Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Celebrate Love


In a few days many of us will be celebrating Christmas. This holiday holds different meanings for people all over the world. However, for all it is a time to celebrate love. To slow down from our sprint through life and see the faces of those around us instead of an indistinct blur.

What do we see? People we love, friends, beauty. We hear laughter and music. We smell fresh baked sugar cookies, and a crown roast in the oven. We also notice those who are lonely, in need, and hungry. And somehow we find extra money and provisions to share.

Oh, that we would live everyday like this.

Another curiosity about the holidays is the exhibition of "extreme emotion." Like the people in cars that blow their horns because they had to wait an extra thirty seconds for someone in front of them to turn. Emotions seem to be "extra charged" during this season.
For instance, I accompanied a friend to her speaking engagement. Before her turn to speak, two vocalists sang Michael W. Smith’s “Welcome to Our World.” There is a line in that song asking Jesus to bring His peace into our violence.

That struck me. Jesus was willing to bring His peace into our violence knowing that very violence would brutely take His life. During the three years of His ministry, people misconstrued His words, misunderstood His motives, mocked him, and hated him. It was unfair. But that never changed His love for them. For us.

Little did I know that when I returned home I would open up a violent email accusing me of all kinds of things I did not do. My words were misconstrued, my motives misunderstood, the writer mocked me, and hates me. It s unfair.

Will I love this person like Christ loves this person?
Yes.

But remember what love really is . . . a decision. It isn’t a feel good emotion. In fact, bad feeling emotions are the root of this whole ordeal. Emotions are poor thermometers to a person’s soul. They can be easily manipulated. Health problems, insecurities, frustrations and who knows what else is happening in this poor person's life that would cause such an extreme outlash.

Choosing to love is an act of the will. And because Christ chose to lay down His life for me and demonstrated real love, I am able to choose to love apart from my emotions.

If you have someone in your circle that is causing pain, remember Christ and His love for you. Go to Him and pray for your tormentor. Ask Him to bring peace in that person’s life and to bathe that person with love.

Celebrate love.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

November Devotion - Community








In this 21st century of individualism, where people drive into their garages and close the doors to the world, briefly acknowledge family members before flopping on the couch in front of the television or plugging I Pod buds in their ears, or sitting in front of their computer, there is an Eden of community. A place where people learn to be a part of the whole. This place in Greatham, England is called L'Abri.

L'Abri, French for shelter, is just that for the people who come seeking answers, peace, rest. I spent two days there and wish I'd stayed longer. What I found there was something I hadn't realized I'd lost. Community.

Students of all ages, races, and from many different countries live together dormitory style in a large 18th century manor home. There's no television and the internet is limited. However, there is a library filled with books addressing spiritual, emotional, and physical health as well as reference books. There is also a study room filled with tapes where one can listen to lectures from prominent spiritual teachers. Those staying at the manor are encouraged to spend part of the day reflecting, reading, and studying.


Life at the manor isn't all study. Students also work together. Some prepare meals, some clean, and some work on the grounds. After enjoying breakfast together in the dining room, the students check the daily work schedule to see what they are to do for that day. All through the house people spoke while mopping floors, hummed while sorting a mountain of laundry, and laughed together while chopping carrots freshly pulled from the garden. People who were once perfect strangers, now doing life together.

Meals are always enjoyed together. During Sunday lunch and the weekly evening meals a subject is tossed out. All are invited, even encouraged, to join in the discussion--which can be very lively at times. But no one is ridiculed or put down for their input.

On chilly nights a fire dances in the parlor hearth where students gather after the evening meal to talk, read, or play board games. Someone may play the piano, others bring their guitars, and fill the room with music. It was all about community. A place where people are valued and weaknesses are patiently overlooked.



I'm reminded of a time when conversation, music and books were the main source of entertainment and pleasure instead of television. A time when people looked each other in the eye when they spoke. A time when conversation sparked ideas, changed history. If I were to paint a picture of my experience at L'Abri it would look like a Norman Rockwell. I came away from there wishing for that same spirit of community in my hometown. Then it occurred to me that my desire was possible.How? It must begin with me in my own home.

This Thanksgiving is a good time to remember community starting with your family and friends, and practice it from now on. If you know of someone who has no place to go during the holidays, invite them to your home. Let them help and be a part of the family. Take the time to listen to those around you. Be patient with those you don't agree with. Spend time playing together.

And whatever you do, don't forget to help mom clean up the kitchen!!!!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

DEVOTION FOR OCTOBER


Aftermonths of hard work during the spring and summer, Mother Nature can finally let her leaves down, kick back and enjoy the fruits of her labor. It is the time of year when she dons a colorful dress and sports a cool air, intoxicating me with the spicy scent of mums.


I play tag with her while walking amidst the swirling rust and golden leaves. During fall evenings when the breeze is like velvet on my skin, I enjoy rocking on my front porch sipping hot tea and watching deer venture from the darkness of the woods. They quietly nibble acorns in the yard, occasionally checking to make sure I'm still in my chair.


It is times like these that I snuggle into a reflective mood. In the ebb and flow of life I've been on the top of the mountain, and down for the count from some pretty tough blows. How these blows will affect my life is up to me. Will I let hardships deepen me or darken me?
I admit, healing from life's assaults takes time. It is a process. Having eternal perspective helps me make the choice to allow adversity to strengthen my character. I have a great example in Christ. There is nothing I've suffered that Jesus can't understand. He was lied to, lied about, insulted, hated, spit on, rejected, stripped naked in public, beaten, and murdered.
But it says in I Peter 3 that He intrusted Himself to God who is a righteous judge. In the same way, I entrust myself to God. As it says in Romans 8:28, all things will be worked for my good. And there are times it has taken a faith beyond my understanding to believe that any good could possibly come from suffering.
One pathway to healing is to help others. Our pastor once said, "Nobody can help somebody like somebody who's been there." And that is so true.
Picture a leaf falling to the ground and incorporating back into the earth. In death it gives back to nature by creating a nourshing place for new life.
In the same way, if we allow our trials to create compassion in us for others, if we show our scars as evidence of a wound healed, we also give and nourish hope in our fellow man
Ahhhh, Autumn. I will enjoy you to the fullest and anticipate the coziness of the fire during winter. Thank you Lord, for giving me this time of refreshment.

Monday, September 17, 2007

September Devotion

Sunday morning the black cloud that had been over my head like the dust cloud over the Peanuts character “Pigpen” finally settled on my shoulders. It has been threatening to enshroud me for a few months during this season of testing. One hard circumstance comes on the heels of another. And although My personality element is wind and I’ve been about to rise above the trials, that morning it seemed all the oxygen was gone.

Neal and I arrived at the church building ten minutes late and found a pitch black sanctuary. I was told the electricity had gone out a couple hours earlier. Candles were burning all over the platform. An usher used a flashlight and found us a seat, just like at the movies. I started to suggest to my husband, “let’s just go home.” But we were already dressed and there.

It was uncomfortable sitting in the dark. I felt like we were in the catacombs. Only it was hot. No air conditioning. In fact there was no microphones, no praise band, no overhead with the lyrics to sing—nothing but dark. Our worship leader, Greg, led us in singing old familiar hymns and Pastor Steve played the piano. Immediately I felt ashamed of my grousing spirit. At least the pews were padded. How spoiled had I become anyway?

My eyes began to adjust to the dark and I saw the people around me worshiping, their faces illuminated by the small flickering flames. The old hymns, all penned by their authors during trials, ministered to my hurting heart. The darkness hid anything that could distract me and I finally relaxed and began to worship. The breath of God returned the oxygen to my spirit.

We have a little chorus we sing after the last stanza of Amazing Grace. It is simply singing Praise God to the same tune. Greg led us in Amazing Grace, and I lifted my hands in thanksgiving and submission to our amazing God. Then came time for the “extra” chorus. The second the word “Praise” came out of our mouths the lights in the sanctuary blazed on. It was an incredible experience.

I believe that morning was the Holy Spirit’s object lesson. So often, lately, I’ve felt “in the dark” and have had to follow close to a tiny candle flame. But then the eyes of my soul adjusted and I saw Jesus in my circumstance. He kept me from stumbling.

Sunday morning was a reminder that at the appointed time the lights will burst in brilliant glory. But until then, like is says in the Psalms, “even in darkness, light dawns for the righteous.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Devotion Moment for August

Growing up I’d seen photographs of Niagara Falls, been taught that over five billion gallons of water plummeted over the edge every hour equaling thirty-five million gallons of water per minute.
However, neither words nor photographs prepared me for the day when I witnessed this natural wonder with my own eyes. Turbulent green water rushed over the edge and crashed into the Niagara River below. The earth trembled and a cool mist sprayed my face. I experienced Niagara Falls.
Recently, I read Job 42:5 where he cried out, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. The Hebrew word used for “seen” in this passage literally means to experience. I thought back to my time at the falls. It is one thing to see pictures, quite another to feel the mist on my face. In the same way, it is good to go to church and hear the pastor, go to meetings and listen to others share about the Lord, but we shouldn’t let that be our only source of knowing God. Spending personal time with Him, reading His Word, talking to Him, and remembering to take time to listen, is how we gain understanding of Who He is and His purpose for our lives. Fill your senses with His Presence. Take a walk and study the great expanse above you, listen to creation’s songs, feel the thunder, smell the earth’s herbal bouquet. Experience God.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Eight Random Facts

My good friend Velda Brotherton just tagged me with a "meme," which requires me to tell eight random facts about myself. The very name--meme--brings to mind when I was in school and I knew the answer (didn't happen often) and I'd lift my hand, wave frantically, and say, "Me! Me!"

Well, here is what I came up with:

1. I went to the same high school as Mary Steenburgen and she sat next to me in Creative Writing class.

2. My grandmother was a Presley from Tupelo and it is family legend that we are related to Elvis. In fact, my sons do favor him.

3. When I was in junior high, I danced in the Nutcracker Suite. I was an acrobatic jester. Sigh--those were the days.

4. I finished my first novel, In the Elephants Shadow. "Finished" is the imperative word here. I find it hard to finish anything.

5. I'm a very young grandmother to Ethan, Elizabeth, and Robby.

6. My husband, Neal, and I will be married 30 years in January. It's been a great life!

7. We are building our retirement house in the middle of the woods--no yard, no grass, just trees, birds, squirrels, deer . . . I don't want to think about what crawls under those dead leaves!

8. Psalm 145 is why I am a public speaker & Psalm 102:18 is why I write.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Chicken Soup's Celebrating Brothers and Sisters is Here!




Avalilable in September! I love this edition. All of you who have siblings will love to read this book and it will make the perfect gift! My story is on page 80.



Friday, July 06, 2007

A Great Summer Read




My friend, Velda, has a great new book out, "Fly With the Mourning Dove." I highly recommend it! Once you pick it up, you won't put it down, so find a comfortable chair, have something yummy to drink, and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Welcome Home Soldier, Thank You

I just read a friend's blog. He wrote about the importance of remembering why we celebrate the 4th and to support the troops no matter what our opinion is of the war.

That brought to my mind a conversation I had with my brother, Claude, who served two tours in Vietnam. We spoke about the importance of never missing an opportunity to thank the young men and women who return from serving in the Middle East or who serve our country here at home.


We sat there on my patio in the dusky light and my brother got this far off look in his eye. I asked him, "What are you thinking about?"


"About how different things were whan I returned from Vietnam. We were treated like the enemy. When my buddies and I walked through airports, people lined up cursing us, throwing stuff at us, calling us baby killers." He wiped his eye with his sleeve and his voice broke a little. "They had no idea what they were saying. "Baby killers? The Viet Cong would strap live grenades to their infants and throw them to a U.S. soldier knowing he wouldn't let the baby drop to the ground even if it meant imminet death. How many of those people calling us baby killers do you think have seen their friends blown to pieces trying to save a baby?

"Not many." Then I asked my brother what I could do to help begin healing the wounded hearts of the Vietnam Vets.

"Walk up to them and shake their hand. Then say, 'Welcome home soldier, thank you.'"

Since that evening, that's what I have done whenever I learn someone is a Korean or Vietnam Vet. The response I usually get is a look of shock, and then tears form in their eyes.
This 4th, I encourage all of you to follow my brother's suggestion. It's never too late to express gratitude.

Monday, June 11, 2007

More Good News!


Perhaps one of the most significant things I do is write devotionals. Short paragraphs of connection, encouragement, and hope. These little paragraphs can literally change someone's life from misery to joy. These little paragraphs can save lives, physically and spiritually.





That's why I write them.




When I heard about Jay Payleitner's project, One Year Life Verse Devotional, and that he was asking for devotion submissions on how a verse from Scripture really touched my life, A Life Verse, I immediately thought of Psalm 112:4a, Even in darkness light dawns for the upright.




I had been clinging to that verse for quite some time as I went through a particularily troubling situation. The promise that light would invade the darkness that was pressing me into a corner was something I desperately wanted. The promise of light gave me hope in the darkness.



I wrote about my experience. That in itself was healing. I submitted my devotion and got the good news a couple of days ago. It's my hope that others will be encouraged by my experience.


Being able to turn a personal struggle into something that will help others is the continual reward for enduring and overcoming those tough times!




My devotion: On the Edge of Dawn - is on the April 7 day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Good News!

I sold my ninth story to Chicken Soup for the Soul. It will appear in:
Chicken Soup for the Soul-Celebrating Brothers and Sisters. The title is "Love at First Sight" and it is about the first time I met my brother, Claude Kuykendall. I'm told we met when I was a very young girl, but I had no recollections of him. Then on a Saturday afternoon when I was eleven, the door bell rang and a sailor stood at the door asking for my mom. Well . . .

Buy the book and read the rest! :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Best Life Has To Offer

I had a wonderful Mother's Day. I didn't have to do a thing but enjoy my incredible husband and my darling babies.

All right, all right, they not babies anymore. In fact they are grown and have babies of their own. But, as all you mothers know, our children will always be our babies.

Over the past thirty years the hardest part of mothering is watching my children struggle with something. School, relationships, health, finances, marriage. I want to fix it--right now!

I read somewhere that a baby chick's intense struggle to hatch out of its shell is important to its muscle development and should some sympathetic soul try to help by pulling the shell away, that chick could actually be crippled. However, for those of us who have watched this process, it's hard not to help. We just have to sit on our hands and trust the nature of the struggle.

In the same way, it is hard to watch my children battle with life. I want to pull off the shells of trials, challenges, and hardships. In fact, there have been times when I've stepped in where I didn't belong and actually prolonged the process that I wanted to help end.

I have to trust the nature of God. He loves my children more than I do (and it is hard to believe anyone could love them more than I do) and He promises me that He will accomplish His purpose in each of them.

So it is a two-fold thing: their growth and my trust. Now I may fall flat on my face tomorrow by failing to trust Him. I may meddle again--I probably will. Thank goodness my Heavenly Father is patient and He is worthy of all my trust.

There's not a better partner in parenting than God! And having my family around me is better than anything money can buy! Can't wait till Father's Day!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Is God Messing With Your Nest?

Some of the most profound lessons I’ve learned have come from observing nature. Just as there are seasons in a year, there are also seasons in life, each with its own hardships and hopes. And each season requires changes in thoughts and habits.

Last year I suffered “fall” emotions in the middle of spring. All my efforts to sell our house had failed. Just like dead leaves, they fell flat. My life resembled a windup toy that would cross the room, hit the wall, and then turn to run into another. I did everything I knew to make our house more appealing to perspective buyers. We even had some very promising prospects only for it to come to nothing.

After another unsuccessful home showing I needed to breathe some fresh air, listen to the voices of nature, and calm my spirit. So I brewed a cup of English Breakfast tea with lots of cream and sugar and went to my rocking chair on the back porch. Daffodils perfumed the breeze, birds sang their mating tunes, and little by little my body relaxed.

Out of nowhere a sudden flutter startled me. Two tiny finches were flitting around my barbeque grill. The male disappeared under the grill, rousing my curiosity. Soon he reappeared and the two flew off. I went to the grill and looked underneath. The only thing I saw was the tiny air hole that regulates the flame. I went back to the glider and watched. The two returned and perched in my fern, then hopped on the grill. They seemed to be discussing something very important.

Days later, I opened the grill to cook supper and saw the beginning of a nest. Ahhh, so that’s what they were up to. House hunting. In many ways the grill was a good choice. It had a tiny opening so a cat or preditor bird couldn’t get them and it was covered, keeping the nest dry. However, it also held a danger the little birds couldn’t understand.

I scooped out the bits of nest and placed them in the fern hoping they would finish it there. The next day the scraps of nest in the fern were left untouched, but in the grill was another partial nest. The birds, undaunted, felt secure in their choice. Again, I scooped out their nest, and then plugged the hole with duct tape.

Mr. and Mrs. Finch were all a-twitter when they came back. Once again something had swept away their nest and this time plugged up their door. They flitted and fussed, then finally wove their nest in the fern. Hidden under the fronds, Momma Finch seemed content even though it wasn’t her first choice. I stole a peek and said, “If only you knew the danger of your first choice, little one.”

These words reverberated in my mind. Wasn’t that the source of my current frustration? My nest was consistently destroyed and the doors of opportunity seemed to be duct taped shut? Maybe we were supposed to stay in this house. For some reason, unknown to me, it wasn’t the right time to buy and sell.

I decided to follow the example of the finches and made our home attractive and comfortable for my family rather than realtors. I settled in my nest, contented. Several months later, our house did sell and we built a new one. When closing for the new house my husband and I were surprised to learn the interest rate had dropped to an all time low. If we had sold our house right after putting it on the market, our interest would have been several points higher.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

GOALS—NOT RESOLUTIONS


Last year I encouraged you to make 5 goals for 2006, instead of resolutions and promised I’d do the same. How did you do? I met 2.5 of mine. Did I fail? Well, if I had made 5 resolutions, then yes, I failed in 2.5 of them. But I made goals.



You see, if I make a resolution on January 1 and fail by May, my tendency is to think, “Oh, well, maybe next year.” But goals are ongoing and flexible. If I make a goal that proves unrealistic or impractical then I modify and adjust. There is no “failure” to it. If I simply just don’t meet it, then I have the liberty to move it to the top of my list.



I encourage you who made goals but didn’t reach all of them, if they are still relevant to your life, move them to the top of the list and make new ones to follow. Some goals are not made to be met in a year; rather, they are far reaching. Like the person who wrote me and said her goal is to own a house in France. She is doing what it takes to achieve that goal, but it will take time. The key is don’t give up!



You may be wondering about my odd 2.5 calculations. Okay, here are the goals I wrote for 2006:


1. To finish my novel and get it in the hands of an agent. I finished my novel in October and started editing it. But I didn’t get it to an agent. However, I did query one and he has asked to see a proposal. Therefore, technically, I’m three weeks late on the agent part of my goal.


2. Pitch my idea for a gift book, Romance—The Steak Sauce of Love, to a publisher by May. This began as a humorous commentary at how we view love verses what love really is. I could see it as a gift book that would use the humor to drive home the more “in your face” truth about love. But, I changed my mind—for now. As my direction for 2006 unfolded, this project became very low on my priority list. Maybe later.


3. To go to CLASSeminar in July to improve my public speaking skills. I did this and it was worth every penny. I highly recommend this for those of you in the inspirational field. Go to www.classeminar.com.


4. To go to the Glorietta Christian Writers Conference in New Mexico. When I looked into this I found that the dates conflicted with another seminar I'd already committed to. This year I wrote the conference on my calendar and have started saving toward it.


5. To go to the seminars from the money I earn from writing and speaking. I did this with CLASSeminar. I sold two stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul and I held a workshop on writing creative non-fiction.


Now, how did you do? Let me hear from you about the goals you reached and the new ones you made for 2007.




Here's mine for 2007:

1. To go to Glorietta.
2. To write the sequel to my first novel, In the Elephant’s Shadow.
3. To write a nonfiction book on praying for teenagers.
4. To build a real website.
5. To increase my speaking engagements.
May your 2007 be full of giving, loving, and joy!


Speaking of joy, meet my new grandson, Robert O'Neal Apple, III.

You may remember my blog, It's All Right, where I wrote about Rob and Bea losing their first baby, then announced the great news of this little one's expected arrival. I'm happy to say Robby is happy and healthy and his momma and daddy are "naturals" at parenting!