, they see it. They know you’ve been there. And they see God in you. (So in a sense, your suffering draws them closer to God.)

And YOU get to see your Savior more clearly, understanding a little more of what He went through to come and love you right where you are today.

“He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.” (Isaiah 53:3 MSG.)

“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV.)

A Prison Cell

Training for Eternity

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When something takes place in your life that really hurts you in the core of your heart, it can be devastating. You feel trapped in the moment, stuck in the pain.  You try to move past it.  You try to let go of it again and again and wonder why it still lingers, like a penetrating ache in your chest.

You realize the pain has walled you in, becoming a prison cell. At first you find comfort here:  the walls protect you from being hurt again.  They keep people away.  But soon you learn you’re only free to walk around in the confined space, reliving the conversations, the crushing moments, and the devastating blows to your spirit.  You relive each failure in your mind, the guilt and shame wrapping itself around you like the cold, musty air in your cell. And you can’t see anything new, nothing to hope for because the…

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